Critical Evaluation

(Essentials of European Literature)

A member of the nineteenth century symbolist school in France, Rémy de Gourmont in Le livre de masques (1896-1898; The Book of Masques, 1921) was one of the earliest critics to call attention to such later famous symbolists as J. K. Huysmans and Stephane Mallarme. Gourmont’s own art and thought were influenced by the symbolists. His two most commonly known works in English translation are A Night in the Luxembourg and A Virgin Heart (1907).

Classed as a novelette or novella, A Night in the Luxembourg is little more than a series of conversations, principally between the mysterious “He” and the journalist Sandy Rose, whose original French name was Louis Delacolombe. Both names are symbolic since the rose and the dove (colombe) have long symbolized love. The two words rose and dove appear frequently throughout the book, like leitmotifs in a Wagner opera.

Dressed like a contemporary French gentleman, “He” yet seems to Rose to resemble conventional artistic portrayals of Jesus. As revealed in his conversation, however, he appears in his thought to be a more generalized inspirer of men of varied faiths throughout the ages. “I am not God,” he says. “I am only a god.” His philosophy concerning human life, with its emphasis on the virtue of being happy and the importance of living each moment as if it were eternal, is Epicurean. His favorite moral philosophers, he tells Rose, were...

(The entire section is 467 words.)