Joris Karl Huysmans was born in Paris, France on Febuary 5th, 1848. His father, Godfriend Huysmans, was Dutch, while his mother, Malvina, was French.
His father died on the 24th of June, 1856, soon after which Malvina Huysmans took her family to live with her parents. This lasted only one year, at which point the she remarried a Protestant businessman, Jules Og.
Joris, at this point, began to study at the Institution Hortus, to obtain his Bacculaureate on the 7th of March, 1866. On April 1st, he was hired by the Ministry of the Interior.
In 1874, he publishes his first work, A Dish of Spices: a book of prose styled after the works of Charles Baudelaire. He was forced to publish this at his own expense, due to the fact that no publisher would print it. This work caught a great deal of public attention -- especially from writers such as Emile Zola -- and was followed by a number of similarly mundane naturalist novels, such as Marthe (1876), Les souers Vatard (1879), and En Menange (1881). These novels progress into a short career as a critic, as he began to examine the Symbolist art of his era.
Finally, in 1877, the interesting portion of his career came to light. Giving up on naturalist writing, his work began to take a more decadent turn. In A Rebours (1884), Huysman lays out a story of a wealthy aesthete, the Duc Jean de Esseintes, experiments with exotic pleasures (mostly sexual). He lives in his home as in a monastary and dreams of the progress of syphilis down the ages. Finally, he is welcomed into the embrace of a femme fatale whose genitalia are made in the image of a venus flytrap. Des Esseintes seals himself off from the world, so afraid of being dissapointed by reality that he is afraid of even leaving his home. This is the 'poisonous yellow book' referred to by Oscar Wilde.
'La-Bas', a novel about black magic being practiced in contemporary Paris, was printed in April of 1891. Durtal, the protagonist of the story, is embarking on the authoring of a biography of Gilles de Rais, the French marshal who was accused of satanism, and was briefly associated with Joan of Arc. He visits a black mass and finds the event disappointing; even ridiculous. He toys with the concept of Satanism for quite some time, and has an affair with Hyacinthe Chantelouve, a member of the active Satanist Canon Docre.
Most satanists of the era took La-Bas at face value: using it as a cornerstone to promote the mythology of the black mass. It is believed that Huysmans never actually witnessed a black mass.
By 1892, the debauched Joris gives up his pursuit of anything even remotely interesting, and is readmitted to the Catholic Church. He produces a number of works centered around his quest for religion and a desire for monastic life, as well as returning to an examination of (albeit more classical) artwork.
Huysmans finally resigns his post at the Ministry of the Interior after almost thirty years, and retires to Liguge, where he lived near the Benedicitine monastary. When the monks were thrown out, he returned to Paris.
Huysmans was one of the founders of the Goncourt Academy, and in 1900 was elected its president.
On May 12th, 1907, Huysmans finally died of cancer.