Duc Jean des Esseintes, the wealthy last survivor of a once-powerful family, has retreated from his bourgeois life in Paris. Overwhelmed by the absurdities and grotesqueries of human affairs, he dwells in an isolated villa, spending his days in intellectual and aesthetic contemplation. In an environment of ascetic medievalism and hermit-like seclusion, des Esseintes reviews the compendium of human experience. Color, food and drink, literature, art, music, philosophy, and religion—all are scrutinized, sifted, and analyzed according to his delicate, highly selective tastes.
Filled with weird images, manifestations of a bizarre imagination, and biting wit, this novel scandalized Victorian critics with its break from naturalism and embrace of fin-de-siècle decadence. It nevertheless exerted considerable influence over French and English writers and remains a classic account of the quest for enlarged experience and new sensations. This edition includes a Preface written by the author 20 years after the book's original 1884 publication.