The lessons of Champfleury.
In 1864, Henri Fantin-Latour painted an Hommage a Eugene Delacroix (figure 1). One of Fantin-Latour's famous group portraits, the image depicts the artist himself (seated on the left in a white shirt) and his contemporaries posing in front of a portrait of E ugene Delacroix, who had passed away in 1863. As in most Fantin-Latour group portraits, there are figures still well known and widely appreciated today; one could even say that many of Fantin-Latour's group portraits contain figures now bordering on iconic: the first seated figure on the left is Edmond Duranty, the critic famous for his early support of the Impressionists. Positioned to the left of the Delacroix portrait is James Whistler, while on the right stands Edouard Manet flanked by a seated Charles Baudelaire. The painting also depicts, however, figures much less recognizable, even by name: Felix Bracquemond (an engraver), and painters Alphonse Legros, Albert de Balleroy, and Louis Cordier. (1) There is one figure, however, who is difficult to place in either category; until recent scholarship his name was barely even synonymous with the literary and artistic movement he helped to define: seated amongst and between Whistler, Manet, and Baudelaire is the author and critic Jules Husson, better known under his pseudonym Champfleury. The placement of Champfleury in this painting is surprising because, unlike the other figures that have become more obscure since the nineteenth century, Champfleury's position in the painting is highly privileged. He sits at the center of the painting and, along with Whistler, he is one of the only figures who shares space within the flame of Delacroix's portrait. Champfleury also forms a trio with what have become two of the most emblematic figures of modern art and precursors to modernism: Baudelaire on the right and the standing figure of Manet behind them. Fantin-Latour's painting is not the only time Champfleury would appear in iconic groups of what have become famous paintings from the period. Before the homage to Delacroix, Courbet places Champfleury between his artist self-portrait and Baudelaire in L'Atelier du peintre (1855, figure z). Champfleury appears again with Baudelaire on the left side of Manet's La Musique aux Tuileries (1862, figure 3), again as part of a much larger grouping, in this case a crowd.
One the one hand, Champfleury's life and career reflect his placement in these historically important paintings: he founded journals with both Duranty and Baudelaire, defended the young Courbet as Zola would later defend Manet, and, perhaps most importantly, Champfleury is the author of Le Realisme, one of the only non-fictional explanations of one of the most prominent artistic movements of the period. (2) On the other hand, Zola declared Champfleury's literary importance to be dead in 1878 and at the close of the nineteenth century Edmond de Goncourt predicted that Champfleury would be forgotten. In 1921, Le Bulletin de la vie artistique published an "Apologie pour Champfleury," in an early attempt to rescue him from relative obscurity. More recent scholarship, especially in France, has also made an effort to rehabilitate Champfleury, usually by making an argument for his talent, his historical importance, or by demonstrating his pre-modernist tendencies. (3) What I will propose is not so much another defense of Champfleury, but rather an examination of what we can learn from his banishment, his subsequent rescue, and what they both suggest about the hybridity of realism. For the reason that Champfleury was lost to obscurity in the first place was always twofold: on the one hand a perceived lack of talent when compared to the "master" novelists of his da), (Balzac, Sand, Flaubert, Zola), and on the other a supposed dedication to a simple, transparent realism. Close readings of specific works by Champfleury demonstrate how his texts play with seeming contradictions and this very self-conscious play encourages us to rethink our entire understanding of realism, even and not in spite of realism in its most "naive" state. Furthermore, all of Champfleury's work illustrates how realism became a relative term, able to pivot across the very categories it helped to establish. The most important lesson we can learn from Champfleury's rehabilitation is how we have used and continue to employ
different concepts of realism to forge the canon of nineteenth-century French literature. Because of his minor status, Champfleury demonstrates how overly simplified interpretations of realism can coincide with judgments of quality. (4) Champfleury's lesson actually lies in the same category of his appearance in the paintings of Courbet, Fantin-Latour, and Manet: reflective of a scattering of different interpolations of realism as well as the discourse that surrounded it, indicative of aesthetic ideologies that overlap and are sometimes intentionally in conflict, and symptomatic of how shifting definitions of "realism" can be used to reaffirm a literary canon.
Editors and scholars used to separate Champfleury's career into two or three "periods:" the "bohemian period" of his youth and early writings, sometimes itself split into two sections ("fantaisie" and "excentrique"), versus the theoretician of realism and novelist he would become in the 1850s and 1860s. (5) This division of Champfleury's work reflected more than periods of his life and career; it followed a well-established contradiction: anything belonging to bohemian eccentricity and "fantaisie" stood in opposition to realism. (6) Even recent scholarship that has established an affinity between "fantaisie" and realism tends to maintain a fundamental distinction between the two. (7) Champfleury's literary works, however, across the division in categorizing his oeuvre, display different concepts of realism mixed with its supposed others. Champfleury's short story "L'Homme aux figures de cire," supposedly from the "bohemian" period (included in the publication of Les Excentriques in 1852) reverberates with secret Parisian societies, a fascination with the morbid, street spectacle, deformity on display, chance encounters, and the collapse of social class boundaries. Champfleury's style in "L'Homme aux figures de cire" also mixes genres, making it a personal journal, political history, a travel memoir, a newspaper article or fait divers, a history of popular culture, a faithfully recounted observation, and a short story all at the same time. Champfleury even subtly critiques the very type of overly-realist realism that was so long associated with the later "period" of his writing. When describing a tour given by wax museum guide Diart, Champfleury resists reproducing Diart's explanations in their entirety: "l'homme a la baguette [Diart] reparut et continua ses explications; elles sont trop partout les memes pour etre reproduites. D'ailleurs, ce genre de litterature-daguerreotype a ete si souvent employe et devient si fatigant pour le lecteur, qu'il doit etre supprime" (Champfleury, "L'Homme aux figures de cire" 12). Champfleury suggests that realism cango too far and become too committed to a kind reproduction that results in excessive description. In addition, Champfleury criticizes a sort of realism allied with daguerreotype photography. Although Champfleury admires wax figures for their ability to so closely reproduce an actual human being, thus making art more capable of reproducing reality, he is also wary of this resemblance: "j'eus tres peur ... je comprenais que mon effroi naif venait de cette apparence de realite qui n'est plus la realite, de ce PLUS complet que la sculpture et la peinture, qui cependant est MOINS complet que la peinture et la sculpture" (19). Champtleury later finds what he believes to be the real source of his fear: the quality that allows wax figures to be both more and less than painting and sculpture is that while they may be three-dimensional, unlike painting, and more lifelike than sculpture, wax figures more closely resemble dead human beings. Champfleury likens wax figures to the assembled corpses in the morgue that murderers have cut into pieces. He compares the injections used to make cadavers look alive to the "makeup" of faces of wax, concluding, "ma peur venait de la ressemblance des figures de cire avec les cadavres que je devinais" (19). For Champfleury, wax figures reproduce the most horrifying human reality: our own inevitable demise, both inciting his curiosity and repelling him at the same time. In "L'Homme aux figures de cire," resemblance and reproduction become mortifying and alienating. The tale presents imitation and faithful observation as goals of realist representation, but also as something that can be overblown (like the "litterature-daguerreotype") and as something to be feared.
