Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

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Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

Frauds, Hoaxes, and Counterfeits Scott Carpenter Aesthetics of N ineteenth- F r audulence in C entur y F r ance F

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Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France Frauds, Hoaxes, and Counterfeits

Scott Carpenter

Aesthetics of N ineteenth-

F r audulence in C entur y F r ance

F or Anne .uctuat nec mer gitur

Aesthetics of F raudulence in N ineteenth-C entury F rance F rauds, H oaxes, and C ounterfeits

S cott Ca rpenter Carleton College, USA

© S cott C arpenter 2009 All rights reserved. N o part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. S cott C arpenter has asserted his right under the C opyright, D esigns and Patents Act, 1988, to be identi.ed as the author of this work. Published by Ashgate Publishing C ompany Ashgate Publishing L imited Wey C ourt E ast S uite 420 U nion R oad 101 C herry S treet F arnham Burlington S urrey, GU 9 7PT VT 05401-4405 E ngland US A British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data C arpenter, S cott, 1958 Aesthetics of fraudulence in nineteenth-century F rance : frauds, hoaxes, and counterfeits. 1. F raud in literature. 2. Impostors and imposture in literature. 3. F rench literature–19th century–H istory and criticism. I. T itle 840.9’355’09034-dc22 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data C arpenter, S cott, 1958 Aesthetics of fraudulence in nineteenth-century F rance : frauds, hoaxes, and counterfeits / S cott C arpenter. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-7546-6807-7 (alk. paper) – ISBN 978-0-7546-9631-5 (ebook) 1. F rench literature–19th century–H istory and criticism. 2. F raud in literature. 3. D eception in literature. 4. Impostors and imposture in literature. 5. L iterary forgeries and mystifications–History–19th century. 6. Authenticity (Philosophy) 7. Literature and society–F rance–H istory–19th century. I. T itle. PQ283.C 24 2009 840.9’353–dc22 ISBN 9780754668077 (hbk) ISBN 9780754696315 (ebk.V)


C ontents List of Illustrations   Acknowledgments   A Note on Translations  

vii xi xiii


Introduction: C aveat L ector  


Violent H oaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped T ext  



Political Prostheses and Imperial Impostors  



T he Ghosts of Kings  



Balzac’s Skillful Disguise  



Vidocq and the Image of the C ounterfeit  



F alse Genders: S and’s Gabriel  



Baudelaire and the O riginality of the C opy  



National Effigies and Counterfeits: Baudelaire’s Pauvre Belgique!  



C onclusions: F utures of the F alse  


Bibliography   Index  


177 185

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L ist of Illustrations 3.1

“C ’est étonnant, comme il ressemble à son oncle! ....” La revue comique, No. 2 (1848), 17. Author’s personal collection.



“L es deux sosies.” La revue comique, No. 4 (1848), 56; reproduced from the British newspaper, The Literary Pioneer. Author’s personal collection.



“L ’habit ne fait pas le moine.” La revue comique, No. 2 (1848), 9. Author’s personal collection.



“Pour préparer le prince à ses hautes destinées et lui apprendre tout ce qui concerne son état, on lui enseigne à apprivoiser un aigle; mais l’aigle, qui n’aime pas ces gens-là, le mord—et crânement!” La revue comique, No. 2 (1848), 17. Author’s personal collection.



“L ’effet que ça ferait sur la colonne.” La revue comique, No. 1 (1848), 44. Author’s personal collection.



“L a farce est jouée.” La revue comique, No. 4 (1848), 47. Author’s personal collection.



“U n nouveau 18 brumaire.” La revue comique, No. 8 (1848), 119. Author’s personal collection.



“En 1848 nous avions Louis-Philippe; si Louis Bonaparte nous arrivait en 1849 [...] 1849 serait l’an pire. H i! hi! hi!” La revue comique, No. 1 (1848), 14. Author’s personal collection.



“Expédition de Strasbourg: —Mon pon ami, che souis le fils de l’empereur, et che fous nomme maréchal de F rance. Pufez ceite fer de rhoum: être pien pon!” La revue comique, No. 2 (1848), 20. Author’s personal collection.



Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

3.10 “—Ponchour, mon ami; criez: fife l’Embereur… che reviens te S ainte H élène [...]—F arceur, vous m’faites plutôt l’effet de r’venir de Pontoise!” La revue comique, No. 2 (1848), 26. Author’s personal collection.


4.1 Plate of the Monument expiapoire from La caricature politique, morale, religieuse, littéraire et scénique, No. 84 (June 7, 1832). McCormick Library of Special Collections, N orthwestern U niversity L ibrary.



Untitled. Collection de Vinck, No. P24206. Bibliothèque nationale de F rance.



Untitled. Collection de Vinck, No. P24230. Bibliothèque nationale de F rance.



“R egrets de la famille royale des Bourbons sur le tombeau de Louis XVI.” Collection de Vinck, No. P24217. Bibliothèque nationale de F rance.



“L a F rance transmet à l’immortalité le testament de L ouis XVI.” Collection de Vinck, No. M107883. Bibliothèque nationale de F rance.



“T ranslation des dépouilles mortelles du roi L ouis XVI, et de la reine Marie-Antoinette, à S aint-D enis, le 21 janvier 1815.” Collection de Vinck, No. M107880. Bibliothèque nationale de F rance.



“T ranslation à S t. D enis des corps de L ouis XVI et de Marie-Antoinette.” Collection de Vinck, No. M107882. Bibliothèque nationale de F rance.


4.8 T he Chapelle expiatoire. Author’s personal collection.


4.9 T ombs at the R oyal Basilica at S aint-D enis. Author’s personal collection.


4.10 S tatues orantes. Author’s personal collection.



Gerrit D ou, The Dropsical Woman, 1662. E rich L essing / Art R esource, NY . 


List of Illustrations


David Ryckaert, An Alchemist (also known as The Quack Doctor), 1640. C ourtesy of the S an D iego Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. H enry A. E verett. 



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Acknowledgments N othing is more tiresome than to read expressions of gratitude—unless, of course, you are the person being thanked. In fact, one would be tempted to skip acknowledgments altogether were it not that such a silence would create an impression of authorial autonomy. T hat would be a lie. In this volume I discuss (among other things) cases of authorial pseudonyms—those noms de plume by which a writer may attempt to conceal his authorship—but it is useful to point out that all authors are pseudonymous to varying degrees, and the presence of my name on the cover in fact obscures the various people who have had a hand (or at least a voice) in the following pages. My thanks go to quite a crowd: Kevin Newmark, for his keen insights, his probing questions, and his friendship; Antonia Fonyi, whose persistent encouragements to work on Mérimée led, in some circuitous way, to beginnings of this book; Anne Maple, for her patience, support, and willingness to listen to half-baked ideas; Jessie S inger, for her assistance in translating into E nglish some of the pages that originally appeared in French; Abi Celis, for her sharp proof-reading eye; JeanC laude S usini and C atherine N esci, for their useful and thoughtful comments concerning Baudelaire; Daniel Sangsue, for his advice about ghosts and vampires; Maria S cott, for a truly superb reading of the draft manuscript, including a full complement of suggestions; a multitude of other colleagues whose questions and comments nudged my thinking in various directions; the participants in French 356 (Spring 2002) at Carleton College, whose collaborative research project shaped my reading of Sand; the Centre Culturel de Cerisy-la-Salle, for hosting the colloquium on Prosper Mérimée; Carleton College, for its generous support of the research leading to this volume; the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, for a grant supporting the final stages of this project. Oh, and lest I forget: the Bibliothèque nationale de France, for the books, and the Cabinet des estampes for many of the images. Finally, I would be remiss not to thank the staff at Ashgate Publishing for their invaluable assistance—especially my editor, Ann Donahue; her assistant, Whitney Feininger; the humanities editor, Emily Ruskell; and my proof-reader, Rebecca du Plessis. Their crisp and professional work made the process a pleasure. S ome materials in this volume have appeared elsewhere in exploratory or partial versions. A portion of chapter 2 appeared in “S upercherie et violence: Mérimée, ou le texte piégé,” in Romantisme (special issue), No. 116 (2002), 49-58; part of chapter 3 can be found in “Les faux Démétrius: L es ratés de l’histoire,” Prosper Mérimée: Écrivain, archéologue, historien, ed. Antonia F onyi (Geneva: Droz, 1999), 63-74, another version of which appeared in English as “O f F alse N apoleons and O ther Political Prostheses: Writing O ppositionally


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

from the S econd E mpire,” in Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Vol. 25, No. 3-4 (Spring-Summer, 1997), 302-19; chapter 9 draws on “Effigies et contrefaçons nationales: Pauvre Belgique! de Baudelaire,” in L’œuvre d’identité: Essais sur le romantisme de Nodier à Baudelaire, Montreal: Paragraphes, 1996, 75-86; small sections of chapters 1 and 8 appeared in “La généalogie du faux: vers ‘L a fausse monnaie,’” in Mélire: Lecture et mystification, ed. N athalie Preiss (Paris: Editions L’improviste, 2006), 35-45; some ideas within chapter 8 also appeared in “E ntre rue et boulevard: L es chemins de l’allégorie chez Baudelaire,” in Romantisme, Vol. 136 (December 2006), 55-65.

A N ote on T ranslations U nless otherwise noted, all translations in the following pages are “my own.” Why the ironic quotes? Because although I accept responsibility for these renderings into E nglish, I can’t quite claim ownership for them. In many cases—especially in Baudelaire’s poetry—I have leaned on the work of translators whose products were aesthetically superior to mine. T he efforts of these more gifted predecessors have served as a garde-fou—a kind of a safety railing, or, more etymologically, a hedge against translation madness, where one breathes new and inappropriate meanings into a text. O f course, translation is always an interpretation, but I have attempted to resist bolstering my readings by taking liberties with the translations. If I occasionally eviscerate the poetic qualities of a text, this is generally due to the need to display its entrails, underscoring the function of particular words or images. In other cases (such as newspaper articles or caricature captions), I have used my own translations simply because no version exists in E nglish. And when untranslatable elements (such as rhyme or rhythm) are important to the argument, I have aimed to explain them for the benefit of anglophone reader.

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C hapter 1

Introduction: C aveat L ector With a title like The Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France, you might well expect this volume to consist of a series of yarns—tales of bookish intrigue revealing a world of carnivals and hucksters. I suppose there is a little bit of all that. But not much. I should warn you about that right away. F eeling cheated already? Misled? I understand. I even sympathize. But how did you think you could trust a book with such a title? Besides, the title of this chapter warns you to be wary. Did you believe the work would be less performative than descriptive—that the title was a shorthand way of saying, “Between my covers I will speak of lies and lying, but I will do so honestly”? That is, after all, the hallmark of literary criticism, especially as authorized by the colophon of an academic press: “I will speak of fiction, but without committing it myself.” Fair enough. But be forewarned: as we shall see, the line between fraudulence and its supposed opposites is blurred. Indeed, this is why so many people—critics, scholars, readers—believe in policing the borders of authenticity with such vim, and one of the reasons why works branded as mystifications tend to suffer unenviable fates in literary histories. Still, rest assured that this book aims more to interrogate the boundaries of fraudulence than to inhabit them: I mean to investigate how falseness has been constructed and defined aesthetically in nineteenth-century France. Nothing would be so foolish as to assert that the nineteenth century somehow created the ruse—indeed, the literary manifestations of such artifice extend back at least as far as The Odyssey (Jeandillou 7-9)—and so our goals will be more modest. The premise of the present investigation is that notions of falseness are by necessity always in flux, and that the shape they adopt informs our understanding of the preoccupations of a particular time and place. T hus, the false, designed initially to conceal, can actually reveal much. T his is especially true at times when issues of falseness are particularly sensitive—which, I will argue, is the case in postR evolutionary F rance, extending through much of the nineteenth century. Moreover, there is no sense in which we have “outgrown” our preoccupations with falseness today, for those who flout the imperatives of authenticity continue to leave anxiety in their wake. When a Frenchman, Jack-Alain Léger, began in 1997 to write with success under the name of a Moroccan immigrant, Paul S maïl, the ploy became the center of debate in identity politics. (It didn’t help that JackAlain Léger was already a pseudonym—one of many that Daniel Théron has used.)    Although initially heralded as a fresh new voice speaking for the beur community, once Smaïl was unmasked as Léger, and Léger unmasked as Théron, the literary merits of

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

In 2001 it was the turn of Yasmina Khadra, whose works had given voice to the plight and perspective of women in North Africa; however, when Khadra revealed “herself” to be Mohammed Moulessehoul, a former Algerian army officer who had adopted a pen name to avoid military censorship, there were those who felt they had been had. S omewhat earlier, when Jean Baudrillard turned the idea of fraudulence on its head, suggesting that a “real” event (the Gulf War of 1991) was an illusion, he rocked the popular media. T hese examples are not isolated incidents: they represent an ongoing and evolving trend, and they demonstrate how a preoccupation with the false is still active in much of today’s society, in F rance and beyond. And this hybridity—the interpenetration of the literary, economic, and political spheres evident in these examples—was already present in the emergence of a culture of fraudulence in the nineteenth century. T he attentive reader will already have noted some lexical slippage here: from frauds, hoaxes, and counterfeits we have now expanded the thesaurus to include such terms as fraudulence, falseness, the false, artifice, ruse, simulacrum, and even fiction itself. I could go on—there are tricks, swindles, cons, pranks, jokes, practical jokes, spoofs, deceptions, subterfuges, feints, wiles, slight-ofhand, legerdemain, monkey business, mystifications, impostures, supercheries, fumisteries, canulars. The list is long, and one finds oneself gliding from one term to another without good reason, as if pulling a rhetorical “fast one,” substituting terms in a long lexical chain that, in the end, only creates the illusion of a logical argument. (After all, such a process occurs with alarming frequency in literary and cultural analysis.) It is a slippery lexical slope, and at its bottom we find that giant, all-encompassing pool of literature, where our subject seems to become no less than… everything. After all, what is literature if not the creation of a false world, an endlessly embellished untruth? It has been suggested that the history of fraudulence in literature begins with Homer—in part because we know that Homer is a kind of disembodied pseudonym for a multitude of authors (Ruthven 42), and in part because The Odyssey is, among other things, the saga of O dysseus’s manifold tricks (Jeandillou 8). As others have pointed out before me, literature (or, more generally, art) is always already a kind of fake, for it creates an illusory world in which its reader is asked, for a time, to believe. As Philippe H amon writes, literary mystifications are really a concentration of the literary; he calls it “une sorte de fiction au carré, de fiction dans la fiction” [“a kind of fiction squared, of the work came into question. Some critics—especially those with ties to government—saw Léger’s manipulation of identities as strongly repugnant (Begag 56-7).   In 1999 Benjamin S tora cited Khadra as an example of how the literary scene in Algeria came, after 1995, to be dominated by women (Stora 89-90).    Baudrillard, La guerre du Golfe n’a pas eu lieu.   Perhaps no illustration of the irreducible articulation between literature and falseness has been better developed than Jacques D errida’s reading of Baudelaire’s “L a fausse monnaie” in Donner le temps. See also Ruthven’s reflections on this point (Faking Literature 49).

Introduction: Caveat Lector

fiction within fiction”] (Hamon 3). Still, though it may be useful to bear in mind the kinship between literature and fakery, a hasty fusion of the two would leave us casting our net too broadly to be of much methodological use, and we will do well to narrow our focus and define our terms, however provisional these definitions may be. Jacques D errida, in the context of an analysis of Baudelaire, set the following standard as the sine qua non for fakes: “La condition générale de la fausse monnaie consiste à faire passer une fiction pour ‘vraie’” [“The general condition of counterfeit money is to make a fiction pass for ‘fact’”] (Donner le temps, I 122). One can easily see how such an assertion might extend to most fiction, where the reader is expected to embrace (at least for a time) the reality of the world the narrative provides. It is all the more resonant in the context of the realist tradition the nineteenth century was to champion: when Balzac exclaims “All is true!” in the opening passage of Le père Goriot, we enter into a transaction, pretending to accept the fiction as legal tender. In fact, fakes of all sorts (literary and otherwise) have a crucial link with realism, regardless of the tradition from which they spring. Although the entanglements and operations of falsity have drawn a good deal of attention over the past several years, the field remains somewhat untidy. A few recent studies have begun to put some order in this house. Jean-F rançois Jeandillou’s L’esthétique de la mystification, for example, does a superb job of cataloging the various categories of pseudonymous writers and apocryphal texts—which, as he points out, was more the rule than the exception in the nineteenth century, ranging from H onoré de Balzac (the “de” of his name was already a fabrication) to Stendhal (a.k.a. Henri Beyle), to George Sand (Aurore Dupin, baronne Dudevant), and to Nerval (a.k.a. Gérard Labrunie), just to name a few of the major players. In an impressive display of hair-splitting, Jeandillou separates out the categories of mystification, supercherie, fumisterie, and canular, and it is with some regret that I will now reunite these strands, if only provisionally. T he fact is that each of these words is used in multiple, overlapping ways, and a rigorous taxonomy would appear neither possible nor terribly useful in the present enterprise. E ven a notion as seemingly clear-cut as “counterfeit” quickly takes on a myriad of facets when any pressure is applied: referring not just to the contrefaçon littéraire (that is, the practice of publishing unauthorized copies of new works, usually by editors across the border), the counterfeit arises also as a literary theme (Balzac’s Vautrin is a counterfeiter), a model and metaphor for literary production (as seen in Gide’s Faux-monnayeurs), and even as a political image (see chapter 3). The problem of developing a stable terminology derives in part from the relative novelty of 

 R uthven provides a thorough survey of the various attempts by scholars to nail down an appropriate terminology: see pp. 34-62 of Faking Literature. H is own preference for the term “spuriosity” is no more precise than the others, but has the benefit of unfamiliarity, which leaves it somewhat less marked by the pejorative or dismissive associations of competing terms.

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

this area of study, but I would assert that it also reflects an inherent difficulty in the nature of the subject. After all, the practice of defining terms has to do with marking out their limits (the Latin definire signifies the drawing of boundaries), and fraudulence in its various forms is precisely that which subverts or blurs boundaries, effacing the distinctions between what is and is not. T his problem of blurred boundaries has encouraged scholars to focus on extreme cases—that is, on cases far removed from the troublesome and shared parentage between fiction and fakery. Such studies tend to focus on modes of literary production, leading to a vast bibliography concerning pseudonymous publications, plagiarisms, and literary spoofs. T hese studies are resolutely extra-textual: there is thus more written about James Macpherson’s fabrication of O ssian in the 1760s than there is about a preoccupation with falseness inside the Ossianic texts; similarly, while many know about the hoaxes perpetrated by Prosper Mérimée in the 1820s—such as the publication of translations for which no originals existed—there is little analysis of the obsession with falseness that pervades the works themselves. T he particular contribution of this study, then, is that I propose to nudge the study of frauds toward the textual, examining how a growing preoccupation with falseness in nineteenth-century F rance results not only in the proliferation of publishing masquerades, but also in a reshaping of certain forms of literary discourse. Moreover, as is consistent with the problem of boundaries, the analyses I propose occasionally stray from literature in a conventional sense, reaching into the fields of journalism, caricature, and even political history. Although these may be considered separate fields, they are hardly distinct, and on many occasions a political commentary may attempt to pass itself off as “mere” fiction, or public ceremonies may seek to obscure their own fictitiousness. T hus the mosaic of terminological distinctions laboriously excavated by Jeandillou and others, focusing often on production or effects, will be of limited utility in the present study—all the more so because different authors and practices define their relationship to fraudulence differently: in this survey of the various avatars of the false, some texts revel in masquerades while others struggle to eliminate them. The definition of the term, and its positive or negative valence, will vary from case to case. Armed—or perhaps burdened—with these disclaimers, let us hazard a simple working definition of the fraudulent: •

It is an attempt to deceive. Without deception (of someone by someone), fraudulence does not exist. Because deception implies concealment, there is a necessary duplicity, a doubling of layers, that implies (but does not guarantee) the presence of a truth. Deception is necessarily interpersonal (or intrapersonal, in the case of self-deception); its staging may be entirely

  T his tradition begins with Quérard’s colossal Les supercheries littéraires dévoilées (1847-53), published in five volumes—later expanded by Gustave Brunet and Pierre Jannet in 1869-70. The cataloging of pseudonymous works is an endless process.

Introduction: Caveat Lector

intratextual (depending on the interplay between characters, for instance), or it may cross over textual boundaries to include ruses perpetrated by an author and suffered by a reader. (There are, of course, an infinite number of permutations of this basic schema.) It is intentional. H owever fraught the notion of intent may be in literary studies, we will need to recover some version of it for our purposes. F raudulence does not exist without a motive, and it cannot occur by accident. Without intent, deception becomes merely a mistake, stupidity. (We will see later how Baudelaire elaborates on this point.) It is thus a deliberate attempt to deceive. In painterly terms, one might understand this as the distinction between religious art—which aspires to transmit a truth, even though its form may not be realistic—and trompe l’œil, that undervalued phenomenon of Baroque art that lays a visual trap for the viewer. In our study, intention may be fictive or hypothetical—or even imagined—but some shadow of it is required. It may be multiple: one trick may conceal another, and they may operate at different levels. Such multifaceted falsifications may conceal different things in different ways from different publics.

T his much seems evident. O f course, described in such general terms, there is nothing particularly new about the art of deception as a literary presence: one finds it in the trickster plays of the Middle Ages (see La farce de maître Patelin), all the way through Molière’s Tartuffe, and beyond. In fact, any claim that the nineteenth century witnesses a change in the handling of fraudulence will need to confront the overwhelming number of authorial ruses played (often to considerable effect) throughout the eighteenth century. One of the conventions of the epistolary novel, after all, was to insist on the veracity of the letters in question, with the author posing as a mere translator or editor. H ere, for example, is Montesquieu’s pretext, in the preface of the Lettres persanes [Persian Letters] (1721) early in the eighteenth century: Je ne fais donc que l’office de traducteur: toute ma peine a été de mettre l’ouvrage à nos moeurs. J’ai soulagé le lecteur du langage asiatique autant que je l’ai pu, et l’ai sauvé d’une infinité d’expressions sublimes, qui l’auraient ennuyé jusque dans les nues. (Montesquieu 131) [I have merely fulfilled the role of translator: my efforts consisted solely of adapting the work to our mentality. I have spared the reader from Asian expressions as much as possible, and I have saved him from an infinity of sublime expressions that would have bored him to death.]

Twenty-five years—and scores of other examples—later, Mme de Graffigny is able to play the same card to considerable effect in her Lettres d’une Péruvienne (1747):

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France il semble que l’on ne devrait pas craindre de voir passer pour une fiction des L ettres originales, qui ne font que développer ce que nous connaissons déjà de l’esprit vif et naturel des Indiens […] . On connaîtra facilement aux fautes de grammaire et aux négligences du style combien on a été scrupuleux de ne rien dérober à l’esprit d’ingénuité qui règne dans cet ouvrage. (Graffigny 249) [it seems that there is no reason to fear that these original letters should be taken for a fiction, for they merely develop what we already know of the lively and natural spirit of Indians […]. The grammatical errors and stylistic weaknesses bear ample testimony to our scrupulous effort to leave intact the spirit of innocence that reigns in this work.]

And as the century approached its turn, the vast number of real collections of published letters facilitated L aclos’s very similar attempt to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the “Préface du rédacteur” [“E ditor’s Preface”] of Les liaisons dangereuses [Dangerous Liaisons] (1782): C et ouvrage, ou plutôt ce recueil, que le public trouvera peut-être encore trop volumineux, ne contient pourtant que le plus petit nombre des lettres qui composaient la totalité de la correspondance dont il est extrait. C hargé de la mettre en ordre par les personnes à qui elle était parvenue […] je n’ai demandé […] que la permission d’élaguer tout ce qui me paraîtrait inutile. (Laclos 5) [This work, or rather this collection, which the public will perhaps still find too voluminous, contains in fact a small number of the letters comprising the entire correspondence from which it is drawn. C harged with the duty of organizing it by the persons in whose hands it had arrived […] I asked only […] to be allowed to trim whatever struck me as superfluous.]

S uch simple ploys were often effective—at least early in the eighteenth century— and provide ample evidence of the public desire to believe. H owever, Kris Peters has pointed to their flagging efficacy after the 1830s, requiring authors to vary their tactics if they hoped to achieve the same effects (Peters 247). Indeed, Jean-Paul Sermain has asserted that authors were progressively less interested in “taking in” their reader; the topos of the “found manuscript” or the “mere translation” may have continued through the century, but readers were generally aware of the gambit. The supposed mystification had become part of the game, and the fiction of authenticity served as a mere frame for the false universe one was about to enter (Sermain 27-9). These editorial ruses remained on the threshold of the work, in prefaces, forewords, and “translator’s notes,” usually limiting themselves to assertions about the provenance of the text. Within the novels themselves, deceit may be important for dramatic reasons (for example, as an obstacle to overcome), but the actual definition of fraudulence remains unproblematic. In other words, Montesquieu

Introduction: Caveat Lector

can mock the obvious hypocrisies of the church or the state with verve, but his parodic flourishes do not call into question the integrity of “true” and “false” as desirable and sustainable categories. Or, in Graffigny’s Lettres d’une Péruvienne the division between real and authentic remains clear, and the vestal Zilia finds herself regularly using these practical categories (to her dismay) as she assesses the villainies of her betrothed Aza, the manipulations of her suitor D éterville, or the hypocrisies of her F rench hosts. Without conferring any originary status to L aclos, let us point out that a dramatic departure from this ontologically stable arrangement becomes evident in Les liaisons dangereuses, where problems of deception and resolution are not restricted to the preface. Although the perfidy of Valmont might bring to mind a host of duplicitous, libertine protagonists, the drama of the novel is less concerned with lecherous seductions than it is with a more philosophical kind of promiscuity. T rapped in a web of ambiguities, and unable to decipher the persiflage— significantly, this word becomes prominent in the late eighteenth century (Chartier 5-21)—of Madame de Merteuil, Valmont’s tragic end is inextricably linked to his inability to distinguish between fact and fiction, between truth and deception. In short, by the time of Les liaisons dangereuses, something is astir, and the relationship between deceit and authenticity has become complex. O ne might be tempted to dismiss this problem as symptomatic of the libertine novel, as if this genre—with its emphasis on seduction and deception—were somehow more akin to fraudulence than other fiction. Such an assertion would allow us to nudge libertine novels toward the margin (as, in fact, has been the longstanding fate of most of Sade’s work), branding it as exterior to literature. Variations of that move have been practiced again and again in the history of literary criticism: when fraudulence is developed thematically, as a literary subject, all is well; however, there is little tolerance when we suspect a text of breaking implicit literary rules. We know and accept that fiction is pretence; but when novels pretend not to be novels, or pretend to be other kinds of novels than they appear to be, readers cease to take them seriously. As soon as fraudulence is not just subject matter, but has contaminated the mode of literary production, the works in question move to the margin. Thus have we tended to relegate apocryphal works, hoaxes, jokes, plagiarisms, and other sibling genres to the status of the paraliterary. (An excellent example of this gesture of exclusion concerns the work of Prosper Mérimée, dealt with in chapter 2.) In any case, Les liaisons dangereuses exemplifies a text that relies on fraudulence in a number of ways: it masks its own mode of production (in the “editor’s” preface), it develops the widespread theme of hypocrisy, and it introduces the notion of the fake as a problem of representation and language: indeed, the “tragedy” portrayed in Les liaisons dangereuses has little to do with the morality tale embedded within the novel, concerning instead the inability of anyone to adequately distinguish between fake and authentic. By the end of the book we, the readers, find ourselves in the position of Valmont, the master manipulator, who no longer knows the difference between truth and deception. The lines have blurred.

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

T his is not an isolated example. At approximately the same time as L aclos’s novel a subtle philosophical debate is beginning on the tangled relationship between truth and falsehood—one that will be especially germane to the field of aesthetics. As might be expected, it is in somewhat “marginal” texts that one finds the debate in its most prominent forms. T hus, in Le neveu de Rameau—which qualifies as marginal in part for its chronology (due to the gap between its writing and its publication), but also because it is a marginal genre about a marginal character—D iderot begins to deal with the philosophical problem of fraudulence explicitly. Written in 1762, but not published until 1805 (first in German, then in French—translated from the German edition—in 1821), the text stages a philosophical dialog between “Lui” (Rameau’s nephew), and “Moi” (the lightly fictionalized persona of Diderot). In contradistinction to Jean-Philippe R ameau, the composer and theoretician who revolutionized F rench music with his Treatise on Harmony (1722), the nephew is an incongruous madcap, a pique-assiette who scams his meals or earns them by buffoonery. H overing at the margin of society, he balances cajolery with insult, leaving his host unsettled in his opinions and in a constant state of ambivalence. The narrator is never quite sure when to take his companion’s assertions seriously or when to dismiss them as malarkey. As R ameau’s nephew reveals in the conversation, he achieves his delicate balance between the outrageous and the credible by a careful study of nothing other than fraudulence: Ainsi quand je lis l’Avare; je me dis: sois avare, si tu veux; mais garde-toi de parler comme l’avare. Quand je lis le Tartuffe, je me dis: sois hypocrite, si tu veux; mais ne parle pas comme l’hypocrite. Garde des vices qui te sont utiles; mais n’en aie ni le ton ni les apparences qui te rendraient ridicule. Pour se garantir de ce ton, de ces apparences, il faut les connaître. Or, ces auteurs en ont fait des peintures excellentes. Je suis moi et je reste ce que je suis; mais j’agis et je parle comme il convient. (Le neveu de Rameau 60) [S o, when I read The Miser, I tell myself: be stingy, if you want; but don’t speak like the miser. When I read Tartuffe, I tell myself: be hypocritical, if you want; but don’t speak like one. Hold onto the vices that serve you, but avoid their tone and appearance, which would make you ridiculous. To preserve oneself from these tones or appearances, you need to understand them. F ortunately, there are authors who have depicted them well. I am me, and I remain what I am; but I act and I speak as needed.]

R ameau studies the art of deception in literature, and more particularly in theater. And, faithful to the description we have given above, he criticizes traditional literature for making fakes recognizable as fakes. A “real” fake, he argues, should instead have the smack of authenticity. So, he does not read Tartuffe in order to imitate the tone and gestures of hypocrisy, but rather to avoid them. According to R ameau, Molière provides less a model than a counter-example: the honey-

Introduction: Caveat Lector

tongued T artuffe is excessive and exaggerated, whereas R ameau strives to remain faithful to the outward appearance of truth. While Tartuffe’s audience recognizes the duplicity of the eponymous character, those listening to Rameau are taken in by the semblance of transparency. Meanwhile the actor maintains a rigorous distinction between who he is and what he does: “Je suis moi et je reste ce que je suis; mais j’agis et je parle comme il convient” [“I am me, and I remain what I am; but I act and I speak as needed”]. O f course, the nephew’s lesson presents readers with a problem: accepting his conclusions requires that we acknowledge the truth-value of statements about lying as made by an inveterate liar. Such a quandary is well known in philosophy (referred to as E pimenides’ paradox of the C retan liar), and it undermines not only the authenticity of such paradoxical statements, but even (as we shall see later) the very possibility of a stable understanding of authenticity. T he promotion of total duplicity in Le neveu de Rameau foreshadows a more developed statement on the subject by D iderot ten years later. In Le paradoxe sur le comédien (composed around 1773 but not published until 1830), Diderot goes beyond clouding the distinction between true and false; instead, he advances the controversial idea that the quality of art operates in inverse proportion to its sincerity. As in Le neveu de Rameau, he takes his examples from the quintessentially hypocritical world of the stage in order to make an assertion his fictional interlocutor will find counter-intuitive. In short, the voice known as “Le Premier” in the dialogue makes a distinction between those performers who act from the soul (“jouer d’âme,” what we would today call method acting) and those who play their part from the head (“jouer de réflexion”), and he asserts that the most effective actors—those who create an impression of absolute truth—are precisely those who refuse to “lose themselves” in their role, remaining instead (like Rameau’s nephew) resolutely the same, calculating all the effects they wish to produce. In the first case, he presents the problem of fatigue, of the “wear and tear” that results from repetition: S i le comédien était sensible, de bonne foi lui serait-il permis de jouer deux fois de suite un même rôle avec la même chaleur et le même succès? T rès chaud à la première représentation, il serait épuisé et froid comme un marbre à la troisième. (Paradoxe sur le comédien 87)   S ee C hristopher Prendergast’s discussion of this paradox in the context of realist fiction (Prendergast 18-19).    The theatre has a long and troubled history as a purveyor of fraudulence. The Greek word hupocrites—the root for “hypocrite”—denotes the actor.    I have previously evoked the problem of authenticity in Le paradoxe sur le comédien in “L a généalogie du faux,” in Mé-lire, the proceedings of the “Mé-lire” colloquium (Université de Reims, May 2005), and in a conference talk, “The Image of the Counterfeit” at the Nineteenth-Century French Studies Colloquium; Toronto, Canada, October 1998. It is also discussed by Julia Abramson in Learning from Lying.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France [If the actor actually felt the emotions he portrayed, how could he ever give the same performance twice in a row with the same energy and success? All aboil the first time, by the third performance he would be exhausted and as cold as marble.]

His interlocutor—“Le Second”—balks at the notion that sincerity and feeling could actually be a hindrance in the production of art, to which D iderot responds with this description of a theatrical paragon: Quel jeu plus parfait que celui de la C lairon ? C ependant, suivez-la, étudiez-la, et vous serez convaincu qu’à la sixième représentation elle sait par cœur tous les détails de son jeu comme tous les mots de son rôle. […] [C]’est une pure affaire d’exercice de mémoire. […] Je ne doute point que la Clairon n’éprouve le tourment du Quesnoy dans ses premières tentatives ; mais la lutte passée, lorsqu’elle s’est une fois élevée à la hauteur de son fantôme, elle se possède, elle se répète sans émotion. C omme il nous arrive quelquefois dans le rêve, sa tête touche aux nues, ses mains vont chercher les deux confins de l’horizon; elle est l’âme d’un grand mannequin qui l’enveloppe, ses essais l’ont fixé sur elle. N onchalamment étendue sur une chaise longue, les bras croisés, les yeux fermés, immobile, elle peut, en suivant son rêve de mémoire, s’entendre, se voir, se juger et juger les impressions qu’elle excitera. D ans ce moment elle est double: la petite C lairon et la grande Agrippine. (Paradoxe sur le comédien 89-90) [Who performs better than Miss C lairon? And yet, follow her and study her: you’ll be convinced that by the sixth performance she has learned by heart all the details of her performance, just like her lines. […] It has become a simple matter of memory. […] I have no doubt but that Miss Clairon experiences all the torments of Quesnoy when she first struggles with the role; but after she masters it, when she finally rises to the level of this phantom of hers, she is in control, and she repeats herself without emotion. Just as sometimes occurs in dreams, her head has brushed the heavens and her hands reach out toward the horizons; she is the soul of a great mannequin into which she has slipped: her practice has bonded her to it. R eclining nonchalantly on a divan, her arms crossed, her eyes closed, she can still, while following her dream by heart, hear herself, see herself, judge herself—and judge the reactions she is creating [in the public]. At this moment she is double, both little C lairon, and great Agrippine.]

“D ans ce moment elle est double” [“At this moment she is double”]: the pinnacle of art, from this point of view, is achieved not despite, but rather thanks to, duplicity. An actor who pretends to be lost in the character while he repeats the same gestures for the hundredth time is guilty not just of the fakery inherent to the theater, but even of self-deception. It is preferable, D iderot suggests, to deceive lucidly, en toute connaissance de cause.

Introduction: Caveat Lector


Diderot’s reflexions on the question of sincerity are symptomatic of a change. In Le paradoxe sur le comédien, as in Le neveu de Rameau, the fictional interlocutors who occupy the position of “common sense”—and thus implicitly the role of the reader—express shock at the ideas they hear. Indeed, there is something scandalous in D iderot’s assertion of the truth of duplicity, and this scandal may help account for the reasons these essays went unpublished during D iderot’s lifetime. H owever, scandal can only exist in context: transgression is entirely dependent on the presence of a line to cross. F raudulence thus becomes all the more scandalous at times when authenticity is held in especially high esteem—and, in fact, the time period concerning us here is one such moment. It is no accident that the legal apparatus governing copyright and defining plagiarism (as well as addressing counterfeits and other forms of appropriation) comes of age precisely at a time when increased emphasis is placed on individual creativity.10 While the rise of legal definitions in this area reflects longstanding concerns about protecting the financial rights of authors (or, more particularly, of editors, who were the ones taking financial risk when they invested in the publication of new titles), it also mirrors a new direction in aesthetics, one that eschews the cult of imitation espoused by so many classical writers and artists. In F rance this new aesthetic evolves slowly, but it is generally considered to take clear form at the time of a landmark event in literary history—one that was to have considerable impact in the early nineteenth century, thus shaping a certain notion of a certain understanding of what we know as Romanticism. That event is the publication of Germaine de S taël’s De l’Allemagne in 1802. De l’Allemagne has been credited with introducing almost single-handedly German R omantic thought to F rance.11 Whatever the strengths or weaknesses in this introduction to German culture (and there are some of each), what becomes excruciatingly clear in Mme de S taël’s understanding is the primordial role played by authenticity, originality, and transparency. According to S taël, these qualities are deeply rooted in German life and language, and she singles them out as special hallmarks of the new Romantic literature represented by Schilling, Goethe, and others. With great consistency (and considerable repetition) Staël shows how the Germans have turned their back on the tradition of imitation: the rise of R omanticism (a troublesome aesthetic label, which will receive some attention in chapter 2) will usher in the infatuation with the self, along with the cult of

10  O n increased interest in the protection of author’s rights, see N odier’s Questions de littérature légale [Questions about Legal Literature] 1812 (discussed in chapter 10, below). On the rise of literary fakes, see Nick Groom’s study on Macpherson and Chatterton in The Forger’s Shadow. T he development of copyright law corresponds neatly to the rise of Romanticism (see Mark Rose, Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright. 11   Jonathan Isbell argues the case thoroughly and convincingly in The Birth of European Romanticism. On Staël’s influence, see also Michel Brix, “Modernist Beauty versus Platonist Beauty” (Brix 2).


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

originality. Indeed, the R omantic hero, who feels more than he thinks, is the very antithesis of D iderot’s ideal actor. Although R omantic tendencies had been evolving independently west of the R hine (most famously in R ousseau’s Rêveries du promeneur solitaire), Staël’s text was to be so influential that it warrants special attention, for she emphatically underscores the principles of unity and sincerity in her presentation of the German nation. T hus, while singing the praises of the German people—of their language, their country, and their culture—S taël reiterates a number of qualities that constitute their national character, focusing especially on what she calls their “naturel”—that is to say, their straightforwardness, and their repugnance for all things artificial or imitative. S he goes so far as to declare that: [L]es Allemands ont en général de la sincérité et de la fidélité; ils ne manquent presque jamais à leur parole, et la tromperie leur est étrangère […] Les Allemands sentir[aient] qu’on n’est fort que par sa propre nature, et que l’habitude de l’honnêteté rend tout à fait incapable, même quand on le veut, de se servir de la ruse. (Staël, 56) [Germans are generally sincere and true; they almost never fail to keep their word, and deceit is foreign to them […] Germans feel that one is only strong by dint of one’s own nature, and that the long practice of honesty renders one incapable of trickery, even if one wanted to attempt it.]

