Théophile Gautier: a Cosmopolitan Writer?

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Recent studies have analysed the relations between XIXth century literature and cultural cosmopolitanism, which has led scholars to envisage the fin-de-siècle in Europe as a cosmopolitan moment. If the circulation of literature out of its national frontiers takes part in the elaboration of a cosmopolitan literature, at the core of the question is the exportation of the aesthetic of a text outside of its national space. What is a cosmopolitan text? What form does it take? This article proposes an analysis of Théophile Gautier’s doctrine and works in the light of those crucial questions. It demonstrates how Gautier conceived Art as cosmopolitan announcing English and French fin-de-siècle writers.


Claire Bitoun

After having done my undergraduate and master courses at Nanterre Université as an English Literature student, I came to teach French language at Oxford for three years, and decided to pursue in academia in England. I am a second-year DPhil student at Oxford University working on comparative literature. My project aims at re-evaluating the works of Théophile Gautier and Oscar Wilde, analysing Gautier’s influence on the English writer as well as proposing a new examination of their aesthetic doctrines suggesting that digression and « fantaisie » are the main consistent inconsistencies at the heart of their artistic project.


Recent studies have demonstrated how the fin-de-siècle period could be seen as a cosmopolitan time.[1] For instance, Richard Hibbitt and Stefano Evangelista published a collection of essays in 2013 entitled ‘Fin-de-siècle Cosmopolitanism’ focusing on a cultural and artistic form of cosmopolitanism.[2] Considering the ever-growing and continuous exchanges between the different European capitals at the time it is no surprise that such an observation was made by several critics, leading Pascale Casanova to talk about « une République Mondiale des Lettres».[3] The fin-de-siècle relates both to the period between 1880 and 1900 as well as the spirit attached to the period, one of French ‘ennui’, pessimism and cynicism, in short: decadence.

Scholars have analysed nineteenth-century writers in the light of this cosmopolitan movement, focusing on their international influences therefore relating literary cosmopolitanism to artistic exchanges. [4] If the circulation of literature out of its national frontiers takes part in the elaboration of a cosmopolitan literature, it cannot be its main characteristic. At the core of the problem is the importation or exportation of the aesthetic of a work outside of its national space. What is a cosmopolitan text? What are its forms? What does being a cosmopolitan artist or writer mean during the nineteenth century, when the terminologies ‘barbarian’, ‘race’ were common and normal?

This article will propose an analysis of one nineteenth-century writer in the light of those crucial questions: Théophile Gautier. The starting-point of this demonstration is Gautier’s influence on the fin-de-siècle in France and in England, on the Symbolist, Decadent and Aesthetic movements. Gautier’s ‘art-for-art’s sake’ doctrine and the Aesthetic current can be seen as the real origins of the cosmopolitan movement of the fin-de-siècle. Most studies allude to Gautier’s doctrine but do not expand their analysis as far as proving how the seeds of what Cathrine Theodorsen called the « fifth moment in the history of cosmopolitanism» are to be found in his works.[5] For instance, Matthew Potolsky recognizes Gautier’s influence on the movement, regarding him as « the John the Baptist of the Decadent movement […] pointing to the true Messiah »: Baudelaire.[6] Potolsky argues that the cosmopolitan fin-de-siècle started with « a transatlantic encounter: Charles Baudelaire’s translations of and critical writings on Poe. »[7] It is not the first time that Gautier’s importance is under-shadowed by Baudelaire’s domination of the second half of the XIXth century,[8] however, the present analysis will analyse the extent to which Gautier had a cosmopolitan project as well as a cosmopolitan way of envisaging Art in all its forms, announcing the fin-de-siècle cosmopolitanism.

The first part of the article will examine possible definitions of a cosmopolitan writer during the nineteenth century and inspect how Gautier relates to these definitions: to what extent does the status of an artist takes precedence over a potential cosmopolitan project, as it does over national leanings? This will lead to the second part which analyses Gautier’s works, focusing on narratives portraying alterity to study whether a cosmopolitan aesthetic exists and what forms it could take.

1. What is a cosmopolitan writer in Nineteenth-Century France?

Art for Art’s Sake and An Ideal of Transnational Literature

The doctrine developed by Gautier in 1835 in the Preface of Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) lies on the proclamation of the independence of art mainly from moral and political concerns affirming the uselessness of art outside of itself. Gautier opposes the utilitarian view of art with his doctrine, wondering first whether there are any useful things in the world then arguing that a useful thing is by definition ugly: « Il n’y a de vraiment de beau que ce qui ne peut servir à rien […] L’endroit le plus utile d’une maison, ce sont les latrines. »[9] He argues that art should not be judged by other criteria than aesthetic ones, implying that art is indeed useless outside of its own aesthetic value, if the word can be used in such a way.

The practical implication of Gautier’s doctrine is the effacement of political hence nationalistic concerns. To start with, this view was not common during the mid-century, and some writers revolted against Gautier’s passivity at the political events taking place in his country. Lamartine, a famous Romantic author, wondered how one could possibly write when national events were occurring: « Honte à qui peut chanter pendant que Rome brûle,/ […] S’il n’a l’âme et la lyre et les yeux de Néron! »[10] (1820) Gautier’s philosophy was seen as shocking for his contemporaries in part because of his apolitical stand. In the preface of Emaux et Camées, Gautier reaffirms his attachment to art for art’s sake, proving his distance with national concerns: « Pendant les guerres de l’empire,/Goethe, au bruit du canon brutal,/ Fit le divan occidental,/ Fraîche oasis où l’art respire./ Pour Nisami quittant Shakespeare, […] Sans prendre garde à l’ouragan/ Qui fouettait mes vitres fermées,/ Moi j’ai fait Emaux et Camées. »[11] (1852) This poem shows not merely a rejection of the idea of nation in art, but also a real movement towards other cultures and forms of art, proved by Gautier’s references to foreign artists, including Goethe and Shakespeare. Not only does Gautier place himself in an international literary tradition, he also refers to writers who themselves aspired towards a cosmopolitan ideal: Shakespeare often portrayed foreign characters, especially French, leading Deanne Williams to talk about a «French Fetish»;[12] and Goethe reflected on a potential universality in literature through the concept of ‘Weltliteratur’. If a writer must be judged on the universality of his influences to be called cosmopolitan, then Gautier was definitely a cosmopolitan writer. However, this definition is somehow reductive: even though it proves that Gautier was not attached simply to his national tradition, it does not demonstrate in itself that Gautier was a cosmopolitan writer or that he had a cosmopolitan conception of art.

