Academic journal article Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

"Un Sopha Rose Brodé D'argent": Crébillon Fils and the Rococo

Academic journal article Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

"Un Sopha Rose Brodé D'argent": Crébillon Fils and the Rococo

Article excerpt

Roger Laufer once proclaimed the "style rococo" to be the "style des lumières,"1 but did the decorative style of their patronesses' salons truly influence the literary style of the philosophes who worked there? In his review of Laufer 's work, Jean Sgard accepts the Rococo as an eighteenth-century style but not as the style of the Enlightenment, remarking: "Dans son souci de se consacrer aux grands maîtres, [Laufer] risque de passer à côté du vrai rococo." (In his desire to concentrate on the great masters, [Laufer] risks missing the true Rococo.) 2 Instead of Montesquieu and Voltaire, Sgard suggests Marivaux and Crébillon fils as exemplars of the Rococo style in literature, and these last two names have been retained in the study of the literary Rococo ever since.3 While Sgard challenges the use of the word Rococo to characterize most Enlightenment writing, others dispute the application of the term Rococo to any writing whatsoever, objecting to its adaptation from the description of furniture to the study of literature.4 When he evokes Marivaux, Crébillon, and Duelos, Georges May is reluctant to apply the appellation Rococo to these authors, asking: "Est-ce là ce qu'on pourrait appeler le rococo littéraire, si l'on avait le goût des rapprochements dangereux?" (Is that what we could call literary Rococo if we had a taste for dangerous comparisons?).5 In his essay "Reflections on the Use of Rococo as a Period Style Concept," Herbert Dieckmann addresses the "difficulty ... of the transfer of formal characteristics from one art to another" and concludes that "formal characteristics in architecture and furniture cannot be applied directly to works of literature."6 However, in Rococo Style versus Enlightenment Novel, a refutation of Laufer 's Style rococo, style des "Lumières," Patrick Brady reaffirms "the need to base the concept of literary rococo on rococo style in the plastic arts."7

Although it is difficult to attribute the shape of a writer's prose to the shape of his writing table, this leap seems less unlikely in the case of a novel narrated by a piece of furniture, "un Sopha rose brodé d'argent" (a pink sofa embroidered with silver thread).8 In Le Sopha (1742) by Crébillon fils, the Indian Amanzei regales the Arabian Sultan Schah-Baham with tales of his past lives: when punished by Brama his spirit was imprisoned in a series of sofas from which he observed the adventures of his unsuspecting owners. However, like the chinoiserie patterns on Rococo tables and chairs, the orientalism of Crébillon's novel seems mostly superficial, since despite their exotic names the novel's characters are easily recognizable as traditional French types: Fatine is the fausse prude and Amine is the fille d'opéra. In fact, Crébillon's evocation of Indian and Arabian society must be read as an exploration of Rococo Paris." While Mimi Hellman has used an allusion to Le Sopha in the introduction to her article on the decorative arts in eighteenth-century France, the present article represents an in-depth analysis of Crébillon's own understanding of the intimate relationship between setting and story in order to argue that this novel is a privileged space for the meeting of Rococo context and Rococo text.10 1 will demonstrate that Crébillon's descriptions of Rococo rooms in Le Sopha establish them as sites of seduction where luxurious decoration inspires amorous activity. At the same time, I will show that these descriptions may also be read as condemnations when the novel inveighs against the frivolity of Rococo spaces and society, but I will also examine how Crébillon's critique turns in upon itself when he ironically identifies Le Sopha as yet another object in its Rococo world. In its simultaneous rejection of and identification with the Rococo, Crébillon's novel displays a paradoxical attitude characteristic of its author, whom Sgard has called "le libertin moraliste."11 Finally, in its ambivalent attitude toward female characters, who are alternately censured for their sensuality and admired for their refinement, Le Sopha engages eighteenth-century discourses about women and the novel by exploring the complex relationship between women and the Rococo. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.