T his transparency of character will serve as a common denominator in many of her assessments of the Germans. In contrast, S taël reproaches the F rench for becoming mired in imitation. T o imitate, according to her description, consists of aping another person, copying the Ancients, or remaining blindly faithful to literary and social conventions that have lost all vitality. “E n F rance,” she writes, “il semble que l’esprit d’imitation est comme un lien social, et que tout serait en désordre si ce lien ne suppléait pas à l’instabilité des institutions” [“In F rance it seems that the spirit of imitation is like a social bond, and that all would fall apart if this bond weren’t making up for the instability of our institutions”] (106). For Staël, imitation will always be a symptom of weakness, and it explains (at least in the context of De l’Allemagne) all that is wrong in France, ranging from the over-importance of fashion (247-9) to the depletion of certain literary genres. In fact, the servile practice of conforming to classical models renders the F rench hypocritical in S taël’s eyes, for they are copying a tradition that is “not even their own.” Instead, and somewhat paradoxically, she proposes that they follow the German model, which she holds to be fresher and less artificial; these qualities extend even to the German language, which Staël finds refreshingly frank, and not as far removed from language’s “antique naïveté” [“ancient innocence”] (113),12 12  H ere S taël follows the tradition of the philosophes—especially Voltaire and Rousseau—in her idea of a language that weakens as it strays from its origins. With respect

Introduction: Caveat Lector


which keeps words closer to their original meanings. In contrast to French, where persiflage is the order of the day, in German “les paroles dont on se sert sont encore dans toute leur vérité et toute leur force” [“the words one uses still hold all their truth and all their power”] (113). In addition to language, it is in the new literary experiments that German “naïveté” displays its merits. As we know, Staël will define this nascent R omanticism in part as a movement inspired by the age of medieval chivalry, rather than by the Antiquity one finds at the base of classicism. The Middle Ages, closer to German culture in both time and space, are a part of regional or national history, which makes this period, in her words, a more “natural” choice for literary expression. Indeed, the appeal to nature is everywhere in De l’Allemagne, where images of growth and even gardening underscore the organic connection between subject matter and literary expression. According to S taël, R omantic literature is indigenous in F rance and Germany, whereas the classical tradition is “transplanted” (213). Put otherwise: la littérature romantique est la seule qui soit susceptible encore d’être perfectionnée, parce qu’ayant ses racines dans notre propre sol, elle est la seule qui puisse croître et se vivifier de nouveau; elle exprime notre religion; elle rappelle notre histoire; son origine est ancienne mais non antique. (214, emphasis added) [Romantic literature is the only form that may yet be improved; since it has its roots in our own soil, it is the only one that might still grow and flourish again; it expresses our religion; it recalls our history; its origins are old, but not ancient.]

In a word, in lieu of the sterility of classicism (48) she proposes substituting the productive nature of Romanticism, full of vigorous sap (48), and which will grow like a flower (216). T his vocabulary of nature underlines the sincerity of a movement inspired by medieval chivalry, which, S taël repeats, “méprise la ruse” [“disdains trickery”] (69, 70). By drawing on a tradition that “belongs” to “us”—that is, a national tradition—one can reach “l’enthousiasme,” which is to be understood simultaneously as inspiration and imagination. T he rhetoric S taël adopts in De l’Allemagne was to dominate various interpretations of the new movement as it spread through F rance, and it is thus not surprising to find, in early French Romanticism, an apparent rejection of artifice and ruse. One finds mysticism, of course, but without mystification; homo duplex, to persiflage—the use of sardonic irony—see C hartier, Théorie du persiflage: the idea of persiflage does indeed seem to be a F rench specialty, originating as a concept and as a literary practice quite specifically in the eighteenth century. Chartier examines the evolution and literary manifestations of this phenomenon.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

if you wish, but without duplicity. In the F rench tradition, L amartine’s Méditations poétiques (1820) or Musset’s Confession d’un enfant du siècle (1836) would be examples of texts that supposedly use rhetoric to build a bridge between the reader and the internal experience of a poetic consciousness; believing in the transparency and sincerity of such representations requires the forgetting of D iderot’s lesson— namely, that such constructions require deliberate, conscious, and detailed work in order to create their illusion of spontaneity. Germaine de S taël’s view of the new wave in literature and philosophy was accurate in many ways. T rue, her speculations about the status of German as a more transparent language may seem puzzling today, but it was entirely in keeping with eighteenth-century reflections on the rise of language, as exemplified by Rousseau’s reflections on the relationship between words and things in Sur l’origine du langage (1781). And in the dramatic and poetic works examined within S taël’s De L’Allemagne (plays like Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell, Klopstock’s ballads, or the Faust plays by Lessing or Goethe), one certainly finds ample evidence to support her claim of these new tendencies: the importance of local traditions, an emphasis on Christian (rather than Greco-Roman) motifs, and in theatrical works the rejection of the three unities. Moreover, and more subtly, Staël suggests that French artistic expression has been stifled by the very skills at which the French excel, which results in most true emotion being obscured by the smoke and mirrors of dazzling linguistic games. What remains in such F rench attempts at “art” is, to Staël’s mind, a Greek or Roman story bizarrely infused with French sentiments and preoccupations. And if one peers under that veil of language, the rest shows itself to be worn and deflated: En effet, quand on […] entend [des textes français] dans une autre langue, quand ils sont dépouillés de la beauté magique du style, on est surpris du peu d’émotion qu’ils produisent et des inconvenances qu’on y trouve, car ce qui ne s’accorde ni avec le siècle, ni avec les mœurs nationales des personnages que l’on représente, n’est-il pas aussi une inconvenance ? (Staël, I, 253) [Indeed, when one hears [F rench plays] in another language, when they are stripped of the magical beauty of their style, one is surprised at how little emotion they produce, and at the infelicities that one finds in them—for that which agrees neither with the century nor with the national attributes of the characters one performs, surely is infelicitous?]

Given this context, it is difficult to see what use Romanticism had for frauds or hoaxes, for these challenges to authenticity would appear to stand in direct antithesis to the virtues S taël championed. H oaxes or counterfeits would serve to undermine the very authenticity and sincerity upon which the new expressive modes relied; indeed, they would seem more akin to the shimmering (and illusory) appearance of genius S taël decries in the classical F rench tradition.

Introduction: Caveat Lector


So, if the fake exists or persists, it does so despite the increased value placed on sincerity, and not directly as an expression of it. And yet, as we will see in the coming chapters, a preoccupation with fraudulence is closely related to the Romantic impulse: hoaxes, mystifications and other forms of fraudulence will often be practiced by the very authors who are celebrated champions of R omanticism. Moreover, it is generally not recognized how the very tradition S taël sought to import into F rance already bore the seeds of its opposite. In 1798, in his famous essay on Universal Poetry, F riedrich S chlegel imagined a new R omantic aesthetic that would synthesize all genres and all approaches, including those that undermined authenticity: D ie romantische Poesie ist eine progressive U niversalpoesie. Ihre Bestimmung ist nicht bloß, alle getrennte Gattungen der Poesie wieder zu vereinigen, und die Poesie mit der Philosophie und Rhetorik in Berührung zu setzen. Sie will, und soll auch Poesie und Prosa, Genialität und Kritik, Kunstpoesie und Naturpoesie bald mischen, bald verschmelzen, die Poesie lebendig und gesellig, und das L eben und die Gesellschaft poetisch machen, den Witz poetisieren, und die Formen der Kunst mit gediegenem Bildungsstoff jeder Art anfüllen und sättigen, und durch die Schwingungen des Humors beseelen. (Schlegel 69) [R omantic poetry is a progressive, universal poetry. Its purpose is not merely to reunite all the separate species of poetry and bring poetry in line with philosophy and rhetoric. It also seeks to mix and merge poetry and prose, inspiration and criticism, the poetry of art and the poetry of nature; it should make poetry lively and sociable, and life and society poetical; it should poeticize jokes and fill and saturate the forms of art with every kind of good, solid matter for instruction, and inspire them with the reverberations of humor.]

“To Poeticize jokes”—den Witz poetisieren: that is a strong statement. In this list of the syntheses he hopes to realize, S chlegel plays on the spread between opposites: if we need to make poetry “lively,” it’s because at the time Schlegel writes, poetry and everyday life seem divorced—in the same way that poetry is pitted against prose, creativity against criticism. Coming at the end of Schlegel’s list, like the rise of a crescendo, der Witz represents the extreme case, for jokes would appear to incarnate the anti-poetic. S chlegel’s audacity consists of recruiting, at least in theory, wit to this new poetic impulse. T he evocation of humor as part and parcel of the R omantic impulse is surprising and problematic, for humor relies precisely upon the kind of “trickery” (double entendres, linguistic traps, and readerly manipulations) that Staël seems to abhor. Moreover, it is not at all clear what this dreamed-of union between humor and poetry could produce.13

13   Nathalie Preiss examines the role of jokes in nineteenth-century literature in Pour de rire! La blague au XIXe siècle.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

In practice, though, der Witz seems to have generated some of the foundational works of Romantic literature, many of which were, in some rather dramatic aspects, fraudulent. F or example, when James Macpherson published the Works of Ossian in 1765, he sparked a literary furor despite the fact that the texts were largely fabrications.14 Similarly, as we will see in chapter 2, the first prose poems in the F rench tradition—as well as some of the earliest R omantic ballads and some groundbreaking examples of Romantic theater—were all hoaxes to some considerable extent. C harles N odier, who wrote an entire treatise on the problem of plagiarism and mystifications (Questions de littérature légale. Du plagiat, de la supposition d’auteurs, des supercheries qui ont rapport aux livres, 1812), was not above hoodwinking his public on a number of occasions. It would be a simple matter to dismiss such cases as exceptions, or at least as harmless diversions. After all, it’s not difficult to imagine a certain playfulness afflicting even the most sober spirits on occasion. And yet the predominance of literary fraudulence, arising exactly where it ought not to, is more than a little curious, and all the more so when the extra-literary world also holds a great investment in notions of authenticity. After all, the period we are discussing represents a time in F rance when governments came in rapid succession, often entailing substantial restructuring of the social body; during this time a multitude of political groups staked a claim on authenticity, accusing each other of playing fast and loose with the truth. (We’ll see some specific examples of this in chapters 3 and 4). In any case, it seems clear that the false cannot be set aside or neutralized as an incidental presence in the nineteenth century. Indeed, it becomes necessary to revise our understanding of literary mystification and see it less as the pariah of literary history and more as a strategy underpinning various aesthetic projects. This means taking hoaxes seriously, or, in the language of Schlegel, of poeticizing the fraudulent. The goal of this book, then, is to examine the implication of fraudulence within nineteenth-century literary and cultural practices, looking at it less from a legal point of view (such as the financial shenanigans of producers of literary counterfeiters), or as a mere mode of production, and considering it instead as an aesthetic practice that plays off, undermines, or interrogates other major practices of the day. A great deal has already been written on clear-cut hoodwinkings in nineteenthcentury literature (the judicious or playful use of noms de plume, the publication of fabricated memoirs, the wry pleasantries of an Alphonse Allais or a Léo Taxil),15 and so in this volume I attempt to focus less on extreme cases, examining instead the way a preoccupation with fraudulence and mystification manifests itself within

14   See Nick Groom, The Forger’s Shadow. Groom reviews the treatment of Macpherson (105-14), but also engages in some analysis of the Ossianic text (115-39). 15  F or an excellent review of these turn-of-the-century fumistes, see Daniel Grojnowski, Aux commencements du rire moderne.

Introduction: Caveat Lector


literary and cultural documents—as theme, as compositional practice, as metaphor, and as part of a reflection on forms of representation. T he present study is by no measure exhaustive, but it charts a number of courses through the text and texture of mystification. When relevant, I will try to refer the reader to related examples (or counterexamples), and I will of necessity make a number of small detours through theoretical discussions that may inform our readings. I don’t intend for the order of the following chapters to come across as mystifying. If they hopscotch across decades a bit, it is because I have sometimes sacrificed chronology to allow for the clustering of chapters about the same figure (e.g., Mérimée or Baudelaire). And occasionally a chapter spans so many years (chapter 4 is an especially bumpy ride in this respect) that it is impossible to assign it to a particular chronological slot. Whenever possible I draw connections between chapters, showing divergent goals and techniques, and occasional influences. Because the chapters are not rigorously interlocked, they can be detached from the whole, easily read in isolation. H ere, then, are the steps awaiting us: •

• •

The next two chapters are dedicated to the works of Prosper Mérimée, a foundational figure in nineteenth-century hoaxes—which is one of the reasons he is often accorded second-string status in literary histories. Focusing primarily on his literary works, we will also investigate one historical text, Les faux Démétrius, which will serve to introduce the role of caricature. Chapter 4 further pursues the role of caricature, looking at the overlap between the popular press and historical events at the beginning of the R estoration—notably the planning and construction of the expiatory chapel in honor of L ouis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. C hapter 5 focuses on Balzac’s “Pierre Grassou,” a tale of artistic plagiarism, and we’ll use this tale as a window into the definitions of artistic genius promoted within La comédie humaine. In chapter 6 we will examine the policing of authenticity in the intersection of literature and history, looking specifically at the memoirs of EugèneF rançois Vidocq, the chief of the Paris security police—and a problematic champion for the fight against fraudulence. C hapter 7 considers the notion of falseness in the context of a series of “gender narratives.” D ealing especially with George S and’s Gabriel, we will see how notions of imposture and performance come into play in a nineteenth-century conception of gender. Chapters 8 and 9 concern the work of Charles Baudelaire. Focusing on the links between allegories and fakes, we will examine such texts as “Le masque” and “L a fausse monnaie,” while also interrogating the specular relationship between the verse and prose poems. In a separate study, we

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


will review his unfinished diatribe against the Belgians, Pauvre Belgique! And in chapter 10 we will look ahead to some later manifestations of the false, including Gide’s Faux-monnayeurs, the artistic strategies of certain surrealists, and reflections by Umberto Eco and Jean Baudrillard on the nature of simulacra and hyperreality.

Why these particular authors, texts, or episodes? O ne could respond to this question cavalierly: Why not? After all, there exists no established canon for texts of mystification, and besides, the very point of a hoax is to destabilize the canonical. If this book gives short shrift to the likes of Stendhal or Henri de La Touche, it is partly a reflection of my own preferences and preoccupations; however, the choices are not entirely arbitrary. My goal is less to “cover” the field of the false than to provide several examples of the very disparate ways in which fraudulence comes to the surface in nineteenth-century culture. T he particular assortment of texts before us provides glimpses of the role of the false in areas as divergent as literature, art, politics, gender, and cultural identity. T his synecdoche of the cultural landscape suggests the generality of the phenomenon: it appears everywhere in order to challenge the urgency of authenticity. A final caveat: this volume does not attempt to trace a strict evolution, and readers who complain that Mérimée’s false is the not same as Baudelaire’s or S and’s should learn now that they will have the satisfaction of being right: the literary fraudulent is protean, and it is used by different authors for different ends. The goal here is not to find a grand, unifying theory, but to demonstrate the manifold ways in which traps, tricks, and masks shape the way we read.

C hapter 2

Violent H oaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped T ext If any single figure looms large in the field of literary hoaxes in nineteenth-century F rance, it is Prosper Mérimée. After all, this is the author whose entrance on the literary scene consisted of a series of brief dramatic works—the Théâtre de Clara Gazul, comédienne espagnole [The Theater of Clara Gazul, Spanish Actress] (1825)—written under the double pseudonym of a female author (Clara Gazul) and a fawning editor and translator (Joseph Lestrange). (Moreover, some copies of the original edition included a lithograph portrait of Mérimée dressed as a S panish woman, enveloped in a mantilla and anatomically enhanced.) Five years before H ugo completed Hernani, Mérimée had written the first plays of the Romantic tradition—and they were frauds. T wo years later he inaugurated a whole new genre, writing the first prose poems in the French literary tradition: La guzla, ou choix de poésies illyriques recueillies dans la Dalmatie, la Bosnie, la Croatie et l’Herzégovine [The guzla, or Selections of Illyric Poetry Collected in Dalmatia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Herzegovina] (1827). The collection was advertised as a set of translations of folkloric verse from Slavic countries; the only problem was that no originals for these translations had ever existed. After such authors as Goethe raved about the smack of authenticity emanating from these poems, Mérimée finally showed his hand, later saying puckishly that he had hoped that the proceeds from the sale would allow him to travel to the countries whose literature he had fabricated. T here is little or nothing new to say about these now classic cases of literary mystification. Sometimes credited with shaking up the status quo in an antiestablishment sort of way, and often discredited as the larks of a young man anxious to make his mark, these hoaxes have generally been dismissed as brash flourishes by an impetuous and precocious man of letters. Moreover, they contributed to Mérimée’s marginalization in literary history, where various circumstances have converged to prevent him from being considered today as a serious literary figure: in addition to spoofing his public, he specialized in short fiction, never writing a  O n the reception of La guzla by Goethe, Bowring, and other eminent figures, see Yovanovitch 395-522. The idea of financing the travels with the proceeds of the volume is recounted in a letter to Sobolevski (Darcos 76).    Most studies of Mérimée pass quickly over the early mystifications, devaluing them implicitly as immature or playful. T he number of studies focusing on La guzla or Le Théâtre de Clara Gazul is small. 

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


full-length novel, which is currently the coin of the realm for authors; he was a foundational figure in literature of the supernatural, which had the same deleterious impact on Mérimée’s posterity that it had on Poe in the United States; he even abandoned fiction altogether for long periods of time (famously, he published almost no original fiction from 1846 to 1866). Although such works as Carmen (1845) and Colomba (1840) have remained enshrined in school and university curricula, when we compare Mérimée’s output to that of a Balzac or H ugo, he sometimes looks like a dilettante. And yet, nothing could be farther from the truth. N ot only had Mérimée virtually created R omantic theater in a single gesture, but his extraordinarily precise style set a standard for concision that helped to elevate short fiction to the status of serious literature. F urthermore, writing at a time when literature was less cloistered from other forms of cultural production than they are today, his collected works are astonishing for their scope and breadth. In addition to a massive and eloquent correspondence (six large volumes in Maurice Parturier’s edition), Mérimée wrote four very substantial (and well-documented) works on Russian and Spanish history, published several travel journals (the result of his professional responsibilities as Inspector General of Historic Monuments), and translated a great number of stories, most notably by Pushkin, Gogol, and Turgenev—an exercise for which he learned Russian, starting this difficult language when he was over forty. F inally, he published short critical pieces on various literary topics (many of which were collected in his Mélanges historiques et littéraires, 1855). In brief, while the broad-ranging nature of his work would clash with the disciplinary partitions erected in the early twentieth century, Mérimée’s multiple talents made of him a prodigious and prolific man of letters. His reputation as a hoaxster, however, sometimes leaves the feeling that he is a literary light-weight: indeed, mystifications can so completely neutralize the perceived literary value of works that La guzla, the supposed “translations” of S lavic texts—and so crucial to the inauguration of prose poetry—has never been included in any collection of Mérimée’s works. In fact, it has spent decades at a time out of print. This kind of gesture of exclusion—the one by which critics sweep mystifications under the richly woven rug of respectable fiction—serves to preserve the fabric of literature itself: by policing the border between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” fiction, we create the illusion of integrity. But in so doing, we risk foreclosing privileged perspectives, for it may be that the practice of hoaxes is less the example of an exception in the world of literature than it is an exceptionally good example of some pervasive tendencies. In the case of Mérimée, for instance, we might suggest that the early mystifications are revelatory of practices that underlie other aspects of his work. The question then becomes: what happens if readers cease to

 O n Mérimée’s apprenticeship in R ussian, see D arcos 294-5.   Antonia F onyi’s edition of La guzla, published in 1994, has rescued it, at least temporarily, from purgatory. 

Violent Hoaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped Text


dismiss the early mystifications as playful spoofs, and instead begin to read them as the most obvious manifestations of a more general process in Mérimée? My argument is that the process of mystification, so common in his early texts, continues to inform Mérimée’s work quite profoundly. In the sections that follow, we will drill deeper into the narratives, examining the various forms in which this dynamic manifests itself. Narratives of De.ation Let us start with those tales, even less well known, that are most closely related to the explicit hoaxes. N ot surprisingly, other texts by Mérimée that are tainted with mystification have suffered fates similar to that of Le Théâtre de Clara Gazul and La guzla: they languish in relative obscurity. A case in point is the “ghost” story, “Il viccolo di Madama Lucrezia,” a short piece Mérimée first wrote in 1846, and that was published posthumously in 1873. Although the story lay dormant for two decades, Mérimée returned to it in earnest in 1868, reworking it meticulously and preparing it for publication. (This final version was lost in the fire that destroyed Mérimée’s house during the Commune, on May 23, 1871; the original version survives.) Mérimée himself thus devoted considerable energy to it, although its apparent frivolity has relegated it to the footnotes of literary history. In “Il viccolo” Mérimée tells the story of a young F renchman—the narrator— on a visit to R ome. H e lodges with the marquise Aldobrandi, an old “friend” of his father; curiously, her son, don Ottavio, bears a fraternal resemblance to the narrator himself. L eft to explore the city on his own while don O ttavio prepares for the priesthood, the narrator finds himself plunged into an intrigue he can scarcely believe: in an alley named after the murderous L ucrezia Borgia, in the vacant house at number 13, he spies a shadowy seductress beckoning to him from the window—until she suddenly vanishes into the darkness. So the mystery begins, and after repeated trips to the house, various brief sightings, a mysteriously delivered love note, and finally a nocturnal visit in his own room by this pale femme fatale, the carefully constructed tale of the supernatural suddenly unravels. In fact, the woman is don O ttavio’s mistress, and seductive gestures are explained by a case of mistaken identity: the narrator and his young host are as alike as two peas in a pod, and the mistress had taken one for the other. The text is thus based on a trick: the reader parallels the narrator’s gullibility, and the great “surprise” of the ghost story is that, in fact, there is no ghost story at all. Another example of this procedure of deflation occurs in “La chambre bleue” (“The Blue Room,” written in 1866, published in 1871). Here, instead of a story of the supernatural, Mérimée lays the foundations for a murder mystery. We follow a young man, L éon, during a brief escapade with a woman to whom he is    Théâtre, romans, nouvelles, 1599-1600. All future references to this edition of Mérimée’s principal literary texts will be signaled by the abbreviation TRN.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

not married. T raveling incognito, they encounter a rich E nglishman on the train, who stops in the same town and the same hotel as they—after he turns down the desperate, threatening demands for assistance made by his own nephew. L éon and his escort end up in the room adjacent to that of the E nglishman, separated only by a locked door. Doing their best to ignore the drab décor and the boisterous songs emanating from the dining room, the two lovers knuckle down to their adulterous business. F inally, in the calm of night, L éon hears suspicious noises in the next room—sounds that evoke a struggle, followed by a hard thud; shortly thereafter, while lying paralyzed in bed, he watches as a rivulet of blood trickles under the door. All the pieces come together in Léon’s imagination as he reflects on the E nglishman’s suitcase full money, the desperate nephew, and the struggle. And yet all the poor boy can think about is the police investigation that will follow, where he and his young companion will surely be called upon to testify, publicizing their illicit encounter. It is in the mad dash to escape from the hotel that the tension is abruptly defused: the maid calls out for a sponge—the E nglishman had spilled his entire bottle of port during the night. Léon has been tricked by his own imagination, and the reader goes along for the ride. What is going on in these stories? In both “Il viccolo di Madama L ucrezia” and “La chambre bleue,” the process of mystification has been moved from the threshold of the text (the prefaces, the author’s name) to the inside. Both stories present narrators who will be duped by circumstances. And because we identify so closely with the voice telling the story (particularly when that voice speaks in the first person), the narrator’s discovery of his own misapprehension, followed by his humiliation, will also be experiences shared with the reader. T he “trap” that is laid here has to do with readerly expectations, some of which are specific to the author. Just as the absence of Mérimée’s name played an important role in Le Théâtre de Clara Gazul, its presence is crucial here: because Mérimée is by this point already associated with a host of blood-curdling stories (“Mateo F alcone,” “L a Vénus d’Ille,” Carmen, Colomba, and more), the reader does not expect these later tales to flinch before violence. Moreover, Mérimée observes all the generic conventions: in “Il viccolo” he carefully establishes the doublings and uncertainties that had become the hallmarks of fantastic literature; in “L a chambre bleue” he provides motives, suspects, opportunity, and even murder weapons—abandoning only the murder itself. This kind of narration where a dramatic tale approaches the point of paroxysm, only to be suddenly diverted at the eleventh hour, results in a kind of deflation—a sputtering loss of air at precisely the moment one anticipates an explosion. And yet, the violence expected in these stories is less dismissed than it is displaced. In each case we sense that the narrative is reaching a point of crisis that will coincide with a revelation: Who is the spirit haunting the street of Madama L ucrezia? Who has murdered the E nglishman in “L a chambre bleue”? What the dénouement reveals, paradoxically, is that nothing was hidden: the murder mystery is itself killed off, and the ghost story turns out to have been a mere apparition. What Mérimée does, in fact, is shift the locus of violence, removing it from the stories and redirecting it

Violent Hoaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped Text


instead toward the reader. Although we sense during our reading that the narrator is being lead into a trap, it is we ourselves who are ensnared. T hese two tales, both of which occupied Mérimée shortly before his death, do nothing if not demonstrate how the dynamics of mystification framed his literary work—appearing explicitly in his very first and very last works. It is significant that these narratives also serve as vehicles for other major preoccupations within Mérimée—notably sex and violence. In fact, as we shall see, the supposed playfulness of mystification is related to both seduction and aggression, and the interplay among these factors can operate with great subtlety. Vampire Texts Sex, violence and mystification. It just so happens these are the ingredients of the fabricated text that is La guzla, the collection of supposed translations of S lavic poems. H owever, the conditions of the production of this volume have forestalled most serious attempts at analysis; as Anne Geisler-Szmulewicz has pointed out, nearly all articles focusing on this book deal with the conditions of its reception (that is, with its status as a mystification), and only a few engage with the contents. But what if the contents were related to the mode of production? T hat is, what if the violent world recounted in these poems had some common ancestry with mystification? La guzla includes numerous ballads, chants of bloody battles, stories of abduction, tales of about the evil eye, and, as luck would have it, a long section on vampires that occupies the central portion of this slim volume. Writing about vampires in the midst of a fraudulent text is an intriguing activity, for the introduction of the supernatural evokes the very same questions about belief and credulity that condition the reception of the literary hoax: Is it real? D o you believe in it? Mérimée even goes so far as to bring such implicit questions about credibility to the surface: E n Illyrie, en Pologne, en H ongrie, dans la T urquie et une partie de l’Allemagne, on s’exposerait au reproche d’irréligion et d’immoralité si l’on niait publiquement l’existence des vampires. (La guzla 71) [In Illyria, Poland, Hungary, Turkey and in part of Germany, you would leave yourself open to accusations of miscreance and immorality if you publicly denied the existence of vampires.]

L et us start, then, with this observation: the problem of belief that lies on the outside of the text (concerning the authenticity of the collection) is to some extent reproduced thematically on its inside as well. T his doubling occurs in another form when, in the very center of the section of La guzla, Mérimée’s narrator—the supposed traveler and translator in Illyria—begins to “speak vampire.” I use this expression


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

guardedly, for “vampire” is not presented in La guzla as a foreign language. And yet there is a curious transition that occurs in this section of the narrative, where the narrator’s status as an objective chronicler comes into question. In fact, while the narrator poses as “one of us”—identifying closing with the cultural context of the sophisticated F rench reader—he is a bit of a split personality: born of an Illyrian mother and Italian father, raised in Italy, with F rance as his adoptive home, the narrator straddles the line between the primitive culture he describes and the cultured public he addresses. C onversant in Illyrian but schooled in F rench, he is singularly well equipped to translate the songs of his native informant, the bard H yacinthe Maglanovitch. Moreover, this dual perspective manifests itself in the format of the collection, where the narrator sometimes serves as the vehicle for Illyrian verse (supposedly translating it transparently), and sometimes applying an objective, ethnological perspective—for the volume is filled with footnotes and commentaries. All of these procedures underscore the narrator’s ambivalence: sometimes he speaks in the voice of the cultural other, and sometimes he speaks about it. It is, once again, the difference between being inside and outside. Nowhere is this distinction between “speaking in” and “speaking about” more evident than in the chapter on vampirism. “Sur le vampirisme” (“On Vampirism”) is located at the dead center of the collection, and as noted above, the narrator opens the discussion by linking vampires and gullibility, signaling the risks of discredit one runs by publicly suggesting that vampires may not, in fact, exist. O f course, his very comment on the topic places our narrator in the camp of the unbelievers: because one may not make such assertions “publicly,” he does so by implication. And because he is largely an outsider, the narrator can speak about vampirism in a detached way that is incomprehensible to the natives of the region. F urthermore, as if to highlight his objectivity, he draws on the full arsenal of techniques associated with objective discourse (that is, the discourse associated with commentary, or “speaking about”), invoking outside sources for the first time in La guzla: he cites (with a few unacknowledged tweaks) a long passage from a famous eighteenth-century treatise, D om C almet’s Traité sur les esprits [The Treatise on Spirits] (1751), focusing on the section entitled “Sur les revenants en corps” [“O n C orporeal S pirits”]. And so the narrator occupies an awkward middle ground: not believing in the vampire stories that he is about to translate, he maintains a certain distance, continuing the objective commentary at the same time he begins to transmit the tales. H e is divided: on the one hand, he denies the plausibility of these stories, while on the other he perpetuates them. O f course, the role of a translator is split    The distinction between categories of spirits is significant. Don Calmet distinguishes between revenants en esprit (“spiritual phantoms”) and revenants en corps (“corporeal phantoms”): the former consist of the diaphanous ghosts that generally represent the soul of the departed; the latter consist of those creatures who retain the body of the deceased—and generally need to feed on the living to maintain their existence. D aniel S angsue addresses this distinction in “F antômes chez Mérimée.”

Violent Hoaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped Text


by definition: the pronoun “I” in a translated text is always at odds with the person who uses it; we could say (with apologies to Rimbaud) that for translators “I” is always already “an other.” But the case of La guzla is even more fraught, because, after all, we are dealing with a fake: the “I” of the author simulates the “I” of a translator, who in turn speaks in the place of another “I” (the Illyrian bard whose works he supposedly translates.) What a mess. To make matters worse, after importing a portion of Dom Calmet’s text, and before effacing himself behind H yacinthe Maglanovitch’s songs, the narrator abruptly comes to center stage and allows himself a digression, recounting a personal anecdote: suddenly the “I” of the text and the “I” of the narrator coincide, further confusing our understanding of what belongs inside the translation and what lies outside it. T his interruption—the intervention of the narrator’s own story amidst the tales he translates—is revealing. T he vampire story he tells concerns his travels in Dalmatia: in an old hut in the village of Varboska, while the traveling narrator and his host raise a glass or two and belt out drinking songs, their binge is interrupted by a shriek coming from the next room. There they find the host’s wife cradling in her arms their sixteen-year-old daughter, unconscious, a “petite marque rouge” [“little red mark”] apparent on her neck. When she recovers from her swoon, the girl claims to have been attacked by a vampire, which she recognized as a local man who had recently died. The family takes all the “normal” precautions: the body of the deceased will be unearthed, dismembered, and burned; they rub the wound on the neck with blood from the corpse; and they will begin to keep a nightly vigil over the girl to protect her from any other spirits that may be on the prowl. But all these efforts prove insufficient, and the poor patient is overcome by morbid thoughts, gradually resigning herself to a death that the skeptical narrator describes to the reader as utterly unnecessary. In order to rally her sinking spirits and give her the strength to live, the narrator finally tells her an elaborate lie: pretending to have learned “white magic” back in his homeland, he offers to try a few spells to save her from an otherwise certain fate. After uttering his incantation (a few lines from R acine, which he recites in French), the narrator rubs her neck and pretends to extract from it a small red agate, after which he declares her healed. U nfortunately, the girl is not so easily fooled: “Tu me trompes. Tu avais cette pierre dans une petite boîte, je te l’ai vue. T u n’es pas un magicien.” [“Y ou’re lying to me. Y ou had that stone in a little box; I saw you with it. You are not a wizard.”] (guzla 77). And so the narrator is forced to admit that his little trick did more harm than good: shortly after this episode the girl, who was soon to be married, expires in her father’s arms. T his short tale embedded in the center of the La guzla is remarkable for several reasons. First of all, the violence we witness, marked with blood, situated in a bedroom, associated with marriage, and committed while others are celebrating nearby, is the basic matrix for a number of Mérimée’s texts, ranging from “L a Vénus d’Ille” (1837) to Lokis (1869), and including “La chambre bleue” and many


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

others. In short, La guzla would appear to partake of a dynamic that is widespread in Mérimée. Next, there is a link between this bloody anecdote and Mérimée’s penchant for mystifications. In both cases it is a question of the public’s susceptibility— for, from the narrator’s point of view, the whole problem of the vampire stems from belief, from the gullibility of the local population. T he narrator himself, who claims not to believe in vampires, starts from an external, objective perspective. He speaks about such creatures, and he comments on the superstitious nature of the family, while trying to combat their beliefs with logical explanations. When he fails to make any headway, he finds himself forced as a last resort to play their game: by engaging in incantations, he pretends to speak the language of the supernatural himself in order to save the girl. T hat much is not so surprising: the narrator is a polyglot, clearly skilled in language, and he ought to be able to pick up this new discourse, which will allow him to speak in the language of the Other. As he begins to play his trick on his patient, the narrator confides to the reader that “Je voulus essayer de réagir sur son imagination en feignant d’entrer dans ses idées” [“I wanted to attempt to influence her imagination by pretending to think like her”] (77). It is worth noting that entering into someone else’s way of thinking represents yet another transition, passing from the outside to the inside. In short, as the narrator stops talking about vampires, he begins to speak like them. T hat is, when he starts to mutter lines of Racine as an incantation, he is no longer speaking about supernatural events; he is participating in them. Although, of course, this too is simulated. The narrator is looking to trick the D almatian girl—for her own welfare, of course—and thus his slide toward the “inside” of the supernatural remains ambiguous: he is not what he claims to be, and he doesn’t actually believe in his own wizardry. H e maintains his distance while cozying up to the language of the supernatural. He fights fire with fire, and since he cannot disabuse the girl of her delusions, he decides to delude her otherwise: he responds to the family’s superstitions by a counter-mystification—one that is designed to neutralize the effect of the first one. T he narrator appears to fail in this attempt because the girl has understood his sleight of hand, seeing that the incantations are not authentic. H e thus demonstrates by an example that costs his character her life that he is unskilled at mystifications. It’s the girl who will pay the price of the narrator’s ineptitude: she succumbs to the horrors of her imagination, begging her father to fulfill her final wishes—imploring him to slit her throat and slice the backs of her knees to keep her from becoming a vampire herself. Wiping his eyes, the father thus swears to mutilate this flesh of his flesh, leaving us with what constitutes, in Mérimée’s disturbed world, a typical “happy ending.” Let’s summarize. The narrator tries to dupe the girl by making her believe he masters language and knowledge that, in fact, are entirely foreign to him. And it is worth pointing out that this situation is the mise en abyme of what Mérimée has done with his own production of the La guzla, where, by dint of another mystification, he deluded the F rench public of 1827, pretending to have a linguistic expertise and

Violent Hoaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped Text


professional experience that were entirely fabricated. T hat means that the author and the translator will follow the same process: just as the narrator deludes the girl with a few lines from R acine, Mérimée accomplishes a similar deception with a handful of Illyrian terms. The only significant difference is that the narrator fails, while Mérimée’s ruse works all too well; in fact, the example of the narrator’s ineptitude actually makes the reader believe all the more in the veracity of his larger narrative: the clumsy fellow who can’t even mislead an adolescent girl who has one foot in the grave would never be able to delude us. O r so, at least, we would like to believe. O ne can begin to see the convergence of several threads. We have already discussed Mérimée’s predilection for literary shams of various sorts, but readers have generally not recognized how often Mérimée’s stories actually represent mystifications at the same time that they commit them. It’s a question of importing the practice of the hoax into the text and interleaving it with the narrative itself. In La guzla this imbrication takes place in a context of a vampirism that is not accidental. To understand why, we need look no further than the end of the chapter on vampires, where the narrator gives up in his campaign to enlighten those around him: Je quittai quelques heures après le village, donnant au diable de bon cœur les vampires, les revenants, et ceux qui en racontent des histoires. (78) [I left the village a few hours later, happily cursing vampires, ghosts, and all those who spin yarns about them.]

Given his experiences, we can readily sympathize with this sense of frustration, but the way he jumbles together vampires and those who speak of them is at the very least curious: even if he does not believe in these maleficent spirits, he numbers among those who “en racontent des histories” [“spin yarns about them”], for he has just finished doing so. Why put vampires and storytellers in the same basket? In fact, there is a tight connection between vampirism and narration in Mérimée. On the first level, one sees it in the mode of production of the text, where Mérimée does not “create,” but instead subtly recycles other works. By fueling the narrative with other books— texts by D om C almet, N odier, F ortis, L avallée, and others, he goes beyond the scope of mere intertextual influence: he is courting fraud, engaging in a form of parasitism. Moreover, this process of drawing heavily on another body of work doubles the actions of the vampire, which also feeds on the blood of others. But there is another level: let’s not forget that the vampire’s visit coincides with the arrival of the narrator himself, that the narrator’s vigils at the girl’s bedside    Antonia F onyi summarizes the sources for La guzla in her 1994 edition (7-12). For a more complete survey, see Y ovanovitch 217-392.    On the recycling of literary works and their link to vampirism, see Daniel Sangsue “L es déplacements du vampire romantique.”

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


replaces the nocturnal visits of the monster, and that he seeks by his own “white magic” to bleed the girl’s neck (in the form of the “red agate” he pretends to draw from it). Finally, it is the narrator who, by his own admission, finishes the girl off, and who then takes leave from his host, nourished by the strange narrative fuel that sustains him. What I am at pains to illustrate here is that narrator’s course of action closely mimics that of the vampire. Instead of seeking blood, he goes for the blood-curdling narratives, and in the tale about the young Dalmatian girl, the vampire makes no further nocturnal visits; in fact, he is replaced at the girl’s bedside by the narrator, who keeps vigil over her. Unlike the vampire, the narrator does not extract blood from his victim; he feeds instead on her gory tale—a tale that empowers him as a storyteller, though it costs the girl her life. T his is a representation of the storyteller as different breed of vampire, where blood mixes with ink: the red and the black. S een from this angle, the “detail” of the magical incantation pronounced by the narrator takes on another resonance. It would be hard to ignore the fact that the language of his “white magic” is, in fact, a quotation (and thus another text imported from outside), and that the text in question happens to be a passage from Racine— a gesture by which Mérimée associates the carnage of vampires with literature. This will be one of many ways in which he links literature and violence—or, rather, it is an example of Mérimée’s long and indefatigable demonstration of the violence of literature, and of art more generally.10 T his violence sometimes appears in the bloody scenes for which Mérimée is notorious, but it will also be associated with ruptures and transgressions of various sorts. T he sudden apparition of the name “Racine”—which is already the label for another body of work marked by violence and transgression—exemplifies the problem of porousness in Mérimée: the border between inside and outside is not respected. The concatenation of elements here is important: Mérimée links superstitions to lying, lying to storytelling, and storytelling to vampirism—which, in turn, he dismisses as mere superstition. T his glide between terms is related to the porousness of limits, incarnated in La guzla and other texts by figures that can cross boundaries with the ease of spirits. In La guzla it is the narrator himself who, as a marginal and parasitic creature belonging to both the inside and the outside (as other beings in the text occupy the space between life and death), ends up doubling the very creature he dismisses as fictional: the vampire. T his uncanny parallel between vampires and those who tell their tales is quite explicit in La guzla, but it is also present elsewhere in Mérimée’s work—in ways that lead back to mystification. In fact, in a relatively systematic way, Mérimée   Although in La guzla Mérimée does not identify the passage, Racine often figures in his work as a shorthand term for literature writ large—especially when it is a question of conjoining literature and violence. S ee, for example, “L a Vénus d’Ille” (TRN 739). 10  T he violence of art is sometimes represented explicitly in Mérimée’s texts, as in the murderous statue of “L a Vénus d’Ille,” or in the violent portraits described in “Il viccolo di Madama L ucrezia” (TRN 1014-15). 

Violent Hoaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped Text


regularly relates literary production (the creation of a story) to a vampiric process that will always be based on mystification and gullibility. The reference to vampires should not be taken too literally, for this figure does not occupy a major role in Mérimée’s work after La guzla. In F rance the vogue for vampires is (despite the immortality of the creatures themselves) short-lived, and after the 1820s Mérimée’s vampires remain more or less in their graves. There is, however, a brief resurfacing in 1851, in the historical work Les faux Démétrius (The False Dimitris), where Mérimée describes how the body of the imperial impostor was handled. F or, after D imitri’s death, rumors of apparitions troubled the public, and as superstitious fears flared, the rabble availed itself of the traditional means of addressing the problem: [L ]a fosse fut ouverte, bouleversée, et le cadavre se retrouva sur le sol, loin de la chapelle, à l’autre bout du cimetière. La terreur était générale; le peuple crut que D émétrius était un être diabolique, une espèce de vampire. Plusieurs disaient qu’il avait appris la magie parmis les F innois, et qu’il était de ces sorciers qui, par leur art infernal, savent mourir et ressusciter. O n le jeta dans un bûcher qui le réduisit en cendres. (Les faux Démétrius 184; emphasis added) [The grave was opened, ransacked, and the corpse was deposited on the ground far from the chapel, at the other end of the cemetery. T error was widespread: people believed that Dimitri was a kind of diabolical being, a sort of vampire. S everal people rumored that he had learned magic amongst the F inns, and that he was one of these sorcerers who, by their infernal arts, could die and come back to life. They threw him on a pyre that reduced him to ashes.]

