The Quintessence Of Decadence

Literature & Art selected by Duc Jean Floressas des Esseintes












"Then, when he was tired of consulting these time-tables, he would rest his eyes by looking at the chronometers and compasses, the sextants and dividers, the binoculars and charts scattered about on a side-table which was dominated by a single book bound in sea-calf leather: The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym, specially printed for him on laid paper of pure linen, hand picked and bearing a seagull water-mark. . .Better perhaps than anyone else, Poe possessed those intimate affinities that could satisfy the requirements of Des Esseintes' mind. . .it was Poe who, in the sphere of morbid psychology, had carried out the closest scrutiny of the will."











"The author he really loved. . . was Petronius. . .he described the everyday life of Rome, recording the manners and morals. . .women having hysterics; legacy-hunters offering their boys and girls to gratify the lusts of great testators, all these and more scurry across the pages of the Satyricon, squabbling in the streets, fingering one another in the baths, beating one another up like characters in a pantomime. . .this story with no plot or action in it, simply relating the erotic adventures of certain sons of Sodom. . .the vices of a decrepit civilization, a crumbling Empire. . ."










"Among all the artists he considered, there was one who sent him into raptures of delight, and that was Gustave Moreau. He had bought Moreau's two masterpieces, and night after night he would stand dreaming in front of one of them, the picture of Salome. . . [Moreau's] sad and scholarly works breathed a strange magic, an incantatory charm which stirred you to the depths of your being. . ."

"[H]e paused more often in front of the other pictures that decorated the room. These were all signed Odilon Redon."


"The more Des Esseintes re-read his Baudelaire, the more he appreciated the indescribable charm of this writer who. . .had succeeded in expressing the inexpressible. . .[who] possessed that remarkable quality, the power to define in curiously healthy terms the most fugitive and ephemeral of the unhealthy conditions of weary spirits and melancholy souls."



"This psychic condition Barbey d'Aurevilly came close to sharing. If he did not go as far as Sade in shouting atrocious curses at the Saviour; if out of greater caution or greater fear, he always professed to honour the Church, he none the less addressed his prayers to the Devil in true medieval fashion, and in his desire to defy the Deity, likewise slipped into demonic erotomania, coining new sensual monstrosities. . .he had therefore had printed for him in bishop's-purple ink, within a border of cardinal red, on a genuine parchment blessed by the Auditors of the Rota, a copy of Les Diaboliques. . ."


**All quotations on these Decadence pages are taken from the novel À Rebours (Against Nature, 1884) by J-K Huysmans (Penguin Classics edition, translated by Robert Baldick, first published 1959)