History of Literature








French literature

 

CONTENTS:

The Middle Ages

The 16th century

The 17th century

The 18th century to the Revolution of 1789

From 1789 to the mid-19th century

19th-century thought

The 20th century. From 1900 to 1940

The mid-20th century. Approaching the 21st century



 


French literature
 


19th-century thought
 


Louis-Gabriel-Ambroise, vicomte de Bonald
Jules Michelet
Alexis de Tocqueville
Joseph de Maistre
Auguste Comte
Ernest Renan
"The Life of Jesus"
Hippolyte Taine
Théophile Gautier
Théodore de Banville
Charles-Marie-René Leconte de Lisle
Charles Baudelaire "The Flowers of Evil"
Edmond and Jules Goncourt
Gustave Flaubert "Madame Bovary"    PART I, PART II, PART III
Eugène Scribe

Duma
s Alexandre, fils "The Lady of the Camellias"
Eugène-Marin Labiche
Henry-François Becque
Alfred Jarry
Émile Zola "J'accuse" (I accuse)
Guy de Maupassant "Bel-Ami"
Joris-Karl Huysmans
Jules Barbey
Octave Mirbeau
Paul Verlaine "Poems"
Jules Laforgue
Stéphane Mallarmé

Arthur Rimbaud "Poems"
Jean Moréas

Anatole France

Jules Verne
"Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea."
Illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou
"The Children of Captain Grant"
Illustrations by Édouard Riou
"The Mysterious Island"
Illustrations by Jules Ferat


Edmond Rostand "Cyrano De Bergerac"
Alphonse Daudet "Tartarin de Tarascon"

 

 



19th-century thought




Literary criticism and journalism


The passionate, even virulent, political journalism of the Revolutionary period soon slowed to a trickle under Napoleon. Literary debate interwoven with political considerations was renewed after 1815, and a shifting spectrum of royalist Romantics and Neoclassical liberals moved toward a liberal-Romantic consensus about 1830. The young critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, himself the author of poems, was an advocate of Romanticism about 1830, but he progressively detached himself from it as he elaborated his biographical critical method. Criticism in the major literary reviews tended to be from a modified Neoclassical viewpoint throughout the 1830s and even the 1840s, the Romantics replying in inflammatory prefaces attached to their own works. The surge in newspaper circulation after 1836 tended to create a more “popular” market for serialized novels with strong melodramatic effects, as in Eugène Sue’s Mystères de Paris (1842–43; The Mysteries of Paris).


Historical writing

Early 19th-century historians were committed to historical erudition, but their works often seem closer to the world of literature. Augustin Thierry’s narratives present the histories of England and France in terms of ethnicity (Normans against Saxons and Franks against Gallo-Romans). This is essentially a poetic concept close to that of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Similarly, the early volumes of Jules Michelet’s great history of France (1833–44) are constructed in terms of a poetic idea of intuitive sympathy with the subject, one that would make it possible to resurrect the essence of a past period as encapsulated in the symbolic figures of the historian’s imagination. Alexis de Tocqueville represents a turning away from Romantic historiography in his great analytic studies of social principles in De la démocratie en Amérique (1835–40; Democracy in America) and L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution (1856; The Old Regime and the Revolution).


The intellectual climate before 1848

The counterrevolutionary era of the early 19th century saw a renewal of interest in religion, ranging from the sentimental religiosity of Chateaubriand to the traditionalist and antidemocratic theology of Louis-Gabriel-Ambroise, vicomte de Bonald, and Joseph de Maistre, but 18th-century sensualism continued and was developed by the Idéologues. Claude-Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon, and his followers tried to evolve a synthesis, which proved unstable, between socialistic scientific analysis, particularly of economics, and Christian belief. Félicité de Lamennais, a Roman Catholic priest, moved toward a Christian socialism that ultimately estranged him from the church. The whole first half of the century is marked by attempts to reconcile religious faith, and the hierarchies it supported, with the legacy of the Enlightenment that increasingly governed society and its structures: rationalist thought and the principles of democracy.


Renan, Taine, and positivism

After the failure of what was seen as the vague idealism of the 1848 revolution, a consciously scientific spirit, directed toward observed fact, came to dominate the study of social and intellectual life. Auguste Comte’s Cours de philosophie positive (1830–42; The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte) fathered this new school of thought, called positivism, which became almost a new religion. Ernest Renan adapted this scientific approach to the study of religion itself, most notably in his Vie de Jésus (1863; Life of Jesus), which placed Jesus in historical, not theological, perspective. Hippolyte Taine’s continuation of positivist analysis, which emphasized the importance of biological science, produced a form of biological determinism to explain human conduct. His explanation of how writers are made, by the triple force of “race,” “milieu,” and “moment,” had a crucial impact on, for example, the Naturalist literary theories of Émile Zola.

Colin Smethurst
Jennifer Birkett

 


Louis-Gabriel-Ambroise, vicomte de Bonald



 

born Oct. 2, 1754, Le Monna, near Millau, Fr.
died Nov. 23, 1840, Le Monna

political philosopher and statesman who, with the French Roman Catholic thinker Joseph de Maistre, was a leading apologist for Legitimism, a position contrary to the values of the French Revolution and favouring monarchical and ecclesiastical authority.

Mayor of Millau from 1785 to 1789, Bonald became president of the district of Aveyron’s administration in 1790 but resigned the next year in protest against the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Passed by the new Constituent Assembly of the nation, that reform was rejected by the pope, most of the French clergy, and King Louis XVI for the restraints that it put upon the Roman Catholic church in France. Emigrating to Heidelberg, Bonald was soon condemned by the revolutionary Directory for his highly royalist Théorie du pouvoir politique et religieux (1796; “Theory of Political and Religious Power”). In 1797 he returned to France, where he wrote his Essai analytique sur les lois naturelles de l’ordre social (1800; “Analytical Essay on the Natural Laws of Social Order”); Du divorce (1801); and Législation primitive considérée . . . par les seules lumières de la raison, 3 vol. (1802; “Primitive Legislation Considered . . . by the Light of Reason Alone”).

After the exile of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814, Bonald became a member of the council of public instruction (1814), was nominated to the Académie Française (1816), and was created vicomte (1821) and peer (1823). During these years he wrote Réflexions sur l’intérêt général de l’Europe (1815; “Reflections on the General Interest of Europe”) and Démonstration philosophique du principe constitutif de la société (1830; “Philosophical Demonstration of the Formative Principle of Society”). With the advent of the July Revolution of 1830, Bonald resigned his peerage and retired to spend the last years of his life at the château Le Monna.

 

 

 


Jules Michelet



 

born Aug. 21, 1798, Paris, France
died Feb. 9, 1874, Hyères


French nationalist historian best known for his monumental Histoire de France (1833–67). Michelet’s method, an attempt to resurrect the past by immersing his own personality in his narrative, resulted in a historical synthesis of great dramatic power.

Michelet was the son of a modest printer who managed to give Jules an education. A brilliant student, Michelet at 29 was teaching history and philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure. He had already published textbooks and a translation (1827) of Giambattista Vico’s Scienza nuova (“New Science”). The July Revolution (1830) confirmed Vico’s influence on Michelet in stressing man’s own part in the making of history, conceived as a continuous struggle of human freedom against fatality. This, the main theme of the Introduction à l’histoire universelle (1831), was to underlie Michelet’s later writings.

After the Histoire romaine, 2 vol. (1831), Michelet devoted himself to medieval and modern history; his appointment as head of the historical section of the Record Office in the same year provided him with unique resources for carrying out his monumental life’s work, the Histoire de France. The first six volumes (1833–43) stop at the end of the Middle Ages; they include the “Tableau de la France,” in which the emergence of France as a nation is seen as a victory over racial and geographic determinism; they also include his treatment of Joan of Arc as the very soul of France and the living symbol of his own patriotic and democratic ideals.

Michelet deliberately threw his intimate self into his narrative, convinced that this was the way to achieve the historian’s ultimate aim: the resurrection (or re-creation) of the past. Such a resurrection must be integral: all the elements of the past—artistic, religious, economic, as well as political—must be brought back, intertwined, as they once were, in a living synthesis. Arbitrary and overambitious as the undertaking seems, Michelet’s compassionate genius and romantic imagination enabled him to conjure up an effective evocation, unsurpassed for poetic and dramatic power.

Toward the end of this period, which was marked by private crises reflected in his work (the death of his first wife, in 1839, and of his friend Mme Dumesnil, in 1842, cast shadows over whole periods of his Histoire de France), Michelet turned away from Christianity and began to profess a messianic belief in democratic progress. His increasing hostility to the church, expressed in his lectures at the Collège de France, eventually brought him into conflict with the Jesuits and caused his lectures to be suspended in January 1848.

A month later, the revolution that he had heralded in Le Peuple (1846) seemed to bring about the realization of his dreams. But they were soon shattered: in 1852 Michelet, having refused allegiance to the Second Empire, lost his posts. In 1847 he had interrupted the sequence of the Histoire de France to write the Histoire de la révolution française, 7 vol. (1847–53). He visualized the French Revolution as a climax, as the triumph of la Justice over la Grâce (by which he meant both Christian dogma and the arbitrary power of the monarchy). These volumes, written at a feverish pace, are a vivid, impassioned chronicle.

Michelet then resumed the Histoire de France from the Renaissance to the eve of the revolution (11 vol., 1855–67). Unfortunately, his hatred of priests and kings, his hasty or abusive treatment of documents, and his mania for symbolic interpretation continually distort these volumes into hallucinations or nightmares. Also thus distorted is La Sorcière (1862), an apology for witches considered as godforsaken souls, victims of the antinatural interdictions of the church.

A new and happier inspiration produced a series of books on nature: L’Oiseau (1856); L’Insecte (1858); La Mer (1861); La Montagne (1868). They reflect the influence of his second marriage to Athénaïs Mialaret, 30 years his junior, in 1849; written in a lyrical vein, they contain some of the most beautiful pages of a supreme prose writer. L’Amour (1858) and La Femme (1860), written under the same influence, are erotic and didactic.

The Franco-German War of 1870 shattered Michelet’s idealism and his illusions about Germany. After his death, in 1874, his widow tampered with his diaries, and their publication as a whole was begun only in 1959 (Journal, vol. 1, 1959, vol. 2, 1962; Écrits de jeunesse, 1959). They record his travels through Europe, and, above all, they give a key to his personality and illuminate the relationship between his intimate experiences and his work.

Jean J. Seznec

 

 

 

Alexis de Tocqueville




French historian and political writer

born July 29, 1805, Paris, France
died April 16, 1859, Cannes

Main
political scientist, historian, and politician, best known for Democracy in America, 4 vol. (1835–40), a perceptive analysis of the political and social system of the United States in the early 19th century.

Early life
Tocqueville was a great-grandson of the statesman Chrétien de Malesherbes (1721–94), a liberal aristocratic victim of the French Revolution and a political model for the young Tocqueville. Almost diminutive in stature, acutely sensitive, and plagued by severe bouts of anxiety since childhood, he remained close to his parents throughout his life.

Despite a frail voice in a fragile body, distaste for the daily demands of parliamentary existence, and long periods of illness and nervous exhaustion, Tocqueville chose politics as his vocation and adhered to this choice until he was driven from office. His decision in favour of a public career was made with some assurance of success. His father was a loyal royalist prefect and in 1827 was made a peer of France by Charles X. At that time, young Tocqueville moved easily into government service as an apprentice magistrate. There he prepared himself for political life while observing the impending constitutional confrontation between the Conservatives and the Liberals, with growing sympathy for the latter. He was strongly influenced by the lectures of the historian and statesman François Guizot (1787–1874), who asserted that the decline of aristocratic privilege was historically inevitable. After the manner of Liberals under the autocratic regime of the restored Bourbon kings, Tocqueville began to study English history as a model of political development.

He entered public life in the company of a close friend who was to become his alter ego—Gustave de Beaumont. Their life histories are virtual mirror images. Of similar backgrounds and positions, they were companions in their travels in America, England, and Algeria, coordinated their writings, and ultimately entered the legislature together.

The July Revolution of 1830 that put the “citizen king” Louis-Philippe of Orléans on the throne was a turning point for Tocqueville. It deepened his conviction that France was moving rapidly toward complete social equality. Breaking with the older liberal generation, he no longer compared France with the English constitutional monarchy but compared it with democratic America. Of more personal concern, despite his oath of loyalty to the new monarch, his position had become precarious because of his family ties with the ousted Bourbon king. He and Beaumont, seeking to escape from their uncomfortable political situation, asked for and received official permission to study the uncontroversial problem of prison reforms in America. They also hoped to return with knowledge of a society that would mark them as especially fit to help mold France’s political future.


Visit to the United States
Tocqueville and Beaumont spent nine months in the United States during 1831 and 1832, out of which came first their joint book, On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application in France (1833); Beaumont’s Marie; or, Slavery in the United States (1835), on America’s race problems; and the first part of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1835–40). On the basis of observations, readings, and discussions with a host of eminent Americans, Tocqueville attempted to penetrate directly to the essentials of American society and to highlight that aspect—equality of conditions—that was most relevant to his own philosophy. Tocqueville’s study analyzed the vitality, the excesses, and the potential future of American democracy. Above all, the work was infused with his message that a society, properly organized, could hope to retain liberty in a democratic social order.

The first part of Democracy in America won an immediate reputation for its author as a political scientist. During this period, probably the happiest and most optimistic of his life, Tocqueville was named to the Legion of Honour, the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences (1838), and the French Academy (1841). With the prizes and royalties from the book, he even found himself able to rebuild his ancestral chateau in Normandy. Within a few years his book had been published in England, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Denmark, and Sweden. Although it was sometimes viewed as having been derived from politically biased sources, it was soon accorded the status of a classic in the United States.

In 1836 Tocqueville married Mary Mottely, an Englishwoman. Tocqueville spent the next four years working on the final portion of Democracy in America, which was published in 1840. Its composition took far longer, moved farther afield, and ended far more soberly than Tocqueville originally had intended. American society slid into the background, and Tocqueville attempted to complete a picture of the influence of equality itself on all aspects of modern society. France increasingly became his principal example, and what he saw there altered the tone of his work. He observed the curtailment of liberties by the Liberals, who had come to power in 1830, as well as the growth of state intervention in economic development. Most depressing to him was the increased political apathy and acquiescence of his fellow citizens in this rising paternalism. His chapters on democratic individualism and centralization in Democracy in America contained a new warning based on these observations. He argued that a mild, stagnant despotism was the greatest threat to democracy.


First political career
During this period Tocqueville fulfilled his lifelong ambition to enter politics. He lost his first bid for the Chamber of Deputies in 1837 but won election two years later. Eventually, Tocqueville built up an enormous personal influence in his constituency, winning subsequent elections by more than 70 percent of the vote and becoming president of his departmental council (a local representative body). In local politics his quest for preeminence was completely fulfilled, but his need for uncompromised dignity and independence deprived him of influence in the Chamber of Deputies for a much longer time. He was not able to follow the leadership of others, nor did his oratorical style win him quick recognition as a leader. As a result, he had no major legislative accomplishment to his credit during the reign of Louis-Philippe. His speech prophesying revolution only a few weeks before it took place in France in February 1848 (part of the wider Revolutions of 1848 that befell Europe that year) fell on deaf ears. The biting sketches of friend, foe, and even himself in his Recollections (1893) reflect his feeling of the general mediocrity of political leadership before and after 1848.


Revolution of 1848
The Revolution of 1848 brought about a new political situation for France and for Tocqueville. Having decried apathy as the chief danger for France, Tocqueville recognized even before the revolution that France was faced with a politically awakened working class that might well propel French politics into socialist and revolutionary channels. Tocqueville considered economic independence as necessary to the preservation of his own intellectual independence. He thus viewed pressures of the dependent poor for state welfare and of the unemployed for state employment as the initial steps to a universal and degrading dependence on the state by all social classes. Unsympathetic to revolutionaries and contemptuous of socialists before the revolution, Tocqueville opposed the demands of the Parisian workers during the June days of 1848, when their uprising was bloodily suppressed by the military dictator General Louis Cavaignac, as well as in the debates over the constitution of 1848. The only intellectual change produced in Tocqueville by the events of 1848 was a recognition of the strength of socialist ideas and of the problematic nature of the proprietary society. Although he had sought to reconcile the aristocracy to liberal democracy in Democracy in America, he rejected social democracy as it emerged in 1848 as incompatible with liberal democracy.

Politically, Tocqueville’s own position was dramatically improved by the February Revolution. His electorate expanded from 700 to 160,000 under universal manhood suffrage. He was elected as a conservative Republican to the Constituent Assembly by 79 percent of the voters and again in 1849 by more than 87 percent. Along with Beaumont, he was nominated to the committee that wrote the constitution of the Second Republic, and the following year he became vice president of the Assembly. A government crisis produced by French armed intervention to restore papal authority in Rome prompted his appointment as minister of foreign affairs between June and October 1849, during which time he worked cautiously to preserve the balance of power in Europe and to prevent France from extending its foreign involvements. His speeches were more successful and his self-confidence soared, but the results gave him little more durable satisfaction than those he had attained during the July monarchy under Louis-Philippe.

Shortly after his dismissal from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in October 1849, Tocqueville suffered a physical collapse. After a slow recovery he performed a final service for the Second French Republic. As reporter for the constitutional revision committee, he attempted to avert the final confrontation between the president and the legislature, which ended with an executive seizure of dictatorial power. Briefly imprisoned for opposing Louis-Napoléon’s coup d’état on December 2, 1851, Tocqueville was deprived of all political offices for refusing his oath of loyalty to the new regime. Thrown back on a small circle of political allies and friends, he felt a deeper sense of isolation and political pessimism than ever before.


Return to politics
Seeking to reenter politics, he reverted to the strategy of his youthful success—the publication of a book on the fundamental themes of liberty and equality. He chose as his subject the French Revolution, and, after years of research and intermittent illnesses, The Old Regime and the Revolution appeared in 1856 as the first part of his projected study. Tocqueville sought to demonstrate the continuity of political behaviour and attitudes that made postrevolutionary French society as prepared to accept despotism as that of the old regime. In this final study the traumatic events of the years 1848–51 were clearly the source of his emphasis on the durability of centralization and class hostility in French history. France seemed less the democratic society of the future he had glimpsed in America than the prisoner of its own past. Against the pessimism of his analysis of French political tendencies, The Old Regime reaffirmed the libertarian example of the Anglo-American world. The acclaim that greeted this study briefly dispelled the gloom of his last years. Once again a public figure, he made a visit to England in 1857 that culminated in an audience with the prince consort and was the last public triumph of his life. He returned to his work, but, before he could finish his study of the Revolution, he collapsed and died.


Reputation
Tocqueville’s reputation in the 19th century reached its high point during the decade following his death as the great European powers accommodated themselves to universal suffrage. He died just at the onset of a revival of liberalism in France. The nine-volume publication of his works, edited by Beaumont (1860–66), was received as the legacy of a martyr of liberty. In England his name was invoked during the franchise reform debates of the 1860s, and in Germany it was linked to controversies over liberalization and federalization in the years preceding the empire devised by Otto von Bismarck. After 1870 his influence began to decline, a process not substantially reversed by either the posthumous publication of his Recollections in 1893 or that of his correspondence with his friend, the diplomatist and philosopher Arthur de Gobineau. By the turn of the century, he was almost forgotten, and his works, which seemed too abstract and speculative for a generation that believed only in ascertained knowledge, were generally regarded as outdated classics. Moreover, Tocqueville’s prediction of democracy as a vast and uniformly leveling power seemed to have miscarried by not foreseeing both the extent of the new inequalities and conflicts produced by industrialization and those produced by European nationalisms and imperialism. The classless society had failed to appear in Europe, and America seemed to have become European by becoming nationalist and imperialist. In France, Tocqueville’s name was too closely identified with a narrowly defined Liberal tradition, which rapidly lost influence during the Third Republic. Although his work as an innovative historian was acknowledged, it is significant that the revival of his ideas and reputation as a political sociologist owes so much to American, English, and German scholarship.

The 20th-century totalitarian challenge to the survival of liberal institutions produced by two world wars and by the Great Depression of the 1930s fostered a “Tocqueville renaissance.” The outdated facts of his books seemed less significant than the political philosophy implicit in his search to preserve liberty in public life and his strategies for analyzing latent social tendencies. His work was found to display a wealth of fruitful philosophical and sociological hypotheses. At a popular level, the renewed upsurge of social democracy in Europe after 1945 combined with the polarization of the Cold War to produce a view of Tocqueville in the West as an alternative to Marx as a prophet of social change. Again, as in the late 1850s and 1860s, Tocqueville rose to heights of popularity, especially in the 1990s in the United States, where his travels were retraced. It seems certain that Tocqueville will continue to be invoked as an authority and inspiration by those sharing his contempt of static authoritarian societies as well as his belief in the final disappearance of class divisions and in liberty as the ultimate political value.

Seymour Drescher

 

 

 


Joseph de Maistre


born April 1, 1753, Chambéry, France
died February 26, 1821, Turin, kingdom of Sardinia [Italy]


French polemical author, moralist, and diplomat who, after being uprooted by the French Revolution in 1789, became a great exponent of the conservative tradition.

Maistre studied with the Jesuits and became a member of the Savoy Senate in 1787, following the civil career of his father, a former Senate president. After the invasion of Savoy by the armies of Napoleon in 1792, he began his lifelong exile in Switzerland, where he frequented the literary salon of Germaine de Staël in Coppet. Appointed envoy to St. Petersburg by the king of Sardinia in 1803, he remained at the Russian court for 14 years, writing Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions (1814) and his best work (unfinished), The St. Petersburg Dialogues (1821). On his recall he settled in Turin as chief magistrate and minister of state of the Sardinian kingdom.

Maistre was convinced of the need for the supremacy of Christianity and the absolute rule of both sovereign and pope. He also insisted on the necessity of the public executioner as a negative guardian of social order, writing in The St. Petersburg Dialogues that “all power, all subordination rests on the executioner: he is the horror and the bond of human association. Remove this incomprehensible agent from the world, and the very moment order gives way to chaos, thrones topple, and society disappears.” A devoutly religious Roman Catholic, he explained both the French Revolution and the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars as religious expiation for the sins of the times. He opposed the progress of science and the liberal beliefs and empirical methods of philosophers such as Francis Bacon (1561–1626), Voltaire (1694–1778), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78), and John Locke (1632–1704). He also wrote On the Pope (1819) and Letters on the Spanish Inquisition (1838), an apology for the punitive role of the Spanish Inquisition. In both works Maistre defended absolutism with rigorous logic, and it was as a logical thinker, pursuing consequences from an accepted premise, that Maistre excelled. The French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821–67) acknowledged that it was Maistre who taught him to think.
 

 

 


Auguste Comte




 

French philosopher
in full Isidore-auguste-marie-françois-xavier Comte

born January 19, 1798, Montpellier, France
died September 5, 1857, Paris

Main
French philosopher known as the founder of sociology and of positivism. Comte gave the science of sociology its name and established the new subject in a systematic fashion.

Life.
Comte’s father, Louis Comte, a tax official, and his mother, Rosalie Boyer, were strongly royalist and deeply sincere Roman Catholics. But their sympathies were at odds with the republicanism and skepticism that swept through France in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Comte resolved these conflicts at an early age by rejecting Roman Catholicism and royalism alike. He was intellectually precocious and in 1814 entered the École Polytechnique—a school in Paris that had been founded in 1794 to train military engineers but was soon transformed into a general school for advanced sciences. The school was temporarily closed in 1816, but Comte soon took up permanent residence in Paris, earning a precarious living there by the occasional teaching of mathematics and by journalism. He read widely in philosophy and history and was especially interested in those thinkers who were beginning to discern and trace some order in the history of human society. The thoughts of several important French political philosophers of the 18th century—such as Montesquieu, the Marquis de Condorcet, A.-R.-J. Turgot, and Joseph de Maistre—were critically worked into his own system of thought.

Comte’s most important acquaintance in Paris was Henri de Saint-Simon, a French social reformer and one of the founders of socialism, who was the first to clearly see the importance of economic organization in modern society. Comte’s ideas were very similar to Saint-Simon’s, and some of his earliest articles appeared in Saint-Simon’s publications. There were distinct differences in the two men’s viewpoints and scientific backgrounds, however, and Comte eventually broke with Saint-Simon. In 1826 Comte began a series of lectures on his “system of positive philosophy” for a private audience, but he soon suffered a serious nervous breakdown. He made an almost complete recovery from his symptoms the following year, and in 1828/29 he again took up his projected lecture series. This was so successfully concluded that he redelivered it at the Royal Athenaeum during 1829–30. The following 12 years were devoted to his publication (in six volumes) of his philosophy in a work entitled Cours de philosophie positive (1830–42; “Course of Positive Philosophy”; Eng. trans. The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte).

From 1832 to 1842 Comte was a tutor and then an examiner at the revived École Polytechnique. In the latter year he quarreled with the directors of the school and lost his post, along with much of his income. During the remainder of his life he was supported in part by English admirers such as John Stuart Mill and by French disciples, especially the philologist and lexicographer Maximilien Littré. Comte married Caroline Massin in 1825, but the marriage was unhappy and they separated in 1842. In 1845 Comte had a profound romantic and emotional experience with Clotilde de Vaux, who died the following year of tuberculosis. Comte idealized this sentimental episode, which exerted a considerable influence on his later thought and writings, particularly with regard to the role of women in the positivist society he planned to establish.

