Jules Vallès 1832–1885
(Born Louis-Jules Vallez; also wrote under the pseudonyms Asvell, Jean Max, Jean La Rue, and Jacques Vingtras) French novelist and journalist.
The premiere historian of the Paris Commune uprising of 1871, Vallès was assured a controversial place in history when the Commune's experiment with anarchy became a model and inspiration for such theorists and revolutionaries as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin. Vallès drew upon his development as a militant journalist and insurrectionist, his difficult childhood, and his reluctantly pursued classical education to write his most widely read work, the largely autobiographic trilogy Jacques Vingtras (1879-1886). Important as an historical document, Jacques Vingtras also remains relevant as a critique of educational practices and of the isolating effects of capitalism and modern bourgeois institutions. Although linguistic playfulness and spontaneity distinguishes Vallès's writing from that of his contemporaries and successors, including Emile Zola, Victor Hugo, and Charles Baudelaire, the militant populism of his works exposed him to persecution, which eventually forced him into literary obscurity. It was not until the mid-twentieth century that scholars began to look past Vallès's political radicalism and to appreciate his qualities as a literary historian and prose stylist.
Vallès was born Louis-Jules Vallez in the village of Puy-en-Velay, Auvergne, France, on June 11, 1832. Vallès's last name was spelled incorrectly on his birth certificate, but he maintained the error in his adult life to distance himself from his schoolteacher father, Jean-Louis Vallez. Vallès's father descended from and married into a farming family, and pursued a career as a teacher in order to obtain social status. Although Vallès's father remained on the lowest rung of the social ladder in the teaching profession, this occupation afforded Vallès the chance to obtain a classical education, and he excelled in Greek, Latin, and rhetoric. Vallès also became increasingly interested in socialist and revolutionary politics, especially in the wake of the 1848 uprising of students, artisans, and unemployed workers in Paris. He increasingly rejected the values and wishes of his father, particularly his father's insistence that he pass the baccalauréate examinations and enter into an academic career of his own. As Vallès became more politically active, reportedly organizing resistance to Napoleon III's coup d'état in 1851, his father responded by putting him in an asylum in December 1851. Vallès, mobilizing his political contacts, was released from the asylum in March 1852; he then passed the baccalauréate and left for Paris, where he found his degree useless and his financial prospects dim. Vallès participated in the bohemian life of the Left Bank in Paris, attempting law school, tutoring at a boardinghouse, and performing secretarial work for Gustave Planche. During this period, Vallès wrote jingles, dictionary entries, pamphlets, tour guides, and newspaper articles. After his father's death in 1857, Vallès earned his living by contributing to or managing various liberal daily newspapers. That same year, Vallès anonymously published the novel L'Argent. This work represents the author as a man of letters turned stockbroker but deals with this transformation with such irony and sarcasm that Vallès's true opinions about the world of finance are readily apparent.
The death of Henri Murger in 1861 was a critical point in Vallès's life. Murger had written Scènes de la vie de bohèmie—a work sympathetic to the plight of the bohemians—but Vallès considered Murger's work unsuccessful in representing the hardships and pain of bohemian life. After Murger's death, Vallès made it his goal to provide a true picture of the life of the bohemians and his own generation. The first publication of this program was an article entitled "Les Réfractaires," published in Figaro in 1861. This article and various others written between 1857 and 1865 were collected in a fictional work entitled Les Réfractaires (1865). Almost contemporaneous with this work was the Romantic novella Jean Delbenne (1865). Reactionary articles written in 1865 and 1866 appeared in the fictional work entitled La Rue (1866), which described the urban battleground of Paris where the poor and marginal mixed with the more fortunate. Vallès increased his reactionary literary output in the following years by establishing seven short-lived newspapers: La Rue in 1867, Journal de Sainte-Pélagie in 1869 (January), Peuple (February), Réfractaire in 1869 (May), Corsaire (November), Cri du Peuple in 1871 (February), and Drapeau (March).
