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I'm trying to remember the author and title of a story I once read. It was set in Paris in the nineteenth century, and I assume also written by a nineteenth-century French author.

The story is about a grumpy man who doesn't do much, and is always complaining about everything. A lot of the story is taken up by him going out to dinner and complaining about how bad the food is. It's all very dreary and depressing, but exaggeratedly so, for comedic effect.

I think there is also a part where he plans a trip to England, and he takes the coach to a port, goes to a bar while waiting for the ferry to arrive, and then decides against the trip and goes home again. (But this may be from something else I'm confusing it with.)

  • How long was this book - was it a novel or short story? Perhaps it was by Guy de Maupassant? – Rand al'Thor May 30 '17 at 9:42
  • @Randal'Thor I think it was a substantial short story or short novel, maybe 20-50 pages, but I'm not 100% sure. I looked through GdM's story titles, but none immediately rings a bell. It was probably in a more fin-de-siècle style, or a parody thereof. – Your Uncle Bob May 30 '17 at 19:31
  • So questions about horror, sci-fi, Harry Potter or Leonard Cohen get upvoted on this site, and questions about 19th-century French literature get downvoted? – Your Uncle Bob May 30 '17 at 19:37
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    Some people here dislike ID questions on principle; please don't take it personally. I upvoted this question, and also put some time into searching for the story (sadly without success so far). – Rand al'Thor May 30 '17 at 22:47
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    @YourUncleBob No, please self-answer it! It's great when people find their own answers to ID questions. A word of advice though: don't just say "this is the right story", but also show how this story matches the details given in the question. That way, it's easier for others to see that it's correct. (We haven't yet made a "how to write a good story-ID answer" guide for Literature, but there is this from a neighbouring site.) – Rand al'Thor Jul 8 '17 at 10:24
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After some more searching I found that what I described is the 70-page short novel "À vau-l'eau" by Joris-Karl Huysmans, written in 1882, and translated into English as either "Downstream" or "With the Flow".

As this Wikipedia page mentions, it was the last thing Huysmans wrote in his early naturalist style, before turning to the decadent style of his famous novel "À rebours". (That's probably why the style seemed "fin-de-siècle, or a parody thereof" to me, because it's clearly no longer straightforward realist or naturalist.)

The story is also interesting because apparently the character of des Esseintes in "À rebours" is a reimagining of Jean Folantin in "À vau-l'eau" as a richer, more cultured man, but filled with the same disgust for then-modern everyday life.

The aborted trip to England that I mentioned was a mix-up with "À rebours"; it is indeed des Esseintes who plans to travel to London but ultimately decides not to board the train.

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