Comte devoted the years after the death of Clotilde de Vaux to composing his other major work, the Système de politique positive, 4 vol. (1851–54; System of Positive Polity), in which he completed his formulation of sociology. The entire work emphasized morality and moral progress as the central preoccupation of human knowledge and effort and gave an account of the polity, or political organization, that this required. Comte lived to see his writings widely scrutinized throughout Europe. Many English intellectuals were influenced by him, and they translated and promulgated his work. His French devotees had also increased, and a large correspondence developed with positivist societies throughout the world. Comte died of cancer in 1857.

Comte was a rather sombre, ungrateful, self-centred, and egocentric personality, but he compensated for this by his zeal for the welfare of humanity, his intellectual determination, and his strenuous application to his life’s work. He devoted himself untiringly to the promotion and systematization of his ideas and to their application in the cause of the improvement of society.

His other writings include Catéchisme positiviste (1852; The Catechism of Positive Religion) and Synthèse subjective (1856; “Subjective Synthesis”). In general, his writing was well organized, and its exposition proceeded in impressively orderly fashion, but his style was heavy, laboured, and rather monotonous. His chief works are notable mainly because of the scope, magnitude, and importance of his project and the conscientious persistence with which he developed and expressed his ideas.


Thought.
Comte lived through the aftermath of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods, at a time when a new, stable social order—without despotism—was sought. Modern science and technology and the Industrial Revolution had begun transforming the societies of Europe in directions no one yet understood. People experienced violent conflict but were adrift in feeling, thought, and action; they lacked confidence in established sentiments, beliefs, and institutions but had nothing with which to replace them. Comte thought that this condition was not only significant for France and Europe but was one of the decisive junctures of human history.

Comte’s particular ability was as a synthesizer of the most diverse intellectual currents. He took his ideas mainly from writers of the 18th and early 19th centuries. From David Hume and Immanuel Kant he derived his conception of positivism—i.e., the theory that theology and metaphysics are earlier imperfect modes of knowledge and that positive knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations as verified by the empirical sciences. From various French clericalist thinkers Comte took the notion of a hypothetical framework for social organization that would imitate the hierarchy and discipline found in the Roman Catholic church. From various Enlightenment philosophers he adopted the notion of historical progress. Most importantly, from Saint-Simon he came to appreciate the need for a basic and unifying social science that would both explain existing social organizations and guide social planning for a better future. This new science he called “sociology” for the first time.

Comte shared Saint-Simon’s appreciation of the growing importance of modern science and the potential application of scientific methods to the study and improvement of society. Comte believed that social phenomena could be reduced to laws in the same way that the revolutions of the heavenly bodies had been made explicable by gravitational theory. Furthermore, he believed that the purpose of the new scientific analysis of society should be ameliorative and that the ultimate outcome of all innovation and systematization in the new science should be the guidance of social planning. Comte also thought a new and secularized spiritual order was needed to supplant what he viewed as the outdated supernaturalism of Christian theology.

Comte’s main contribution to positivist philosophy falls into five parts: his rigorous adoption of the scientific method; his law of the three states or stages of intellectual development; his classification of the sciences; his conception of the incomplete philosophy of each of these sciences anterior to sociology; and his synthesis of a positivist social philosophy in a unified form. He sought a system of philosophy that could form a basis for political organization appropriate to modern industrial society.

Comte’s “law of the three stages” maintained that human intellectual development had moved historically from a theological stage, in which the world and human destiny within it were explained in terms of gods and spirits; through a transitional metaphysical stage, in which explanations were in terms of essences, final causes, and other abstractions; and finally to the modern positive stage. This last stage was distinguished by an awareness of the limitations of human knowledge. Knowledge could only be relative to man’s nature as a species and to his varying social and historical situations. Absolute explanations were therefore better abandoned for the more sensible discovery of laws based on the observable relations between phenomena.

Comte’s classification of the sciences was based upon the hypothesis that the sciences had developed from the understanding of simple and abstract principles to the understanding of complex and concrete phenomena. Hence, the sciences developed as follows: from mathematics, astronomy, physics, and chemistry to biology and finally to sociology. According to Comte, this last discipline not only concluded the series but would also reduce social facts to laws and synthesize the whole of human knowledge, thus rendering the discipline equipped to guide the reconstruction of society.

Though Comte did not originate the concept of sociology or its area of study, he greatly extended and elaborated the field and systematized its content. Comte divided sociology into two main fields, or branches: social statics, or the study of the forces that hold society together; and social dynamics, or the study of the causes of social change. He held that the underlying principles of society are individual egoism, which is encouraged by the division of labour, and the combination of efforts and the maintenance of social cohesion by means of government and the state.

Comte revealed his conception of the ideal positivist society in his System of Positive Polity. He believed that the organization of the Roman Catholic church, divorced from Christian theology, could provide a structural and symbolic model for the new society, though Comte substituted a “religion of humanity” for the worship of God. A spiritual priesthood of secular sociologists would guide society and control education and public morality. The actual administration of the government and of the economy would be in the hands of businessmen and bankers, while the maintenance of private morality would be the province of women as wives and mothers.

Though unquestionably a man of genius, Comte inspired discipleship on the one hand and derision on the other. His plans for a future society have been described as ludicrous, and Comte was deeply reactionary in his rejection of democracy, his emphasis on hierarchy and obedience, and his opinion that the ideal government would be made up of an intellectual elite. But his ideas influenced such notable social scientists as Émile Durkheim of France and Herbert Spencer and Sir Edward Burnett Tylor of Great Britain. Comte’s belief in the importance of sociology as the scientific study of human society remains an article of faith among contemporary sociologists, and the work he accomplished remains a remarkable synthesis and an important system of thought.

Ronald Fletcher
Harry Elmer Barnes

 

 


Ernest Renan

"The Life of Jesus"


born Feb. 28, 1823, Tréguier, Fr.
died Oct. 2, 1892, Paris

French philosopher, historian, and scholar of religion, a leader of the school of critical philosophy in France.
Early career.
Renan was educated at the ecclesiastical college in his native town of Tréguier. He began training for the priesthood, and in 1838 he was offered a scholarship at the seminary of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet. He later went on to the seminary of Saint-Sulpice, where he soon underwent a crisis of faith that finally led him, reluctantly, to leave the Roman Catholic church in 1845. In his view, the church’s teachings were incompatible with the findings of historical criticism; but he kept a quasi-Christian faith in God.

Early works.
For Renan, the February revolution of 1848 in France and other parts of Europe was a religion in the making. Sometimes enthusiastic, sometimes critical, he participated in the revolution’s messianic expectations and carried this ambiguous attitude over into L’Avenir de la science (1890; The Future of Science). The main theme of this work is the importance of the history of religious origins, which he regarded as a human science having equal value to the sciences of nature. Though he was now somewhat anticlerical, the French government sent him in 1849 to Italy, where the papacy was still politically important, to help classify manuscripts previously inaccessible to French scholars.
Renan returned to Paris in 1850 to live with his sister, Henriette, on her savings and the small salary attached to his own post at the Bibliothèque Nationale. He began to make a name for himself with his doctoral thesis, Averroès et l’Averroïsme (1852; “Averroës and Averroism”), concerning the thought of that medieval Muslim philosopher. He continued his scholarly writings with two collections of essays, Études d’histoire religieuse (1857; Studies of Religious History) and Essais de morale et de critique (1859; “Moral and Critical Essays”), first written for the Revue des Deux Mondes and the Journal des Débats. The Études inculcated into a middle-class public the insight and sensitivity of the historical, humanistic approach to religion. Many of the Essais denounce the materialism and intolerance of the Second Empire (1852–70) in the name of Renan’s aristocratic ideal: intellectuals, acting as “bastions of the spirit,” must, he affirms, resist tyranny by intellectual and spiritual refinement.
In 1856 Renan married Cornélie Scheffer, niece of the painter Ary Scheffer. In October 1860 Renan was entrusted with an archaeological mission to Lebanon. The Phoenician inscriptions that he discovered were published in his Mission de Phénicie (1864–74; “Phoenician Expedition”). They were later included in the Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum (“Corpus of Semitic Inscriptions”), which he helped to bring out through the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. But archaeology was not his main interest. In April 1861, with his wife and sister, he visited the Holy Land in search of materials and inspiration concerning a life of Jesus that he was bent on writing. He finished a first draft of it in Lebanon but at tragic cost, for Henriette died of malaria at ʿAmshīt on Sept. 24, 1861, while he himself fell desperately ill.

Religious controversies.
Renan had counted on the writing of his life of Jesus to secure election to the chair of Hebrew at the Collège de France. He was elected, before the book was ready, on Jan. 11, 1862. But in his opening lecture, on February 21, he referred to Jesus in the words of Jacques Bossuet, a French bishop and historian of the 17th and 18th centuries, as “an incomparable man.” Though this was, in his eyes, the highest praise one could bestow on a man, it was not sufficient for the clericals, who took advantage of its implied atheism and the uproar caused by the lecture to have Renan suspended. Contemptuously refusing an appointment to the Bibliothèque Imperiale (June 1864), Renan decided to live by his pen for the next few years. He had to wait until 1870, however, before the chair was restored to him. He was thus pushed into opposition to the church but had already begun to frequent such dissident salons as that of Princess Mathilde, niece of Napoleon Bonaparte, and to associate with such literary notables as Gustave Flaubert, Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Hippolyte Taine, and the Goncourt brothers.
When the Vie de Jésus (Life of Jesus) did appear in 1863, it was virulently denounced by the church. Though not Renan’s best historical work, it can still claim the attention of 20th-century readers because it presents a “mythical” account of the making of Christianity by the popular imagination and thus has a place, like his other historical works, in the literature of messianism. After a journey in Asia Minor in 1864–65 with his wife, he published Les Apôtres (1866; The Apostles) and Saint Paul (1869), to follow the Vie de Jésus as parts of a series, Histoire des origines du christianisme (The History of the Origins of Christianity). Both these volumes, containing brilliant descriptions of how Christianity spread among the rootless proletariat of the cities of Asia Minor, illustrate his preoccupation with the question: would the intellectuals of the 19th century lead the masses toward a new enlightenment?

Interest in politics.
Renan began to interest himself increasingly in politics. In 1869, at the beginning of the “liberal” phase of the Second Empire, he stood unsuccessfully for Parliament. In the same year he defended constitutional monarchy in an article, “La Monarchie constitutionnelle en France” (“Constitutional Monarchy in France”). Thus far he was a liberal. In the same spirit he tried, during the Franco-German War of 1870–71, to work across frontiers: he corresponded with David Friedrich Strauss, a German theologian, and tried to persuade the Prussian crown prince (later German emperor as Frederick III) to stop the war. But the bitterness of France’s defeat and his anger with democracy caused him to become authoritarian. Thus, La Réforme intellectuelle et morale (1871), concerning intellectual and moral reform, argues that France, to achieve national regeneration, must follow the example set by Prussia after the Battle of Jena in 1806. By taking his advice, however, France would have become the sort of clerical monarchy that Renan soon found he did not want. He had to resign himself to accepting the Third Republic (1870–1940), but he withdrew from public life. Though he continued to travel zestfully all over Europe, visiting surviving Bonapartists, such as Prince Jérôme Napoléon, his life became more and more identified with his writings. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1878.

Later writings.
Renan’s ironical yet imaginative vision of the “festival of the universe” found expression in L’Antéchrist (1873; The Antichrist, 1896; vol. iv of the Histoire des origines), with its satirical portrait of Nero and its apocalyptic atmosphere—replete with expectations of a cataclysmic consummation of history—assuredly the most impressive of his historical narratives. The “festival of the universe” provides a visionary end to the Dialogues et fragments philosophiques (1876; Philosophical Dialogues and Fragments, 1899). In the first of these, however, Renan is more ironically skeptical about the hidden God than he had been. In fact, the Epicureanism of his later years masks an anxiety about death and the hereafter. His more superficial side is illustrated in the “philosophic dramas” (collected edition 1888), which trace his acceptance of the Republic, especially Caliban (written 1877) and L’Eau de jouvence (written 1879; “The Water of Youth”). In the former, the aristocracy (Prospero and Ariel) loses to democracy (Caliban) because alchemical spells (traditional sanctions) are powerless against a people infected by positivism; scientific power politics would be an effective answer, but this is out of the question because in practice it would mean a clerical monarchy.
As to the remaining volumes of the Histoire des origines, if Renan’s Epicureanism is hard to find in Les Évangiles (1877; The Gospels, 1889), it is present in L’Église chrétienne (1879; “The Christian Church”) in the portrait of the Roman emperor Hadrian; but in Marc-Aurèle (1882; Marcus Aurelius, 1904), the study of Marcus Aurelius, again a self-portrait, is dominated by the author’s preoccupation with death. Since 1876 Renan had been working on his memoirs, Souvenirs d’enfance et de jeunesse (1883; Recollections of My Youth, 1883), in which he reconstructs his life so as to show that he was predestined to become a prêtre manqué (failed priest) and that, in spite of heavy odds, his wager on the hidden God had paid off in terms of happiness.
In the Souvenirs Renan is too serene for some tastes, though his irony keeps his complacency in check. In L’Ecclésiaste (1882; “Ecclesiastes”) and two articles on Amiel (1884), he is above all an ironist combatting the Pharisees (religious legalists). On the other hand, in some of his speeches at the Académie Française, on Claude Bernard, a French physiologist (1879), and Paul-Émile Littré, a French philologist (1882), he reveals his anguish in moments of doubt. Thus, he manifests a baffling variety of characteristics, but the moral heart of the man is to be found in one of the later dramas, Le Prêtre de Némi (1885; “The Priest of Némi”), and above all in his Histoire du peuple d’Israël (1887–93; History of the People of Israel, 1888–96). For him, the history of Jewish messianism bore witness to man’s capacity for faith when the odds are against him. Thus, it revived his own faith. He could therefore hope that, though Judaism would disappear, the dreams of its prophets would one day come true, so that “without a compensatory Heaven justice will really exist on earth.” Having exhausted himself in an effort to finish the work, he died shortly after its completion in 1892.
With his leanings toward liberalism and authoritarianism in politics and faith and skepticism in religion, Renan embodied the contradictions of the middle class of his time. Politically, his influence after his death was far-reaching, on nationalists, such as Maurice Barrès and Charles Maurras, on republicans, such as Anatole France and Georges Clemenceau. He succeeded in assuaging one of the great anxieties of his time, the antagonism between science and religion, but he very much felt this anxiety.
 

 

 


Hippolyte Taine




 

born April 21, 1828, Vouziers, Ardennes, France
died March 5, 1893, Paris

French thinker, critic, and historian, one of the most esteemed exponents of 19th-century French Positivism. He attempted to apply the scientific method to the study of the humanities.

Early life and career
Taine was born into a professional middle-class family; his father was a lawyer. He was educated privately at home until shortly after his father’s death; thereafter, he went with his mother to live in Paris and became an outstanding pupil at the Collège Bourbon and then at the highly prestigious École Normale. He gained his licenceès-lettres (preliminary degree) in 1848 and began to study for his agrégation (advanced degree) in philosophy, one of his dominant interests. He already held unorthodox intellectual views. He had apparently lost his Christian faith by the age of 15, and his youthful rationalist attitude led him to admire the ideas of the Idéologue philosophers who held that all knowledge must be based on sense experience, on observation, and on controlled experiment; this overriding conviction guided his later career. He was also already attracted by the metaphysical ideas of Hegel and Spinoza, which inspired in him a desire to find a total explanation of the causal forces of life and the universe.

In contrast to these views, his new teachers of philosophy in Paris held the prevailing philosophical doctrine of eclecticism; consequently—and not without creating some scandal in academic circles—Taine’s agrégation jury failed him in 1851. He then taught for brief periods at Nevers and Poitiers but in 1852 applied for leave of absence. Returning to Paris, he devoted himself to preparing his two dissertations for the doctorate in literature: De Personis Platonicis (“Concerning Plato’s Characters”) and his first well-known work, a study of La Fontaine (1853; revised and published in 1861 as La Fontaine et ses fables [“La Fontaine and His Fables”]).

He gained his doctoral degree in May 1853 and began an essay on Livy, Essai sur Tite-Live (1856), which, despite further criticism of his philosophical outlook, won a prize from the Académie Française. During this period he was also attending lectures in science and gathering the knowledge of physiology that he utilized later in his work on psychology. Reluctant to return to full-time teaching, he lived by private tutoring and as a man of letters. Even a holiday in 1854, necessitated by ill health, was turned to advantage: in 1855 he published a literary guidebook based on his travels, Voyage aux eaux des Pyrénées (“Voyage to the Waters of the Pyrenees”).


Attack on eclecticism
More important for his own development, he contributed frequent literary and historical articles to such leading journals as the Revue des Deux Mondes, the Revue de l’Instruction Publique, and the Journal des Débats, articles that provided the basis for three books further enhancing the reputation he had gained by his works on La Fontaine and Livy. These were Les Philosophes français du XIXe siècle (1857; “The French Philosophers of the 19th Century”), a critical polemic against the prevailing eclectic philosophy of Victor Cousin and his group, which also provides in its later chapters a lucid exposition of his own Positivist theory of knowledge; a first collection of Essais de critique et d’histoire (1858; “Essays of Criticism and History”); and his notable Histoire de la littérature anglaise, 4 vols. (1863–64; History of English Literature, 1871).

The celebrated “Introduction” to the Histoire gives a succinct statement of Taine’s approach to literary and cultural history and a basic text for the understanding of his scientific attitude to literary criticism. The same great causal factors underlie any cultural artifact of a given age and society, he claims. By studying the literary documents one may understand the psychology of their author, and this, complemented by scrutiny of the facts of his life and personality, illuminates the “faculté maîtresse,” the predominant characteristic that determines his work; this, in turn, can then be “explained” by reference to three great conditioning facts, “la race,” “le milieu,” and “le moment”; i.e., the writer’s inherited personality, his social, political, and geographical background, and the historical situation in which he writes. It is evident that Taine’s interest here is less in literature itself than in historical causation and psychology, and his method may well be thought to have encouraged in his admirers an excessive preoccupation with biography and literary history at the expense of critical judgment, though Taine’s own abilities as a critic were considerable.

Throughout the 1860s Taine continued indefatigably his researches and his writing. Even his travels (to England, Italy, Germany, and The Netherlands) were utilized to gather notes for future work—for example, his closely observed if simplifying Notes sur l’Angleterre (1872; Notes on England, 1872); and even his life in Paris led to his Notes sur Paris: Vie et opinions de M. Frédéric-Thomas Graindorge (1867; Notes and Opinions of Mr. Frédérick-Graindorge, 1875), perhaps the most personal and entertaining of his books.

In 1864, by a happy decision of Napoleon III, he was appointed to succeed Viollet-le-Duc, the architect, as professor of aesthetics and of the history of art at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he lectured for 20 years. The lecture courses, which he eventually published, include Philosophie de l’art (1865; The Philosophy of Art, 1865), De l’idéal dans l’art (1867; “On the Ideal in Art”), and those on the philosophy of art in Italy (1866), The Netherlands (1868), and Greece (1869).

This post also gave him a security that favoured his more protracted scientific studies and helped make the later 1860s a happy and fertile period in his life. He published, in addition to the works named, his second volume of essays, Nouveaux essais de critique et d’histoire (1865; “New Essays of Criticism and History”), including his perceptive articles on Racine, Balzac, and Stendhal (whose psychological acuity he was one of the first to admire). In 1868 he married Mlle Denuelle, the daughter of a well-known architect and artist, by whom he had a son and a daughter.


Publication of De l’intelligence
In 1870 he published the two volumes of De l’intelligence (On Intelligence, 1871), a major work in the discipline of psychology, which had interested him since his youth. His devotion to science is most fully illustrated here; he opposes the speculative and introspective approach of the eclectics and outlines a scientific methodology for the study of human personality that established him, alongside thinkers such as Théodule Ribot and Pierre Janet, as a founder of empirical psychology. Though much of the work is now outdated, in its day it helped to modify methods of research by its emphasis on experiment, the search for causes, the study of pathological cases, and the physiological basis of personality. It also intensified opposition to his ideas, and he was angrily accused of holding a strictly determinist and materialist view of man—not altogether unfairly, even though he claimed to reject materialism and argued that moral responsibility was compatible with determinism as he conceived it.

The work also develops his long-standing attempt to fuse Positivism and Hegelian Idealism and to provide a method for a scientific metaphysics. Through such a metaphysics, he maintained, the final causes of life itself might be discovered; its insights inspired him to an exalted pantheistic trust in nature that is movingly expressed in essays on Marcus Aurelius (in Nouveaux essais) and Iphigeneia (in Derniers essais).

Germany’s invasion and defeat of France in 1870–71 had a profound impact upon Taine (already prepared in his mind by a visit in 1869 that had disabused him of his earlier enthusiasm for German civilization). The French defeat, in his view, sprang from a deep national sickness, and he determined to devote his final years to examining its causes. A shift of interest toward politics is illustrated by a brochure of 1872 on the problems and effects of universal suffrage, but, above all, his approach was historical: to seek the sources of the political instability that he held responsible for his country’s plight.


Historical theories
This major reorientation of concern led to his great historical work, Les Origines de la France contemporaine (“The Origins of Contemporary France”), a monumental analysis, claiming scientific objectivity (although its factual and interpretative reliability have been challenged). It seeks to show that France’s primary fault lay in excessive centralization, originating during the ancien régime, and intensified by the French Revolution, about which he shares and develops Edmund Burke’s hostile view. Taine asserted that far from promoting liberty, as most of the French believe, the Revolution merely transferred absolute power to even more illiberal hands. A first volume, on L’Ancien Régime (“The Old Regime”), appeared in 1876, followed by three volumes on the Revolution (1878–85). In 1878 he was also elected to the Académie Française.

To have more time for his self-appointed task he withdrew increasingly from Paris and after 1883 even resigned his professorship. Only one volume of Le Régime moderne (“The Modern Regime”), however, was published in his lifetime (1891), the second volume coming out in November 1893. The entire work was reissued in 1899. There also appeared after his death his Derniers essais de critique et d’histoire (1894; “Last Essays of Criticism and History”) and an unfinished autobiographical and psychological novel, written about 1861, Étienne Mayran (1910). He died in Paris in 1893 and was buried at Menthon-Saint-Bernard.

Taine achieved fame over a wide range of disciplines—as a leading French thinker, as a literary and art critic, and as a historian. His greatest influence upon his contemporaries, however, was as an intellectual leader, one of the most esteemed exponents of 19th-century French positivism, the cult of science in its most devoted, high-minded, and rational form. His work represents a reaction against excessive emotionalism and spiritualist philosophy and was unified by his attempt to apply the scientific method to the study of literature and art, psychology, cultural history, and to ethics and metaphysics. Taine’s ideas helped provide a theoretical basis for the literary movement of naturalism; the novel, he argued, should contribute to the scientific understanding of human nature, revealing, like the new scientific psychology he advocated, the physiological and psychological determinants of human behaviour.

Donald Geoffrey Charlton

 

 




From 1850 to 1900



Literature in the second half of the 19th century continued a natural expansion of trends already established in the first half. Intellectuals and artists remained acutely aware of the same essential problems. They continued to use the language of universalism, addressing themselves to the nature of man, his relationship with the universe, the guarantees of morality, the pursuit of beauty, and the duties of the artist. But the insights gained since the middle of the Enlightenment into the importance of historical and social specificity—which was, for the most idealistic of the Romantics, the mark of modernity—continued to restructure underlying attitudes.

As writers became progressively alienated from the official culture of the Second Empire (1852–70), the forms of their revolt became more and more disparate. While the principles of positivism were easily assimilated to the materialist pragmatism of developing capitalist society, even many rationalist thinkers were drawn to forms of idealism that placed faith in progress through science. The antirationalist and antiutilitarian writers diverged into various types of mysticism and aesthetic formalism. Even before the watershed of the Commune, in 1871, there was writing that acknowledged the situation of the repressed elements of the entrepreneurial world, workers and women, and sought to represent their search for different forms of social organization. By 1891, when the Vatican issued the encyclical Rerum Novarum (“New Things”) on the need for social justice in a modern world, the voice of the masses was already beginning to find literary expression.

 

New directions in poetry


The greatest changes occurred in poetry; the second half of the 19th century is often treated as a period of reaction against Romanticism. The important exception to this rule is Victor Hugo, nearly all of whose major poetry was published after 1850. The three collections Les Châtiments (1853; “Chastisements”), Les Contemplations (1856; “Contemplations”), and La Légende des siècles (1859, 1877, 1883; “The Legend of the Centuries”) are linked by their epic quality. Different as they are in content, intention, and tone, each is loosely structured to create an overall unity. Les Châtiments, written from exile in the Channel Islands and published clandestinely, is a hymn of hate against the mediocrity, callousness, and greed of Louis-Napoléon (Napoleon III) and the society of the Second Empire, a deluge of brilliantly comic and cutting satire, caricature, and irony, interspersed with outbursts of compassion for the poor and oppressed. The poems are arranged so as to emphasize the darkness of the present and the light of the future, as Hugo proclaims his optimistic belief in the eventual triumph of peace, liberty, and social justice. In contrast to this political saga, Les Contemplations embodies Hugo’s philosophical attitudes. It presents the poet as prophet and representative of humanity, penetrating the mysteries of creation and recounting the metaphysical truths perceived. La Légende des siècles reveals the same urge to prophesy. The poems are a series of historical and mythological narratives, borrowing some of the scientific spirit that informed Charles-Marie-René Leconte de Lisle’s work but with none of the same attention to preliminary scholarly research. Together they form not only an intensely personal and imaginative account of the origins and development of French culture and society but a key text for students of the representation of the European cultural tradition. After the three epic cycles, Hugo returned to writing short lyrics on personal themes, although he never abandoned his role as didactic poet, as the collections he churned out in the 1880s testify.