Champfleury's text in "L'Homme aux figures de cire" varies widely, at times committed to the exactitude of scientific or historical observation and yet at other times crossing into fantasy/fiction, making the wax figures into real people/characters with imagined life stories and personalities. (8) His main character, the wax museum guide Diart, even runs off with his favorite wax figure at the end, leaving the flesh-and-blood wife he was blackmailed into marrying for the artificial human he prefers. Diart, the real person encountered by Champfleury somewhere between the Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Elysees, faithfully documented and described in the first part of the account, has by the end become more like a fictional character that Champfleury invented, symbolically choosing artifice over reality in his decision to run away with a wax figure. "L'Homme aux figures de cire" was reprinted alone in 2004 by Gallimard (separated from the rest of Les Excentriques) and is one of the Champfleury tales most often used in scholarship to argue for Champfleury's importance in literary history, but the Gallimard publication claims the story not as one of the primary explorations of a nineteenth-century realist, but for post-structuralist theory. For Patrick Mauries and the Gallimard editors of the 2004 reprint of the tale, "L'Homme aux figures de cire" is not only emblematic of Derridean deconstruction, but the Parisian passages and moments of flanerie described in the text "await the gaze of Walter Benjamin" (a quotation from the preface; iii) and echo Freud's theory of the uncanny (iv). (9) This is a valid reading, but the tale also demonstrates how Champfleury was already playing with mixtures of the real before his supposed turn toward realism. It is the inclusion of realist moments in an otherwise fantastical text that makes Champfleury's story defy one of Roland Barthes's characterizations of nineteenth-century realism in his essay L'Effet de reel. According to Barthes, one of the ways in which nineteenth-century realism broke with the classical tradition was to posit the referent as the real, and thereby stop the realist description from being dragged into "une activite fantasmatique" (Barthes, (Euvres completes 2: 482). For Barthes, classical rhetoric had institutionalized "le fantasme" in the form of rhetorical figures meant to render objects and characters before the eye of the reader. Realism for Barthes restricts the fantasmagorical through its denotative claims to the real. Champfleury's "L'Homme aux figures de cire," however, limits "le fantasme" with the real and limits the real with the "fantasme," creating a mixture of genres, definitions, and allegiances that refuses to settle to one side or even to divide his style into two sides at all. Champfleury evokes the reproductive power of mimesis in the midst of the fantastic, undermining the project of realism with the narrator's critiques only to then reestablish the real later in the story.
A novel from Champfleury's later "realist" period, Les Bourgeois de Molinchart (famously published in 1855 during the time Flaubert was writing Madame Bovary), though in many ways very different from "L'Homme aux figures de cire," utilizes the same overlapping of conflicting aesthetic ideologies. In Les Bourgeois de Molinchart, Champfleury uses a pared-down narrative style, fueled by short paragraphs, extensive dialogue, and a brevity of description surprising for a nineteenth-century realist novel. This can be read as direct, and denotative, a testimony to Champfleury's particular style of realism that was based on eschewing the decoration of poetry for simplistic language, (10) and at the same time his method in Les Bourgeois de Molinchart prefigures the nouveau roman and other twentieth-century writings: deceptively unembellished prose that complicates by its very simplicity. Though Champfleury's narrative does not distort chronology like the nouveau roman and does not carry the psychological underpinnings of modern fiction (Champfleury's narrator is omniscient from a great distance and does not share many thoughts of the characters), Les Bourgeois de Molinchart does shift perspective to strange points of view. The entire novel begins from the perspective of a deer: "il y a vingt ans, un chevreuil, poursuivi dans la plaine par des chasseurs, grimpa la montagne de Molinchart et traversa la ville. On en parle encore aujourd'hui" (13). The narrator proceeds to describe the town of Molinchart by way of the deer's trajectory and what the animal encounters, even going so far as to recount the deer's reactions to new surroundings: "ces maisons, ces boutiques ne ressemblaient guere a sa tranquille foret de Saint-Landry, qui appartient a la couronne, et ou les princes de la famille royale ne pensaient guere a chasser" (13). From this moment of almost discours indirect libre inside the mind of the deer, the narrator establishes the division in the chapter between the still privileged and refined aristocracy versus the derided bourgeoisie: the deer will in fact be chased through the town by an ever-increasing mob of innkeepers and butchers, saved at last by an enlightened count and the protective wife of a local attorney. Although the third person narration shifts to the perspective of the bourgeois, the first point of view of the chapter and the novel is conveyed by way of the deer: "le chevreuil ne daigna pas lever les yeux sur le grenadier de bois qui fume la meme pipe depuis une centaine d'annees" (13). In this example, the attitude of the deer is used to describe the townspeople and to communicate the provincial character of the village: the banal nature of the grenadier de bois, smoking the same pipe for a hundred years, does not even warrant the disdainful passing glance of the deer.