Rejecting the idea of nation in art is a life-long concern for Gautier and he describes himself as having no political colour in the Preface of Albertus (1832): « Il n’a aucune couleur politique; il n’est ni rouge, ni blanc, ni même tricolore. » [13] The English translation is actually quite revealing for the matter: «three-coloured» can also be translated as “French”, therefore Gautier affirms that his art is not French. Gautier’s use of the third person singular suggests a distance with his affirmation; it demonstrates how Gautier stages his statement. It shows how Gautier desires to be seen as an apolitical writer. Besides, Gautier shares with his influences the vision of a transnational art, and relates universalism with literature: «chaque année […] je lis un pays de ce vaste univers qui me paraît moins grand à mesure que je le parcours. »[14] Traveling abroad and discovering new cultures are necessary characteristics of an artist if he wishes to broaden his material: «ne faut-il pas parcourir un peu la planète sur laquelle nous gravitons […] jusqu’à ce que le mystérieux auteur nous transporte dans un monde nouveau pour nous faire lire une autre page de son oeuvre infinie? »[15] But this posture raises the following questions: can a cosmopolitan project be devoid of any political concept? Can one have a cosmopolitan ideal without being political? These problems join Lamartine’s statement and tend to turn Gautier into a naïve idealist, simply disengaged from political and social issues. Interestingly, the adjective ‘cosmopolitan’ has often been used to denigrate and designate a certain category of writers and intellectuals accused of betraying their ‘real’ nation in the name of universalism.

Cosmopolitanism and Elitism

Is Gautier’s apolitical stand intellectual elitism? His transnational vision of art comprises of a certain lifestyle in which traveling is both necessary and normal. However, not everyone can afford this lifestyle. In his study of cosmopolitanism in French literature, Nicola Di Méo explains how cosmopolitanism can be seen as an intellectual posture: « L’une des critiques les plus fréquemment addressées à l’idée de cosmopolitisme repose sur l’argument du détachement, de l’absence de participation au monde tel qu’il est, avec ses problèmes, ses difficultés et ses enjeux. »[16] Gautier would therefore become a cosmopolitan dandy, advocating universalism while neglecting social and political problems standing against this ideal. This intellectual vision of cosmopolitanism is reinforced by Gautier’s own expression: « désir de vagabondage cosmopolite. »[17] The ‘cosmopolitan wandering’ clearly relates Gautier’s desire with the figure of the dandy developed later during the fin-de-siècle. Gautier was indeed a great traveler, and his thirst for visiting the world only increased the more he traveled: «’Qui a voyagé voyagera’- la soif de voir, comme l’autre soif, s’irrite au lieu de s’éteindre en se satisfaisant. Me voici à Constantinople et déjà je songe au Caire et à l’Egypte. »[18] However, he was well aware of the difficulties one encounters when wanting to travel, as well as the impossibility for a large part of the population to do so: «Ils sont rares, ceux qui peuvent […] visiter les tableaux des grands maîtres dans les églises, les palais et les musées d’Italie, d’Espagne, d’Angleterre et de France. »[19](1852) He adds: «Malgré la facilité de communication tous les jours augmentée, il n’est pas encore donné à tout le monde d’aller à Corinthe, Rome, Venise, Parme, Florence, Nâples, Gêne, Madrid, Séville, Londres, Anvers, Bruxelles, Dresde. »[20] The fact that those cities are mostly located in Europe proves that he knows how expensive traveling is. France being included in the list also proves that Gautier is well aware of the inaccessibility of leaving one’s home.

Gautier was not an elitist in that sense: he was conscious of the fact that his ideal of universalism could not be applied to the whole population. He praises museums, for instance, as a means to allow the whole population to ‘see’ foreign countries and foreign artists. He also celebrates the invention of print as a wonderful means to export art outside its national boundaries: «beaucoup d’esprits intelligents, sensibles aux pures jouissances de l’art qui, pour des raisons de fortune ou de position, par les occupations d’une vie forcément sédentaire, n’auraient jamais connu les chefs-d’oeuvre de Raphaël, de Titien, de Léonard de Vinci, de Paul Véronèse sans le secours de la gravure. »[21] His cosmopolitanism mainly applies to art, and is indeed disengaged from political concerns but, to some extent, not from social concerns. His vision of the artist as one bringing back the world from his travel to allow his vision to be shared with the widest audience is somehow an idealistic socialist vision of art and the role of the artist in society. For instance, he affirmed that Delacroix was the one who «pittoresquement, découvrit l’Afrique», [22] therefore portraying the artist as an explorer in charge of the diffusion of a pictorial vision of the world.

A Cosmopolitan Art?

Here, we arrive at the very heart of the problem: does Gautier develop a cosmopolitan ideal in his works? Does this ideal apply to most aspects of what universalism can be or it is simply advocating universal art? The word “cosmopolite” is used several times by the French author, in different contexts. One use of the word translates his desire to travel, as we have already seen. Another use is the same desire for travel coupled with an anti-national vision: «cosmopolite par goût, qui se soucie peu d’être national. »[23] This definition is close to the common meaning of cosmopolitan as defining oneself as a citizen of the world before being a citizen of one’s nation. He also uses the term ironically, to convey the idea of an odd eclectic crowd (1867): «la curiosité parisienne ou pour mieux dire cosmopolite, car il y a maintenant dans notre capitale, grâce à l’exposition universelle, autant d’étrangers que d’indigènes. »[24] Notwithstanding the racism comprised in the term “indigène”, Gautier’s play with the meaning of the word ‘cosmopolite’ shows a distance with its usual sense and proves that the word was used frequently during the nineteenth-century. The last use of the term is applied to art as its intrinsic quality: «de sa nature l’art est cosmopolite. »[25] Gautier does not explain why and how art is naturally cosmopolitan is this article, however, the idea of beauty found in art as being cosmopolitan is a concept which is discussed in his works.

