The Life and Times of Henry Monnier, 1799-1877

The Life and Times of Henry Monnier, 1799-1877

The Life and Times of Henry Monnier, 1799-1877

The Life and Times of Henry Monnier, 1799-1877

Excerpt

Henry Monnier was an artist, an actor, a writer, and that elusive phenomenon known as a humorist. His comic and satiric prints belong to the period of Daumier and, although he has never attained and does not deserve first place among French comic artists, the number of his admirers has grown and the market value of his work has increased in the twentieth century, during the years when Daumier's greatness has been receiving due recognition. As an actor Monnier is almost forgotten today, but between 1830 and 1860 he was considered one of the most original and amusing of French character actors; as a mimic and monologuist, both amateur and professional, he invented a realistic technique which his contemporaries judged as approaching perfection, preceding by some fifty years many of the ideas carried out by Antoine in the Théâtre Libre. In the history of nineteenth-century literature, Monnier is usually labeled a "predecessor" of the Realistic movement. A contemporary and friend of Balzac, he specialized in scenes and types of lower-middle-class society, which he presented with a mingling of photographic exactness and Romantic irony. As a humorist he possessed all the Romanticist's sense of the ridiculousness of human nature, and he had a consummate skill in hoaxes and practical jokes.

It is the aim of this book to romanticize Monnier as little as possible, for whatever role he chose to play, it was never that of the Romantic hero. The story of his life reflects the times in which he lived: Monnier might almost be called a symbol of the nineteenth century. Victor Hugo, whose life spanned nearly the same period as his, was deeply conscious of his mission as écho sonore of the century born with him. Yet perhaps Monnier, who was not a great artist, whose varied talents seldom lifted him above second-rate achievement, is more truly representative of that diversified era. Some twenty years ago Professor Eunice Morgan Schenck, of Bryn Mawr College, first called to my attention the extraordinary fidelity with which Monnier reproduced in the Mémoires de Monsieur Joseph Prudhomme the ideas, tastes, and sentiments of the average . . .

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