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Théophile Gautier (1811 - 1872)

Lifespan: 1811 - 1872

Related: art for art's sake (coined by Gautier) - bouzingo - decadent movement - French literature - The Club des Hashischins

Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) - Théophile Gautier [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Aubrey Beardsley illustration of
Sourced here.


Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier (August 30, 1811 – October 23, 1872) was a French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, and literary critic. His life envelops a major part of the 19th Century, a tumultuous political and social era in France that rendered many great works and artistic creativity.

While an ardent defender of Romanticism, Gautier's work is difficult to classify and remains a point of reference for many subsequent literary traditions such as Parnassianism, Symbolism, Decadence and Modernism. He was widely esteemed by writers as diverse as Baudelaire, the Goncourt brothers, Flaubert and Oscar Wilde. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theophile_Gautier [Jun 2006]

Club des Hashischins

Gautier, along with the poets Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire and a doctor, Jacques-Joseph Moreau, founded a club dedicated to experimenting with drugs, principally hashish, called the Club des Hashischins. In an article published in Revue des Deux Mondes in 1846, Gautier detailed their experiments. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theophile_Gautier [Jun 2004]

Aestheticism [...]

Théophile Gautier offered the first full defense of Aestheticism in the preface of his 1835 novel Mademoiselle de Maupin. --glbtq.com [Jun 2004]

Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) - Théophile Gautier

Nothing is truly beautiful except that which can serve for nothing; whatever is useful is ugly. --preface to the 1835 edition

Chevalier d'Albert fantasizes about his ideal lover, yet every woman he meets falls short of his exacting standards of female perfection. Embarking on an affair with the lovely Rosette to ease his boredom, he is thrown into tumultuous confusion when she receives a dashing young visitor. Exquisitely handsome, Theodore inspires passions d'Albert never believed he could feel for a man and Rosette also seems to be in thrall to the charms of her guest. Does this bafflingly alluring person have a secret to hide? Subversive and seductive, "Mademoiselle de Maupin" (1835) draws readers into the bedrooms and boudoirs of a French chateau in a compelling exploration of desire and sexual intrigue. --via Amazon.de

Its preface featured a defense of art for art's sake.

See also: 1830s - decadent movement - Aubrey Beardsley - Théophile Gautier

La Morte Amoureuse (1836) - Gautier

They used to say that she was a ghoul, a female vampire; but I believe she was none other than Beelzebub himself." --page 18

BROTHER, you ask me if I have ever loved. Yes. My story is a strange and terrible one; and though I am sixty-six years of age, I scarcely dare even now to disturb the ashes of that memory. To you I can refuse nothing; but I should not relate such a tale to any less experienced mind. So strange were the circumstances of my story, that I can scarcely believe myself to have ever actually been a party to them. For more than three years I remained the victim of a most singular and diabolical illusion. Poor country priest though I was, I led every night in a dream— would to God it had been all a dream!— a most worldly life, a damning life, a life of a Sardanapalus. One single look too freely cast upon a woman well-nigh caused me to lose my soul; but finally by the grace of God and the assistance of my patron saint, I succeeded in casting out the evil spirit that possessed me. My daily life was long interwoven with a nocturnal life of a totally different character. By day I was a priest of the Lord, occupied with prayer and sacred things; by night, from the instant that I closed my eyes I became a young nobleman, a fine connoisseur in women, dogs, and horses; gambling, drinking, and blaspheming; and when I awoke at early daybreak, it seemed to me, on the other hand, that I had been sleeping, and had only dreamed that I was a priest. Of this somnambulistic life there now remains to me only the recollection of certain scenes and words which I cannot banish from my memory; but although I never actually left the walls of my presbytery, one would think to hear me speak that I were a man who, weary of all worldly pleasures, had become a religious, seeking to end a tempestuous life in the service of God, rather than an humble seminarist who has grown old in this obscure curacy, situated in the depths of the woods and even isolated from the life of the century. --page 1

La Morte Amoureuse has been translated as The Dead in Love and is available in Joan Kessler's Demons of the Night : Tales of the Fantastic, Madness, and the Supernatural from Nineteenth-Century France (1995).