When Prussia invaded France in 1870, Vallès was a leader of a revolutionary republican party that was defeated in the elections for a new government to negogiate peace. The new, monarchistic government took steps to remove the reactionaries from Paris, and the revolutionary movement fought back, forced the leaders of the official government to flee, and established the Paris Commune. Vallès served on the Commune's education commission and presided over its last meeting on May 21, 1871, when the official French government finally defeated the Communards. Vallès fled to London in exile in October 1871. There he wrote a play entitled La Commune de Paris (1872) and began the trilogy that would relate the social circumstances of his generation leading up to the Paris Commune. The first volume of this trilogy was entitled Jacques Vintras I (later called Jacques Vingtras: L'Enfant). Published through intermediaries, it appeared first in serial form in a Parisian paper in 1878 and then in book form in 1879, with each version being published under a different pen name. After amnesty for the Communards was proclaimed in 1880, Vallès returned to Paris and released additional works that had been written in exile but had not been published: Jacques Vingtras: Le Bachelier (1881) and a collection of portraits of London life entitled La Rue à Londres (1884). During this period, Vallès began his close relationship with Caroline Rémy, known as Sèverine, who served not only as his nurse and secretary in his years of ill health but also as editor, assuring that his works were finished, polished, and published. Vallès died in Paris on February 14, 1885. Sèverine collected, edited, and published the serialized version of Vallès's third and last Jacques Vingtras novel, Jacques Vingtras: L'Insurgé: 1871 (1886).
Vallès most significant literary achievement is his semiautobiographical trilogy Jacques Vingtras: L'Enfant, Jacques Vingtras: Le Bachelier, and Jacques Vingtras: L'Insurgé: 1871. Tracing the development of an insurrectionist, the three novels chronicle the life of their eponymous protagonist from childhood (in L'Enfant) through institutional education and young adulthood (Le Bachelier) to his eventual realization as an insurrectionist in the Paris Commune (L'Insurgé). The books faithfully report the conditions of students, workers, and others who would join the movement of the Communards. The first two novels in particular offer powerful condemnations of bourgeois practices of child-rearing and education. Closely mirroring Vallès's own life, the last novel depicts the rise of Vingtras's career as a journalist, his involvement with the Paris Commune, and his hope for the future after escaping the fall of the Commune. More autobiographical writing appears in Vallès's documentation of his experiences in La Rue à Londres, written in London after the fall of the Commune. This work reveals Vallès's great love and appreciation for his native Paris (although his comparisons between Paris and London are sometimes misinformed), and is also marked by the same attention to sensory detail that distinguishes the Jacques Vingtras trilogy.
Vallsè's radical politics overshadowed his literary talents until well into the twentieth century. Upon Vallès's death, influential critic Ferdinand Brunetière began Vallès's obituary reluctantly, remarking, "I shall speak of a disagreeable man." Recent critics, however, have worked toward a "recuperation of Vallesian poetics." Robin Orr Bodkin (1992), for example, argues that lifting Vallès from his undeserved obscurity will demonstrate "how his contribution points directly to the textual innovations of Nathalie Sarraute, Céline, Raymond Queneau, and Samuel Becket among others, if not to postmodern textual presentation in general." Nonetheless, most critics have considered his most important contribution to be his documentation of events surrounding the Paris Commune. Gerhard Fischer (1981) calls Vallès's mostly unknown drama La Commune de Paris "an outstanding documentary work [which] directly describes the struggles and sufferings of the people of Paris." Moreover, to some critics, Vallès's depiction of the hopes and disappointments of the working classes offers a model for modern power relations. Charles Stivale (1992) suggests that Vallès's careful narration of the forces at play during a critical political moment reveals a foundation for hope, and "forcefully introduces the possibility of resistance and the necessity of history."
