Théophile Gautier Biography

Biography

Central to the acceptance of romantic artists and writers in nineteenth century France, Gautier was a fervent promoter of such figures as Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire. His key role in the development of Parisian literary bohemia put him in direct conflict with the emerging stuffiness of French bourgeois life. As the art critic for La Presse from 1838-1845, and as the literary commentator for the Journal Officiel (until 1870) and other publications, Gautier rejected prevailing aesthetic notions and attacked the hypocrisy of French culture and morality.

Gautier rejected the notion that art has an ideological mission, and called for art for art’s sake, the truest possible expression of truth and beauty. He also rejected prevailing mores and became a figure of popular revulsion and moral approbation. Having two mistresses and three children, Gautier outraged polite society by turning his own life into a work of bohemian expression.

Gautier’s novel Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) was his most acerbic attack on the mediocrity of the bourgeoisie. That novel daringly explored bisexual relationships, opening Gautier to charges of promoting immorality. The legal battle that ensued cleared him but sealed his fate in the eyes of the French literary establishment. It was the first major case of the century involving an attempt at literary censorship on moral, rather than political grounds.

Mademoiselle de Maupin established Gautier’s reputation for the scandalous, a reputation that transcended both his century and his country. Gautier was denounced and rejected by the French Academy three times, his works were banned in Russia, and as late as 1917 the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice sought to purge him from the public libraries.

Biography

Théophile Gautier was born on August 30, 1811, in the southern French city of Tarbes, where his father Pierre was a civil servant. In 1814, Pierre, his wife Antoinette, and their son Théophile moved to Paris, where Théophile lived until his death on October 23, 1872. Gautier had two sisters: Émilie, born in 1817, and Zoé, born three years later. He attended school in Paris and then studied painting in 1829. That same year he met writer Victor Hugo, who persuaded Gautier to become a writer.

During the 1830’s, Gautier earned his living as a journalist. He also began his literary career by writing in several different genres, including fiction, poetry, plays, ballet librettos, and art criticism. He never married, but he did have three children out of wedlock. A mistress named Eugénie Fort gave birth to his only son, Théophile, in 1836. For many years he lived with his mistress Ernesta Grasi. Together they had two daughters: Judith, born in 1845, and Estelle, born two years later. Unlike many French writers of the nineteenth century, Gautier earned his living solely from his writings. He developed the argument that art existed only for art’s sake. He stressed that the value of a literary work should be determined solely by aesthetic criteria. He was very interested in foreign cultures. He undertook extensive trips to Algeria, Spain, Italy, Egypt, Greece, Constantinople, and Russia and then published books on these trips. He died from heart problems in Paris on October 23, 1872.

Biography

Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier was born on August 30, 1811, in Tarbes, a small town in southern France at the foot of the Pyrenees. His father, a minor government official, was transferred with his family from this provincial home on the frontier of Spain to the cosmopolitan bustle of Paris in 1814, when Gautier was not quite three years old. Tarbes made an indelible impression upon Gautier, who himself traced his wanderlust and his perpetual fascination with the exotic to a desire to recapture the idealized world of his early life at Tarbes.

In Paris, after an unsuccessful attempt to conform to the regimen of a boarding school, Gautier was enrolled as a day pupil at the Collège Charlemagne. There, his scholastic career prospered. His parents, particularly his father, were strongly supportive of their son’s interests, and Gautier was encouraged to develop an early talent for sketching by studying art in the studio of the painter Louis Édouard Rioult. Gautier’s years of study in the studio were to be of the greatest importance in his development as a writer.

While enrolled at the Collège Charlemagne and simultaneously studying with Rioult, Gautier met and befriended the precocious young writer Gérard de Nerval (who published his first collection of poetry at the age of seventeen and, in his twentieth year, published a translation of Faust much admired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). Nerval was one of the chief organizers of the pro-Romantic claque that was to attend the premiere of Victor Hugo’s drama Hernani at the Théâtre-Français on February 25, 1830, and he enlisted Gautier’s assistance as the head of a subsquad of Hugo supporters. The evening was destined to become a watershed in French theatrical history; it served to mark the “official” recognition of the Romantic movement in France. Gautier left a warm and lively account of that evening, which the French refer to as the “battle of Hernani.” The long-haired, outrageously attired young Romantics (Gautier would be known throughout his life for the gilet rouge, or red waistcoat, he wore that evening) applauded and cheered their hero, Hugo, while the old-guard neoclassicists hissed him down. The performance could barely proceed for the noise and interruptions, but somehow the new Romanticism triumphed.

Gautier and Nerval soon became involved with a group of young literary hopefuls who together formed a literary club, the petit cénacle (so called to distinguish it from the original Cénacle of the first-generation Romantics: Hugo, Alphonse de Lamartine, Alfred de Vigny, and Alfred de Musset). This “little club” was a flamboyant and colorful group, most of the members of which are now forgotten. In July, 1830, under the...

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