"A Dream of Stone": Fame, Vision, and Monumentality in Nineteenth-Century French Literary Culture

"A Dream of Stone": Fame, Vision, and Monumentality in Nineteenth-Century French Literary Culture

"A Dream of Stone": Fame, Vision, and Monumentality in Nineteenth-Century French Literary Culture

"A Dream of Stone": Fame, Vision, and Monumentality in Nineteenth-Century French Literary Culture

Synopsis

With democratization of fame in the wake of the French Revolution, writers enjoyed ever greater celebrity status. But in nineteenth-century France, the availability and perceived impermanence of such renown cheapened it, and prompted longing for enduring fame, exemplified by monuments - commemorative sculptural or architectural works, helping a nation in flux define itself, its past, and anticipated future. Within this cultural climate, there evolved an ideal of great writers and their work as immortal, that envisioned literary greatness through the metaphor of monuments and monumentality. study draws upon wide-ranging evidence, from journalism to poetry, caricature to statuary. Focusing on the lives, work, and fame of Honore de Balzac, George Sand, and Victor Hugo, it uncovers the salient features, and traces the rise and fall of this monumentalizing vision of literary greatness, largely forgotten today yet so central to nineteenth-century French culture. North Carolina State University.

Excerpt

Nous devons l’unité de cette oeuvre à une réflexion que M. de
Balzac fit de bonne heure sur l’ensemble des oeuvres de
Walter Scott…. “Il ne suffit pas d’être un homme, il faut être
un système, disait-il…. Quoique grand, le barde écossais
n’a fait qu’exposer un certain nombre de pierres habilement
sculptées, où se voient d’admirables figures, où revit le génie
de chaque époque, et dont presque toutes sont sublimes; mais
où est le monument?

[I]l s’agit donc d’être … Walter Scott plus un architecte.”
—Félix Davin, “Introduction aux Études de moeurs
au XIXe siècle” (CH 1.1151–52)

[We owe the unity of this work to M. de Balzac’s early re
flection upon the whole of Walter Scott’s works…. “It is not
enough to be a man, you must be a system,” he said. “While
great, the Scottish bard only displayed a certain number of
skillfully sculpted stones. Almost all are sublime, depicting
admirable figures, and recapturing the genius of each period;
but where is the monument?”

It is therefore a question of being Walter Scott plus an
architect.]

—Félix Davin, Introduction to the
Studies of 19 -century Mores

Aujourd’hui, Balzac est mort, et nous n’avons plus que son
monument sous les yeux; il nous étonne par sa hauteur, nous
restons pleins de respect devant un aussi prodigieux travail.
Comment un ouvrier a-t-il pu tailler à lui seul un pareil
monde?

—Émile Zola, “Balzac” (1906, 55)

[Today, Balzac is dead, and only his monument remains before
our eyes; its height amazes us, such a prodigious work leaves
us awestruck. How could one worker fashion such a world by
himself?]

—Émile Zola, “Balzac”

“Balzac”

Balzac began to write his monument by fashioning his own identity, burying family ignominy and early personal failure beneath his prodigious literary production. As Proust’s Remem brance of Things Past would spring from the teacup of involuntary memory, so The Human Comedy would proceed from its author’s compensatory masquerade as “Balzac.”

Characteristically, in his long, polemical introduction to Le Lys dans la vallée [The Lily in the Valley] (CH 9.917–66), the author defies his detractors: “Balzac,” he insists, is his “nom patronymique” (928). This is and is not a lie. “Balzac” is not his patronymic in a conventional . . .

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