In the article ‘Du Beau dans l’Art’, Gautier discusses Rodolphe Töpffer’s theories on art, especially the problem of the definition of beauty. He opposes a universalistic concept of beauty «qui fait résulter le beau de la conformité des intelligences humaines et lui assure un caractère universel»[26] to a protean kind of beauty, subjective to «le climat, le temps, le costume, les moeurs, et surtout par la manière de voir et le style de l’artiste. »[27] The latter concept is what Gautier calls the ‘microcosm’ of the artist. Developed mainly in his articles on Delacroix, Gautier envisages the ‘real’ artist as not reproducing nature but «la création au moyen des formes et des couleurs qu’elle nous livre, d’un microcosme où puissent habiter et se produire les rêves, les sensations et les idées que nous inspirent l’aspect du monde. »[28] Each artist has a subjective vision of the world, which he translates in a subjective way through a unique style in each one of his works. This is why, with the same model, artists will create very different artworks: «Prenez vingt-cinq peintres habiles et donnez-leur ce baudet pour modèle, vous obtiendrez vingt-cinq baudets complètement différents les uns des autres […] chacun aura fait ressortir le caractère le plus en harmonie avec son talent. »[29]

From this theory, Gautier proposes to see ‘types’ of beauty, subjective in art. For the visual arts, he divides the artworks according to the period, the nation, as well as the school the artist belongs to. For instance, he would use different expressions to refer to a common ideal in art in antiquity: «des idées de l’art antique», «la grâce et la perfection de l’antique», «les belles têtes grecques», [30] «la beauté Grecque des Olympiens».[31] For each artist, Gautier tries to classify his work inside a broader national tradition while pointing out the specificities of the style of the artist. However, it does not prevent overlaps between epochs, nations and artists: some of the expressions mentioned above about Greek art are actually attributed to Da Vinci. In an article on Goya, he refers to Michel-Angelo, Dante and Hoffmann. His theory of beauty is more a theory of associations than organized in strict schools of artists. At first, he tries to organize art in separate circles of subjective beauty but in the end it is the universal feeling of beauty that overcomes this attempt at classifying beauties. He even fails at talking strictly about one art medium: other media constantly appear, whether it is sculpture, literature, music or the decorative arts. In ‘Du Beau Dans l’Art’, Gautier stated clearly the difference between beauty in visual arts and beauty in literature: «Qu’est-ce que le beau? […] Cette question n’est déjà pas fort claire lorsqu’il s’agit du beau littéraire, elle l’est encore moins lorsqu’il s’agit du beau plastique. »[32] However, the associations between painters, sculptors or engravers are more frequent than literary associations which suggests that visual arts are more easily translated and transported out of their natural context.

Exporting Art: The Influence of the Medium

It is not surprising that Gautier exports paintings and sculptures with more ease than texts, since their national attachment is lesser than literature, for which language can be problematic. The foreign authors Gautier alludes to as influences on his works wrote in languages Gautier did not understand. Most of the English, German or Spanish writers he refers to were read in translations. In an article on Hoffmann, Gautier expresses his views on translation: «Le temps n’est plus des belles infidèles de d’Ablancourt, et un traducteur serait mal venu de dire qu’il a retranché, transposé ou modifié tous les passages qui ne se rapportent point au goût français; il faudrait plutôt suivre dans une traduction le procédé précisément inverse, car si l’on traduit, c’est pour enrichir la langue de pensées, de phrases et de tournures qui ne s’y trouvent pas. »[33] First, this passage highlights a major aspect of Gautier’s cosmopolitan doctrine, which is his belief in the enrichment of the national culture through international exchanges, which will be developed in the coming paragraph. Second, Gautier asserts that a translation needs to be as close to the original text as possible, in order to translate all the nuances, expressions and thoughts which are specific to the original language. It seems that it is therefore possible to know a text through a translation and to be able to point out the national specificities of this text. Indeed, Gautier affirms that thanks to his work being properly translated, Hoffmann can «reprendre sans danger son costume national. »[34] To some extent, his appreciation of Hoffmann, and on a broader scale of all foreign authors indicate that the beauty inherent to their artworks is independent from the language in which they were written, therefore that beauty does not necessarily depend on national characteristics. Here, Gautier questions the extent of cosmopolitanism in art, and wonders what is really universal, and what can or cannot be exported.

Translation as expanding language is part of Gautier’s vision of the enrichment of art through international exchanges. In the same way as he tried to classify beauty in art, he classifies ‘otherness’ in types. It is particularly visible when he describes feminine beauty as geographically specific: there are «les femmes anglaises»[35], «figures hindoues»[36] or «les dames turques. »[37] While he uses the terms race or «négresse» in his works, which is not surprising considering the context in which theories of race were established, [38] Gautier rarely establishes a hierarchy amongst races. [39] His project is closer to a review of diversity in which particularism is praised against uniformity. The word type is more frequently used than the word race, and the adjective barbarian has a positive meaning in his works. According to him, barbarian civilizations are to be admired for various reasons including their individualism, as well as their devotion for beauty above comfort and convenience in opposition with Western civilizations. He even denounces the racial hierarchy contained in the term while used to describe a Western superiority (1845): «au sein de cette civilisation orientale que nous appelons barbarie avec le charmant aplomb qui nous caractérise. »[40]When the term is used with its ideological negative connotation of an old, violent and primitive civilization as it is in the previous sentence, Gautier distances himself from this view exposing it as a western construction.

Gautier’s Cosmopolitan Ideal: for an Enhancement of Beauty

Indeed, his view of ‘otherness’ is not dictated by a desire to reaffirm a western superiority. On the contrary, he advocates a form of universalism in which cultural exchanges are beneficial for both parts. His ideal of cultural mixing is applied to all cultural aspects: as we have seen before, he praises artistic combination as well as architectural fusion: «dans ce temple hybride seraient concentrées toutes les architectures du passé, celles du présent et celles de l’avenir: on y retrouverait, sous des formes plus savantes, les vertiges granitiques d’Ellora et de Karnac, les aspirations désespérées des ogives de la cathédrale de Séville; l’aiguille gothique, le campanile roman, la coupole byzantine, le minaret oriental, formeraient d’harmonieux accords. »[41] His cosmopolitan ideal is a totalizing dream in which the best aesthetic features of every culture blend together. The citizenship of the world gives access to all the cultural wealth of each nation. Baudelaire understood perfectly Gautier’s cosmopolitan dream, which he translated into «son esprit est un miroir cosmopolite de beauté. »[42](1868) This totalizing vision of the beauty provided both by different cultures and cultural differences is summarized in an article published in La Presse in 1849 as a Salon review. Accompanying the facilitation of travels, Gautier sees the scope of art enlarged giving birth to a universal school: «Aux écoles Italienne, Flamande, Espagnole et Française doit succéder une seule école, l’école universelle. »[43] This universal school would not be an absorptive force: it would put forward «les types de l’humanité entière, et les aspects multiformes de la planète […] Les artistes ne se borneront plus à reproduire un idéal unique. »[44] As a result of this cosmopolitan school, art will get renewed and invigorated. It will become more diverse, as well as more contrasting, mirroring the reality of the world.