T here is only one other explicit reference to vampirism, appearing in one of Mérimée’s last works (Lokis). It’s worth pointing out now because, as we shall soon see, Lokis plays a key role in the mystificatory aesthetics of Mérimée. The passage comes toward the middle of the text, where the narrator—Professor Wittembach—tells of his travels in S outh America: Je fus obligé moi-même de parler de mes voyages, parce que le comte S zémioth m’ayant félicité sur la manière dont je montais à cheval, et ayant dit qu’il n’avait jamais rencontré de ministre ni de professeur qui pût fournir si lestement une traite telle que celle que nous venions de faire, je dus lui expliquer que […] j’avais passé trois ans et demi dans la république de l’U ruguay, presque toujours à cheval et vivant dans les pampas, parmi les Indiens. C ’est ainsi que je fus conduit à raconter qu’ayant été trois jours égarés dans ces plaines sans fin, n’ayant pas de vivres ni d’eau, j’avais été réduit à faire comme les gauchos qui m’accompagnaient, c’est-à-dire à saigner mon cheval et à boire son sang. (TRN 1075; emphasis added)


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France [It became necessary for me to speak of my own travels. Count Szémioth having congratulated me on the way I handled myself on horseback, and having said that he’d never met a minister or a professor who could manage so nimbly the kind of distances we had just crossed, I felt compelled to explain that […] I had spent three and a half years in the R epublic of U ruguay, almost always on horseback, and living in pampas, amongst the Indians. T hat’s how I came to tell how, after being lost for three days in those endless plains, deprived of food and water, I’d been reduced to imitating the gauchos that accompanied me—that is to say, by bleeding my horse and drinking its blood.]

The vampirism of this passage may not be explicit, but it prefigures the scene that takes place several pages later when Count Szémioth sinks his teeth into the neck of the delicate Mlle Iwinska. As in La guzla, the narrator’s appetite is evoked indirectly here, and it will be sated more by the bloody narrative than by the direct consumption of bodily fluids. In several other texts there exist traces of the vampire, and it is significant for our purposes that the references become more indirect, more heavily metaphorized. For example, the murderous statue in “La Vénus d’Ille” (1837) will be described as a cadaver rising from its grave, after which she returns to life, enters the wedding chamber, and suffocates the bridegroom; in this she is loyal to the description of vampires given in La guzla, where suffocation is given as one of the ways vampires prey on the living. A bit later, in “Il viccolo di Madama L ucrezia,” Mérimée plays on all sorts of bloody legends associated with L ucrezia Borgia. And in “L a chambre bleue,” when the red fluid we mistake for blood flows under the hotel room door, it is clear what beverage the Englishman has been drinking next door—at least metaphorically. Finally, in the most general of senses, the thirst for blood one finds in the Lettres d’Espagne (Letters from Spain, 1831-3), Colomba, Carmen, and other tales, always encourages a vaguely vampiric reading. In addition to this thematic recurrence, we should not forget the eerie role of the narrator, with his tendency to linger at the periphery of the stories he tells, often being both character and chronicler. H e is thus both “inside” and “outside” in a way that is almost entirely new to narrations in the F rench tradition.11 In the supernatural tales, he often mimics the monsters he describes. Just as he follows in the footsteps of the vampire in La guzla, he resembles the statue of

11  T he originality of Mérimée’s narrative voice has not been given adequate attention (although Jacques C habot begins a discussion of it in L’autre moi 140). Unlike Nodier or Balzac, Mérimée does not accept the simple alternatives of the third-person or firstperson narrative. H e is often thought to privilege frame narratives, although that is not quite the case in the fantastic tales. Where Balzac might limn a simple frame around a central narrative (as in “Sarrasine” or “Facino Cane”), Mérimée is more complicated: the narrator of the frame is almost always a significant character in the central tale.

Violent Hoaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped Text


“L a Vénus d’Ille,”12 and he shares many of the tastes of the half-ursine C ount S zémioth in Lokis. These narrators always come from the outside, slipping like intruders into the scenes they will describe. 13 Like the vampire, they are parasites— partly in the etymological sense of “dinner guests,” but also in the sense of one who feeds on the resources of others: Mérimée’s narrators arrive on the scene apparently to satisfy a need for archeological information, linguistic tidbits, or old books;14 however, his departure is less tied to the completion of these missions than to the spilling of blood—usually in great quantities. What is the strange bond between parasitism, mystification, and writing in Mérimée? Michel S erres and J. H illis Miller have described the role of the parasite in literature, pointing in particular to its role as the incarnation of ambiguity: the parasite represents the interpenetration of the outside and the inside, as the weaker infiltrates and replaces the stronger; it is akin to the Derridean supplement.15 T he vampire plays at this ambiguity in literary and physical form: he is the same as the person who serves as his host (that is, he occupies the same body, and remains physically recognizable), while he also becomes other (for the personality of the deceased is replaced by the sole drive to infect others). Finally, this doubleness that opposes appearances and essences, and which represents extreme otherness behind the mask of sameness, is precisely the procedure associated with fakes and mystifications—where difference is camouflaged as the familiar. All this goes to say that mystification is ultimately a parasitical genre that draws on other texts in order to lay its trap; it relies on the credulity of its reader, who plays the role of the host. By definition mystifications present an image of reality that must convince the reader at the same time the mystification begins to undermine this belief. In this respect a mystification is always an ironic genre, exploiting the difference between different levels, like a suitcase with a false bottom. A question remains about what sense we might make of these doublings and masquerades. Just what is being hidden behind the mask of sameness? One possible answer comes by way of another story: in a study of feints and simulations, 12   The resemblance between the narrator and the statue is striking, for the narrator insistently repeats to the bridegroom the warning (“Beware!”) inscribed on the statue. This is one of several blendings of characters in the story; see Carpenter, “Metaphor and Madness in Mérimée’s ‘L a Vénus d’Ille.’” 13   The narrator sometimes acknowledges this explicitly: “Je vais être un trouble-fête,” he says in “L a Vénus d’Ille” (TRN 730) 14  In Lokis he has come to collect Jmoud texts; In “La Vénus d’Ille” he is hunting down antiquities; in Carmen the narrator is attempting to locate the lost site of Munda. H owever, at the level of narration there is a further parasitism, for the narrator is rarely involved in creating anything; instead, he often claims to limit himself to translating, editing, or documenting. 15  S ee Michel S erres, Le parasite; J. Hillis Miller, “Parasite and Host.” Derrida introduces the problematic notion of the supplement in “S tructure, S ign and Play in the D iscourse of the H uman S ciences.”

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


Jean-Marie Schaeffer looks at a fable by Marcel Aymé, in which a young girl invites a very civilized wolf to play a game. U nfortunately, the game involves a variety of roles, and it falls to the wolf to play the part of… a wolf—which he incarnates all too convincingly, and without being able to maintain the critical distance that (for example) Diderot encourages in actors.16 T he game results in the bloody dénouement we have come to expect from stories about little girls and wolves, and S chaeffer draws a moral lesson from the tale regarding the limits of fakery: while a wolf can pretend not to be a wolf, or even pretend to be a man pretending to be a wolf, the one thing he cannot pretend is, in fact, to be a wolf— for that is what he really is. I evoke Schaeffer’s story about another story because of the link it suggests between realities and mystifications. Although we tend to think of mystifications as red herrings—lies devised to throw us off the scent of some hidden truth—there is another interpretation that has been the mainstay of psychiatry and psychoanalysis for decades: mystifications, lies, and feints, rather than sending us down the wrong track, are often strangely similar to the truths they supposedly conceal. From this point of view, mystifications may be read as a symptom—which is to say a kind of clue, a thread linked to a deeply concealed truth. In Mérimée, as we shall see, that truth is often monstrous, and always bloody. Textual Violence Let’s review the ground covered so far. In works such as La guzla and Le Théâtre de Clara Gazul, fraudulence is evident in the mode of textual production, as presented in the peripheral publication information of title pages and preface— replete with the old ruse of pen names and claims to authenticity. In the “playful” tales of “La chambre bleue” and “Il viccolo di Madama Lucrezia,” mystifications appear embedded within the structure of the story, where the reader’s naiveté parallels that of certain characters: the two are duped in tandem. Moreover, a detailed look at the narrator’s lies within La guzla has led to an understanding of the presence of mystification at a deeper level (notably between the narrator and characters), which sheds light on the relationship between mystifications and parasitism, where a figure like the vampire (that Other masked as the same) erodes the sense of authenticity. What remains is to elaborate the relationship between mystifications and the violence endlessly portrayed in Mérimée’s prose. The notion that supposedly playful mystifications are deadly serious in Mérimée’s world might best be exemplified by a scene in one of his last and darkest pieces, Lokis (written in 1869). In this supernatural tale—more properly of the genre of the fantastic, as Todorov defined it17—a stuffy philologist (Mérimée’s 16

 S ee chapter 1.   Famously, and somewhat hastily, Todorov defined the fantastic as tales where the reader is forced to hesitate between the supernatural and realistic explanations of a tale 17

Violent Hoaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped Text


narrator) visits remote, primitive Lithuania. At one point he accompanies his host, the somewhat high-strung C ount S zémioth, to a party held at the home of Szémioth’s fiancée, the beautiful but troubling Mademoiselle Iwinska. The young woman has devised a parlor game similar to blind-man’s bluff, and the men of the party are subjected to this amusement one at a time. H is turn having come, the narrator (“Professor Wittembach”) recounts how the young woman blindfolds him and orders him to walk to the wall on the opposite side of the room. He describes the experience in these terms: Aussitôt Mlle Iwinska me jeta un mouchoir sur les yeux et le serra de toute sa force par-derrière. “Vous êtes au milieu du salon, dit-elle, étendez la main. Bon! Je parie que vous ne toucherez pas la muraille. — E n avant, marche! dit le général. Je m’avançais fort lentement, persuadé que je rencontrerais quelque corde ou quelque tabouret traîtreusement placé sur mon chemin pour me faire trébucher. J’entendais des rires étouffés qui augmentaient mon embarras. Enfin je me croyais tout à fait près du mur lorsque mon doigt, que j’étendais en avant, entra tout à coup dans quelque chose de froid et de visqueux. Je fis une grimace et un saut en arrière, qui fit éclater tous les assistants. J’arrachai mon bandeau, et j’aperçus près de moi mademoiselle Iwinska tenant un pot de miel où j’avais fourré le doigt, croyant toucher la muraille. (TRN 1076-7) [Suddenly Mademoiselle Iwinska threw a handkerchief over my eyes and tightened it as hard as she could behind my head. “Y ou’re in the middle of the parlor,” she said, “R each out with your hand. T here! I bet you can’t touch the wall.” “O ff you go!” cried the General. I walked ahead very slowly, convinced that I would encounter a rope or a stool treacherously placed in my path to trip me up. I heard stifled laughter, which increased my discomfort. Finally I figured I was close to the wall, when suddenly my finger, with which I was reaching forward, entered into something cold and viscous. I grimaced and jumped back, much to the amusement of those watching. I tore off the blindfold, and I saw Mademoiselle Iwinska next to me holding a honey pot—into which I had just stuck my finger as I reached out for the wall.]

Who would have believed it? L ost in the middle of a forest in distant L ithuania, in a country so secluded that one still finds certain animal species long extinct in the civilized world—and so primordial that the inhabitants speak a language (T odorov, Introduction à la littérature fantastique 37), and Mérimée is cited as particularly skilled at this narrative balancing act. It should be noted that this same indeterminacy applies to Mérimée’s deceptive tactics, where the reader is left wondering if he should take the narrative seriously or not.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

similar to Sanskrit, referred to as la mère des langues (“the mother of languages,” TRN 1050)—the château de Dowghielly figures as an outpost of European culture. While wild animals roam in the woods, Mademoiselle Iwinska holds parties, diverting herself with games and dances, and catching up on the latest fashions. The passage recounting this very impractical joke with the honey pot seems doubly inappropriate—first because this delicacy clashes with the rather primitive environment, and second because of the sexual overtones one detects as the narrator’s extended finger sinks into the viscous pot held by the young woman. We might be tempted to discount it as mere playfulness were it not for the fact that honey is reputed to be a food highly prized by certain mammals of the genus Ursus—bears. This links the practical joke to the sinister conclusion of the story: C ount S zémioth, the supposed product of cross-breeding with a bear, apparently mauls this same delicate young maiden, ripping open her throat, leaving her corpse in a wedding bed soaked with a different sticky substance. The parlor game prefigures the gory ending, although in more decorous form. The game and the murder thus reflect each other, albeit in the juxtaposed forms of civilization and savagery—all in a decidedly sexual context. T his episode from Lokis represents in miniature the problem that will occupy us in the final section of this chapter. Straddling the comic and the serious, and walking a fine line between credibility and credulity, the scene of the honey pot is emblematic of the link between mystification and violence. There is a terminological difficulty in discussing this phenomenon, for there exists no strict definition for the kind of violent mystifications we are describing here. What exactly is the dynamic we have identified as “hoax” or “practical joke”—at least as demonstrated within Mérimée’s texts? In the honey pot episode, the trick consists of duping one’s interlocutor, pulling the wool over his eyes. In short, mystification means trying to convince a public of something that is not true, and it implies a dynamic of force that at least hints in the direction of violence. Closely related to charlatanism, and linked to frauds and counterfeits, practical jokes are not harmless: they partake of a ploy of domination according to which the trickster seeks not only to hoodwink his victim, but also to humiliate him or “get the better” of him. T he victim is thus made to feel his vulnerability, and such will be the sentiment experienced by the narrator in Lokis. When he finally pulls off his blindfold he can only console himself by watching others fall for the same gag:18 J’arrachai mon bandeau, et j’aperçus près de moi Mlle Iwinska tenant un pot de miel où j’avais fourré le doigt, croyant toucher la muraille. Ma consolation 18   Mérimée is not immune to the vaguely sadistic pleasure associated with the playing of practical jokes, as one sees in his remark to Auguste Filon after his public reading of Lokis in 1870; when Filon was left unsure how to respond to the tale he had just heard, Mérimée reportedly let fly with this biting remark: “Vous n’avez pas compris, c’est parfait” [“You didn’t understand it; that’s perfect.”] (reported in Mérimée et ses amis, cited in TRN 1628).

Violent Hoaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped Text


fut de voir les deux aides de camp passer par la même épreuve, et ne pas faire meilleure contenance que moi. (TRN 1076-7, emphasis added) [I tore off my blindfold and saw Mlle Iwinska next to me, holding a honey pot, into which I had just stuck my finger while thinking I was going for the wall. My consolation consisted of watching the two aides-de-camp undergo the same test, without faring any better than I.]

T he scene of the narrator’s humiliation reveals another distinctive characteristic of the hoax, separating it from many other forms of fraud: the hoax is generally not complete until the victim understands (after the fact) that he has been duped. Indeed, the value of the trick depends largely on its revelation, and thus on the astonishment experienced by the one who learns, belatedly, that he has been had. H oaxes are thus traps, and like all traps, they must be camouflaged or disguised: they pretend to be something other than they are. In this respect hoaxes lean in the direction of realism, which is also the field in which hoaxes are most commonly deployed. C onvincing the public of something that is not true presupposes the imitation of truth—or at least a representation of the plausible. T hus the false translations of La guzla—the collection of lyric and hyperbolically Romantic poems—are part of a fundamentally realist impulse: they are a mimesis, the imitation of a model that, in fact, does not exist. H oaxes thus occupy an ambivalent position with respect to realism. O n the one hand they are entirely dependent on it, for the credibility of what a hoax suggests, always hovering at the limit of the believable, is its sine qua non. O n the other hand, hoaxes erode realism: when the truth of a mystification is revealed, and the victim recognizes his error, the gullibility of the victim is damaged: once burned, twice shy. And so the person on the receiving end of a hoax is unlikely to be taken in twice by the same maneuver. The hoax thus leaves in its wake a residue of doubt, generating caution and suspicion. As the victim gains savvy, the trickster is required to up the ante, to one-up his own previous efforts in hopes of maintaining the same effect. It is a question of repeatedly crying wolf, but of always crying more convincingly than the last time. T he last major characteristic of hoaxes is that their power relates directly to their improbability (or even their impossibility). This is to say that there is no mystificatory credit to be gained for crying wolf when the wolf is really at the door—but what a coup to make others believe in wolves where they were previously unimaginable. T he greater the gap between a mystifying assertion and its plausibility—without this gap becoming apparent—the greater the surprise. Thus hoaxes aim for that precise boundary (hymen, membrane, or border) between the possible and the impossible. If the context of a hoax is fundamentally realist, that is because it needs the trappings of the real in order to shore up the credibility of a subject teetering on the brink of fantasy. Relying in part on what Roland Barthes called the reality effect (effet de réel), the hoax thus constitutes something like a genre—or, at the very least, a style: there is an aesthetic of fraudulence.

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


T he case of Mérimée reveals itself to be particularly interesting because of its predominance: the dynamics of the hoax saturates Mérimée’s work. Protean in its representation, it manifests itself in a multitude of forms. S o it goes in Lokis. Mérimée glides from the practice of hoaxes (as in La guzla or Clara Gazul) to their representation and recreation within the work itself. Indeed, this novella embeds hoaxes within the narrative like a mise en abyme of several levels. F or instance, the narrator of Lokis, Professor Wittembach, is working to collect information about the local language, and he is delighted when Mlle Iwinska introduces him to a traditional ballad “Les trois fils de Boudrys” [“T he T hree S ons of Boudrys”]. H e hungrily adds this to his collection of local poetry, although he soon discovers it has nothing to do with the Jmoud literature he covets: “Les trois fils de Boudrys” is Mlle Iwinska’s translation of a modern Polish original, which she playfully passed to him like a counterfeit coin. A bit later comes the scene with the honey pot, where the young woman also gets the better of the professor. In both cases the narrator, who elsewhere has shown both the wisdom and the blindness of O edipus (to whom, after all, he is compared [TRN 1065]), falls for the trick. We should point out that Iwinska’s presentation of a fake translation of traditional verse is a clear reference to—and complication of—an earlier escapade: those ballads Mérimée supposedly translated at the beginning of his career in La guzla. T his time, however, it is the narrator himself who suffers as the dupe, at least at one level.19 If the game with the honey pot evokes laughter on the one hand, and dangerous misapprehension on the other, it is only the last of a series of elements that share the same dynamic, for this tale is filled with traps. The reader who takes her chances by entering into Lokis encounters a text that resembles nothing more than the forest surrounding the castle of Médintiltas: like the apparently welcoming clearings, where a “riche et trompeuse végétation cache d’ordinaire des gouffres de boue où cheval et cavalier disparaîtraient à jamais” [“rich and deceptive vegetation conceals pits of mud into which both horse and rider vanish forever”] (1067), the text is filled with snares. Among these is the dance of the roussalka, the mermaid-like spirits who supposedly inhabit the fens lost in the woods, and who drag men down to the slimy bottom. It is again Mlle Iwinska who, before playing the role of the roussalka in a traditional dance, describes the legend: “il y en a une dans toutes ces mares pleines d’eau noire qui embellissent nos forêts. N e vous en approchez pas! La roussalka sort… elle vous emporte au fond…” [“You’ll find one in all the dark-water ponds that embellish our forests. Don’t approach them! T he roussalka comes out… and she drags you down…”] (1073). The roussalka partakes therefore of mystifications and traps of a serious nature: unlike the game of the honey pot, ruses are here linked directly to death. This kind of mystification 19

  Many readers have pointed to this connection between “Les trois fils de Boudrys” and Mérimée’s own translations for La guzla. H owever, there is another echo, for Mérimée actually translated Mickiewicz’s poem around 1853, starting from a Russian version (by Pushkin) that he mistakenly took to be the original. (See TRN 1636.)

Violent Hoaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped Text


arises as the defining characteristic of the Lithuanian forests, incarnated more concretely in the form of the old peasant woman the C ount and the narrator meet during their ride through the forest. According to the C ount the old hag is a witch, but the narrator softens this accusation, describing her more as a simple trickster: L a vieille nous regardait avec un petit rire de triomphe, comme un escamoteur qui vient d’exécuter un tour difficile. Il y avait dans sa physionomie ce mélange de finesse et de stupidité qui n’est pas rare chez les prétendus sorciers, pour la plupart à la fois dupes et fripons. (TRN 1068, emphasis added) [The old woman looked at us and gave a triumphant snicker, like a magician who just pulled off a difficult trick. H er face showed that mix of subtlety and stupidity that is not uncommon amongst supposed sorcerers, who are usually both dupes and frauds.]

“A la fois dupes et fripons” [“Both dupes and frauds”]? Both the purveyor and victim of mystifications, the witch calls to mind the liminal role of the narrator, and she foreshadows the fate of Mademoiselle Iwinska who, after trapping others with her little jokes, will become a victim herself. In Lokis Mérimée elides the difference between violence and trickery—in all its multiple forms.20 And although these little mystifications can trigger laughter, as in the parlor games of the château de Dowghielly, it is a kind of nervous laughter—one that prefigures violence. In Lokis jokes are punishable by death, and we find here, as elsewhere in Mérimée, that hoaxes occupy a middle position, poised between humor and violence, those two trademarks of Mérimée’s work. In short, hoaxes are close cousins of traps: they are related to violence, and in fact can trigger it; they are based on the principle of surprise, where the victim falls suddenly from a position of power to one of complete inferiority—a reversal that can leave the dupe hankering for revenge. And of course, the best traps are set precisely where they are least expected. Such tricks crisscross Mérimée’s work from start to finish. Sometimes they appear in the more obvious forms we have seen in La guzla or Lokis, but in several other texts they play a more marginal but no less crucial role. In “F ederigo,” for example, the story revolves around a cardsharp who pulls a fast one on the Grim Reaper, and ultimately on Jesus himself; in “La partie de tric-trac” the novel revolves around an occurrence of cheating. In these stories the tricks figure as an obvious narrative device; what is less evident is how the dynamic of tricks and mystifications subtends other texts—such as the major works that are Colomba (1840)

 F lorent Montaclair has also suggested that Lokis is a text founded on hoaxes. H owever, his study focuses solely on the fact that Mérimée willfully obscured the scandalous side of his story (the rape incident) by playing up the metaphor of vampirism (“La littérature fantastique romantique: Entre canular et malversation”). 20


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

and Carmen (1845). We’ll focus here on the first of these tales, noting in passing certain parallels with Carmen. Colomba is first and foremost a tale of Corsican vendettas: the young Orso della R ebbia, educated on the continent and commissioned in the F rench army, returns to C orsica after his father’s murder, and he is expected by many to avenge his father and restore the family’s honor. T he Barricini family is largely thought to be responsible for the death, and O rso’s sister, C olomba, will fuel these suspicions, intent on shaking her brother from his French ideas of justice, nudging him toward a more Corsican (i.e., more violent) form of revenge. The young Englishwoman, Miss Lydia Nevil, whom Orso first meets during his crossing to the island, stands as an emblem of refined civilization, in contradistinction to the more bestial and savage C olomba. At the center of this drama of murder and retaliation lies a trick—one that gets the better of the established legal system. In the trial against the head of the Barricini family, a document is introduced as evidence—a single sheet upon which a few letters written by the “main défaillante” [“failing hand”] (TRN 793) of Orso’s father supposedly reveal the name of his killer, a certain Agostini. However, as we learn late in the story, this document is a fake: the letter is a crude counterfeit by Barricini, who created it to deflect suspicions about the author of the crime. Although widely rumored among the C orsican population to be guilty, the Barricinis are officially cleared of wrongdoing, and they find themselves in the enviable position of having escaped the reach of the law while becoming a more daunting social force. The device of the fake letter—a document signed by a name other than that of the true author—already calls to mind intertextual references in Mérimée’s work: La guzla, for example, and the fabricated ballad of Mademoiselle Iwinska in Lokis. In this case, though, O rso della R ebbia plays his role more cautiously than most of Mérimée’s victims of deception: he knows something is up, and he senses a trap closing around him. After all, as he mentions to Miss L ydia, “Voyezvous, nous autres C orses, nous sommes une race rusée” [“Y ou see, we C orsicans are a cunning lot”] (TRN 797). The problem is, Orso isn’t sure what kind of a trap he may be in, or even who is pulling the strings: in addition to the Barricinis, he knows his sister has manipulated him, trying to trick him into taking the kind of violent action—revenge—that is sanctioned by tradition. O rso refuses to act until he has proof—and by this deference to the rule of law he reveals how much he has been influenced by his time on the continent. According to the judicial system, a legal judgment will necessarily be based on evidence, but in this case the evidence has been tampered with. In fact, while the page designating Agostini as the killer is a fake, it is actually the second in a series of fraudulent letters in Colomba: before the assassination a threatening letter was sent to O rso’s father, supposedly signed by Agostini, the provenance of which will eventually be traced to the imprisoned T omaso Bianchi, under orders from

Violent Hoaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped Text


Barricini.21 Agostini is being “set up” by the same documents that will exculpate the Barricinis. H owever, one trap leads to another, and it is C olomba who arranges for all the parties to be standing in front of the Prefect (the representative of continental law) when she unexpectedly produces evidence that the documents are forgeries. Barricini cries out that they have walked into a trap: “C’est un guet-apens!” [“We’ve been ambushed!”] (TRN 840). The image is locally appropriate for, as the Prefect explains it to Miss L ydia’s father, ambushes are part of the local tradition: in C orsica, he says, “on s’embusque, on se tue par derrière, c’est la façon du pays” [“they hide and they pick each other off from behind—it’s the local custom”] (TRN 869). F ollowing in this tradition, C olomba is laying traps of her own, committing forgeries that are less literate but just as fraudulent. N otably, she slits the ear of Orso’s horse, making her brother think one of the Barricinis is the author of such a base act; she also devises several ploys to force the Barricinis’ hands in the Corsican tradition of gun fight, making them the aggressors, and allowing Orso thus to retaliate in self-defense. C onvinced of the Barricinis’ involvement in her father’s death, she arranges “fortuitous” encounters between her brother and his adversaries, blowing on the embers of their hostility. O rso is thus every bit as manipulated by his sister as by old Barricini, and it is hard to tell which of them has more to do with the final dramatic scene. Orso had offered the Barricini brothers a duel—the “honorable” and F rench way of handling the affair—but instead finds himself victim of a treacherous attack, a kind of double ambush. Crossing through a patch of deep woods, he glimpses the glint of Orlanduccio Barricini’s rifle barrel before the first shot is fired; then from the other side comes another blast, directed by O rlanduccio’s brother, Vincentello. Hit by both bullets, his left arm out of commission, Orso fires on his adversaries, dispatching them with only two shots in rapid succession. While O rso escapes the scene with flesh wounds and restored honor, it is Colomba herself who seems, in the end, to have won: she has done everything in her power to manipulate her brother into walking into the Barricini ambush, which, since she expects Orso to emerge victorious, is actually a carefully orchestrated ambush of the Barricinis. It’s a double-barreled mystification of the most violent type. T he deadly guiles of C olomba would appear to clash with the sweet, sophisticated manners of Miss L ydia, the other woman in O rso’s life—one who represents O rso’s attachments to the civilized world of F rance. And yet there are strange similarities between these two women who end up joining forces to save the same man. Although she is dainty and disarming when we first encounter her on the deck of the ship heading to Ajaccio, Miss Lydia develops a hard edge, and

21  In the style of embedded miniatures that Mérimée so often enjoys, there is also the tale told by the Giocanto Castriconi (“le Curé”), a bandit who took umbrage at his name being used in a separate episode of counterfeit letters (TRN 821).

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


she is not without wiles of her own. The first clue that she may have something up her laced sleeve comes when she claims to be a sorceress: [...] voulez-vous que je vous donne une preuve de ma pénétration? Je suis un peu sorcière, et je sais ce que pensent les gens que j’ai vus deux fois. (TRN 779) [D o you want evidence of my insight? I’m a little bit of a witch, and I can read the thoughts of people I’ve encountered more than once.]

The reader hesitates to take the assertion seriously; however, the statement links Miss L ydia to the other malevolent witches that populate Mérimée’s universe, such as C armen, or the old hag of the forest in Lokis. In fact, Miss L ydia belongs to the class of frivolous women that one often encounters in Mérimée—the same class as Mademoiselle Iwinska in Lokis. T hese women may bewitch their men sweetly and gently, but their enchantments will nonetheless recall the deadly powers of C armen and Colomba. The affinity between Miss Lydia and her Corsican counterpart demonstrate this quite effectively. T his plethora of parallels with Carmen and other works should give us pause. In Mérimée’s world, witchcraft is generally linked to violence and death; like the vampire, with his hypnotizing gaze, the witch preys on those she encounters. T hat, at least, is the violent side of the coin: a complementary figure exists in a civilized version, where witches are replaced by enchanting beauties, and where playful frivolity substitutes for cool manipulation. The key here is to recognize that the fundamental dynamics remain the same: when it is a question of tricks—honey pots in the château de Dowghielly, fabricated ballads, or the kind of lighthearted ruses that abound in Mérimée’s stories—these hoaxes are merely the civilized avatars of a more profound and primordial dynamic, which takes the form of the trap and the ambush. It won’t add much here to go into detail about Carmen, except to point out that ambushes play a major role in that text as well—and that the ambushes will not just be of the armed variety, but will also involve the traps a woman lays for a man, and which lead to the violent ending that story is famous for. In ambushes, as Mérimée conceives of them, we find all the elements of the hoax (minus the laughter): the bait, the surprise, the relationship of power, and finally the belated realization by the victim that he has fallen into a trap.22 In fact, whenever it is a question of laughter in Mérimée’s hoaxes, the context always evokes culture—that is, civilization that is refined to the point of preciosity. And just as systematically, whenever one leaves civilization, it is to return to origins  T his realization occurs systematically in Mérimée. In Colomba O rso’s father does not die without first seeing his assassins, just as Orso himself will spot Orlanduccio before he fires in the ambush. In Carmen it is the narrator himself who warns D on José of the ambush that Antonio is preparing for him (TRN 945-6), and Don José will take part in several attacks that follow the same structure. 22

Violent Hoaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped Text


(represented differently in different stories), peeling away the layers of civility that mask the logic of the trap. Thus in Lokis, outside the château de D owghielly nature lurks in all its primordial violence. “Veuillez vous rappeler,” says Count Szémioth, “que vous êtes chez les barbares” [“D on’t forget that you are among barbarians”] (1058), and this wilderness conceals traps in the form of swamps, roussalkas, and witches. S tripped of the trappings of civilization, the hoax is presented here in its most primitive form. C onversely, in scenes of civilization, deadly traps hide behind simple mystifications: laughter is the civilized form of violence, and playing a hoax is the civilized substitute for murder. Put simply, C olomba is merely the C orsican version of Miss L ydia. In fact, it is Miss Lydia herself who makes this connection when she describes how profoundly manners change when one leaves civilization behind. T o justify her own forwardness toward Orso, she evokes the savagery of Corsica, which obliges one to abandon certain proprieties: Monsieur della Rebbia, […] continua miss Lydia en rougissant, nous ne nous connaissons que depuis quelques jours, mais en mer, et dans les pays barbares— vous m’excuserez, je l’espère […],—dans les pays barbares, on devient ami plus vite que dans le monde. (TRN 779) [Monsieur della Rebbia, […] continued Miss Lydia all ablush, we have only known each other for a few days; however, when at sea, or in barbarous lands—I hope you’ll excuse the expression—in barbarous lands, people form friendships more quickly than in high society…]

All of civilization is captured in Miss L ydia’s blush—that sign of modesty or politeness that also acts as an uncontrollable symptom of desire and passion. As the “civilized” representation of more primal urges, it partakes of the same phenomenon that substitutes trickery for violence. In “barbarous” countries (whether Mérimée is talking about Corsica, the wild countryside of Spain, or the deepest forests of Lithuania), blushing and other refined expressions have no place. Orso della Rebbia, who is of Corsican birth but French education, finds himself straddling these two worlds. Moreover, almost as if to allegorize the transition, Miss Lydia begins to lose her coyness while on the deck of the boat leading to the island of C orsica: she is quite precisely in transit between the civilized continent and this primordial world where civilities are reduced to their most direct form. Miss Lydia’s blush partakes of this in-between-ness, of what is a transgression in both the literal and figurative sense. In Corsica passions exist in their raw essence, and the sublimated violence of hoaxes will reappear in full force and effect, especially in the form of the ambush.

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


The Violence of Hoaxes T he exploration of these processes helps to explain some of the mystery that has long shrouded Mérimée: in particular, it shows how the notion of the “literary hoax,” long dismissed as a harmless and somewhat immature indulgence of his early years, in fact provides a privileged access point to the workings of Mérimée’s world. Moreover, insofar as hoaxes are related to primordial passions, they find themselves linked to other themes in Mérimée, such as the search for origins expressed by archeology, history, and philology. T his archeological impulse in Mérimée’s work, defined more broadly as the archè by Antonia F onyi,23 manifests itself frequently in the stories and novellas, as in the narrator’s constant search for artifacts in “La Vénus d’Ille,” or the philological mania we find in Lokis or Carmen. But the impulse toward origins is more than merely academic in Mérimée: it betrays a profound fascination with the pre-verbal—passions and drives in their primordial form, before civilization, language, and law smooth them over. Society tames violence—leaving only its vestiges in parlor games, tricks and mystifications. The humor of such sophisticated pleasures is thus always related to violence: as C harles Baudelaire would later speculate in his “D e l’essence du rire” [“O n the E ssence of L aughter”], there is nothing innocent about laughter, as it is tied to plays of power and feelings of superiority: one thrills when others fall victim.24 T hus in Lokis the “harmless” jokes of Mademoiselle Iwinska quite “naturally” meet with the brutal counterpart of her slaughter; in Colomba the savagery of the eponymous character is but a more transparent version of Miss L ydia’s teasing ways. If hoaxes are always associated with violence in these works, it is because for Mérimée the barrier between the civilized world and brutality is not impermeable. In fact, there is always that problem of “porousness” and contamination, discussed above in the context of vampires. We see this in the blood that flows under the door of “L a chambre bleue,” in the adjoining gardens of “Il viccolo di Madama L ucrezia,” or in the interpenetration of cultures in Colomba and Carmen. In fact, the reader—just like certain of the characters—may find herself taken off-balance, disoriented by the mixture of opposites. After all, are we in C orsica or in F rance (Colomba)? Is it a dalliance or a murder (“La chambre bleue”)? Is it a question of innocent mockery, or of violent slaughter (Lokis)? On each occasion Mérimée’s  F onyi, “L a passion pour l’archè.” F or F onyi, the archè represents not only Mérimée’s interest in history that is geographically and chronologically remote, but more generally his obsession with drives and practices of a primordial (often prehistorical and preverbal) nature. From Fonyi’s psychoanalytic point of view, it is also the mark of a return to origins. 24   “Qu’y a-t-il de si réjouissant dans le spectacle d’un homme qui tombe sur la glace ou sur le pavé? […] C’est là le point de départ: moi, je ne tombe pas.” [“What is so delightful about a man who slips on the ice or trips on a cobblestone? […] That’s the starting point: I have not fallen.”] (Œuvres complètes, II, 531). 23

Violent Hoaxes: Mérimée and the Booby-trapped Text


stories revolve around a hesitation—an element of doubt created in the mind of the reader. This element of doubt, and the ambivalence of (violent) mystifications, recalls another equivocation for which Mérimée is celebrated: the indecision readers experience in his fantastic tales, as they choose between two incompatible readings—one supernatural and the other realist. T he parallel is not accidental: in fact, the fantastic partakes of both the trap and the hoax, sharing their dynamic. Like hoaxes, the supernatural relies on the gullibility of the reader; like hoaxes, it exploits the stylistic traits of realism in hopes of making the improbable believable; like mystifications, it leaves readers with the lingering sensation of having been “had”—even if they have thoroughly enjoyed tumbling into the trap. F inally, while hoaxes do not always lead to laughter in Mérimée, they nevertheless furnish one of the keys to his writing. The dynamic is structurally the same, regardless of the form it takes: hoax, ambush, or the appearance of the supernatural. By cannily manipulating the credulity of his reader, Mérimée makes us feel the underlying connections between these forms. T his relationship between playfulness and violence spans the full range of Mérimée’s career, and it is captured quite elegantly in a passage from his Lettres d’Espagne (Letters from Spain). Here, with a kind of vigorous enthusiasm one rarely finds in Mérimée, the young author waxes lyrical about bull fighting (TRN 551-66), where the combination of spectacle and violence thrills him. While describing the play of the matador who manipulates his worthy adversary, Mérimée provides an apt description of the dynamic of his future, bloody mystifications: Enfin le taureau impatient s’élance contre le drapeau rouge dont le matador se couvre à dessein. S a vigueur est telle qu’il abattrait une muraille en la choquant de ses cornes; mais l’homme l’esquive par un léger mouvement de corps; il disparaît comme par enchantement et ne lui laisse qu’une draperie légère qu’il élève au-dessus de ses cornes en défiant sa fureur. (560-1) [In the end the restless bull hurtles himself against the red flag the matador holds before him. H is vigor is such that he would topple a stone wall if he caught it with his horns; but the fellow dodges him with a slight movement of his body; he disappears as if by enchantment, leaving nothing more behind than a light curtain, which he lifts over the horns as if to spur the bull’s fury.]

T here is nothing more primordial than this encounter between man and beast. And yet, at the same time, the matador’s ploy partakes of both ambushes and magic tricks, where the bull suffers the sorry role of the reader. The elegant flourishes of the matador prefigure the footwork of pretty Mademoiselle Iwinska, playing at the roussalka and composing her fake verses, smiling slyly at the idea of the professor she is about to take for a ride.

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C hapter 3

Political Prostheses and Imperial Impostors In the winter of 1852, after years of derision in the popular press, L ouis N apoleon Bonaparte declared himself E mperor of the F rench. T here was, in a sense, nothing particularly new about this, for he had done so publicly at least twice before, at the debacles of Strasbourg (1836) and Boulogne (1840); but on those occasions his claims had been summarily dismissed. D iscounted as an illegitimate heir to the throne and as a lackluster and presumptuous counterfeit of his imperial uncle, N apoleon Bonaparte, L ouis had suffered repeated exiles and imprisonments. O n D ecember 2, however, a year after dissolving the N ational Assembly, and fortyseven years to the day after his uncle’s famous victory at Austerlitz, he made the claim stick. The Second Empire was launched. L ater that month, on D ecember 25, a slender volume of considerable interest was registered at the Bibliothèque nationale. In it was told the tale of an imperial impostor: a bold adventurer, claiming to be the heir to the throne, “returns” from exile to recapture the crown from an illegitimate successor. After innumerable challenges to his legitimacy, and against incalculable odds, the impostor succeeds in his bid for power. After rising to the throne, he declares himself emperor, indulging in a brazen farce of the highest order. D espite the parallels between this story and recent events, the volume did not claim to be satire, but rather identified itself with another tradition—divorced from current events by both time and space: serious history. E ntitled Épisode de l’histoire de Russie, Les faux Démétrius [Episode of Russian History: The False Dimitris], the story takes place in the seventeenth century, revolving around the son of Ivan the T errible, D imitri, who died in 1591 under mysterious circumstances at the age of eight. A decade later an impostor, passing himself off as D imitri and claiming to have been switched with a peasant boy before the attempt on his life, emerged from Poland to vie for the throne. T hus Les faux Démétrius bills itself as a purely historical piece dealing with the imperial R ussia of the seventeenth century. C ould readers be fooled in 1852 by such a sham of history? Was it possible for anyone to read Les faux Démétrius as anything other than a biting critique of L ouis N apoleon’s recent coup d’état? T he surprising answer is: “Y es. E veryone.” H owever, given the political situation at the time—made quite volatile by politically critical publications such as Karl Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852), Gérard de Nerval’s Faux saulniers [The Salt Smugglers] (1850, reworked in Les illuminés in 1852), Victor Hugo’s Napoléon le petit [Napoleon the Small] (1852), and the relentless digs by the popular press and the caricature journals—

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


it is not clear how Les faux Démétrius could slip by N apoleon’s censors. H ad Les faux Démétrius been signed H ugo or N erval, or had it even passed into print anonymously, the government would have been hard pressed to view this R ussian tale as anything other than an ironic allusion to current politics in Paris. Irony, though, is one domain where perceptions of authorial intent are of paramount importance, for irony is precisely the rhetorical figure that plays on the disjunction between intention and expression. And, in the case of Les faux Démétrius, authorial intent was murky at best. Despite the parallels it allowed with the current political scene, the text did not seem to have been presented as particularly oppositional. F or example, it was not published in L ondon or Belgium, where subversive authors (from Sade to Hugo) had long found sympathetic outlets; nor did it even feign such an exotic, extra-territorial origin, a tactic favored by less well traveled or connected opponents of the government. T o the contrary, the volume bears the colophon of a respectable, mainstream Parisian publishing house, that of Michel Lévy. Moreover, the author’s background affiliated him closely with the powers of the political center. He was a member of state academies, an important functionary, a recently decorated officer of the Légion d’honneur, and he was soon to take a seat on the imperial senate. Les faux Démétrius was written by Prosper Mérimée. In the previous chapter we examined the role of mystifications in Mérimée’s literary works, paying particular attention to the way mystification manifested itself in a multitude of forms, crossing the border between humor and violence. N ow it will be a question of tracing Mérimée’s infatuation with the false within another genre, and one where questions of authenticity are paramount: history. O n the one hand, Mérimée’s historical work might be considered closely allied with his professional responsibilities as the Inspector of H istoric Monuments, where the ability to separate the authentic from the fraudulent was an important job skill. H owever, Les faux Démétrius also shares the literary themes that had always attracted Mérimée (for instance: brutality, succession, fraudulence), demonstrating a surprisingly porous boundary between literature and history. In this particular case, stepping beyond fiction and into the historical record will also mean stepping into caricature and contemporary politics. 