Gautier and l’art pour l’art

Hugo apart, the movement to new perspectives on poetry—stressing form over social engagement—was incontrovertible. Turning his back on his own earlier attempts to treat grand themes in the grand manner, Théophile Gautier sought a new direction for lyric poetry by linking idealism with aesthetics. He thus became an advocate of l’art pour l’art, or “art for art’s sake”—a belief that art need serve no extrinsic purpose. From the first edition of Émaux et camées (1852; “Enamels and Cameos”) to the posthumously published Derniers vers (1872; “Last Verse”), he devoted himself to a form of literary miniature painting, attempting to make something aesthetically valid out of subjects for the most part deliberately chosen for their triviality. The fashion for linking poetry with the plastic arts had grown up during the 1840s. Gautier simply developed the implications of this trend to the ultimate, concentrating on the language of shape, colour, and texture and limiting form almost exclusively to the very restrictive octosyllabic quatrain. Even themes that in his prose fiction suggest a genuine spiritual unrest, such as the fluid nature of identity or the destructive power of love, become the occasion for virtuoso ornamental elaboration. The best of these poems are transpositions from one art form to another, particularly those based on music.

 


Théophile Gautier





byname Le Bon Théo

born Aug. 31, 1811, Tarbes, France
died Oct. 23, 1872, Neuilly-sur-Seine

poet, novelist, critic, and journalist whose influence was strongly felt in the period of changing sensibilities in French literature—from the early Romantic period to the aestheticism and naturalism of the end of the 19th century.

Gautier lived most of his life in Paris. At the Collège de Charlemagne he met Gérard de Nerval and began a lasting friendship. He studied painting but soon decided that his true vocation was poetry. Sympathetic to the Romantic movement, he took part in the cultural battle that ensued when Victor Hugo’s play Hernani was first performed in Paris in 1830. He humorously recalled this period in Histoire du romantisme (1874; “History of Romanticism”) and in Portraits contemporains (1874; “Contemporary Portraits”), in which he gave an excellent description of his friend Honoré de Balzac. He satirized his own extravagances, as well as those of other Romanticists, in Les Jeunes-France (1833; “Young France”). Les Grotesques (1834–36) is about more obscure earlier writers whose individualism anticipated that of the Romantics.

Gautier’s first poems appeared in 1830. Albertus, a long narrative about a young painter who falls into the hands of a sorcerer, was published in 1832. At this time he turned from the doctrines of Romanticism and became an advocate of art for art’s sake. The preface to Albertus and the novel Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) express his views, which caused a considerable stir in literary circles by their disregard of conventional morality and insistence on the sovereignty of the beautiful. His pessimism and fear of death were expressed in the narrative poem La Comédie de la mort (1838; “The Comedy of Death”).

In 1840 Gautier visited Spain; the colour of the land and people inspired some of his best poetry, in España (1845), and prose, in Voyage en Espagne (1845). After this trip he found traveling to be a welcome escape from the constant pressures of his journalistic work, which he pursued to support himself, two mistresses, and his three children, as well as his two sisters. From 1836 to 1855 he was a weekly contributor to La Presse and Le Moniteur Universel; in 1851, editor of Revue de Paris; in 1856, editor of L’Artiste. Besides this work he contributed to many other periodicals and papers. Gautier often bemoaned the conditions of his existence; he felt that journalism was draining off the creative energy that should have been reserved for poetry.

Traveling, especially in Greece, strengthened his theory of art, his admiration of classical forms. He felt that art should be impersonal, free from the obligation of teaching moral lessons. The aim of the artist is to concentrate on achieving perfection of form. He developed a technique in poetry that he called transposition d’art (“transposing art”), recording his exact impressions when experiencing a painting or other work of art. These poems, published in Émaux et camées (1852; “Enamels and Cameos”), are among his finest, and the book was a point of departure for the writers Théodore de Banville and Leconte de Lisle. Charles Baudelaire paid tribute to Gautier in the dedication of his verse collection Les Fleurs du mal.

Gautier’s poetic and fantastic imagination is seen to advantage in his short fiction—e.g., the evocations of ancient Pompeii in Arria Marcella (1852) and the vampire story La Mort amoureuse (1857; “The Dead Lover”). His literary output was prodigious, but his art and dramatic criticism alone—partly reprinted in Les Beaux-Arts en Europe (1855) and in Histoire de l’art dramatique en France depuis vingt-cinq ans, 6 vol. (1858–59; “History of Drama in France for Twenty-Five Years”)—would ensure his reputation. As a ballet critic he remains unrivaled. He also wrote plays and the popular ballet Giselle, written in collaboration with Vernoy de Saint-Georges.

Gautier was held in esteem by many of his contemporaries who were also prominent literary figures: Gustave Flaubert, Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, the Goncourt brothers, Banville, and Baudelaire. In his last years he became the friend of the Princess Mathilde, who gave him a sinecure post as a librarian to ease his financial strain.
 





Leconte de Lisle and Parnassianism

Gautier’s cult of form is also to be met in the work of Théodore de Banville. But the reaction against the expression of personal emotion in rambling rhetorical verse was not confined to the formalism of the l’art pour l’art poets. Charles-Marie-René Leconte de Lisle, who came to be labeled the founder of Parnassianism, took a different approach in his Poèmes antiques (1852; “Antique Poems”), Poèmes barbares (1862; “Barbarous Poems”), and Poèmes tragiques (1884; “Tragic Poems”). Although his theoretical pronouncements on the supremacy of beauty suggest affinities with Gautier, Leconte de Lisle was far from believing that the subject matter of poetry was of no significance. He wanted his poetry to transmute knowledge into a higher form of truth, and he believed in the necessity of systematic research before composition. The highly material surface of his poems is used to disguise a profound nihilism. For Leconte de Lisle the history of mankind presents a long, slow decline from the golden age of antiquity, leading inevitably toward the cosmic annihilation that post-Darwinian biologists saw as the natural end of evolution. The stories recounted from European and Eastern mythology and the portraits of exotic animals and landscapes, though superficially scientific in their blending of scholarly documentation and objective narrative manner, all distill the same sense of revolt against a destiny that binds mankind to expiate crimes it is fated to commit. Leconte de Lisle’s manner and matter were taken up with enthusiasm by younger contemporaries. But only Les Trophées (The Trophies), the exquisitely miniaturist sonnets of José Maria de Heredia, written over a quarter of a century but not published until 1893, are still read.
 


Théodore de Banville



 

in full Étienne-Claude-Jean-Baptiste-Théodore-Faullain de Banville

born March 14, 1823, Moulins, France
died March 13, 1891, Paris


French poet of the mid-19th century who was a late disciple of the Romantics, a leader of the Parnassian movement, a contributor to many of the literary reviews of his time, and an influence on the Symbolists.

His first book of verse, Les Cariatides (1842; “The Caryatids”), owed much to the style and manner of Victor Hugo, but Banville rejected the poor craftsmanship of much French Romantic poetry. His Petit Traité de poésie française (1872; “Little Treatise on French Poetry”) shows his interest in the technicalities of versification, of which he became a master. He considered rhyme to be the single most important element in French verse. Following the lead of the critic Charles Sainte-Beuve, who had revived interest in the sonnet, Banville experimented with various fixed forms that had been neglected since the mid-16th century—e.g., the ballade and the rondeau. The chief quality of his poetry is its technical virtuosity, but contemporaries also admired its delicate wit and fantasy. His best-known collection is Les Odes funambulesques (1857; “Fantastic Odes”).
 

 

 


Charles-Marie-René Leconte de Lisle




 

born Oct. 22, 1818, Saint-Paul, Réunion
died July 17, 1894, Louveciennes, near Paris

poet, leader of the Parnassians, who from 1865 to 1895 was acknowledged as the foremost French poet apart from the aging Victor Hugo.

Leconte de Lisle’s theories, reacting against Romanticism and stressing the need for impersonality and discipline in poetry, were expressed with deliberate provocativeness and exaggeration. His epic poetry is often overweighted by erudition and ornamentation, but his shorter poems convey a compelling and individual vision, and “Qaïn” (1869; “Cain”) is one of the most impressive short epics of the 19th century.

Leconte de Lisle was sent to the Université de Rennes in 1837 but gave up law for literature. Recalled to Réunion by his family, he remained unwillingly on the island from 1843 to 1846, when he returned to France to work on La Démocratie pacifique, a daily journal that propagated the utopian social theories of Charles Fourier. In the poems of the next few years he drew on Greek mythology for symbols of his Revolutionary views; he wrote political articles and unsuccessfully attempted practical work for the February Revolution of 1848. Later, while remaining a republican, he became convinced that the poet should not engage in direct political action.

His first volume of poetry was published in 1852. He eventually arranged the poems, which had appeared in different collections during his lifetime, to form Poèmes antiques, Poèmes barbares, and Poèmes tragiques. Derniers poèmes was published in 1895.

He spent most of his life in financial need, attempting to support his mother, sisters, and wife by his writings. He published a series of translations from Greek and Latin; three anticlerical and republican booklets (1871–72); and, under the pseudonym Pierre Gosset, Histoire du Moyen Âge (1876). In 1873 he obtained a sinecure as librarian of the Senate and in 1886 was elected to succeed Hugo as a member of the Académie Française.

At the centre of Leconte de Lisle’s poetry is a sense of the impermanence of a vast and pitiless universe. Influenced by the new study of comparative religion and by contemporary scientific discoveries, his epics show the death of religions and civilizations—Greek, Indian, Celtic, Scandinavian, Polynesian, Jewish, and Christian. Some of Leconte de Lisle’s finest poems describe scenes of cosmic destruction with exultation rather than terror. They assert that, in the face of the cruel forces that create and destroy an ephemeral world, the poet must savour the more sharply its rich physical beauty.
 





Baudelaire

Gautier, Hugo, and Leconte de Lisle were the three contemporary French poets for whom Charles Baudelaire felt the greatest admiration, although he had no time for formalism, didacticism, or the cult of antiquity. Antithetical in all things, Baudelaire was torn both by the desire to express an urgent sense of personal and collective anguish (the dedicatory poem opening Les Fleurs du mal
"The Flowers of Evil" famously addresses the “hypocrite lecteur—mon semblable—mon frère” [“hypocrite reader—my likeness—my brother”]) and an aesthetic conviction that the effectiveness of art depends on precision and control. It is as misguided to look for consistency in Baudelaire’s critical works (such as L’Art romantique and Curiosités esthétiques, both published posthumously in 1868) as it is in his poetry, since his ideas evolved constantly and in some cases radically throughout his most creative period (1845–64). To two basic ideas, however, he remained constant: that it is the responsibility of the artist, the representative of humanity, to create meaning—signifying symbols—out of the raw material of life; and that the material world, like the artist himself, is irredeemably corrupt, possessed by forces of inertia or dissolution. The first of these explains the importance that he assigns to intuition, imagination, synesthesia, and the thrilling necessity for the artist to plunge himself into the world about him. The second led him to a poetics of frustration and revolt: the artist could rise above material corruption only through the creative act, but the creative act could not occur without the stimulus of a reality that would always be recalcitrant. Whether the Catholic images and doctrines—the language of his age and class—in which he formulated his poems are to be taken literally or whether they are best viewed as the discourse he chose to grapple with in formulating the material and historical specificities of modern life, Baudelaire was a poet deeply concerned with the relationship between humanity, morality, and art. He located morality for the artist (pictured, as in Hugo, as the prophet and representative of his generation) in his effort to see and communicate to his contemporaries the truth about themselves. The artist must bring clarity of vision into a world he saw as given over to the fogs and miasmas of hypocrisy, fudging, slothful conformism, and vicious self-seeking. He was genuinely distressed by the official condemnation of the first edition of Les Fleurs du mal (1857) on a charge of obscenity provoked by its supposed erotic realism.

The tensions within Baudelaire are depicted at their height in the second edition of Les Fleurs du mal (1861). The collection is loosely structured to present a “self” who struggles to transcend the limitations of the material world. The struggle is presented in a series of experiences that start with the poet himself, move out into the ugly—and yet, he finds, thrilling—urban environment of contemporary Paris, and gradually uncover the black depths of deformation and decay within the men and women who inhabit this modern landscape of masses and markets. In the last analysis, at the end of the poetic journey, death stands revealed as the matter and the form of the whole social and poetic endeavour, and the final thrill is the sadomasochistic tearing of the veil on his own and society’s bankruptcy. The stylistic antitheses mirror the content. Within individual poems Baudelaire shifts between the rhetorical, the impressionist, the abstract, and the intensely physical, concrete instance. He balances banality and originality, the prosaic and the melodic, to emphasize the interdependence of opposites, the chaos of forms and experience that he sees as the ground of the human condition.

In the last years of his life, Baudelaire tried to extend the literary means at his disposal by experimenting with prose poetry. The range of themes in the posthumously edited Petits Poèmes en prose (1868; “Short Poems in Prose”) is similar to that of Les Fleurs du mal, though the balance is different: urban landscapes, the ambivalent relationship of artist and crowd, and the degradations of urban poverty are given more space than is love. The relative freedom of the prose form gave scope for the shifts of tone and the innovative turns of syntax that, in Walter Benjamin’s insight, enabled Baudelaire to write for himself and his contemporaries their appropriate image, the man of the urban crowd: the juxtaposition of the ironic and the lyrical, the interweaving of anecdote, narrative, and reflection, the imaginative shock of the unexpected vision, the rhythms of pleasure and terror caught in the movement and turn of the phrase (in Benjamin’s essay On Some Motifs in Baudelaire, 1939).
 


Baudelaire

"The Flowers of Evil"


in full Charles-Pierre Baudelaire

born April 9, 1821, Paris, France
died August 31, 1867, Paris

French poet, translator, and literary and art critic whose reputation rests primarily on Les Fleurs du mal (1857; The Flowers of Evil), which was perhaps the most important and influential poetry collection published in Europe in the 19th century. Similarly, his Petits poèmes en prose (1868; “Little Prose Poems”) was the most successful and innovative early experiment in prose poetry of the time.

Early life
Baudelaire was the only child of François Baudelaire and his much younger second wife, Caroline Defayis, whom he married in 1819. Having begun his career as a priest, François had abandoned holy orders in 1793 and ultimately became a prosperous middle-ranking civil servant. A painter and poet of modest talent, he introduced his son to art, or what the younger Baudelaire would later call his greatest, most consuming, and earliest of passions, “the cult of images.” His father died in February 1827, and for some 18 months thereafter Baudelaire and his mother lived together on the outskirts of Paris in conditions that he would always remember, writing to her in 1861 of that “period of passionate love” for her when “I was forever alive in you; you were solely and completely mine.” This “verdant paradise of childhood loves” abruptly ended in November 1828 when Caroline married Jacques Aupick, a career soldier who rose to the rank of general and who later served as French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and Spain before becoming a senator under the Second Empire.

In 1831 Aupick was posted to Lyons, and Baudelaire began his education at the Collège Royal there in 1832 before transferring, on the family’s return to Paris in 1836, to the prestigious Lycée Louis-le-Grand. Baudelaire showed promise as a student and began to write his earliest poems, but to his masters he seemed an example of precocious depravity, adopting what they called “affectations unsuited to his age.” He also developed a tendency to moods of intense melancholy, and he became aware that he was solitary by nature. Regular acts of indiscipline led to his being expelled from the school after a trivial incident in April 1839. After passing his baccalauréat examinations while enrolled at the Collège Saint-Louis, Baudelaire became a nominal student of law at the École de Droit while in reality leading a “free life” in the Latin Quarter. There he made his first contacts in the literary world and also contracted the venereal disease that would eventually kill him, probably from a prostitute nicknamed Sarah la Louchette (“Squint-Eyed Sarah”), whom he celebrated in some of his most affecting early poems.

In an attempt to wean his stepson from such disreputable company, Aupick sent him on a protracted voyage to India in June 1841, but Baudelaire effectively jumped ship in Mauritius and, after a few weeks there and in Réunion, returned to France in February 1842. The voyage had deepened and enriched his imagination, however, and his brief encounter with the tropics would endow his writing with an abundance of exotic images and sensations and an everlasting theme of nostalgic reverie.

Baudelaire came into his inheritance in April 1842 and rapidly proceeded to dissipate it on the lifestyle of a dandified man of letters, spending freely on clothes, books, paintings, expensive food and wines, and, not least, hashish and opium, which he first experimented with in his Paris apartment at the Hôtel Pimodan (now the Hôtel Lauzun) on the Île Saint-Louis between 1843 and 1845. It was shortly after returning from the South Seas that Baudelaire met Jeanne Duval, who, first as his mistress and then, after the mid-1850s, as his financial charge, was to dominate his life for the next 20 years. Jeanne would inspire Baudelaire’s most anguished and sensual love poetry, her perfume and, above all, her magnificent flowing black hair provoking such masterpieces of the exotic-erotic imagination as La Chevelure (“The Head of Hair”).

Baudelaire’s continuing extravagance exhausted half his fortune in two years, and he also fell prey to cheats and moneylenders, thus laying the foundation for an accumulation of debt that would cripple him for the rest of his life. In September 1844 his family imposed on him a legal arrangement that restricted his access to his inheritance and effectively made of him a legal minor. The modest annual allowance henceforth granted him was insufficient to clear his debts, and the resulting state of permanently straitened finances led him to still greater emotional and financial dependence on his mother and also exacerbated his growing detestation of his stepfather. The agonizing moods of isolation and despair that Baudelaire had known in adolescence, and which he called his moods of “spleen,” returned and became more frequent.


Early writings
Baudelaire had returned from the South Seas in 1842 determined as never before to become a poet. From then until 1846 he probably composed the bulk of the poems that make up the first edition (1857) of Les Fleurs du mal. He refrained from publishing them as separate texts, however, which suggests that from the outset he had in mind a coherent collection governed by a tight thematic architecture rather than a simple sequence of self-contained poems. In October 1845 he announced the imminent appearance of a collection entitled Les Lesbiennes (“The Lesbians”), followed, at intervals after 1848, by Les Limbes (“Limbo”), the stated goal of which was to “represent the agitations and melancholies of modern youth.” Neither collection ever appeared in book form, however, and Baudelaire first established himself in the Parisian cultural milieu not as a poet but as an art critic with his reviews of the Salons of 1845 and 1846. Inspired by the example of the Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix, he elaborated in his Salons a wide-ranging theory of modern painting, with painters being urged to celebrate and express the “heroism of modern life.” In January 1847 Baudelaire published a novella entitled La Fanfarlo whose hero, or antihero, Samuel Cramer, is widely, if simplistically, seen as a self-portrait of the author as he agonizedly oscillates between desire for the maternal and respectable Madame de Cosmelly and the erotic actress-dancer of the title.

Thereafter little is heard of Baudelaire until February 1848, when he is widely reported to have participated in the riots that overthrew King Louis-Philippe and installed the Second Republic; one uncorroborated account has him brandishing a gun and urging the insurgents to shoot General Aupick, who was then director of the École Polytechnique. Such stories have led some to dismiss Baudelaire’s involvement in the revolutionary events of 1848–51 as mere rebelliousness on the part of a disaffected (and still unpublished) bourgeois poet. More recent studies suggest he had a serious commitment to a radical political viewpoint that probably resembled that of the socialist-anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Baudelaire is reliably reported to have taken part both in the working-class uprising of June 1848 and in the resistance to the Bonapartist military coup of December 1851; the latter, he claimed shortly afterwards, ended his active interest in politics. Henceforth his focus would be exclusively on his writing.


Maturity and decline
In 1847 Baudelaire had discovered the work of Edgar Allan Poe. Overwhelmed by what he saw as the almost preternatural similarities between the American writer’s thought and temperament and his own, he embarked upon the task of translation that was to provide him with his most regular occupation and income for the rest of his life. His translation of Poe’s Mesmeric Revelation appeared as early as July 1848, and thereafter translations appeared regularly in reviews before being collected in book form in Histoires extraordinaires (1856; “Extraordinary Tales”) and Nouvelles Histoires extraordinaires (1857; “New Extraordinary Tales”), each preceded by an important critical introduction by Baudelaire. These were followed by Les Aventures d’Arthur Gordon Pym (1857), Eurêka (1864), and Histoires grotesques et sérieuses (1865; “Grotesque and Serious Tales”). As translations these works are, at their best, classics of French prose, and Poe’s example gave Baudelaire greater confidence in his own aesthetic theories and ideals of poetry. Baudelaire also began studying the work of the conservative theorist Joseph de Maistre, who, together with Poe, impelled his thought in an increasingly antinaturalist and antihumanist direction. From the mid-1850s Baudelaire would regard himself as a Roman Catholic, though his obsession with original sin and the Devil remained unaccompanied by faith in God’s forgiveness and love, and his Christology was impoverished to the point of nonexistence.

Between 1852 and 1854 Baudelaire addressed a number of poems to Apollonie Sabatier, celebrating her, despite her reputation as a high-class courtesan, as his madonna and muse, and in 1854 he had a brief liaison with the actress Marie Daubrun. In the meantime Baudelaire’s growing reputation as Poe’s translator and as an art critic at last enabled him to publish some of his poems. In June 1855 the Revue des deux mondes published a sequence of 18 of his poems under the general title of Les Fleurs du mal. The poems, which Baudelaire had chosen for their original style and startling themes, brought him notoriety. The following year Baudelaire signed a contract with the publisher Poulet-Malassis for a full-length poetry collection to appear with that title. When the first edition of Les Fleurs du mal was published in June 1857, 13 of its 100 poems were immediately arraigned for offences to religion or public morality. After a one-day trial on August 20, 1857, six of the poems were ordered to be removed from the book on the grounds of obscenity, with Baudelaire incurring a fine of 300 (later reduced to 50) francs. The six poems were first republished in Belgium in 1866 in the collection Les Épaves (“Wreckage”), and the official ban on them would not be revoked until 1949. Owing largely to these circumstances, Les Fleurs du mal became a byword for depravity, morbidity, and obscenity, and the legend of Baudelaire as the doomed dissident and pornographic poet was born.


The last years
The failure of Les Fleurs du mal, from which he had expected so much, was a bitter blow to Baudelaire, and the remaining years of his life were darkened by a growing sense of failure, disillusionment, and despair. Shortly after his book’s condemnation, he had a brief and apparently botched physical liaison with Apollonie Sabatier, followed, in late 1859, by an equally brief and unhappy reunion with Marie Daubrun. Although Baudelaire wrote some of his finest works in these years, few were published in book form. After publishing his earliest experiments in prose poetry, he set about preparing a second edition of Les Fleurs du mal. In 1859, while living with his mother at Honfleur on the Seine River estuary, where she had retired after Aupick’s death in 1857, Baudelaire produced in rapid succession a series of poetic masterpieces beginning with Le Voyage in January and culminating in what is widely regarded as his greatest single poem, Le Cygne (“The Swan”), in December. At the same time, he composed two of his most provocative essays in art criticism, the Salon de 1859 and Le Peintre de la vie moderne (“The Painter of Modern Life”). The latter essay, inspired by the draftsman Constantin Guys, is widely viewed as a prophetic statement of the main elements of the Impressionist vision and style a decade before the actual emergence of that school. The year 1860 saw the publication of Les Paradis artificiels, Baudelaire’s translation of sections of the English essayist Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater accompanied by his own searching analysis and condemnation of drugs. In February 1861 a second, and greatly enlarged and improved, edition of Les Fleurs du mal was published by Poulet-Malassis. Concurrently Baudelaire published important critical essays on Théophile Gautier (1859), Richard Wagner (1861), Victor Hugo and other contemporary poets (1862), and Delacroix (1863), all of which would be collected after his death in L’Art romantique (1869). The tantalizing autobiographical fragments entitled Fusées (“Rockets”) and Mon coeur mis à nu (“My Heart Laid Bare”) also date from the 1850s and early ’60s.

In 1861 Baudelaire made an ill-advised and unsuccessful attempt to gain election to the French Academy. In 1862 Poulet-Malassis was declared bankrupt; Baudelaire was involved in his publisher’s failure, and his financial difficulties became desperate. By this time he was in a critical state both physically and psychologically, and feeling what he chillingly called “the wind of the wing of imbecility” pass over him. Abandoning verse poetry as his medium, Baudelaire now concentrated on writing prose poems, a sequence of 20 of which was published in La Presse in 1862. In April 1864 he left Paris for Brussels in the hope of persuading a Belgian publisher to publish his complete works. He would remain in Belgium, increasingly embittered and impoverished, until the summer of 1866, when, following a collapse in the Church of Saint-Loup at Namur, he was stricken with paralysis and aphasia from which he would never recover. Baudelaire died at age 46 in the Paris nursing home in which he had been confined for the last year of his life.

At the time of Baudelaire’s death, many of his writings were unpublished and those that had been published were out of print. This was soon to change, however. The future leaders of the Symbolist movement who attended his funeral were already describing themselves as his followers, and by the 20th century he was widely recognized as one of the greatest French poets of the 19th century.