Champfleury's Les Bourgeois de Molinchart sounds at times very much like a nineteenth-century novel and he does inherit a great deal from Balzac, but the narrative also mixes gentes, producing a quilt-like tapestry of styles that cohabitate the same text. Chapter 2 recalls Rabelais in title, manner, and content. In this chapter, with the heading "Explication de la societe meteorologique," an attorney from Molinchart encounters on his daily walk a travelling meteorologist, Larochelle. Recalling the absurdity of rabelaisian university degrees awarded to the best tennis players, Champfleury's version, Larochelle, tries to convince the Molinchart attorney to give money to his organization (which, the narrator tells us, has only two members): "Ainsi parla Larochelle, qui n'etait autre qu'un commis voyageur en barometres, thermometres, hygrometres, et qui joignait a son commerce l'invention de la Societe meteorologique, dont le brevet se payait cinq cents francs" (26). At other moments in the narrative, the novel seems more like a fable, or even alai. In chapter 6, one character, Julien, says to his friend Charles that he will never be able to repay him for his help and devotion; Charles responds: "si ... a une condition, c'est que tu me feras la meme morale que je t'ai faite le jour ou tu me verras devenir amoureux" (61). It is the type of foreshadowing promise one expects in a fable: Julien will either reappear at the moment Charles falls in love to remind him of his oath (in this case, to convince him not to pursue the object of his affection: a married woman in the province), or Julien will inevitably fail to deliver to Charles the same moral message, leaving him to make his dangerous mistake. These genre-mixing moments are fleeting in Champfleury; they represent but a hint of stylistic allusion and disappear sometimes in the very next line. The reader knows right away after Julien and Charles make their promises that there will be no moral at the end of their story, for Charles never convinces Julien to renounce his quest for the married bourgeoise in the first place. Julien states, "tu ne m'ecouteras pas davantage que je ne t'ai ecoute." "C'est bien possible," Charles responds (61). The set up that would have lead to the end of the fable has been dismantled, but the hollow remnants of the promise of the moral of the story remain as distant echoes inside Champfleury's realist nineteenth-century narrative.
Champfleury's Les Bourgeois de Molinchart reads as a series of tales as much as an organized novel. Many of the chapter titles could stand alone as titles of individual tales: "Un grand diner," "La Societe racinienne," "M. Bonneau perd son parapluie," "Miseres interieures," "Conversation entre amis," "Le cirque loyal," and "La Comedie sous la table." There is frequently very little transition or connection between chapters, giving them even more distance from one another. Many chapters could almost lift right out of the novel and stand alone as nouvelles or recits: chapter 7, "Diverses aventures de l'avoue savant," centers around an idiosyncratic tailor, Cadet Bossu, who dominates the chapter so fiercely that the main characters fade into the background: it could be the tale of Cadet Bossu instead of Les Bourgeois de Molinchart. Champfleury's novels are fractured, and this has been interpreted in the past as part of his ultimate lack of talent next to the other great novelists of the day: Champfleury, in the end, could not successfully organize a synthesized and coherent novel. It is the layering in Champfleury's novels, however, that both defines him as a writer and defends his relevance to realism: Les Bourgeois de Molinchart, like his other novels, is "decousu," undone and unstitched, but it also participates in what Barthes famously referred to as the referential plenitude of the sign. What defines Champfleury is not the conflict between these two opposing forces, but their unapologetic combination as part and parcel of realism.
Champfleury's turn toward more overly-realist realism supposedly occurs in the 1850s, especially with the publication in 1857 of Le Realisme. Reading Le Realisme today, it is stunning to think that this scattered collection was ever used to support the idea that Champfleury was dedicated to an overly simplistic, doctrinal, and prosaic concept of realism. Published as a collection of essays from newspapers and periodicals instead of a coherent treatise, Champfleury's manifesto of the realist movement contains the same mingling and overlap of his fiction. In Le Realisme, Champfleury often claims to resist representation and exaggeration in order to faithfully describe, explain, or depict, These claims to a simple system of denotation and direct transparency seem to na'ively deny the inherently interpretive qualities of any kind of representation. Champfleury advocates simplicity, sincerity, truth ("verite"), and faithful rendering for literary writing, often criticizing poetry and the use of any kind of indirect, "ornate" or figurative language. Ina section of Le Realisme, Champfleury states that an author can write a remarkable book "pourvu que l'auteur se tienne dans une simplicite absolue, et ne raconte que ce qu'il a vu" (81). (11) In this example, Champfleury's ideal is absolute exactitude, implying a faithful reproduction of the observable world by the work of art. Ina letter to George Sand from July 1855 on Courbet and realism, later included as a chapter in Le Realisme, Champfleury struggles to define the term: "je ne vous definirai pas, madame, le realisme; je ne sais d'ou il vient, oh il va, ce qu'il est; Homere serait un realiste, puisqu'il a observe et decrit avec exactitude les moeurs de son epoque" (Champfleury and Sand 69). (12) In this instance, although he extends the concept of realism to include the perception of a particular time and place, Champfleury again associates realism with exactitude of observation and description, creating the possibility of absolute equivalence between writers and their subjects. There are sections of Champfleury's writings and theories that define realism as an unmediated relationship between the subject matter of a text and the text itself.
