I slept in Jane’s bed three months before I met her. She was nameless Jane the first time, plain Jane the second, a cruel half-smile on Jack’s lips who supplied this and only this and little else, leaving me reading the rest in the spines on the bookshelves and the herbal tea selection by the kettle.

Huysmans bemoaned the academic mediocrity of the Salons’ most celebrated regulars; never one to mince his words, he wrote that Pierre Lecontre Du Noüy “made the wrong choice of career,” that Henri Gervex “no longer knows how to paint,” and that William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s “The Birth of Venus” is “so bad that there isn’t even a word for it.”