Les Fleurs du mal
Baudelaire’s poetic masterpiece, the 1861 edition of Les Fleurs du mal, consists of 126 poems arranged in six sections of varying length. Baudelaire always insisted that the collection was not a “simple album” but had “a beginning and an end,” each poem revealing its full meaning only when read in relation to the others within the “singular framework” in which it is placed. A prefatory poem makes it clear that Baudelaire’s concern is with the general human predicament of which his own is representative. The collection may best be read in the light of the concluding poem, Le Voyage, as a journey through self and society in search of some impossible satisfaction that forever eludes the traveler.

The first section, entitled “Spleen et idéal,” opens with a series of poems that dramatize contrasting views of art, beauty, and the artist, who is depicted alternately as martyr, visionary, performer, pariah, and fool. The focus then shifts to sexual and romantic love, with the first-person narrator of the poems oscillating between extremes of ecstasy (“idéal”) and anguish (“spleen”) as he attempts to find fulfillment through a succession of women whom it is possible, if simplistic, to identify with Jeanne Duval, Apollonie Sabatier, and Marie Daubrun. Each set of love poems describes an erotic cycle that leads from intoxication through conflict and revulsion to an eventual ambivalent tranquillity born of memory and the transmutation of suffering into art. Yet the attempt to find plenitude through love comes in the end to nothing, and “Spleen et idéal” ends with a sequence of anguished poems, several of them entitled “Spleen,” in which the self is shown imprisoned within itself, with only the certainty of suffering and death before it.

The second section, “Tableaux parisiens,” was added to the 1861 edition and describes a 24-hour cycle in the life of the city through which the Baudelairean traveler, now metamorphosed into a flaneur (idle man-about-town), moves in quest of deliverance from the miseries of self, only to find at every turn images of suffering and isolation that remind him all too pertinently of his own. The section includes some of Baudelaire’s greatest poems, most notably Le Cygne, where the memory of a swan stranded in total dereliction near the Louvre becomes a symbol of an existential condition of loss and exile transcending time and space. Having gone through the city forever meeting himself, the traveler turns, in the much shorter sections that follow, successively to drink (Le Vin), sexual depravity (Fleurs du mal), and Satanism (Révolte) in quest of the elusive ideal. His quest is predictably to no avail for, as the final section, entitled La Mort, reveals, his journey is an everlasting, open-ended odyssey that, continuing beyond death, will take him into the depths of the unknown, always in pursuit of the new, which, by definition, must forever elude him.


Prose poems
Baudelaire’s Petits poèmes en prose was published posthumously in 1869 and was later, as intended by the author, entitled Le Spleen de Paris (translated as The Parisian Prowler). He did not live long enough to bring these poems together in a single volume, but it is clear from his correspondence that the work he envisaged was both a continuation of, and a radical departure from, Les Fleurs du mal. Some of the texts may be regarded as authentic poems in prose, while others are closer to miniature prose narratives. Again the setting is primarily urban, with the focus on crowds and the suffering lives they contain: a broken-down street acrobat (Le Vieux Saltimbanque), a hapless street trader (Le Mauvais Vitrier), the poor staring at the wealthy in their opulent cafés (Le Yeux des pauvres), the deranged (Mademoiselle Bistouri) and the derelict (Assommons les pauvres!), and, in the final text (Les Bons Chiens), the pariah dogs that scurry and scavenge through the streets of Brussels. Not only is the subject matter of the prose poems essentially urban, but the form itself, “musical but without rhythm and rhyme, both supple and staccato,” is said to derive from “frequent contact with enormous cities, from the junction of their innumerable connections.” In its deliberate fragmentation and its merging of the lyrical with the sardonic, Le Spleen de Paris may be regarded as one of the earliest and most successful examples of a specifically urban writing, the textual equivalent of the city scenes of the Impressionists, embodying in its poetics of sudden and disorienting encounter that ambiguous “heroism of modern life” that Baudelaire celebrated in his art criticism.


Influence and assessment
As both poet and critic, Baudelaire stands in relation to French and European poetry as Gustave Flaubert and Édouard Manet do to fiction and painting, respectively: as a crucial link between Romanticism and modernism and as a supreme example, in both his life and his work, of what it means to be a modern artist. His catalytic influence was recognized in the 19th century by Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Algernon Charles Swinburne and, in the 20th century, by Paul Valéry, Rainer Maria Rilke, and T.S. Eliot. In his pursuit of an “evocative magic” of images and sounds, his blending of intellect and feeling, irony and lyricism, and his deliberate eschewal of rhetorical utterance, Baudelaire moved decisively away from the Romantic poetry of statement and emotion to the modern poetry of symbol and suggestion. He was, said his disciple Jules Laforgue, the first poet to write of Paris as one condemned to live day to day in the city, his greatest originality being, as Verlaine wrote as early as 1865, to “represent powerfully and essentially modern man” in all his physical, psychological, and moral complexity. He is a pivotal figure in European literature and thought, and his influence on modern poetry has been immense.

Richard D.E. Burton
 



 

Realism in the novel


Diversity among the Realists


The label Realism came to be applied to literature by way of painting as a result of the controversy surrounding the work of Gustave Courbet in the early 1850s. Courbet’s realism consisted in the emotionally neutral presentation of a slice of life chosen for its ordinariness rather than for any intrinsic beauty. Literary realism, however, was a much less easily definable concept. Hence the loose use of the term in the late 1850s, when it was applied to works as various as Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857), Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal, and the social dramas of Alexandre Dumas fils. Even the members of the so-called Realist school were not entirely in agreement. Edmond Duranty, cofounder of the monthly journal Réalisme (1856), supported the view that novels should be written in a plain style about the ordinary lives of middle- or working-class people, but he insisted that the Realists’ main aim should be to serve a social purpose. Jules-François-Félix Husson (known as Champfleury), an art critic and novelist, stressed the need for careful research and documentation and rejected any element of didactic intention. The practice of those labeled Realists was even more diverse than their theory. The writers who most fully realized Champfleury’s ideal of a documentary presentation of the day-to-day, Edmond and Jules Goncourt, were also the most concerned with that aesthetic perfection of style that Duranty and Champfleury rejected in practice as well as in principle. In the Goncourts’ six jointly written novels that appeared in the 1860s, and in four further novels written by Edmond Goncourt after his brother’s death, plot is reduced to a minimum and the interest of the novel is divided equally between stylistic bravura and the minutely documented portrayal of a milieu or a psychological state—the upbringing of a middle-class girl in Renée Mauperin (1864; Eng. trans. Renée Mauperin) or the degenerating lifestyle of a female servant in Germinie Lacerteux (1864; Eng. trans. Germinie Lacerteux).
 


Edmond and Jules Goncourt


in full Edmond-Louis-Antoine Huot de Goncourt and Jules-Alfred Huot de Goncourt

born May 26, 1822, Nancy, France
died July 16, 1896, Champrosay
born December 17, 1830, Paris
died June 20, 1870, Auteuil

French brothers, writers and constant collaborators who made significant contributions to the development of the naturalist novel and to the fields of social history and art criticism. Above all, they are remembered for their perceptive, revealing Journal and for Edmond’s legacy, the Académie Goncourt, which annually awards the Prix Goncourt to the author of an outstanding work of French literature.

The Goncourts’ widowed mother left them an income that enabled the brothers to live in modest comfort without working and rescued Edmond from a treasury clerkship that had driven him to suicidal despair. The brothers immediately began to lead a life doubly dominated by aesthetics and self-indulgence. Amateur artists, they first made a sketching tour of France, Algeria, and Switzerland. Back home in their Paris flat, they made a fetish of orderly housekeeping, but their lives were continually disordered by noises, upset stomachs, insomnia, and neurasthenia. Neither of them married. All the mistresses appearing in the Journal no doubt belonged to Jules, whose fatal stroke presumably was preceded by syphilis.

From attempts at art the brothers turned to plays and in 1851 published a novel, En 18, all without success. As journalists, they were arrested in 1852, though later acquitted, for an “outrage against public morality,” which consisted of quoting mildly erotic Renaissance verses in one of their articles. The brothers achieved more success with a series of social histories, which they began publishing in 1854. These drew on private correspondence, newspaper accounts, brochures, even dinner menus and dress patterns to recreate the life of specific periods in French history. As art critics, the Goncourts’ most notable achievement was L’Art du dix-huitième siècle (1859–75; French Eighteenth Century Painters), which helped redeem the reputations of such masters of that time as Antoine Watteau.

The same meticulous documentation and attention to detail went into the Goncourts’ novels. The brothers covered a vast range of social environments in their novels: the world of journalism and literature in Charles Demailly (1860); that of medicine and the hospital in Soeur Philomène (1861); upper middle-class society in Renée Mauperin (1864); and the artistic world in Manette Salomon (1867). The Goncourts’ frank presentation of upper and lower social classes and their clinical dissection of social relations helped establish literary naturalism and paved the way for such novelists as Émile Zola and George Moore. The most lasting of their novels, Germinie Lacerteux (1864), was based on the double life of their ugly, seemingly impeccable servant, Rose, who stole their money to pay for nocturnal orgies and men’s attentions. It is one of the first realistic French novels of working-class life. Most of the other novels, however, suffer from overly long exposition and description, excessive detail, and mannered, artificial language. The Goncourts were also known for the theoretical prefaces to their novels; Edmond gathered a selection of these writings for the collection Préfaces et manifestes littéraires (1888; “Prefaces and Literary Manifestos”).

The Goncourts began keeping their monumental Journal in 1851, and Edmond continued it for 26 more years from Jules’s death in 1870 until his own. The diary weaves through every social stratum, from the hovels where the brothers sought atmosphere for Germinie Lacerteux to dinners with great men of the day. Full of critical judgments, scabrous anecdotes, descriptive sketches, literary gossip, and thumbnail portraits, the complete Journal is at once a revealing autobiography and a monumental history of social and literary life in 19th-century Paris.

The Académie Goncourt, first conceived by the brothers in 1867, was officially constituted in 1903.




Flaubert

It is easy to see why Gustave Flaubert was so firm in dissociating himself from such writers as Champfleury and Duranty, given that his own work undermined all sense of stability in perceptions and values by emphasizing the idea that any version of reality is relative to the person who perceives it. Furthermore, Flaubert rejected the idea that there was any merit in attempting to transpose a “slice of life” onto the page in “everyday language.” For him, only art could give meaning to the raw material provided by the external world; only through its reworking by the artist could language be lifted above the utilitarian emptiness of everyday use and forced to inscribe objectively the perceptions of the author, and characters, that create a world.

Flaubert’s juvenilia show the writer’s struggle to control his own instinctive idealism and to find a way of reconciling his belief in the primacy of facts with his rejection of the pettiness of contemporary materialism. His fascination with escapism and Romantic excess was to reappear in Salammbô (1863; Eng. trans. Salammbo) and La Tentation de Saint-Antoine (1874; The Temptation of Saint Anthony), in which he portrays exotic subjects in a heightened lyrical fashion. However, his major novels—Madame Bovary (1857; Eng. trans. Madame Bovary) and L’Éducation sentimentale (1869; Sentimental Education)—fuse his poetic gifts with discourses closer to everyday experience to evoke the thoughts and feelings of trivial lives frittered away in hopeless attempts to transcend the banality of the modern world. Emma Bovary, trapped in the unrelieved dullness of provincial landscape and domesticity, destroys herself by attempting to base her life on the ideas of passion and happiness she has gathered from popular romance. In her efforts to make the world around her fit her preconceived images, Emma—at best a dreamer, at worst a social climber—is an easy victim for the exploitative men who come her way, and she is inexorably drawn onward to financial ruin and, eventually, suicide. Emma’s own mediocrity is part and parcel of the provincial society in which she lives, and her illusory view is paralleled by the various illusions entertained by all the major characters. Most of these, however, being men, have more scope to pursue their dreams, or else they are happy to confine desire within the limits of bourgeois values and convention—as, for example, the apothecary Homais, the master of the idées reçues (“received ideas”) that Flaubert so loathed (and would later satirize in his unfinished novel, Bouvard et Pécuchet [published posthumously in 1881; Eng. trans. Bouvard and Pécuchet]). Sentimental Education extends the study to cover the entire “generation of 1848,” showing how all emotional, artistic, and social ideals are corroded by contact with reality. Its central character, Frédéric Moreau, is a passive version of Emma, and the ruling motif is one of prostitution—the sale of love, talent, and principle.

The key to both Madame Bovary and Sentimental Education is the brilliance of a style that manages to mold its contours to the personality, ambitions, and limits of each character it evokes. Syntactic rhythms and images are drawn from each character’s own experience and point of perception, as well as from the common stock of discourses to which their historical situation gives them access. Over the whole, Flaubert casts his own authorial presence, unobtrusive but visible, drily ironic, and sharply analytic. His Trois contes (1877; Three Tales) is a stylistic tour de force, evoking the possibilities and limits of three lives, each lived at a distinct and significant moment of historical transition, and telling the tale of each life in the language, artistic forms, and perspectives each moment offers.




 


Gustave Flaubert


"Madame Bovary"    PART I, PART II, PART III




 

born December 12, 1821, Rouen, France
died May 8, 1880, Croisset


novelist regarded as the prime mover of the realist school of French literature and best known for his masterpiece, Madame Bovary (1857), a realistic portrayal of bourgeois life, which led to a trial on charges of the novel’s alleged immorality.

Early life and works
Flaubert’s father, Achille Cléophas Flaubert, who was from Champagne, was chief surgeon and clinical professor at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Rouen. His mother, a doctor’s daughter from Pont l’Évêque, belonged to a family of distinguished magistrates typical of the great provincial bourgeoisie.

Gustave Flaubert began his literary career at school, his first published work appearing in a little review, Le Colibri, in 1837. He early formed a close friendship with the young philosopher Alfred Le Poittevin, whose pessimistic outlook had a strong influence on him. No less strong was the impression made by the company of great surgeons and the environment of hospitals, operating theatres, and anatomy classes, with which his father’s profession brought him into contact.

Flaubert’s intelligence, moreover, was sharpened in a general sense. He conceived a strong dislike of accepted ideas (idées reçues), of which he was to compile a “dictionary” for his amusement. He and Le Poittevin invented a grotesque imaginary character, called “le Garçon” (the Boy), to whom they attributed whatever sort of remark seemed to them most degrading. Flaubert came to detest the “bourgeois,” by which he meant anyone who “has a low way of thinking.”

In November 1841 Flaubert was enrolled as a student at the Faculty of Law in Paris. At age 22, however, he was recognized to be suffering from a nervous disease that was taken to be epilepsy, although the essential symptoms were absent. This made him give up the study of law, with the result that henceforth he could devote all his time to literature. His father died in January 1846, and his beloved sister Caroline died in the following March after giving birth to a daughter. Flaubert then retired with his mother and his infant niece to his estate at Croisset, near Rouen, on the Seine. He was to spend nearly all the rest of his life there.

On a visit to Paris in July 1846, at the sculptor James Pradier’s studio, Flaubert met the poet Louise Colet. She became his mistress, but their relationship did not run smoothly. His self-protecting independence and her jealousy made separation inevitable, and they parted in 1855.

In 1847 Flaubert went on a walking tour along the Loire and the coast of Brittany with the writer Maxime du Camp, whose acquaintance he had made as a law student. The pages written by Flaubert in their journal of this tour “over fields and shores” were published after his death under that title, Par les champs et par les grèves. This book contains some of his best writing—e.g., his description of a visit to Chateaubriand’s family estate, Combourg.


Mature career
Some of the works of Flaubert’s maturity dealt with subjects on which he had tried to write earlier. At age 16, for instance, he completed the manuscript of Mémoires d’un fou (“Memoirs of a Mad Man”), which recounted his devastating passion for Elisa Schlésinger, 11 years his senior and the wife of a music publisher, whom he had met in 1836. This passion was only revealed to her 35 years later when she was a widow. Elisa provided the model for the character Marie Arnoux in the novel L’Education sentimentale. Before receiving its definitive form, however, this work was to be rewritten in two distinct intermediate versions in manuscript: Novembre (1842) and a preliminary draft entitled L’Éducation sentimentale (1843–45). Stage by stage it was expanded into a vast panorama of France under the July Monarchy—indispensable reading, according to Georges Sorel, for any historian studying the period that preceded the coup d’etat of 1851.

The composition of La Tentation de Saint Antoine provides another example of that tenacity in the pursuit of perfection that made Flaubert go back constantly to work on subjects without ever being satisfied with the results. In 1839 he was writing Smarh, the first product of his bold ambition to give French literature its Faust. He resumed the task in 1846–49, in 1856, and in 1870, and finally published the book as La Tentation de Saint Antoine in 1874. The four versions show how the author’s ideas changed in the course of time. The version of 1849, influenced by Spinoza’s philosophy, is nihilistic in its conclusion. In the second version the writing is less diffuse, but the substance remains the same. The third version shows a respect for religious feeling that was not present in the earlier ones, since in the interval Flaubert had read Herbert Spencer and reconciled the Spencerian notion of the Unknown with his Spinozism. He had come to believe that science and religion, instead of conflicting, are rather the two poles of thought. The published version incorporated a catalog of errors in the field of the Unknown (just as Bouvard et Pécuchet was to contain a list of errors in the field of science).

From November 1849 to April 1851 Flaubert was travelling in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Italy with Maxime du Camp. Before leaving, however, he wanted to finish La Tentation and to submit it to his friend the poet Louis Bouilhet and to du Camp for their sincere opinion. For three days in September 1849 he read his manuscript to them, and they then condemned it mercilessly. “Throw it all into the fire, and let’s never mention it again.” Bouilhet gave further advice: “Your Muse must be kept on bread and water or lyricism will kill her. Write a down-to-earth novel like Balzac’s Parents pauvres. The story of Delamare, for instance. . . .”

Eugéne Delamare was a country doctor in Normandy who died of grief after being deceived and ruined by his wife, Delphine (née Couturier). The story, in fact that of Madame Bovary, is not the only source of that novel. Another was the manuscript Mémoires de Mme Ludovica, discovered by Gabrielle Leleu in the library of Rouen in 1946. This is an account of the adventures and misfortunes of Louise Pradier (née d’Arcet), the wife of the sculptor James Pradier, as dictated by herself, and, apart from the suicide, it bears a strong resemblance to the story of Emma Bovary. Flaubert, out of kindness as well as out of professional curiosity, had continued to see Louise Pradier when the “bourgeois” were ostracizing her as a fallen woman, and she must have given him her strange document. Even so, when inquisitive people asked him who served as model for his heroine, Flaubert replied, “Madame Bovary is myself.” As early as 1837 he had written Passion et vertu, a short and pointed story with a heroine, Mazza, resembling Emma Bovary. For Madame Bovary he took a commonplace story of adultery and made of it a book that will always be read because of its profound humanity. While working on his novel Flaubert wrote: “My poor Bovary suffers and cries in more than a score of villages in France at this very moment.” Madame Bovary, with its unrelenting objectivity—by which Flaubert meant the dispassionate recording of every trait or incident that could illuminate the psychology of his characters and their role in the logical development of his story—marks the beginning of a new age in literature.

Madame Bovary cost the author five years of hard work. Du Camp, who had founded the periodical Revue de Paris, urged him to make haste, but he would not. The novel, with the subtitle Moeurs de province (“Provincial Customs”), eventually appeared in installments in the Revue from October 1 to December 15, 1856. The French government then brought the author to trial on the ground of his novel’s alleged immorality, and he narrowly escaped conviction (January–February 1857). The same tribunal found the poet Charles Baudelaire guilty on the same charge six months later.

To refresh himself after his long application to the dull world of the bourgeoisie in Madame Bovary, Flaubert immediately began work on Salammbô, a novel about ancient Carthage, in which he set his sombre story of Hamilcar’s daughter Salammbô, an entirely fictitious character, against the authentic historical background of the revolt of the mercenaries against Carthage in 240–237 bc. His transformation of the dry record of Polybius into richly poetic prose is comparable to Shakespeare’s treatment of Plutarch’s narrative in the lyrical descriptions in Antony and Cleopatra. A play, Le Château des coeurs (The Castle of Hearts, 1904), written in 1863, was not printed until 1880.


Later years
The merits of L’Éducation sentimentale, which appeared a few months before the outbreak of the Franco-German War of 1870, were not appreciated, and Flaubert was much disappointed. Two plays, Le Sexe faible (“The Feeble Sex”) and Le Candidat (The Candidate, 1904), likewise had no success, though the latter was staged for four performances in March 1874. The last years of his life, moreover, were saddened by financial troubles. In 1875 his niece Caroline’s husband, Ernest Commanville, a timber importer, found himself heavily in debt. Flaubert sacrificed his own fortune to save him from bankruptcy. Flaubert sought consolation in his work and in the friendship of George Sand, Ivan Turgenev, and younger novelists—Émile Zola, Alphonse Daudet, and, especially, Guy de Maupassant, who was the son of his friend Alfred Le Poittevin’s sister Laure and who regarded himself as Flaubert’s disciple.

Flaubert temporarily abandoned work on a long novel, Bouvard et Pécuchet, in order to write Trois Contes, containing the three short stories “Un Coeur simple,” a tale about the drab and simple life of a faithful servant; “La Légende de Saint Julien l’Hospitalier”; and “Hérodias.” This book, through the diversity of the stories’ themes, shows Flaubert’s talent in all its aspects and has often been held to be his masterpiece.

The heroes of Bouvard et Pécuchet are two clerks who receive a legacy and retire to the country together. Not knowing how to use their leisure, they busy themselves with one abortive experiment after another and plunge successively into scientific farming, archaeology, chemistry, and historiography, as well as taking an abandoned child into their care. Everything goes wrong because their futile book learning cannot compensate for their lack of judgment.

The profound meaning of Bouvard et Pécuchet, which was left unfinished by Flaubert and which was not published until after his death, has been seriously misunderstood by those critics who have regarded it as a denial of the value of science. In fact it is “scientism” (and by analogy the confusion of doctrines) that Flaubert is arraigning—i.e., the practice of taking science out of its own domain, of confusing efficient and final causes, and of convincing oneself that one understands fundamentals when one has not even grasped the superficial phenomena. Intoxicated with empty words, Bouvard and Pécuchet awake from their dream only when catastrophe overtakes all of their efforts.

Flaubert has been accused of presenting them as imbeciles, but in fact he expresses his compassion for them: “They acquire a faculty deserving of pity, they recognize stupidity and can no longer tolerate it. Through their inquisitiveness their understanding grows; having had more ideas, they suffered more.” Flaubert’s satire is thus to some extent the history of his own experience told with a sad humour.

Flaubert died suddenly of an apoplectic stroke. He left on his table an unfinished page and notes for the second volume of his novel. Bouvard and Pécuchet, tired of experimenting, were to go back to the work of transcribing and copying that they had done as clerks. The matter that they chose to transcribe was the subject of the notes: it was to be a selection of quotations, a sottisier , or anthology of foolish remarks. There has been much controversy about this bitter conclusion, as the form that it was to take was left undetermined in the notes Flaubert left, though the materials were gathered and have been published.


Method of composition
Flaubert’s aim in art was to create beauty, and this consideration often overrode moral and social issues in his depiction of truth. He worked slowly and carefully, and, as he worked, his idea of his art became gradually more exact. His letters to Louise Colet, written while he was working on Madame Bovary, show how his attitude changed. His ambition was to achieve a style “as rhythmical as verse and as precise as the language of science” (letter of April 24, 1852). In his view “the faster the word sticks to the thought, the more beautiful is the effect.” He often repeated that there was no such thing as a synonym and that a writer had to track down le seul mot juste, “the unique right word,” to convey his thought precisely. But at the same time he always wanted a cadence and a harmony of sounding syllables in his prose, so that it would appeal not only to the reader’s intelligence but also to his subconscious mind in the same way as music does and thus have a more penetrating effect than the mere sense of the words at their face value. Composition for him was a real anguish.

Flaubert sought objectivity above all else in his writing: “The author, in his work, must be like God in the Universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.” It is paradoxical, therefore, that his personality should be so clearly discernible in all his work and that his letters, written casually to his intimates and full of disarming sincerity, delicate sensibility, and even exquisite tenderness—side by side with jovial coarseness of expression—should be considered by some critics as his masterpiece.

René Dumesnil
Jacques Barzun
 





Drama

The society of the Second Empire, and indeed that of the early decades of the Third Republic, did not like to see itself too accurately portrayed on the stage; yet at the same time, in reaction against the escapism and nonconformity of Romantic drama, its members wanted the stage to reflect contemporary values and preoccupations. Hence the predominance from 1850 to 1890 of social drama on the one hand and light comedy, farce, and operetta on the other. Social drama, denied the use of political issues by censorship, confined itself to the tension between new money and old social position, the morality of financial speculation, and the threat to family life posed by extramarital sexual relationships—all themes touched upon previously in light comedy (in, for example, the plays of Eugène Scribe). The settings and character types were related to the audience’s milieu; hence the plays were considered to be realistic at the time, although their sentimentality, black-and-white morality, and melodramatic turns of plot make them seem highly artificial in modern terms. The major writers of social drama were Dumas fils and Émile Augier. Dumas fils is best remembered for his romanticization of the courtesan in La Dame aux camélias (1848; The Lady with the Camellias), the novel and play on which the libretto of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata was based, but the moralizing Les Idées de Mme Aubray (1867), with its plea for the social redemption of repentant fallen women, is more typical of his major works. Augier’s morality was more solidly conservative than was Dumas’s, as can be seen from one of his best-known plays, Le Mariage d’Olympe (1855; “The Marriage of Olympia”), which proposes that what makes a woman into a prostitute in the first place is an innate propensity to vice. On the other hand, Augier’s treatment of the venality of the press and the corruption of financiers in Les Effrontés (1861; “The Shameless Ones”) is as trenchant as comparable portraits in the Naturalist novelists.