This article also proves Gautier’s social cosmopolitan ideal. The exposure to this kind of art will give birth to «rêves et des désirs», aspirations of travels, as well as a philosophical reflection on the meaning of human existence: «on concevra que l’homme n’est pas fait pour naître, vivre et mourir sur la même place».[45] As a result, mankind will appear united, standing as brothers: «visiter ses frères inconnus».[46] A new civilization would appear, one which does not force itself onto other cultures: «non cette civilization bête qui consiste à faire mettre des redingotes aux Turcs et à importer des étoffes imperméables dans des pays où il ne pleut jamais»,[47] but a civilization in which each culture exports its best features, namely science for the western world, and poetry and beauty for barbarian countries. Gautier’s cosmopolitan dream is obviously utopian, idealized and to some extent de-realised. His vision of otherness is seen through an aesthetic scope, and the establishment of the ‘types’ of beauty tends to immobilise the other in a role of illustration. While he praises barbarian culture for their preservation of beauty as an everyday life feature against western’s tendency to frame and freeze culture in museums, he performs the exact action he stands against when portraying the other. His depiction of Orient for instance, as a totalizing geographical space, and as an idealized place in which beauty, sensuality and languor are key-features, tends to turn it into a timeless museum-like culture.

It becomes clear that Gautier had a cosmopolitan vision of the world, which he advocated numerous times in various texts, which the versatility of the excerpts used in this first part accounts for. He constantly praises cultural exchange as one of the driving forces for the birth of a new and improved civilization. However, Gautier seems overwhelmed by the breadth of cultural differences and ends up categorizing everything he sees, which gives birth to a deformed portrayal in which some key-features define the whole, which was exactly what he was trying to avoid in the first place. Gautier’s cosmopolitan vision is therefore extremely idealized and aestheticized, which is also visible in his fictional work.

2. Gautier’s texts on Alterity: A Cosmopolitan Aesthetic ?

This second part looks at Gautier’s fictional works portraying alterity in order to decipher whether a cosmopolitan text and aesthetic are developed. I am focusing on two texts: Le Roman de la Momie (1857 as a serial then 1858 as a novel), Gautier’s longest work on Egypt, a life-long subject for the French author and Fortunio (1837 as a serial then 1838 as a novel), as centered around cultural differences. I will analyse the way in which otherness is presented, examining the signs of the difference and the way Gautier translates the difference into the structure of his texts. It will become clear that Gautier uses techniques of style and literary devices to suggest cultural assimilation, dealing with otherness through the prism of art.

The Depiction of Cultural Differences

In his travel work, Constantinople, Gautier affirmed that «pour voyager dans un pays, il faut être étranger; la comparaison des différences produit les remarques. »[48] Does he apply the same remark to his fictional works? To begin with, his approach to foreign countries tries to be as scientific as possible: he has been to most of the countries he describes, and the ones he did not visit, he read extensively about, Egypt being the most striking example of his desire to render as precisely as possible the country he does not know.[49] In the Preface of Fortunio, he asserts that «selon notre habitude, nous avons copié sur nature les appartements, les meubles, les costumes, les femmes et les chevaux, avec curiosité, scrupule et conscience. »[50] Indeed, in the text itself, Gautier indulges in details to emphasize cultural differences. Once again, it is in his depiction of women that Gautier epitomizes those differences, referring to types according to their nationality. In the novel, two women represent opposite ideals, Musidora being the ideal of the occidental type, and Soudja-Sari standing for the Oriental ideal. In order to create a striking contrast between the two women, Gautier makes uses of metaphors to describe their skin, Musidora’s extreme paleness is established against Soudja-Sari’s warmer skin-tone. Gautier’s insistence on Musidora’s skin as «limpide et diaphane», «blancheur idéale», «pâleur divine» leads to a comparison between the young woman and an angel.[51] While Musidora stands as the ethereal, divine, almost immaterial creature, Soudja-Sari’s beauty is more material: Gautier insists on the soft aspect of her skin, and its colour is compared to amber. Musidora is also obsessed with keeping her skin as white as possible, developing the lexical field of purity as associated with the colour of her skin. Twice in the text, she expresses her fear at seeing her skin being tainted, once because of the temperature of her bath: «vous voulez donc me faire brûler toute vive et me rendre pour huit jours comme un homard? », [52] and the other because of the sun: « tu veux donc m’aveugler et me rendre plus noire que le museau d’un ours, ou les mains d’une danseuse de corde! […] Eteins bien vite cet affreux soleil. »[53]Her occidental discourse equating the whiteness of her skin with beauty and purity goes against what Gautier is trying to convey in the story: he wishes to prove that beauty can be found everywhere and in every form. Musidora’s request to turn the sun off echoes Fortunio’s last sentence of the novel daring Europe to find a replacement for the sun. It acts as a demonstration of the pertinence of Fortunio’s attack against Europe. From the beginning of the story, through these descriptions, not only does Gautier gathers together the cultural differences between occident and orient through the two woman, he also announces his and Fortunio’s preferences: Soudja-Sari’s materiality, warmth and sensuousness were bound to defeat Musidora’s evanescence and claims of beauty based on the colour of her skin.

