Dream, Creativity, and Madness in Nineteenth-Century France

By Tony James | Go to book overview

10
Green Jam, Writing, and Madness:
Moreau de Tours, Gautier, and Baudelaire

One evening in December 1845, acting in response to a 'mysterious summons', the writer Théophile Gautier enters an old house on the Île Saint-Louis. On the first floor of the Hôtel Pimodan he rings at a door and enters a huge room, whose seventeenth-century trappings make it seem as though time has stood still there. He is greeted enthusiastically by some friends, and by a doctor. The latter, standing by a sideboard, uses a spatula to extract some green jam from a cut-glass jar and deposits a small quantity upon some china saucers, with silver-gilt spoons laid ready next to them. 'This', says the Doctor, 'will be deducted from your share in Paradise'.1 Once the guests have partaken of their green jam, coffee is served before the evening meal, in complete defiance of traditional French culinary etiquette. While eating this meal, Gautier's sense of taste undergoes a strange transformation; water tastes like exquisite wine, meat takes on the taste of raspberries, and vice versa. At the same time, his fellow guests begin to look strange: some open their eyes wide like owls, others acquire noses as long as elephants' trunks. Later still, a strange, uninvited guest with a nose like a beak, three brown circles round his eyes, a visiting-card with the name 'Daucus-Carota du Pot d'or' threaded through his tie, and legs made of mandrake-root with earth still clinging to them, appears, breaks into sobs, and says 'Today is the day for dying with laughter'. Further extravagant, and sometimes terrifying visions ensue. The green jam contained the drug hashish.

This 'story', entitled 'Le Club des hachichins' was published in the Revue des deux mondes in 1846. Gautier was one of several writers to have tasted hashish around 1845; Balzac, Baudelaire, and perhaps Nerval did so too. It was Baudelaire who wrote the most detailed, precise, and thought-

____________________
1
'Ceci vous sera défalqué sur votre portion de paradis': Théophile Gautier, 'Le Club des hachichins', Les Paradis artificiels, précédé de La Pipe d'opium, Le Hachich, Le Club des hachichins par Théophile Gautier, ed. C. Pichois ( Folio; Gallimard, 1988), 48. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations from Baudelaire and Gautier will be from this edn.

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