Alongside the presence of elements of a more prosaic, simplistically imitative realism, Champfleury's Le Realisrne is just as much of a fragmented, variegated text as "L'Homme aux figures de cire" and Les Bourgeois de Molinchart and it is this combination that Champfleury represents, in addition to the very proximity of absolute claims that are almost immediately upended. In fact, Champfleury's supposed manifesto and explanation of doctrine actually reads more like anti-doctrine. He starts the entire work with the notion of not writing it at all, suggesting he leave the volume blank. (13) Throughout the Preface, which he actually calls "Quelques notes pour servir de preface," already putting on open display the fact that Le Realisme is an assemblage of various articles rather than a "book," Champfleury remains reticent, already protesting the role he has been given as leader of a school: "je n'aime pas les ecoles, je n'aime pas les drapeaux, je n'aime pas les systemes, je n'aime pas les dogmes; il m'est impossible de me parquer dans la petite eglise du realisme, dusse-je en etre le dieu" (3). In this supposed defense and explanation of the realist movement, Champfleury belittles the subject of his manifesto by calling it a "little church." He further challenges his appointment to head of the realist movement and introduces even more doubt into the designation of his project by his use of the subjunctive ("dusse-je"). Resisting the imposition of a uniform method, Champfleury not only rejects the elevation of realism to a faith or organized unit, but he even disputes the title of his own work: "tous ces mots a terminaison en isme, je les tiens en pitie comme des mots de transition" (2). Champfleury goes on to explain that he only makes use of the term "realism" for practical reasons. In a letter to George Sand in the early 1850s, probably from early 1854, Champfleury laments how he is constantly designated a realist:
seulement, je pourrai faire parler les nuages entre eux, les arbres, les oiseaux, je pourrai devenir mystique, swedenborgien, que je serai toujours un realiste aux yeux du public. La vie est une assez triste comedie qu'il est bon d'egayer par quelques farces: le realisme sera peut-etre une des meilleures de notre epoque. (Champfleury and Sand 31)
According to this characterization, Champfleury could become dream-like, surreal, as imaginative as can be, and he would still be stubbornly associated with a simplistic definition of realism. The characterization of realism as "one of the best [farces] of our era" contains many layers and possible interpretations. On the one hand, the notion of farce responds to Champfleury's critics and protests his automatic association with realism. Instead of the serious theoretician of realism, Champfleury mocks the category. One can also read the realist farce as something that makes life ("la triste comedie") more livable: participating in the realist debate to amuse and distract oneself, but not necessarily to seriously defend realism. At the same time, Champfleury's comment does disclose a defense of realism. Realism as farce, laughed at and made fun of, becomes misunderstood. The "farce" is what the critics and public perceive as realism; realism can be defined here as the discourse that surrounds the movement, debated as societal performance. What Champfleury and fellow realists actually practice, in this interpretation, is something outside the comprehension of the disputing public, and certainly outside the comprehension of the critics.
Champfleury's shifting definitions of realism demonstrate how the term is symbolic of both radical reform and prosaic naivete. As much as realism can correspond to Barthes's notion of the "lisible" (14)--faithful description, direct observation, claims to transparency--realism possesses attributes also placing it on the side of cutting-edge modernity: representing the contemporaneous, depicting the ugly and displeasing, awkwardness, scandal, and fragmentation. What is important is how the terra "realism" pivots to both sides and how both of these sides were used in literary history to represent over-simplicity for those authors considered minor and marginal, and how the "real" was nuanced to be far more complex (pivoting back to the other side) for established canonical authors. (15) Champfleury's writings challenge a division between "revolutionary" and "naive" realism by theorizing both as part of the same aesthetic project. For example, many of the moments in Champfleury's explanations of realism that could be called "simple," "imitative," or "naive" are actually aligned with issues of social class and revolution. One of the chapters of Le Realisme consists of an article Champfleury wrote on "la poesie populaire." He writes in his Preface, "j'aime la poesie populaire avecses times en gros sabots et ses sentiments naturels" (18). (16) Champfleury's attacks on poetry, though part of his critique of figurative language in favor of simplicity and directness (and also a direct contributor to what has been called his lack of literary "style"), also correlate with his support of social reform and consistent condemnation of the bourgeoisie. One of the only forms of poetry Champfleury can tolerate, he writes, is poetry in song: "J'aime la poesie patriotique, quand, dans les mouvements de secousse sociale, le peupie, de ses mille voix, entonne la Marseillaise" (17). In another chapter of Le Realisme, during a discussion of author Robert Challes, Champfleury remarks on the difficulties of being a writer, especially a novelist, during that period. For Champfleury, this imagined difficulty relates directly to issues of class: "le roman ne penetrait pas alors dans toutes les classes de la societe; les acheteurs etaient rares, les libraires plus rares encore, le salaire de l'ecrivain minime" (69). In his defense of Courbet in 1855, Champfleury again connects realist tendencies to class:
M. Courbet est un factieux pour avoir represente de bonne foi des bourgeois, des paysans, des femmes de village de grandeur naturelle ... On ne veut pas admettre qu'un casseur de pierre vaut un prince: la noblesse se gendarme de ce qu'il est accorde tant de metres de toile a des gens du peuple. (Champfleury and Sand 70)
Again the notions of sincerity and something depicted in its natural state of beauty ("de bonne foi;" "de grandeur naturelle") connect to reversal of social order. In the Bulletin de la vie artistique's 1921 "Apologie pour Champfleury," the authors attempt to restore his already-disappearing posterity. Referring to the very citation used above on Courbet, the author writes "Champfleury saisit ici l'un des traits du genie moderne: l'instinct democratique" (Janneau 500). What is important about this association of realism with social and political reform is that it demonstrates once again the pivotal nature of the term "realism" and suggests how easy it was to highlight simplicity and the study of nature when allying Champfleury with a naive understanding of representation (one of the primary methods by which he was originally banished), while ignoring those moments in his work when directness was also part of a specific context in which realism was on the side of social reform.
