Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
A new kind of literary world comes into being in Paris during the mid-nineteenth century—the world of the journals and little newspapers that thrive on gossip and superficial aesthetic criticism. By creating and catering to the shifting fads of the fashionable world through concentrating on personality, modishness, and sensationalism, they debase the public’s taste.
Two young men among the writers for one of these journals, Scandal, are thoroughly immersed in this world. Nachette, a belligerent, clever man who fled his father’s bad name in his home province, enjoys the power that he believes the journals possess to create or to ruin a reputation. Couturat, hiding behind a mask of innocence and gaiety, is a thorough opportunist. Also among the group is Charles Demailly, who dislikes the dilettantes and their trivial gossiping but seems unable to do anything more than observe them ironically as he accompanies them to cafés, salons, and balls.
After many illnesses as a child, Charles grew up a nervous and acutely sensitive young man. The heightened perceptivity of all his senses extends to an unusual awareness of emotional nuances in those around him, but at the same time it prevents him from finding satisfaction in real life. His search for perfection always meets his uncanny ability to perceive imperfection: Pleasure for him pales at the slightest false note. Even in writing, his real refuge, his hypersensitivity is a handicap,...
(The entire section is 1424 words.)
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