Light comedy and farce similarly relied upon a thin layer of contemporary social relevance, with marriage, the ménage à trois, and the pretensions of the lower middle class as the main subjects. In farce in particular, social criticism passed from being an end to a means, and the return to sanity at the end of the plays confirmed the audience’s assumption that the world would ultimately always conform to expected and accepted standards. The classic examples of the genre are the plays of Eugène-Marin Labiche, notably Un Chapeau de paille d’Italie (1851; The Italian Straw Hat).

When their taste ventured into something more literary, Second Empire audiences were obliged to look to the fantastical comedies of Alfred de Musset, written 30 years earlier but not staged until the 1850s and ’60s. In light comedy proper and costume drama, the leading figure of the age was George Bernard Shaw’s bugbear, Victorien Sardou. But the most successful genre of all was undoubtedly operetta, especially the absurd comedies of the collaborators Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, whose work was set to music by Jacques Offenbach. La Belle Hélène (1864; Fair Helen), in which a frivolous pastiche of Classical legend is spiced by an acute satire on the manners, morals, and values of the court of Napoleon III, was the nearest thing to political satire that the French stage could boast for 20 years.

The Franco-German War and the consequent collapse of the empire had little perceptible effect on mainline theatre, though Offenbach lost favour because of his German associations. Attempts by other writers (Flaubert, the Goncourts, Zola) to establish a more genuinely realistic form of theatre failed, partly because public taste and theatrical commercialism made experiment nearly impossible and partly because the plays written were theatrically incompetent. The only effective Naturalist dramatist was Henry-François Becque.

That Becque owed his success to André Antoine, the founder and director of the Théâtre Libre (1887–96), is symptomatic of the way in which literary theatre in the last decades of the century was largely dependent for its revival on small-scale directorial experimentation. Antoine, who aimed at creating a unity between the staging (decor and acting style) of a play and its content, in the interest of total realism, introduced Paris to the drama of Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg. From 1891 Paul Fort, founder of the Théâtre d’Art, and his successor, Aurélien Lugné-Poë, who restyled the company as the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre, applied Antoine’s principles to the creation of antinaturalistic theatre. It was these little experimental companies that principally staged Symbolist plays and began to explore the spectacular resources of the stage, including puppet theatre and shadow plays, as well as the theatre’s capacity to create a new antirealist drama focused on ideas, fantasy, and dream. Most productions were of minor work (by, for example, Auguste, comte de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, and Rachilde [Marguerite Eymery]); even the Belgian Maurice Maeterlinck, whose influence made itself felt throughout Europe, won only small, select audiences for such plays as Pelléas et Mélisande (1892; Eng. trans. Pelleas and Melisande), Monna Vanna (1902; Eng. trans. Monna Vanna), and the celebrated children’s play L’Oiseau bleu (1908; The Blue Bird). The significance of such theatrical innovation was felt more widely in the following century. Alfred Jarry’s Ubu roi (King Ubu), a vicious lampoon on the violence of despotic rule, has been said to foreshadow Surrealism and the Theatre of the Absurd. The play opened at the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre on December 11, 1896, played to pandemonium and near-riot, and closed the following night.

 


Eugène Scribe



in full Augustin-Eugène Scribe

born Dec. 24, 1791, Paris, France
died Feb. 20, 1861, Paris

French dramatist whose works dominated the Parisian stage for more than 30 years.

Scribe began his career as a playwright by resurrecting the vaudeville, an obsolete form of short satirical comedy that used rhymed and sung couplets and featured musical interludes. He soon began replacing its stock characters with ones drawn from contemporary society and introducing elements of the comedy of manners into his plays. He eliminated the musical interludes altogether and expanded the elements of comic intrigue until his plays had become genuine comedies. He went on to become one of the great masters of the neatly plotted, tightly constructed well-made play.

Although mostly forgotten today, Scribe was a writer of prodigious industry who also achieved great popular success. He wrote almost 400 theatre pieces of every kind, often in collaboration in what was virtually a literary factory. His comedies, which express the values and predilections of bourgeois society and praise the virtues of commerce and family life, were intended to appeal to the material aspirations of a middle-class audience whose capacity for idealism was limited. Among his many comedies are Une Nuit de la garde nationale (1815; “A Night with the National Guard”), Le Charlatanisme (1825), and Le Mariage d’argent (1827; “Marriage for Money”). Scribe is also remembered for such historical plays as Le Verre d’eau (1840; “The Glass of Water”), which derives great historical events from a trivial incident, and Bertrand et Raton (1833), a historical comedy. His Adrienne Lecouvreur (1849), a melodrama about an actress who loves a nobleman, unaware of his high rank and true identity, was favoured as a vehicle by such notable actresses as Sarah Bernhardt and Helena Modjeska. Scribe also wrote a ballet and several opera libretti. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1836.
 

 

 


Dumas Alexandre, fils


"The Lady of the Camellias"



 

born July 27, 1824, Paris, Fr.
died Nov. 27, 1895, Marly-le-Roi


French playwright and novelist, one of the founders of the “problem play”—that is, of the middle-class realistic drama treating some contemporary ill and offering suggestions for its remedy. He was the son (fils) of the dramatist and novelist Alexandre Dumas, called Dumas père.

Dumas fils possessed a good measure of his father’s literary fecundity, but the work of the two men could scarcely be more different. His first success was a novel, La Dame aux camélias (1848), but he found his vocation when he adapted the story into a play, known in English as Camille, first performed in 1852. (Giuseppe Verdi based his opera La Traviata, first performed in 1853, on this play.) Although Dumas père had written colourful historical plays and novels, Dumas fils specialized in drama set in the present. The unhappy witness of the ruin brought on his father by illicit love affairs, Dumas fils—himself the child of one of these affairs—devoted his plays to sermons on the sanctity of the family and of marriage. Le Demi-Monde (performed 1855), for example, dealt with the threat to the institution of marriage posed by prostitutes. Modern audiences usually find Dumas’s drama verbose and sententious, but in the late 19th century eminent critics praised his plays for their moral seriousness. He was admitted to the Académie Française in 1875.

Among his most interesting plays are Le Fils naturel (1858; “The Natural Son”) and Un Père prodigue (1859), a dramatization of Dumas’s interpretation of his father’s character.
 

Eleonora Duse as Marguerite Gautier in "The Lady of the Camellias"; late 19th century


"The Lady of the Camellias"
(French: La Dame aux camélias) is a novel by
Dumas Alexandre, fils, first published in 1848, that was subsequently adapted for the stage. The Lady of the Camellias premiered at the Théâtre du Vaudeville in Paris, France on February 2, 1852. An instant success, Giuseppe Verdi immediately set about to put the story to music. His work became the 1853 opera La Traviata with the female protagonist "Marguerite Gautier" renamed "Violetta Valéry".

In the English-speaking world, The Lady of the Camellias became known as Camille and 16 versions have been performed at Broadway theatres alone. The titular lady is Marguerite Gautier, who is based on Rose Marie Duplessis, the real-life lover of author Dumas Alexandre, fils
 

 

 


Eugène-Marin Labiche


born May 5, 1815, Paris, France
died Jan. 23, 1888, Paris


comic playwright who wrote many of the most popular and amusing light comedies of the 19th-century French stage.

Born into the bourgeois class that was to provide him with the social setting for most of his works, Labiche read for the bar and then briefly worked as a journalist before turning to writing fiction. In 1838 he published a novel, La Clef des champs (“The Key to the Fields”). Of his early plays, Monsieur de Coislin (1838), written in collaboration with Marc Michel, was his first great success. A long series of hilarious full-length and one-act plays followed. Written together with other authors, these works were presented mostly at the Palais-Royal, the home of light comedy. Typically, the plays are based on an improbable incident evolving into an imbroglio that brings out the folly and frailty of the characters. The best of his works include Le Chapeau de paille d’Italie (1851; The Italian Straw Hat), which inspired René Clair’s classic film of the same name (1927); Le Misanthrope et l’Auvergnat (1852); Le Voyage de M. Perrichon (1860; The Journey of Mr. Perrichon); and La Poudre aux yeux (1861; “The Bluff”).

Though full of dramatic devices, Labiche’s plays nonetheless show real insight into human nature. When his plays were first presented, the exaggerated and slapstick style of his favourite actors—such as Jean Geoffroy, for whom many of the parts were written—somewhat obscured the delightfully precise delineations of character. With the publication of his Théâtre complet, 10 vol. (1878–83) while he was in retirement, Labiche was engulfed by renewed acclaim and success, including election to the Académie Française in 1880. Sound and entertaining, his works raised the lowly farce to a much higher level of literary accomplishment.
 

 

 


Henry-François Becque


born April 18, 1837, Neuilly, Fr.
died May 12, 1899, Paris


dramatist and critic whose loosely structured plays, based on character and motivation rather than on closely knit plots, provided a healthy challenge to the “well-made plays” that held the stage in his day. Although Becque disliked literary theory and refused identification with any school, he has been remembered as a forerunner of the Naturalist movement, whose chief exponent was the novelist Émile Zola.

From 1867 Becque tried his hand at various types of drama, including vaudeville and a play on a socialist theme. Les Corbeaux (1882; The Vultures, 1913), his masterpiece, describes a bitter struggle for an inheritance. The unvaried egotism of the characters and the realistic dialogue were unfavourably received, except by the Naturalist critics, and the play had only three performances. La Parisienne (1885; Parisienne, 1943) scandalized the public by its treatment of the story of a married woman and her two lovers. Its importance, like that of Les Corbeaux, was not recognized until a decade after its appearance. In his last years, a withdrawn and somewhat misanthropic figure, Becque devoted himself to journalism and to a drama of the financial world that he never completed.

 

 

 


 Alfred Jarry



 

born Sept. 8, 1873, Laval, France
died Nov. 1, 1907, Paris

French writer mainly known as the creator of the grotesque and wild satirical farce Ubu roi (1896; “King Ubu”), which was a forerunner of the Theatre of the Absurd.

A brilliant youth who had come to Paris at 18 to live on a small family inheritance, Jarry frequented the literary salons and began to write. His fortune was soon dissipated, and he lapsed into a chaotic and anarchic existence in which he met the demands of day-to-day life with self-conscious buffoonery. He died in a state of utter destitution and alcoholism.

On Dec. 10, 1896, at the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre, the director Aurélien Lugné-Poë presented Ubu roi, a dramatic sketch that was first conceived by Jarry at the age of 15, with some schoolmates, to caricature a pompous schoolmaster. The play’s principal character is Père Ubu, a grotesque and repulsive character who becomes the king of Poland. Ubu symbolizes the crass stupidity and avarice of the bourgeoisie as his lust for power drives him to abuse his authority and commit acts of cruelty in the name of questionable principles. The play’s first production caused a scandal, and it closed after two nights. This inauspicious debut was partly a result of the outrage felt by the audience at Ubu’s speech, which was purposely deformed and vulgar, riddled with malapropisms and derisive absurdities. Jarry’s sequels to Ubu roi included Ubu enchaîné (1900; Ubu Enchained), Ubu sur la butte (1901; “Ubu on the Mound”) and Ubu cocu (published posthumously in 1944; “Ubu Cuckolded”). The first three plays were performed by Jean Vilar at the Théâtre National Populaire in 1958. Jean-Louis Barrault directed a composite production drawn from his works, Jarry sur la butte (“Jarry on the Mound”), in 1970.

Jarry also published stories, novels, and poems, but the brilliant imagery and wit of these works usually lapse into incoherence and a meaningless and often scatological symbolism. Jarry invented a logic of the absurd that he christened “pataphysique”; he presented this eccentric metaphysical scheme in Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien (published 1911; “Deeds and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician”).

 




 

Naturalism

The argument for the existence of a distinctive Naturalist school of writing depends on the joint publication, in 1880, of Les Soirées de Médan, a volume of short stories by Émile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Henry Céard, Léon Hennique, and Paul Alexis. The Naturalists purported to take a more scientifically analytic approach to the presentation of reality than had their predecessors, treating dissection as a prerequisite for description. Hence Zola’s attachment to the term naturalisme, borrowed from Hippolyte Taine, the positivist philosopher who claimed for literary criticism the status of a branch of psychology. It is difficult to find a coherent statement of the Naturalist theoretical position. Zola’s work notes are fragmentary, and his public statements about the novel are all distorted by their polemical purpose—particularly the essay “Le Roman expérimental” (1880; “The Experimental Novel”), in which he developed a parallel between the methods of the novelist and those of the experimental scientist. An examination of the views held in common by Zola, Maupassant (in, for example, “Le Roman,” the introductory text to his novel Pierre et Jean [1888; Pierre and Jean]), and Huysmans indicates that the basis of Naturalism can best be defined as the analytic study of a given milieu, the demonstration of a deterministic relation between milieu and characters, the application of a (more or less) mechanistic theory of psychology, and the rejection of any sort of idealism. However, like Flaubert, the Naturalists did not see reality as capable of any simple objective transcription. Zola and Maupassant accepted as part of literary truth the transposition of reality through the temperament of the individual writer and the role played by form in the construction of the real.




Zola

Émile Zola’s Naturalism depends on the extensive documentation that he undertook before writing each novel. This extensiveness is emphasized by the subtitle of his 20-novel cycle Les Rougon-Macquart: histoire naturelle et sociale d’une famille sous le second Empire (“The Rougon-Macquart: Natural and Social History of a Family Under the Second Empire”). The linking of so many novels through a single family and the emphasis on the deterministic effects of heredity and environment confirm the scientific purpose. Zola’s canvas is broader than Flaubert’s or even Balzac’s: he handles subjects as diverse as a miners’ strike in Germinal (1885; Eng. trans. Germinal), working-class alcoholism in L’Assommoir (1877; Eng. trans. The Drunkard or L’Assommoir), the sexual decadence of the upper classes in La Curée (1872; The Kill) and Nana (1880; Eng. trans. Nana), and the ferocious attachment of the peasantry to their land in La Terre (1887; Earth). But there are countless examples of manipulation of facts, particularly in the chronology of the novels, which show that for Zola documentary accuracy was not paramount. Indeed, his work notes reveal that he saw the scientific principles underlying the novels as a literary device to hold them together and thus strengthen the personal vision of reality that they contained. The sense of period and family unity is soon submerged, as Zola becomes both poet and moralist in his portrayal of contemporary values. All the major novels are dominated by symbolically anthropomorphized forces that control and destroy both individual and mass. Thus the mine in Germinal is represented as a voracious beast devouring those who work in it. This tendency to symbolism, which for Zola is a mode of both analysis and commentary, can be seen in an even more extreme form in the reinterpretation of the Genesis story in La Faute de l’abbé Mouret (1875; The Sin of Father Mouret). As the cycle progresses, the sense of a doomed society rushing toward the apocalypse grows, to be confirmed in Zola’s penultimate novel, on the Franco-German War, La Débâcle (1892; The Debacle).
 

The trilogy Les Trois Villes (1894–98; “The Three Cities”) and the unfinished tetralogy Les Quatres Évangiles (1899–1903; “The Four Gospels”), which followed Les Rougon-Macquart, are unreadably didactic, laying bare the obsessions with scientific progress and socialist humanitarianism, and the hostility toward the philosophy and politics of Roman Catholicism, which had been present in a concealed form in the earlier novels. Zola’s contribution to French life after Les Rougon-Macquart lay more in his spirited intervention in the Dreyfus Affair, with his combative open letter, “J’accuse,” of January 13, 1898, taking up the cause of the Jewish army officer unjustly convicted of treason.

 


Émile Zola

"J'accuse" (I accuse)



 

in full Émile-Édouard-Charles-Antoine Zola
born , April 2, 1840, Paris, France
died Sept. 28, 1902, Paris

French novelist, critic, and political activist who was the most prominent French novelist of the late 19th century. He was noted for his theories of naturalism, which underlie his monumental 20-novel series Les Rougon-Macquart, and for his intervention in the Dreyfus Affair through his famous open letter, “J’accuse.”

Life
Though born in Paris in 1840, Zola spent his youth in Aix-en-Provence in southern France, where his father, a civil engineer of Italian descent, was involved in the construction of a municipal water system. The senior Zola died in 1847, leaving Madame Zola and her young son in dire financial straits. In Aix, Zola was a schoolmate of the painter Paul Cézanne, who would later join him in Paris and introduce him to Édouard Manet and the Impressionist painters.

Although Zola completed his schooling at the Lycée Saint-Louis in Paris, he twice failed the baccalauréat exam, which was a prerequisite to further studies, and in 1859 he was forced to seek gainful employment. Zola spent most of the next two years unemployed and living in abject poverty. He subsisted by pawning his few belongings and, according to legend, by eating sparrows trapped outside his attic window. Finally, in 1862 he was hired as a clerk at the publishing firm of L.-C.-F. Hachette, where he was later promoted to the advertising department. To supplement his income and make his mark in the world of letters, Zola began to write articles on subjects of current interest for various periodicals; he also continued to write fiction, a pastime he had enjoyed since boyhood. In 1865 Zola published his first novel, La Confession de Claude (Claude’s Confession), a sordid, semiautobiographical tale that drew the attention of the public and the police and incurred the disapproval of Zola’s employer. Having sufficiently established his reputation as a writer to support himself and his mother, albeit meagerly, as a freelance journalist, Zola left his job at Hachette to pursue his literary interests.

In the following years Zola continued his career in journalism while publishing two novels: Thérèse Raquin (1867), a grisly tale of murder and its aftermath that is still widely read, and Madeleine Férat (1868), a rather unsuccessful attempt at applying the principles of heredity to the novel. It was this interest in science that led Zola, in the fall of 1868, to conceive the idea of a large-scale series of novels similar to Honoré de Balzac’s La Comédie humaine (The Human Comedy), which had appeared earlier in the century. Zola’s project, originally involving 10 novels, each featuring a different member of the same family, was gradually expanded to comprise the 20 volumes of the Rougon-Macquart series.

La Fortune des Rougon (The Rougon Family Fortune), the first novel in the series, began to appear in serial form in 1870, was interrupted by the outbreak of the Franco-German War in July, and was eventually published in book form in October 1871. Zola went on to produce these 20 novels—most of which are of substantial length—at the rate of nearly one per year, completing the series in 1893.

In the 1860s and ’70s Zola also defended the art of Cézanne, Manet, and the Impressionists Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir in newspaper articles. During this period he was a constant presence at weekly gatherings of the painters at various studios and cafés, where theories about the arts and their potential interrelationships were vociferously debated. Zola’s friendship with Cézanne and the other artists was, however, irreparably damaged by the publication of his novel L’Oeuvre (1886; The Masterpiece), which depicts the life of an innovative painter who, unable to realize his creative potential, ends up hanging himself in front of his final painting. Cézanne, in particular, chose to see the novel as a thinly disguised commentary on his own temperament and talent.

In 1870 Zola married Gabrielle-Alexandrine Meley, who had been his companion and lover for almost five years, and the young couple assumed the care of Zola’s mother. In the early ’70s Zola expanded his literary contacts, meeting frequently with Gustave Flaubert, Edmond Goncourt, Alphonse Daudet, and Ivan Turgenev, all successful novelists whose failures in the theatre led them to humorously refer to themselves as auteurs sifflés (“hissed authors”). Beginning in 1878 the Zola home in Médan, on the Seine River not far from Paris, served as a gathering spot for a group of the novelist’s disciples, the best-known of whom were Guy de Maupassant and Joris-Karl Huysmans, and together they published a collection of short stories, Les Soirées de Médan (1880; Evenings at Médan).

As the founder and most celebrated member of the naturalist movement, Zola published several treatises to explain his theories on art, including Le Roman expérimental (1880; The Experimental Novel) and Les Romanciers naturalistes (1881; The Naturalist Novelists). Naturalism involves the application to literature of two scientific principles: determinism, or the belief that character, temperament, and, ultimately, behaviour are determined by the forces of heredity, environment, and historical moment; and the experimental method, which entails the objective recording of precise data in controlled conditions.

If Zola’s penchant for polemics and publicity led him to exaggerate his naturalist principles in his early writings, in later years, it can be said, rather, that controversy sought out the reluctant novelist. His publication of a particularly grim and sordid portrait of peasant life in La Terre in 1887 led a group of five so-called disciples to repudiate Zola in a manifesto published in the important newspaper Le Figaro. His novel La Débâcle (1892), which was openly critical of the French army and government actions during the Franco-German War (1870–71), drew vitriolic criticism from French and Germans alike. Despite Zola’s undisputed prominence, he was never elected to the French Academy, although he was nominated on no fewer than 19 occasions.

Although Zola’s marriage to Alexandrine endured until his death, the author had a fourteen-year affair with Jeanne Rozerot, one of his wife’s housemaids, beginning in 1888. Jeanne bore him his only children—Denise and Jacques—who were “recognized” by Madame Zola after her husband’s death.

In 1898 Zola intervened in the Dreyfus Affair—that of a Jewish French army officer whose wrongful conviction for treason in 1894 sparked a 12-year controversy that deeply divided French society. At an early stage in the proceedings Zola had decided rightly that Alfred Dreyfus was innocent. On Jan. 13, 1898, in the newspaper L’Aurore, Zola published a fierce denunciation of the French general staff in an open letter beginning with the words “J’accuse” (“I accuse”). He charged various high-ranking military officers and, indeed, the War Office itself of concealing the truth in the wrongful conviction of Dreyfus for espionage. Zola was prosecuted for libel and found guilty. In July 1899, when his appeal appeared certain to fail, he fled to England. He returned to France the following June when he learned that the Dreyfus case was to be reopened with a possible reversal of the original verdict. Zola’s intervention in the controversy helped to undermine anti-Semitism and rabid militarism in France.

Zola’s final series of novels, Les Trois Villes (1894–98; The Three Cities) and Les Quatre Évangiles (1899–1903; The Four Gospels) are generally conceded to be far less forceful than his earlier work. However, the titles of the novels in the latter series reveal the values that underlay his entire life and work: Fécondité (1899; Fecundity), Travail (1901; Work), Vérité (1903; Truth), and Justice (which, ironically, remained incomplete).

Zola died unexpectedly in September 1902, the victim of coal gas asphyxiation resulting from a blocked chimney flue. Officially, the event was determined to be a tragic accident, but there were—and still are—those who believe that fanatical anti-Dreyfusards arranged to have the chimney blocked.

At the time of his death, Zola was recognized not only as one of the greatest novelists in Europe but also as a man of action—a defender of truth and justice, a champion of the poor and the persecuted. At his funeral he was eulogized by Anatole France as having been not just a great man, but “a moment in the human conscience,” and crowds of mourners, prominent and poor alike, lined the streets to salute the passing casket. In 1908 Zola’s remains were transferred to the Panthéon and placed alongside those of Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Victor Hugo, other French authors whose works and deeds, like those of Zola, had changed the course of French history.


Les Rougon-Macquart
Although he produced some 60 volumes of fiction, theory, and criticism, in addition to numerous pieces of journalism, during his 40-year career, Zola is best known for his 20-volume series Les Rougon-Macquart, which is “the natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire.” As the subtitle suggests, the naturalist goal of demonstrating the deterministic influence of heredity is fulfilled by tracing the lives of various members of the three branches of the Rougon-Macquart family. At the same time, the weight of historical moment is shown by limiting the action of the novels to one historical period, that of the Second Empire (1852–70), which was the reign of Napoleon III, the nephew and pale imitation of Napoleon Bonaparte. Finally, Zola examines the impact of environment by varying the social, economic, and professional milieu in which each novel takes place.

La Curée (1872; The Kill), for example, explores the land speculation and financial dealings that accompanied the renovation of Paris during the Second Empire. Le Ventre de Paris (1873; The Belly of Paris) examines the structure of the Halles, the vast central market-place of Paris, and its influence on the lives of its workers. The 10 steel pavilions that make up the market are compared alternately to a machine, a palace, and an entire city, thereby situating the market within a broader social framework. Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876; His Excellency Eugène Rougon) traces the machinations and maneuverings of cabinet officials in Napoleon III’s government.

L’Assommoir (1877; “The Club”; Eng. trans. The Drunkard), which is among the most successful and enduringly popular of Zola’s novels, shows the effects of alcoholism in a working-class neighbourhood by focusing on the rise and decline of a laundress, Gervaise Macquart. Zola’s use of slang, not only by the characters but by the narrator, and his vivid paintings of crowds in motion lend authenticity and power to his portrait of the working class. Nana (1880) follows the life of Gervaise’s daughter as her economic circumstances and hereditary penchants lead her to a career as an actress, then a courtesan, professions underscored by a theatrical metaphor that extends throughout the novel, revealing the ceremonial falseness of the Second Empire. Au Bonheur des Dames (1883; Ladies’ Delight) depicts the mechanisms of a new economic entity, the department store, and its impact on smaller merchants. The sweeping descriptions of crowds and dry-goods displays justify Zola’s characterization of the novel as “a poem of modern activity.”

