Notorious decadent sighted in the Wellcome Library

Show Navigation

By | From the Collections

Newly added to the online catalogue of Wellcome Library archives: two letters by the French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907). Huysmans is most famous for the novel À rebours (Against Nature), a landmark of the decadent movement whose millionaire “hero”, Des Esseintes, devotes himself to the cultivation of the senses in an artificial, sealed environment (a foreshadowing of today’s virtual worlds: Des Esseintes is perhaps the first inhabitant of Second Life). In the United Kingdom he gained particular notoriety when À rebours, described as a “sodomitical book”, was an exhibit at the trial of Oscar Wilde. In later years Huysman’s revolt against modern life led him to a reconciliation with the doctrines of Roman Catholicism, and a series of novels trace his conversion. The two letters added to the archive catalogue date from these later years, the mid 1890s. They are written to the French medical man Maurice de Fleury (1860-1931) and discuss de Fleury’s book Introduction à la médecine de l’esprit and the health of Huysmans’ partner. The letters can be ordered for viewing in the Wellcome Library using the reference MS.8621.

Another late 19th century creator of literary scandal has also been added to the catalogue: the novelist and science populariser Grant Allen (1848-1897). Allen’s novel The Woman Who Did told the story of an emancipated woman who chooses cohabitation over marriage, and created a huge scandal when it appeared in 1895. Newly added to the collection is a letter from earlier in Allen’s career, when he was scuffling to make a living as a professional writer on scientific issues: it can be ordered using the reference MS.8625.

Any questions about these items should be sent to

Chris Hilton

Chris Hilton

Dr Christopher Hilton was until August 2017 a Senior Archivist at the Wellcome Library.

See more posts by this author

Comments are closed.

Related Blog Posts