The Bed and the Book: J.-K. Huysmans’s Crucibles of Suffering

In J.-K. Huysmans’s later novels, the bed and the book are crucibles in which suffering effects an alchemical transmutation: of bodily degradation into spiritual enlightenment, of existential nonsense into order, style, and beauty. A gendered topos, a woman’s bed corresponds to the page on which male intelligence is displayed. As the alchemy of language transforms a man’s ideas into poetry, "cette divine Alchimie qu’est la douleur" (Sainte Lydwine de Schiedam) gives a purpose to women’s torments, refining an abject body into an instrument of redemption. While men sit writing at their desks, "la femme se tord en silence sur un lit" (Sainte Lydwine). This essay examines these two symbolic sites: the bed and book as retorts in which the alchemical processes of art and religion take place. (RZ)

Ziegler, Robert E.
Volume 2010 Spring-Summer; 38(3-4): 264-275