An Aestheticised Orient

Gautier also points out the differences in character between oriental and occidental populations. Both women are depicted as rather cruel, Gautier comparing them to charming monsters: Musidora is a dragon, and Soudja-Sari a vampire. However, there is more grandeur to Soudja-Sari’s viciousness than Musidora’s. The latter poisons her cat while the oriental beauty is used to «planter des épingles dans la gorge de ses femmes lorsqu’elles ne s’acquittaient pas de leurs fonctions». [54] This brutality is mirrored in the landscape. In Le Roman de la Momie, Gautier takes great care of describing Egypt as an arid, desolated and inhospitable land. Gautier insists on the savagery of the sun, brutally carving the landscape: «des masses énormes de roches calcaires, rugueuses, lépreuses, effritées, fendillées, pulvérulentes, en pleine décomposition sous l’implacable soleil. Ces roches ressemblaient à des ossements de mort calcinés au bûcher. »[55] This passage also highlights Gautier’s stylistic approach: a profusion of adjectives, some rare words, as well as sound effects, with alliterations in ‘f’ and ‘r’ suggest the roughness of the landscape. The richness of his descriptions of those foreign countries accounts for the wealth of those same countries. The proliferation of attribute adjectives, relative or subordinate clauses create an almost suffocating space, its unfamiliarity rendered even more bizarre therefore translating the feeling of someone discovering this new foreign land. To partake of the atmosphere of bewilderment attributed to the immersion into a different culture, Gautier sprinkles foreign words in his text, not only to add to the ‘couleur locale’, picturesque aspect of the description, but also simply because of the enchanting sounds of these exotic words: «il pensait aux rives verdoyantes de l’Hoogly, à la grande pagode de Jaggernaut, aux danses des bibiaderi. »[56] Gautier calls in to the evocative power of those foreign places: the word in itself is considered a journey.

It could be argued that Gautier was more orientalist than cosmopolitan, and several studies analyse his love for southern countries. [57] Not only did he wrote more works taking place in southern countries than in Northern countries (among thirteen fictional works portraying foreign countries, only three are taking place in northern countries if Fortunio can be considered part of the Southern texts), he created a real oriental aesthetic in those texts. Gautier’s vision of those countries is aestheticized in his works. For instance, he sees the oriental way of life as rather slow-paced. In Le Roman de la Momie, he tried to translate this slowness in the rhythm of the novel. If we analyse the ratio of days described and the number of pages, it becomes clear that Gautier wanted to transmit the languor characteristic of the country described in the style and structure of his novel: the prologue for example, if we except the final ellipsis, stretches during thirty pages describing only one day. Then, one day lasts for forty-one pages, and another thirty-five. The ratio of descriptive passages against proper narrative action is inverted in the novel, since the status of the description is merely ornamental during the nineteenth century. The Littré for example, defines description as an «ornement du discours qui consiste à peindre sous les couleurs les plus vives ce que l’on croit être agréable au lecteur», and the Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXè siècle warns against the use of too many descriptive passages in literature: «quelquefois il a été poussé jusqu’à l’abus et appliqué à des ouvrages entiers n’ayant d’autre but que de décrire. […] il ne faut pas oublier en effet que la description, à moins qu’il ne s’agisse de récits de voyage, ne doit pas faire le fond d’une oeuvre, mais seulement en être l’ornement. »[58] According to this definition, Gautier would treat his fictional works as travel writings, accentuating the description and neglecting the narration, creating a hybrid text of fictional travel writing. Not only is this over-descriptive style meant to translate the way of life of oriental countries, it also reaffirms the importance of ornament, an oriental art, as a central component in his occidental art. Gautier also uses a rather occidental literary device, pathetic fallacy, and distorts it into an oriental characteristic. Pathetic fallacy is usually used by romantic writers to suggest harmony between the spirit of the poet and nature but Gautier equates infusing life in inanimate objects with the Egyptian religion of animism. In the following passage, he relocates the occidental device in an oriental approach: «les poumons embrasés de la montagne parurent pousser un soupir de satisfaction par cette bouche si longtemps fermée. »[59]

An Aesthetic of Fusion

Here, we arrive at something close to a cosmopolitan aesthetic. Texts describing otherness are rather common, however, attempting to transport the reader into this unknown country using literary stylistic devices is a clear endeavor to allow the reader to experiment an immersion into the unknown. As I have demonstrated, Gautier’s cosmopolitan ideal is an ideal of cultural exchange leading to the enrichment of each culture. Even though he does play with cultural differentiation, both as an aesthetically rich distinction as well as a creative narrative element, what comes to light most in his texts is the ideal of fusion. The perfect illustration of this tendency can be seen in Fortunio, when Gautier describes the décor of the dinner during which Fortunio meets Musidora: «des boiseries de chêne relevées d’arabesque d’or mat revêtent les parois du mur; […] le plafond est traversé par des poutres brodées d’ornements et de ciselures qui forment des caissons […] dans le goût gothique, mais avec un pinceau plus souple et plus libre. »[60] On the one hand, there are words relating to oriental art: ‘arabesque’, ‘ornement’ and ‘ciselure’ and on the other hand, terms referring to occidental art: ‘gothique’, ‘chêne’. The profusion of adjectives and qualifiers transmit the idea that the fusion of both styles brings an extreme display of wealth, occidental art being improved by the fanciful treatment characteristic of oriental art while oriental art is ennobled by the materials and style of occidental art.

But Gautier goes even further in his attempt at suggesting the synthesis of two cultures. The way in which he describes Fortunio as having both female and male characteristics «la pureté toute féminine des autres traits du visage […] lui donne quelque chose de fier et d’héroïque» [61] creates a parallel between the mixing of two sexes and cultural blending. The figure of the androgynous is a constant feature in Gautier’s writings representing the ideal being fusing the two sexes together, and it appears through a new light when associated with Gautier’s cosmopolitan ideal: the ideal androgynous being mirrors the paradigmatic cultural enrichment. The concepts of twinning, bisexuality, duality and androgyny are put forward through Gautier’s references to mythology. Musidora’s bathroom, for instance, portrays «des sujets mythologiques, tels que Diane et Callisto, Salmacis et Hermaphrodite, Hylas entraîné par les nymphes, Léda surprise par le cygne», [62] all related to those concepts. Callisto was seduced by Zeus who took Diane’s appearance, Hylas was Heracles’ lover, Léda gave birth to two pairs of twins, and Hermaphrodite is the perfect embodiment of the fusion of two opposite things. By suggesting the possibility of merging two different concepts, Gautier proposes to envisage not only the achievability of two cultures coming together but also its advantage.

