Fashioned Texts and Painted Books: Nineteenth-Century French Fan Poetry

Fashioned Texts and Painted Books: Nineteenth-Century French Fan Poetry

Fashioned Texts and Painted Books: Nineteenth-Century French Fan Poetry

Fashioned Texts and Painted Books: Nineteenth-Century French Fan Poetry


Fashioned Texts and Painted Books examines the folding fan's multiple roles in fin-de-siecle and early twentieth-century French literature. Focusing on the fan's identity as a symbol of feminine sexuality, as a collectible art object, and, especially, as an alternative book form well suited to the reception of poetic texts, the study highlights the fan's suitability as a substrate for verse, deriving from its myriad associations with coquetry and sex, flight, air, and breath. Close readings of Stephane Mallarme's eventails of the 1880s and 1890s and Paul Claudel's Cent phrases pour eventails (1927) consider both text and paratext as they underscore the significant visual interest of this poetry.

Works in prose and in verse by Octave Uzanne, Guy de Maupassant, and Marcel Proust, along with fan leaves by Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Berthe Morisot, and Paul Gauguin, serve as points of comparison that deepen our understanding of the complex interplay of text and image that characterizes this occasional subgenre. Through its interrogation of the correspondences between form and content in fan poetry, this study demonstrates that the fan was, in addition to being a ubiquitous fashion accessory, a significant literary and art historical object straddling the boundary between East and West, past and present, and high and low art.


The relationship between literature and material culture has lately attracted the attr the last decades this growing field has produced several surveyistic accounts of the century’s imposing materiality, a number of more specialized treatments of the role of dress in nineteenthcentury French literature have also appeared more recently.

As accounts of material culture in literary texts, and even accounts dealing specifically with clothing, have proliferated, they have also tended to analyze references to material culture in isolation. This kind of analysis is not without benefits; it can be very useful, for instance, in deciphering social information. However, in this model material culture is often treated as a sort of corollary element of the text in question. While it is certainly possible to attribute undo significance to material culture, even in cases where a focused analysis of it is called for by the text, what is lacking in accounts that

Janell Watson’s Literature and Material Culture from Balzac to Proust is a seminal example.

For instance Susan Hiner’s Accessories to Modernity.

Culler offers a number of examples of this kind of analysis in The Uses of Uncertainty. a particularly amusing example is Charles Bovary’s hat (Culler 76-79). Barthes’ notion of the effet de réel, to which I will have occasion to return, is significant here as well.

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