Germinal (1885), which is generally acknowledged to be Zola’s masterpiece, depicts life in a mining community by highlighting relations between the bourgeoisie and the working class. At the same time, the novel weighs the events of a miners’ strike and its aftermath in terms of those contemporary political movements (Marxism, anarchism, trade unionism) that purport to deal with the problems of the proletariat. Zola’s comparison of the coal mine to a devouring monster and his use of animal and botanical imagery to characterize the workers create a novel of epic scope that replicates, in modern terms, ancient myths of damnation and resurrection. A quite different work, L’Oeuvre (1886), explores the milieu of the art world and the interrelationship of the arts by means of the friendship between an Impressionist painter, Claude Lantier, and a naturalist novelist, Pierre Sandoz. Zola’s verbal style mirrors the visual techniques of Impressionism in word-pictures of Paris transformed by varying effects of colour, light, and atmosphere.

In La Terre (1887; Earth) Zola breaks with the tradition of rustic, pastoral depictions of peasant life to show what he considered to be the sordid lust for land among the French peasantry. In La Bête humaine (1890; The Human Beast) he analyzes the hereditary urge to kill that haunts the Lantier branch of the family, set against the background of the French railway system, with its powerful machinery and rapid movement. La Débâcle (1892; The Debacle) traces both the defeat of the French army by the Germans at the Battle of Sedan in 1870 and the anarchist uprising of the Paris Commune. Zola superimposes the viewpoints of numerous characters to capture the vividness of individual vision while at the same time obtaining an overall strategic sense of the war. Finally, in Le Docteur Pascal (1893) he uses the main character, the doctor Pascal Rougon, armed with a genealogical tree of the Rougon-Macquart family published with the novel, to expound the theories of heredity underlying the entire series.

The Rougon-Macquart series thus constitutes a family saga, not unlike those of today’s television miniseries, while providing a valuable sociological document of the events, institutions, and ideas that marked the rise of modern industrialism and the cultural changes it entailed. However, if the novels continue to be widely read today, it is largely due to Zola’s unique artistry, a poetry of machine and motion, vitalized by the individual viewpoint, yet structured by vast networks of imagery that capture the intense activity and alienation of modern industrial society. Zola’s novels have had an immense impact on modern literature, from the existentialist novel and the “new novel” in France to the works of the “muckrakers” in the United States. In their striking combination of visuality and movement, Zola’s novels can even be said to foreshadow the motion picture, for which they have proved admirably suited for adaptation, from the pioneering version of La Bête humaine by Jean Renoir in 1938 to the big-budget rendition of Germinal by Claude Berri in 1993. Above all, Zola’s writings endure on account of his forthright portrayal of social injustice, his staunch defence of the downtrodden, and his unwavering belief in the betterment of the human condition through individual and collective action.

William J. Berg



Maupassant


Of the other Naturalists, only Guy de Maupassant, a protégé of Flaubert, is still widely read. His Naturalism, as evidenced in Le Roman (1887; The Novel) by his declaration that his intention was to “write the history of the heart, soul and mind in their normal state,” involves the use of significant detail to indicate the neuroses and vicious desires masked by everyday appearances. Many of his short stories, whether set in Normandy or Paris, rely on sharply reductive, satiric techniques directed against his favourite targets—women, the middle classes, the Prussians—and designed to bring out hypocrisy and dishonesty as the central forces in human life (as in Boule de suif [1880; Butterball in Butterball]). His tales of mystery and imagination (for example, Le Horla [1886–87]) bring sharp psychological insight to the evocation of the supernatural. There is a shift in manner and matter from Une Vie (1883; A Woman’s Life), with its echoes of Madame Bovary, through the detached but destructive portrait of the worlds of journalism and finance in Bel-Ami (1885; Eng. trans. Bel-Ami), to the powerful evocation of the crippling effects of jealousy in Pierre et Jean (1888; Pierre and Jean).

The reaction against reasonIn the last decades of the century, particularly from 1880 onward, the opposition intensified between those creative writers who grounded their thinking in the material world and those who rejected physical experience as meaningless without reference to some spiritual dimension or intellectual ideal. Whereas Baudelaire and Flaubert incorporated elements of both attitudes into their writings, other poets and novelists who followed them tended to take one or the other line to an extreme. The turn of the century saw the rise of a variety of disparate movements: Naturalism, Decadence, Symbolism, and the Roman Catholic revival.
 


Guy de Maupassant


"Bel-Ami"



 

French writer

in full Henry-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant
born August 5, 1850, Château de Miromesnil?, near Dieppe, France
died July 6, 1893, Paris

Main
French naturalist writer of short stories and novels who is by general agreement the greatest French short-story writer.

Early life
Maupassant was the elder of the two children of Gustave and Laure de Maupassant. His mother’s claim that he was born at the Château de Miromesnil has been disputed. The couple’s second son, Hervé, was born in 1856.

Both parents came of Norman families, the father’s of the minor aristocracy, but the marriage was a failure, and the couple separated permanently when Guy was 11 years old. Although the Maupassants were a free-thinking family, Guy received his first education from the church and at age 13 was sent to a small seminary at Yvetot that took both lay and clerical pupils. He felt a decided antipathy for this form of life and deliberately engineered his own expulsion for some trivial offense in 1868. He moved to the lycée at Le Havre and passed his baccalaureate the following year. In the autumn of 1869 he began law studies in Paris, which were interrupted by the outbreak of the Franco-German War. Maupassant volunteered, served first as a private in the field, and was later transferred through his father’s intervention to the quartermaster corps. His firsthand experience of war was to provide him with the material for some of his finest stories.

Maupassant was demobilized in July 1871 and resumed his law studies in Paris. His father came to his assistance again and obtained a post for him in the Ministry of Marine, which was intended to support him until he qualified as a lawyer. He did not care for the bureaucracy but was not unsuccessful and was several times promoted. His father managed to have him transferred, at his own wish, to the Ministry of Public Instruction in 1879.


Apprenticeship with Flaubert
Maupassant’s mother, Laure, was the sister of Alfred Le Poittevin, who had been a close friend of Gustave Flaubert, and she herself remained on affectionate terms with the novelist for the rest of his life. Laure sent her son to make Flaubert’s acquaintance at Croisset in 1867, and when he returned to Paris after the war, she asked Flaubert to keep an eye on him. This was the beginning of the apprenticeship that was the making of Maupassant the writer. Whenever Flaubert was staying in Paris, he used to invite Maupassant to lunch on Sundays, lecture him on prose style, and correct his youthful literary exercises. He also introduced him to some of the leading writers of the time, such as Émile Zola, Ivan Turgenev, Edmond Goncourt, and Henry James. “He’s my disciple and I love him like a son,” Flaubert said of Maupassant. It was a concise description of a twofold relationship: if Flaubert was the inspiration for Maupassant the writer, he also provided the child of a broken marriage with a foster father. Flaubert’s sudden and unexpected death in 1880 was a grievous blow to Maupassant.

Zola described the young Maupassant as a “terrific oarsman able to row fifty miles on the Seine in a single day for pleasure.” Maupassant was a passionate lover of the sea and of rivers, which accounts for the setting of much of his fiction and the prevalence in it of nautical imagery. In spite of his lack of enthusiasm for the bureaucracy, his years as a civil servant were the happiest of his life. He devoted much of his spare time to swimming and to boating expeditions on the Seine. One can see from a story like Mouche (1890; Fly) that the latter were more than merely boating expeditions and that the girls who accompanied Maupassant and his friends were usually prostitutes or prospective prostitutes. Indeed, there can be little doubt that the early years in Paris were the start of his phenomenal promiscuity.

When Maupassant was in his early 20s, he discovered that he was suffering from syphilis, one of the most frightening and widespread maladies of the age. The fact that his brother died at an early age of the same disease suggests that it might have been congenital. Maupassant was adamant in refusing to undergo treatment, with the result that the disease was to cast a deepening shadow over his mature years and was accentuated by neurasthenia, which had also afflicted his brother.

During his apprenticeship with Flaubert, Maupassant published one or two stories under a pseudonym in obscure provincial magazines. The turning point came in April 1880, the month before Flaubert’s death. Maupassant was one of six writers, led by Zola, who each contributed a short story on the Franco-German War to a volume called Les Soirées de Médan. Maupassant’s story, Boule de suif (“Ball of Fat”), was not only by far the best of the six, it is probably the finest story he ever wrote. In it, a prostitute traveling by coach is companionably treated by her fellow French passengers, who are anxious to share her provisions of food, but then a German officer stops the coach and refuses to let it proceed until he has possessed her; the other passengers induce her to satisfy him, and then ostracize her for the rest of the journey. Boule de suif epitomizes Maupassant’s style in its economy and balance.


Mature life and works
As soon as Boule de suif was published, Maupassant found himself in demand by newspapers. He left the ministry and spent the next two years writing articles for Le Gaulois and the Gil Blas. Many of his stories made their first appearance in the latter newspaper. The 10 years from 1880 to 1890 were remarkable for their productivity; he published some 300 short stories, six novels, three travel books, and his only volume of verse.

La Maison Tellier (1881; “The Tellier House”), a book of short stories on various subjects, is typical of Maupassant’s achievement as a whole, both in his choice of themes and in his determination to present men and women objectively in the manifold aspects of life. His concern was with l’humble vérité—words which he chose as the subtitle to his novel Une Vie (1883; A Woman’s Life). This book, which sympathetically treats its heroine’s journey from innocent girlhood through the disillusionment of an unfortunate marriage and ends with her subsequent widowhood, records what Maupassant had observed as a child, the little dramas and daily preoccupations of ordinary people. He presents his characters dispassionately, foregoing any personal moral judgment on them but always noting the word, the gesture, or even the reticence that betrays each one’s essential personality, all the while enhancing the effect by describing the physical and social background against which his characters move. Concision, vigour, and the most rigorous economy are the characteristics of his art.

Collections of short stories and novels followed one another in quick succession until illness struck Maupassant down. Two years saw six new books of short stories: Mademoiselle Fifi (1883), Contes de la bécasse (1883; “Tales of the Goose”), Clair de lune, Les Soeurs Rondoli (“The Rondoli Sisters”), Yvette, and Miss Harriet (all 1884). The stories can be divided into groups: those dealing with the Franco-German War, the Norman peasantry, the bureaucracy, life on the banks of the Seine River, the emotional problems of the different social classes, and—somewhat ominously in a late story such as Le Horla (1887)—hallucination. Together, the stories present a comprehensive picture of French life from 1870 to 1890.

Maupassant’s most important full-length novels are Une Vie, Bel-Ami (1885; “Good Friend”), and Pierre et Jean (1888). Bel-Ami is drawn from the author’s observation of the world of sharp businessmen and cynical journalists in Paris, and it is a scathing satire on a society whose members let nothing stand in the way of their ambition to get rich quick. Bel-Ami, the amiable but amoral hero of the novel, has become a standard literary personification of an ambitious opportunist. Pierre et Jean is the tale of a man’s tragic jealousy of his half-brother, who is the child of their mother’s adultery.

Maupassant prospered from his best-sellers and maintained an apartment in Paris with an annex for clandestine meetings with women, a house at Étretat, a couple of residences on the Riviera, and several yachts. He began to travel in 1881, visiting French Africa and Italy, and in 1889 he paid his only visit to England. While lunching in a restaurant there as Henry James’s guest, he shocked his host profoundly by pointing to a woman at a neighbouring table and asking James to “get” her for him.

The French critic Paul Léautaud called Maupassant a “complete erotomaniac.” His extraordinary fascination with brothels and prostitution is reflected not only in Boule de suif but also in stories such as La Maison Tellier. It is significant, however, that as the successful writer became more closely acquainted with women of the nobility there was a change of angle in his fiction: a move from the peasantry to the upper classes, from the brothel to the boudoir. Maupassant’s later books of short stories include Toine (1886), Le Horla (1887), Le Rosier de Madame Husson (1888; “The Rose-Bush of Madame Husson”), and L’Inutile Beauté (1890; “The Useless Beauty”). Four more novels also appeared: Mont-Oriol (1887), on the financing of a fashionable watering place; Pierre et Jean; Fort comme la mort (1889; “As Strong as Death”); and Notre coeur (1890; “Our Heart”).

Although Maupassant appeared outwardly a sturdy, healthy, athletic man, his letters are full of lamentations about his health, particularly eye trouble and migraine headaches. With the passing of the years he had become more and more sombre. He had begun to travel for pleasure, but what had once been carefree and enjoyable holidays gradually changed, as a result of his mental state, into compulsive, symptomatic wanderings until he felt a constant need to be on the move.

A major family crisis occurred in 1888. Maupassant’s brother was a man of minimal intelligence—today one would call it arrested development—and could work at nothing more demanding than nursery gardening. In 1888 he suddenly became violently psychotic, and he died in an asylum in 1889. Maupassant was reduced to despair by his brother’s death; but though his grief was genuine, it cannot have been unconnected with his own advanced case of syphilis. On January 2, 1892, when he was staying near his mother, he tried to commit suicide by cutting his throat. Doctors were summoned, and his mother agreed reluctantly to his commitment. Two days later he was removed, according to some accounts in a straitjacket, to Dr. Blanche’s nursing home in Paris, where he died one month before his 43rd birthday.

Maupassant’s work is thoroughly realistic. His characters inhabit a world of material desires and sensual appetites in which lust, greed, and ambition are the driving forces, and any higher feelings are either absent or doomed to cruel disappointment. The tragic power of many of the stories derives from the fact that Maupassant presents his characters, poor people or rich bourgeois, as the victims of ironic necessity, crushed by a fate that they have dared to defy yet still struggling against it hopelessly.

Because so many of his later stories deal with madness, it has been suggested that Maupassant himself was already mentally disturbed when he wrote them. Yet these stories are perfectly well balanced and are characterized by a clarity of style that betrays no sign of mental disorder. The lucid purity of Maupassant’s French and the precision of his imagery are in fact the two features of his work that most account for its success.

By the second half of the 20th century, it was generally recognized that Maupassant’s popularity as a short-story writer had declined and that he was more widely read in the English-speaking countries than in France. This does not detract from his genuine achievement—the invention of a new, high-quality, commercial short story, which has something to offer to all classes of readers.

Martin Turnell
René Dumesnil
 

 

 



The Decadents


The basis of Decadence—bitter regret for the loss of a world of moral and political absolutes, and middle-class fears of supersession in a society where the power of the masses (as workers, voters, purchasers, and consumers) is slowly but inexorably on the increase—is well illustrated both in Joris-Karl Huysmans’s novel À rebours (1884; Against Nature or Against the Grain) and the Culte du moi (“Cult of the Ego”) trilogy (1888–91) by Maurice Barrès. It derives from the same determinist philosophy as Naturalism and has much in common aesthetically with Impressionism in that it focuses on subjectively perceived moments of physical experience, held to have no significance beyond themselves. It is also a form of late Romanticism, looking for inspiration to the strand of Baudelaire that treats of revolt, neurosis, the cult of cruelty, and extreme sensation, cast into novel and highly wrought forms. Originally associated primarily with poetry (generally of poor quality), it found its best stroke in prose, in the track of Baudelaire’s admirer and fellow dandy, Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, celebrated for his novels and tales of blasphemy and sadism. Huysmans’s Là-bas (1891; “Down There”; Eng. trans. Là-Bas: A Journey into the Self) combined a heavy-footed study of Satanism in modern-day Paris with a documentary investigation of the exploits of the medieval Bluebeard, Gilles de Rais. As Huysmans changed direction yet again, toward a Roman Catholicism characterized by a mixture of right-wing political prejudice, superstition, and antiquarian interest in symbols and doctrine, other writers emerged who were more subtle and experimental in both content and form. The novels of Octave Mirbeau (Le Jardin des supplices [1899; The Torture Garden]) and Jean Lorrain (Monsieur de Phocas [1901; Eng. trans. Monsieur de Phocas]), with their lyrical evocations of the bizarre contradictions of bourgeois fantasy, evoking formations of homosexual as well as heterosexual desire, have also a sharp satiric edge; they criticize their own posturing, and they highlight the unjust class privilege on which it depends. Though Rachilde is sometimes considered to belong to the Symbolist movement—mostly for her connections with its journal, the Mercure de France, edited by her husband—her novels are best understood as productions of the Decadent ethos: for example, Monsieur Vénus (1884; Eng. trans. Monsieur Venus), reversing gender roles in the power play of sexual exploitation, or La Marquise de Sade (1887), with its vampiric heroine.

The aristocratic hero of Huysmans’s À rebours included on his shelves the poetry of Paul Verlaine, Jules Laforgue, the comte de Lautréamont (pseudonym of Isidore Ducasse, whose poem Les Chants de Maldoror [1868–69; Maldoror] influenced the Surrealists), and Stéphane Mallarmé. Verlaine and Laforgue remain linked in critical memory with the Decadent movement.

Much of Verlaine’s early poetry imitated the work of Baudelaire and the Parnassians in the Fêtes galantes (1869; “Parties of Pleasure”) and in his major collection, Romances sans paroles (1874; “Songs Without Words”). In his famous manifesto poem, L’Art poétique (The Art of Poetry), written in 1874 and collected in Jadis et Naguère (1885; “Yesteryear and Yesterday”) he created the blend of musicality, physical atmospherics, and sense of psychological distortion that constitute his greatest poetic achievement. In so doing, he used lines with an odd number of syllables (vers impair), ambiguous syntax, and unusual collocations of abstract and concrete concepts in a way that radically advanced the technical range of French verse. In his work two impressions predominate: that only the self is important and that the function of poetry is to preserve moments of extreme sensation and unique impression. These features, together with his experiments in dissolving form, were seized on by the younger generation of poets in the 1880s and developed in the review Le Décadent, founded in 1886, whose title adopted a label coined by hostile critics. The poetic movement found its best exponent in Jules Laforgue, who brought together a subjectivism and pessimism fed by his studies in contemporary German philosophy and a genius for harnessing effects of poetic contrast. His first two published collections, Les Complaintes (1885; “Lamentations”) and L’Imitation de Notre-Dame la Lune (1886; “Imitation of Our Lady of the Moon”), are a series of variations on the Decadent themes of the flight from life, woman, and ennui, each explored through a host of recurring images (the wind, Sundays, moonlight, and the tragicomic figure Pierrot [Pedrolino in Italian] from the commedia dell’arte). Laforgue’s fluid verse form, shaped by rhythmic patterns and assonance, is the first important example of free verse in French poetry.
 


Joris-Karl Huysmans





 

original name Charles-Marie-Georges Huysmans

born Feb. 5, 1848, Paris, France
died May 12, 1907, Paris

French writer whose major novels epitomize successive phases of the aesthetic, spiritual, and intellectual life of late 19th-century France.

Huysmans was the only son of a French mother and a Dutch father. At 20 he began a long career in the Ministry of the Interior, writing many of his novels on official time (and notepaper). His early work, influenced by contemporary naturalist novelists, include a novel, Marthe, histoire d’une fille (1876; Marthe), about his liaison with a soubrette, and a novella, Sac au dos (1880; “Pack on Back”), based on his experience in the Franco-German War. The latter was published in Les Soirées de Médan (1881), war stories written by members of Émile Zola’s “Médan” group of naturalist writers. Huysmans soon broke with the group, however, publishing a series of novels too decadent in content and violent in style to be considered examples of naturalism.

The first was À vau-l’eau (1882; Down Stream), a tragicomic account of the misfortunes, largely sexual, of a humble civil servant, Folantin. À rebours (1884; Against the Grain), Huysmans’s best-known novel, relates the experiments in aesthetic decadence undertaken by the bored survivor of a noble line. The ambitious and controversial Là-bas (1891; Down There) tells of the occultist revival that occurred in France in the 1880s. A tale of 19th-century Satanists interwoven with a life of the medieval Satanist Gilles de Rais, the book introduced what was clearly an autobiographical protagonist, Durtal, who reappeared in Huysmans’s last three novels: En route (1895), an account of Huysmans-Durtal’s religious retreat in the Trappist monastery of Notre-Dame d’Igny and his return to Roman Catholicism; La Cathédrale (1898; The Cathedral), basically a study of Nôtre-Dame de Chartres with a thin story attached; and L’Oblat (1903; The Oblate), set in the Benedictine abbey of Ligugé, near Poitiers, in the neighbourhood in which Huysmans lived in 1899–1901 as an oblate (lay monk).

The chief fascination of Huysmans’s work lies in its autobiographical content. Together his novels tell the story of a protracted spiritual odyssey. In each the hero tries to find happiness in some kind of spiritual and physical escapism; each ends on a note of disappointment and revolt until, in L’Oblat, Huysmans and his hero acknowledge that escapism is not only futile but wrong. Huysmans exemplified his hard-won belief in the value of suffering in his courageous bearing during the months of pain that preceded his death from cancer.

Also a perceptive art critic, Huysmans helped win public recognition of the Impressionist painters (L’Art moderne, 1883; Certains, 1889). He was the first president of the Goncourt Academy, which annually awards a prestigious French literary prize.
 

 

 


Jules Barbey



 

born Nov. 2, 1808, Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, France
died April 23, 1889, Paris

French novelist and influential critic who in his day was influential in matters of social fashion and literary taste. A member of the minor nobility of Normandy, he remained throughout his life proudly Norman in spirit and style, a royalist opposed to democracy and materialism and an ardent but unorthodox Roman Catholic.

After study at the Stanislas College in Paris (1827–29) and, in law, at Caen (1829–33), Barbey d’Aurevilly established himself in Paris in 1837 and began to earn a precarious living by writing for periodicals. Despite his evident poverty, he went to great lengths to establish himself as a dandy, and his costumes and magnificent attitudes became legendary.

Barbey d’Aurevilly was appointed, in 1868, to alternate with Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve as literary critic for Le Constitutionnel, and on Sainte-Beuve’s death in 1869 he became sole critic. His reputation grew, and he came to be known as le Connétable des Lettres (“The Constable of Literature”). Though he was often arbitrary, vehement, and intensely personal in his criticism, especially of Émile Zola and the Naturalist school, many of his verdicts have stood the test of time; he recognized the attainments of Honoré de Balzac, Stendhal, and Charles Baudelaire when they were far from being fully appreciated.

His own novels are set in Normandy, and most of them are tales of terror in which morbid passions are acted out in bizarre crimes. Two of his best works are set against a background of the French Revolution: Le Chevalier des Touches (1864), dealing with the rebellion of the Chouans (bands of Norman outlaws) against the French Republic, and Un Prêtre marié (1865; “A Married Priest”), dealing with the sufferings of a priest under the new regime. Les Diaboliques (1874; Weird Women), a collection of six short stories, is often considered his masterpiece.
 

 

 


Octave Mirbeau


in full Octave-Henri-Marie Mirbeau

born Feb. 16, 1850, Trévières, France
died Feb. 16, 1917, Paris

French journalist and writer of novels and plays who unsparingly satirized the clergy and social conditions of his time and was one of the 10 original members of the Académie Goncourt, founded in 1903.

His first work was as a journalist for Bonapartist and Royalist newspapers. He made his reputation as a storyteller with tales of the Norman peasantry, Lettres de ma chaumière (1886; “Letters from My Cottage”) and Le Calvaire (1887; “The Calvary”), a chapter of which, on the French defeat of 1870, aroused much rancour. In 1888 he wrote the story of a mad priest, L’Abbé Jules (“The Priest Jules”), and, in 1890, Sébastien Roch, a merciless picture of the Jesuit school he had attended. All his novels, from Le Jardin des supplices (1899; “The Garden of Torture”) and Le Journal d’une femme de chambre (1900; “Journal of a Lady’s Maid”) to La 628-E8 (1907) and Dingo (1913), were bitter social satires.

His dramatic work was of high quality, and Les Mauvais Bergers (1897; “The Bad Shepherds”) was compared to the work of Henry Becque. His greatest success as a playwright was achieved with Les Affaires sont les affaires (1903; “Business Is Business”).

Although his early works show evidence of anti-Semitism, Mirbeau in the 1890s became an outspoken supporter of French army officer Alfred Dreyfus during the Dreyfus Affair.
 

 

 


Paul Verlaine


"Poems"



 

born March 30, 1844, Metz, France
died January 8, 1896, Paris

French lyric poet first associated with the Parnassians and later known as a leader of the Symbolists. With Stéphane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire he formed the so-called Decadents.

Life.
Verlaine was the only child of an army officer in comfortable circumstances. He was undoubtedly spoiled by his mother. At the Lycée Bonaparte (now Condorcet) in Paris, he showed both ability and indolence and at 14 sent his first extant poem (“La Mort”) to the “master” poet Victor Hugo. Obtaining the baccalauréat in 1862, with distinction in translation from Latin, he became a clerk in an insurance company, then in the Paris city hall. All the while he was writing verse and frequenting literary cafés and drawing rooms, where he met the leading poets of the Parnassian group and other talented contemporaries, among them Mallarmé, Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, and Anatole France. His poems began to appear in their literary reviews; the first, “Monsieur Prudhomme,” in 1863. Three years later the first series of Le Parnasse contemporain, a collection of pieces by contemporary poets (hence the term Parnassian), contained eight contributions by Verlaine.

