Historical Dictionary of the French Second Empire, 1852-1870

By William E. Echard | Go to book overview
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JANIN, JULES ( 1804-1874), journalist and literary critic; born 16 February 1804, at Saint-Etienne. The son of a lawyer, Janin was destined for a law career, but after completing his education at the Collège Louis le Grand, he entered journalism and began to write novels, the first of which ( L'âne mort et lafemme guillotinée, a parody of the romantic style) appeared in 1829. Janin rallied to Louis Philippe and to moderate Orleanism and was named to the Legion of Honor in 1836. That same year he became a political editor of the Journal des débats but moved almost at once to the post of drama critic, which he was to hold without interruption until September 1873. His column, which appeared every Monday, earned him the epithet "Prince of Critics," and, indeed, a word from Janin could make or break careers. It was he who in 1837- 1838 discovered the great tragic actress Rachel--and who turned against her in 1855 to hymn the praises of her young Italian rival, Adelaide Ristori. Even an attack by Janin could have momentous consequences. Thus, his condemnation of Jacques Offenbach's Orphée aux enfers in the fall of 1858 drew curious Parisians to the operetta in such numbers that Offenbach's theater was saved and his reputation made.

Janin's fame rested on his personality and his wit. His judgments were arbitrary, based on no clearly defined principles, and often inconsistent. Enemies proclaimed, as well, that his reviews were not always disinterested. Although an opponent of the Second Empire and possessing Orleanist credentials, the celebrated critic did not find it easy to join the ranks of the Immortals at the Académie Franqaise. In 1863 he was defeated by Jules Dufaure ( 1798- 1881) and, more surprisingly, in April 1865 by a younger Journal des débats colleague, Lucien Anatole Prévost-Paradol. Despite public support for Janin's candidacy, it was only on 7 April 1870 that he was elected to the seat left vacant at the Académie by the death of his fellow critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve. The Franco-Prussian War intervened, and by the time Janin took his seat ( November 1871), he was already in full intellectual decline. He died at Passy, 20 June 1874.

Sainte-Beuve's reputation has completely eclipsed that of Janin in our day, but it seems probable that if Janin did not deserve the extravagant praise of his


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