Le Cri du Peuple [editor] (journalism) 1848-1871
L'Argent [published anonymously] (novel) 1857
Jean Delbenne [published anonymously] (novella) 1865
Les Réfractaires (novel) 1865
La Rue (novel) 1866
La Commune de Paris (play) 1872
Jacques Vingtras [under the name Jean La Rue] (novel) 1879; published as Jacques Vingtras: L'Enfant, 1881
Jacques Vingtras: Le Bachelier (novel) 1881
La Rue à Londres (essays) 1884
Jacques Vingtras: L'Insurgé: 1871 (novel) 1886
(The entire section is 55 words.)
SOURCE: "Vallès and the Pathos of Rebellion," in his The Intellectual Hero: Studies in the French Novel, 1880-1955, J. B. Lippincott Co., 1961, pp. 43-51.
[In the following excerpt, Brombert contends that despite Vallès's often misunderstood humor, his works viscerally communicate the tragic circumstances of Leftist intellectuals who were not accepted by existing institutions or by the revolutionary workers they wished to support.]
Jules Vallès' disheveled exuberance was not confined to literature. Son of a provincial schoolteacher who sent him to Paris to prepare for the Ecole Normale, he despised diplomas, preferred the more hot-blooded bohemian life, launched into revolutionary activities, gained experience in street fights and in the editorial rooms of militant papers, participated in the 1870 Commune, got a taste of jails and exile, and played until the end the dangerous game of revolt for revolt's sake. His colorful life, however, and even his role as founder of the revolutionary Cri du Peuple, might well be forgotten today were it not for the vigorous, succulent pages of his largely autobiographic Jacques Vingtras (1879-1886).
This trilogy, written with prankish zest, has not always been taken seriously. The linguistic verve suggests, from the first paragraph on, that the tone will remain truculent throughout. Metaphorical tours de force, onomatopoeic effects,...
(The entire section is 3464 words.)
SOURCE: "In Search of Jules Vallès," in The French Review: Journal of the American Association of Teachers of French, Vol. 40, 1967, pp. 636-42.
[In the following essay, Edmonds considers the autobiographical aspects of Vallès's Jacques Vingtras trilogy and emphasizes Vallès's contribution to the development of French political literature written to support the working class.]
Jules Vallès's colorful life (1832-1885) was marked by a bohemian existence, militant politics including participation in the Commune, imprisonment, and exile. In spite of destitution and failing health, he founded two leading newspapers of the day: La Rue, in 1867, with the cooperation of Zola; and Le Cri du Peuple, in 1871. During the twenty-year span of his literary productivity, he contributed articles to over thirty periodicals and wrote several novels and treatises. Although he received recognition as a journalist contributing to such newspapers as Le Figaro, his greatest literary achievement was Jacques Vingtras. This autobiographical trilogy appeared under three separate titles: L'Enfant (1879), first published as a serial under the pseudonym of La Chaussade; Le Bachelier (1881); and the posthumous L'Insurgé (1886). What captivates the reader is not so much the seething bitterness that characterizes his style, but the exceptional sensibility, the lyricism, and the...
(The entire section is 3083 words.)
SOURCE: "Vallés and the Existential Pun," in Mosaic, Vol. IX, No. 3, Spring, 1976, pp. 27-39.
[In the following essay, Redfern examines Vallès's use of wordplay, proposing that for Vallès the pun demonstrates both the power and the inadequacy of words. Moreover, Redfern suggests, Vallès's linguistic playfulness lends a sense of freedom and vitality to his work.]
Adām (man) was created out of adamāh (earth); and we know about Peter. In the beginning was the pun, in this case a simply divine pun. Cultural historians tell us that play with words (insult-competitions, lying tournaments, joutes de jactance) is one of the most beloved practices of human beings the world over and throughout recorded time. Why, then, has it become commonplace to apologise for punning?
In both journalism and novel-writing, Vallès brought his inborn love of playing with language to bear on often serious matters. He put play to work; he made play work. Huizinga says in Homo Ludens: "You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play."1 This article on wordplay is a rough draft. In three senses: it is a first shot; it may taste like academic moonshine; but, in intention, it lets some fresh air in.
The fact that Vallés has only recently begun to receive the kind of...
(The entire section is 6677 words.)