The same year, his first volume of poetry appeared. Besides virtuoso imitations of Baudelaire and Leconte de Lisle, Poèmes saturniens included poignant expressions of love and melancholy supposedly centred on his cousin Élisa, who married another and died in 1867 (she had paid for this book to be published). In Fêtes galantes personal sentiment is masked by delicately clever evocations of scenes and characters from the Italian commedia dell’arte and from the sophisticated pastorals of 18th-century painters, such as Watteau and Nicolas Lancret, and perhaps also from the contemporary mood-evoking paintings of Adolphe Monticelli. In June 1869 Verlaine fell in love with Mathilde Mauté, aged 16, and they married in August 1870. In the delicious poems written during their engagement (La Bonne Chanson), he fervently sees her as his long hoped-for saviour from erring ways. When insurrectionists seized power and set up the Paris Commune, Verlaine served as press officer under their council. His fear of resultant reprisals from the Third Republic was one factor in his later bohemianism. Incompatibility in his marriage was soon aggravated by his infatuation for the younger poet Arthur Rimbaud, who came to stay with the Verlaines in September 1871.

Verlaine abandoned his wife and infant son, Georges, in July 1872, to wander with Rimbaud in northern France and Belgium and write “impressionist” sketches for his next collection, Romances sans paroles (“Songs Without Words”). The pair reached London in September and found, besides exiled Communard friends, plenty of interest and amusement and also inspiration: Verlaine completed the Romances, whose opening pages, especially, attain a pure musicality rarely surpassed in French literature and embody some of his most advanced prosodic experiments; the subjects are mostly landscape or regret or vituperation of his estranged wife. The collection was published in 1874 by his friend Edmond Lepelletier; the author himself was then serving a two-year sentence at Mons for wounding Rimbaud with a revolver during an emotional storm in Brussels on July 10, 1873.

Contrition, prison abstinence, and pious reading (some in English, along with admiring study of Shakespeare and Dickens) seem to have produced a sincere return to Roman Catholicism in the summer of 1874, after his wife had obtained a separation. Leaving prison in January 1875, he tried a Trappist retreat, then hurried to Stuttgart to meet Rimbaud, who apparently repulsed him with violence. He took refuge in England and, for over a year, taught French and drawing at Stickney and Boston in Lincolnshire, then at Bournemouth, Hampshire, impressing all by his dignity and piety and gaining an appreciation of English authors as diverse as Tennyson, Swinburne, and the Anglican hymn writers. In 1877 he returned to France.

From this period (1873–78) date most of the poems in Sagesse (“Wisdom”), which was published in October 1880 at the author’s expense (as were his previous books). They include outstanding poetical expressions of simple Catholic Christianity as well as of his emotional odyssey. Literary recognition now began. In 1882 his famous “Art poétique” (probably composed in prison eight years earlier) was enthusiastically adopted by the young Symbolists. He later disavowed the Symbolists, however, chiefly because they went further than he in abandoning traditional forms: rhyme, for example, seemed to him an unavoidable necessity in French verse.

In 1880 Verlaine made an unsuccessful essay at farming with his favourite pupil, Lucien Létinois, and the boy’s parents. Lucien’s death in April 1883, as well as that of the poet’s mother (to whom he was tenderly attached) in January 1886, and the failure of all attempts at reconciliation with his wife broke down whatever will to “respectability” remained, and he relapsed into drink and debauchery. Now both famous and notorious, he was still writing in an attempt to earn a living but seldom with the old inspiration.

Jadis et naguère (“Yesteryear and Yesterday”) consists mostly of pieces like “Art poétique,” written years before but not fitting into previous carefully grouped collections. Similarly, Parallèlement comprises bohemian and erotic pieces often contemporary with, and technically equal to, his “respectable” ones. Verlaine frankly acknowledged the parallel nature of both his makeup and his muse. In Amour new poems still show the old magic, notably passages of his lament for Lucien Létinois, no doubt intended to emulate Tennyson’s In Memoriam, but lacking its depth. Prose works such as Les Poètes maudits, short biographical studies of six poets, among them Mallarmé and Rimbaud; Les Hommes d’aujourd’hui, brief biographies of contemporary writers, most of which appeared in 1886; Mes Hôpitaux, accounts of Verlaine’s stays in hospitals; Mes Prisons, accounts of his incarcerations, including the story of his “conversion” in 1874; and Confessions, notes autobiographiques helped attract notice to ill-recognized contemporaries as well as to himself (he was instrumental in publishing Rimbaud’s Illuminations in 1886 and making him famous). There is little of lasting value, however, in the rest of the verse and prose that Verlaine turned out in an unsuccessful effort to keep the wolf from a door shared usually with aging prostitutes such as Philomène Boudin and Eugénie Krantz, prominent among the muses of his decadence. During frequent spells in hospitals, doctors gave him devoted care and friendship. He was feted in London, Oxford, and Manchester by young sympathizers, among them the critic Arthur Symons, who arranged a lecture tour in England in November 1893. Frank Harris and Cranmer Byng published articles and poems by Verlaine in The Fortnightly Review and The Senate. Relief pensions from admirers (1894) and the state (1895) were also recognition, however tardy or insufficient, of the esteem he attracted as a poet and a friend. He died in Eugénie Krantz’s lodgings in January 1896.


Assessment.
One of the most purely lyrical of French poets, Verlaine was an initiator of modern word-music and marks a transition between the Romantic poets and the Symbolists. His best poetry broke with the sonorous rhetoric of most of his predecessors and showed that the French language, everyday clichés included, could communicate new shades of human feeling by suggestion and tremulous vagueness that capture the reader by disarming his intellect; words could be used merely for their sound to make a subtler music, an incantatory spell more potent than their everyday meaning. Explicit intellectual or philosophical content is absent from his best work. His discovery of the intimate musicality of the French language was doubtless instinctive, but, during his most creative years, he was a conscious artist constantly seeking to develop his unique gift and “reform” his nation’s poetic expression.

Vernon Philip Underwood

 

 


Jules Laforgue


born Aug. 16, 1860, Montevideo, Uruguay
died Aug. 20, 1887, Paris

French Symbolist poet, a master of lyrical irony and one of the inventors of vers libre (“free verse”). The impact of his work was felt by several 20th-century American poets, including T.S. Eliot, and he also influenced the work of the Surrealists. His critical essays, though somewhat neglected, are also notable.

Laforgue was brought up by relatives at Tarbes, Fr., from 1866 to 1876, when he joined his family in Paris. After finishing his schooling at the Lycée Fontanes, he attended the lectures of the literary critic and historian Hippolyte Taine at the École des Beaux-Arts. Through the writer Paul Bourget he became secretary to Charles Ephrussi, an art collector and editor of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, who introduced him to Impressionist painting. In November 1881 he was appointed reader to the Empress Augusta in Berlin and remained in Germany for almost five years, during which time he wrote most of his works. He married an English woman, Leah Lee, in London on Dec. 31, 1886, and they returned to Paris, where, poverty-stricken, Laforgue died of tuberculosis the following year.

In the verse of Les Complaintes (1885), L’Imitation de Notre-Dame la Lune (1886; “The Imitation of Our Lady the Moon”), and Le Concile féerique (1886; “The Fairy Council”), Laforgue gave ironical expression to his obsession with death, his loneliness, and his boredom with daily routine. He was attracted by Buddhism and by German philosophy, especially by Arthur Schopenhauer’s pessimism and Edward von Hartmann’s theory of the unconscious. Inspired by the example of Tristan Corbière and Arthur Rimbaud, he forged new words, experimented with common speech, and combined popular songs and music-hall tags with philosophic and scientific terms to create an imagery that appears surprisingly modern. His search for new rhythms culminated in the vers libre that he and his friend Gustave Kahn invented almost simultaneously. He reinterpreted William Shakespeare, Richard Wagner, Gustave Flaubert, and Stéphane Mallarmé in a collection of short stories, Moralités légendaires (1887; Six Moral Tales From Jules Laforgue). His art criticism, published in the Symbolist reviews and subsequently in Mélanges posthumes (1923), testifies to his remarkable understanding of the Impressionist vision.
 

 

 


Stéphane Mallarmé





French poet

born , March 18, 1842, Paris
died Sept. 9, 1898, Valvins, near Fontainebleau, Fr.

Main
French poet, an originator (with Paul Verlaine) and a leader of the Symbolist movement in poetry.

Mallarmé enjoyed the sheltered security of family life for only five brief years, until the early death of his mother in August 1847. This traumatic experience was echoed 10 years later by the death of his younger sister Maria, in August 1857, and by that of his father in 1863. These tragic events would seem to explain much of the longing Mallarmé expressed, from the very beginning of his poetic career, to turn away from the harsh world of reality in search of another world; and the fact that this remained the enduring theme of his poetry may be explained by the comparative harshness with which adult life continued to treat him. After spending the latter part of 1862 and the early months of 1863 in London so as to acquire a knowledge of English, he began a lifelong career as a schoolteacher, first in provincial schools (Tournon, Besançon, and Avignon) and later in Paris. He was not naturally gifted in this profession, however, and found the work decidedly uncongenial. Furthermore, his financial situation was by no means comfortable, particularly after his marriage in 1863 and after the birth of his children, Geneviève (in 1864) and Anatole (in 1871). To try to improve matters he engaged in part-time activities, such as editing a magazine for a few months at the end of 1874, writing a school textbook in 1877, and translating another textbook in 1880. In October 1879, after a six-month illness, his son Anatole died.

Despite these trials and tribulations, Mallarmé made steady progress with his parallel career as a poet. His early poems, which he began contributing to magazines in 1862, were influenced by Charles Baudelaire, whose recently published collection Les Fleurs du mal (“The Flowers of Evil”) was largely concerned with the theme of escape from reality, a theme by which Mallarmé was already becoming obsessed. But Baudelaire’s escapism had been of an essentially emotional and sensual kind—a vague dream of tropical islands and peaceful landscapes where all would be “luxe, calme et volupté” (“luxury, calm, and voluptuousness”). Mallarmé was of a much more intellectual bent, and his determination to analyze the nature of the ideal world and its relationship with reality is reflected in the two dramatic poems he began to write in 1864 and 1865, respectively, Hérodiade (“Herodias”) and L’Après-midi d’un faune (“The Afternoon of a Faun”), the latter being the work that inspired Claude Debussy to compose his celebrated Prélude a quarter of a century later.

By 1868 Mallarmé had come to the conclusion that, although nothing lies beyond reality, within this nothingness lie the essences of perfect forms. The poet’s task is to perceive and crystallize these essences. In so doing, the poet becomes more than a mere descriptive versifier, transposing into poetic form an already existent reality; he becomes a veritable God, creating something from nothing, conjuring up for the reader, as Mallarmé himself put it, “l’absente de tous bouquets”—the ideal flower that is absent from all real bouquets. But to crystallize essences in this way, to create the notion of floweriness, rather than to describe an actual flower, demands an extremely subtle and complex use of all the resources of language, and Mallarmé devoted himself during the rest of his life to putting his theories into practice in what he called his Grand Oeuvre (“Great Work”), or Le Livre (“The Book”). He never came near to completing this work, however, and the few preparatory notes that have survived give little or no idea of what the end result might have been.

On the other hand, Mallarmé did complete a number of poems related to his projected Grand Oeuvre, both in their themes and in their extremely evocative use of language. Among these are several elegies—the principal ones being to Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Wagner, Théophile Gautier, and Paul Verlaine—that Mallarmé was commissioned to write at various times in his career. He no doubt agreed to do them because the traditional theme of the elegy—the man is dead but he lives on in his work—is clearly linked to the poet’s own belief that, although beyond reality there is nothing, poetry has the power to transcend this annihilation. In a second group of poems, Mallarmé wrote about poetry itself, reflecting evocatively on his aims and achievements.

In addition to these two categories of poems, he also wrote some poems that run counter to his obsession with the ideal world, though they, too, display that magical use of language of which Mallarmé had made himself such a master. These are the dozen or so sonnets he addressed to his mistress, Méry Laurent, between 1884 and 1890, in which he expressed his supreme satisfaction with reality. At that time, life was becoming much happier for him, not only because his liaison was agreeable but also because a review of him in the series of articles entitled Les Poètes maudits (“The Accursed Poets”) published by Verlaine in 1883 and the praise lavished on him by J.-K. Huysmans in his novel À rebours (“The Wrong Way”) in 1884 led to his wide recognition as the most eminent French poet of the day. A series of celebrated Tuesday evening meetings at his tiny flat in Paris were attended by well-known writers, painters, and musicians of the time. All this perhaps decreased his need to seek refuge in an ideal world, and in Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard, poème (“A Throw of Dice Will Never Abolish the Hazard, Poem”), the work that appeared in 1897, the year before his death, he found consolation in the thought that he had met with some measure of success in giving poetry a truly creative function.

Mallarmé died in 1898, at his cottage at Valvins, a village on the Seine near Fontainebleau, his main residence after retirement.

Charles Chadwick
 





The Symbolists


The distinction between Decadence and Symbolism is slight and, in poetry at least, is frequently as much one of allegiances to different networks as one of differences of thematic content or formal practices. At its simplest and most reductive, the opposition is between the Decadents’ perception that the material world, and the galling limits of the present, is all there is and the Symbolists’ concept of the meaningful universe of signifying forms and ideal, absolute meanings that it is the artist’s task to evoke, or suggest, using the tokens of the material world: images, which can be linked by the poetic imagination into meaningful symbolizations.

The narrowness of the distinction is well illustrated by the case of Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud wrote all his poetry before the age of 21, beginning in 1869 at the age of 15, out of a deep frustration with an existence of marginalization and repression. His poetic creed is contained in two letters of May 13 and 15, 1871, in which he prescribes for the poet the need to explore his own desires and sensations, break free of conventional perceptions and rationalist categories, and constitute himself as a visionary. The fiercely ironic view of contemporary society that emerges from his early poems reveals in him an element of the political revolutionary; he supported the Commune, the failed workers’ insurrection of May 1871. The poem Le Bateau ivre (The Drunken Boat) evokes the poet’s fantasy journey from the bounds of conventional subjectivity and common sense through a sequence of increasingly surreal decors, ending in the sea of ecstasy in which all fixed references are gone, the categories of all sense experience blur, and poetry and the poet are caught up together in boundless metamorphosis. The cycle of fragmentary prose poems, Une Saison en enfer (1873; A Season in Hell, published together with Illuminations [1974]), reworks his imprisonment, his cultural bondage, and his frustrating struggles to create a form of poetry that could transform his captivity. The aesthetic revolution is taken still further in Illuminations (written during the period 1871–75 and published posthumously in 1886): snatches of poetry and prose, outbursts of destruction, revolt, elation, liberation, and frustration—glimpses into the tumult of revolt and despair that for him is the only honest expression of the modern unconscious.

Stéphane Mallarmé brought to poetry a very different temperament and intellectual background. An intellectual and spiritual crisis in 1866–68 led to a loss of religious faith and a loss of faith in the absolute relation of words to reality: the poet must acknowledge his inability not only to write a poem that could communicate the truth of its object but also to communicate his own response to the object. In Mallarmé’s hands, the writing of poetry progressively became a matter of finding ways to release words from their conventional task of communicating functional meanings and of finding instead syntactic patterns and rhythms that could bring images into new constellations and allow assonance and alliteration to suggest new connections—to model, in short, the creative movement of poetic language.

As early as L’Après-midi d’un faune (1876; “The Afternoon of a Faun”; Eng. trans. L’Après-midi d’un faune; later interpreted musically by Claude Debussy), he concentrated on multiplicity of meaning: the poem is simultaneously the dream evocation of the faun’s erotic desires and a meditation upon the creative impulse at an abstract level. His later poems are studies in the possibilities of language, in which, as in music, recurrent images and antithetical patterns reverberate together. Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1897; Dice Thrown Never Will Annul Chance), Mallarmé’s formal tour de force, co-opts typography to the presentation of proliferating meanings. The material world may be a desperate chaos of significations, ruled by chance, but human authorship can still be asserted within it, by creating constellations of forms, one of which is the form of chance itself, the constantly changing hazard of inspiration.

Symbolism derived its name from an article by Jean Moréas, who produced the first manifesto of the movement in 1886. It made its way in Europe through the journal and publishing house of the Mercure de France, cofounded by Alfred Vallette and Remy de Gourmont. Gourmont was a critic, essayist, poet, novelist, and short-story writer. Among his works in various genres are Sixtine, roman de la vie cérébrale (1890; Very Woman (Sixtine): A Cerebral Novel), Histoires magiques (1894; “Magical Tales”), and Le Problème du style (1902; “The Problem of Style”). Gourmont had a major influence both on the founding of the Symbolist movement in France and, subsequently, on Anglophone modernism. Symbolism continued to mark the 1880s and ’90s, producing charming poems, characterized by musicality, myth, mysticism, and melancholia, but no further major poets. Among those whose works have survived in anthologies are Henri de Régnier and Francis Viélé-Griffin and the Belgian poets Georges Rodenbach and Émile Verhaeren.
 


Arthur Rimbaud

"Poems"



 

French poet
in full Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud
born Oct. 20, 1854, Charleville, France
died Nov. 10, 1891, Marseille

Main
French poet and adventurer who won renown among the Symbolist movement and markedly influenced modern poetry.

Childhood.
Rimbaud grew up at Charleville in the Ardennes region of northeastern France. He was the second son of an army captain and a local farmer’s daughter. The father spent little time with the family and eventually abandoned the children to the sole care of their mother, a strong-willed, bigoted woman who pinned all her ambitions on her younger son, Arthur. Outwardly pious and obedient, he was a child prodigy and a model pupil who astonished the teachers at the Collège de Charleville by his brilliance in all subjects, especially literature. Rimbaud was a voracious reader who soon familiarized himself with the major French writers of both the past and present. He had a particular talent for Latin verse, and in August 1870 he won the first prize for a Latin poem at the Concours Académique. (His first published poem had appeared in January 1870 in La Revue pour Tous.) Rimbaud seemed obsessed with poetry, spending hours juggling with rhyme. This firm grounding in the craft of versification gave him a complete, even arrogant confidence and an ambition to be acknowledged by the currently fashionable Parnassian poets, of whom he was soon producing virtuoso pastiches.

In his 16th year Rimbaud found his own distinctive voice in poems whose sentiments swing between two extremes: revolt against a repressive hometown environment, and a passionate desire for freedom and adventure. All of the unhappy adolescent’s loathing and longing are in these poems, which are already remarkable works. They express his disgust with the constraints of small-town life, its hypocrisies, its self-satisfaction and apathy. The cliches of sentimentality, and, increasingly, religion itself become the targets of fierce cynicism. Equally ringing is the lyrical language that voices Rimbaud’s yearning for freedom and transcendence. Based on exquisitely perceived sense impressions, the imagery in these poems expresses a longing for sensual union with the natural world. These early poems are characteristically Rimbaldian in their directness and power.

Rimbaud had begun taking a keen interest in politics by the time the Franco-German War began in July 1870. Upon the war’s outbreak the school in Charleville closed, an event that marked the end of his formal education. The war served to intensify Rimbaud’s rebelliousness; the elements of blasphemy and scatology in his poetry grew more intense, the tone more strident, and the images more grotesque and even hallucinatory. Reading widely in the town library, Rimbaud soon became involved with revolutionary socialist theory. In an impulsive attempt to put his hopes for revolution into practice, he ran away to Paris that August but was arrested at the station for traveling without a ticket. After a brief spell in prison, he wandered through northern France and Belgium for several months. His mother had him brought back to Charleville by the police, but in February 1871 he again ran off to Paris as a volunteer in the forces of the Paris Commune, which was then under siege by regular French troops. After a frustrating three weeks there, he returned home just before the Paris Commune was mercilessly suppressed.

The collapse of his passionately felt political ideals seems to have been a turning point for Rimbaud. From now on, he declares in two important letters (May 13 and 15, 1871), he has given up the idea of “work” (i.e., action) and, having acknowledged his true vocation, will devote himself with all his energy to his role as a poet.


Poetic vision.
Rimbaud wanted to serve as a prophet, a visionary, or, as he put it, a voyant (“seer”). He had come to believe in a universal life force that informs or underlies all matter. This spiritual force, which Rimbaud referred to simply as “l’inconnu” (“the unknown”), can be sensed only by a chosen few. Rimbaud set himself the task of striving to “see” this spiritual unknown and allowing his individual consciousness to be taken over and used by it as a mere instrument. He should then be able to transmit (by means of poetry) this music of the universe to his fellow men, awakening them spiritually and leading them forward to social progress. Rimbaud had not given up his social ideals, but now intended to realize them through poetry. First, though, he had to qualify himself for the task, and he coined a now-famous phrase to describe his method: “le dérèglement de tous les sens” (“the derangement of all the senses”). Rimbaud intended to systematically undermine the normal functioning of his senses so that he could attain visions of the “unknown.” In a voluntary martyrdom he would subject himself to fasting and pain, imbibe alcohol and drugs, and even cultivate hallucination and madness in order to expand his consciousness.

In his attempts to communicate his visions to the reader, Rimbaud became one of the first modern poets to shatter the constraints of traditional metric forms and those rules of versification that he had already mastered so brilliantly. He decided to let his visions determine the form of his poems, and if the visions were formless, then the poems would be too. He began allowing images and their associations to determine the structure of his new poems, such as the mysterious sonnet “Voyelles” (“Vowels”).


Major works.
At the end of August 1871, on the advice of a literary friend in Charleville, Rimbaud sent to the poet Paul Verlaine samples of his new poetry. Verlaine, impressed by their brilliance, summoned Rimbaud to Paris and sent the money for his fare. In a burst of self-confidence, Rimbaud composed “Le Bateau ivre” (“The Drunken Boat”). This is perhaps his finest poem, and one that clearly demonstrates what his method could achieve. Ostensibly, “Le Bateau ivre” describes the journey of the voyant in a tipsy boat that has been freed from all constraints and launched headlong into a world of sea and sky that is heaving with the erotic rhythms of a universal dynamic force. The voyant himself is on an ecstatic search for some unnamed ideal that he seems to glimpse through the aquatic tumult. But monsters threaten, the dream breaks up in universal cataclysm, weariness and self pity take over, and both boat and voyant capitulate. Here Rimbaud succeeded in his aim of matching form to vision. A pounding rhythm drives the poem forward through enjambment across the verses, with internal rhymes and excited repetitions mounting on alliteration as with the swell of the envisioned sea. Images of startling vividness flash by and melt unexpectedly into each other with the fleeting clarity of hallucinations, and the poetic evocation of colours, movement, and the feel of the waters pull directly at the reader’s senses.

Rimbaud was already a marvelous poet, but his behaviour in Paris was atrocious. He arrived there in September 1871, stayed for three months with Verlaine and his wife, and met most of the well-known poets of the day, but he antagonized them all—except Verlaine himself—by his rudeness, arrogance, and obscenity. Embarking upon a life of drink and debauchery, he became involved in a homosexual relationship with Verlaine that gave rise to scandal. The two men were soon being seen in public as lovers, and Rimbaud was blamed for breaking up Verlaine’s marriage. In March 1872, while tormented by violent passion, jealousy, and guilt and in a state of physical dissolution, Rimbaud returned to Charleville so that Verlaine could attempt a reconciliation with his wife.

Rimbaud would later suggest that he was near death at this time, and the group of delicate, tenuous poems he then wrote—now known as Derniers Vers (“Last Verses”)—express his yearning for purification through all this suffering. Still trying to match form to vision, he expresses his longing for spiritual regeneration in pared-down verse forms that are almost abstract patterns of musical and symbolic allusiveness. These poems clearly show the influence of Verlaine. About this time Rimbaud also composed the work that Verlaine called his masterpiece, “La Chasse spirituelle” (“The Spiritual Hunt”), the manuscript of which disappeared when the two poets went to England. Rimbaud now virtually abandoned verse composition; henceforth most of his literary production would consist of prose poems.

In May 1872 Rimbaud was recalled to Paris by Verlaine, who said that he could not live without him. That July Verlaine abandoned his wife and child and fled with Rimbaud to London, where they spent the following winter. During this winter Rimbaud composed a series of 40 prose poems to which he gave the title Illuminations. These are his most ambitious attempt to develop new poetic forms from the content of his visions. The Illuminations consist of a series of theatrical tableaux in which Rimbaud creates a primitive fantasy world, an imaginary universe complete with its own mythology, its own quasi-divine beings, its own cities, all depicted in kaleidoscopic images that have the vividness of hallucinations. Within this framework the drama of the different stages of Rimbaud’s own life is played out. He sees himself formulating his dreams; his discovery of hashish as a method of inducing visions is hailed; his ensuing nightmare anguish is relived in swirling images and convoluted syntax; and his love affair with Verlaine is recalled in cryptic images and symbols.

In the Illuminations Rimbaud reached the height of his originality and found the form best suited to his elliptical and esoteric style. He stripped the prose poem of its anecdotal, narrative, and descriptive content and used words for their evocative and associative power, divesting them of their logical or dictionary meaning. The hypnotic rhythms, the dense musical patterns, and the visual pyrotechnics of the poems work in counterpoint with Rimbaud’s playful mastery of juggled syntax, ambiguity, etymological and literary references, and bilingual puns. A unique achievement, the Illuminations’ innovative use of language greatly influenced the subsequent development of French poetry.

In real life the two poets’ relationship was growing so tense and violent that Verlaine became physically ill and mentally disturbed. In April 1873 Rimbaud left him to return to his family, and it was at their farm at Roche, near Charleville, that he began to apply himself to another major work, Une Saison en enfer (1873; A Season in Hell). A month later Verlaine persuaded Rimbaud to accompany him to London. Rimbaud treated Verlaine with sadistic cruelty, and after more wanderings and quarrels, he rejoined Verlaine in Brussels only to make a last farewell. As he was leaving Verlaine shot him, wounding him in the wrist. Rimbaud was hospitalized, and Verlaine was arrested and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. Rimbaud soon returned to Roche, where he finished Une Saison en enfer.

