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Les Soeurs Vatard, described by its author as a “lewd but exact” slice of life, was J.-K. Huysmans’ second novel. Huysmans abandoned poetry and turned to the novel at a time when the works of Emile Zola were intensely controversial; Les Soeurs Vatard is dedicated to Zola by "his fervent admirer and devoted friend."In it, Huysmans vividly depicts the scene that for his generation of French writers stood for the contemporary world: the brutal, teeming life of the industrial quarters of Paris in the 1870s.

Huysmans’ Vatard sisters are “Désirée, an urchin of fifteen, a brunette with large, pale eyes that were somewhat crossed, plump without being fat, attractive and clean; and Céline, the carouser, a big girl with clear eyes and hair the color of straw, a solid, vigorous girl whose blood raced and danced in her veins." The two are part of that “bizarre race of young women” who work as bookbinders, whose lives revolve around the gaslighted bindery works, the gaudy shop windows, and cheap wineshops that Huysmans describes with minute and colorful detail. His precisely observed sketches show that Naturalism as practiced by Buysmans had none of Zola' s emphasis on “scientific” determinism, but centered primarily on the faithful rendering of what he described as “living persons in real milieus.”

The Vatard Sisters is the first English translation of Les Soeurs Vatard.

James C. Babcock is professor of French at Western Kentucky University.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






J.-K. Huysmans, French literature, Huysmans


French and Francophone Language and Literature


Translated by James C. Babcock.

The Vatard Sisters
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