SOURCE: "Jules Vallès: Education and the Novel," in Gedenkschrift for Victor Poznanski, edited by C. A. M. Noble, Peter Lang, 1981, pp. 129-46.
[In the following essay, Birchall considers Vallès's trilogy Jacques Vingtras in relation to the German literary tradition of the bildungsroman, or educational novel. Birchall suggests that Vallès reworks the traditional bildungsroman by yoking together individual growth and social tranformation.]
Novels, wrote Dr. Johnson, 'are written chiefly for the young, the ignorant, and the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct and introductions into life.'1 The connection between education and the novel can be traced back over more than two centuries. The emergence of the novel as a major literary genre, and the development of modern educational theory are contemporaneous processes in European thought, and can be located in common sources: the problematic relation of individual and society, and the greater weight given to environment in the formation of the individual human being. Rousseau's Emile, a founding text of educational thought, is written as a novel.
It is in German literature that the notion of an educational novel, the so-called Bildungsroman, receives its fullest development. The most notable examples are Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre and Wilhelm Meisters...
(The entire section is 6160 words.)
SOURCE: "Jules Vallès, La Commune de Paris (1872)," in his The Paris Commune on the Stage: Vallès, Grieg, Brecht, Adamov, European University Studies, Series 1: German Language and Literature, Vol. 422, Peter Lang, 1981, pp. 36-52.
[In the following excerpt, Fischer demonstrates the value of Vallès's play La Commune de Paris as a detailed and personal history of the Paris Commune of 1871, arguing that although the plot and characterizations are unrealistic, the drama vividly portrays the social and political conflicts surrounding the event.]
La Commune de Paris, subtitled by its author a "grand drame historique,"1 is an extraordinarily long play, designed indeed on an impressive scale. The text of the book edition covers 341 pages, not counting the title pages preceding numerous textual divisions. The five acts of the play are subdivided into eleven tableaux, or scenic units, each requiring a new stage setting and each in turn consisting of many scenes. Vallès has meticulously entitled every act and tableau. The list of dramatic divisions and titles is as follows:
Act I: Prologue
- tableau: Le Peuple Vaincu
Act II: La Fin de l'Empire
- tableau: Un Prince Assassin
Act III: Le Siège de Paris...
(The entire section is 6516 words.)
SOURCE: "The Politics of Privacy in the Works of Jules Vallès," in The French Review: Journal of the American Association of Teachers of French, Vol. 58, No. 6, May, 1985, pp. 835-42.
[In the following essay, Lloyd focuses on the depiction of space in the Jacques Vingtras trilogy, arguing that Vallès's negative portrayal of private spaces underscores the loneliness and isolation of bourgeois life. Vallès's contrasting views of public and private spaces, Lloyd contends, reveal a sophisticated understanding of the evolution of modern institutions.]
The nineteenth century was an age of humanitarian reform of those institutions designed to house the alienated. It was also a period marked by the development of democratic institutions. The former is based on a philosophy of exclusion of unequals, the latter on inclusion of those considered to be the same before the law. The relationship between these two social trends, as paradox or logical consequence, can be fruitfully studied in the works of Jules Vallès, a participant in two of the major revolutions of the nineteenth century and, briefly, a resident of both asylum and prison.
Jules Vallès, the son of a poor schoolteacher, was educated in mid-nineteenth century France in institutions characterized by slavish respect for classical antiquity and belief in the pedagogical principles of corporal punishment, imitation of exemplary...
(The entire section is 4241 words.)
SOURCE: "The Politics of Irony and Alienation: A Study of Jules Vallés' Le Bachelier," in Romance Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 1, February, 1987, pp. 27-33.
[In the following essay, Lloyd applies Karl Marx's notion of alienation to illuminate the character Jacques Vingtras 's troubled relationship to both work and workers, emphasizing Vallès's use of irony as a textual representation of alienation.]