One citation from the Preface of Le Realisme demonstrates how Champfleury's writings represent realism as a constantly unstable flux, defying one single definition or allegiance:
qu'il naisse tout a coup quelques esprits qui, fatigues des mensonges versifies, des entetements de la queue romantique, se retranchent dans l'etude de la nature, descendent jusqu'aux classes les plus basses, s'affranchissent du beau langage qui ne saurait etre en harmonie avec les sujets qu'ils traitent, y a-t-il la dedans les bases d'une ecole? Je ne l'ai jamais cru. (5-6)
Progressing through this quotation, one passes through the many faces of Champfleury, and many of the facets of realism. First, he calls for a different kind of writer, one who is tired of "versified lies." This is the Champfleury against poetry and the figurative language he sees as untrue, allying realism with fidelity and clarity made possible by the simple, direct relationship between a sign and its referent. These new writers are also tired of the debates of romanticism, setting up realism as romanticism's opposite and thus the enemy of the exploration of subjectivity. (17) Then there is the familiar connection of realism and the study of nature, echoing the positivism that would later fall out of favor with the advent of modernism; however, Champfleury next links this study of nature to a kind of literature that includes all social classes, even "les plus basses," aligning the study of nature not just with positivism, but also with class struggle. Wrapped up in his statement about ornate language ("du beau langage") are three different ideas: breaking free of "beau langage" can simply reaffirm the previous part of the quotation: an argument against overly ornate or figurative language, an argument against poetry in favor of clarity. Pivoting back toward a more revolutionary realism, liberation from "beau langage" can also represent a statement against beauty, not as a general concept but beauty as it had been classically defined before the nineteenth century. This interpretation would gravitate toward an alliance with the other movements that questioned classical ideals of beauty: romanticism, impressionism, decadence, etc. At the same time, with the references to social class ("descendent jusqu'aux classes les plus basses," "qui ne saurait etre en harmonie avec les sujets qu'ils traitent") Champfleury advocates stylistic and thematic literature for and about the masses. After all of these varied interpretations of realism, stacked in the same quotation one alongside the other, Champfleury destabilizes the fragmented foundation he has just imagined and in effect unravels his entire quotation: "y a-t-il la dedans les bases d'une ecole? Je ne l'ai jamis cru." Champfleury's Le Realisme reflects the many different definitions and concepts of realism and presents them not as doctrine or as a pre-determined theory, but more as a series of meditations on an evolving term, a term he feels free to reject and/or make light of at any time even as he takes it seriously.
In the section of Le Realisme on Challes, in a sub-section entitled "De la realite dans l'art," Champfleury famously responds to hypothetical critics of Challes's claims to the real. These imagined critics, Champfleury muses, would have critiqued Challes using the concept of the daguerreotype, had it been invented in an earlier period. In Champfleury's imagined scenario, these critics claim that "realism" seeks to reproduce nature. This moment in the text has also become one of the most cited in recent scholarship's rehabilitation of Champfleury. (18) The imagined critics to whom Champfleury responds compare realism to daguerreotype photography and machines. Instead of defending realism's imitative purpose, however, in this instance Champfleury states, "la reproduction de la nature par l'homme ne sera jamais une reproduction ni une imitation, ce sera toujours une interpretation" (92). Here Champfleury asserts that those who see an exclusively imitative impulse in realism are misconstruing its principles. As for the daguerreotype, Champfleury describes a scenario in which ten daguerreotypes are made of the same landscape. When they are later compared, the images are interchangeable. On the contrary, Champfleury asserts, if ten art students were asked to do sketches of the same landscape, not one would match the other: "il est donc facile d'affirmer que l'homme, n'etant pas machine, ne peut rendre les objets machinalement. Subissant la loi de son moi, il ne peut que les interpreter" (93). (19) Although this moment constitutes a counter example to Champfleury as naive defender of transparent realism, what is most interesting is that these kinds of quotations occur in a text that elsewhere argues for the transparency and denotative power of realism and the exactitude of recounted observation: in the same text, sometimes in the same section. Elsewhere Champfleury advocates the perfect combination of fiction and reality, an author's talent and direct observation. Champfleury writes at the beginning of the piece on Challes, in a discussion of Challes's Illustres Francoises:
l'alliance des faits reels et des faits inventes est d'une soudure tellement delicate, le vrai de l'art et le vrai de la nature qui se tendent a se combattre plutot qu'a se rapprocher, cette fonte de deux elements opposes exige un ouvrier tellement adroit qu'on rencontre rarement de ces natures assez heureusement douees pour relier ensemble les deux forces. (42)
Champfleury's ideal is an alliance of artistic construction and reality, sometimes seamless, and at other times fragmented. For Le Realisme is in fact as much a hybrid text as "L'Homme aux figures de cire" and Les Bourgeois de Molinchart. According to Champfleury's shifting definitions, realism does not necessarily constitute a whole that was already fragmented in spite of itself, but was rather already a set of unified fragments. The very organization of Le Realisme reflects this fragmentary whole: Champfleury's manifesto is a loose collection of letters, primary sources, and essays with a reticent preface and no conclusion, but it is also still a series of texts that Champfleury collected to publish under what was then a controversial title. It is not so much that Le Realisme resembles more "modern" or "bohemian" Champfleury texts, it is not that his theory is fragmented, but that he conceived of realism as fragmentary, including a variety of styles, methods, and theories and forming the scattered edifice of Champfleury's work.
