Ben Hecht’s character Fantazius Mallare is definitely a descendant of Huysmanns’ decadent paragon Des Essientes. The omniscient third-person narration in this novel alternates with passages from Mallare’s journal, so that Mallare’s misconceptions and deepening delusions are set into ironic relief. At the same time, he spouts epigrammatic verities in the throes of his self-induced madness. Like Au Rebours, this story is one where decadence converges with asceticism.
First published (and banned) in 1922, the tale is written without reference to definite place. Mallare simply lives in “the town.” There is a family of gypsies on its “outskirts.” Its time is of an indefinite modernity, signaled by the references to hypnosis, and one incongruous mention of “Christian Scientists.” It might well be an allegory, in which Mallare represents the development of the will to knowledge in our artificial and alienated society.
One of the best parts of the book is the preliminary “dedication,” in which the author catalogs at great length his various enemies with their faults. The ending takes place in the form of a journal passage, and it was not clear to me what the “objective” state of affairs was supposed to be at that point.
The Wallace Smith illustrations seem to have an inconsistent relationship to the text, but they’re terrific regardless. Their cadaverous figures in tortured poses all have a deliciously hieratic quality. [via]
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