By the time I had finished the book, the pile of notes I’d accumulated had begun to rival the book in length.
A lachrymose denoument
As is prophecy for such characters, Des Esseintes’ experiment with selfhood dissolves into a deterioration of physicality and mind, and is finally punctuated by his physician’s prognosis of “insanity speedily followed by tuberculosis”. After being nursed back to health, he is ordered back to Paris, and forbidden from languishing any longer in his intellectual tide pool. “So I have to choose between death and deportation!” cries Des Esseintes.
Faced with the resolution to rejoin Parisian society, our protagonist leaves us with a tremulous lament concerning the fate of the mystics who had provided deep guidance throughout his mental life. Christianity fell victim not to the Scientific Revolution, he says, but the mediocrity of its later writers, and the spiritless advance of capitalism.
“This was the vast bagnio of America transported to the continent of Europe; the was the limitless, unfathomable, immeasurable scurviness of the financier and the self-made man, beaming down like a shameful sun on the idolatrous city, which grovelled on its belly, chanting vile songs of praise before the impious tabernacle of the Bank.”