See also: 1830s - Théophile Gautier - female vampire

Preface to Les Fleurs du Mal


"The style of decadence... is nothing else than art arrived at that extreme point of maturity produced by those civilizations which are growing old with their oblique suns -- a style that is ingenious, complicated, learned, full of shades of meaning and research, always pushing further the limits of language, borrowing from all the technical vocabularies, taking colours from all palettes, notes from all keyboards, forcing itself to express in thought that which is most ineffable, and in form the vaguest and most fleeting contours; listening, that it may translate them, to the subtle confidences of the neuropath, to the avowals of aging and depraved passion, and to the singular hallucinations of the fixed idea verging on madness. This style of decadence is the last effort of the Word (Verbe), called upon to express everything, and pushed to the utmost extremity. We may remind ourselves, in connection with it, of the language of the Later Roman Empire, already mottled with the greenness of decomposition, and, as it were, gamy (faisandée), and of the complicated refinements of the Byzantine school, the last form of Greek art fallen into deliquescence. Such is the inevitable and fatal idiom of peoples and civilizations where factitious life has replaced the natural life, and developed in man unknown wants. Besides, it is no easy matter, this style despised of pedants, for it expresses new ideas with new forms and words that have not yet been heard. In opposition to the classic style, it admits of shading, and these shadows teem and swarm with the larvae of superstitions, the haggard phantoms of insomnia, nocturnal terror, remorse which starts and turns back at the slightest noise, monstrous dreams stayed only by impotence, obscure fantasies at which the daylight would stand amazed, and all that the soul conceals of the dark, the unformed, and the vaguely horrible, in its deepest and furthest recesses."

-- Preface to Les Fleurs du Mal by C. Baudelaire; quoted in Max Nordau, Degeneration (1892).

Poetry has no goal other than itself

Searching for "la poésie eût d'autre but qu'elle-même" I found a text by Gautier on Baudelaire.

This phrase, which is a defense of art for art's sake translates as (now quoting Baudelaire directly):

"Poetry has no goal other than itself; it can have no other, and no poem will be so great, so noble, so truly worthy of the name of poem, than one written uniquely for the pleasure of writing a poem." --Charles Baudelaire quoted in “New Notes on Edgar Poe,” part IV (1859).

La première fois que nous rencontrâmes Baudelaire, ce fut vers le milieu de 1849, à l'hôtel Pimodan, où nous occupions, près de Fernand Boissard, un appartement fantastique qui communiquait avec le sien par un escalier dérobé caché dans l'épaisseur du mur, et que devaient hanter les ombres des belles dames aimées jadis de Lauzun. Il y avait là cette superbe Maryx qui, toute jeune, a posé pour la Mignon de Scheffer, et, plus tard, pour la Gloire distribuant des couronnes, de Paul Delaroche, et cette autre beauté, alors dans toute sa splendeur, dont Clesinger tira la Femme au serpent, ce marbre où la douleur ressemble au paroxysme du plaisir et qui palpite avec une intensité de vie que le ciseau n'avait jamais atteinte et qu'il ne dépassera pas.


Avec ces idées, on pense bien que Baudelaire était pour l'autonomie absolue de l'art et qu'il n'admettait pas que la poésie eût d'autre but qu'elle-même et d'autre mission à remplir que d'exciter dans l'âme du lecteur la sensation du beau, dans le sens absolu du terme. A cette sensation il jugeait nécessaire, à nos époques peu na‹ves, d'ajouter un certain effet de surprise, d'étonnement et de rareté. Autant que possible, il bannissait de la poésie l'éloquence, la passion et la vérité calquée trop exactement. De même qu'on ne doit pas employer directement dans la statuaire les morceaux moulés sur nature, il voulait qu'avant d'entrer dans la sphère de l'art, tout objet subît une métamorphose qui l'appropriât à ce milieu subtil, en l'idéalisant et en l'éloignant de la réalité triviale. Ces principes peuvent étonner quand on lit certaines pièces de Baudelaire où l'honneur semble cherchée comme à plaisir ; mais qu'on ne s'y trompe pas, cette horreur est toujours transfigurée par le caractère et l'effet, par un rayon à la Rembrandt, ou un trait de grandesse à la Velasquez qui trahit la race sous la difformité sordide. En remuant dans son chaudron toute sorte d'ingrédients fantastiquement bizarres et cabalistiquement vénéneux, Baudelaire peut dire comme les sorcières de Macbeth : « Le beau est horrible, l'horrible est beau. » Cette sorte de laideur voulue n'est donc pas en contradiction avec le but suprême de l'art, et des morceaux tels que les sept Vieillards et les Petites Vieilles ont arraché au saint Jean poétique qui rêve dans la Patmos de Guernesey cette phrase, qui caractérise si bien l'auteur des Fleurs du mal : « Vous avez doté le ciel de l'art d'on ne sait quel rayon macabre ; vous avez créé un frisson nouveau. » -- Mais ce n'est, pour ainsi dire, que l'ombre du talent de Baudelaire, cette ombre ardemment rousse ou froidement bleuâtre qui lui sert à faire valoir la touche essentielle et lumineuse. Il y a de la sérénité dans ce talent si nerveux, si fébrile et si tourmenté en apparence. Sur les hauts sommets, il est tranquille : pacem summa tenent. --http://baudelaire.litteratura.com/?rub=regards&srub=ctp&id=2&tt=1

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