Gautier, Théophile (Short Story Criticism)
Gautier, Théophile 1811-1872
French poet, novelist, short story and novella writer, critic, travel writer, and dramatist.
One of the best-known and most highly respected literary personalities in France in the nineteenth century, Gautier is noted for his fantastic stories and novellas that portray protagonists searching for an ideal. Critics commend his experimental style, which blends genres while incorporating various narrative modes, irony, and a mix of humor and seriousness.
Gautier was born in Tarbes in southwestern France. His family moved to Paris when he was three, and he lived there for the rest of his life. As a student at the Collége Charlemagne, he met and developed a lifelong friendship with the novelist Gérard de Nerval, who would introduce Gautier to Victor Hugo, an association that would greatly influence his work. During this time, Gautier began painting and writing in a variety of genres. Although a prolific and well-respected author, Gautier turned to journalism in order to financially support his family and mistresses. His theater and art columns in Presse and Moniteur universel established him among the most influential critics of the period. Among the writers of his time, Gautier counted as friends Hugo, Nerval, Heinrich Heine, Alexandre Dumas, Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and Charles Baudelaire. Beset by physical trials, financial problems, professional uncertainties, and domestic displacements, Gautier died in 1872.
Major Works of Short Fiction
From the earliest narratives to the works written near the end of his career, Gautier's fiction is marked by the portrayal of protagonists in search of an ideal, the realization of which, they believe, will bring them supreme happiness. In the earlier works the desired good is an ideal of perfect beauty to be enjoyed in the here and now. For example, in "La morte amoureuse" a young priest is drawn to the courtesan Clarimonde not only for her dazzling physical beauty but also for everything around her—splendid clothing, opulent surroundings, and a lavish lifestyle. He subsequently discovers his love to be a female vampire, yet finds it difficult to extricate himself from the relationship. In Gautier's later fiction the focus shifts to an ideal of beauty belonging to a distant past, which can be enjoyed only in metaphysical realms such as the imagination or dreams. In his novella Spirite, the protagonist Malivert is visited by the spirit of a dead woman who had loved him in life but failed to profess her feelings. Malivert eventually finds happiness by breaking with the real world and existing in the spiritual, transcendental domain.
Praised for the innovative aspects of his writing, Gautier is credited with stretching the bounds of dark comedy with his experimental narrative forms, for example where he interweaves epistolary form with dialogue in order to tell a story. Commentators note his inclusion of copious references to diverse literary works, events and personages throughout history, characters and stories from mythology and folklore, and painters, sculptors, and works of art from diverse ages and lands. Yet it is Gautier's concentration on beauty, and his protagonists' quests for it, that has spurred much critical appreciation and debate and remains the defining characteristic of his fiction.
Les Jeunes-France, romans gouenards [The Young-France, Stories in a Jesting Manner] (satire) 1833
L'Eldorado (novella) 1837; also published as Fortunio, 1838
Nouvelles (novellas) 1845
*Un trio de romans (novels and novellas) 1852
Avatar (short novel) 1857
Jettatura (short novel) 1857
Romans et contes (novels and short stories) 1857
Le roman de la momie [The Romance of the Mummy] (short novel) 1858
Spinte, nouvelle fantastique (novella) 1866
Contes fantastiques (short stories) 1962
*This volume contains "Arria Marcella."
Other Major Works
Poésies (poetry) 1830
Albertus (poetry) 1833
Mademoiselle de Maupin (novel) 1835-36
La comédie de la mort (poetry) 1838
Une larme du diable [A Tear Shed by the Devil] (drama) 1839
Giselle, ou les Wilis [with Vernoy de Saint-Georges] (ballet scenario) 1841
Tra los montes (travel essay) 1843; also published as Voyage en Espagne, 1845
Les grotesques (criticism) 1844
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SOURCE: "Théophile Gautier, Colorist," in The Critic, New York, Vol. XLIII, No. 1, July, 1903, pp. 47-50.
[In the following excerpt, Sumichrast underscores the importance of beauty in Gautier's short stories.]
