This is the central site for a long-term project to research, examine, and respond to the radical collective of writers, theorists, architects, and visual artists who operated in Paris between 1829 and 1835 under the names of the Jeunes France & the Bouzingo, and through them to build a critical understanding of French Romanticist subculture through the historical lens of a continuing politically vigilant Anglophone avant-garde.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Revenants Archive acquires book of Frenetic Historiography!

Le Livre de beauté: Souvenirs historique (The Book of Beauty: Historical Memories). ed. Louis Janet? (1834) Sole Edition? Louis Janet: Paris. 239 pp.

This interesting volume indicates how closely related historiography and poetics were considered among the early avant-garde, and reveals the increasing strain between mainstream and Frenetic Romanticism. In French Romanticism, the revolution in historiography and that in creative culture were considered part of the same continuum, and the founders of modern French historiography–Michelet, Méry, Lacroix, Maquet, etc.–incorporated both academic history and historical fiction into their larger historiographic projects (sometimes to the despair of later historians). We see here that this general tendency was also reflected within the extremist fringes of the broader movement.

Published (and likely edited) by Louis Janet, whose ultra-Romanticist press published the comprehensive yearly avant-garde anthology Les Annales Romantiques, this anthology presents a selection of 14 texts about historical women, most written by people known primarily as radical Romanticist poets and playwrights, including four members of the Jeunes-France/Bouzingo. The contributors were young, most ranging from their mid-20s to mid-40s, and included the most radical exponents of Frenetic Romanticism, Petrus Borel and Charles Lassailly, and ultra-Romanticists such as Aimable Tastu (the only female contributor), Cordellier Delanoue, Gustave Drouineau, Henri Martin, and Jean-Pierre Lesguillon. Their chosen subjects diverge from mainstream selections in such collections, which typically focused on women known for their moral correctness, social compassion, and self-sacrifice–traits traditionally associated with 'the weaker sex'. Instead, here we find women notable for their political influence, in some cases exerted as strong monarchs, in other cases as royal mistresses. Many of the texts are hybrid constructions, which shift between traditional scholarly reportage and historical fiction, punctuated by contemporary commentary.

It seems that the book once contained portraits of each woman, by artists who were equally associated with Frenetic and Avant-Garde Romanticism, including Jeunes-France members Louis Boulanger and both of the Devéria brothers.

This copy of the book lacks the illustrations (there is no obvious evidence of removal, leaving open the possibility that it was a reduced, cheaper edition, possible bound from overstock when the tipped-in engravings ran out). Nonetheless, according to worldcat there are only two surviving copies of the book held in public libraries, both in Europe, possibly making this the only copy of the book available in the Western hemisphere.
The anthology begins with a surprisingly ambivalent preface by Charles Nodier, and reflects the awkward place in which he found himself in 1834, when the divergence of mainstream Romanticism from the nascent avant-garde was becoming definitive. As the organiser of the Cénacle group, he had overseen the cultural coup-d'état that was swiftly making Romanticism the dominant force in nearly every domain of contemporary culture. But through his experimental, sometimes hallucinatory gothic-horror novels he was also the half-intentional father of the dark, violent, gothic substream known as Frenetic Romanticism, around which had built up the even-more radical community beginning to call itself the avant-garde, which was proving a political and aesthetic embarrassment as the movement's leaders settled into relative respectability. After a few predictable pages of the usual commonplaces regarding the virtues of Love (cf. "Women are the masterpieces of Divinity", Nodier ends his Preface by stating his disappointment at the low moral character of many of the women chosen for the anthology, and exhorting his readers to focus on the uplifting contributions such as the one on Queen Elizabeth. One feels that Nodier is fulfilling a contractual obligation, fearful of endorsing an anthology destined for critical attack from the respectable mainstream press.