 S cores of new periodicals, most of them having a political ax to grind, sprang up between 1848 and 1850. T he R iancey L aw of July, 1850 (which N erval lambasts in Les faux saulniers), sought to clamp down on the press, and this demonstrates how closely N apoleon’s censors monitored the political climate. R obert Goldstein describes the trajectory of caricature during this brief period of relative freedom (Goldstein 169-79).   O r at least it plays on an assumption of intent. D espite some recent attempts to reassert the importance of authorial intention (see Iseminger), it seems clear that even irony relies on readerly perceptions, which may or may not coincide with “actual” authorial intent.    On several occasions, while on his official tours of the provinces, Mérimée found himself confronted with various kinds of misrepresentations by local antiquaries.

Political Prostheses and Imperial Impostors


Les faux Démétrius is of interest here precisely because it has escaped notice: only a handful of critics, past and present, have paid it any heed, and even at the time of its publication the volume received only passing comments in the press, with no detailed analyses. This lack of response is surprising in a text that seems pregnant with such oppositional potential. A book on imperial imposture in 1852 might reasonably be taken for an example of oppositional discourse, a particular genre of speech act that is generally characterized by abrasion, by the way it rubs against and wears upon the forces it opposes. Y et, for all its potential friction, Les faux Démétrius does not seem to have generated any heat. If we understand “oppositional literature” to refer to texts that struggle against the central, dominant forces in a given field (literary, political, social, or otherwise), then a book like Les faux Démétrius, which appears to elude the standard opposition of margin to center, raises interesting questions. Specifically, can this be an oppositional text? More generally, keeping in mind Mérimée’s close ties with the new regime, is it even possible to write oppositionally from the center? This question is not the same as asking whether opposition can come from within the system it opposes; that much seems essential. Indeed, oppositional discourse, as defined by Ross Chambers, Richard Terdiman, and others, seems necessarily to operate from within the system it hopes to transform. Y et even within a given system there exist varying degrees of marginalization and centrality, and the oppositional power of discourse is related directly to the position from which that discourse is enunciated. In theory, the closer one stands to the center, the greater one’s power either to perpetuate or to transform the system one inhabits. Defamatory flyers from a political fringe group, for example, generally hold less transformational potential than revelations to the press by well-placed members of the majority government. T heoretically, then, if opposition were actually to coincide with the center it challenges, the combination could be explosive. Les faux Démétrius would appear to fulfill these conditions, for Mérimée served as a high-ranking administrator and 

  Although it rarely takes the form of traditional performatives—not explicitly declaring, vowing, promising, etc.—oppositional discourse regularly performs such acts covertly. On the link between oppositional discourse and speech act theory, see Pierre Bourdieu, Language 72-6.   T hus R ichard T erdiman, in one of the foundational studies of oppositionality, employs the metaphors of struggle, conflict, resistance, and corrosion (Discourse/CounterDiscourse 25-81).   R ichard T erdiman has shown, for example, how opposition in the press survived in the nineteenth century, all the while obeying the letter of the law (117-97). Ross Chambers has characterized behavior that does not engage the system on its own rules, such as revolution or blatantly illegal acts, as “resistance” (Maneuver xv). One might add the other extreme: actions that are oppositional in intent, but that refuse to confront directly the system they challenge (like an inflammatory letter one writes but never sends). Such actions may have oppositional potential, but that potential is never realized.    As Pierre Bourdieu has put it, one needs to have “obtained sufficient recognition to be in a position to impose recognition” (In Other Words 138).


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

was a personal friend of the imperial family. N evertheless, something seems to have gone radically wrong: this text, which could have proved explosive given the current political climate, is a bomb that never went off. O ppositional potential seems to have been defused, and the text misfired. Why? How? A cursory look suffices to discount the possibility that the parallels between R ussian history and recent events in F rance were either too few or too veiled, for the text teems with corollaries to the S econd E mpire. E ven the situational parallelism between the two pretenders, for example, is striking: both Dimitri and L ouis N apoleon rode on the coattails of powerful, authoritarian ancestors, both suffered accusations that their claims to lineage were illegitimate, and both were carried to power by masses hungry for a taste of past glory. Also shared was a special concern to manipulate the symbols of legitimacy in order to mold public perception. In Les faux Démétrius Mérimée takes pains to show how Dimitri, like Louis Napoleon, was careful to forge links with his professed past. Both D imitri and L ouis N apoleon needed to be inventive in their symbolic borrowings, for neither could rely on physical resemblance to support his assertion of kinship: Louis Napoleon’s tall and gangly figure did little to recall the short and stout emperor, and while those who had known Ivan the Terrible thought they saw a “ressemblance de famille” [“family resemblance”], Mérimée reports on how the pretender was an ugly version of the reportedly handsome E mperor: cependant, le tsar était beau, et les traits de son fils prétendu ne prévenait guère en sa faveur. L e visage large, les pommettes saillantes, le nez gros, les lèvres épaisses, peu ou point de barbe, c’est ainsi que le représentent plusieurs contemporains qui l’ont souvent approché. (FD 46) [and yet, the czar was handsome, and the features of his supposed son hardly spoke in his favor. His face was wide, with prominent cheekbones, a broad nose and thick lips, little or no beard—such is the report from several contemporary sources, who were often close to him.]

Indeed, this question of imperial resemblance was so important that in the months preceding Louis Napoleon’s rise to power 1848, the popular press had a field day making fun of the new emperor’s lack of physical resemblance with the first one, requiring him to focus on the trademark symbols and accoutrements of the original N apoleon—including clothes, postures, and imperial insignia. (These mocking representations enjoyed a short life; soon after his election the President began to clamp down on the press.) Figure 3.1 shows the eaglebeaked emperor looking down on his nephew, represented in the form of a goose.

  L ouis N apoleon was believed by many to be the illegitimate son of H ortense de Beauharnais, thus having no blood link to his uncle the Emperor (Thompson 5-6; Bierman 3, 8).

Political Prostheses and Imperial Impostors

F igure 3.1


“C ’est étonnant, comme il ressemble à son oncle! ...” [“It’s amazing how much he looks like his uncle!”]. La revue comique, N o. 2 (1848), 17. Author’s personal collection.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

The deterioration is clear: on the one hand we have a magnificent bird of prey; on the other, poultry. Given that neither D imitri nor L ouis N apoleon could rely on physical similarities, both drew heavily on imperial traits they could more readily imitate. In the R ussian case, Mérimée reports that the pretender produced certain totemic objects as testimony to his identity: “un sceau russe, portant les armes et le nom du tsarévitch” [“a R ussian seal bearing the name and the arms of the czarevitch”] (FD 44), as well as a bejeweled cross, reportedly a baptismal gift bestowed upon him by his godfather. H e also realized the importance of recruiting the former czar’s family to his cause, and Mérimée describes in detail the pains taken to obtain a maternal blessing from Ivan’s widow (116-18), his supposed mother. The public appearance of mother and supposed son (occurring only after lengthy negotiations in private) served Dimitri as a stamp of authenticity before the public. L ouis N apoleon, who developed perforce into a master of public relations, did no less. With considerable difficulty he enlisted the begrudging recognition he needed from the Napoleonic clan (Thompson 83), and in lieu of Dimitri’s seal, he used everywhere the emblem of the imperial eagle and the bicorn hat, a maneuver that was also widely spoofed in the press (figure 3.2).Still, artful manipulation of symbols isn’t everything; “Clothes do not make the man,” as the press pointed out (figure 3.3). Impostors, or those perceived as such, occupy a vulnerable position: when one’s very identity is open for debate, even infractions in protocol or breaches of etiquette come under scrutiny. T hus D imitri, although he bore the emblems of his lineage, became suspect for falling shy of the majesty expected of a man with such a princely heritage: S on infatigable activité d’esprit et de corps étonnait toute sa cour, mais les Moscovites, habitués à l’étiquette solennelle de leurs tsars, trouvaient qu’il manquait parfois de dignité. (FD 119) [H is inexhaustible mental and physical energy astonished his entire court, but the Moscovites, accustomed to tsars who observed solemn etiquette, sometimes found him lacking in dignity.]

   Although I refer here to the popular press in general, the graphic examples will come principally from La revue comique, the caricature journal founded by N adar (who also produced many of the caricatures) in 1848. La revue comique was something of a caricatural melting pot, not only printing many original lithographs, but also “borrowing” a great number of them from other journals (such as the Charivari). On the role of these journals, and especially the caricatures leading up to L ouis N apoleon’s election in 1848, see Goldstein (169-76).

Political Prostheses and Imperial Impostors

Figure 3.2


“Les deux sosies” [“The two look-alikes”]. Napoleon I and Louis N apoleon. La revue comique, No. 4 (1848), 56; reproduced from the British newspaper, The Literary Pioneer. Author’s personal collection.


Figure 3.3

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

“L’habit ne fait pas le moine” [“Clothes don’t make the man”]. La revue comique, No. 2 (1848), 9. Author’s personal collection.

Political Prostheses and Imperial Impostors


And later: S urtout les gens scrupuleux trouvaient fort à redire à sa conduite, en ce qui concernait les pratiques religieuses. Il était distrait aux offices, souvent il manquait à saluer les saintes images avant de prendre ses repas, et quelquefois il se levait brusquement de table, oubliant de se laver les mains. (FD 121) [Most of all certain scrupulous souls had reservations about his comportment, especially with respect to religious practices. H e was inattentive during mass, often he neglected to bow before the holy images before sitting down to eat, and sometimes he rose hastily from the table, forgetting to wash his hands.]

Mérimée makes repeated reference to the pretender’s gaffes in the court, and to those of his equally inexperienced delegates (FD 124, 139, 156-7): on many occasions he swept aside convention and refused to stand on ceremony—going so far as to mingle with the people, rarely accompanied by his guards. All in all, Dimitri’s manners betrayed an awkwardness and social ineptness altogether consistent with the image the popular press had been circulating of L ouis N apoleon. T he particular choice of a goose to represent the new N apoleon was calculated to underscore his lack of wit and elegance; after all, in French a goose is also a term for a dunderhead (see figures 3.4, 3.5). Moreover, the caricature journals of the mid-century thrived on exploiting the discrepancies between L ouis’ conduct and the N apoleonic grandeur he strove to appropriate in apparel and action. A number of images showed how Louis Napoleon could not fill the boots of his imperial ancestor. S imilarly, in an 1848 retrospective of the pretender’s attempted coup in S trasbourg—a ludicrous attempt to recreate N apoleon’s triumphant march to Paris after his return from E lba—the journal La Silhouette mocked the N apoleonic masquerade, calling L ouis N apoleon a mannequin, imitating quite pathetically the dress and gestures of his uncle: L a rue est pleine de cuirassiers de la garnison, leur colonel en tête. D evant eux s’avance, précédé de l’aigle impérial et flanqué d’une demi-douzaine d’adolescents en uniformes de fantaisie, une sorte de mannequin en chair et en os, affublé d’un habit de chasseur de garde, d’un ruban rouge, de la culotte blanche, chaussé de bottes à l’écuyère et coiffé d’un petit chapeau historique, en un mot la charge vivante du héros d’Austerlitz et de Marengo. L ’épée au côté, le chapeau carrément posé sur le front, la main dans le gilet, cet anachronisme ambulant, marche avec dignité, salue à droite et à gauche à la façon de N apoléon, dont il s’étudiait à contrefaire le geste et le maintien. D u reste, la ressemblance ne va pas au-delà. Sa personne est maigre et fluette, ses traits juvéniles et insignifiants sont précisément l’antipode du type traditionnel de l’empereur. C e n’est pas un S osie, c’est un singe.10   La Silhouette, number 54 (November 18, 1848).



F igure 3.4

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

“Pour préparer le prince à ses hautes destinées et lui apprendre tout ce qui concerne son état, on lui enseigne à apprivoiser un aigle; mais l’aigle, qui n’aime pas ces gens-là, le mord—et crânement!” [“T o prepare the prince for his great destiny and to teach him everything concerning his condition, they teach him to tame an eagle; however, the eagle doesn’t care for people like that, and it bites him—hard!”]. La revue comique, No. 2 (1848), 17. Author’s personal collection.

Political Prostheses and Imperial Impostors

Figure 3.5


“L’effet que ça ferait sur la colonne” [“How that would look on the column”]. (T he reference is to the statue of N apoleon atop the Vendôme Column.) La revue comique, No. 1 (1848), 44. Author’s personal collection.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France [T he street is full of cavalrymen from the garrison, their colonel in the lead. Before them, preceded by the imperial eagle and flanked by a half-dozen adolescents in fanciful uniforms, there appears a kind of puppet in flesh and bone, decked out in the uniform of the imperial guard, with a red sash and white pantaloons, wearing riding boots, and topped with a little historic hat—in a word, the living caricature of the hero of Austerlitz and Marengo. H is sword at his side, the hat sitting squarely over his eyes, his hand stuck in his vest, this walking anachronism struts with dignity, waves to the right and left like Napoleon, whose gestures and bearing he seeks to counterfeit. Otherwise, the resemblance goes no further. His body is skinny and slight, and his juvenile, unremarkable features are the exact opposite of those traditionally associated with the emperor. It’s not a double—it’s an ape.]

T hroughout the presidential campaign in 1848, and through the carefully orchestrated coup d’état in 1852, L ouis N apoleon pulled out all the stops, carefully modeling his rise to power on the F irst E mpire, and always pointing out these parallels. Predictably, this tactic of promoting the second N apoleonic age as a repetition of the first had a down side: it invited comparisons between the two empires. “The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce,” Marx famously wrote of the two N apoleonic entrances upon the F rench stage (The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte 103), but he was beaten to this punch line by the newspapers, which had already denounced Louis Napoleon’s efforts as “farce” (figure 3.6) and his return in 1848 as a new “18 brumaire” (figure 3.7). One cartoon punningly contrasted the earlier E mpire with L ouis N apoleon’s nadir—the word empire being a perfect homonym for an pire [“worst year”] (figure 3.8). Finally, as if to lay the groundwork for Mérimée, the popular press applied to Louis Napoleon an epithet that would make Mérimée’s title potentially even more stinging: in 1848 he came to be known as false political currency, referred to as le faux napoléon [the false Napoleon], a reference both to his duplication of the first emperor, but also to his being a counterfeit copy of the gold coin bearing the name and the effigy of his uncle.11 All of this attests to the terrible fragility of L ouis N apoleon’s identity during the period when he was consolidating his power. In fact, the battle of images that he waged was every bit as fierce as the one Mérimée described in the case of Dimitri, and sometimes even the details of their struggles were parallel. F or example, in addition to the discrepancies between image and conduct, L ouis N apoleon and D imitri had considerable difficulty identifying themselves with their fatherlands: neither could conceal a disturbing foreignness. Raised abroad, Dimitri spoke Russian haltingly, and with an accent that reminded Moscovites of their perennial enemy, Poland (FD 49).

11  S ee La revue comique, number 5 (58); see also La silhouette, N ovember 18, 1848, p. 4, column 1. The napoleon was a coin first issued in 1803, minted in gold; it was worth twenty francs.

Political Prostheses and Imperial Impostors

F igure 3.6


“L a farce est jouée” [“T he farce has been played”]. La revue comique, No. 4 (1848), 47. Author’s personal collection.

F igure 3.7

“U n nouveau 18 brumaire” [“A new 18 Brumaire”]. La revue comique, No. 8 (1848), 119. Author’s personal collection.

Political Prostheses and Imperial Impostors

Figure 3.8


“En 1848 nous avions Louis-Philippe; si Louis Bonaparte nous arrivait en 1849 [...] 1849 serait l’an pire. H i! hi! hi!” [“In 1848 we had Louis-Philippe; if Louis Bonaparte lands on us in 1849, it would be the worst year. H ee-hee!”]. La revue comique, No. 1 (1848), 14. Author’s personal collection.

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


L ouis N apoleon, as the press mercilessly pointed out, butchered F rench the way his uncle had butchered armies, and his German accent affiliated him in the popular imagination with the long-standing enemy of France across the Rhine (figures 3.9, 3.10).12 T he situation was not materially improved when, in 1851 (at the very time Mérimée was writing Les faux Démétrius), the fledgling emperor began to court another foreigner, E ugénie de Montijo, for his bride. D imitri had made the same miscalculation: precisely at the moment he most needed to consolidate his ties to R ussia, he had wed a foreigner (FD 124-5). Finally, at the height of his power he appropriated a title that his adversaries would decry and challenge, forsaking the title of Czar (as Louis Napoleon did that of President) for the more resonant “E mperor” (FD 113, 194). T he parallels between these two episodes of R ussian and F rench history (the details of which are merely sampled here) are all the more startling when one realizes that the stories intersect at a point of geographic and historical significance for the F rench: D imitri’s assault upon—and eventual loss of—the city of Moscow can hardly help but call to mind the ignominious defeat suffered there by the first, “authentic” N apoleon in 1812. All of these parallels between the R ussian history of D imitri and Mérimée’s present-day F rance leave us with a puzzle. After all, the connections between N apoleon’s legacy and D imitri’s are so evident and multiple that it would be nearly impossible for today’s informed reader not to see them. In 1852, however, Mérimée’s text made not a ripple on the political scene. T his is not to say that the volume was not read. T o the contrary, it received favorable (if somewhat tepid) reviews, was translated almost immediately into German and E nglish, and proved popular enough both to be pirated by the Belgian publishing industry, as well as to warrant a second F rench edition in 1854 (Raitt 266). In spite of its exposure, however, the reading of Les faux Démétrius as an oppositional critique of the S econd E mpire passed entirely unnoticed. C learly it stirred no outcry in public circles, but even the private correspondence of literati of the period holds no mention of the parallel—indeed, one finds little mention of the volume at all. E vidently, even Mérimée’s name (which, given the shenanigans we discussed in the previous chapter, should always put one on one’s guard— especially in a text explicitly dealing with fraudulence), did not suffice to raise suspicions.13


  The transcription of heavily accented French in the captions for figures 3.9 and 3.10 is roughly the same as that used by Balzac for Schmucke in Le cousin Pons, which had just appeared in 1847. 13  In the letters of S and, H ugo, F laubert, Marx, Michelet, T ocqueville, Janin, and H oussaye, for instance, there occur but a few vague references to Les faux Démétrius simply noting its appearance.

Political Prostheses and Imperial Impostors

Figure 3.9


“Expédition de Strasbourg: —Mon pon ami, che souis le fils de l’empereur, et che fous nomme maréchal de F rance. Pufez ceite fer de rhoum: être pien pon!” [“T he S trasburg E xpedition: —My gut freund, H ai am der son of der E mperor, and H ai name you maréchal de France. Put down dis sword: be gut, be gut!”]. La revue comique, No. 2 (1848), 20. Author’s personal collection.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

Figure 3.10 “—Ponchour, mon ami; criez: fife l’Embereur… che reviens te S ainte H élène [...]—F arceur, vous m’faites plutôt l’effet de r’venir de Pontoise!” [“—H allo, my freund! C ry out: L ive long der E mberor! Hai am returning back from Sankt Helena [...]—Joker! Looks more to me like you’ve just come back from the loony bin!”]. La revue comique, No. 2 (1848), 26. Author’s personal collection.

Political Prostheses and Imperial Impostors


Why? T he silence regarding the oppositional potential of Les faux Démétrius may be due to confusion or ambiguity. After all, even after examining the parallels, one might legitimately wonder whether they are to be read as subversion or, conversely, as propaganda.14 Although it is evident that the historical narrator of Les faux Démétrius highlights precisely those problems that D imitri and L ouis N apoleon had in common, Mérimée’s treatment of the imperial impostor sometimes comes across as indulgent. While, for example, the popular press spoofed L ouis N apoleon’s aping of his uncle’s military prowess, Mérimée described his protagonist as a truly intrepid soldier, one who, whether legitimate or not, rescued the country from the reign of an unpopular usurper. T hus, in his summary of D imitri’s meteoric career, Mérimée goes so far as to confuse the issue of authenticity, suggesting in his summary comments that identity is not the only test of legitimacy: Voilà comment je me représente l’imposteur qui sut conquérir un trône, et qui succomba au milieu de son triomphe, seulement peut-être parce qu’au lieu d’avoir toutes les parties d’un usurpateur, il avait quelques-unes des qualités qu’on chérit dans un prince légitime. (FD 195) [T hat is how I how imagine the impostor who managed to conquer a throne, and who failed in the midst of his triumph—perhaps only because, instead of having all the elements of a usurper, he had a few of the qualities one cherishes in a legitimate prince.]

S o, D imitri is heralded as legitimate despite being counterfeit. If Mérimée’s text were to be read allegorically, what more sympathetic a compromise could L ouis N apoleon desire? Authenticity, Mérimée seems to suggest, is not given but constructed. Or perhaps he is somewhat less generous. After all, the title of the work is in the plural, “Les faux Démétrius,” and the tale of a defrocked monk become czar of Russia is but the first installment of a three-part story. In the remaining fifty pages Mérimée relates in summary fashion the less glorious escapades of two subsequent impostors. E ach less polished than his predecessor, they demonstrate a progressive degeneration. N ot just impersonators, they become copies of copies of copies, each replication resulting in a loss of integrity and marking a swift decline from the nearly sublime to the utterly ridiculous.

 O ne could suggest that Les faux Démétrius refers not to L ouis N apoleon, but to other recent F rench pretenders: there were no fewer than seven impostors claiming to be L ouis XVII , the son of L ouis XVI who had died in 1795 at the age of 11. T he story of the most successful of these (Henri Hébert) had just been republished in 1850. However, the parallels between these pretenders and D imitri are slim indeed. 14

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


Les faux Démétrius thus hints at several different and incompatible interpretations. Is it pure history, or social commentary? And if the latter, does this book attempt to undercut the authority of the emperor, or does it instead help to obscure the difference between the authentic and the counterfeit? In fact, Les faux Démétrius does not just describe imposture: it incarnates it. T he question becomes, is this book “real”—that is, history—or is it “fake”—that is, fiction? The answer to both questions is: Y es. T he text demonstrates a “shiftiness” that allows it, like a kind of impostor itself, to maintain its own incognito. If the volume is indeed an example of imposture, it avoided scandal, it is because its “cover” as serious history was never blown. If readers failed to notice the veiled commentary, this was due to the public’s view of the author himself: his literary history aside, Mérimée was thought to be so ensconced in the establishment that readers on the political right were unlikely to look for an unpalatable subtext in Les faux Démétrius; readers on the left, who might have been interested in an oppositional spin on history, were not going to expect it from Mérimée. N either of these perceptions, which tried to reduce Mérimée’s political position to an either/or proposition, was entirely founded. While Mérimée had indeed tempered the aggressive radicalness of his youth, he was far from embracing the S econd E mpire wholeheartedly. C lose to the political center, he could hardly be considered to coincide with it. Although he grew more conservative with age, his correspondence reveals that he did not think highly of Louis Napoleon. Moreover, he accepted a seat on the imperial senate more for personal than for political reasons.15 E ven after acceding to the most intimate circles of imperial life, in the late 1850s and 60s, Mérimée remained a somewhat distanced insider. O n the political stage he represented what opposition might exist within an appointed senate, attempting to act behind the scenes, for example, to resolve the Fleurs du mal censorship trial of 1857. In the courtly life of Biarritz, where the imperial couple vacationed, Mérimée occupied the position of entertainer, a kind of court jester (“le fou” [“the jester”] as he signed “La chambre bleue” in 1866), even going so far as to spoof the emperor in Lokis (1869).16 Those who felt confident in identifying Mérimée with the Second Empire did so recklessly. For example, when “La chambre bleue” first appeared in print in 1871, it was thought so contrary to the public image of Mérimée, and so counter to the perceived moral rectitude of the Empire, that a Bonapartist newspaper took the short piece for a counterfeit, insisting that it was the “œuvre d’un faussaire, et d’un faussaire belge, qui n’a même pas pris la peine de pasticher tant soit peu l’auteur de Colomba” [“work of a forger, and of a Belgian forger at that, who did


  Mérimée had been good friends with the Countess de Montijo and had known E ugénie since her childhood. It was at the E mpress’s insistence that Mérimée conceded to sit in the senate (Raitt 264-5). 16   Claudine Frank has demonstrated how the story Lokis (1869) plays on images of the E mperor.

Political Prostheses and Imperial Impostors


not even take the trouble to imitate in the slightest the author of Colomba”].17 T he accusation that Mérimée hadn’t even bothered to imitate himself reveals the discrepancy between his public image and private inclinations. T he public, as always, had difficulty understanding that the two might not coincide. Given the way Mérimée began his career, with Le Théâtre de Clara Gazul and La guzla, it is particularly fitting that one of Mérimée’s last pieces should have been taken for a counterfeit. But as we saw in chapter 2, while the dynamic of hoaxes may extend to a great number of his works, Mérimée’s writing grew considerably more subtle during his career. When the properties of hoaxes became more deeply embedded in his texts, one was unsure whether they were hoaxes at all. But Les faux Démétrius is not the only of his “historical” works to hint at contemporary issues: La jaquerie (1828), for example, dealt with a medieval peasant uprising in a way that had distinctly current overtones. H is Chronique du règne de Charles IX (1829) recounted the fratricidal events of the sixteenth century, while alluding to the growing tensions in F rance under the reign of another C harles—that is, Charles X. In neither case did the author make the political associations obvious. Mérimée’s often deliberate indecipherability makes it necessary to suspect Les faux Démétrius of his trademark duplicity. However, the author here functions like a literary double agent, and as with any well-trained agent, it is impossible for an outsider to tell which side Mérimée is “really” on; or if he is playing the sides against each other; or, indeed, whether he is really a double agent at all. Nothing in the public reception of Les faux Démétrius suggests that its ironic undertones were noticed, and since most of Mérimée’s papers were lost during the C ommune of 1871, there is little to confirm that irony was intended. However, in a letter to Adolphe de C ircourt, to whom he sent a draft of the manuscript for a reading, Mérimée appended this note: Enfin, je vous demanderai encore de me dire ceux [des passages] qui pourraient par trop scandaliser Mr le censeur impérial, je dis celui de Moscou. (D ecember 24, 1851, emphasis added) [And finally, I would ask you to let me know which passages might be considered too shocking by Monsieur the imperial censor—I mean the one in Moscow.]

This simple clarification, specifying that he means the Russian censor and not the F rench one, indicates that it occurred to Mérimée that C ircourt might be confused, that it might actually cross his mind that N apoleon’s censor could have something to say. T his whisper of authorial intention, along with other circumstantial evidence (the time at which Mérimée is writing, his opposition to E ugénie’s marriage, an unexplained delay in publication), and the dramatic parallels between Dimitri’s saga and Louis Napoleon’s, suffice to call into question the purity of Mérimée’s  C ited by Mallion and S alomon, after L emonnier, in TRN 1614.



Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

history. In a troublesome transition, Mérimée moves from the uncontested authority of narrator and historian to join the ranks of impostors: he may, in Les faux Démétrius, be “passing himself off” as a historian, an impostor writing the story of another impostor who, in turn, represents a third. Like the impostors he describes, Mérimée, too, needs to legitimize himself, to authenticate his credentials. He does so in part by moving from the field of literature (so politicized in the middle of the nineteenth century) to that of history, crossing the line from author to the supposedly unfictionalized role of chronicler. Writing from the center of the political field, and adopting the supposedly objective style of the historian, he positions himself ideally for another literary hoax. H e is thus poised to transform this widely read “document” into a piece of oppositional literature of the highest order, all the more effective because he could reveal its oppositional qualities after it has been read. But he does not do so. What good is a hoax if it is never unveiled? D oes the silence of both author and reader demonstrate the impossibility of writing oppositionally from the center? Not quite; however, for oppositional discourse to realize its potential, it must (like irony) force upon the public a perception of authorial intent. In this case, the silence of the reader bears witness to the enormous oppositional potential of a writer popularly identified with the center, so great that it allows the obvious to be overlooked. T he reasons for this misrecognition are complex. F irst of all, the more one is invested in a given institution, the more difficult it is to betray one’s position. In other words, people are unlikely to subvert the very systems upon which their own success and prestige depend. Accordingly, one’s support for a system tends to increase in direct relation to one’s elevation within it, as does the public expectation of such support. T hus Mérimée, close to the apex of the social hierarchy, may have been perceived as too invested in it to be able to engage in opposition, and this perception could almost anything he said. S ince Mérimée would be expected to use his symbolic capital to perpetuate both this power and the system that conferred it upon him, what he actually says is of less importance than what he is presumed to intend. The efficacy of acts of oppositional speech are thus seen to rely heavily on circumstances. Oppositional speech, like hoaxes, are “speech acts” in the Austinian sense, and as such, their success depends on the satisfaction of certain “conditions of felicity”—circumstantial, extra-linguistic components of a pronouncement that, in fact, “authorize” the statement. T his is to say that the form of an utterance does not guarantee its success. F or instance, not just anyone can declare war, christen ships, or pronounce wedding vows: only those perceived to have been vested with the appropriate powers may do so.18 In practice, these conditions of felicity can 18  S ee Austin 25-38. R egarding the “conditions of felicity,” see also Pierre Bourdieu’s discussion of the social conditions for the effectiveness of discourse in Language (72-6, 107-16).

Political Prostheses and Imperial Impostors


supersede the importance of the speech act itself, and it is entirely possible (and, indeed, it may be more the rule than the exception) for serious gaffes to be made in the performance of the speech act, without such errors in any way jeopardizing their efficacy. From this point of view, if Mérimée’s chronicle of the false Dimitri was to some degree oppositional, it was infelicitous: while meeting all the formal constraints one might expect, circumstances hindered its successful conclusion. It misfired. H owever, this does not suggest that opposition from the center is unachievable—only that it requires a special set of conditions: the closer one is to the political or social center of gravity, the greater the energy required to reach escape velocity and slip out of orbit. Mérimée cannot use the same techniques as so-called “marginalized” writers and hope to achieve the same effects, for Mérimée’s position within the structure already serves as a statement neutralizing its oppositional potential. T hus Mérimée’s use of ambiguity in Les faux Démétrius, although a standard oppositional tactic, cannot suffice. More explicit, aggressive measures would be needed were he to break through the resistance of the reader. If Mérimée chose not to be explicit, it may be that he was unwilling to suffer the consequences. O ne can write from the center only after having amassed the considerable symbolic capital that the center confers. Writing oppositionally, however, entails a disbursement of this capital. In other words, were Mérimée to activate the oppositional potential of his text, he could only do so by disempowering himself, by distancing himself from the imperial court to which he had such strong personal attachments. T his is a cost he was apparently reluctant to pay—although it did not stop him from indulging in a similar practice nearly twenty years later. In 1869 he would publish another tale of R ussian history: Histoire de la fausse Elisabeth II [History of the False Elisabeth II], the story of a schemer who passed herself off as the daughter of C atherine the Great. H is obsession with the dynamics of fraudulence was far from over. In the preceding pages I hope to have shown how Mérimée’s most famous hoaxes (La guzla, Le Théâtre de Clara Gazul) are less exceptions in his work than they are especially visible symptoms of a long and serious preoccupation with falseness and mystification. In chapter 2 we saw how the hoax shares a dynamic with traps and ambushes in Mérimée’s literary works; here we have seen how the practice can carry across the boundary separating literature from politics. As we shall see, this slippage between domains that are often considered distinct will be a hallmark of fraudulence.

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C hapter 4

T he Ghosts of Kings In chapter 3 we saw how Mérimée’s history of seventeenth-century R ussia provided ample commentary on L ouis N apoleon’s rise to power before the founding of the S econd E mpire: it was the story of an imperial impostor “pretending” to return to his homeland. Les faux Démétrius showed how the energy of fraudulence could— at least potentially—be harnessed for texts of political opposition. H owever, falsity has no strict political affiliation, as demonstrated by times of political turmoil, which often produce a kind of semantic gold rush—each group hoping to stake a claim on its version of the truth. As we shall see, the legitimacy of “truth” is often substantiated by the mirage of origins: like arguments about property rights, the justification of ideas or beliefs often relies on claims of priority. C onnections of the present to the past—or the severing of the two, in the form of forgetting—are carried out on the battlefield of collective memory, and the victors of this confrontation may resort to creative methods for consolidating and reifying their accomplishments, regardless of their truth-value. H ow is such a “false memory” generated, asserted, and institutionalized? We will attempt to provide one answer to that question using an example that might be considered the counterpart of Mérimée’s false D imitri, since it concerns the supposed return of another sovereign, some years before L ouis N apoleon’s rise to power. Let us begin with a single, dense image that will require some unpacking. In June of 1832, the journal La caricature published a lithograph by C harles Philipon showing a scene of Paris: the broad Louis XV Square (formerly known as Place de la R évolution, Place de la C oncorde, and Place L ouis XVI ). In the image, lazy traffic weaves between the strolling Parisians; the vast Hôtel de la Marine stands in the background, and dramatic clouds float above the scene—all of which is portrayed with a detailed realism that clashes with the more exaggerated lines of Philipon’s standard, caricatural fare (figure 4.1). Only one part of the image seems out of place: in 1832 the Place de la C oncorde was not yet adorned with the Luxor Obelisk (which at that date was just about to start its long journey down the Nile, headed for Paris), and it should thus appear as a rather barren intersection. 

 T he name of the square changed with each puff of political wind and represents the tug of war that existed over the manipulation of symbols. T he sequence of name changes is: Place Louis XV (1755-92), Place de la Révolution (1792-5), Place de la Concorde (1795-1814), Place Louis XV (1814-26), Place Louis XVI (1826-30); the permanent (re)designation as Place de la Concorde occurred in 1830.

F igure 4.1 Plate of the Monument expiapoire from La caricature politique, morale, religieuse, littéraire et scénique, N o. 84 (June 7, 1832). McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Library.

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Instead, a stout base rises in the middle of the square—like the one that had previously borne the equestrian statue of L ouis XV in the same vicinity. H owever, the figure now occupying that space is more vegetal than regal: atop the stone base sits a carved pear (yes, the fruit), monumental in stature, and whose dimples vaguely indicate the features of a face. N ow, the pear was the fruit regularly associated with the corpulent and jowly L ouis-Philippe: Philipon had already published a series of such fructiform caricatures, starting a trend among caricaturists at La caricature, Le charivari, and various other outlets. Famously, as the censors cracked down on him, he played with the text of the law—once showing how difficult it could be to measure the gradations between likeness and caricature, and once publishing the text of a legal judgment against him in a kind of calligramme, with the words arranged in the shape of… a pear. T his new image, dated June 7, 1832, bore the legend, “Projet du monument expia-poire à élever sur la place de la R évolution, précisément à la place où fut guillotiné Louis XVI” [“Plan for a monument of re-pear-ations to be raised on the Place de la R évolution, precisely on the location where L ouis XVI was guillotined”]. The joke was both visual and linguistic, for by changing a single letter (“expia-p-oire” instead of “expia-t-oire”), the monument was not just expiatory, but designed to expiate a sin concerning a pear (poire). In short, in the wake of recent assassination attempts on Louis-Philippe, it was perhaps never too early to start planning his fructiform monument. Although a broad public found these images hilarious, the king was not amused: arrested for incitement to regicide, Philipon paid dearly for his little pear jokes, expiating his own journalistic peccadilloes by six months in prison and 2000 francs in fines (Goldstein 133). Philipon’s illustration engages in a remarkable layering of time frames: referring to the square as the Place de la R évolution (instead of using its current name, Place de la Concorde), imitating the base of the old equestrian statue of Louis XV, and evoking the memory of the beheading of Louis XVI, the pear monument projects elements of a painful past upon what might be the immediate future. T he irony is the R estoration government had been doing the same thing all along—just in a different way: different political positions had a vested interest in the relationship to the past, resuscitating some elements, while consigning others to oblivion. Moreover, one of the strongest echoes to resonate with Philipon’s monument expia-poire was the memory of another monument, a different memorial—this one a monument expiatoire—an expiatory monument—designed years earlier in honor of another assassinated king, and planned to occupy the same site on the Place de la Concorde. Thus Philipon’s fictional monument, designed to belie the fictitiousness of LouisPhilippe’s power, simulates another monument—equally fictitious, insofar as it was never built—which had been conceived in order to legitimate the power of  O n the rise and fall of pear caricatures, see Petrey (In the Court of the Pear King, and “Pears in History”), and Goldstein (esp. 128-55). Both authors discuss in passing the expiatory monument. R ichard T erdiman provides a delightful account of Philipon’s legal tussle over pears in Discourse/Counter-Discourse (149-97). 


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

an earlier government: it was a simulacrum of a simulacrum of a simulacrum, all functioning in the realm of memory. U nfortunately, the chain of frauds doesn’t end there: getting at the source of these superimposed mirages takes us back to 1814, when the newly formed R estoration government faced the problem of legitimating its own authority. Part of the necessary authentication came in the form of recognition by other E uropean sovereigns, who had a vested interest in promoting the stability of monarchies throughout E urope. While it was in fact the E uropean C oalition that decided, during the Vienna C onference, to place the younger brother of L ouis XVI on the French throne, that kind of Realpolitik had a less than charismatic ring to it than the time-tested discourse about the natural authority of kings, and it was thus not particularly suitable for public consumption; thus, in the Charte constitutionnelle [Constitutional Charter] of 1814, the power of the C oalition was obscured behind a more benign and noble image recalling the legitimacy of divine right: “L a divine Providence, en nous rappelant dans nos E tats après une longue absence, nous a imposé de grandes obligations” [“Divine Providence, having called us back to our S tates after a long absence, has placed upon us great obligations”] (Godechot 217). The reasons for the monarch’s “longue absence” will themselves be absent from this document, but the gist is clear enough: rather than characterize the R estoration as a new course, or as a “departure” from the E mpire, the government works skillfully to play the card of continuity. It was the same impulse that would later have the king referring to 1814 as the 21st year of his reign (suggesting he had ruled continuously in some fashion ever since 1793, when his brother was executed)—as if he had actually been quietly ruling from his British exile during the years of the preceding governments. T he rest of the preamble to the Charte constitutionnelle engages in a clever rhetorical game, striving to establish the continuity between the present and the past, while also eliding select portions of that past. It walks a fine line between the acknowledgment of public power and the claim of royal prerogative. While the Charte outlined substantial concessions on the king’s part to liberal forces, it was important for L ouis to describe these concessions as gifts rather than extortions, and thus, in the introduction to the various articles of the constitution, he underscored that these public rights had been made “volontairement, et par le libre exercice de notre autorité royale” [“voluntarily and by the free exercise of our royal authority”] (Godechot 218). Paradoxically, slyly, the Charter seizes upon the necessity of modifications in royal powers in order to inscribe the new monarch within what is normally the antithesis of change: tradition; namely the tradition of royal largesse, which aligns L ouis XVIII with some exemplary predecessors: N ous avons considéré que, bien que l’autorité tout entière résidât en F rance dans la personne du roi, ses prédécesseurs n’avaient point hésité à en modifier l’exercice, suivant la différence des temps; que c’est ainsi que les communes ont dû leur affranchissement à Louis le Gros, la confirmation et l’extension de leurs droits à Saint Louis et à Philippe le Bel; que l’ordre judiciaire a été établi

The Ghosts of Kings


et développé par les lois de Louis XI, de Henri II et de Charles IX; enfin, que L ouis XIV a réglé presque toutes les parties de l’administration publique par différentes ordonnances dont rien encore n’avait surpassé la sagesse. (Godechot 217) [We have noted that, although in F rance authority resides entirely in the hands of the king, our royal predecessors did not hesitate to modify their use of authority according to the requirements of different ages; thus did the communes owe their freedom to Louis le Gros, and the confirmation and extension of their laws to Saint Louis and Philippe le Bel; the legal system was established and developed by the laws of Louis XI, Henri II, and Charles IX; and finally, Louis XIV organized the different sections of public administration by various edicts of heretofore unsurpassed wisdom.]