Using Words to Deconstruct National Systems

Since cultural difference does not lead to cultural incompatibility, the words used to suggest a cultural hierarchy lose their meaning. The word barbarian was already used in a positive way in Gautier’s articles and travel writings. In his fictional works, he uses the term in both its negative and positive meanings. In Le Roman de la Momie, the word is used negatively twice by Egyptians to describe «cette race barbare d’Israêl», [63] once to refer to the foreign captives and once to describe the same captives portrayed by art: «quatre statuettes de prisonniers barbares asiatiques ou africains».[64] The last reference shows how blurry the meaning of the word barbarian is: the narrator does not even know whether they are African or Asiatic, each population being described as barbarian by the very culture who enslaved them, a culture which is, for occidental populations, also barbarian. The fact that the word is used loosely by many different characters to describe very different things or beings proves that the narrator consciously questions its true meaning. In Fortunio, the word is used in comparison with the word civilization as allegedly inferior to the latter: «un des plus grands plaisirs qu’il eût, c’était de mélanger la vie barbare et la vie civilisée. »[65] However, Fortunio tells his experience of Europe to a friend at the end of the novel and his conclusions show how superficial the distinction between the two words is: «l’Europe, le pays de la civilisation, comme on appelle cela; […] si j’avais su ce que c’était, je ne me serais pas derangé». [66] He goes on: «la civilisation consiste à avoir des journaux et des chemins de fer. »[67], «Adieu, vieille Europe, qui te crois jeune; tâche d’inventer une machine à vapeur pour confectioner de belles femmes, et trouve un nouveau gaz pour remplacer le soleil.- Je vais en Orient; c’est plus simple! »[68] The novel ends with this ironical statement in which Gautier, through his hero, inverts the presupposition that Europe is superior to Oriental countries for its advances in science, but in the end, this modernization does not create beauty. The subtle and gradual erosion of the meaning of the word barbarian brings to light the artificiality of our concepts of otherness. To emphasize even more this tendency, Gautier transforms French familiar words into alien and foreign words putting them in italics (underlined here): «sans les hors-d’oeuvre et les épisodes comment pourait-on faire un roman? »[69] When what is meant to be familiar becomes unfamiliar, the very concept of otherness is questioned.

The shift is reinforced by Gautier’s lucidity about his own works. In Le Roman de la Momie for example, Gautier demonstrates how a writer can give a voice to a foreign character, allowing a different perspective on what otherness is. The heroine of the novel is Egyptian and Gautier manages to convey the idea that her thoughts, behavior and language can be translated into French therefore can be understood by occidental readers. In the prologue, three different nationalities are given a voice (Lord Evandale, English, doctor Rumphus, German and Argyropoulos, Greek) but they all speak the same language: French. Obviously, it is a necessary device in literature but when analysed in the context of cosmopolitanism, the artificiality of its mechanism comes to light. Gautier even introduces the novel as the latin translation of the Egyptian papyrus done by the German doctor, translated again into French by the narrator. In Fortunio, the hero marvels at Soudja-Sari’s elocution and regrets that «elle ne sache pas le français, elle écrirait des romans et ferait un bas-bleu très agréable»[70]Fortunio’s remark on her possible future as a writer ironically refers to his creator’s skills, Soudja-Sari’s speech being obviously not a translation from indostani to French but simply Gautier’s making, turning the remark into the hero praising his writer’s style. The convolutions necessary to justify these translations prove how the depiction of otherness in literature is always fabricated. The way in which Gautier wrote the novel is particularly telling on that matter: he used archeologist plates in order to create his descriptions of the country he did not visit. The movement through art, from drawings to literature shows that Gautier’s imaginary creation of Egypt had already been processed by art before turning into the novel we now know. His depiction of Egypt, therefore, is only his vision: it is a pure creation of the mind. To some extent, Gautier seems aware of the artificiality of his approach, since in Fortunio, he ironically affirms that «rien n’y est peint de convention»[71] even though Fortunio’s Eldorado, his palace in the middle of Paris, is an imaginary oriental construction.

There is a double paradoxical approach to otherness in Gautier’s texts: on the one hand, Gautier denounces the superficiality of cultural hierarchy demonstrating how different cultures can indeed merge to create a new form of beauty; on the other hand, he depicts this approach as artificial since any description of otherness in literature is an artistic construction. Emphasizing this tendency, Gautier alludes to artworks or visual artists when he describes a foreign country. In Fortunio, the black servants make him think of a scene taken from Paul Véronèse’s paintings, [72] in Le Roman de la Momie, the mummy’s position is compared to «celle de la Vénus de Médicis»,[73] her smile reminds the narrator of «les bouches des têtes adorables surmontant les vases canopes au musée du Louvre. » [74] Notwithstanding, the anachronistic quality of those references, Gautier confesses that his vision of a foreign country is mainly distorted though the lense of painters and visual artists portraying this country. He even organizes the Egyptian setting as an artwork, dividing the space in pictorial terms: «le cadre était d’ailleurs digne du tableau».[75] Gautier’s irony towards his own vision is even more visible in the short story La Toison d’Or, in which his hero is looking for the perfect blond woman who would resemble Rubens’ Madeleine in Antwerp. The hero therefore decides to travel to Belgium in order to find that ‘northern type’ but only encounters «un nombre incalculable de négresses, de mulâtresses, de quarteronnes, de métisses, de griffes, de femmes jaunes, de femmes cuivrées, de femmes vertes, de femmes couleur de revers de botte, mais pas une seule blonde» [76](1838) which appears to be unexpected for the hero who considered Antwerp as «essentiellement blonde. »[77] The enumeration of ‘types’ of women, going from real ones actually used by Gautier in his travel writings to imagined unreal ones shows that Gautier mocks his own establishment of ‘types’ of women according to their nationality.