The claim to the real, especially a naively and prosaic real as was so often used as a reason to discount Champfleury, is precisely what has made realism so problematic and so endlessly fascinating. This is true in painting as well as literature. When Clement Greenberg claimed that "the paradox in the evolution of French painting from Courbet to Cezanne is how it was brought to the verge of abstraction in and by its very effort to transcribe visual experience with ever greater fidelity," he identified a contradiction that continues to haunt the history of art: a form of realism (here, figurative painting) being unraveled by artists laying claim to the real (Greenberg 171). Barthes does the same for language and literature when he writes, "la desintegration du signe--qui semble bien etre la grande affaire de la modernite--est certes presente dans l'entreprise realiste, mais d'une facon en quelque sorte regressive, puisqu'elle se fait au nom d'une plenitude referentielle" (OEuvres completes 2: 484). Like Greenberg's paradox, any disintegration of the sign in realist literature represents a regression because that disintegration takes place amidst a project that claims referential plenitude. Even when this "realism," and Barthes's notion of the "disintegration of the sign," would be later nuanced and redefined by scholars and critics, the nineteenth century's annunciated claim to the real frequently represents the whole that cannot be broken, always armed like a war machine against meaning, as Barthes described it, indivisible, immovable, and absolute (2: 483). (20) It is only broken apart by what is contradictory to it, thus revealing its claims to the real to be a lie anda myth. (21) Michael Fried alludes to this kind of problem in his discussion of a group of painters he calls the "generation of 1863," many of whom are depicted in Fantin-Latour's Hommage a Delacroix. Fried writes, "But for contemporary critics the issue of Courbet's Realism, like that of realism generally, was ideologically overdetermined in ways that foreclosed the possibility that his paintings might be seen in other than the most literal, positivist, and materialist terms" (192). Fried presents an idea that has continued to pose a problem and directly contributed to how Champfleury in particular was banished to oblivion in the first place: the idea that the "ideologically overdetermined" nature of the discourse surrounding realism stemmed from an inability to get past the literal, the claim to referential plentitude that Barthes takes as a stubborn whole and to which nineteenth-century theorists of realism were supposedly sincerely devoted. Champfleury's works, because of his more overt claims to the real, point to the same idea. From the start, the claim to referential plenitude constituted both realism's stumbling block and its weapon against detractors. And this was the problem with trying to rescue Champfleury; he had been lumped into the "ideologically overdetermined" camp, when in fact his relationship to realism, as with many other artists and writers of the period, was far more complex and pluralist. (22)
Champfleury's famous critique of Courbet's "realist" painting L'Atelier du peintre further demonstrates Champfleury's multi-layered concept of realism, as well as an awareness of the "overdetermined" nature of the discourse surrounding it. A specific quotation from this assessment of Courbet came to represent, perhaps more than any other of his quotations, Champfleury's supposedly naive and literal understanding of realism, as well as his turn away from an artistic vanguard (Courbet) and from his own "bohemian" period of writing. Responding to the subtitle of Courbet's L'Atelier, "allegorie reelle," Champfleury states: "voila deux mots qui jurent ensemble, et qui me troublent un peu ... une allegorie ne saurait etre reelle, pas plus qu'une realite ne peut devenir allegorique" (Champfleury and Sand 73). In the same piece of writing, Champfleury critiques those elements in Courbet's painting that seem far-fetched, those figures and situations that defy the laws of verisimilitude. (23)
Here again is the more "conservative" and "naive" Champfleury, more devoted to a narrow vision of realism than to imagination or a complex understanding of representation. And yet, again, right after what seems like an absolute claim with no room for movement or gradation, Champfleury's text questions the possibility of a fixed definition of realism. First, be makes a comment that suggests that the two words can be joined together in the right circumstances: "il faudrait prendre garde de faire plier la langue a des idees symboliques que le pinceau peut essayer a traduire, mais que la grammaire n'adopte pas" (73). Although somewhat narrow on the limits of language, Champfleury suggests the notion that painting can depict a kind of symbolism, and a mixture of reality and allegory, for which nineteenth-century grammar was perhaps not prepared. Later he adds, still discussing Courbet's painting, "la confusion est deja assez grande a propos de ce fameux mot realisme, sans qu'il soit necessaire de l'embrouiller encore davantage" (73-74). In this instance, Champfleury disagrees not so much with the ideas expressed in Courbet's subtitle, but instead implies that Courbet is only inciting the critics and stirring the pot unnecessarily. The "confusion" surrounding realism is not his own, nor even Courbet's, but belongs to the public debate and discourse. Champfleury and Courbet are able to contemplate the nuances and complexities of a "real allegory," but others will be mired in the supposedly impossible pairing of seemingly contradictory terms. Therese Dolan, in her recent book on Manet and Wagner, demonstrates Champfleury's complex relationship to Courbet and to realism in a way that complicates Champfleury's statements on Courbet's L'A telier du peintre even further. (24) As Dolan explains, Champfleury was rather competitive and his support for an artist or musician was the result of his two criteria: a cause to espouse and some link to his own aesthetic preferences. Aspects of realism may have corresponded to some of Champfleury's aesthetic leanings, but realism also represented for him an instrument, an apparatus with which he could launch himself into one of the most vigorous debates of the period. (25) Realism as tool and opportunity goes against the idea of Champfleury as conservative realist doctrinaire, and also helps nuance his statements about Courbet. When Champfleury writes that the "confusion" surrounding realism is already exaggerated ("la confusion est deja assez grande") and that Courbet need not have further complicated things, he signals the purposeful use of realism to incite the critics, and in the process throws doubt on the absolute sincerity of his own previous statement, that "real" and "allegory" are inherently incompatible words ("voila deux mots qui jurent ensemble et qui me troublent un peu"), especially in the context of an author who elsewhere so consistently mixed different forms of realism with contradictory elements and unraveled his own declarations right after making them. This is further complicated by the fact that Champfleury strongly disliked his portrait in Courbet's painting; indeed, the painting would mark the beginning of the rift between Courbet and Champfleury. (26) Champfleury's "real" emerges, in all its guises, not as something perceived whole in the nineteenth century that we have since understood as fragmented, but as a concept that was theorized as fragmentation and in necessary and unproblematic conversation with disparate elements contradictory to itself. This suggests that the absolute claim to the real was far more porous and pliable for nineteenth-century writers than the 20th century would realize.