As in all previous history, whoever emerges as victor still participates in that triumph in which today's rulers march over the prostrate bodies of their victims. As is customary, the spoils are born aloft in that triumphal parade. These are generally called the cultural heritage… . They owe their existence, not merely to the toil of the great creators who have produced them, but equally to the anonymous forced labor of the latters' contemporaries. There has never been a document of culture which was not at one and the same time a document of barbarism.1
Fredric Jameson in his recent work on the political unconscious evokes Walter Benjamin's formulation not only as a caution to those critics who strive to find progressive forces in all cultural artifacts but as a reminder to Marxian critics, like himself, that the "will to domination" is the source of art's symbolic power.2 That Jules Vallès' Le Bachelier is appealing...
(The entire section is 4591 words.)
SOURCE: "Militancy in the Making: The Example of Le Bachelier," in Stanford French Review, Vol. XI, No. 3, Fall, 1987, pp. 331-44.
[In the following essay, van Slyke discusses Le Bachelier as an example of militant autobiography, using such an approach to demonstrate how the novel brings both author and reader into the text.] In proposing to study Vallès's Le bachelier as an example of what I call militant autobiography, my aim is not to dispute the justly deserved reputation of this work. I do, however, wish to examine the paradoxical means by which Le bachelier has achieved that recognition. Why I say "paradoxical" will, I hope, become clear in the course of these reflections upon militant autobiography.
First off, one must ask whether Le bachelier may be considered a legitimate example of autobiography. This work does not conform to the autobiographical pact, as defined by Philippe Lejeune; that is, in Le bachelier Vallès does not assure the readers that he is faithfully recounting his life-story in his own name. In presenting the sketch of the Trilogy to Hector Malot, Vallès claimed that the work would be "Mon histoire, mon Dieu—ou presque mon histoire."1 Furthermore, as Lejeune has remarked, the ambiguity of the pact which this work proposes to its readers is sustained by the suggestive yet equivocal relationship between the author's name, Jules Vallès, and the...
(The entire section is 5580 words.)
SOURCE: "L'Enfant," in his Feet First: Jules Vallès, University of Glasgow French and German Publications, 1992, pp. 89-116.
[In the following excerpt, Redfern examines the first book of Vallès's Vingtras trilogy, L'Enfant, focusing on Vallès's use of sensory detail and his keen perception of the joys and injustices of childhood and education.]
In Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco writes: 'The literature of memory: he knew himself that it was the last refuge of scoundrels'. Sometimes, no doubt, but for Vallès the past was the true homeland. The only convincing fiction he could write (and he applied the same criterion to other writers) was born when he could master his facts. If home is 'the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in',1 it is also starting blocks. By the standards of ordinary success, Vallès, who never called his three novels a trilogy, was a late developer.
His fiction is heavily autobiographical, but not umbilicist. Just as simplicity cannot be swotted up, nor a sophisticate easily go native, so a grown man cannot rebecome his earlier self. He has, ineluctably, hindsight, and can hardly spurn the benefits of experience. All he can sanely aim for is to locate what is left of the child in the adult and use this to enrich his vision. Pedantic forms of keeping faith with an earlier self are self-denying and...
(The entire section is 1745 words.)
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.(PHILIP LARKIN: 'This Be the Verse')
Vous ne réssirez pas à me dénaturer(DIDEROT: Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville)
As Sartre, and common experience, tell us, society is first mediated, transfused, to us via our families. It was inevitable that Vallès should begin at the beginning, where we are all made, unmade, or make ourselves. Just as Nizan wanted to smash the iconic view of youth as the best years of our lives, so Vallès worked to dispel the foggy myth of idyllic childhood. L'Enfant tells of child-abuse. It cuts very close to the bone, and is a crucial first stage to Vallès's wider indictment of all forms of victimisation. It is no joke, and very funny. Its hero, Jacques, gags (jokes/retches) against parental gags (vetoes).
The basic opposition within L'Enfant is between home as prison, punitive and restrictive, and various efforts to escape. In a typical instance of pointed hyperbole, Jacques finds the local jail gayer in atmosphere than home or school. In addition, of course, he is attracted to irréguliers (especially one inmate who had killed a gendarme). It is clearly a kind of inverted snobbery, of reversed values, but it...