In the happy youth of Romanticism, Gautier, like many another enthusiast, madly worshipped those painters in whom the gift of color oft outweighed the sense of form. He was an adorer of the most glowing palettes, and the Venetians on the one hand and Rubens on the other won his constant praise. It so happened that the Museum of the Louvre was well provided with masterpieces of the one and the other school, and there it was that Gautier made his first acquaintance with the beauty and splendor of color that, it must be owned, was sadly lacking in the works of the school of David and his successors.
Then, though he was later on to become one of the most persistent globetrotters that France has ever turned out, he had not begun to travel when he felt the fascination of Rubens. That charm he has described time and again in his various articles and books; it held him fast; it compelled him to a quest as important in his eyes, at that time, as that of Jason or Sir Galahad. So he started for Belgium in the belief that it was a land filled to overflowing with splendid creatures golden-haired, blue-eyed, and voluptuously formed. "The notion," he says in his account of the trip, "came into...
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SOURCE: "The Brief-Narrative Art of Théophile Gautier," in Modern Philology, Vol. XIV, No. 11, March, 1917, pp. 647-64.
[In the following essay, Smith traces the narrative development in Gautier's short fiction.]
[In Théophile Gautier, 1890] when Maxime Du Camp affirms that Gautier is less of a romancier than a conteur, he is attempting to distinguish between these as between invention and imagination, arguing that whereas a roman is composed objectively, upon a deliberate plan, a conte or a nouvelle is subjective and spontaneous. This distinction, carried to its logical consequences, means that in novels the writer guides the narrative, in brief tales the narrative guides the writer, a reduction to the absurd even if limited to Gautier. For the structural unity of "la Morte amoureuse" is as voluntary as that of le Capitaine Fracasse, and vastly superior to that of such novels as Partie carrée. Du Camp is manifestly correct in assuming that many of Gautier's briefer tales are the result of musing over adventures, generally erotic, of which the author imagines himself the hero, and there is a degree of reason in his remark that "c'est parce qu'elles ont été un épisode de sa vie intellectuelle que ses nouvelles sont simples, presque sans incidents, émues néanmoins et communiquant l'émotion dont elles palpitent." But this subjectivity is not...
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SOURCE: "The Second Generation," in Short Fiction in France, 1800-1850, Syracuse University Press, 1964, pp. 166-204.
[In the following excerpt, George offers a thematic and stylistic analysis of Gautier's short fiction, maintaining that he "stands forth as one of the earliest to construct a formal short story. "]
The petits romantiques, the second generation of romantics, boasted fewer distinguished names than the original group, but they made up for this lack in devotion to a cause. Their faith in their destiny flamed even higher than that of the founders of the movement; they developed an overpowering sense of the sanctity of their mission. Tragically, most of them possessed a modicum of talent but no genius, with the result that their work scarcely outlived them. Most were devout poets who, like their predecessors, turned reluctantly to the brief narrative as it became an accepted mode of literary expression. Yet some of them, Gautier, for instance, would help raise short fiction to a level where it could stand unashamed alongside any of the other genres.
Like Mérimée, Théophile Gautier brought a sense of art to the short narrative; like him, he stood out from his contemporaries in his sure knowledge of the possibilities of brief fiction. Whenever the crushing necessity to earn a living permitted, he could produce works with perspective, balanced in emphasis, and cleverly...
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SOURCE: "The Changing Ideal in Two of Gautier's Fictional Narratives," in The Romanic Review, Vol. LX, No. 3, October, 1969, pp. 168-73.
Between 1831 and 1865 Gautier published more than a dozen narratives—short stories, novelettes, and novels—which treat different aspects of the quest of an ideal. Taken in their chronological order, these narratives show that over the years Gautier's concept of the ideal changed radically. The change is reflected most clearly in motifs which recur in stories written several years apart. For example, the same two motifs are integral elements in both "La Morte amoureuse" and "Arria Marcella." It is my intention here, by comparing these motifs and the contexts in which they occur, to clarify certain aspects of Gautier's encounter with the ideal.
In both stories the hero's love for a dead woman brings about her resurrection. The women in question symbolize the ideal. Each stands as the highest good which the hero aspires to possess and in comparison to which all ordinary objects of desire are worthless. In "La Morte amoureuse" Romuald abandons the priesthood to follow Clarimonde, because she holds the promise of bliss superior even to that enjoyed by God and His angels in Heaven. For Octavien, in "Arria Marcella," it is also the heroine who represents the fulfillment of his desires. Arria Marcella's relationship to the ideal is explicit: when Octavien sees the contour of her...