Champfleury as a figure in the paintings of Fantin-Latour, Courbet, and Manet takes part in a series of trios and groupings that engage the debates surrounding realism at the time and also eerily predict the problem of Champfleury's place in literary history. In the earliest painting, Courbet's L'Atelier du peintre, Champfleury makes up the middle of a straight diagonal line leading from Courbet's self portrait in the center to Baudelaire reading in the right corner of the canvas (passing through the figure of George Sand, one of Champfleury's primary interlocutors on the subject of realism). This diagonal line creates a trio: Courbet, Champfleury, Baudelaire. In both the Manet and the Fantin-Latour, Champfleury forms yet another trio including Baudelaire: Champfleury and Baudelaire are seated in front of a standing Manet in the Fantin-Latour and Baudelaire, Champfleury, and Albert de Balleroy engage in conversation on the left side of Manet. Both of these trios reverse themselves as well: Manet's self portrait in the left corner of his Musique aux Tuileries, like in Courbet's painting, forms a diagonal line straight from the artist toward Baudelaire and Champfleury just as Champfleury, Baudelaire, and Balleroy form yet another trio along the bottom and right side of Fantin-Latour's canvas, echoing the trio conversing on the left side of Manet's image. Champfleury's shifting position from association with icons (Courbet, Manet, Baudelaire, Sand) to minor artists (represented by Balleroy) highlights him as the figure that does not fit completely in either category and suggests the question that would forever haunt his legacy: should he be banished to obscurity? Champfleury's connection to Baudelaire, a rapport that appears in all three paintings, evokes Champfleury's shifting concepts of realism. They form an odd couple, Baudelaire and Champfleury, one another's silent partner in questioning the status of le reel. Michael Fried states that Champfleury's presence in Fantin-Latour's painting "signals an allegiance to realism" (8). I would say, rather, that Champfleury is there because of his involvement in a debate surrounding realism. Therese Dolan aptly calls Manet's painting "noisy" (31) and I would argue that all three paintings are noisy, and controversial in their own way, especially on the subject of Champfleury and realism generally: from Manet's reworking of Courbet to Courbet's "allegorie reelle" to Fantin-Latour's confusing image of a generation of realists gathered around a portrait of a romantic painter. (27) They all point to the messiness of realism. In the end, Champfleury's paradoxical moments and the reasons for his rescue are those that teach us the most about the intricacies of realism and its role in defining modernity. Learning the lessons of Champfleury's rehabilitation inevitably necessitates a reconsideration of how realism was understood during the period and how it has the ability to both create and question the categorizations of literary history.
Department of Modern Literatures and Cultures
University of Richmond
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(1.) These more obscure figures received more attention in Michael Fried's Manet's Modernism (see especially chapter three). Fried argues for the importance of a particular generation of artists of which Manet was a member, especially Alphonse Legros. Still, these artists remain firmly in the shadow of the more iconic figures in Fantin-Latour's painting in such a way that still makes Champfleury difficult to place entirely in either category: iconic or obscure.
(2.) What I mean by a non-fictional account is that Le Realisme represents an account or explanation of realism that does not have to be gleaned from a preface or work of fiction. It is also written by a practicing realist, and not by a critic of the movement.
(3.) One of the reasons for the need to rescue Champfleury in the first place was his association in literary history with realism in its most naive and imitative state; Champfleury's realism had even been referred to as almost a "pathological condition" (Uffenbeck 73). Also see: Michelle Bloom, Heather McPherson, and Daniel Sangsue. Although Bloom asserts that while Champfleury prefigures Zola's naturalism and also "recalls the Balzacian fantastic," (Bloom 115) she still sees Champfleury's imaginative moments as inherently contradictory, even "diametrically opposed" to his theory of realism (119). In the preface to an edition of Champfleury's Le Violon de faience, editor Michael Weatherhilt makes a case for the importance and originality of Champfleury's writings. Although Weatherhilt for the most part defends Champfleury and his importance to nineteenth-century literary history, he also associates Champfleury with a devotion to transparent, prosaic realism.
(4.) The association of Champfleury with the most naive sort of realism also informs how his books are marketed. A reprint of Champfleury's short story "Le Chien des musiciens" published in 1997 proclaims on the back cover: "Champfleury n'est pas un realiste mais un 'chercheur de realite'. Comme Nerval." The possible re-marketing of Champfleury is linked to distancing him from a "realist" project. In addition, Champfleury is compared to an author certainly not classified as a doctrinal realist, in fact far from it--Nerval.
(5.) Daniel Sangsue borrows Emile Bouvier's three categories of Champfleury from his 1913 study of realism: "fantaisie," "excentricite," and "realisme." A 1990 exhibition at the Musee d'Orsay also established three categories for Champfleury's work: "vie boheme," "realisme," and "erudit," for the latter part of his life when he became "conservateur du Musee de la manufacture de Sevres." It should be pointed out that the d'Orsay exhibition upheld these categories while Sangsue seeks to analyze and question them.
(6.) The divisions between these categories have, of course, been challenged and the relationship between "fantaisie" and realism has been firmly established, especially in recent scholarship (see especially Sandrine Berthelot's L'Esthetique de la derision dans les romans de la periode realiste en France [1850-1870]). Most scholars, however, still do maintain a fundamental distinction in Champfleury's oeuvre that involves a rejection of the "bohemian" for the sake of realism in the 1850s. I am not as much interested in dividing Champfleury's work into periods; rather, I am interested in why and how realism makes those divisions acutely problematic and how hybridity was always a part of Champfleury's style and method.
(7.) Even Berthelot's L'Esthetique de la derision, a work that establishes how "fantaisie" and "derision" were the foundational origins of realism, still states that there was a "reniement de la boheme" in Champfleury to make way for his realist novels, suggesting an incompatibility between the two (see chapter 2 of Berthelot).