Une Saison en enfer, which consists of nine fragments of prose and verse, is a remarkable work of self-confession and psychological examination. It is quite different from the Illuminations and in fact repudiates the aesthetic they represent. Rimbaud was going through a spiritual and moral crisis, and in Une Saison en enfer he retrospectively examines the hells he had entered in search of experience, his guilt-ridden and unhappy passion for Verlaine, and the failure of his own overambitious aesthetic. The poem consists of a series of scenes in which the narrator acts out various roles, seemingly a necessary therapy for a young man still searching for some authentic, unified identity. Within these scenes a switching of moods follows a dialectical pattern, pushing forward through opposite tendencies toward a third term that marks another step toward liberation. Each step is presented in highly dramatic form and is treated with detachment and a characteristic, cutting irony. The irony culminates in Rimbaud’s account of his excessively idealistic literary efforts. Once these follies have been relived, the remaining sections explore different possible routes toward moral salvation. The cultivation of the mind, religious conversion, and other routes are each tried but then dismissed. In the book’s final section, “Adieu” (“Goodbye”), Rimbaud takes a nostalgic backward look at his past life and then moves on, declaring that his spiritual battle has been won. He contemplates a future in which he can “possess the truth in a soul and a body.” The enigmatic ambiguity of this concluding statement is characteristic of Rimbaud. Perhaps it implies both a saner, more realistic stance towards life and a healing of the split between body and soul that had so plagued him.

“Adieu” has sometimes been read as Rimbaud’s farewell to creative writing. It was certainly a farewell to the visionary, apocalyptic writing of the voyant. In February 1874 Rimbaud returned to London in the company of Germain Nouveau, a fellow poet. There they copied out some of the Illuminations. Rimbaud returned home for Christmas and spent his time there studying mathematics and languages. His last encounter with Verlaine, early in 1875, ended in a violent quarrel, but it was at this time that he gave Verlaine the manuscript of the Illuminations.


Later life.
The rest of Rimbaud’s life, from the literary point of view, was silence. In 1875 he set out to see the world, and by 1879 he had crossed the Alps on foot, joined and deserted the Dutch colonial army in the East Indies, visited Egypt, and worked as a labourer in Cyprus, in every instance suffering illness or other hardships. In 1880 he found employment in the service of a coffee trader at Aden (now in Yemen), who sent him to Hārer (now in Ethiopia). He became the first white man to journey into the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, and his report of this expedition was published by France’s National Society of Geography in 1884.

In time Rimbaud set up as an explorer and trader in Ethiopia, traveling in the interior and at one point selling arms to Menilek II, king of Shewa (Shoa), who became that country’s emperor in 1889. Rimbaud’s gift for languages and his humane treatment of the Ethiopians made him popular with them. He kept in touch with his family by frequent letters in which he constantly complained about the hard conditions of his daily life. All trace of his amazing literary gift had disappeared; his ambition now was simply to amass as much money as possible and then return home to live at leisure.

During this period of expatriation, Rimbaud had become known as a poet in France. Verlaine had written about him in Les Poètes maudits (1884) and had published a selection of his poems. These had been enthusiastically received, and in 1886, unable to discover where Rimbaud was or to get an answer from him, Verlaine published the prose poems, under the title Illuminations, and further verse poems, in the Symbolist periodical La Vogue, as the work of “the late Arthur Rimbaud.” It is not known whether Rimbaud ever saw these publications. But he certainly knew of his rising fame after the appearance of Les Poètes maudits, for in 1885 he received a letter from an old schoolmate, Paul Bourde, who told him of the vogue of his poems among avant-garde poets.

Rimbaud did make a considerable fortune in Ethiopia, but in February 1891 he developed a tumour on his knee. He was sent back to France, and shortly after he arrived at Marseille his right leg had to be amputated. In July he returned to the family farm at Roche, where his health grew steadily worse. In August 1891 he set out on a nightmarish journey to Marseille, where his disease was diagnosed as cancer. He endured agonizing treatment at the hospital there and died, according to his sister Isabelle, after having made his confession to a priest.


Assessment.
Rimbaud’s extraordinary life, with its precocious triumphs, its reckless scandals, its unexplained break with literature, and its mercenary adventures in exotic African locales, continues to excite the popular imagination. Critics have variously endowed his character with the qualities of a martyr-saint, an archetypal rebel, and a disreputable hooligan. What is incontrovertible is the extent of Rimbaud’s contribution to modern French literature. Many 20th-century poets were influenced by the Dionysian power of his verse and his liberation of language from the constraints of form. Rimbaud’s visionary ideals also proved attractive; his “unknown,” somewhat domesticated in the form of the individual unconscious, became the hunting ground of the Surrealists, and his techniques of free association and language play, which they exploited so freely, became widely used. Rimbaud, the child prodigy who was so prodigal of his genius, turned out to be one of the founding fathers of modernism.

Margaret C. Davies-Mitchell

 

 


Jean Moréas


pseudonym of Yánnis Papadiamantópoulos

born April 15, 1856, Athens, Greece
died March 31, 1910, Paris, France

Greek-born poet who played a leading part in the French Symbolist movement.

Early inspired by a French governess who instilled in him a passion for French poetry, Moréas moved to Paris in 1879, becoming a familiar figure in the literary circles frequenting the cafés and in the literary pages of newspapers and reviews. He published two manifestos, one in XIXe Siècle (Aug. 11, 1885) and one in the literary supplement of Le Figaro (Sept. 18, 1886), that helped establish the name Symbolism for the movement that was growing out of and replacing Decadence. In 1886, with Gustave Kahn and Paul Adam, he founded the periodical Le Symboliste.

Before Moréas immigrated to France, he published one volume of verse, Tourterelles et vipères (1878; “Turtledoves and Vipers”), in Greek and French. His first wholly French volumes, Les Syrtes (1884) and Les Cantilènes (1886), were firmly embedded in the Decadent and Symbolist aesthetics. In the preface to Le Pèlerin passioné (1891; “The Passionate Pilgrim”), however, Moréas began to forsake Symbolism; there he called for a return to the spirit of classicism. Moréas founded the école romane (“Roman school”) and, with his disciples Raymond de la Tailhède, Maurice du Plessys, Ernest Raynaud, and Charles Maurras, reverted to classical forms and subject matter; free verse was abandoned and classical sources of inspiration were used. Énone au clair visage (1893) and Eriphyle (1894) are representative of Moréas’ work during this period; along with other poems, they were later collected as Poèmes et sylves, 1886–1896 (1907; “Poems and Forests”). Moréas wrote a verse play, Iphigénie à Aulide (1903), which was closely inspired by Euripides and which met with considerable success when presented in the théâtre antique of Orange and subsequently on the stage of the Odéon in Paris. In Moréas’ last work, Les Stances (1899–1920; “The Stanzas”), his intellectual development is chronicled with a vigorous yet melancholy classicism.
 





The novel later in the century

Neither Decadence (with the exception of Huysmans’s Against Nature and Mirbeau’s The Torture Garden) nor Symbolism generated novels of lasting significance. Within the new vogue for the short story, fostered by the demands of the popular press, there was a recrudescence of the conte fantastique, which found its foremost exponent in Villiers de L’Isle-Adam (Contes cruels [1883]; Cruel Tales). Rachilde, Jean Lorrain (pseudonym of Paul Duval), and Mirbeau all contributed to this genre. But the major trends in the novel were connected with the revival of Roman Catholicism and the growth of nationalism in the aftermath of the Franco-German War. The religious spirit was sometimes aesthetic, as in Huysmans’s La Cathédrale (1898; The Cathedral), sometimes dogmatic and visionary, as in Léon Bloy’s Le Désespéré (1886; “The Desperate Man”) and La Femme pauvre (1897; The Woman Who Was Poor). But the combination of Roman Catholic doctrine and right-wing politics in the novels of Paul Bourget, beginning with Le Disciple (1889), gives the clearest image of the spirit of the times. The antidemocratic, antirepublican views of Bourget were similar to those found in Maurice Barrès and other nationalist writers. Barrès moved from decadent self-absorption to become the advocate for an extreme form of historical determinism, which saw the individual as part of a collective inherited unconscious defined by “race.” His trilogy Le Roman de l’énergie nationale (“The Book of National Energy”), particularly Les Déracinés (1897; “The Rootless” or “Men Without Roots”), is an important document for an understanding of the attitudes of the French right during the Dreyfus Affair and between the world wars.

The only novelist of note who stood outside all these trends and yet was a typical offspring of the age that produced them, achieving the double distinction of winning the Nobel Prize for Literature for 1921 and being put on the Index, was Anatole France (pen name of Jacques-Anatole-François Thibault). France made his initial reputation as a literary critic and author of psychological novels, but he rapidly became the personification of the pessimism fashionable after Germany’s victory over France in 1870, an attitude typically expressed in the detachedly ironic exposure of human weakness in La Rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque (1893; At the Sign of the Reine Pédauque). But in Monsieur Bergeret à Paris (1901; Monsieur Bergeret in Paris), France’s commitment to the pro-Dreyfus faction in the Dreyfus Affair introduced both a more bitter note to his satire and an express commitment to humanitarian ideals. Like many other Dreyfusards, he was to be disillusioned by the aftermath of the Affair, a response typified by his extended satire of French society through the ages in L’Île des Pingouins (1908; Penguin Island) and his condemnation of fanaticism in his novel on the French Revolution, Les Dieux ont soif (1912; The Gods Are Athirst). For Anglophone readers right up to the end of World War II, he spoke for that Voltairean liberal humanism, reason, and justice of which France became the symbol in a Europe twice overrun by German imperial ambitions.

Christopher Robinson
Jennifer Birkett

 


Anatole France




 

pseudonym of Jacques-Anatole-François Thibault

born April 16, 1844, Paris, France
died Oct. 12, 1924, Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire


writer and ironic, skeptical, and urbane critic who was considered in his day the ideal French man of letters. He was elected to the French Academy in 1896 and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921.

The son of a bookseller, he spent most of his life around books. At school he received the foundations of a solid humanist culture and decided to devote his life to literature. His first poems were influenced by the Parnassian revival of classical tradition, and, though scarcely original, they revealed a sensitive stylist who was already cynical about human institutions.

This ideological skepticism appeared in his early stories: Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard (1881), a novel about a philologist in love with his books and bewildered by everyday life; La Rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque (1893; At the Sign of the Reine Pédauque), which discreetly mocks belief in the occult; and Les Opinions de Jérome Coignard (1893), in which an ironic and perspicacious critic examines the great institutions of the state. His personal life underwent considerable turmoil. His marriage in 1877 to Marie-Valérie Guérin de Sauville ended in divorce in 1893. He had met Madame Arman de Caillavet in 1888, and their liaison inspired his novels Thaïs (1890), a tale set in Egypt of a courtesan who becomes a saint, and Le Lys rouge (1894; The Red Lily), a love story set in Florence.

A marked change in France’s work first appears in four volumes collected under the title L’Histoire contemporaine (1897–1901). The first three volumes—L’Orme du mail (1897; The Elm-Tree on the Mall), Le Mannequin d’osier (1897; The Wicker Work Woman), and L’Anneau d’améthyste (1899; The Amethyst Ring)—depict the intrigues of a provincial town. The last volume, Monsieur Bergeret à Paris (1901; Monsieur Bergeret in Paris), concerns the participation of the hero, who had formerly held himself aloof from political strife, in the Alfred Dreyfus affair. This work is the story of Anatole France himself, who was diverted from his role of an armchair philosopher and detached observer of life by his commitment to support Dreyfus. After 1900 he introduced his social preoccupations into most of his stories. Crainquebille (1903), a comedy in three acts adapted by France from an earlier short story, dramatizes the unjust treatment of a small tradesman and proclaims the hostility toward the bourgeois order that led France eventually to embrace socialism. Toward the end of his life, his sympathies were drawn to communism. However, Les Dieux ont soif (1912; The Gods are Athirst) and L’Île des Pingouins (1908; Penguin Island) show little belief in the ultimate arrival of a fraternal society. World War I reinforced his profound pessimism and led him to seek refuge from his times in childhood reminiscences. Le Petit Pierre (1918; Little Pierre) and La Vie en fleur (1922; The Bloom of Life) complete the cycle started in Le Livre de mon ami (1885; My Friend’s Book).

France has been faulted for the thinness of his plots and for his lack of a vital creative imagination. His works are, however, considered remarkable for their wide-ranging erudition, their wit and irony, their passion for social justice, and their classical clarity, qualities that mark France as an heir to the tradition of Denis Diderot and Voltaire.
 

 


APPENDIX

 


Jules Verne

"Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea."
Illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou


"The Children of Captain Grant"
Illustrations by Édouard Riou


"The Mysterious Island"
Illustrations by Jules Ferat






French author

born Feb. 8, 1828, Nantes, France
died March 24, 1905, Amiens

Main
prolific French author whose writings laid much of the foundation of modern science fiction.

Verne’s father, intending that Jules follow in his footsteps as an attorney, sent him to Paris to study law. But the young Verne fell in love with literature, especially theatre. He wrote several plays, worked as secretary of the Théâtre Lyrique (1852–54), and published short stories and scientific essays in the periodical Musée des familles. In 1857 Verne married and for several years worked as a broker at the Paris Stock Market. During this period he continued to write, to do research at the Bibliothèque Nationale (National Library), and to dream of a new kind of novel—one that would combine scientific fact with adventure fiction. In September 1862 Verne met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, who agreed to publish the first of Verne’s Voyages extraordinaires (“Extraordinary Journeys”)—Cinq semaines en balloon (1863; Five Weeks in a Balloon). Initially serialized in Hetzel’s Le Magasin d’éducation et de récréation, the novel became an international best seller, and Hetzel offered Verne a long-term contract to produce many more works of “scientific fiction.” Verne subsequently quit his job at the stock market to become a full-time writer and began what would prove to be a highly successful author-publisher collaboration that lasted for more than 40 years and resulted in more than 60 works in the popular series Voyages extraordinaires.

Verne’s works can be divided into three distinct phases. The first, from 1862 to 1886, might be termed his positivist period. After his dystopian second novel Paris au XXe siècle (1994; Paris in the 20th Century) was rejected by Hetzel in 1863, Verne learned his lesson, and for more than two decades he churned out many successful science-adventure novels, including Voyage au centre de la terre (1863, expanded 1867; Journey to the Centre of the Earth), De la terre à la lune (1865; From the Earth to the Moon), Autour de la lune (1870; Trip Around the Moon), Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1870; Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), and Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (1873; Around the World in Eighty Days). During these years Verne settled with his family in Amiens and made a brief trip to the United States to visit New York City and Niagara Falls. During this period he also purchased several yachts and sailed to many European countries, collaborated on theatre adaptations of several of his novels, and gained both worldwide fame and a modest fortune.

The second phase, from 1886 until his death in 1905, might be considered Verne’s pessimist period. Throughout these years the ideological tone of his Voyages extraordinaires began to change. Increasingly Verne turned away from pro-science tales of exploration and discovery in favour of exploring the dangers of technology wrought by hubris-filled scientists in novels such as Sans dessus dessous (1889; Topsy-Turvy), L’Île à hélice (1895; Floating Island), Face au drapeau (1896; For the Flag), and Maître du monde (1904; Master of the World). This change of focus also paralleled certain adversities in the author’s personal life: growing problems with his rebellious son, Michel; financial difficulties that forced him to sell his yacht; the successive deaths of his mother and his mentor Hetzel; and an attack by a mentally disturbed nephew who shot him in the lower leg, rendering him partially crippled. When Verne died he left a drawerful of nearly completed manuscripts in his desk.

The third and final phase of the Jules Verne story, from 1905 to 1919, might be considered the Verne fils period, when his posthumous works were published—after being substantially revamped—by his son, Michel. They include Le Volcan d’or (1906; The Golden Volcano), L’Agence Thompson and Co. (1907; The Thompson Travel Agency), La Chasse au météore (1908; The Chase of the Golden Meteor), Le Pilote du Danube (1908; The Danube Pilot), Les Naufragés du Jonathan (1909; The Survivors of the Jonathan), Le Secret de Wilhelm Storitz (1910; The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz), Hier et demain (1910; Yesterday and Tomorrow, a collection of short stories), and L’Étonnante aventure de la mission Barsac (1919; The Barsac Mission). Comparing Verne’s original manuscripts with the versions published after his death, modern researchers discovered that Michel Verne did much more than merely edit them. In most cases he entirely rewrote them—among other changes, he recast plots, added fictional characters, and made their style more melodramatic. Scholarly reaction to these discoveries has been mixed. Some critics condemn these posthumous works as contaminated; others view them as a legitimate part of the Verne père et fils collaboration. The debate continues.

With Michel Verne’s death in 1925, the final chapter of Jules Verne’s literary legacy was more or less complete. The following year American publisher Hugo Gernsback used a representation of Verne’s tomb as a logo for his Amazing Stories, the first literary magazine featuring tales of “scientifiction.” As the term scientifiction evolved into science fiction, the new genre began to flourish as never before, and Verne became universally recognized as its patron saint.

During the 20th century, Verne’s works were translated into more than 140 languages, making him one of the world’s most translated authors. A number of successful motion pictures were made from Verne novels, starting in 1916 with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (remade in 1954 by Walt Disney) and including The Mysterious Island (1929 and 1961), From the Earth to the Moon (1958), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), and, perhaps the most popular, Around the World in 80 Days (1956).

Verne’s influence extends beyond literature and film into the world of science and technology, where he inspired generations of scientists, inventors, and explorers. In 1954 the United States Navy launched the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, named for Verne’s Nautilus. And for more than 130 years, adventurers such as Nellie Bly (1890), Wiley Post (1933), and Steve Fossett (2005) have followed in the footsteps of Verne’s fictional hero Phileas Fogg by attempting to circumnavigate the globe in record-breaking times. Verne and his enduringly popular Voyages extraordinaires continue to remind us that “What one man can imagine, another will someday be able to achieve.”

Arthur B. Evans
 

 

 


Edmond Rostand

"Cyrano De Bergerac"





 

born April 1, 1868, Marseille, France
died Dec. 2, 1918, Paris

French dramatist of the period just before World War I whose plays provide a final, very belated example of Romantic drama in France.

Rostand’s name is indissolubly linked with that of his most popular and enduring play, Cyrano de Bergerac. First performed in Paris in 1897, with the famous actor Constant Coquelin playing the lead, Cyrano made a great impression in France and all over Europe and the United States. The plot revolves around the emotional problems of Cyrano, who, despite his many gifts, feels that no woman can ever love him because he has an enormous nose. The connection between the Cyrano of the play and the 17th-century nobleman and writer of the same name is purely nominal. But Rostand’s stirring and colourful historical play, with its dazzling versification, skillful blend of comedy and pathos, and fast-moving plot, provided welcome relief from the grim dramas that emerged from the naturalist and Symbolist movements.

Rostand wrote a good deal for the theatre, but the only other play of his that is still remembered is L’Aiglon (1900). This highly emotional patriotic tragedy in six acts centres on the Duke of Reichstadt, who never ruled but died of tuberculosis as a virtual prisoner in Austria. Rostand always took pains to write fine parts for his stars, and L’Aiglon afforded Sarah Bernhardt one of her greatest triumphs.

Rostand’s son Jean Rostand (1894–1977) was a noted biologist, moralist, and writer.
 

 

 

 


Alphonse Daudet

"Tartarin de Tarascon"



 

born May 13, 1840, Nîmes, France
died Dec. 16, 1897, Paris?


French short-story writer and novelist, now remembered chiefly as the author of sentimental tales of provincial life in the south of France.

Life.
Daudet was the son of a silk manufacturer. In 1849 his father had to sell his factory and move to Lyon. Alphonse wrote his first poems and his first novel at age 14. In 1857 his parents lost all their money, and Daudet had to give up his hopes of matriculating. His work as an usher at a school at Alès for six unhappy months culminated in his dismissal but later furnished the theme, with embellishments and omissions, for his semiautobiographical novel Le Petit Chose (1868; “The Little Thing”). At the end of the year he joined his elder brother, Ernest, in Paris.

Daudet now threw himself into writing and began to frequent literary circles, both Bohemian and fashionable. A handsome young man, he formed a liaison with a model, Marie Rieu, to whom he dedicated his only book of poems, Les Amoureuses (1858; “The Lovers”). His long and troubled relationship with her was to be reflected, much later, in his novel Sapho (1884). He also contributed articles to the newspapers, in particular to Figaro. In 1860 he met Frédéric Mistral, the leader of the 19th-century revival of Provençal language and literature, who awakened his enthusiasm for the life of the south of France, which was regarded as inherently passionate, artistic, and sensuous as opposed to the moral and intellectual rigour of the north. In the same year, he obtained a secretarial post under the Duke de Morny.

His health undermined by poverty and by the venereal disease that was eventually to cost him his life, Daudet spent the winter of 1861–62 in Algeria. One of the fruits of this visit was Chapatin le tueur de lions (1863; “Chapatin the Killer of Lions”), whose lion-hunter hero can be seen as the first sketch of the author’s future Tartarin. Daudet’s first play, La Dernière Idole (“The Last Idol”), made a great impact when it was produced at the Odéon Theatre in Paris in 1862. His winter in Corsica at the end of 1862 is recalled in passages of his Lettres de mon moulin (1869; “Letters from My Mill”). His full social life over the years 1863–65 (until Morny’s death) provided him with the material that he analyzed mercilessly in Le Nabab (1877; “The Nabob”). In January 1867 he married Julia Allard, herself a writer of talent, with whom he was deeply in love and who gave him great help in his subsequent work. They had two sons, Léon and Lucien, and a daughter, Edmée.

In the Franco-German War, which had a profound effect on his writing (as can be judged from his second volume of short stories, Les Contes du lundi, 1873; “Monday Tales”), Daudet enlisted in the army, but he fled from Paris during the terrors of the Commune of 1871. His novel Les Aventures prodigieuses de Tartarin de Tarascon (1872; “The Prodigious Adventures of Tartarin de Tarascon”) was not well received, though its adventurous hero is now celebrated as a caricature of naïveté and boastfulness. His play L’Arlésienne was also a failure (although its 1885 revival was acclaimed). His next novel, Fromont jeune et Risler aîné (1874; “Fromont the Younger and Risler the Elder”), which won an award from the French Academy, was a success, and for a few years he enjoyed prosperity and fame—though not without some hostile criticism.

In his last years Daudet suffered from an agonizing ailment of the spinal cord caused by his venereal disease. La Doulou (not published until 1931) represents his attempt to alleviate his pain by investigating it. With admirable self-control he continued to write books of all sorts and to entertain Parisian literary and musical society. He was a kindly patron of younger writers—for instance, of Marcel Proust. In 1895 he visited London and Venice. He died suddenly.


Assessment.
Psychologically, Daudet represents a synthesis of conflicting elements, and his actual experience of life at every social level and in the course of travels helped to develop his natural gifts. A true man of the south of France, he combined an understanding of passion with a view of the world illuminated by Mediterranean sunlight and allowed himself unfettered flights of the imagination without ever relaxing his attention to the detail of human behaviour. All his life he recorded his observations of other people in little notebooks, which he used as a reservoir of inspiration: a novel, he held, should be “the history of people who will never have any history.” Yet there was nothing unfeeling in his approach (he has even been accused of sentimentality), and he was free from preconceived ideas: unlike his fellow naturalists, he believed that the world in its diversity was misrepresented by novelists who concentrated only on its uglier aspects.

At the same time, his objective interest in external detail went hand in hand with the expression of an extraordinarily compassionate personality and a reverence for the mystery of things and of individuals. Everything in his world had an inner reality that he reproduced no less faithfully than he did its material phenomena. Finally, he saw passion as endowed with something like the force of destiny, and this conception, which bore fruit in many of his writings, tempers his satire with pity and brings him into kinship with Charles Dickens as well as with Guy de Maupassant.

Daudet’s work as a whole reveals not so much a continuous evolution as an episodic process in which various literary tendencies found expression successively. Even so, the antiromantic irony of Tartarin de Tarascon gave place to a realism akin to that of the Pointillist and Impressionist painters in Lettres de mon moulin, which was followed by the tragic tone of L’Arlésienne as a corrective to his earlier mockery of southern characteristics; also there is more sympathy and anxiety than irony in Le Petit Chose and Contes du lundi. As he grew older Daudet became more and more preoccupied with the great conflicts in human relationship, as is evident in his later novels: Jack (1876) presents a woman torn between physical and maternal love; Numa Roumestan (1881), the antagonism between the northern and the southern character in man and woman; L’Évangéliste (1883), filial affection struggling against religious fanaticism; and La Petite Paroisse (1895), the contrarieties of jealousy. In Sapho (1884), underlying the moral issue, there is Daudet’s evaluation of a whole generation of young men, together with a statement of the age-old dilemma of the lover who must choose between freedom and pity for the girl he leaves. Le Trésor d’Arlatan (1897), Notes sur la vie (1899), and Nouvelles notes show Daudet as a bold psychologist, anticipating Sigmund Freud in his analysis of complexes. Truth and fantasy, merciless delineation and poetry, clear-sighted seriousness and a sense of humour, irony and compassion, all the contrasting elements of which man’s dignity is made up are to be found harmonized in Daudet’s best work.

Jacques-Henry Bornecque
 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

 
| privacy