Sunday, August 18, 2013

Libraries in Books: À rebours

Enjoy the following excerpt about a blue and orange library, belonging to the bibliophile Des Esseintes, I garnered from À rebours by Huysmans, translated by John Howard:
He finally decided to bind his walls, like books, with coarse-grained morocco, with Cape skin, polished by strong steel plates under a powerful press.
     When the wainscoting was finished, he had the moulding and high plinths painted in indigo, a lacquered indigo like that which coachmakers employ for carriage panels. The ceiling, slightly rounded, was also lined with morocco. In the center was wide opening resembling an immense bull's eye encased in orange skin- a circle of the firmament worked out on a background of king blue silk on which were woven silver seraphim with outstretched wings. This material had long before been embroidered by the Cologne guild of weavers for and old cope.
     The setting was complete. At night the room subsided into a restful, soothing harmony. The wainscoting preserved its blue which seemed sustained and warmed by the orange. And the orange remained pure, strengthened and fanned as it was by the insistent breath of the blues.
     Des Esseintes was not deeply concerned about the furniture itself. The only luxuries in the room were books and rare flowers. He limited himself to these things, intending later on to hang a few drawings or paintings on the panels which remained bare; to place shelves and book racks of ebony around the walls; to spread the pelts of wild beasts and the skins of blue fox on the floor; to install, near a massive fifteenth century counting table, deep armchairs and an old chapel reading-desk of forged iron. one of those lecterns on which the deacon formerly placed the antiphonary and which now supported one of the heavy folios of Du Cange's Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis.
     The windows whose blue fissured panes, stippled with fragments of gold-edged bottles, intercepted the view of the country and only permitted a faint light to enter, where draped with curtains cut from old stoles of dark and reddish gold neutralized by an almost dead russet woven in the patten.
     The mantel shelf was sumptuously draped with the remnants of a Florentine dalmatica. Between two gilded copper monstrances of Byzantine style, originally brought from the old Abbaye-au-Bois de Bievre, stood a marvelous church canon divided into three separate compartments delicately wrought like lacework. It contained, under its glass frame, three works of Baudelaire copied on real vellum, with wonderful missal letters and splendid coloring: to the right and left, the sonnets bearing the titles of La Mort des Amants and L'Ennemi; in the center, the prose poem entitled, Anywhere Out of the World- n'impote ou, hors du monde.
An entire chapter is devoted to the impressive catalogue of his books, works like the Satyricon and Meursius, the manual of classical erotology.

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