These examples tie Louis XVIII to the tradition of great kings who were notable for effecting changes in the exercise of royal authority—although for the most part the previous alterations had consisted of extending the reach of the royal arm. In short, L ouis’s strategy consisted of doing what neither the R evolution nor the Empire had been able to achieve convincingly: he linked himself to the past, to a great French tradition. And in his explanation of the restoration of certain institutions, he linked that past to the future: Nous avons enfin cherché les principes de la Charte constitutionnelle dans le caractère français, et dans les monuments vénérables des siècles passés. Ainsi, nous avons vu dans le renouvellement de la pairie une institution vraiment nationale, et qui doit lier tous les souvenirs à toutes les espérances, en réunissant les temps anciens et les temps modernes. (Godechot 218, emphasis added) [We have in the end sought the principles of the C onstitutional C harter within the F rench temperament and in the venerable monuments of past centuries. T hus we have seen in the reestablishment of the peerage a truly national institution, which should link all memories to all hopes, reuniting times gone by with modern times.]

T his past was, admittedly, selective. T he name of L ouis XVI is noticeably absent from the family tree of monarchs whom L ouis XVIII claimed to replicate and emulate: apparently the new king felt ill at ease comparing himself to leaders whose reigns called to mind less an extension of the royal arm than a baring of the regal neck. The story of Louis XVI had some uses for the Restoration, however, a point the Charte makes toward the end of the preamble: En cherchant ainsi à renouer la chaîne des temps, que de funestes écarts avaient interrompue, nous avons effacé de notre souvenir, comme nous voudrions qu’on

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


pût les effacer de l’histoire, tous les maux qui ont affligé la patrie durant notre absence. (Godechot 218) [Striving thus to reforge links with the past, which certain tragic divergences had interrupted, we have erased from our memory, just as we wish one could erase from history itself, all the evils which afflicted the country during our absence.]

T hese funestes écarts represented an unfortunate detour in what L ouis XVIII wished to present as the normal course of events. But his expressed desire to “reforge links with the past” while simultaneously erasing certain events “from our memory” would appear contradictory: a double movement of linking and erasing is already perceptible. The past would prove to be a rich vein for the Restoration to work, although the job had to be undertaken carefully. On the one hand, there was a certain amount of profitable remembering to be done, while on the other some healthy doses of forgetting seemed judicious as well. In short, what was up for grabs in the early period of the R estoration was nothing less than the appropriation and manipulation of memory. Perhaps the king was simply taking his older brother’s advice. In 1814, 21 years after his execution, Louis XVI could still be heard—thanks to the artifices of prosopopoeia: “Mon frère, D ieu veut que les erreurs du peuple français soit oubliées. O béissez à la voix divine” [“My Brother, God has willed that the errors of the French people be forgotten. Obey this divine wish”]; soon thereafter he exhorted the public to swear to “étouffer le souvenir de vos dissensions désastreuses” [“to stifle the memory of your disastrous dissensions”]; and then he was crying out: “J’ai pardonné. C onsole-toi, mon frère!” [“I have forgiven. C onsole yourself, my brother!”]. This voice from beyond the grave proved talkative, and during the early days of the Restoration, Louis XVI haunted Paris, speaking out in books, newspapers, and even poetry. H is theme of forgiveness was especially impressive considering that the most famous of the “errors” he now urged people to forget was his own unfortunate execution. But the message was consistent, and while the examples cited here may sound peculiar, they were not exceptional: L ouis was

  While the Charte constitutionnelle offers an exemplary version of this rhetorical sleight of hand, similar images are used in many of the royal orders published in the Moniteur (the newspaper of record) during May, 1814. See, for example, the orders published on May 2 and May 10.   S usan D unn provides an excellent discussion of the shaping of the memory of L ouis XVI’s death during the course of the nineteenth century in The Deaths of Louis XVI, especially pp. 67-92.    Louis XVI (du séjour des Heureux): à son auguste frère Louis XVIII, faisant sa première entrée au Château des Tuileries, 1814; Gazette de France, January 20, 1815; Moniteur, January 21, 1815. 

The Ghosts of Kings


being resurrected in a number of publications, largely so that he could deliver his own eulogy, often speaking in favor of national reconciliation. The dead king’s declarations reached a kind of fevered pitch in January of 1815, leading up to an event that would—some seventeen year later—resonate with the monument expiapoire envisioned by Philipon in La caricature. D ates are often important in political maneuvers, and January 21 marked the anniversary of the public execution of Louis XVI; in 1815 it was the first such anniversary since the return of the monarchy, an event pregnant with meaning, the parturition of which was long overdue. January 21, 1815 culminated with a major, stateorchestrated, commemorative event consisting of the transferal of the mortal remains of L ouis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to the royal crypt in the S aint-D enis Basilica. T he entire occasion seemed designed to help lay the past to rest, to bury the R evolution once and for all: once L ouis XVI had found his rightful resting place, the past could at last be forgotten. E ven Le nain jaune [The Yellow Dwarf], an opposition paper, noted that the events commemorated a page of history that “France would like to strike from its memory” (25 janvier 1815). In lieu of their standard sardonic review of current events, the space reserved for January 21, 1815 showed only this: L e saint respect qu’un tel sujet inspire, et l’intention de ceux qui en reproduisent aujourd’hui l’auguste et douloureuse image, impose un religieux silence à la critique. [T he holy respect that such a subject inspires, and the intentions of those who today reproduce its august and pained image, suffices to silence all criticism.]

T he burial of L ouis XVI is exemplary of the R estoration’s double desire to recover the past while burying it. But first, of course, this past needed to be unearthed, “disinterred” in the most literal of senses. O ne understands why the new government might want an excuse for pomp and circumstance, but at first glance it is not obvious why the transfer to the Basilica offers the king a worthier tomb than the one he already inhabited. As represented in a 1793 engraving (figure 4.2), L ouis’s monumental tomb, executed in the style of the ready-made ruins that were so popular in the late eighteenth century, communicates relatively well the pathos one might hope to elicit.

 F or instance, we saw in chapter 3 how L ouis N apoleon used D ecember 2 to good effect: the anniversary of the battle of Austerlitz, and of the inauguration of the first Empire, was also the date of the coup d’état launching the S econd E mpire.    This restraint may not be entirely genuine: in the next issue (January 30) the editors mention how important it is for the press not to show itself to be an ennemi du roi—for fear of being shut down.

Figure 4.2

Untitled. Collection de Vinck, No. P24206. Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The Ghosts of Kings

Figure 4.3


Untitled. Collection de Vinck, No. P24230. Bibliothèque nationale de F rance.


F igure 4.4

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

“R egrets de la famille royale des Bourbons sur le tombeau de L ouis XVI” [“T he royal family of the Bourbons mourning at the tomb of Louis XVI”]. Collection de Vinck, No. P24217. Bibliothèque nationale de F rance.

The Ghosts of Kings

F igure 4.5


“L a F rance transmet à l’immortalité le testament de L ouis XVI” [“F rance commits the testament of L ouis XVI to immortality”]. Collection de Vinck, No. M107883. Bibliothèque nationale de F rance.

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


It is certainly more R omantic in its inspiration than another image of the same scene (figure 4.3), depicting Louis receding into his sepulcher in the shade of a willow tree; or the image (figure 4.4) of his family mourning him before his fleurde-lysed tomb; or that (figure 4.5) of France herself immortalizing his spirit by placing his testament in a cenotaph. E ach image is touching in its own right, but the principal problem with these representations of the same scene is that they don’t actually look anything alike: is L ouis’s tomb elevated on a base, or modestly resting on the ground? Is it surmounted by a column, or overshadowed by a tree? H as nature overrun the site, or has it been lovingly groomed? Clearly each of these images (and there were scores of others) represents a different site, and the resulting effect is like a game of thimblerig, where we are left to wonder which of these tombs encases the real king. The answer is: None of them. In fact, the significant discrepancies among the various depictions derive from the fact that the images are entirely fanciful, remembrances of a past that never existed: the Revolution had carefully obscured the king by burying him in an unmarked grave. So, illustrations designed to commemorate the loss of the monarch created a memory corresponding to nothing more than the desire for a commemorative site. It was a classic gesture: that which could not be accomplished in actuality was achieved in effigy, through representation. T he efforts of the new government strove to restore the correspondence between reality and memory: in order to erase the years of the R evolution (not to mention the T error, the E mpire, and N apoleon’s 100 days—a good deal of the record needed expunging), it was symbolically important to restore the genealogical tradition of the kings of France, entombed one after the other in the Basilica at Saint Denis. In 1793 the Basilica had been sacked and the royal remains exhumed, but the first order of mortuary business for Louis XVIII was to provide his brother and most immediate predecessor with the burial to which he was entitled. The commemorative ceremony surrounding the official transfer of the bodies of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette took place on January 21, 1815 in an ambiance of somber extravagance (figures 4.6, 4.7). T here was nothing particularly unusual about the ceremony itself: it marshaled all the pomp the state could muster. Businesses, including cafés, theatres, and the stock exchange, were all closed for the day; citizens unfortunate enough to live on the streets through which the funeral procession would wind on its way north to S aint-D enis were ordered to clear snow and ice from the road, remove decorations from their windows, and avoid obstructing the procession in any way.

 T his would become a project for later: L ouis XVIII would also order the recovery of these other remains, in 1816.   T he Moniteur universel in the days leading up to and following the ceremony describes the conditions of the procession. T he veil of national mourning extended into the provinces as well: in the Journal de Lyon (January 21, 1815), for example, the mayor ordered similar closings.

The Ghosts of Kings

F igure 4.6


“T ranslation des dépouilles mortelles du roi L ouis XVI, et de la reine Marie-Antoinette, à S aint-D enis, le 21 janvier 1815” [“C onveyance of the human remains of King L ouis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette, to S aint-D enis, January 21, 1815”]. C ollection de Vinck, No. M107880. Bibliothèque nationale de France.

F igure 4.7

“T ranslation à S t. D enis des corps de L ouis XVI et de Marie-Antoinette” [“C onveyance to S aint-D enis of the bodies of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette”]. Collection de Vinck, No. M107882. Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The Ghosts of Kings


T he procession was immense, including escorts from several branches of the military, royal coaches, heralds, and a long line of carriages bearing titled mourners. At the center of this serpentine procession came the enormous hearse (the char funèbre) itself, pictured in the engravings, its base alone reportedly 14 feet long and six high, supporting the towering sarcophagus. At the S aint-D enis Basilica, the bodies were transported to a catafalque, and the funeral oration was delivered to a packed house. The ceremony was “mundane” in both the English and the F rench senses: an event enjoyed by high society, and a relatively unsurprising display of sober state splendor. What is more interesting than the event itself is the way it was carefully narrativized—that is to say, the way the government and the press structured the events leading up to the transfer of bodies into a story whose implicit and explicit objectives were in conflict with one another, but which held collective memory as their common denominator. T he event referred to as the translation des corps thus ended up being the corporeal transfer that was intended, but also a “translation” in the more literary sense of the rewriting of a story—one filled with conflicting messages. T he tensions within the story relate to the entwined actions of remembering and forgetting. In many senses the commemorative ceremony was supposed to allow France to put this messy past behind her, to bury it—properly—once and for all; in a word, to forgive and forget. But just how much forgetting was necessary? L ouis had perished a generation ago; many of those who had lived through the Terror had by now died as well; many more had not yet been born in 1793, or had been too young to register what was taking place. And it was not as if the interceding decades had proved so uneventful that the F rench were still mired in 1793. In the Journal des débats (January 20, 1815), the point was made that hardly anyone even knew where the body of Louis XVI lay. For the Restoration government, which sought to exploit a certain perception of the past, it became necessary to remind the F rench surreptitiously of that which both brothers—L ouis XVI and Louis XVIII—now officially urged them to forget. Accordingly, in the pamphlet Louis XVI du séjour des Bienheureux, the author has L ouis narrate all the details leading to his judgment, condemnation, and execution, including verbatim transcriptions of debates of the Assembly, and the names of all 749 deputés. Since the king told his tale from the great beyond, he had that bird’s-eye view that allowed him to narrate his own execution, as well as public reactions to it afterward. H is brief exhortations to the public to forget paradoxically framed 160 pages detailing just what it was they were to commit to oblivion. T he Gazette de France, too, engaged in this double movement of remembering and forgetting, reminding readers that as they “stifle the memory” of their dissensions, they should nevertheless recall just what the commemorative event of January 21, 1815 commemorates; in a thinly dramatic prosopopoeia Louis spoke from behind the grave to urge readers to remember the events making this ceremony necessary:


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France Que ce jour mémorable ne se perde point dans les préparatifs d’une vaine pompe! qu’au moment de transporter ma dépouille mortelle dans les tombeaux de mes aïeux, vous songiez par qui et pour qui mon sang a été répandu. (Gazette de France, January 20, 1815, emphasis added) [L et this memorable day not be lost in the preparations for mere pomp and circumstance! At the moment when my mortal remains are laid to rest in the tomb of my ancestors, let you consider for whom and by whom my blood was spilled.]

As if to assist the flagging memory of the French, various newspapers with royalist tendencies printed biographies of the martyr king, with special attention paid to detailed accounts of his final days—replete with touching farewells to his family, as well as the entire text of his testament. H ad it slipped their mind that they were to be forgetting all this? C ommitting the past to oblivion would appear to have been the farthest thing from anyone’s thoughts. In fact, what appears to occur in January of 1815 is a ritual re-enactment of January 1793: L ouis XVI is resurrected and unearthed so that, in the press and for the public imagination, he can relive those last days, repeating endlessly his own death and burial. Moreover, in order to make this ritual a tradition, at the time of his brother’s arrival in the royal crypt L ouis XVIII ordered that a service be held on this date every year, and in “toutes les églises du R oyaume” [“all churches in the Kingdom”]. To make sure that the public paid attention, official offices were to be draped for mourning, courts put in recess, and—to avoid distractions—theaters closed for the day (Moniteur, January 21, 1815). All this high ceremony, all the public remembrances, all the rhetorical chest thumping, relied on one crucial artifact: the body of the king. Since the rhetorical objectives of the translation des corps and of sundry foundational documents (such as the Charte) were in part to legitimize the Restoration government, it was important to do so with a legitimate—which is to say authentic—corpse. T his entailed a systematic unraveling of all that had been done in 1793, when every attempt was made to erase the memory of the king by gradually peeling away his identity. The Revolutionary government first stripped him of his title and prerogatives, then condemned him to death, and finally concealed his body in a common grave. As with many other nobles summarily deposited in the cemetery of the Madeleine, the bodies of Louis XVI and (later) Marie-Antoinette were well packed with quicklime, to speed the dissolution of their noble remains into the democratic soil surrounding them, effectively erasing their existence for good. The details of the search for the king’s body were related in the Moniteur universel and were reprinted or paraphrased by scores of other papers, both in Paris and in the provinces. It is easy to see why: the gruesome cemetery scenes, with skulls grinning through their cake of quicklime, were sure to appeal to a public already versed in the gothic. Yet the accounts needed to walk that fine, Balzacian line between the realistic and the grotesque; perhaps that is why the

The Ghosts of Kings


tale of the king’s exhumation reads like a harbinger of Balzac’s novel Le Colonel Chabert (1832), the story of another unearthed, barely recognizable soul from a bygone era. Narratives shape meaning by regulating the flow of information, and the newspaper accounts partake of this practice. By processes of selection, distortion, and careful sequencing, they provide several micro-narratives contributing to a larger novelistic structure For example, information about the king’s burial 22 years earlier is presented in the Moniteur in the same issue as—and on the page preceding—the report detailing the recovery of the bodies, even though the affidavits had been taken months earlier. The juxtaposition of these three moments—the burial of the king, the testimony of the witnesses, the recovery of the bodies—achieves a narrative blending of events that were in fact quite distinct, and this fusion cannot help but have rhetorical effects. F or example, as the events become a story, the tale is invested with suspense. It’s a cliffhanger, for although in 1793 the king dies, in 1815 Louis XVI is in a sense rescued in extremis. The order to search for the king’s remains resulted in an act of re-membering in the most literal of senses: it entails collecting those membra disjecta that might be recognizable as the martyr king. Yet even the location of Louis’s grave had been all but forgotten. There was no official record of the conditions of the burial, and thus the recovery of the past relied exclusively on the memory of witnesses (Chiappe 468-9)—and most of those who remembered it at all knew only that the bones lay somewhere in the mass graves of the Madeleine. But the Moniteur began its January 21 coverage with a series of eye-witness accounts from the few remaining souls who had attended the burial—or knew of the burial, or had at least seen the vehicle carrying the bodies go by. According to this narrative, the gravesite had been rescued from its intended oblivion by a royalist named D escloseaux, who purchased it in a land transaction some years after the R evolution. T he site had thus been carefully, if somewhat approximately, preserved. The devotion of Descloseaux was cited as the first in a line of fortuitous, nearly miraculous events that allowed for the recovery of the relics. In spite of Descloseaux’s care—he had planted weeping willows, making the gravesite resemble some of the fanciful engravings (see figure 4.2) which had, paradoxically, been designed to resemble it—the king’s remains proved difficult to find, almost eluding the probing spades of the workmen. Almost no actual witnesses remained to confirm the findings, and those cited in the Moniteur had vague recollections. Moreover, almost no findings remained to be found; after all, 22 years wreak havoc with a corpse, especially one smothered in quicklime. But even this became grist for the mill of those charged with the recovery effort, and according to a creative logic, the very unrecognizability of the remains actually became identifying evidence: the more obliterated the corpse, the more likely it was to be that of the king. In the absence of more common forms of recognition, the identification of the bodies was forensic (the royal physician was also in attendance), and exclusively circumstantial. For instance, the queen was located thanks to fabric:


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France N ous avons trouvé dans cette bière un grand nombre d’ossements, que nous avons soigneusement recueillis; il en manquait cependant quelques-uns qui, sans doute, étaient déjà réduits en poussière; mais nous avons trouvé la tête entière, et la position où elle était placée, indiquait d’une manière incontestable qu’elle avait été détachée du tronc. N ous avons trouvé également quelques débris de vêtemens [sic], et notamment deux jarretières élastiques assez bien conservées. (Moniteur universel, January 21, 1815) [In this coffin we found a great number of bones, which we carefully collected; some, which had undoubtedly already been reduced to dust, were missing. H owever, we found the head intact, and the position in which it was placed indicated undeniably that it had been detached from the body. We also found a few remnants of clothing, most notably two elastic garters rather well preserved.]

C hateaubriand, who later claimed to have attended the exhumation (although he was not listed among the official attendants), was the only one to claim to recognize anything: “Au milieu des ossements, je reconnus la tête de la reine par le sourire que cette tête m’avait adressé à Versailles” [“In the midst of the bones I recognized the head of the Queen by the smile she had conferred upon me at Versailles”] (Mémoires, I, 906). Just how the sardonic, skeletal grin of a largely decomposed skull captured the pretty smile of the first lady of France is a little hard to say; despite the tone of reverence, it doesn’t come across as much of a compliment. The king proved even more elusive and difficult to identify: C ’est au milieu de cette chaux et de cette terre que nous avons trouvé les ossemens d’un corps d’homme, dont plusieurs, presque entièrement corrodés, étaient près de tomber en poussière. (Moniteur universel, January 21, 1815) [It was in the midst of this mixture of earth and quick lime that we uncovered the bones of a man, many of which were almost entirely corroded, on the brink of disintegrating.]

In the absence of elasticized garters—or any other durable clothing—the identification relies on a key piece of evidence, the position of the head: [L ]a tête était couverte de chaux, et elle se trouvait placée au milieu de deux os de jambes, circonstance qui nous a paru d’autant plus remarquable, que cette situation était indiquée comme celle de la tête de L ouis XVI. (Moniteur universel, January 21, 1815) [The head was covered with quicklime and had been placed between the legs—a circumstance that struck us as all the more remarkable since this placement had been indicated as that of the head of L ouis XVI.]

The Ghosts of Kings


T he commentators neglected to mention that this placement of the head was common practice in the burial of those dying under the guillotine (Chiappe 470), or that the C imetière de la Madeleine, by D escloseaux’s own account, contained the bodies of some thousand victims of the T error, “dont la plus grande partie [sont] des personnes nobles” [“most of whom were nobles”], who were often buried under a layer of quicklime, and among whose remains one might reasonably expect to find small scraps of fabric—including fine hosiery.10 N ever mind: the thrust of the account was that the recovery of the royal remains had occurred just in time. In the events of 1793 Louis’s life had been lost under the blade of the national razor; in 1815 his memory, having had a close shave with oblivion, was rescued. T here are considerable doubts about just what body was recovered on January 19, 1815—for the depth of the grave did not correspond to what had previously been recorded, and the absence of any clothing made the case even more suspect: the king had been granted the unusual right not to be stripped before burial, as was the common practice. H owever, it hardly matters whether the “right” corpse was recovered or not, for in any case the authenticity of the body is less of a historical certainty than a discursive creation. T o paraphrase Voltaire’s quip about God, if the body of L ouis didn’t exist, it would have been necessary to create it. T his creation occurs thanks to the narrativization of the events, drawing on elements of the Gothic novel and notions of the miraculous.11 T he rhetorical mortar is in place, preventing the steady erosion of the image of authenticity. R ecovery of L ouis’s remains had required returning to the scene of the R evolution’s crimes, and the rhetoric leading up to the expiatory ceremony suggested that these crimes would be purged when the king was finally laid to rest. H owever, the government had other plans. T he expiation itself was to be commemorated in a series of tangible constructions. T wo monuments were planned, both located on sites associated with the regicidal excesses of the Revolution. The first, described in great detail in the Journal des débats (January 20, 1815, reprinted in the Moniteur), was for a monument to be erected on the Place Louis XV, formerly the Place de la Révolution, the site of the king’s decapitation. T his was the memorial that, although never built, Philipon would later recreate as a pear-shaped mockery, updating it to refer to a heretoforeunexecuted L ouis-Philippe. According to the original design it was to represent L ouis XVI ascending to the heavens.12 T he proposed inscriptions again had the royal couple speaking in the first person from beyond the grave, like phantoms. 10  R ecounted in Explication des numéros du plan du cimetière de la Madeleine, attributed to D escloseaux. 11  In this way the recovery of L ouis XVI might be included in the long line of miraculous recoveries associated with relics—such as the “rediscovery” of the remnants of Sainte Ampoule (the flask of anointing oil used during the consecration of kings, and thought to have been destroyed during the Revolution) in 1819. 12   Although never erected on the Place de la Concorde, this description fits the statue of L ouis XVI currently in the Chapelle expiatoire, executed by F rançois Joseph Bosio.

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


Both inscriptions (Marie-Antoinette: “J’ai tout vu, tout su, tout oublié” [“I have seen everything, understood everything, forgotten everything”]; Louis XVI: “Je pardonne de tout mon cœur à ceux qui se sont fait mes ennemis” [“With all my heart I forgive those who made themselves my enemies”])13 repeat the motif of forgiving and forgetting that had been so instrumental to the ceremony itself. T he second monument was to be constructed in the form of an ancient tomb on the site of the Madeleine cemetery—right where the royal cadavers had been recovered. T his structure, the Chapelle expiatoire [E xpiatory C hapel] (figure 4.8) located on the rue d’Anjou (on what is now called the Place L ouis XV), was designed to contain several altars where loyal Frenchmen might come for atonement. T hese monuments, however, differ radically from the sober slabs in S aint-D enis (figure 4.9), or the statues orantes (praying statues) of Louis XVI and MarieAntoinette that Louis XVIII commissioned (figure 4.10), and that now adorn the R oyal Basilica. F or the Chapelle expiatoire does not seek to immortalize the king himself, but rather the crimes committed against him—crimes carried out by the F rench people. While an expiatory monument might be erected in order to atone for a sin, the R estoration government certainly had nothing to atone for in the death of its own illustrious predecessor. R ather, these structures—the monument and chapel—were to be placed in the service of those who did have something to expiate. Moreover, by their visibility and design they would constantly remind the public of its need for expiation. Unlike the expiatory ceremony of January 21, 1815, which could be viewed as the purging of the public by a single ritual (a practice long sanctioned in the Catholic tradition), an expiatory monument would serve as a permanent reminder of the crime requiring expiation. T hus, rather than helping to lay these sins to rest once and for all, the chapel amounts to the monumentalizing of guilt—a guilt that would now be recalled and relived on an annual basis. T he R estoration’s sleight of hand lies in this duplicitous use of memory: the rhetoric of forgiving and forgetting entails acts that ensure that the public would remember just what it was that made this magnanimous gesture of forgiveness necessary. T he apparent gift of clemency invoked a kind of public indebtedness, which the monuments would record and immortalize. The permanence of monumentalization would make this the most useful kind of debt—one that could never be paid off, never forgiven.


  The inscription from Marie-Antoinette dates to a famous remark she made during questioning in October, 1790; the phrase from Louis XVI is lifted from his testament—but someone had the good sense to abbreviate it, for the second part of the sentence is somewhat less big-hearted: “Je pardonne de tout mon cœur à ceux qui se sont fait mes ennemis sans que je leur en aie donné aucun sujet” [“With all my heart I forgive those who made themselves my enemies, without my having given them any reason”] (emphasis added). L ouis’s testament was very widely reproduced after 1793—in engravings, in newspapers, as appendices to books, and even included in at least one play.

F igure 4.8 T he Chapelle expiatoire. Author’s personal collection.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

F igure 4.9 T ombs at the R oyal Basilica at S aint-D enis. Author’s personal collection.

F igure 4.10 S tatues orantes. Author’s personal collection.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

T he Chapelle expiatoire would thus provide a space for the endless expiation of the inexpiable, fueling the Restoration with a new stock of capital—symbolic capital—as it amassed its resources in 1815.14 S eventeen years later, in 1832, when the monument expiapoire caricature came on the scene, Philipon was riding on the coattails of a tradition and toying with public recollection of earlier state efforts to manipulate memory. Perhaps, the caricature seemed to suggest, an eternity of guilt would not be such a great price for getting rid of L ouis-Philippe. O r, as Baudelaire would later write: “Qu’importe l’éternité de la damnation à qui a trouvé dans une seconde l’infini de la jouissance?” [“What does an eternity of damnation matter to one who has found, for an instant, the infinity of pleasure?”] (Œuvres complètes I, 287). Philipon was playing with a powder keg, for he created a scandal not just by mocking the monarch, but also because he undermined the power of commemoration, and the very notion of interminable expiation, a notion that had profited the Restoration enormously. N evertheless, the power of these memories was great. S usan D unn has described the persistence of the image of the death of Louis XVI in such works as Ballanche’s “L ’homme sans nom” and Balzac’s “U n épisode sous la terreur” (Dunn, part 3), where pity and guilt come together in curious combinations. And the phenomenon of speaking from beyond the tomb, which Louis did so much of at the beginning of the R estoration, continued through at least the middle of the century: in Alexandre D umas’s story “L es tombeaux de S aint-D enis” [“T he T ombs of S aint-D enis”], in his collection Les mille et un fantômes (1849), we once again find dead kings rising up—this time as ghosts, and now without the vocabulary of sweet reconciliation on their lips: they want revenge against those who committed the sacrilege of removing them from the R oyal Basilica. All of these manipulations of the past, from the Charte constitutionnelle through Philipon’s monument expiapoire bear witness to the fierce battles over notions of authenticity. By disentangling the genealogical threads of Philipon’s caricature we can see how tirelessly and deliberately conservative forces worked to fabricate authenticity, employing a careful narrativization of events. T he past they created was largely a counterfeit—very similar to what Balzac would refer to as a “skillful disguise.” And as luck would have it, that is the subject of our next chapter.

14  T he Chapelle expiatoire might be considered one of the earliest attempts at the monumentalization of horror, which will ultimately find a very different (and less rhetorically suspect) expression in the anti-monuments that became common in the later twentieth-century—as in the Vietnam War Memorial or in various H olocaust memorials. T hese later memorials are less interested in shoring up the rights of the state, and they are typically less conflicted in their messages.

C hapter 5

Balzac’s Skillful Disguise Philipon’s pears (discussed in chapter 4) were hardly alone in their derision of the government, and the heyday of caricature was not just political: H onoré D aumier’s pen made a mockery of nearly every social class, profession, event, and public practice. O ne of his most famous series featured the scheming R obert Macaire, a buffoonish, swindling representation of the money-grubbing bourgeoisie. In the words of James R ousseau, as explained in his Physiologie du Robert Macaire (1842), the figure was “l’incarnation de notre époque positive, égoïste, avare, menteuse, vantarde, et, disons le mot, il est ici parfaitment à sa place— essentiellement blagueuse” [“the incarnation of our time—positivist, egotistical, greedy, lying, bragging, and, let’s say the word, for it’s perfectly at home here— essentially full of hot air”] (James Rousseau 5). So emblematic of the period was Macaire that R ousseau declared that it would not have been possible to create the character at any other time; he was “bien enfant de ce siècle” [“certainly a child of this century”] (5). H owever, caricature was not the only genre for denouncing—or reveling in— hypocritical actions, and although D aumier excelled at caricature’s hyperbolic representation, perhaps no one understood how completely hypocrisy reigned over Parisian society better than H onoré de Balzac. F or, if realism at least pretends to portray the world transparently, in the world of the Comédie humaine this will often mean revealing the masks others have created. The most obvious examples of such revelations concern the presence of villains: one finds it in the unmasking of Vautrin in Le père Goriot (1834) and Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes (1847); or in that of du Tillet in César Birotteau (1837); or in the discovery of the infamy of the C omtesse F erraud in Le Colonel Chabert (1832); or even in the paternal manipulations in Eugénie Grandet (1833). But, in fact, Balzac’s world is crowded with cheats, swindlers, and identity thieves at all levels of society, and a significant portion of the Comédie humaine is dedicated to showing how similar high finance is to highway robbery, and how salesmen rub elbows with charlatans. T he famous assertion that “All is true!” from the opening pages of    An obvious title to add to this list is Sarrasine. But the “falseness” elaborated in that novella is of a somewhat special and more complicated sort. F or issues of gender, see chapter 7.   In La maison Nucingen (1837) we see how colossal fortunes are made in questionable ways—and how forgiving society can be when even illicit fortunes acquire the blessings of high society. In L’illustre Gaudissart (1833) and César Birotteau Balzac demonstrates the charlatanism of sales and advertising.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

Le père Goriot refers only to the transparency with which Balzac depicts falseness, and in his romans d’éducation, he tells the tales of how young Romantic figures (Eugène de Rastignac, Lucien de Rubembré) do not so much lose illusions as they master them: as they encounter the hypocrisy of the world, these characters learn how to play the game, soon able to delude others. Typically it is social class that draws the fine line between licit and illicit acts of fraudulence. T hus, when Vautrin proposes a pact with E ugène de R astignac, offering to enrich him by a marriage that will cost another man his life, R astignac flinches. However, a similar pact is socially acceptable when it conforms to the dictates of class: the marriage of Goriot’s daughters is no less “financial” than the nuptials considered by R astignac, and the daughters’ social elevation will also require the sacrifice of a man’s life—that of their own father. Vautrin ends up unmasked and imprisoned, but Delphine de Nucingen and Anastasie de Beauséant remain untouchable thanks to social class and the indirectness of their actions. In Vautrin’s final speech of the novel, he speaks about, of all things, honor, suggesting that he—the escaped convict and would-be assassin—is more principled than most members of society: Il y a du bon là, dit-il en se frappant le cœur; je n’ai jamais trahi personne! […] U n forçat de la trempe de C ollin, ici présent, est un homme moins lâche que les autres, et qui proteste contre les profondes déceptions du contrat social, comme dit Jean-Jacques, dont je me glorifie d’être l’élève. Enfin, je suis seul contre le gouvernement avec son tas de tribunaux, de gendarmes, de budgets, et je les roule. (Comédie humaine, III, 220) [“T here is some good in here,” he said, thumping his chest, “I have never betrayed anyone! […] A convict of the mettle of Collin, standing here before you now, is less cowardly than other men, and he protests against the deep illusions of the social contract, as it was called by Jean-Jacques, whose disciple I am proud to consider myself. In the end, I stand alone against the government with its pile of courts, policemen, and budgets—and I scam them all.”]

A tension exists here between “I have never betrayed anyone” and “I scam them all,” although it is a tension easily resolved: Vautrin’s pact of honesty belongs to the underworld (and the rare souls, such as R astignac, whom he believes he can recruit to his cause); he recognizes the world of conventional society as already a scam, and he is not above harvesting a fortune there. O ne of the great ironies of Le père Goriot is that Vautrin serves as the clearest, most direct, and most honest influence on Rastignac: the convict is the only one in the book to elucidate the tricks and traps of society—and to offer Rastignac a primer on social success.

  F uture references to the Comédie humaine will be indicated in the text by the initials CH, followed by volume and page numbers.

Balzac’s Skillful Disguise


S o, although Balzac wrote no literary hoaxes, and few of his novels touch on explicit questions of counterfeit or mystification, the thematic density of fraudulence in the Comédie humaine is hard to overstate. It is counterbalanced in a certain number of works by a craving for authenticity, which may be satisfied in three different, albeit related, forms. The first of these is gold: in stories such as “F acino C ane” (1837), where visions of the doge’s fortune flicker behind the old Italian’s blind eyes, the metal represents an absolute, an ideal: it is the incarnation of intrinsic value and of unfalsifiability. While the promise of easy money is also what motivates many of society’s scams (from high finance to arranged marriages), the precious metal is revered by certain Balzacian characters with an ardor usually reserved for religion or royalty. The second representation of authenticity takes the form of philosophy— although in Balzac’s world philosophy will nearly always be tied to S wedenborgian mysticism. La recherche de l’absolu (1834), working in the alchemical register, links philosophy once again to gold, but more closely to the idea of perfect correspondences, which Balzac had already elaborated in others of his philosophical novels, including Louis Lambert (1832) and Séraphîta (1834). In any case, in the Comédie humaine such philosophical aspirations for ideals generally rise above the petty hypocrisies of the societies in which they exist—sometimes quite literally in the form of an ascension (Séraphîta), sometimes more metaphorically, as in Louis L ambert’s visionary hallucinations. While L ouis L ambert may accede to ideals philosophically, another privileged path toward truth comes in the form of art, where the painter’s brush achieves nearly alchemical reactions, transforming base oils into artistic ideals. T ime and again artists such as F renhofer (Le chef d’œuvre inconnu, 1831), Joseph Bridau (La rabouilleuse, 1842), and Jean-Ernest Sarrasine (“Sarrasine,” 1830) give a final Pygmalion’s touch to a painting or statue, conferring upon a work of art the glow of life. Balzac uses art persistently—principally in the forms of painting, sculpture, and music—to demonstrate access to a higher truth: the real artist is able to peel away layers of pretence (just like Vautrin), revealing the quintessence of things. So, when true artists (as opposed to hacks) appear in the Comédie humaine, they typically resemble figures like Louis Lambert and Séraphîta for their purity, incorruptibility, and authenticity. We thus find in Balzac’s world a society riddled with hypocrisy, where most characters are both victims and perpetrators of elaborate acts of concealment. O nly philosophers, convicts, and artists appear to rise above the fray. O ccupying the position of the elite, representatives of these groups see through the masks, reading or rendering the real in all its fullness. In fact, they are siblings of the Balzacian narrator, who is also blessed with this kind of second sight. Many critics have demonstrated how the truth in Balzac’s world remains fundamentally legible for the attentive observer; although truths may be masked or distorted (and often


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

brutally effective), they remain intelligible to those whose gaze is as penetrating as the narrator’s. Pierre Grassou In most of the novels of the Comédie humaine, visionary artists mix with hypocritical society like oil and water: they come together for a time, but soon settle back into their own volumes. This is why visionaries of all stripes (from Lambert to Joseph Bridau) tend to be social misfits. However, in 1839, Balzac published a short story where art and hypocrisy come together more profoundly and permanently, joined in happy wedlock. The story is “Pierre Grassou.” F or paradoxical reasons that will soon become clear, this text is not widely read, so a little background may be helpful. It is, in a word, a tale of mediocrity. A fledgling painter from Brittany, struggling to make a name for himself in Paris, Pierre Grassou de F ougères is similar to others of Balzac’s parvenu peasants, such as E ugène de R astignac and L ucien de R ubembré—although with an important difference: while most of Balzac’s young protagonists triumph over adversity, making a name for themselves, Pierre Grassou mostly plods along in mean anonymity. Studying with masters who jealously guard their secrets, and lacking the genius it would take to develop his own personal style, Grassou produces a series of paintings distinctly lacking in character. Not surprisingly, his submissions for the artistic salon held in the L ouvre are declined year after year, and Grassou is left wondering what is missing in his art. T he answer comes to him from Joseph Bridau and Hippolyte Schinner, two painters present in other works of the Comédie humaine, and representative of the Balzacian idea of artistic genius. T hey point out to Grassou how just a few well-placed strokes can breathe life into dreary canvases. Most of all though, they accuse their protégé of lacking originality: they assert that he copies rather than creates, and his paintings borrow from the great masters without ever rivaling them. Grassou accepts these criticisms meekly, resolving to “figure out” originality—as if it were yet another technique he could learn. Discouraged but never defeated, he wipes his brow after every setback, picks up his brushes and returns to the easel. Despite his lack of talent, grim determination keeps him from taking Bridau’s advice—which is that he abandon artistic pursuits altogether. H owever, there is the little problem of reality, and the hunger pangs in Grassou’s belly are too genuine to ignore. Bit by bit he begins to prostitute his skills, eking   O n legibility and distortion in Balzac, see my Acts of Fiction (chapter 3), Christopher Prendergast’s The Order of Mimesis, F ranc S chuerewegen’s Balzac, suite et fin—or, in a different vein, F redric Jameson’s The Political Unconscious. O ne of the jobs of Balzac’s narrators is precisely to teach the reader how to read the traces of the truth in his characters’ deceptions, and the tight bond created between the narrator and reader serves to reinforce the reader’s powers of perception.

Balzac’s Skillful Disguise


out a living by selling occasional stock pieces to the dealer Elias Magus. These sales, increasingly lucrative, alleviate his suffering while allowing him to enhance his skills, achieving what could generously be called a more refined level of mediocrity. T hen a miracle occurs: after a decade of refused submissions, one of Grassou’s works is accepted for the 1829 Salon. His hack painting wins surprising approval from the public, and this accomplishment ends up being the first step up the ladder of success: soon he is earning commissions and winning prizes for art that is consistently described by Balzac as second-rate. By the time Magus introduces Grassou to a wealthy bourgeois family looking for a portrait artist, the Breton is successful, decorated, and very nearly wealthy. At Magus’ urging, he begins to court the daughter of the family, and when he finally visits their country home, lured by the father’s claims about a collection of old master paintings, he is shocked to recognize works from his own past: they are the artistic pastiches Magus had commissioned over the years, and to which the unscrupulous dealer applied old lacquer and false signatures. After his marriage to Virginie, Grassou continues to cultivate his modest skills and exaggerated reputation, gradually replacing the canvases in his father-inlaw’s gallery with works by other artists—ones of real merit. If “Pierre Grassou” is not a widely read text, it may be due to the narrative problem intrinsic to tales of mediocrity. T he snag comes from the fact that the painter—marked not just by ineptitude, but also by his passive acceptance of this lack of skill—leaves the story nearly devoid of dramatic tension. There is no battle of wits, no raging passion—none of the high drama so common in most of the works of the Comédie humaine. While Balzac makes some effort to convey epic proportions to this story, even elevating the art merchant E lias Magus to the diabolical status of a Mephistopheles (CH, VI, 1094), Grassou himself makes for a poor incarnation of F aust, with whom he shares none of the greatness, genius, passion, or daring. H e is, in fact, an anti-hero, stumbling onto the literary scene well before limp and aimless characters like Frédéric Moreau, whom Flaubert would introduce some twenty years later. To make sure the reader gets the idea and doesn’t confuse this dilettante with characters more worthy of their attention, Balzac goes out of his way to deflate Grassou: Tout en Fougères annonçait la médiocrité. […] Son air doux, passif, et résigné relevait peu ces traits principaux de sa physionomie pleine de santé, mais sans action. Il ne devait être tourmenté ni par cette abondance de sang, ni par cette violence de pensée, ni par cette verve comique à laquelle se reconnaissent les grands artistes. (CH, VI, 1095-6)

  Indeed, S tendhal, who was writing a similar tale at roughly the same time never managed even to finish his Féder. On the links between Féder and “Pierre Grassou,” see Vibert and R annaud.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France [Everything about Fougères bespoke mediocrity. […] His passive, gentle, and resigned air did little to set off these principal traits of a countenance full of good health, but void of action. He wouldn’t know the torments of that surge of blood, or the violence of thought, or even the dramatic zeal that are the signs of great artists.]