(8.) For a discussion of how "L'Homme aux figures de cire" relates to the politics of the period, see Jennifer Forrest.
(9.) Mauries writes, "L'icone du realisme se transforme, en un tour ironique et radical de l'histoire, en embleme de deconstruction" (iii). The remarketing of Champfleury thus sets up realism and deconstruction as incompatible (the "icon of realism" has to transform himself in order to become an "emblem of deconstruction").
(10.) And yet, even this simplicity was not always sincere. As Jean-Marie Seillan has remarked on this novel, "Theoricien d'un realisme fonde sur l'adhesion immediate du langage au monde, il [Champfleury] produit un roman rempli de refractions et de mediations litteraires. Defenseur d'un art capable de toucher le 'peuple du boulevard,' il manipule une tradition savante" (112).
(11.) The fact that I am citing the 1857 edition of Le Realisme suggests a question: has Champfleury really been fully rescued? Aside from a 1973 reprint (Hermann) and recent facsimile and scanned copies, the 1857 edition of Le Realisme remains the easiest to find (now fully searchable on Google Books). Scanned and digital versions of nineteenth-century editions of other Champfleury works are becoming more available, especially through Broche and Hachette, but finding recently edited livres de poche (non-trade paperback), or even digital edited volumes, remains difficult. I also think his rehabilitation has thus far been more of a phenomenon of French and Canadian rather than American scholarship in French literary studies.
(12.) For more on why Champfleury would engage Sand in a discussion of realism, see Catherine Nesci.
(13.) Here, Champfleury almost preempts a deconstructionist reading, suggesting himself that his text is already intentionally undone and unraveling its own discourse.
(14.) See Barthes's S/Z.
(15.) Zola was himself "rescued" from relative obscurity first through an emphasis on the sociopolitical (following the Second World War), but then primarily by the establishment of a Zola "poetics," by pointing out what was invented in Zola, what was contrary to positivism and realism. See Henri Mitterand and David Baguley.
(16.) This appeal to the popular might also be rhetorical; since Champfleury is writing to Sand, someone he knows to be sympathetic to the cause of les ouvriers, this comment may also have been a way to ingratiate himself.
(17.) Scholars have nuanced the divide between realism and romanticism for decades, but Michel Brix's article provides a new questioning of the division specifically in the context of Champfleury.
(18.) There are too many examples to cite, but two of note would be Berthelot (292-93) and Brix (138).
(19.) Isabelle Daunais has recently written about the difficulty that the "recherche du reel" posed for the status of the art object. If a work of art is "true," showing a piece of the world as it can be observed, then this threatens to erase its status as art object. In order to preserve the status of a work as art, according to Daunais, Champfleury places the artist, as she puts it, "au coeur de la representation" (34-35). Daunais' article is a fascinating take on Champfleury, and she finds better terms for his more "literal" moments ("recherche de sincerite," "justesse"), but her argument is more focused on adding a layer of complexity to Champfleury's "prosaic" moments rather than engaging the hybridity and inherent dissonance in his work.
(20.) "la reference obsessionnelle au 'concret' [...] est toujours armee comme une machine de guerre contre le sens" (Barthes, (Euvres completes 2: 483).
(21.) Even in Spectacles of Realism, a collection of articles that did so much to further nuance the concept, Christopher Prendergast writes in the introduction, "if the nineteenth century is the age of the flowering of realism as a set of literary and pictorial practices, it is not the age of its sophisticated conceptual articulation (famously, the nineteenth century, whether in terms of defense or attack, theorized the idea of realism in exceptionally naive terms)" (Cohen and Prendergast 2). Prendergast argues that the more sophisticated conception of realism belongs to the twentieth century, and I think this is in part because of the phenomenon I note here, that we continue to take the nineteenth-century claim to the real at face value even as we nuance what surrounded it.
(22.) Indeed, much of the recent work on Champfleury has pointed to this, remarking on "l'extreme mobilite" of Champfleury's approaches to realism (Seillan 105), on realism as presenting a "polyvalence semantique" (Brix 134), and to a "variety" of realisms (Berthetot 320).
(23.) See Dolan (25 of manuscript).
(24.) In Manet, Wagner, and the Musical Culture of Their Time. All of my quotations here are from the unpublished manuscript pages, with the permission of the author.
(25.) From Dolan: "Champfleury's preening competitiveness marked him early as a combatant and one searching eagerly for a standard to bear. He found it in the Realist movement, to which his name would be forever attached, despite his eventual break with Courbet" (3-4). Though Champfleury clearly championed many aspects of different theories of realism, be also used realism to further a broader reputation and agenda. As Dolan writes, "Alert to the controversy surrounding Courbet's Salon debut, Champfleury seized the occasion to sharpen his growing penchant for art criticism to propound a type of imagery and an aesthetic that would distinguish his taste from the reigning Romantic tradition [...] When he wrote in criticism the contre is more useful than the pour, Champfleury essentially defined his aesthetic stance as one built on cultural barricades erected to defend his protagonists against entrenched ideas of appropriate aesthetic norms" (4).
(26.) See Dolan chapter 4.
(27.) See Dolan's comparison of Courbet's L'Atelier du peintre and Manet's Musique aux Tuileries in chapter 4 of Manet, Wagner, and the Musical Culture of their Time. Dolan also notes how Courbet mocks the notion of Courbet and Champfleury supposedly carrying the "banner of realism" with the curtain bearing the initials "GC" hanging over Champfleury's head in the painting (25, manuscript page). Michael Fried notes how Fantin-Latour's painting confused the critics of the time: why do the figures turn away from the painting in a supposed homage and what are realists doing grouped around a Romantic painter to begin with? (see chapter 3 of Manet's Modernism).
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|Publication:||Nineteenth-Century French Studies|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2013|
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