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SOURCE: "Summary and Conclusion," in Ideal and Reality in the Fictional Narratives of Theophile Gautier, University of Florida Press, 1969, pp. 49-58.
[In the following essay, Smith examines the changing ideal in Gautier's short stories and discusses the autobiographical aspects of his work.]
Study of Gautier's narratives shows that the character of the ideal which his heroes posit as a potential source of happiness changes gradually but radically from the early to the later works. The evolution which takes place is visible in the heroines, who either symbolize a given ideal or, as in the case of Lavinia, reside in the ideal milieu and thus are able to describe its pleasures. The early ideal, summed up in Madelaine de Maupin, is conceived as the material embodiment of essential beauty. It is thus an object, enjoyment of which is sought in the present. Although d'Albert finds his ideal realized, Mademoiselle de Maupin cannot, for all that, be read as a success story. The supreme happiness which d'Albert enjoys with Madelaine is short-lived, for she disappears after a single night of love, explaining that she could not tolerate the inevitable deterioration of his passion. If we are consistent in interpreting Gautier's novel, we are forced to read Madeline's statement as an assertion that material beauty cannot provide lasting happiness, not because of some flaw in itself but because of a...
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SOURCE: "Gautier: From Hallucination to Supernatural Vision," in Yale French Studies, No. 50, 1974, pp. 42-53.
[In the following essay, Cockerham discounts the notion that Gautier relied on drugs or alcohol for creative inspiration.]
"I am like the hippopotamus" [Gautier wrote in Poésies complètes, edited by René Jasinski, 1932]: The legend of his insensitivity, which Gautier seems at times almost to have willed into existence, has been, over the past twenty-five years, if not buried, then at least brought under control. The "threader of pearls" is now credited with imagination, perhaps even with vision, and in the course of the slow revaluation of his work, we have been reminded more than once of Gautier's place alongside Baudelaire and Balzac as a student of artificial stimulants to the creative imagination.
Certainly none of Gautier's works on intoxicants can be said to approach in seriousness of purpose Balzac's Traité des excitants modernes or in moral profundity Baudelaire's Les Paradis artificiels, but this is not necessarily to say, as has in fact been suggested, that his interest in the subject was merely that of a journalist in search of colorful copy. Although his experience of intoxicants has not led to any really major work on which criticism can concentrate, many passages from different parts of his output, along with the three brief pieces he...
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SOURCE: "Gautier the Storyteller," in Théophile Gautier, Twayne Publishers, 1975, pp. 107-32.
[Grant is an American educator and critic. In the following excerpt, he discusses the defining characteristics of Gautier's "Oriental" stories, asserting that they stem from a "desire to escape from daily reality into ancient cultures endowed with finer esthetic sensibilities and a greater degree of permanence than modern bourgeois France."]
Viewed as a whole, Gautier's contes and nouvelles fall roughly into two groups. One consists of tales of the fantastic, the other of evocations of exotic Oriental splendor. We shall deal with the latter. . . . The Oriental stories all have a common inspiration: Gautier's desire to escape from daily reality into ancient cultures endowed with finer esthetic sensibilities and a greater degree of permanence than modern bourgeois France. Each of the individual stories, then, offers some variation of this quest for a distant ideal.
Gautier's dream of inhabiting a tropical or Oriental paradise found one of its major literary expressions inFortunio (1837). Fortunio is a young Frenchman who has been brought up in the Far East by an incredibly wealthy relative who has indulged the boy's every whim. Having inherited his rich uncle's estate, he has returned to Paris when the story opens. With his vast wealth, perfect manners, and devastating...
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SOURCE: "Le Merveilleux scientifique and the Fantastic," in L'Esprit Créateur, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, Fall, 1988, pp. 9-22.
[In the following essay, Gordon investigates the influence of nineteenth-century psychiatric theories on Gautier's short fiction.]
The title of my essay might have been: "Qu'est-ce qui fait travailler l'Imaginaire des lecteurs parisiens du XIXe siècle?" I believe an evolution, both in the themes/exploration of the unconscious and in the production of the effects that make up the Fantastic can be traced through the study of the psychiatric theories and nosography of the nineteenth century. In what measure did authors have recourse to these documents, and to what extent did they furnish these writers with new effects for their tales?
