Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The nature of this story, composed in the first person and consisting largely of the narrator’s thoughts, makes it perfect as a vehicle for extensive descriptions. Through his choice of material in the descriptive passages, Gérard de Nerval introduces a series of value judgments on the people and places described.

At first the presence of description seems ironic. In the first scene at the theater, after commenting on the dress and jewels of members of the audience, the narrator asserts his lack of interest in them. The ensuing description of Aurélie, however, already contains elements calculated to enhance the reader’s perception of her by specific associations.

Aurélie is as beautiful as “the divine Hours . . . of the frescoes at Herculanum.” This analogy with the recently discovered classical paintings heightens the degree of beauty ascribed to Aurélie, but by the distance implied, reinforces the idea of her inaccessibility.

In the case of these romantic allusions, Nerval draws on concepts popular in his day with which his readers would already have specific associations. In his portraits of Adrienne and Sylvie, he creates a more personal system of association where older, traditional things appear good, while their modern replacements seem crass and uninteresting. Adrienne’s strong link to the traditions of her aristocratic forebears establishes her as having a superiority to which Sylvie can only briefly aspire....

(The entire section is 437 words.)