Indeed, everything in Balzac’s descriptions works to convey upon Grassou that damning quality of diligence: after each successive failure, the painter dusts himself off and calmly returns to his task, listening intently to the criticisms of his betters. Unfortunately, Grassou’s principal skill—copying—ends up being the source of both his success and his failure. T hus, after evaluating one of Grassou’s works, Schinner explains it to him in these terms: Quand on trouve ces choses-là au bout de sa brosse, mon bon F ougères, il vaut mieux laisser ses couleurs chez Brullon, et ne pas voler la toile aux autres. […] Eh! bien, tu fais gris et sombre, tu vois la Nature à travers un crêpe; ton dessin est lourd, empâté; ta composition est un pastiche de Greuze qui ne rachetait ses défauts que par les qualités qui te manquent. (CH, VI, 1097, emphasis added) [When one finds things like that at the end of one’s brush, my dear Fougères, it would be better to leave one’s paints at Brullon’s shop, and not steal the paintings of others. […] Look here, you’ve made everything dark and somber; you look at Nature through a veil; your drawing is heavy and thick; your composition is a pastiche of Greuze, who only redeemed his sins by the very qualities you lack.]

In short, his painting is a pastiche, and not even a good one at that. N evertheless, Grassou pushes onward, and since he cannot elevate his skills, he lowers his ambitions. Avoiding dramatic and more challenging subjects, Grassou begins to specialize in genre painting, and it’s a copy of a piece by Greuze that he submits to the Salon for the first time in 1819. The submission is rejected by the Louvre jury, but Grassou’s luck nevertheless starts to turn in small ways, and when Magus at last sells the Greuze pastiche to an unknown collector (presumably Vervelle, Grassou’s future father-in-law), the artist experiences a timid swell of pride. Plunging into his work to start on the new batch of paintings Magus has requested, he once again shows his results to his friends, receiving little encouragement: Il redemanda les conseils de S chinner, auquel il adjoignit Joseph Bridau. L es deux peintres virent dans ces toiles une servile imitation des paysages hollandais, des intérieurs de Metzu, et dans la quatrième une copie de la L eçon d’anatomie de R embrandt. — T oujours des pastiches, dit S chinner. Ah! F ougères aura de la peine à être original. (CH, VI, 1099)

Balzac’s Skillful Disguise


[He asked again for Schinner’s advice, also bringing Joseph Bridau into the mix. T he two painters saw in these canvases a servile imitation of D utch landscapes, Metzu interiors, and in the fourth one a copy of R embrandt’s Anatomy L esson. “More pastiches,” said S chinner. “Ah! F ougères is going to have trouble being original.”]

Although unable to create anything of his own, Grassou’s lack of originality becomes a source of revenue, and as E lias Magus sells more and more of his work, the artist slaves away in his studio making “nouvelles vieilles toiles” [“new old paintings”]. T his bizarre success reaches its pinnacle in 1829—the date when one of his paintings is finally admitted to the Louvre Exhibit. Inspired by several sources (Vigneron, Dubufe, Gerrit Dou) for style, impressions, and composition, Grassou draws heavily on Gerrit D ou’s Dropsical Woman (figure 5.1)—a work that already hung in the L ouvre at the time—to create the portrait of a Breton C houan awaiting execution, entitled “L a T oilette d’un C houan, condamné à mort en 1809” [“F inal Preparations of a C houan R ebel, C ondemned to D eath in 1809”]. Grassou’s painting is a success at the S alon, considered by all to be an original work: Balzac confirms this, telling us that “ce plagiat, très habilement déguisé, ne fut point reconnu” [“this plagiarism, skillfully disguised, was not recognized”]. C onsequently the painting attracts the attention of prestigious visitors. E ven Charles X stops to admire it; the Dauphin orders a copy (resulting in the replication of what is already considered a copy); and the Minister of the Interior commissions two additional works. Buoyed by this success, Grassou labors away assiduously, and he completes the commissions just in time to receive payment before the July R evolution in 1830, which ends up being a turning point for him as well as for the government: every year thereafter he finds his paintings well represented at the annual S alon, where several pieces are prominently displayed. Indeed, he fares at least as well as his more gifted peers. F rom this point on Grassou’s reputation is established, and by the time he paints the Vervelle family, his artist friends are knocking on his door—less for help with their paintings than for a hand-out. O ne might expect such success to go to his head, but Grassou keeps a clear understanding of his own mediocrity. We see this when Bridau appears during the Vervelle portrait sessions, taking the brush out of Grassou’s hands to retouch his friend’s painting. Monsieur Vervelle objects to the intervention of what he takes to be an amateur, but Grassou stops him cold, defending Bridau’s skills at his own expense: “S’il voulait faire le portrait de votre Virginie, il vaudrait mille fois le mien” [“If he deigned to do your Virginia’s portrait, it would be a thousand times better than my own”] (CH, VI, 1107).

   The Dropsical Woman entered the L ouvre’s collection in 1799. F requently reproduced in engravings, it was widely praised in France as Dou’s masterpiece. My thanks to Ronni Baer, S enior C urator in the Boston Museum of F ine Arts, for these details.


F igure 5.1

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

Gerrit D ou, The Dropsical Woman, 1662. E rich L essing / Art Resource, NY. The scene represents a physician examining a flask of urine. T he patient languishes by his side.

Balzac’s Skillful Disguise


Grassou’s modesty further impresses the retired bottle merchant, but it is also Balzac’s way of underlining the fact that Grassou’s success is not due to an artistic epiphany: he is still a mediocre dauber, far surpassed by the genius of Bridau and S chinner. And yet Balzac repeatedly points to the bourgeoisie’s inability to recognize the distinctions of quality that Grassou himself insists on. In a final, staggering example of this blindness, when Grassou visits the Vervelle country home and discovers his old paintings labeled as R embrandt and R ubens originals, he quietly informs his future father-in-law that someone—he refrains from naming E lias Magus—has sold him a pack of fakes. But Vervelle reads the situation backwards: —J’ai fait tous ces tableaux-là, lui dit à l’oreille Pierre Grassou, je ne les ai pas vendus tous ensemble plus de dix mille francs… —Prouvez-le-moi, dit le marchand de bouteilles, et je double la dot de ma fille, car vous êtes Rubens, Rembrandt, Terburg, Titien! (CH, VI, 1110) [“I did all those paintings,” Pierre Grassou whispered into his ear, “and I sold the pack of them for less than ten thousand francs…” “Prove it to me!” said the bottle merchant, “And I’ll double my daughter’s dowry, for you are R ubens, R embrandt, T erburg, T itian!”]

Vervelle’s reaction is perplexing, to say the least. At first one is tempted to think of him as a victim of the kind of swindle one finds so often in Balzac’s novels: it is similar to the scam that leads to the downfall of C ésar Birotteau in the eponymous novel, and it smacks of the speculation responsible for the rise of the house of N ucingen. But although Vervelle has paid half a million francs for a collection worth a fraction of that sum, he feels no remorse or outrage at having been had; rather than viewing the paintings as devalued by the application of a false name, Vervelle considers Grassou’s value to be enhanced—as if the paintings themselves were signatures or guarantees attesting to his talent. In Vervelle’s eyes the painter is elevated to the ranks of a master. O verall, in “Pierre Grassou” commercial success is tied to artistic failure. In the end, the tale appears to reinforce the moral expressed toward the middle of the text: “Inventer en toute chose, c’est vouloir mourir à petit feu; copier, c’est vivre” [“Inventing in every way amounts to wanting to die a slow death; copying means life”] (CH, VI, 1101). Great masters copy nature, and hacks like Pierre Grassou copy… great masters. A deterioration seems to occur as we move from one generation of copy to another—as copies reveal themselves to be imperfect reproductions of other copies, increasingly distanced from the authenticity they seek to reproduce. S o far the moral of the story seems clear: there are real artists, like Bridau and Schinner, and then there are plagiarists, like Grassou. On the one hand, creation; on the other, copy. These are the antithetical terms in which the story is


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

usually read; however, the situation reveals itself to be considerably murkier, rendering the radical opposition between Grassou and Bridau less dramatic. T o be sure, in “Pierre Grassou” frauds of all sorts abound: there are pastiches, borrowings, and plagiarism—and Magus’ retouchings lead to outright forgeries. And yet, the difference between a Grassou and a Bridau is never clearly articulated. When S chinner tells Grassou how to improve his painting, the Breton diligently applies the lesson, heightening the colors, making small modifications, retouching his figures. Later, when Bridau sees the portrait of Virginie, he gives similar tidbits of advice: it could use a bit of cinnabar in the palette; the cheeks need more flesh tones; some lines should be blurred. In both cases, masterpieces and flat likeness are separated by the faintest of shadows, and Bridau’s nuances remain invisible to the untrained eye. Thus the Vervelle family—just like the jury of the Louvre Exhibit, the royal family, and the Minister of the Interior—fail to distinguish between a masterpiece and the work of a supposed hack. But in fact, Balzac’s narrator is ambivalent about Grassou, lamenting his lack of creativity while praising his diligence and other merits. Actual scorn is reserved not for the artist, but for the public, blind enough to mistake Grassou for a great artist—one enhanced by his conformity to bourgeois values. Grassou’s distinctly conventional qualities—he keeps regular hours, saves his money, and even has an account with a notary (a fact that mightily impresses Vervelle)—make of him a kind of bourgeois ideal: “art” stripped of its haughty capital letter, and tamed into something predictable and reproducible. T his reproducibility of art cuts in two directions. O n the one hand, Balzac seems to anticipate Walter Benjamin’s nostalgia for the artistic “aura”—the indefinable smack of authenticity that emanates from a supposedly authentic work of art, and that fades when that work is reproduced. Benjamin’s aura is always invisible and yet mysteriously detectable, presumably similar to the life-giving brushstrokes advocated by Schinner and Bridau, as if just the right nuance can, in some imperceptible way, convey energy to a still life or a portrait. In short, on the level of aesthetics, reproducibility is clearly presented by Balzac as a loss. Reproducibility of the work of art also leads to its democratization: cheap reproductions put art within the grasp of the middle classes—even those not wealthy enough to pay the inflated prices of which Vervelle was a victim. If one is willing to forego the aura of High Art—or if one is too blind to notice it in the first place—the presence of Grassou is a godsend; but for those who believe in more aristocratic ideals, he is a desecration.   S ee D urand 131-3, and Babelon 261-8. T his is also the assumption made by R annaud and Vibert in their comparisons of “Pierre Grassou” to S tendhal’s Féder.    Benjamin’s famous essay, The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction, has been the subject of considerable debate, many critics objecting to its nearly mystical reliance on the ineffable qualities of the aura. In any case, his discussion of the matter neatly reflects the anxiety about forms of mechanical reproduction as they were experienced in the nineteenth century and Benjamin’s own time.

Balzac’s Skillful Disguise


It should come as no surprise that a work focused so intently on issues of representation should spill into the arena of the political: Balzac clearly links the vulgarization of art to other forms of democratization. Just who is represented in contemporary France—and how that representation is achieved—are key considerations. Balzac’s somewhat paradoxical job will be to represent the plight of democratic representation, and to do so literarily. But does realism depict such things in the register of creation, or that of copy? Balzac’s text is riddled with political references, casting the discussion of art in the political terms of democracy and aristocracy. It is clear that the notion of representation in “Pierre Grassou” concerns not just painting (or the replication of paintings), but also political regimes, where questions of representation are the order of the day. In fact, the story opens with a curious description conjoining art and politics: T outes les fois que vous êtes sérieusement allé voir l’E xposition des ouvrages de sculpture et de peinture, comme elle a lieu depuis la R évolution de 1830, n’avez-vous pas été pris d’un sentiment d’inquiétude, d’ennui, de tristesse, à l’aspect des longues galeries encombrées? D epuis 1830, le S alon n’existe plus. U ne seconde fois, le L ouvre a été pris d’assaut par le peuple des artistes qui s’y est maintenu. (CH, VI, 1091) [Each time you have conscientiously gone to see the Exhibit of works of sculpture and painting, as it takes place since the Revolution of 1830, have you not been seized by a feeling of anxiety, boredom, and sadness at the sight of the long and cluttered galleries? S ince 1830, the S alon no longer exists. F or a second time the Louvre has been besieged by the common folk of artists, which has held its position.]

There is, first, a historical exaggeration in this depiction: the Salon certainly does still exist in 1830 (it will not vanish until 1881), and Balzac’s lamentation of its passing thus refers to its change of character: the S alon no longer exists, he seems to say, in its old form. What has happened? The doors of the Salon have been flung open in a rash liberalization—although here, too, Balzac is stretching the truth: the greatest broadening of the S alon does not occur after the R evolution of 1830, but after that of 1789, when the government began to allow all artists to submit work to the juries. T his siege of the L ouvre by common artists leads to a problem, and the narrator thus decries the expansion and democratization of the S alon: where the display used to be confined to the first sections of the grande galerie of the L ouvre, now those borders have been crossed, and the rows of works stretch a bit further each year, adding hundreds or even thousands of paintings. It’s as if the jury had abdicated its   S ee Gérard-Georges L emaire’s excellent history of the S alon, Esquisses en vue d’une histoire du salon, especially 24-31.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

responsibility to select, resulting in a dilution of quality: masterpieces are awash in a sea of mediocrity. In a word, it’s the members of the elite who suffer: Au lieu d’un tournoi, vous avez une émeute; au lieu d’une Exposition glorieuse, vous avez un tumultueux bazar; au lieu du choix, vous avez la totalité. Qu’arrivet-il? L e grand artiste y perd. (CH, VI, 1092) [Instead of a tournament, you have a riot; instead of a glorious Exhibit, you have a tumultuous bazaar; instead of choice, you have everything. What happens? T he great artist loses out.]

The vocabulary Balzac chooses, linking an art exhibit to a mob scene, outlines his position with clarity: 1830 represents a sudden degradation of standards. T he L ouvre is going to the dogs, he suggests—as though anticipating the famous L ouvre visit by the slack-jawed members of the wedding party in Zola’s L’assommoir. Grassou begins his career at just the right time, taking advantage of the sudden broadening of opportunity. After his first success in the Salon, he continues to work the vein of plagiarism, rising quickly to considerable success: Après avoir enfin découvert un filon plein d’or, Grassou de Fougères pratiqua la partie de cette cruelle maxime à laquelle la société doit ces infâmes médiocrités chargées d’élire aujourd’hui les supériorités dans toutes les classes sociales; mais qui naturellement s’élisent elles-mêmes, et font une guerre acharnée aux vrais talents. L e principe de l’Élection, appliqué à tout, est faux, la F rance en reviendra. (CH, VI, 1101) [After having finally made a lucky strike, Grassou de Fougères played out that cruel maxim to which society owes these vile mediocrities now responsible for electing their superiors in all the social classes—but who, of course, only elect themselves, and fight a fierce war against real talents. The principle of Election, when applied to everything, is wrong, and France will back away from it.]

H ere, in the space of a sentence, Balzac elides Grassou’s artistic mediocrity with the electoral system, and the comparison is revelatory. In fact, after the July R evolution a new electoral law went into effect, greatly broadening the electoral base by reducing the poll tax (cens), along with the fees for candidacy, and lowering the minimum age of both voters and candidates. T he reforms effectively wrested considerable power from the wealthy aristocracy, placing it in the hands of the growing middle class, who, as Balzac notes above, elected candidates from their own class instead of their “betters” (Rosanvallon 267-73). The not-so-veiled criticism, then, suggests that in all things political and artistic F rance would do well to return to a more selective and aristocratic system, keeping the riff-raff out of the L ouvre and the parliament.

Balzac’s Skillful Disguise


This convergence of art and politics reaches its pinnacle in the final lines of the story, where Grassou becomes nearly indistinguishable from the state: a candidate for the Academy, Officer in the Légion d’honneur, battalion chief in the N ational Guard, he is even present (in the form of one of his commissioned works) in the Palace of Versailles. Indeed, given his physical characteristics (Grassou is plump, with a big nose, wide mouth, and long ears), it would be easy to take him as a stand-in for the pear-king, Louis-Philippe; at the very least, he represents the values of that regime. T he story thus leaves us in a quandary: plagiarism and originality are clearly opposed, but in fact we have a hard time distinguishing between the two. After all, what is the difference between authenticity and fraudulence in the world of art? And this problem applies to more than painting: what are the implications of this dilemma for a realist enterprise (that is, Balzac’s own) that claims to be mimetic and yet creative? It’s at this point that we need to step outside the frame—not of Grassou’s painting, but of Balzac’s tale. For stories about artistic creation are always, by definition, a kind of mise en abyme, and thus always posing the question of framing. Balzac’s obsession with his public persona led him to craft his own mythical status as a writer with the same care he applied to his more textual fictions. Indeed, this self-proclaimed “Napoleon of literature” often modeled his life after his novels: one might take as an extreme example his founding of the Ordre du Cheval Rouge, a secret society designed to unite the elite members of the intelligentsia. Is this normal life in Balzac’s Paris, or is it drawn from the pages of L’histoire des treize, where a similar (though more nefarious—and more effective) club appears? Who is copying whom? O ne response would be to paraphrase S chinner: the true artist copies nature, whereas the hack simply copies… other artists. For Balzac, then, the great artist would appear to be antithetical to the watered down copies represented by both Pierre Grassou and the Restoration, which both fake a greatness they don’t really possess.10 Now, Balzacian artists like Frenhofer or Schinner would presumably create rather than copy; they would eschew the method Grassou employed in his portrait of the condemned C houan, accepted at the L ouvre E xhibit—where the “plagiarism” of D ou’s painting went blessedly unnoticed. To the extent that Balzac identifies with his great artists, he thus claims to be doing something different from the likes of Grassou. The Napoleon of literature 10

  Here I am taking the liberty of positing Schinner as the mouthpiece for Balzac. But it’s not such a stretch: Balzac regularly modeled his persona on the great artists of his novels (and vice versa), drawing on images of power. See Graham Robb’s discussion of Balzac’s identification with Napoleon (142, 284), also evoked by Stefan Zweig (Balzac 105-25). Other associations of Balzac with images of mastery and genius are widespread: as Gretchen Besser notes, Balzac’s fixation with the man of genius as a literary motif reflects his belief that he, himself, belongs to that category (49-60); André Maurois speaks of Balzac’s association of genius with Prometheus (Prométhée, ou la vie de Balzac). On the Ordre du Cheval Rouge, see Maurois (220).


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

does not engage in the servile copying of copies; indeed, in this short story Balzac appears to condemn Grassou’s method of “borrowing” from several predecessors in order to produce a work, like the portrait of the Chouan, that appears original only because the borrowing has been “habilement déguisé” [“skillfully disguised”] (CH, VI, 1100). This practice of “skillful disguise” requires further attention. First of all, although the painting of the condemned C houan can hardly be considered original, Grassou has not merely copied D ou. In fact, the early painting is but a point of departure, an original inspiration. Balzac describes it thus: F ougères s’était inspiré tout bonnement du chef-d’œuvre de Gérard D ow: il avait retourné le groupe de la F emme hydropique vers la fenêtre, au lieu de le présenter de face. Il avait remplacé la mourante par le condamné: même pâleur, même regard, même appel à Dieu. Au lieu du médecin flamand, il avait peint la froide et officielle figure du greffier vêtu de noir; mais il avait ajouté une vieille femme auprès de la jeune fille de Gérard Dow. Enfin la figure cruellement bonasse du bourreau dominait ce groupe. (CH, VI, 1100) [F ougères had quite simply drawn his inspiration from Gerrit D ou’s masterpiece: he had turned the group of The Dropsical Woman toward the window instead of presenting it head on; he had replaced the dying woman with the condemned man: same paleness, same look in the eyes, same appeal to God. Instead of the Flemish doctor, there was the cold and official figure of the court clerk dressed in black; but he had added an old woman next to the Gerrit Dou’s young girl. And finally, the cruelly serene face of the executioner dominated this group.]

In this passage, “skillful disguise” would seem to mean more than veiled duplication. All things considered, the level of transformation is dramatic: positioning, figures, dress, and historical moment are all reimagined, leaving only some elements of composition and a look in the eyes. In fact, the dual movement described here— reliance on a brilliant model, blended with original contribution—constitutes the most common form of artistic production. Indeed, it conforms to the practices of the very master Balzac highlights as Grassou’s model, for Gerrit D ou himself was famous for producing paintings that “recycled” elements of décor: the window, lighting and point of view found in The Dropsical Woman were also used in The Woman Eating Porridge (c. 1632-7), Woman at the Clavichord (c. 1665), and many others.11 Moreover, for his Dropsical Woman Dou drew on earlier works for elements of composition, drawing on the piskijker (urine examiner) motif introduced by

11   Alain-Philippe D urand points out D ou’s reuse of interiors in his study of “Pierre Grassou.” H e also points out other similarities between Grassou and D ou, including D ou’s own habit of copying the works of others (Durand 139-41).

Balzac’s Skillful Disguise


Ter Borch in 1635 and David Teniers (c. 1650), and even stock compositions, such as Ryckaert’s Alchemist, painted some 23 years earlier in 1640 (figure 5.2).12

Figure 5.2

David Ryckaert, An Alchemist (also known as The Quack Doctor), 1640. C ourtesy of the S an D iego Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. H enry A. Everett. Note especially the window, the lighting, the central figure, the attendant behind him (similar to the woman attending the patient in Dou’s painting) and even the position of the flask.

T he goal here is not to diminish D ou, but simply to point out how gray the distinctions are between plagiarism and pastiche, and then between pastiche and allusion. O riginality, even after the advent of R omanticism, is hardly incompatible with intertextuality, and the opposition of copy to original reveals itself to be too 12

  My thanks again to Ronni Baer for leads on many of these references. See also E mery and E mery (Medicine and Art, chapter 10). One might reasonably object that the standards for “originality” were not the same in seventeenth-century Amsterdam as they were in France in the wake of Romanticism. Nevertheless, it is striking that Grassou follows so closely in the footsteps of the master to whom Balzac opposes him.

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


simple. C ould it be that “Pierre Grassou” illustrates how “originals” are, in fact, always copies—skillfully disguised? S uch a reading appears to go against the grain of the thematic oppositions in the story. But if we push a bit further in this direction, we can see how the obfuscation of an original is exactly what is at work in Balzac’s own production, which allows one to read “Pierre Grassou” almost as an ars poetica, a reluctant allegory of Balzac’s own methods of representation. F rom this point of view the story emerges as a skillful disguise of another episode of skillful disguise, one relating back to Balzac’s own beginnings, when he diligently applied himself, racking up failure after failure, finally getting into the public eye with the assistance of a friend whom he later outshone. F or the year Grassou succeeds with his C houan portrait—1829—is the same year Balzac achieved a similar feat, finally publishing a first novel under his own name. And it is no coincidence that that volume shared its subject matter with Grassou’s painting. T he novel in question is, of course, Le dernier Chouan, ou la Bretagne en 1800 (later renamed Les Chouans)13, that churning narrative of the Breton rebellion. N ot only does the novel culminate in a battle at F ougères—the home of Pierre Grassou (and the city where Balzac completed his novel’s composition14)—but one of its most dramatic moments is the scene of a C houan’s confession15 before his execution for a betrayal he did not commit. These final moments of a Breton rebel prefigure in many respects the scene Pierre Grassou would later paint, even including such details as the unfinished meal on the table.16 In short some confusion exists between Balzac and Grassou, and between notions of artistic genius and slavish copying.17 T he blending of copy and creation are certainly characteristic of Balzac’s realism, and one is tempted to think that Balzac has followed S chinner’s advice to Grassou: when Grassou fails once again to meet S chinner’s standards, the artist tells him, “T u devrais faire autre chose que de la peinture” [“Y ou should do something else other than painting”], and when Fougères asks what this “something else” should be, Schinner replies, “Jette-toi dans la littérature” [“T hrow yourself into literature”] (CH, VI 1099). Evidently literature is the privileged refuge for those who cannot create without copying. 13

 E ven the date included in the title—1800—is alarmingly close to the original date in the title of Grassou’s painting: La toilette d’un Chouan, condamné à mort en 1801. (Balzac later changed the date to 1809.) 14  O n the conditions in which Balzac wrote, see notes by L ucienne F rappier-Mazur in CH, VIII , 1650-2. 15   The scene focuses on Galope-Chopine’s final moments. 16  S ee CH, VIII , 1174-6. T he scenes are, of course, not identical (for instance, Grassou sets the scene in a prison), but they are startlingly similar. 17   Martin Babelon hints in the direction of just such a confusion: “Il est en somme impossible de ne voir dans ce peintre [Pierre Grassou] que le négatif de ce que doit être l’artiste” [“In the end, it’s impossible simply to reduce this painter to a counter-example of what the artist should be”] (Babelon 273).

Balzac’s Skillful Disguise


T he doubling between Les Chouans and Pierre Grassou’s painting is all the more troubling in that Les Chouans was the first of Balzac’s works to bear his signature (Frappier-Mazur, 859)—just as Grassou’s Chouan is the first painting to escape the “rebranding” performed by Magus. Balzac’s novel is thus presented as an original work, albeit one that relied on documentary sources for historical accuracy.18 More significantly, it drew heavily on the style and tradition of Walter S cott’s novels—which, in fact, was a criticism made of many of Balzac’s early works.19 Like Grassou, Balzac borrowed extensively from a masterful (if somewhat formulaic) predecessor, and he even worried about being accused of imitating. In fact, this anxiety led him to plan a pre-emptive strike against such accusations in his planned preface to Les Chouans—a bizarre introductory pamphlet in which Balzac speaks in the voice of the editor of a novel written by the non-existent Victor Morillon. T o respond to the possible accusation of imitation, the fake author wrote back to the fake editor, asserting his originality, and obscuring his debts to S cott and others: Je ne crois pas […] qu’une nation soit assez injuste pour repousser comme imitateur l’homme courageux qui prend pour sujet de ses compositions l’H istoire et la N ature de son pays parce qu’il essayera de les peindre dans une forme nouvellement consacrée. Je ne sache pas qu’en Allemagne les critiques aient arrêté M. de Goethe en lui opposant qu’il ne serait que le Singe de Shakespeare. (CH, VIII, 1677) [I don’t think that a nation should be so unjust as to shun as an imitator the courageous man who chooses for his subjects the H istory and N ature of his country, only because he will try to portray them using a newly consecrated form. I am not aware that in Germany the critics have latched onto M. de Goethe, objecting that he does nothing more than ape Shakespeare.]

This defensive preface would at least have had the merit of acknowledging Balzac’s debt to others, simultaneously hoisting him up to the level of Goethe and Shakespeare, but Balzac suppressed it before the novel went to press—thereby obscuring the influence of Scott, presumably enhancing his potential claim to originality.20 18  E specially La guerre des Vendéens et des Chouans, by Jean-Julien S avary, and Mémoires relatives à la Révolution française, by Adolphe T hiers (cited by L ucienne F rappier-Mazur in CH, VIII, 1650). 19   On the influence of Walter Scott on Les Chouans, see Maurice Bardèche (222-7) and J. Garnand’s The Influence of Walter Scott on the Works of Balzac. R egarding Balzac’s earlier works, some have gone so far as to see the author’s reliance on Scott as outright plagiarism (Prioult, 137, cited in Garnand). 20   That claim would remain somewhat hypothetical, for keen readers saw the connections. S ainte-Beuve, in an article dedicated it Les Chouans in the Revue des deux


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

T he circumstances of Balzac’s publication of Le dernier Chouan echo those of Pierre Grassou quite closely, for like Grassou, the novelist owed this first major publication to the indulgence of friends—it was H enri de L atouche who managed to get it published, and who even wrote laudatory reviews of the book to help attract public attention. The critical reception of the work was, however, cool, and the newspaper L’universel accused Balzac’s style of being faux [“false”]. While less discerning members of the public consumed the volume—just as the public admired Grassou’s production—the elite readers Balzac hoped to touch were left unmoved.21 S till, after Les Chouans Balzac’s reputation grew, and his growing commercial success cast a shadow on his claim to originality, for his own novels regularly measured artistic genius in inverse proportion to public recognition. Balzac’s correspondence also underscores his resemblance to Grassou. While working on Le dernier Chouan in O ctober 1828, he wrote to L atouche that he was reading Walter Scott, and in April of 1829—just after finishing the novel, Balzac wrote this mysterious passage in a letter to Zulma C arraud, complaining about an anonymous piece he had to churn out: Non, M. Honoré n’est pas un étourdi; mais depuis un mois il est obligé d’achever en hâte un ouvrage auquel il ne met pas son nom, car les artistes font des tableaux pour vivre qu’ils ne signent pas, et des tableaux qu’ils exposent au salon pour se faire un nom. J’en suis là. (Correspondance, April 17, 1829, emphasis added) [No, Mr. Honoré is not a scatterbrain; however, for the past month he has been working to finish in a great rush a work to which he will not append his name— for artists paint pictures that they don’t sign to earn a living, and [other] pictures that they show at the salons in order to gain a reputation.]22

T his declaration replicates quite precisely the situation of Grassou, whose anonymous works are trafficked by Magus, and whose first signed painting appears publicly in the S alon. Balzac appears not only to engage in the same techniques of “skillful disguise” that his own narrator condemns, but he even models Grassou’s mediocrity on an “original event” that is none other than Balzac’s own entrance onto the literary scene—which, in turn, was a “skillful disguise” of Walter Scott. The considerable debt to Scott is acknowledged in the Avant-propos to the Comédie humaine (written in 1842), although Balzac struggles to show his original contribution:

mondes complains of Balzac’s imitation of the S cottish writer (cited by F rappier-Mazur in CH, VIII, 1657). 21  L ucienne F rappier-Mazur relates these details in the critical presentation of the text (CH, VIII, 1653-7). 22   Roger Pierrot indicates that the identity of this unsigned work remains unknown (Correspondance 1261).

Balzac’s Skillful Disguise


Walter Scott élevait donc à la valeur philosophique de l’histoire le roman […]. Il y mettait l’esprit des anciens temps, il y réunissait à la fois le drame, le dialogue, le portrait, le paysage, la description; il y faisait entrer le merveilleux et le vrai, ces éléments de l’épopée, il y faisait coudoyer la poésie par la familiarité des plus humbles langages. Mais, […], il n’avait pas songé à relier ses compositions l’une à l’autre de manière à coordonner une histoire complète, dont chaque chapitre eût été un roman, et chaque roman une époque. E n apercevant ce défaut de liaison, qui d’ailleurs ne rend pas l’Écossais moins grand, je vis à la fois le système favorable à l’exécution de mon ouvrage et la possibilité de l’exécuter. (CH, I, 10-11) [Walter Scott thus raised the novel to the philosophic value of history […]. He infused it with the spirit of ancient times, drawing together drama, dialogue, portraits, landscapes, description; he added both the marvelous and the realistic, those elements of the E pic, and he made poetry rub elbows with the most humble idioms. But […] he hadn’t thought to link his compositions together as a way of coordinating an entire saga, of which each chapter would be a novel, and each novel an epoch. Perceiving the absence of this linkage, which in no way reduces the greatness of the S cotsman, I understood the system that would help in the execution of my task, as well as the means of doing so.]

T he statement oozes with false humility, but if it were true, Balzac would limit his compositional innovation to the connections he makes between stories—to a principle of organization that has little to do with artistic creation. As his biographers note, Balzac worked overtime to fuel the myth of his own artistic creativity, casting himself as a larger-than-life Promethean figure, a Napoleon of literature. It is thus striking, and startling, to see that Grassou de F ougères needs to be counted among the F renhofers, S chinners and Bridaus of the Comédie humaine as an especially keen synecdoche of the artistic process. Biographical notes aside, “Pierre Grassou” problematizes the notions of artistic production characterizing the very inception of the Comédie humaine. What defines a master is perhaps not the refusal to copy, borrow, or plagiarize, but instead the aptitude for “disguising” these appropriations so “skillfully” that even the expert eye cannot detect the presence of the originals. Originality in Balzac’s world is paradoxical in two ways. At the first level, we find the simple contradiction between saying and doing: Balzac promotes creation along the lines of a F renhofer, but he performs it like a Grassou. At the second, more interesting level, one could say that Balzac’s originality consists of the mise en scène of just such tensions as this: his work teems with paradox, and it is this careful deployment of self-contradiction that renders so many narratives of the Comédie humaine gnarled and knotted. S uch duality puts Balzac in the company not only of N apoleon, but also of Vautrin. T he convict may rail against the dishonesty of society, as in the passage from Le père Goriot, but he is also the ultimate master of disguise. While he


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

has sworn fierce loyalty to his brotherhood of the underworld—a model Balzac attempted to replicate in the Ordre du Cheval Rouge—Vautrin considers himself superior because of his ability to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. O ne can imagine Balzac echoing Vautrin’s words: he stands alone against all the others and, like Vautrin, he “scams them all.”

C hapter 6

Vidocq and the Image of the C ounterfeit What happens when fakes straddle the line between fiction and reality? In the previous chapter, we saw how widespread fraudulence can be in Balzac’s world: fakes represent a problem, and it is the resolution of this problem that provides the engine of the narratives. In the novels about social hypocrisy, the reader may, if he’s lucky, catch the clues betraying identities concealed behind new names, fortunes, and other disguises. In this sense the reader occupies the position of the detective— or at least plays the role of the detective’s sidekick, since it is the narrator who, like Sherlock Holmes condescending to Watson, often nudges the reader toward an understanding of the truth. Balzac’s world is rife with fakes; the declaration that “All is true!” (Comédie humaine, III, 50) refers only to the mode of representation, whereas in the world represented the author seems to assert with equal gusto that “All is false!” However, while this fraudulence is generally unmasked in the end, it is rarely punished: O ld Goriot’s daughters maintain the secret of their lowly origins at the price of their father’s permanent erasure; Colonel Chabert sacrifices himself, leaving his scheming wife in control of the new identity she has created; Vautrin turns his coat and joins the forces of order. In short, while the reader finally understands the lies festering at the heart of society, this knowledge remains on the outside of the fictional world, shared between reader and narrator; inside the fiction the moral order remains unchanged. This “inefficiency” of the narrative is part and parcel of the mimetic program of realism: Balzac purports to represent fakes and forgeries while describing them “truthfully,” transparently. Denouncing such fakes would not be the job of literature, but that of the police: authors create fictions, while the police attempt to unravel them. But what happens when the demarcation between literature and the police becomes less evident? T he stability of this double stature of the counterfeit— exaltation in art, vilification by the law—depends on the rigor with which the boundary between the legal and the literary is policed. S candal arises when such policing fails, or when the police in charge of the task turn out to be poor imitations—that is, mimeses—of police. The law serves, in part, to discriminate between copies and originals, between the authentic and the fake, but the authority granted to enforcement presupposes that the law is, itself, genuine—not a fake. Should this assumption come into question, should the distinction between the aesthetic and the legal become blurred, problems ensue. S uch a convergence of law and literature occurs in 1828 with the publication of an immensely popular book, the first volume of the Mémoires de Vidocq, chef de la police de la sûreté, jusqu’en 1827, aujourd’hui fabricant de papier à Saint-Mandé


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

[Memoirs of Vidocq, Chief of the Investigative Police until 1827, now a Paper Manufacturer at Saint-Mandé]. T his volume, soon to be followed by three others, contained the somewhat fanciful reminiscences of E ugène-F rançois Vidocq, often one of the most talked-about men in Paris. As head of the investigative police, Vidocq would already be an interesting character; he drew even more attention for his rather unconventional background. Some think of Vidocq as coming into being in 1834, when a character partly modeled after him, Vautrin, first appeared in Le père Goriot; or again in 1862, when he appeared in the form of Jean Valjean in H ugo’s Les misérables; or in 1842, under the name Auguste Dupin, in Poe’s work; or at a host of other moments when characters inspired by this larger-than-life personage were delivered into print. But, biographically speaking, Vidocq was born in 1775. T he main source we have for Vidocq’s early years is none other than his own memoirs. While the details are questionable, it seems certain that he spent a good deal of this youth getting into trouble, and after thieving from his own parents, Vidocq left his native Arras for a series of adventures. In and out of the army, he deserted one regiment for the other, and even fought briefly against the F rench (if we are to believe his own report). Wearying quickly of military life, he began a career of petty crime with rapidly escalating risks, and by 1796 the court had condemned him to eight years of hard labor for his part in the production of a forgery; in one of many escapes, he managed to slip away before being shipped to the penal colony. O ver the next ten years he would be re-captured—and would reescape—a dozen times, changing his name, his residence, his papers, and even his occupation frequently. In 1809, nabbed once again, he finally offered his services to the police, becoming an indicateur [snitch], helping the forces of order round up members of the criminal element in Paris and Arras. In 1811 his denunciation of others was institutionalized, and he created the brigade de sûreté [investigative squad], an office answering to the chief of police. Thenceforth Vidocq worked (tirelessly, according to his accounts) through 1827 (having been granted a full pardon for earlier indiscretions in 1818), purging the capital of thieves and counterfeiters. Because of political pressures he resigned in 1827 and began to write his memoirs, also working to perfect and patent a safety lock, unforgeable paper, and indelible ink (Savant 144-6). Meanwhile, he founded his own detective agency, tracking both criminals and adulterous spouses (Savant 189-94; Maurice 244-52). In 1832 he returned to his old post, where he continued to provide services to the authorities: he is credited with nothing less than saving the government during the insurrection of 1832 (Roy-Henry, 236-9). While defending himself against vicious attacks from many quarters, he also continued to write: the four volumes of his Mémoires had already appeared, but in 1837 he published Les voleurs, and in 1845 Les chauffeurs du nord. T he one-time counterfeiter had made the transition into homme de lettres, which also brought him into regular contact    Vidocq published a number of shorter works as well, including a pamphlet about the penal system, Quelques mots sur une question à l’ordre du jour; Réflexions sur les

Vidocq and the Image of the Counterfeit


with the literati: he dined with figures as varied as Balzac, Lamartine, and Hugo. After the collapse of the monarchy in 1848, Vidocq provided active assistance to the various rising powers, including Lamartine and Napoleon III (Savant 158-67; Maurice 280-92, Roy-Henry 318-28). In 1849 Vidocq finally retired for good, and he died in 1857. T he story of E ugène-F rançois Vidocq commanded public attention for decades, and Paris devoured its installments in press reports and in Vidocq’s own writings; sensationalized accounts of his life and exploits provided materials for unauthorized biographies, apocryphal autobiographies, and scores of more or less fictionalized adaptations. The criminal element became altogether fashionable: after the publication of Les voleurs, in which Vidocq detailed the slang of the pègre [underworld], all of high society could be heard making polite conversation in the pig-L atin jabber of criminals. Where does all this lead? If nothing else, this short sketch demonstrates how the story of Vidocq found itself at a complicated and compelling intersection involving, at the very least, literature, law, industry, and politics. T he common element to all his activities is none other than the counterfeit: Vidocq’s original arrest is for participation in a forgery, his escapes often involve disguises (ranging from gendarme to nun), his false identities are in constant evolution, and after he establishes himself on the near side of the law, his most famous cases involve the arrest of counterfeiters. His later invention of unfalsifiable paper and indelible ink lie in the same realm, as tools devised to put a stop to forgeries. When he intervened in politics, it was to weigh in on the question of legitimacy—and thus, of authenticity. And his dabblings in literature reintroduced the problem of fiction. And yet Vidocq’s position in the game of counterfeits is ambiguous: to what extent does he participate in the very practice he claims to denounce? Vidocq’s adventures capitalize on his uncanny ambidexterity as he engages in deceptions as least as often as he unmasks them. The man who is so closely aligned with the stability of meaning that the journal La caricature will portray him as a lookalike for the king in 1832, will himself be arrested on two occasions under the moyens propres à diminuer les crimes et les récidives [A Few Words on a Current Question: Reflections on the Means of Reducing Crime and Recidivism], 1844.    Vidocq’s first cases, after he is recruited to the police, have to do with the arrest of counterfeiters: in volume II of the Mémoires (301-4) he recounts the capture of a certain Watrin; next he pursues Bouhin and Terrier (305) for the circulation of false five franc coins. In a strange instance of mise en abyme, Vidocq would be the one to arrest Pierre Coignard (a.k.a. Cognard), another escaped convict who (like Vidocq himself) had slipped into acceptable society: Coignard frequented the aristocracy under the name (and title) of the C ount of S aint-H élène.    T he situation is made clear in a caricature that appeared in the middle of June, 1832, after Vidocq had proven instrumental to the survival of the government. C aricatures, of course, play fast and loose with mimesis anyway, but here the ambiguities are especially rich. Is Vidocq drawn to resemble the king—thus linking him to the stable, authentic qualities associated with the throne? Or is the king drawn to resemble Vidocq, thus casting


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

accusation that he is a fraud: the charges assert that his identity as a member of the police has served as a cover for illicit dealings. H e will be vindicated both times, but his reputation suffers. Indeed, one of the tasks of his Mémoires is to silence his critics, showing how, even in the early days, his heart was always in the right place. At the same time that Vidocq seeks to justify his actions, he claims to recount the history of fraud in the mid-nineteenth century, and the project of the Mémoires gradually changes genres, becoming less personal outpouring and more a kind of physiology of criminals, attempting to render counterfeits entirely recognizable. Vidocq outlines his plan thus: Je dévoilerai les expédients des voleurs, les signes auxquels on peut les reconnaître. Je décrirai leurs mœurs, leurs habitudes; je rév[é]lerai leur langage et leur costume, suivant la spécialité de chacun; car les voleurs, selon le fait dont ils sont coutumiers, ont aussi un costume qui leur est propre. Je proposerai des mesures infaillibles pour anéantir l’escroquerie et paralyser la funeste habileté de tous ces faiseurs d’affaires, chevaliers d’industrie, faux courtiers, faux négociants, etc., qui, malgré S ainte-Pélagie, et justement en raison du maintien inutile et barbare de la contrainte par corps, enlèvent chaque jour des millions au commerce. Je dirai les manèges et la tactique de tous ces fripons pour faire des dupes. Je ferai plus, je désignerai les principaux d’entre eux, en leur imprimant sur le front un sceau qui les fera reconnaître. (Mémoires & Voleurs 337) [I will reveal all the devices used by thieves, as well as the signs by which they may be recognized. I will describe their tastes and habits; I will reveal their language and their dress—for thieves, depending on the kind of work they practice, also have a uniform all their own. I will propose infallible techniques to halt swindles and to paralyze all the deadly skills of these dealers, captains of industry, false brokers, fake merchants, etc., who, despite the Saint-Pélagie prison, and precisely because of the useless and barbarous tradition of civil imprisonment, skim millions every day from business. I will tell of all the tricks and tactics these scoundrels use to dupe their victims. I will do even more: I will point out the most prominent among them, imprinting upon their forehead a seal that will make them recognizable.]