In 1865, Théophile Gautier published Spirite, the last of his récits fantastiques, a genre he had practiced for some 30 years. A few months later, in the same columns where Spirite had appeared in installments, he remarked that the nerves of a 19th-century reader "sont plus éprouvés que ceux des spectateurs du 18e siècle, et ils ont besoin, pour être ébranlés, d'un fantastique un peu moins naïf ... "
I will propose here that the new sophistication that would inspire fear in the French reader and elicit his or her credulity was to be found in science: in...
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SOURCE: "Fantasmagoria and Optics in Théophile Gautier's 'Arria Marcella'," in The Shape of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Seventh International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, edited by Olena H. Saciuk, Greenwood Press, 1990, pp. 85-92.
[In the following essay, Crichfield explores how the scientific acceptance of optical illusion propelled its use as a literary device in Gautier's "Arria Marcella. "]
Recent scholarship on nineteenth-century French literature, and on the fantastic specifically, has increasingly turned its attention to the relevance of the relationships between scopic pulsions and literary illusion. In La Fantasmagorie: Essai sur l'optique fantastique (1982), for example, Max Milner explores the part that new technologies for the creation of optical illusion played in the expanded receptivity to the fantastic in the nineteenth century. Rosemary Jackson, in Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (1981), proposes the notion that the structure of the fantastic element in literature conforms to the optical principle of the "paraxis." The paraxis, like a mirage, is a zone "in which light rays seem to unite at a point after refraction." It is a dimension where object and image appear to coincide and which the eye cannot distinguish from tangible reality. But there is in material fact nothing in this area because both the perceived object and the perceiving...
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SOURCE: '"Animated Corse': Archetypal Travesties in Three Gothic Tales," in Our Ladies of Darkness: Feminine Daemonology in Male Gothic Fiction, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993, pp. 69-90.
[In the following excerpt, Andriano explores psychodynamic aspects of Gautier's "Le morte amoureuse, " contending that the female demon, Clarimonde, is a manifestation of Romuald's troubled unconscious.]
The demonic feminine in Romantic and Modern fiction is often manifest in the gruesome figure of the animated corpse. Even when the apparition is a ghost or an automaton, authors often allude to the idea of an "animated corse" (as M. G. Lewis called his Bleeding Nun) or "the legend of the dead bride" (to whom Hoffmann compared Olimpia). Since the corpse is generally thought to be animated by a demon, if not by the devil himself, it is often vampiric, because (as James Twitchell has shown in The Living Dead) the vampire was originally defined as a dead sinner (often a suicide) animated by a devil. The next two chapters, then, focus respectively on mid- and late-Romantic treatments of the feminine undead, which the authors used as psychological symbols (Twitchell, Living Dead). In these texts, the demon that animates the corpse comes from the hell of the haunted man's unconscious.
Three tales from the first half of the nineteenth century reveal this psychodynamic with an...
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Richardson, Joanna. Théophile Gautier: His Life and Times. London: Max Reinhardt, 1958, 335 p.
Considered the definitive English biography of Gautier.
Dillingham, Louise Bulkley. The Creative Imagination of Théophile Gautier. Princeton, N.J., and Albany, N.Y.: Psychological Review Co., 1927, 356 p.
Presents Gautier as a transitional figure between naturalism and early romanticism.
Giraud, Raymond. "Gautier's Dehumanization of Art."
L'Esprit Createur III, No. 1 (Spring 1963): 3-9.
Contends that Gautier's "Art for Art's sake" doctrine "has its positive side, its strong conviction of the intrinsic value of art; but it also could be a doctrine of retreat from the painfulness of life."
Rudwin, Maximilian J. "Satanism and Spiritism in Gautier." The Open Court XXVII, No. 806 (July 1923): 385-95.
Identifies various occult tendencies in the themes of Gautier's narrative fiction.
Shanks, Lewis Piaget. "Théophile Gautier." The Sewanee Review XX, No. 2 (April 1912): 167-74.
Presents an overview of Gautier's fiction.
Smith, Albert B. Théophile Gautier and the Fantastic. University, Miss.: Romance Monographs, Inc., 1977, 149 p.
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