In addition to Janet assembling this collection and publishing dozens of female writers in his anthologies, journals and books, his editor for the Annales Romantiques, Charles Malo, had also published his own book of feminist biographies several years earlier (see Historiography tab). Closely associated with the Frenetic and other extremist currents, Janet's fortunes seem to have been tied to it, and he appears to have ceased publishing by the time that it had subsided at the end of the 1830s and the energies of the avant-garde diverted away from Romanticism.
This copy was owned by the Institution Hortus (Here is a prospectus of the school the year of Huysmans' graduation), and was probably in the library while it was attended by the future Decadent novelist J.-K. Huysmans, who attended from the age of eight to eighteen, and would himself later contribute famously to the avant-garde intertwining of history, fiction, and social theory.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Here's a full annotated translation of Gautier's review of Napoleon Musard and the Infernal Galop, as danced at the Opéra Ball of 1845. (Read French text)

In plain text:

The other evening, finding ourselves awake by chance at the hour of the Opera Ball, we went there:–it was the opening ball, and our vocation as journalist imposed upon us the need to assist at every first performance. We are the assessors of Paris' pleasures. One does not pass the cup to the public until we have wet our lips on it and one sees at the end of twenty-four hours that we are still not turning green and marbled with black blotches.
The masked ball always saddened us, either by the joyous emotion of others in which we cannot partake, or by the kind of instinctive aversion that the mask inspires in us and which derives no doubt from some childhood terror. –– More cheerful imaginations than our own always imagine beguiling faces behind the black satin, and see behind this face of goat and monkey to paper beard shredded from anthology illustrations, angel or sylph heads; for us the hideous mask nearly always conceals a horrifying face; all the monsters, striges, ghouls, lamias, profit by the occasion and disguise. Even the women we know, and who are notoriously pretty, become suspect to us as soon as they don the domino; this is not a very favourable disposition to pass an agreeable night at the ball. We thus walked in quite a gloomy fashion into the mezzanine, crammed with all the world, scarcely having room to pull our handkerchief to wipe the brow that had been made so hot.––We nonetheless believed ourselves hardened against the warmth by our exertions in Africa, in the months of July and August, in full sunlight, when one of our friends came to gather us and conduct us onto the dance-floor, at the foot of the musicians' platform, to make us look at Musard, unleashing the carnival with a signal of his conductor's baton.
Musard was there, bleak, livid and pock-marked, arms outstretched, expression fixed. To be sure, it would difficult for a priest of bacchanals to have a face more sombre and more sinister; this man, who sheds joy and delirium on so many crazed heads, acts like one meditating on the Night Thoughts of Young or the Tombs of Harvey. –– After that, the pleasure that one gives away one no longer has, and this is no doubt what renders comic poets so morose.
The moment came, he was bent over his pulpit, stretched out the arms, and a tempest of tones suddenly exploded into a fog of noise which soared over the heads; lightning-fast notes flew back and forth across the tumult of noise with their piercing lightning, and one would think that the horns of the last Judgement had been hired to play quadrilles and waltzes. We [recognised?] in this sabbath the family of instruments of our friend Adolphe Sax––the dead would dance to such music. Would you believe that somebody came up with a contradanse entitled The Path of Iron; it begins with the imitation of horrible blows of the whistle whch announces the departure of convoys; the wheezing of machines, the collision of valves, the upheaval of the sword-fights are perfectly imitated here. After this comes one of those crushed and breathless galops next to which the sabbath ring is a tranquil dance.
A torrent of Pierros and Débardeuses span around an islet of stangnant masks in the middle of the dance-floor, rattling the floorboards like a cavalry charge. Beware those who fall.
It is only at this price that one can still be amused today; he must, by dint of leaps, of pivots, of extravagant dislocations, by swinging of the head to be dismantled from the neck, to achieve a kind of cerebral congestion: this intoxication of movement or delirious gymnastics, has something strange and supernatural. One would think one saw sick people attacked by cholera or Saint-Vitus' Dance.
We were at Blida and in Ben-Kaddour's Haousch, at the epileptic fits of snake-charmers, those terrible convulsioners. We saw in Constantine the dance for the conjuration of the Djinns, but all this is moderate in comparison with the Parisian cachucha.
Of which ennuis do such amusements make the counterweight?
As if we were kept at home, we watch to step out from a cafe a band of forty pierrots all costumed identically, who returned to the Opera Ball, preceded by a banner where were written these words: How bitter is life!