Gautier or the dream of being ‘Other’

Like most themes addressed by Gautier in his fictional works, cosmopolitanism is simultaneously mocked and cherished. The French writer always takes some distance with his material, and his irony transpires at almost every step of the narration but this approach does not lessen his interest and passion for the subject. Without adopting a peremptory tone, he questions his own presuppositions mirroring the concerns of his time. Twenty years after Fortunio’s definitive speech on civilization, Lord Evandale ponders on the same issues, proving its importance for the writer as a matter worth reflecting on: «peut-être, répondit Lord Evandale tout pensif, notre civilisation, que nous croyons culminante, n’est-elle qu’une décadence profonde, […] nous sommes stupidement fiers de quelques ingénieux mécanismes récemment inventés, et nous ne pensons pas aux colossales splendeurs, aux énormités irréalisables pour tout autre peuple, de l’antique terre des pharaons. »[78] Once again, he compares the new invention of steam with the splendours of oriental countries: «la vapeur est moins forte que la pensée qui élevait les pyramides».[79] What attracts the romantic writer to these civilizations is their obsession for eternity which forced them to envisage creation as a force running against time. If there is indeed a hierarchy to be established between occident and orient, the latter would be at the top for Gautier: «les Saint-Simoniens seraient bien maîtres d’y voir la réunion symbolique de l’orient et de l’occident, depuis longtemps préconisée; mais, comme dit Fortunio: “quel gaz remplacera le soleil? » [80] In a surprisingly political stand, Gautier denigrates the desire to expand occident into oriental countries with the creation of a railway, or the Suez canal. The way in which Gautier envisages the relations between the two civilizations is different from a conquering coloniser approach: his insistence on cultural specificities, which sometimes leads to an exaggeration and become cliché characteristics, shows that he was a strong believer in mutual enrichment against assimilation. Gautier himself embodies this cultural fusion, constantly referring to a nostalgia for countries he did not even visit. Like the obelisk in his poem, Gautier craves for «un ciel de feu», [81] and «pleure, ô ma vieille Egypte»[82] feeling out of place in a northern setting. He would tell his friend Maxime Du Camp «je me sens mourir d’une nostalgie d’Asie mineure. »[83] Always aspiring to see the world, longing for the lifestyle of southern countries and feeling somehow born in the wrong place, Gautier was nonetheless a French writer in love with his own language and artistic traditions. This constant tension mirrors his view on cosmopolitanism: on the one hand, he stands politically against the concept of cultural assimilation but on the other hand, his own vision of foreign countries is mainly imaginary and, to some extent, utopic or aesthetic. When he affirms that «Nous ne sommes pas Français, nous autres, nous tenons à d’autres races. Nous sommes pleins de nostalgies. Et puis quand à la nostalgie d’un pays se joint la nostalgie d’un temps, oh ! alors, c’est complet ! »,[84] it becomes clear that Gautier’s attachment to foreign countries is shaped by an idealistic artistic perception. Gautier can therefore be seen as an Egyptian Turk, [85] «un enfant de l’Islam», [86] «un fils du soleil», [87] «un des maîtres écrivains, non seulement de la France, mais aussi de l’Europe», [88] «un peu français», [89] «un poète bien français» (1873), [90] representing «la lucidité antique, […] je ne sais quel écho socratique, familièrement apporté sur l’aile d’un vent oriental. »[91]: a cosmopolitan dreamer.

[1] Paris and London, Capitals of the XIXth century, Conference in Oslo, March 2008; David DAMROSCH, What is World Literature, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2003; Matthew POTOLSKY, Decadent Republic of Letters: Taste, Politics and Cosmopolitan Community from Baudelaire to Beardsley, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012; some scholars focus on one European capital in particular, and Paris especially, as a worldwide center for culture, see Walter BENJAMIN, Paris, Capitale du XIXe siècle: le livre des Passages, Paris, Editions du Cerf, 1993; Patrice HIGONNET, Paris, Capitale du Monde: des Lumières au Surréalisme, Paris, Tallandier, 2005.

[2] Stefano EVANGELISTA, Richard HIBBITT, «Fin-de Siècle Cosmopolitanism», Comparative Critical Studies, 10, 2, 2013.

[3] Pascale CASANOVA, La République Mondiale des Lettres, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 2008, she comments about Paris in the XIXth century: «la capitale littéraire Française a pour particularité d’être aussi patrimoine universel», p, 113.

[4] See for example Jacques COTNAM, ‘André Gide et le Cosmopolitisme Littéraire’, Revue d’Histoire Littéraire, n°2, Mar-Apr 1970, pp 267-285 ;Paul DELSEMME, Teodor de Wyzewa et le Cosmopolitisme Littéraire en France à l’Epoque du Symbolisme, Bruxelles, Presses Universitaires de Bruxelles, 1967.

[5] Cathrine THEODORSEN, «Cosmopolitan Figures, Forms and Practices in the Norwegian fin-de-siecle» in «Fin-de-Siecle Cosmopolitanism», p. 275.

[6] Matthew POTOLSKY, Decadent Republic of Letters, p. 48.

[7] Ibidem, p. 1.

[8] « Gautier qui avait été porté aux nues par ces Dieux de la poésie que sont Baudelaire et Mallarmé, n’apparaissait plus sous ce jour prestigieux précisément parce que entre Gide et lui, il y avait Baudelaire et Mallarmé. », Léon CELLIER, ‘Théophile Gautier’, Revue d’Histoire Littéraire de la France, n°4, Jul-Aug 1972, p. 578; « A comparison with Baudelaire’s writings on Delacroix only serves to underline the shortcomings of Gautier’s largely descriptive approach», Michael Clifford SPENCER, The Art Criticism of Théophile Gautier, Genève, Librairie Droz, 1969, p. 48; « As for the art-for-art theory, if Baudelaire borrowed it from Gautier, he also transformed it; for though in Baudelaire’s work it leads him to love of artifice, he sees the limits of Gautier’s theory», Gladys TURQUET-MILNES The Influence of Baudelaire in France and England, London, Constable and Company, 1913, p. 119.

[9] Théophile GAUTIER, Preface, Mademoiselle de Maupin, Romans, Contes et Nouvelles, Paris, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 2002, t.1, p .230.

[10] Alphonse DE LAMARTINE, ‘A Némesis’, Méditations Poétiques, Paris, Gallimard, 1981, p. 339.

[11] Théophile GAUTIER, Emaux et Camées, Œuvres Poétiques Complètes, Paris, Bartillat, 2004, p. 443.

[12] Deanne WILLIAMS, The French Fetish from Chaucer to Shakespeare, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004.

[13] Théophile GAUTIER, Preface, Albertus, Œuvres Poétiques Complètes, p. 809.

[14] Théophile GAUTIER, Constantinople, Paris, Michel Lévy Frères, 1853, p. 6.

[15] Id.

[16] Nicola DI MEO, Le Cosmopolitisme dans la Littérature Française, Genève, Librairie Droz, 2009, p. 226.

[17] Théophile GAUTIER, Constantinople, p. 5.

