Théophile Gautier Poetry Analysis
The typical twentieth century critical estimation is that Théophile Gautier is a transitional figure in French poetry, although this was not the judgment of his own time, for he was highly, perhaps extravagantly, praised by his contemporaries. Today, Gautier is often viewed as a second-generation Romantic whose earliest work is excessively imitative of the previous generation and whose mature work anticipates the poetic achievement of later, greater poets and of entire literary schools. It is a curiosity that Gautier is better known today as a spokesman for an aesthetic doctrine, art for art’s sake—which he never systematized and only fitfully realized—than for his poetry itself.
That particular aesthetic was years in developing. If Gautier was incapable, even to the end, of setting aside all the Romantic “baggage” of his early years, there always existed in him a detached, ironic, objective observer who bridled at subscribing wholeheartedly to Romantic subjectivity or Romantic political and social involvement. The idea that a work of art should exist in a vacuum, as some kind of cold, clear object without reference to extraneous and irrelevant religious, political, and social meanings, was first clearly stated in Gautier’s work in the preface to the novel Mademoiselle de Maupin. This concept of art for art’s sake was not original with Gautier, who was himself uncomfortably conscious of the vagueness of such grand abstractions as...
(The entire section is 3065 words.)
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