Seals, of course, are generally the guarantor of integrity, although here Vidocq proposes a seal of inauthenticity, which, like the brand of the convict, would serve the king—the very emblem of authenticity—in the image of the counterfeit? The reading oscillates between these possibilities, and it is a kind of ambiguity that legal discourse cannot tolerate (Savant 170, 174).    T he original edition of the Mémoires appeared in four volumes. All page references to the Mémoires and to Les Voleurs will be to the modern edition by F rancis L acassin, and will be referred to hereafter as Mémoires & Voleurs within the text.

Vidocq and the Image of the Counterfeit


to make his very body legible. In volume IV of the Mémoires, Vidocq proceeds in a pseudo-scientific vein, offering an entire taxonomy of criminality, following the practice of such naturalists as Linnaeus (VI, 11), and the majority of the volume is dedicated to a lightning course on all manner of “chevaliers grimpants” [“cat burglars”], “boucardiers” [“shop burglars”], “détourneurs” [“shoplifters”], “careurs” [“coin switchers”], “tireurs” [“pickpockets”], “floueurs” [“card sharks”], and sundry other species of evil-doers. At one point he considers taking as a model Geoffroy S aint-H ilaire’s treatise on monsters, but he hesitates to do so, for “qui oserait affimer que le penchant au vol soit une anomalie? […] c’est encore une question de savoir si ce n’est pas un instinct” [“who would dare to affirm that a penchant for thievery is an anomaly? […] one might even ask whether it isn’t an instinct”] (VI 13). T his appeal to science is presciently similar to Balzac, who, in the Avant-propos to the Comédie humaine asserts the taxonomic nature of his enterprise, attempting to show the various species of human: “L a S ociété ne fait-elle pas de l’homme, suivant les milieux où son action se déploie, autant d’hommes différents qu’il y a de variétés en zoologie?” [“Does society not make of men, depending on the contexts in which they develop, as many different men as there are varieties in zoology?”] (Balzac, CH, I, 8). Although Vidocq turns his back on the practices of phrenology (IV 11), he asserts that he can often divine the whole criminal “de pied en cap” [“from tip to toe”] based on a single scrap of clothing—just as C uvier could recompose an entire animal from a jawbone and a handful of vertebrae (IV 10). Vidocq cozies up to science, but since the relationship is metaphorical, even this inches his text ever closer to the arena of literature. O f course, he didn’t have much farther to go: the tales of his various adventures—with action-packed scenes, complete with detailed dialog, recounted 20 years after the fact—read more like a potboiler than any kind of serious chronicle. In fact, the Mémoires de Vidocq are a strange mix of adventure novel, apologia, dictionary, physiology, and even advertisement (for his detective agency). Vidocq’s glide toward fiction, however, is complicated, for he finds himself competing with other littérateurs, where his credentials allow him to compete for the accuracy of their depiction of the underworld: he laments the fact that even the representation of fraud can be fraudulent. This question of adequate representation subtends all of Vidocq’s work, literary and otherwise. H ow, after all, is the truth about fraudulence to be told? O ne cannot tell this truth in fiction, for fiction has too much in common with the fraudulent: after all, in Les voleurs Vidocq notes that the term homme de lettres [“man of letters”] is underworld slang for un faussaire [“a forger”] (Mémoires & Voleurs 763), and there is a sort of raw logic to this nickname. Fictions can tell stories about frauds and counterfeits (as Balzac does in the Comédie humaine), and one can create fictions that perform an act of forgery (see Mérimée’s “hoaxes”), but the medium designed for exposing counterfeits and reporting on them is not fiction, but rather legal discourse. Vidocq’s position in this matter is, again, ambiguous: both former convict and head of the police


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

de sûreté, he stands on both sides of the law, and he speaks with two tongues. So, it is hardly surprising that when he publishes his first major work in 1828, he is writing in a genre—memoirs—whose relation to truth and fiction has always been unsettled. As he moves more resolutely into the realm of fiction, Vidocq plays a primary role in the aestheticizing of crime: his Mémoires provide inspiration for that founder of the crime novel that was Edgar Allan Poe (Sova 250), and it was after the publication of his slang dictionary in Les voleurs (1830) that much of Parisian high society enjoyed underworld soirées where they prattled on using borrowed terminology from the criminal lexicon. Vidocq should thus be credited with the creation of the pègre in nineteenth century fiction. Moreover, playing the role of the guide or translator, he represents this world while interpreting it, making its unfathomable alterity accessible to the Parisian public. In Les voleurs (1837) he presents scenes that might as well be written in Chinese, and in which the reader finds himself utterly dependent on the author’s expertise. F or example, expressing sentiments that seem strangely out of context with the subject at hand, Vidocq provides the example of a love letter composed in argot: Girofle largue, Depuis le reluit où j’ai gambillé avec tézigue et remouché tes châsses et ta frime d’altèque, le dardant a coqué le rifle dans mon palpitant, qui n’aquige plus que pour tézique; je ne roupille que poitou; je paumerai la sorbonne si ton palpitant ne fade pas les sentimens du mien. L e reluit et la sorgue je le rembroque que tézigue, et si tu ne me prends à la bonne, tu m’allumeras bientôt caner. (Mémoires & Voleurs 682-3)

T he text is virtually untranslatable into E nglish, and is nearly as indecipherable in F rench. Vidocq lends his reader a hand, “translating” the text into more intelligible and gallant F rench: Aimable femme, Depuis le jour où j’ai dansé avec toi et vu tes jolis yeux et ta mine piquante, l’amour a mis le feux dans mon cœur, qui ne bat plus que pour toi; je ne dors plus, enfin, je perdrai la tête si ton cœur ne partage pas les sentimens du mien. L e jour et la nuit je ne vois que toi, et, si tu ne m’aimes, tu me verras bientôt mourir. (Mémoires & Voleurs 682) [D ear L ady, Since the day when I danced with you and first saw your beautiful eyes and coquettish face, love has left my heart ablaze, and it now beats only for you; I can sleep no more; indeed, I will lose my wits if your heart does not share the passion of my own.

Vidocq and the Image of the Counterfeit


D ay and night I see only you, and if you cannot love me, you will soon see me die.]

H ere the extraordinary difference to which Vidocq introduces the reader resides partly in language itself: without the narrator’s assistance, the text proves opaque. This is not entirely divorced from the kind of technique Nerval was to use some years later in Aurélia, offering his readers nearly unmediated contact with another kind of underworld, that of mental illness—although in Aurélia such clear translation is never possible. N evertheless, when N erval wrote that “L e R êve est une seconde vie” [“D reams are a second life”], followed by his collage of images and snippets of narrative, he was attempting to represent the nearly indecipherable discourse of madness. S o it goes, in another way, for Vidocq: la Pègre est une seconde vie [“the U nderworld is a second life”], we might be tempted to write, following N erval. T he language of the underworld disguises and distorts the truth, and it is available only to those well trained in its grammar. Like Nerval, Vidocq is faced with what is essentially an elocutionary problem: H ow does a man who embodies deception gain the trust of the reader without the latter feeling conned? O ur acceptance of the truths Vidocq has to tell depends on the reliability we attribute to him as a narrator, which places us in a quandary. In Epimenides’ paradox, the liar asserts that “I always lie”; in the logic of the Mémoires, Vidocq—whose past makes him close kin of the liar—suggests that he will now tell us the “true” story of how he came to be so unreliable. His most obvious strategies for accomplishing this task are unsurprising: he will use the apparatus of factual narratives. F irst, the memoirs cast his life in terms of a coherent chronology, from his birth and childhood in Arras, through his encounters with the law, his cooperation with the police, and his rise to a position of power. Moreover, he will occasionally attempt to neutralize the literary—and thus fictional—potential of the Mémoires by turning them in a form of testimony, and he regularly introduces legal documents into the text to shore up (and perhaps flesh out) his accounts. N evertheless, the status of the Mémoires de Vidocq is doubly, if not triply troublesome, due to legal questions surrounding the production of the volume. For the problem of the counterfeit arises at the opening of the book, in the very gesture Vidocq employs to assert the authenticity of the document the reader holds in her hands. The book opens with a signature, and not just the signature you might expect, the way a novel contains the author’s name on the title page or on the spine of the binding: starting with the second volume the Mémoires contain Vidocq’s signature in his own hand, scrawled—if we are to believe it—on the first sheet of the volume by the author himself, on each individual copy. It is accompanied by this pronouncement: Je déclare que les exemplaires non revêtus de ma signature seront réputés contrefaits. L es exemplaires voulus par la loi ont été déposés, je poursuivrai comme contrefaits ceux non signés de moi.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France [I declare that all copies not bearing my signature will be considered counterfeits. C opies have been registered as required by law, and I will pursue as forgeries any copies not signed by me.]

Never mind that the accounts we read later in the same book demonstrate that Vidocq’s name rarely guarantees anything; here the signature attests to an excessive concern for the authenticity of the copy. In the space opened up between the original manuscript and its mechanical duplication, something has gone array, resulting in two kinds of copies, authentic and fake. But, in fact, the situation is more complex still, for even the signed, “authorized” copies are not actually authored by Vidocq. We learn this in the foreword, where Vidocq complains of having been duped, victimized: the real Vidocq has been replaced by a fake. In his explanation Vidocq admits to having secretly engaged a teinturier (Mémoires & Voleurs 3)—a hack writer named L’Héritier (sometimes written Lhéritier), whose job it was to retouch his style, to round out his uneven prose. It is unsettling enough to think that another hand had been invisibly, surreptitiously recruited for the writing, but the problem is even more serious: as so often occurs, the supplement supplants, and the teinturier proved incapable of coloring within the lines: Quel ne fut pas mon étonnement, lorsqu’à la lecture du premier volume et d’une partie du second, je m’aperçus que ma rédaction avait été entièrement changée, et qu’à une narration dans laquelle se retrouvaient à chaque instant, les saillies, la vivacité et l’énergie de mon caractère, on en avait substitué une autre, tout à fait dépourvue de vie, de couleur et de rapidité. (Mémoires & Voleurs 4) [I could not have been more astounded upon my reading of the first volume and part of the second, when I saw that my text had been entirely altered, and that instead of a narration filled everywhere with the wit, vivacity and energy of my personality, another had taken its place, one altogether lacking in life, color, and verve.]

In short, the ghostwriter had turned the memoirs into a counterfeit, into fiction. Moreover, Vidocq accuses the police—the law—of having had a hand in this falsification in an attempt to suppress certain pieces of sensitive information. Worse yet, Vidocq soon finds himself vying in the marketplace with a formidable competitor—his fictionalized self. L’Héritier, who seems to have taken his name too much to heart (“L’Héritier” translates as “the heir”), had escaped with a copy of his retouched manuscript to L ondon, where excerpts from the Mémoires were appearing in the British press, only to reappear in F rance as supposed “translations” of what had been published across the C hannel. S o as not to lose time, Vidocq rushed his book to press without changes, thus printing under his own name L ’H éritier’s “original” version, which he openly disavowed in the preface. The “genuine copies” (if such an oxymoron may be permitted) are those

Vidocq and the Image of the Counterfeit


bearing the closest resemblance to the manuscript; and this genuineness will be warranted by another kind of manuscript—the hand-written signature inside the cover. S o, while the blurb inside the cover asserts that any copy not containing Vidocq’s signature is a fake, the foreword following the signature, and validated by it, asserts that the authenticated copies are fakes as well: Vidocq readily admits that it will not be until the mid-point (the end of volume II) that the prose will once again be “his own.” T hat said, since Vidocq had already planned to have L’Héritier clandestinely doctor his prose in the first volumes, we may have some doubts about the authenticity of what follows: a more obedient teinturier was undoubtedly found for volumes III and IV. All this makes for a troublesome point of departure: the first 300 pages are a fake, Vidocq seems to say; but we’ll get to the truth before the end. Epistemologically speaking, the book is a mess. Forgeries, misrepresentation, breach of contract, plagiarism, contrefaçon littéraire, signatures, warnings, the intermingling of law and literature—and all this before the first page of the “actual” Mémoires—if, indeed, there is such a page. Taken as a whole, it’s an inauspicious start for a man who claims to be a master at unmasking swindlers: we’re not even into chapter one a work promising to “imprint a seal” on the front [forehead] of the wiliest crooks, and the author has already been tricked, forced to place his own seal on the frontispiece of his revelations. The rest of the book is similarly dizzying—and not just because we fail to notice the promised change of narrative voice as Vidocq supposedly picks up where L ’H éritier left off. R eading the Mémoires de Vidocq is—not surprisingly, given their kinship—a bit like reading Balzac’s Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes, except that it’s as if Vautrin has been charged with the role of the narrator, telling his own story in the first person. Vidocq is, like Vautrin, the master reader: his eye penetrates all disguises and has learned to read the secret physiognomy of the criminal. His detailed knowledge of two realms—that of the law and that of the underworld—allows him to operate smoothly in both, so seamlessly, in fact, that no one knows to which world he really belongs, and the very inscrutability that misleads the criminal element renders Vidocq suspect to the police force that employs him:

   N ot surprisingly, there are other counterfeits in Vidocq’s bibliography: Les vrais mystères de Paris [The True Mysteries of Paris] (1844), intended as a response to Eugène S ue’s Mystères de Paris [The Mysteries of Paris] (1842-3), bears Vidocq’s name, but is considered an apocryphal work, attributed to Horace Raisson and Maurice Alhoy. In 1858—the year after his death—another volume appeared under Vicocq’s name, although the hand of the editor is prominent: Histoire complète de F.-E. Vidocq, publiée d’après des notes inédites, documents et renseignements les plus nouveaux et les plus authentiques sur sa vie aventureuse, depuis sa naissance jusqu’à sa mort. L ’H éritier published a sequel to the memoirs, also under Vidocq’s name: Supplément aux Mémoires de Vidocq, ou Dernières révélations sans réticence (1830); it was suppressed by the police.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France Dans mon emploi, c’eût été me priver d’un moyen de police des plus efficaces, que de rompre en visière avec les voleurs; aussi, ne me suis-je jamais entièrement isolé d’eux: tout en leur faisant la chasse, je paraissais encore prendre intérêt à leur sort. Étais-je chien ou loup? T el était le doute qu’il me convenait de laisser dans leur esprit; et ce doute, si favorable à la calomnie, toutes les fois que l’on m’a imputé une connivence, qui dans la réalité n’existait pas, n’a jamais bien été éclairci pour eux. (Mémoires & Voleurs 431) [In my job it would have robbed me of one of the most valuable resources of the police had I broken off all contact with thieves. Therefore, I never completely separated myself from them: even as I chased them down, I appeared to show an interest in their fate. Was I a hound or a wolf? T hat was the doubt I hoped to leave in their thoughts—and this doubt, such good fuel for calumny every time someone accused me of complicity, and which in reality never existed, was never entirely resolved in their minds.]

T he anecdotes Vidocq recounts support this assertion: thieves, counterfeiters, and assassins all cozy up to Vidocq on a regular basis, either because they don’t recognize him as Vidocq (his mastery of disguises is impressive), or because they think he is a chien when he turns out to be a loup. In episodes (are they real or fictional?) that Vidocq records in the Mémoires, criminals often believe he is fundamentally a fellow thief who is pretending to be a cop who disguises himself as one of the thieves—all of whom, incidentally, spend a lot of time trying to pass for ordinary working folk. But it is in vain that Vidocq stokes his volumes with facts, details, and even legal documents; the Mémoires remain resolutely stuck between fact and fiction, law and literature—chien and loup. T his fundamental and insoluble ambiguity, which so befuddles the pègre, afflicts the police and the reader as well; Vidocq seems ideally suited to all the roles he assumes—so well suited, in fact, that it is impossible to tell when he is playing a role and when he is not. And while there are strong generic imperatives for readers to identify with narrators, readers of the Mémoires cannot help but wonder if they should identify instead with the ones Vidocq has hoodwinked over the years. Rather than stabilizing the world by ridding it of thieves and counterfeiters, the Mémoires present such vertiginous representational complexity that readers feel plunged into vortex of counterfeits. If we do rely on Vidocq, it’s because he is the guide of last resort; we have no alternative.

   Vidocq continues: “Voilà pourquoi les voleurs se sont rendus en quelque sorte les artisans de l’espèce de renommée que je me suis acquise; ils imaginaient que j’étais ouvertement leur ennemi, mais qu’intérieurement je ne demandais pas mieux que de les protéger” [“This is why thieves became in some sense the architects of my reputation; they imagined that I was outwardly their enemy, but that deep down I was trying to protect them”] (431).

Vidocq and the Image of the Counterfeit


T he credentials Vidocq offers us are intended to counterbalance the fraudulence of fiction; they come most often in the form of legal documents, usually copied directly into the text. T hese insertions, which he offers as explicit “preuves” [“evidence”] (159) to the reader, address the establishment of the police de sûreté and the granting of Vidocq’s own pardon, given first in 1818, and then fully registered in 1828. T he pardon, too, helps to authorize Vidocq: Quoique grâcié en 1818, je n’étais pas hors de l’atteinte des rigueurs administratives. Maintenant qu’en son audience solennelle du 1er juillet dernier, la cour de D ouai a proclamé que les droits qui m’avaient été ravis par une erreur de justice m’étaient enfin rendus, je n’omettrai rien, je ne déguiserai rien de ce qu’il convient de dire. Plus tôt, Vidocq sous le coup d’une condamnation, n’eût parlé qu’avec une certaine réserve, aujourd’hui c’est Vidocq, citoyen libre, qui s’explique avec franchise. (Mémoires & Voleurs 340-2) [Although pardoned in 1818, I was not beyond the reach of administrative difficulties… Now that the court of Douai, in its formal hearing of July 1, has proclaimed that the rights which had been taken from me by judicial error have finally been restored, I will omit nothing, and I will not disguise in the slightest what needs to be said… E arlier, with Vidocq under the thumb of a condemnation, he would have spoken with a certain reserve; today it is Vidocq the free citizen who expresses himself without hindrance.]

Vidocq, and by extension his story, have been enfranchised by the law. What is accomplished by this right is the permission to criticize the authority that granted it. Having started his work with the police as a mouchard, identifying members of the underworld, in the Mémoires he will also take the opportunity to denounce the police, which he sees as politicized and riddled with corruption. S uddenly distanced from both the law and the underworld, neither hound nor wolf, Vidocq relies on an entirely independent authority: himself. It smacks vaguely of Rousseau: L ’on me croira ou l’on ne me croira pas, mais jusqu’ici j’ai fait quelques aveux assez humiliants pour que l’on ne doute pas que si j’eusse été dévoué à la police politique, je ne le confessasse sans détours. (Mémoires & Voleurs 339) [T he reader will believe me or not, but up to now I have made a number of confessions that are sufficiently humiliating that the reader should not doubt that if I had been devoted to the political police, I would have confessed as much in plain language.]

Noble, indeed, except that this reference to his earlier frankness comes at the end of volume II —which means that the humble, humiliating avowals he refers to may


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

belong to the portion of the Mémoires rewritten by L ’H éritier, which Vidocq has explicitly disowned. S tylistically, the Mémoires become increasingly problematic, and Vidocq oscillates between fiction and documentary. Episodes that he relates regularly take on a dramatic flavor, and on several occasions, dialogues slip into the typographic conventions for a stage script—including italicized stage directions. T oward the end of volume IV we reach an extreme, when Vidocq’s voice disappears altogether, giving way to a romanticized and largely dramatized morality tale of some 60 pages detailing the events leading a young woman, Adèle, along an inexorable path to a life of crime. H e concludes with the brief taxonomy of the different classes of crimes and criminals (615-65) discussed above, attempting a rapid return to objectivity and analysis. But the damage is done. Vidocq and his problems of authenticity occupy the intersection of literature, law, commerce, and politics, and they do so in an extraordinarily public way. T he fascination he exerted over Paris of the 1820s and 30s is hard to overestimate, and it seems clear that the allure stems from his fundamental ambiguity: such a master of mimesis that no one avoids being his dupe (he successfully introduced himself to the king as disguised a duchess at one point), Vidocq is always tainted by his connection with forgery and fiction. Moreover, despite his explicit narrative, which shows Vidocq moving from one side of the law to the other, this boundary is not some kind of Rubicon, the crossing of which is definitive. Rather, he straddles the division, partaking of both fiction and law, both the fraudulent and the genuine, both the copy and the original. If Vidocq’s crossing of these boundaries resulted only in scandal, one might see it as a transgression reinforcing the taboo. However, as Vidocq walked his fine line between chien and loup with relative success, the taboo is instead (mostly) lifted: crime and fraud begin to serve as spectacle. As authors like Balzac, Sue, and Hugo “lift” and rework material from Vidocq’s story into their own novels, we see an appropriation of the problem of the counterfeit into the realm of literature. T he thematics of the Comédie humaine, the Mystères de Paris, or Les misérables are one way in which this investment becomes evident, but it is also expressed in somewhat later ruminations on the value of the “copy.” One might think here of Baudelaire’s fascination with cliché, or F laubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet. In short, this convergence has nothing to with such entities as the contrefaçon littéraire, the counterfeiting of the aesthetic object; it is rather the reverse—the aestheticization of the counterfeit: the incorporation of the counterfeit into art—or the transformation during the course of the nineteenth century of the counterfeit into an aesthetic object. T he memoirs of Vidocq introduce us to the complex intersection of the literary and the legal. As we will see in the next chapter, law occupies an even more prominent position when the truth it is called upon to judge belongs to the domain of gender.

C hapter 7

F alse Genders: S and’s Gabriel Given all these fakes, it’s hard to fall back on anything solid and authentic in the nineteenth century—although one might reasonably have hoped for a bit of help from nature. After all, Auguste C omte’s teachings in positivism suggested that the secrets of the world were fundamentally knowable and that the march of science would, like a philosophical Torquemada, bring these truths to full expression. But what happens when nature speaks with two tongues, or when the body itself lies? “L ’homme est double” [“Man is double”], Balzac had written in Louis Lambert, but even this double could be duplicitous, deceptive. And what happens when the double of a man is actually a woman? In the 1830s this question takes on a certain urgency, and several texts begin to trouble the boundary between masculine and feminine. A number of early R omantic pieces had already elaborated the image of the androgyne, at least in metaphorical terms. In C hateaubriand’s René (1802) and L amartine’s Méditations poétiques (1820), for instance, the male narrators adopt a languid, effeminate pose; the same type of image appears in Musset’s Confession d’un enfant du siècle (1836), where the narrator represents the antithesis of the male hero that dominated the previous generation (when the model was Napoleonic). H owever, the “feminization” of the narrators or poetic voices in these texts consists principally of the inscription of a lack: male force and vigor has gone missing. If anything was gained by feminization, it was the increased sensitivity women were thought to possess—or rather, to suffer from. A series of more problematic texts began to appear around 1830, when the fusion (or confusion) of genders became more palpable. In 1829 H enri de L atouche published Fragoletta, ou Naples et Paris en 1799 [Fragoletta, or Naples and Paris in 1799], which tells the tale of a (probable) hermaphrodite. In 1830, Balzac’s now-famous “S arrasine” appeared in the Revue de Paris: it revolves around the story of a castrato who dupes the main character into believing he is a woman: as it turns out, the castrato falls in between traditional gender distinctions, lying in the “no-man’s” land between male and female. U ltimately, the story leaves open the question of just how one should define this “créature maudite” [“cursed creature”] (CH, VI, 1069). George Sand inverts the dynamics of “Sarrasine” in her novella La Marquise (1832), in which a young woman falls for an actor; she ends up cross-dressing as a man in order to approach him, and simultaneously 

 S ee N igel S mith, “Androgyny and the R efusal of C lassicism.”   Janis Glasgow comments on Gabriel’s position in this series (Glasgow 5-10), as does Pratima Prasad (Prasad, 332-335). 


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

investigates the implications of gender trouble on both sides of the relationship. In 1834, it is again Balzac’s turn with Séraphîta, one of his most mystical works, in which the eponymous character straddles the border between masculine and feminine, incorporating both sexes, as a physical and psychic androgyne, or “total being.” 1835 sees the publication of T héophile Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin, recounting the tale of Madeleine de Maupin, who spends the better part of her days passing as T héodore—except when dressed on stage as a woman pretending to be a man—and who exits the novel in a bisexual blaze of glory. F inally, in 1840 S and writes what she later considers her favorite work, Gabriel, an armchair drama in which an adolescent man discovers that he is, at least according to biology, a woman. T here is no doubting it: over the course of these dozen years, the question of sexual identity suddenly came of age. As one might expect, these stories also bear the traces of intertextual influence, and although each tale takes a different tack, each also draws on some of the stories preceding it. T hus, in addition to a preoccupation with gender and sexual identity, they also share various motifs and strategies. T he importance of the theater appears frequently (in “S arrasine,” La Marquise, Mademoiselle de Maupin, and Gabriel), suggesting, as others have pointed out, a linkage between gender roles and notions of performance. T he prominence of the stage is closely tied to the tendency of many of these narratives to emphasize the role of costume: on the one hand, “clothes make the man” (or the woman), and the cross-dressing characters of these narratives seem to adopt the characteristics associated with their type of dress; conversely, the costume can become an expression of an identity felt within. T he theme of transvestism is not new in 1830, and readers of Marivaux, Beaumarchais, or even Shakespeare will be familiar with the phenomenon. H owever, in these earlier traditions the dramatic effect of such reversals was often carnivalesque: when, in Le mariage de Figaro [The Marriage of Figaro] (1782) Chérubin dresses up as the Countess, he is far from undergoing an identity crisis; the burlesque masquerade is a temporary inversion that ends up reaffirming gender roles. However, the gender trouble that occurs in the works of Balzac, Gautier, and Sand is darker and more enduringly unsettling. Gender narratives employ different tactics, often to achieve diverse goals. Many play the card of titillation: in L atouche’s Fragoletta the protagonist d’H auteville is never quite sure if C amille and Philippe—supposedly brother and sister—are separate people, and it is not until the cryptic ending of this 500-page saga that   O n the structure of La Marquise, see C arpenter, 2006, and F rançoise MassardierKenney, “L ’espace du féminin dans La Marquise.”   In Between Genders, N athaniel Wing discusses several gender narratives of this period, discussing at length their inconclusive nature (Wing 166-70).   Pratima Prasad, in her excellent essay, “D eceiving D isclosures: Androgyny and George S and’s Gabriel,” examines the role of transvestism in Gabriel, concluding that it is representative of gender as a kind of performance. Prasad’s study is especially indebted to Judith Butler’s definitions of gender, as developed in Gender Trouble.

False Genders: Sand’s Gabriel


the reader’s suspicions are (mostly) confirmed. The “mystery” of Camille’s sexual identity is thus an important component of narrative tension, and the matter is resolved only at the moment where it is no longer needed for suspense: the end of the novel. S omewhat similarly, Balzac’s “S arrasine” opens with a frame story in which the identity of an ancient “creature” comes into question; the central narrative then attempts to explain this first mystery by a second—the love story between the sculptor Sarrasine and the opera singer known as La Zambinella. La Zambinella’s “true” identity (as a castrato) is revealed toward the end of the central narrative, allowing the identification of the shriveled being haunting the de Lanty’s party in the frame story: the ghostlike creature is what remains of La Zambinella some decades later. H ere again the mystery of gender serves as a prime element of suspense—one that has exhausted its resources once the “truth” is revealed. T he pattern is repeated in Mademoiselle de Maupin, where all doubts about Maupin’s double identity and bisexuality vanish at the end of the novel in a sudden flourish of sexuality. In the final pages, in her farewell letter, the title character explains herself to the protagonist in these terms: “Vous êtes sans doute très surpris, mon cher d’Albert, de ce que je viens de faire après ce que j’ai fait” [“Y ou are undoubtedly quite surprised, my dear d’Albert, by what I am now doing, after what I have done”] (Gautier 413), and the surprise is not just that she has departed after granting him a single night of lovemaking, but also that Madeleine divided her favors that evening between d’Albert and R osette. Innovative in many other respects, Mademoiselle de Maupin is quite typical in this portion of its narrative pattern: the revelation of the supposed truth about gender triggers the end of the story. In this respect, and many others, S and’s Gabriel represents a departure from the pattern, for Gabriel’s “secret” is known almost from the beginning. Gabriel’s “true” identity is broadly hinted at in the opening pages, and the revelation of this truth is made clear to Gabriel him/herself —although out of the earshot of the other characters—in scene iv of the prologue. Just in case the readers have failed to piece together all the clues (and it is hard to see how they could), the words are finally spoken at the end of Act II, when Gabriel’s cousin, Astolphe declares: “Gabriel, tu es une femme!” [“Gabriel, you are a woman!”] (Gabriel 127). While this discovery merely confirms the reader’s assumptions, it comes as a great relief to Astolphe, who was troubled by his attraction to a supposedly male cousin. T his early discovery leaves three acts and nearly 100 pages to explore the implications  T here is an elocutionary problem in any discussion of Gabriel, and it is one that Sand actually thematizes in the play: we find ourselves hesitating in the use of pronouns. S and’s dialogue tags switch from “Gabriel” to “Gabrielle” when the character has assumed a masculine or feminine identity—although not when “he” is merely masquerading as a “she.” My own usage attempts to reflect Gabriel’s internal state, using double pronouns when he (or she) is teetering between genders, and single ones when she (or he) seems committed to a particular gender role. We’ll show how various characters deal with this issue below. 

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


of the gender confusion announced early on—in stark contrast to the works of L atouche, Gautier, and Balzac, where such discoveries signaled the end of the narrative. S and is thus less interested than others in using gender as a mere purveyor of a mystery that might somehow be resolved by a revelation. Moreover, it is not entirely clear who, in Gabriel, is empowered to reveal the truth, for Gabriel him/herself is just as mystified as the others: as implausible as it seems, at the beginning of the play Gabriel does not know his/her own story—namely that s/he was born a biological female, raised as a male. Like Balzac’s Zambinella, s/he is the creature of another, the victim of a manipulative experiment orchestrated by her/his aging uncle, Jules de Bramante. When the old man at last lays out the facts, Gabriel recoils before a truth that s/he had already intuitively suspected: Le voilà donc, cet horrible secret que j’avais deviné! Ils ont enfin osé me le révéler en face! Impudent vieillard! C omment n’es-tu pas rentré sous terre, quand tu m’as vu, pour te punir et te confondre, affecter tant d’ignorance et d’étonnement! L es insensés! comment pouvaient-ils croire que j’étais encore la dupe de leur insolent artifice? Admirable ruse, en effet! M’inspirer l’horreur de ma condition, afin de me fouler aux pieds ensuite, et de me dire: Voilà pourtant ce que vous êtes… voilà où nous allons vous reléguer si vous n’acceptez pas la complicité de notre crime! (Gabriel 72) [There it is, this horrible secret that I had surmised! They have finally dared to utter it to my face! Impudent old man! Why didn’t you crawl back underground when you saw me, to punish you and confound you. T o affect such ignorance and astonishment! T hey must be mad! H ow could they believe that I was still the dupe of their insolent trick? A clever ruse, indeed! First make me despise my own condition, the better to trample me underfoot, and then announce: “And yet, this is what you are… and this is what we’ll reduce you to if you refuse complicity in our crime.”]

It is noteworthy that the vocabulary surrounding Gabriel’s situation is one of imposture and fraudulence—insolent artifice and admirable ruse. In most ways this is typical of gender narratives: Mademoiselle de Maupin, too, was portrayed as masking her identity, and in “Sarrasine” La Zambinella partakes of the dynamic of mystifications when she confesses to the protagonist that “je n’ai consenti à vous tromper que pour plaire à mes camarades, qui voulaient rire” [“I only consented to deceive you in order to please my friends, who wanted a good 

 T his same vocabulary comes up frequently in the context of Gabriel’s victimization: “T u m’as bien assez outragé en me rendant, au sortir du sein maternel, l’instrument de la haine, le complice de l’imposture et de la fraude” [“Y ou have gravely offended me by making me, at the same moment I left my mother’s body, the vehicle of hatred, an accomplice of imposture and fraud”] (70).

False Genders: Sand’s Gabriel


laugh”] (CH, VI, 1073). However, the principal difference in Gabriel is that the person whose identity is at stake has been just as mystified as most of the others: s/he learns belatedly—long after the reader has guessed it—that s/he is other than s/he thought. The implications of this artifice are complex. In most of the gender narratives of this period (although “S arrasine” is somewhat problematic), ambiguous sexuality is portrayed as an expression of inner desires: in Gabriel it is rather the opposite, where sexual identity derives from the imposition of external conventions. In fact, if Gabriel harbors any inner yearning, it is to escape gender divisions altogether: in a scene symptomatic of the kind of idealism Naomi Schor has attributed to George S and, Gabriel imagines blending gender in an elevation reminiscent of Balzac’s Séraphîta : D ans mon rêve, je n’étais pas un habitant de cette terre. J’avais des ailes et je m’élevais à travers les mondes, vers je ne sais quel monde idéal. D es voix sublimes chantaient autour de moi; je ne voyais personne; mais des nuages légers et brillants, qui passaient dans l’éther, reflétaient ma figure, et j’étais une jeune fille vêtue d’une longue robe flottante et couronnée de fleurs. (Gabriel 60) [In my dream, I was not an inhabitant of this earth. I had wings, and I flew over worlds, toward some unknown ideal world. Sublime voices sang about me; I saw no one; yet the light, brilliant clouds that passed through the ether reflected my figure, and I was a young girl in a long dress, crowned with flowers.]

The tutor soon punctures this idealized dream and brings Gabriel back to more earthly concerns. O n earth, which is to say in society, Gabriel exists as a man because of her/his education, dress, and general culture. S ymbolic of this sexuality-by-convention is the legal question at the basis of Gabriel, which ties the main character’s sexual fate to a sordid story of inheritance: because no male heir remains in Jules de Bramante’s side of the family, the entire Bramante fortune will pass to the junior branch unless a male can be produced—or fabricated. Gabriel’s sexual metamorphosis is thus not the expression of some inner impulse, as is the case in other gender narratives; it is instead triggered by legal reasons. Gabriel’s masculine traits are more a sign of inculcation than of natural expression. S uch a model of gender clashes with contemporaneous literary norms, and even with the principles maintained by other characters in Gabriel. T hus, when the young heir’s tutor describes what it means to be a man, he does so by an appeal to the “natural” expression of one’s gendered soul—an assertion that Gabriel (not yet informed of his/her unusual background) flatly dismisses:   T he text of “S arrasine” is not entirely clear about the source of L a Zambinella’s femininity: is castration a cause or a symptom? Balzac is silent on the point.    Veronica Hubert-Matthews has described this angelic figure as a pre-sexual being— an image that corresponds to Gabriel’s ideal state (Hubert-Matthews 20).


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France Le Précepteur: Il y a dans l’homme une disposition naturelle à affronter le danger, et c’est ce qui le distingue de la femme très particulièrement. Gabriel: L a femme! la femme, je ne sais à quel propos vous me parlez toujours de la femme. Quant à moi, je ne sens pas que mon âme ait un sexe, comme vous tâchez souvent de me le démontrer. (Gabriel 57) [The Tutor: Gabriel:

Men have a natural inclination to confront danger, and this is what, in particular, distinguishes them from women. Women! Women! I don’t know why you always end up talking to me about women. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t feel that my soul has a sex, as you so often assert.]

Of course, while the tutor’s assertion reflects common thinking, it cannot reflect his own: after all, his principal job over the preceding decade had been to convince Gabriel of the naturalness of gender distinctions while simultaneously disproving them in practice: by “creating” a male heir out of an infant girl, the tutor demonstrates (at least provisionally) that gender can be learned. Gabriel’s reaction to his double discovery—namely, that “he” is a woman, and that his masculinity exists only to disinherit another—begins a long process of adaptation. Because s/he is in essence a kind of legal forgery, the process begins with his/her vow to right the legal wrong, but the declaration of revenge repeats the very vocabulary (and dynamics) of fraudulence that led to Gabriel’s own predicament. In short, s/he intends to fight fire with fire, deciding to locate the cousin whom Jules de Brabante hoped to disinherit: Je vous punirai, ô imposteurs! je vous ferai partager mes souffrances. […] Tu m’avais soigneusement caché l’existence de ce jeune homme! ce sera là ma consolation, la réparation de l’iniquité à laquelle on m’associe! Pauvre parent, pauvre victime […] Et où le trouverai-je? Je le saurai: je dissimulerai, je tromperai, moi aussi! (Gabriel 72-3) [I will punish you, O impostors! I will make you share my suffering. […] You had carefully concealed from me the existence of this young man. T hat will be my consolation, the reparations for the hateful act to which they have recruited me. Poor cousin, poor victim […]. And where will I find him? I’ll find out: I, too, will dissemble and deceive!]

What follows is a series of ever more complex deceptions. As Gabriel seeks out her/ his cousin in order to restore the fortune that is rightfully his, s/he remains dressed as a man, but travels under an assumed name. After s/he helps Astolphe survive a brawl in a bar, the two become fast friends; shortly thereafter they attend a costume

False Genders: Sand’s Gabriel


party, where Gabriel dons a gown in order to accompany Astolphe as his apparent date. Thus far the masquerade conforms to the classic pattern of mystifications, according to which those who are duped find solace by sharing their victimization with others. And so, when Astolphe’s erstwhile mistress, F austina, discovers she has fallen for the trap (“mistakenly” thinking that Gabriel is a woman), Astolphe implores her to keep silent so as not to spoil the trick for others: Ah ça! Faustina, tu es une bonne fille, ne va pas trahir le secret de notre mascarade. T u en as été dupe. T âche de n’être pas la seule, ce serait honteux pour toi. (Gabriel 117) [H ah! F austina, be a good girl and don’t betray the secret of our masquerade. Y ou fell for it; try not to be the only one, which would be embarrassing for you.]