(The entire section is 12937 words.)
SOURCE: "Exile and Return: La Rue à Londres," in his Feet First: Jules Vallès, University of Glasgow French and German Publications, 1992, pp. 145-72.
[In the following excerpt, Redfern discusses Vallès's exile in London, from about 1872 to 1880, focusing on Vallès's contrasting views of Paris and London and the background for Vallès's book La Rue a Londres. Redfern also describes Vallès's efforts to work in Paris following his return from London and the defeat of the Paris Commune, particularly his work on the newspaper Le Cri du peuple.]
Long before he was forced into it, Vallès hankered for a chosen exile, an expatriation (or 'exmatriation').1 Eight years before his first trip to England in 1865, he observed some Englishmen in Paris: 'L'Anglais garde, dans son faux col trop raide et son coatchman [sic] trop large, un air ètrange et distingué. Il est muet, il a caché sa langue au fond de sa valise; s'il ose parfois s'en servir, s'il parle, on ne comprend point son langage' (I, 63). An unpromising introduction: stiffness, reserve, incomprehensibility, otherness, and yet an imposing idiosyncrasy. When he actually set off for England, the unwitting dramatic irony as regards the future is intense: Je n'ai point le douloureux honneur de partir proscrit, rien ne m'oblige au rôle d'exilé' (p. 771). And again at the end: 'Après...
(The entire section is 9433 words.)
SOURCE: "Le Plissement and La fêlure: The Paris Commune in Vallès's L'Insurgé and Zola's La Débâcle," in Modernity and Revolution in Late Nineteenth-Century France, edited by Barbara T. Cooper and Mary Donaldson-Evans, University of Delaware Press, 1992, pp. 143-54.
[In the following excerpt, Stivale contrasts Vallès's and Emile Zola's representation of the Paris Commune of 1871, arguing that Vallès's emphasis on identifying and naming historical agents in his narration of class conflict makes possible the recognition and resistance of seemingly natural sources of power.]
In his provocative analysis of Zola's La Bâte humaine in The Logic of Sense, Gilles Deleuze develops the bipolar oscillation which occurs in Zola's work between the la petite hérédité des instincts ("small heredity of instincts") and the la grande hérédité ("grand heredity"), both of la fâlure ("the fissure") and of the l'Instinct de mort ("death Instinct").1 According to this model, the instincts alone seem to drive the subject's actions in the case of Jacques Lantier's love for Séverine which apparently palliates the effects of the hereditary fâlure. But, at the same time, says Deleuze, la fâlure "is actualized in each body in relation to the instincts which open a way for it, sometimes mending it a little, sometimes...
(The entire section is 4915 words.)
Bodkin, Robin Orr. "The Creative Askesis of Jules Vallès." In Repression and Expression: Literary and Social Coding in Nineteenth-Century France, edited by Carrol F. Coates, pp. 111-34. New York: Peter Lang, 1996.
Connects Vallès to French poets Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud in the early development of modernist poetics, specifically a poetics of resistance.
Bruce, Donald. "Discourse Analysis in Cultural Theory: 'Une Discipline Transversale."' Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 22, No. 1 (March 1995): 63-92.
Considers the example of Le Bachelier to discuss the usefulness of discourse analysis in understanding the historical specificity of literary texts and other works of art.
Bruce, Donald, and Terry Butler. "Towards the Discourse of the Commune: Characteristic Phenomena in Jules Vallès's Jacques Vingtras." Texte et Informatique 13-14 (1993): 219-49.
Uses computer-aided analysis to discover the characteristics (including neologisms, narrative rupture, and wordplay) of Vallès's texts about the Paris Commune uprising of 1871.
Kranowski, Nathan. "The Undeserved Obscurity of Jules Vallès." Romance Notes XIV, No. 3 (Spring 1973): 501-7....
(The entire section is 263 words.)