À vau-l'eau  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

À vau-l'eau (English: With the Flow or Downstream ) is a short novel (or novella) by the French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans, first published by Henry Kistmaeckers in Brussels on January 26, 1882.

It is the story of a downtrodden clerk, Monsieur Folantin, and his heroic and futile quest for a decent meal. It was published by Henry Kistemaeckers.

The work - which has little in the way of plot - tells the story of Jean Folantin, a downtrodden Parisian civil service clerk whose quest for even a modicum of happiness or material comfort always ends in failure. The book chronicles Folantin's everyday disappointments, typified by his search for a decent meal (there are numerous descriptions of the disgusting food he has to eat). At the end of the novella, Folantin pessimistically resigns himself to giving up hope and "going with the flow":
"...he realised the futility of changing direction, the sterility of all enthusiasm and all effort. 'You have to let yourself go with the flow; Schopenhauer is right', he told himself, '"Man's life swings like a pendulum between pain and boredom". So there's no point trying to speed up or slow down the rhythm of its swings; all we can do is fold our arms and try to get to sleep...'" (Brown translation p.57)
À vau-l'eau is a key work in Huysmans' literary development. It is the last book written in the author's early Naturalist style, with its unflinching depiction of sordid everyday reality, but several features point the way forward to the radical departure marked by Huysmans' next - and most famous - novel, À rebours. Huysmans later noted the similarities between Monsieur Folantin and Des Esseintes, the aristocratic hero of À rebours:
I pictured to myself a M.Folantin, more cultured, more refined, more wealthy, than the first, and who has discovered in artificiality a specific for the disgust inspired by the worries of life and the American manners of our time. I imagined him winging his way to the land of dreams...living alone and apart, far from the present-day world, in an atmosphere suggestive of more cordial epochs and less odious surroundings". (Quoted in the introduction to Brown, p.xii)


  • As Downstream, by Robert Baldick (reprint edition by Turtle Point Press, 2005)
  • As With the Flow, by Andrew Brown with an introduction by Simon Callow (Hesperus, 2003)


  • Huysmans Romans Volume One (Bouquins, Robert Laffont, 2005)
  • Robert Baldick: The Life of J.-K. Huysmans (originally published by Oxford University Press, 1955; revised by Brendan King, Dedalus Press, 2006)

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