[18] Id.

[19] Théophile GAUTIER, Souvenirs de Théâtre, d’Art et de Critique, Paris, Charpentier, 1883, p. 205.

[20] GAUTIER, Souvenirs de Théâtre, p. 205.

[21] Id.

[22] Théophile GAUTIER, Critique Artistique et Littéraire, Paris, Larousse, 1929, p. 68

[23] Théophile GAUTIER, La Peau de Tigre, Paris, Hippolyte Souverain, 1852, p. 271.

[24] Théophile GAUTIER, L’Orient, Paris, Charpentier, 1882, Tome 1, p. 290.

[25] Théophile GAUTIER, Abécédaire du Salon de 1861, Paris, Le Dentu, 1861, p. 263.

[26] Théophile GAUTIER, ‘Du Beau dans l’Art’, L’Art Moderne, Paris, Michel Lévy Frères, 1856, p. 149.

[27] Ibidem, p. 154.

[28] Théophile GAUTIER, Théophile Gautier, Critique Artistique et Littéraire, Paris, Larousse, 1929, p. 70.

[29] Théophile GAUTIER, ‘Du Beau dans l’Art’, p. 140.

[30] Théophile GAUTIER, Critique Artistique et Littéraire, p. 19.

[31] Ibidem, p. 36.

[32] Théophile GAUTIER, L’Art Moderne, pp 148-149.

[33] Théophile GAUTIER, Souvenirs de Théâtre, d’Art et de Critique, p. 49.

[34] Id.

[35] Théophile GAUTIER, Caprices et Zigzags, Paris, Hachette, 1856, p. 205.

[36] Ibidem, p. 415.

[37] Théophile GAUTIER, Constantinople, Paris, Michel Lévy Frères, 1853, p. 203.

[38] See for instance Joseph Arthur DE GOBINEAU, Essai sur l’Inégalité des Races Humaines, 1853-1855.

[39] Even though some references to a superiority or inferiority of races can be found: «de beaucoup inférieure, comme race, à l’ex-odalisque du sérail. » Constantinople, p. 204.

[40] GAUTIER, Voyage Pittoresque en Algérie, Paris, Librairie Droz, 1973, p. 178.

[41] GAUTIER, Caprices et Zigzags, pp 379-380.

[42] Charles BAUDELAIRE, L’Art Romantique, Paris, Garnier-Flammarion, 1968, p. 241.

[43] GAUTIER, ‘Salon de 1849’, La Presse, 9 Août 1849.

[44] Id.

[45] Id.

[46] Id.

[47] Id.

[48] GAUTIER, Constantinople, p. 6.

[49] Gautier only visited Egypt in 1869, after having written most of his Egyptian works. Le Roman de la Momie is dedicated to Ernest Feydeau as Gautier’s main scientific reference for his depiction of Egypt: both authors had worked together for the elaboration of the novel: «Nous nous voyions presque chaque jour, […] nous feuilletions ensemble les cartons de dessins que j’avais rassemblés depuis longtemps pour écrire mon ouvrage d’archéologie; je lui expliquais tout ce qui était demeuré obscure pour lui dans les arcanes de la vieille Egypte, et le roman se faisait ainsi», Ernest FEYDEAU, Théophile Gautier, Souvenirs Intimes, Paris, Plon, 1874, p. 91.

[50]GAUTIER, Fortunio, Romans, Contes et Nouvelles, Paris, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 2002, p. 606.

[51] Fortunio, p. 612.

[52] Ibidem, p. 640.

[53] Ibidem, p. 633.

[54] Ibidem, p. 719.

[55] GAUTIER, Le Roman de la Momie, p. 493.

[56] Fortunio, p. 650.

[57] See for example ‘L’Orient de Théophile Gautier’, Bulletin de la Société Théophile Gautier, Montpellier, Presses Universitaires de Montpellier, 1990, n°12, ‘La Maladie du Bleu: Art de Voyager et Art d’Ecrire chez Théophile Gautier’, Bulletin de la Société Théophile Gautier, 2007, n°29.

[58] Pierre LAROUSSE, Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXè siècle, Paris, 1870, Tome 6, p. 540.

[59] Le Roman de la Momie, p. 497.

[60] Fortunio, p. 610.

[61] Fortunio, p. 622.

[62] Ibidem, p. 639.

[63] Le Roman de la Momie, p. 578.

[64] Ibidem, p. 549.

[65] Fortunio, p. 712.

[66] Ibidem, p. 725.

[67] Ibidem, p. 727.

[68] Ibidem, p. 728.

[69] Ibidem, p. 635.

[70] Ibidem, p. 722.

[71] Fortunio, p. 606.

[72] Ibidem, p. 611.

[73] Le Roman de la Momie, p. 514.

[74] Ibidem, p. 515.

[75] Ibidem, p. 534.

[76] GAUTIER, La Toison d’Or, Romans, Contes et Nouvelles, Paris, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 2002, Tome 1, p. 779.

[77] Ibidem, p. 784.

[78] Le Roman de la Momie, p. 513.

[79] Id.

[80] Fortunio, p. 670.

[81] GAUTIER, ‘L’Obélisque de Paris’, Emaux et Camées, Paris, Bartillat, 2013, p. 480.

[82] Ibidem, p. 483.

[83] GAUTIER, Lettre à Du Camp, 13 Décembre 1850, Correspondance Générale, Genève-Paris, Droz, t IV, 1989, p. 273.

[84] Conversation with Emile Bergerat in Albert CASSAGNE, La Théorie de L’Art pour L’Art en France chez les Derniers Romantiques et les Premiers Idéalistes, Paris, Lucien Dorbon, 1959 p. 400.

[85] «moi je suis turc, non de Constantinople, mais d’Egypte. », ‘La Péri’, 25 Juillet 1843, Histoire de l’Art Dramatique en France depuis vingt-cinq ans, Bruxelles, Hetzel, 1859, T 3, p. 77.

[86] Ibidem.

[87] GAUTIER quoted by FEYDEAU in Souvenirs Intimes, p 178.

[88] BAUDELAIRE, L’Art Romantique, p. 259.

[89] Id.

[90] Henry JAMES, “Gautier vu par Henry James”, Ouvres Poétiques Complètes, p. 860.

[91] BAUDELAIRE, L’Art Romantique, p. 242.