Similarly, when Faustina’s new beau, Antonio, falls for the same trick, he wants to make sure he is not the only victim: Ah! la bonne histoire! J’ai été dupe au-delà de la permission; mais, ce qui me console, c’est que je ne suis pas le seul. (Gabriel 124) [Hah! What a story. I went for it, hook, line, and sinker; my sole comfort is that I’m not the only one.]

Of course, the dramatic irony at work is that Faustina and Antonio think they have gotten to the truth when they realize Astolphe’s companion is Gabriel; what they don’t realize is that the masquerade goes at least one level deeper. Astolphe himself has remained mystified, believing Gabriel to be male until the end of this act, when he finally discovers “her” in a state of undress. And for Astolphe, who fails to understand the complex layering of Gabriel’s sexual identity, the body does not lie: when he sees Gabriel bare-breasted in the torchlight of their apartment, the scene has the smack of an epiphany, and the miscreant Astolphe falls to his knees and thanks God for turning the key on his cousin’s secret. Unfortunately for Astolphe, matters are not as simple as he would like to believe, and Gabriel’s identities—both sexual and legal—enter a phase of considerable instability, which will also be marked by the language of fraudulence. Act III takes place in the remote and modest dwelling of Astolphe’s aging mother, where the title character now appears with a new spelling, Gabrielle, in the feminine. When the scene opens, “she” is partaking of the quintessentially feminine activity of embroidery. Gabrielle and Astolphe are now married, and although one might take this to be a restoration of the normal order of things, the facts are not so clear. F irst of all, Gabrielle is living under an assumed name, so Astolphe’s mother, S ettimia, does not know she is the former prince of Bramante. Second, Gabrielle suffers from a kind of Huckleberry Finn awkwardness in her new role as a woman: her incompetence at needlework and her passion for the outdoors makes her even


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

more of a misfit in her supposedly “natural” state than she was in her fabricated role as a man. F inally, this new turn in sexual identities coincides with a new flight of legal questions. Rumors fly concerning the disappearance of Gabriel de Bramante, and amidst speculations that he may be dead, S ettimia wonders about how to secure the inheritance for Astolphe. Jules de Bramante has claimed to be receiving communications from Gabriel while the young prince is “away on travels,” but S ettimia and her confessor speculate that these may be “lettres supposées” [“counterfeit letters”] (136). They also fear that Jules, even at his advanced age, could attempt to produce another male offspring—or “supposer un enfant” [“falsely claim a child”] (135) from a new marriage. The persistence of the term “supposer”—which means “to forge” when used in the context of testaments and signatures—once again blurs the line between legal actions and procreation, between nature and convention. Astolphe’s plan for avoiding the entanglements of such fraudulence consists of escaping from society altogether, and in Act IV the couple goes into a curious sort of hiding: Gabrielle agrees to be a “woman” for three months every year, during which the couple lives secluded in the countryside. T he rest of the year she is to regain her manhood, during which time the two cousins circulate in various cities, always keeping their whereabouts a secret from the conniving Jules. The alternation between masculine and feminine roles reflects the ambivalence of Gabrielle’s character, and although Astolphe has been fudging the calendar to extend the duration of his wife’s womanhood, Gabrielle admits that she would sooner renounce her role as a woman than that as a man (Gabriel 161). Appropriately enough, it is the male identity she finally adopts after Astolphe attempts the ultimate act of control by imprisoning her in their hideaway, attempting to lock Gabrielle in her feminine identity. After escaping to R ome, she becomes once again a young man, determined never again to don his feminine persona. T he interruption of the alternation between genders will restore a certain stability to the play—for even the characters most intimately associated with Gabriel have found the oscillation difficult to digest. The old servant, Marc, has been particularly befuddled, always using the wrong terms of address: Aussitôt que je prends l’habitude d’appeler votre seigneurie madame, voilà que nous partons pour F lorence et elle reprend ses habits d’homme. Alors j’ai toujours madame sur les lèvres, et je ne commence à reprendre l’habitude du monseigneur que lorsque votre seigneurie reprend sa robe et ses cornettes. (Gabriel 160) [As soon as I get used to calling your lordship madam, we head off to F lorence and you put men’s clothing back on. Then I always have madame on my lips, and by the time I get used to using milord, your lordship is back to her dress and cornets.]

False Genders: Sand’s Gabriel


L ater, when Astolphe and the tutor cross paths in R ome, they can’t agree what pronoun to use as they exchange urgent information about Gabriel—thereby prefiguring the awkwardness shared by all future commentators on this play: Astolphe: Quoique Gabrielle ne soit guère plus dévote que moi, un serment serait pour elle un lien invincible. Le Précepteur: Il ne vous en donc jamais fait aucun? Astolphe: Elle m’a juré fidélité à la face du ciel. Le Précepteur: S ’il a fait ce serment, il l’a tenu, et il le tiendra toujours. Astolphe: Mais elle ne m’a pas juré obéissance. Le Précepteur: S ’il ne l’a pas voulu, il ne le voudra pas, il ne le voudra jamais. (Gabriel 186, emphasis added) [Astolphe: Although Gabrielle is no more religious than I, a vow would be for her an invincible bond. The Tutor: He has never made one to you? Astolphe: She swore to be faithful to me, before the heavens. The Tutor: If he made that vow, he kept it, and he will always keep it. Astolphe: But she did not swear obedience to me. The Tutor: If he did not wish to do so, he won’t want to later, and he never will.]

T he interruption of the alternation between masculine and feminine will entail certain consequences. O ne has to do with the renunciation of the feminine, accomplished both by word—“A présent […] je suis un garçon pour toujours” [“Now […] I am a man for good”] (206)—and also by deed, as when Gabriel duels with Antonio, leaving the latter with no doubt about Gabriel’s identity: “Il ne m’arrivera plus, je pense, de vous prendre pour une femme!” [“T hat’s the last time, I think, that I’ll take you for a woman!”] (181). The abruptness and finality of Gabriel’s renunciation of the feminine has the power of a castration—which would have to be imagined as a female castration, an excision of the feminine. In many respects, Gabriel’s situation is now reminiscent of L a Zambinella in “S arrasine.” Another consequence of the interruption of the cycle is legal in nature. T he laws governing the rights of succession do not allow for the kind of ambiguity associated with Gabriel; indeed, the prominence of the legal context in the whole of this story has much to do with the inability of law to tolerate ambiguity; indeed, the judicial system serves to decide between incompatible options. In this case, Gabriel resolves the legal quandary by going above the law: by a special papal concession, he manages to have his rights to the Bramante fortune transferred to Astolphe; as far as the law is concerned, the Prince de Bramante no longer exists. This legal and social erasure needs only to be confirmed at a more personal or corporeal level, which leads to Gabriel’s death. T he renunciation of his title already amounts to a form of social self-destruction, and Gabriel will consider actual suicide while standing, despondent, on a bridge over the T iber in the middle


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

of the night. This position—poised between two banks of the river—rather aptly describes Gabriel’s plight, and at the same time s/he realizes her/his position to be untenable, s/he savors a last glimpse of the freedom that glimmers like a lure before him: C ependant avec la liberté (et ma démarche auprès du pape doit me mettre à l’abri de tout), la solitude pourrait être belle encore. Que de poésie dans la contemplation de ces astres dont mon désir prend possession librement, sans qu’aucune vile passion l’enchaîne aux choses de la terre! Ô liberté de l’âme! qui peut t’aliéner sans folie? […] Rends-moi cette liberté, mon Dieu! mon âme se dilate rien qu’à prononcer ce mot: liberté! (Gabriel 217) [And yet, with freedom (and the steps I have taken with the Pope should protect me from everything), solitude could still be beautiful. How much poetry there is in the contemplation of these stars that my desire can possess freely, without any vile passion fettering it to earthly matters. O freedom of the soul! Who can give you up without going mad? […] Give me back my freedom, my God! My soul swells at the simple utterance of that word: freedom!]

This fleeting vision recalls the dream Gabriel describes at the beginning of the play, when s/he imagined leaving the world and floating toward some idealized sphere—and where, as here, a heavy chain dragged him/her back. That freedom to which Gabriel aspires would appear to be as unattainable as the stars s/he contemplates, for the kind of ambiguity or flexibility of which he dreams can exist only as an idea—as a “soul,” but not as a body or as a social being. Significantly, though, Gabriel does not quite commit suicide; instead, he is struck down by Giglio, the assassin hired by Jules. As life seeps from his body, Gabriel thanks the killer for helping him achieve the goal to which he so recently aspired: “C’est bien frappé, mon maître. Je demandais la liberté, et tu me l’as donnée” [“You’ve hit well, my master. I was asking for freedom, and you have given it to me”] (217). Death delivers Gabriel from the body that been the source and the sign of his trouble in this world, and Gabriel’s final wish is to make this body vanish. He thus asks his killer to complete his erasure: “Je ne veux pas que mon corps soit insulté par les passants… Attache-moi à une pierre… et jette-moi dans l’eau” [“I don’t want my body to be reproached by passers-by… Tie a stone to me… and throw me in the river”] (219). The play ends, somewhat ironically, with a return to the legal context: Astolphe and the Tutor drag the killer off to justice, where he promises to reveal the machinations of Jules de Bramante: Gabriel’s death will serve to bring to justice the one who created him/her. Gabriel is a knotty, complex play, and (despite Sand’s insistent claims to the contrary) utterly unperformable.10 However, for all its dramatic flaws, it 10  S and tried repeatedly to have the play staged, but it was eventually turned down by every theater: the play was too long, required too many sets, and was too hard to cast.

False Genders: Sand’s Gabriel


presents a compelling analysis of gender—especially insofar as gender may be linked to fraudulence. First, Sand describes Gabriel already as a legal forgery: the law determines sexual identity by way of the body, and it is only by concealing anatomy—by counterfeiting masculinity—that Jules de Bramante can hope to achieve his ends. T he miscalculation resides in the fact that gender and fraudulence are both assumed to operate in a binary fashion: one is either male or female, just as one is either genuine or fake. However, Gabriel’s experience clashes with this assumption: “Je ne sens pas que mon âme ait un sexe” [“I don’t feel that my soul has a sex”] (57), s/he claimed, and s/he feels more fraudulent when conforming to her anatomical “truth” than when she “masquerades” as a man. In short, this kind of fraudulence is a more complex concept that the law can tolerate. If Gabriel, the character, is a victim of social protocols, then Gabriel, the play, is a casualty of theatrical convention. Just as the law must come to a final judgment, the play requires a resolution, and this imperative is inconsistent with the very ambiguity Gabriel would like to prolong. Sand cannot leave Gabriel on the bridge between two banks, but is forced to choose a conclusion. Jules de Bramante, realizing that his plan has failed and that his corporeal forgery will soon be discovered, attempts to “erase” the counterfeit signature that is Gabriel, which leads to the assassination on the bridge. H owever, by recovering the corpse (as well as the killer), Astolphe and the Tutor guarantee that the evidence will come to light, and that the law will punish the one who set the machinery of false gender in motion. Ironically, it is thanks to Gabriel’s body—that burden, which s/he had always felt not to be her/his own—that the facts will be revealed. As we have noted, Gabriel distinguishes itself from other gender narratives by examining what happens after the revelation of its gender mystery. And yet its narrative returns to the path charted by such works as Fragoletta or “S arrasine”: the imperative for resolution leads, most commonly, to death. S uch is often the narrative plight of those caught on the bridge between two banks, gender versions of Frankenstein’s monster. Indeed, this path is not limited to the literary field, for it is precisely the conclusion of that other well-known gender narrative, Herculine Barbin: in these memoirs of a nineteenth-century hermaphrodite (republished by Michel Foucault in 1978) we again see how ambiguity is confirmed as the untenable position. In these “authentic” memoirs, we witness the painful process by which nineteenth-century society insisted on identifying gender as a simple truth.11 T he imperative to express sexuality as an inalterable truth to be discovered goes against the grain of narratives such as Gabriel. In S and’s armchair drama, the author strives to demonstrate how her hero/heroine, to the contrary, always feels like an impostor, no matter which gender she is currently imitating. For Gabriel, if not for any of the other characters in the play, gender is always and already an experience of the false. S ee Glasgow 10-24. 11   Nathaniel Wing traces the enforcement of this simplification (Between Genders 103-28).

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C hapter 8

Baudelaire and the O riginality of the C opy In chapter 6 we saw how Eugène-François Vidocq reported on the link between counterfeiters (called hommes de lettres in the slang of criminals) and writers, and this juxtaposition of literature and money will not be limited to the jargon of the underworld. As N at Wing has pointed out, the metaphor of minting was, somewhat paradoxically, to become a literary commonplace, where the writer figures as the sovereign authorized to issue new currency. Wing quotes H ugo: Tout grand écrivain frappe la prose à son effigie [...]. Les poètes sont comme les souverains. Ils doivent battre monnaie. Il faut que leur effigie reste sur les idées qu’ils mettent en circulation. (Choses vues 398) [All great writers strike their prose in their own image […]. Poets are like sovereigns. They must mint coins; their effigy must remain on the ideas they put into circulation.]

According to Hugo, lesser mortals merely circulate words and ideas; only the poet mints them, giving them a personal stamp. And thus the image of the writer as striker of coins began to circulate, with writers giving their own twist to the image. Among these was S téphane Mallarmé’s pronouncement in “C rise de vers” [“C risis of Verse”] (1895): Narrer, enseigner, même décrire, cela va et encore qu’à chacun suffirait peut-être pour échanger la pensée humaine, de prendre ou de mettre dans la main d’autrui en silence une pièce de monnaie [...]. Au contraire d’une fonction de numéraire facile et représentatif, comme le traite d’abord la foule, le dire, avant tout, rêve et chant, retrouve chez le Poète, par nécessité constitutive d’un art consacré aux fictions, sa virtualité. (Œuvres complètes, II, 212-13) [Narrating, teaching, even describing, this works, and it might even to each suffice for the exchange of human thought, to take or to place silently into the palm of others a mere coin […]. Instead of a function of simple and representative currency, as at first the masses treat it, speech, above all, dream and song, finds

  C ited and discussed in Wing 14. O n the metaphor of language as currency (in the context of Gide’s Les faux-monnayeurs), see also Jean-Joseph Goux, Les monnayeurs du langage.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France again in the mouth of the Poet, by the constitutive necessity of an art dedicated to fictions, its virtuality.]

As is already clear in Mallarmé’s syntax, the job of the poet is clearly not to circulate the same old coins in conventional ways. Indeed, he places art in opposition to such transparent and representative functions, underscoring the poet’s responsibility to fiction. In this extended metaphor, language plays the role of money: commonplace language circulates endlessly in the service of various transactions, the slave of transparent communication; on the other hand, the idiom of the poet, so the argument goes, is not mere repetition, but actual creation. Such a bold image ennobles the poetic practice, but only insofar as verse fulfills its promise of originality. In the case of H ugo, his mastery of poetic language (which Valéry famously described in a backhanded compliment as unequalled in the French tradition), places him beyond reproach, and few would argue that Mallarmé’s verse strained under the yoke of everyday usage. However, there is a middle path between the mindless circulation of existing currency and the striking of new coinage: one can do both—that is, strike coins that do not bear one’s own poetic effigy, but rather that of everyday language. In the financial realm, and to return to Vidocq’s original image, this practice of creating coinage that looks like standard currency would be the art—or artifice—of the counterfeiter. At one of the intersections of these crisscrossing paths—the paths of counterfeiting and of poetic creation—lies the work of Charles Baudelaire, and most obviously the poem, “L a fausse monnaie” [“T he C ounterfeit C oin”], dating from 1864, and thus preceding by decades the pronouncement by Mallarmé. T his short piece appears late in Baudelaire’s career, figuring among the prose poems in the Spleen de Paris, published posthumously as a collection in 1869. Given its explicit evocation of fraudulence, the poem serves as a privileged point of entry for our discussion; however, it is also symptomatic of general tendencies in Baudelaire’s work, and the dynamics outlined in “La fausse monnaie” can illuminate a good portion of Baudelaire’s poetic enterprise—in particular his understanding of allegory. Because the details of this poem are important, and because it is short, let us cite the text in its entirety: L a fausse monnaie Comme nous nous éloignions du bureau de tabac, mon ami fit un soigneux triage de sa monnaie; dans la poche gauche de son gilet il glissa de petites pièces d’or; dans la droite, de petites pièces d’argent; dans la poche gauche de sa culotte, une masse de gros sols, et enfin, dans la droite, une pièce d’argent de deux francs qu’il avait particulièrement examinée. “S ingulière et minutieuse répartition!” me dis-je en moi-même. Nous fîmes la rencontre d’un pauvre qui nous tendit sa casquette en tremblant.—Je ne connais rien de plus inquiétant que l’éloquence muette de ces

Baudelaire and the Originality of the Copy


yeux suppliants, qui contiennent à la fois, pour l’homme sensible qui sait y lire, tant d’humilité, tant de reproches. Il y trouve quelque chose approchant cette profondeur de sentiment compliqué, dans les yeux larmoyants des chiens qu’on fouette. L ’offrande de mon ami fut beaucoup plus considérable que la mienne, et je lui dis: “Vous avez raison; après le plaisir d’être étonné, il n’en est pas de plus grand que celui de causer une surprise.” —C ’était la pièce fausse”, me répondit-il tranquillement, comme pour se justifier de sa prodigalité. Mais dans mon misérable cerveau, toujours occupé à chercher midi à quatorze heures (de quelle fatigante faculté la nature m’a fait cadeau!), entra soudainement cette idée qu’une pareille conduite, de la part de mon ami, n’était excusable que par le désir de créer un événement dans la vie de ce pauvre diable, peut-être même de connaître les conséquences diverses, funestes ou autres, que peut engendrer une pièce fausse dans la main d’un mendiant. N e pouvait-elle pas se multiplier en pièces vraies? ne pouvait-elle pas aussi le conduire en prison? U n cabaretier, un boulanger, par exemple, allait peut-être le faire arrêter comme faux-monnayeur ou comme propagateur de fausse monnaie. T out aussi bien la pièce fausse serait peut-être, pour un pauvre petit spéculateur, le germe d’une richesse de quelques jours. E t ainsi ma fantaisie allait son train, prêtant des ailes à l’esprit de mon ami et tirant toutes les déductions possibles de toutes les hypothèses possibles. Mais celui-ci rompit brusquement ma rêverie en reprenant mes propres paroles: “Oui, vous avez raison; il n’est pas de plaisir plus doux que de surprendre un homme en lui donnant plus qu’il n’espère”. Je le regardai dans le blanc des yeux, et je fus épouvanté de voir que ses yeux brillaient d’une incontestable candeur. Je vis alors clairement qu’il avait voulu faire à la fois la charité et une bonne affaire; gagner quarante sols et le cœur de Dieu; emporter le paradis économiquement; enfin attraper gratis un brevet d’homme charitable. Je lui aurais presque pardonné le désir de la criminelle jouissance dont je le supposais tout à l’heure capable; j’aurais trouvé curieux, singulier, qu’il s’amusât à compromettre les pauvres; mais je ne lui pardonnerai jamais l’ineptie de son calcul. O n n’est jamais excusable d’être méchant, mais il y a quelque mérite à savoir qu’on l’est; et le plus irréparable des vices est de faire le mal par bêtise. [T he C ounterfeit C oin As we left the tobacconist’s shop, my friend sorted his change with extraordinary care. Into the left pocket of his vest he slipped a few little gold coins; into the    Baudelaire, Œuvres complètes, Vol. I, 323-4. U nless otherwise noted, all future references to Baudelaire’s work will be indicated by OC in the text, followed by volume and page numbers.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France right, some little silver ones; into the left pocket of his trousers went a load of thick pennies, and finally, into the right, a silver two-franc coin he had examined with particular attention. “What a peculiar and meticulous distribution!” I said to myself. We crossed the path of a poor man who held out his cap to us, trembling.—I know of nothing more upsetting than the mute eloquence of those beseeching eyes, expressing simultaneously, for the man sensitive enough to read them, such humility, such reproaches. There you find something approaching that depth of complex feeling found in the tearful eyes of dogs being whipped. My friend’s offering was much more substantial than mine, and I said to him, “Y ou’re right. After the pleasure of being astonished oneself, there’s none greater than surprising others.” “T hat was the counterfeit coin,” he replied calmly, as if to excuse his prodigality. But in my miserable brain, always busy looking for complications (what a tiresome faculty nature bestowed upon me!), it suddenly occurred to me that such an action on my friend’s part could only be justified by his desire to create an event in that poor devil’s life, perhaps even to learn about the various consequences, harmful or otherwise, that a false coin in a beggar’s hands might produce. Might it not multiply itself into real coins? C ould it not also lead him to prison? A tavern keeper, a baker, for example, might have him arrested as a counterfeiter or a propagator of counterfeit coins. O r the false coin could just as easily become, for a poor little speculator, the seed of a few days’ wealth. And thus my fancy went its way, lending its wings to my friend’s mind and drawing all possible conclusions from all possible hypotheses. But he abruptly shattered my reverie by repeating my own words, “Y es, you’re right. T here’s no pleasure sweeter than surprising a man by giving him more than he hopes for.” I looked him straight in the eye, and I was appalled to see his eyes shining with unquestionable candor. I saw clearly then that he had meant to accomplish an act of charity while getting a bargain; to earn a few cents while winning God’s heart; to carry off paradise economically; in short, to snatch for free the label of a charitable man. I might almost have forgiven the desire for criminal delight of which I had just assumed him capable. I might have found it curious, odd, that he would enjoy compromising poor wretches; but I will never forgive him the incompetence of his calculation. It is never justifiable to be mean, but there is some merit in knowing that you are; and the most irreparable of vices is to perform evil through stupidity.]

At the first level, “La fausse monnaie” is clearly a text about counterfeits and their effects; that much is underscored by the very title of poem and the prominent transmission of a counterfeit coin. And yet, those familiar with the intricacies of Baudelaire know how foolhardy it could be to take at face value a poem that names itself as a counterfeit. T he question is, does the title serve merely to describe the

Baudelaire and the Originality of the Copy


subject of the anecdote? D oes it not instead, or additionally, warn the reader, as a caveat lector, that the tale that follows may not be “legal tender”? D oes the title refer to mere subject matter, or does it suggest that the counterfeit coin may in fact be the text itself? Jacques D errida has written in detail on the recursive loop between this title and the text it announces (Donner le temps, I 111-13), pointing out that the passing of the coin to the beggar is related to another transmission—that of the poem to the reader (whose “beseeching eyes” may well share the ambivalent sentiments of beggars and whipped dogs, especially in poetry as aggressive toward the reader as Baudelaire’s). Such a reading, based on the equivalence between the coin and the poem, suggests that Baudelaire foreshadows the numismatic metaphor later developed by H ugo and Mallarmé. H owever, Baudelaire’s approach will be strikingly different from theirs. In fact, in Baudelaire’s departure from verse poetry, he engages in a practice that has little of the lyric iridescence of H ugo, and almost none of the tortured syntax and elliptical imagery of a Mallarmé: overall, the poems of Le spleen de Paris read quite prosaically, both in terms of their syntax and in their reliance on a narrative development. This, then, is the first way in which Baudelaire complicates (by anticipation) Mallarmé’s formulation: his poetic language will not bear his effigy openly, but will instead circulate in the guise of the “common currency” of prose. T his is, in fact, the project announced in his letter to Arsène H oussaye, so often cited as a preface to the prose poems: Quel est celui de nous qui n’a pas, dans ses jours d’ambition, rêvé le miracle d’une prose poétique, musicale sans rythme et sans rime, assez souple et assez heurtée pour s’adapter aux mouvements lyriques de l’âme, aux ondulations de la rêverie, aux soubresauts de la conscience. (OC, I, 275) [Who among us has not, in his days of ambition, dreamt of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm or rhyme, both smooth enough and halting enough to conform to the lyric movements of the soul, to the waves of reverie, to the fits and starts of consciousness.]

What I mean to point out here is simply that Baudelaire’s practice of prose poetry engages in the unsettling blurring of lines that we associate with counterfeits: it is a kind of poetry that “masquerades” as everyday prose, while nevertheless leading to certain effects. “L a fausse monnaie” teaches us what these entwined effects— financial, aesthetic, and moral—may be. Financially, of course, the beggar is set on a course that may lead to fortune or ruin: if the coin is recognized as a fake, he will likely end up in jail; otherwise, this small initial capital may lead to increased wealth. Aside from the jab at the rampant capitalism of the S econd E mpire, where the speculations of high finance may have relied on funds no more authentic than the beggar’s coin, Baudelaire links this distribution of counterfeit currency to a fundamentally aesthetic act: “Y ou’re right,” he mentions to his friend, “After the pleasure of being astonished oneself, there’s none greater than surprising others.”


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

Viewed from this angle, the passing of a coin whose face value is much greater than the beggar could have hoped for triggers a surprise that can only be a source of pleasure. When his friend confesses to having fobbed off a counterfeit coin, the surprises are suddenly multiplied, and the narrator’s head swims as he imagines the possible concatenation of events. T he myriad experiences made suddenly possible by the counterfeit leave the narrator luxuriating in aesthetic pleasure. T he very selection of the recipient of this donation seems laden with intent, for by passing the coin to a beggar—one who, by definition, hovers outside the economic system—the friend has suddenly propelled the most unlikely of candidates into the center of capitalist circulation—for better or for worse. As D errida has said, the coin becomes a “machine à provoquer des événements” [“machine for creating events”] (125), a fact demonstrated by the surprises already experienced by the narrator and even the reader. At this point it would be useful to point out that surprise—or even shock— has a special role in Baudelaire’s view of art: “L e Beau est toujours étonnant” [“Beauty is always surprising”], he wrote in the Salon de 1859 (OC, II, 616); and in his review of the fine arts section of the 1855 World’s Fair, he remarked that “Le beau est toujours bizarre” [“Beauty is always bizarre”] (OC, II, 578). O f course, not all surprises are beautiful, and the Spleen de Paris is amply populated with gawkers and innocents who wonder at the most banal of events. Nevertheless, surprise is a necessary, though insufficient, component of pleasure, and much of Baudelaire’s effort as a worker of words consists of orchestrating these surprises for his readers. Given this emphasis on surprise, Baudelaire’s work has often been directly associated with the logic of mystifications and hoaxes, as several critics have pointed out; Maria Scott has gone so far as to assert that mystification is “the governing principle” of the prose poems (Shifting Perspectives 23), and the mystification involves the reader at least as often as it does various dupes and victims within the poems—and sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between the two. T hus, when the petty bourgeois father in “L e don des fées” fumes, wondering why his child has been stuck with the useless don de plaire [gift of pleasing], his miscomprehension is associated with that of the general public; similarly, in “Le chien et le flacon,” when the poet compares the dog’s interest in excrement to the tastes of the public, the reader is in an unenviable position.

   On the importance of shock in Baudelaire’s aesthetics, see Newmark, “Traumatic Poetry.”    Maria Scott puts mystification at the core of Baudelaire’s enterprise. In Baudelaire’s L e S pleen de Paris: Shifting Perspectives, she also provides an excellent survey of those who have focused on the esprit mystificateur in Baudelaire (see esp. pages 190-1, 203-4). S teve Murphy refers to it as a poétique de provocation [poetics of provocation] (Murphy 28). See also Francis Collet, “Le poème en prose de Baudelaire à travers sa dédicace à Arsène H oussaye.”

Baudelaire and the Originality of the Copy


Nevertheless, while there is certainly a spirit of mystification in many of the poems (among the best examples: “L e mauvais vitrier,” “U n plaisant,” “U ne mort héroïque”), the situation in “La fausse monnaie” is less clear. On the one hand, it appears to the narrator that his friend has, indeed, engaged in a mystification— tricking the beggar into an unexpected adventure; on the other hand, the mystificatory impulse is gutted of its quality by the friend’s lack of aesthetic intent. After all, while one may mislead others unintentionally, mystifications— like counterfeits—are necessarily deliberate, and in “L a fausse monnaie,” it is the narrator’s assessment of intent that deflates the entire event: instead of a glint of cunning, what he spots in the friend’s eyes is the “unquestionable candor” of naiveté; instead of creating an aesthetic act, the friend believes he has pulled a fast one, saving a few cents, and suddenly yanking the situation into the realm of petty finance. Ironically, this yank, the wrenching of the scene from one context to another, generates precisely the kind of surprise for the narrator—and the reader—that we thought had been reserved for the beggar; it is what translates the friend’s fundamentally prosaic and economic action into its aesthetic rendition as a poem, transferring the beggar’s surprise to the reader. Jolts S o far we have seen how Baudelaire appropriates the image of poetic verse as sovereign coin, showing how this currency may be fake. Counterfeits, like other falsehoods, can result in surprises, and such shocks can generate aesthetic pleasure. Before returning to the discussion of fraudulence per se, it will be crucial to understand how pervasively the logic of interruption and surprise colors Baudelaire’s poetic vision. If I insist here on the jarring nature of the reading, it is because the images of jolts, jostlings, shocks and other sudden disturbances occur insistently in Baudelaire, and they permeate the Fleurs du mal and the Spleen de Paris in ways that will demonstrate that the choice of a counterfeit coin is not merely incidental. F irst, let’s remember that the jolt is an element Baudelaire described in his preface as desirable in the new medium of prose poetry: “le miracle d’une prose […] assez souple et assez heurtée pour s’adapter aux mouvements lyriques de l’âme, aux ondulations de la rêverie, aux soubresauts de la conscience” [“the miracle of a prose […] both smooth enough and halting enough to conform to the lyric movements of the soul, to the waves of reverie, to the fits and starts of consciousness”] (OC, I, 275, emphasis added). While the constraints of poetic meter render verse smooth and, in some ways, predictable, Baudelaire’s 

 T here is a third hand: F ranc S chuerewegen, following D errida, has suggested that the narrator’s friend may be lying about his lack of intention—that is to say, that he may be taking the narrator himself for a ride, making him believe the friends actions are base (Schuerewegen, “Faux amis” 376).


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

“poetic prose” aims to retain some measure of the roughness and variability of prose. Prose can be erratic, even astonishing, in ways that verse cannot, and Baudelaire’s liberation from the constraints of verse and rhyme allow his syntax to bolt in unexpected directions. T he importance of surprise is not limited to elements of style, but is also built into the mystifying endings of fables told in several of the prose poems: the mime F ancioulle, in “U ne mort héroïque,” turns and dies on the stage when his performance is interrupted by the blow a whistle; in “Chacun sa chimère,” a procession of strange monsters passes by the narrator and mysteriously vanishes over the horizon; “Le mauvais vitrier” delivers a moral of cruelty that clashes starkly with bourgeois values. Quite systematically the characters (or narrator) of the poems experiences a shock, which will not just be described, but to some extent recreated for the reader by the manner of presentation. That said, not all shocks are equally generative of pleasure: one can argue convincingly that the glazier who receives a flowerpot on his head or the actor cut down in the midst of his performance are not cheered by the aesthetic pleasure of surprise. R ather, these cases seem more expressive of the pleasure experienced by the mystifier (see chapter 1), or by those who witness the mystification without being its victim. It is a pleasure based on the feeling of superiority. T he joy of watching others take a fall is quite precisely the pleasure Baudelaire describes in De l’essence du rire [On the Essence of Laughter]: Pour prendre un des exemples les plus vulgaires de la vie, qu’y a-t-il de si réjouissant dans le spectacle d’un homme qui tombe sur la glace ou sur le pavé […]? Ce pauvre diable s’est au moins défiguré, peut-être s’est-il fracturé un membre essentiel. C ependant, le rire est parti, irrésistible et subit. Il est certain que si l’on veut creuser cette situation on trouvera au fond de la pensée du rieur un certain orgueil inconscient. C’est là le point de départ: moi, je ne tombe pas; moi, je marche droit; moi, mon pied est ferme et assuré. Ce n’est pas moi qui commettrais la sottise de ne pas voir un trottoir interrompu ou un pavé qui barre le chemin. (OC, II, 530-1) [To take one of the more commonplace examples in life, what is there so delightful in the spectacle of a man falling on the ice or in the street […]? The poor devil has at the very least disfigured himself, has perhaps even broken some essential limb. Y et we laugh, irresistibly and suddenly. It is clear that if    Jeandillou describes this component of mystifications. (Jeandillou, 21-4); see also chapter 2, where we discuss the pleasures experienced by Mérimée’s characters when they witness hoaxes (rather than falling victim to them).    Baudelaire refers to this simple sense of superiority as le comique significatif, and distinguishes it from le comique grotesque; however, the distinction is one of degree: the former relies on the superiority of one man over another, the latter on the superiority of man over nature (OC, II, 534-6). See also Newark, “Traumatic Poetry.”

Baudelaire and the Originality of the Copy


we wish to delve into the situation, we will find the thoughts of the laughing person based on a certain unconscious pride. T hat is the point of departure: I myself am walking straight; my own footing is firm and unhampered. It is not I who would be so inept as to overlook a gap in the sidewalk or a paving stone blocking my path.]

T here is, then, a difference between experiencing this shock and witnessing it—at least for poor devils in the street. In the example of the fall on the ice, the spectator occupies the role of the reader of the scene, which leaves the clumsy walker in the unexpected role of the poet—the one suffering a shock and producing pleasure for others. What the fall guy on the sidewalk shares with other victims in Baudelaire’s texts, such as the bourgeois of “U n plaisant” or the glazier in “L e mauvais vitrier,” is his haplessness: he is an unwilling victim, one suffering from his own blindness and stupidity. This seems incommensurate with the role of the poet, for we know what importance Baudelaire attributes to lucidity, as seen in the moral to “L a fausse monnaie”: “O n n’est jamais excusable d’être méchant, mais il y a quelque mérite à savoir qu’on l’est; et le plus irréparable des vices est de faire le mal par bêtise.” [“It is never justifiable to be mean, but there is some merit in knowing that you are; and the most irreparable of vices is to perform evil through stupidity’”] (OC, I, 324, emphasis added). The poet, then, is somehow similar to the fall guy, though with important differences: he must take a tumble, but lucidly; he must be willing to fall, but with an awareness of the risk he is taking. There is a name for one who falls knowingly, en toute connaissance de cause: it is the tumbler or acrobat—like the saltimbanque Baudelaire describes in one of the most famous prose poems. T his is the person who dives and tumbles not as victim but as performer, and whom Baudelaire explicitly compares to the poet in “L e vieux saltimbanque” [“T he O ld Acrobat”]: “Je viens de voir l’image du vieil homme de lettres qui a survécu à la génération dont il fut le brillant amuseur” [“I just saw the image of the old man of letters who has lived beyond the generation whose brilliant entertainer he had been”] (OC, I, 297). T he tumbler may be the one who plays at falling, or who knows how to fall, and who thus creates the illusion of a fall, holding his audience in suspense. And the power of this illusion may be breathtaking, as is the case of Fancioulle in “Une mort héroïque,” where the illusion absorbs the public as completely as a mystification. Before returning to problems of fraudulence it is important to point out that this idea of “lucid falling” is fully inscribed in Baudelaire’s other images of the poet. As early as “Le soleil” we find the image of the falling man, with the same vocabulary of stumbles and shocks: Le long du vieux faubourg, où pendent aux masures L es persiennes, abri des secrètes luxures,   In addition to its reference to acrobatism, the word saltimbanque stems from the L atin saltus, “jump”—thus reinforcing the notions of shock and jolt.

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


Quand le soleil cruel frappe à traits redoublés S ur la ville et les champs, sur les toits et les blés, Je vais m’exercer seul à ma fantasque escrime, F lairant dans tous les coins les hasards de la rime, Trébuchant sur les mots comme sur les pavés Heurtant parfois des vers depuis longtemps rêvés. (OC, I, 83, emphasis added) [T hroughout the old faubourgs, where shutters dangle On the old shacks, shelter of secret lusts, When the cruel sun beats its relentless rays On the city and the fields, the rooftops and the grain, I brandish alone my whimsical foil, Sniffing in the crannies for any haphazard rhymes, Stumbling on words as if they were cobblestones S ometimes bumping into verses dreamed long ago.]

H ere trips and missteps represent the process of writing. In this case it is less a question of performance (as later illustrated in “Une mort héroïque”), and more a deliberate willingness to fall, a sense that missteps and bumps will lead one not just to “stumble” (in the sense of falling or failing), but rather to “stumble onto” (that is, to happen upon) new images or rhymes. This poetic willingness to fall constitutes an embrace of surprise, of the unknown. T his process of stumbling along is related to the notion of flânerie in Baudelaire, where the poet sets out to prowl the city, paradoxically on the lookout for things that may surprise him.10 Time and again he will establish a link between the actions of writing and walking—or, perhaps more to the point, between writing and falling. Just as the poet of “L e soleil” stumbles upon rhymes as one trips on uneven cobblestones, so the narrator of “Le cygne” will find his images in the rubble at the side of the city street. It is the same brand of image one finds in “Le vin des chiffonniers,” when the rag picker goes forward unevenly, “Butant, et se cognant aux murs comme un poète” [“Bumping, and knocking himself against the walls like a poet”] (OC, I, 106, emphasis added). And it occurs again when the poet in “Perte d’auréole” crosses the busy boulevard and is jostled by the crowd, losing his halo in what ends up being a lucky break. There is a link in these poems between shock and luck, between le heurt (jolt) and l’heur (chance)—and it is the same kind of link that one finds between the words heurt and heur: a similarity that is not engendered by a profound correspondence, such as etymology (for these 

 N owhere is the embrace of surprise more fully developed than in “L e mauvais vitrier” (OC, I, 285), where the poet lauds those who play with fire and run great risks simply to discover what surprising events may result. See my Acts of Fiction (125-48). 10   On the shocks supplied by the urban experience, see Chambers, “Baudelaire’s Paris.”

Baudelaire and the Originality of the Copy


two words are historically unrelated), but that is based rather on an accident, a contingency, creating a link that is arbitrary and unexpected, and yet inevitable. It is quite simply the kind of link highlighted by Walter Benjamin, who described Baudelaire as a brooding allegorist who finds illumination when two puzzle pieces suddenly match without the aid of “natural mediation”: T he brooder’s memory ranges over the indiscriminate mass of dead lore. H uman knowledge, within this memory, is something piecemeal—in an especially pregnant sense: it is like the jumble of arbitrarily cut pieces from which a puzzle is assembled. An epoch fundamentally averse to brooding has nonetheless preserved its outward gesture in the puzzle. It is the gesture, in particular, of the allegorist. Through the disorderly fund which his knowledge places at his disposal, the allegorist rummages here and there for a particular piece, holds it next to some other piece, and tests to see if they fit together—that meaning with this image or this image with that meaning. The result can never be known beforehand, for there is no natural mediation between the two. (Arcades Project, J80, 2; J80a, 1)

“Natural mediation” would presumably mean links between image and meaning that are stable and analogical, such as those described in “C orrespondances.” Unnatural—or artificial—mediation, based on fragmentation and chance, is the sort described by Benjamin’s definition of allegory. We could, following Paul de Man, identify these two different poles of representation—that exemplified by “Correspondances” and that of a poem like “Les sept vieillards”—with the figures symbol and allegory.11 In a Baudelairean world, symbol and metaphor partake of presence: they are the tropes of resemblance, wholeness, and inevitability. Allegory, as Walter Benjamin has defined it in Baudelaire’s work, is, to the contrary, related to the fragment; it is based on discontinuity, absence, surprise, and contingency. S uch a representation—one that has no natural or “legitimate” connection to that which it depicts—could well be considered a fake. Lies and Allegories Allegory is the point of convergence for shock and lies in Baudelaire’s work. As Benjamin says of these allegorical connections, there is “no natural mediation”; the allegorical links between objects are artificial, contrived, false. Benjamin refers to a specific definition of allegory that is not shared by all, but that clearly matches Baudelaire’s allegorical practice. In particular, there is meshing between Baudelaire’s city streets, his methods for representing them, and the very experience of walking—in particular in all the  D e Man, Blindness and Insight, 187-208.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


images of stumbling, slipping, staggering, tripping, and jostling. What recurs is the general and significant phenomenon of unsteadiness, the experience of a continual loss of footing.12 This unsteadiness is the hallmark of Baudelairean allegory. Quite the contrary of what one finds in the stable and sufficient world of “Correspondances,” where the human observer strides confidently through the forest of legible symbols, the missteps we witness so often (and especially in the prose poems) are the result of disruptions and discontinuities. T hus is the experience of allegory described repeatedly in Baudelaire as the experience of falling, of losing one’s balance. In walking, as in poetry, there is no such thing as a misstep without overconfidence: only when one assumes one’s footing to be sufficient can one take a fall. And so, only when Baudelaire’s narrators feel confident that they have understood are they eligible to learn how badly they have miscalculated, discovering that they have no standing at all—that the rug has been pulled out from underneath their feet. In short, I would like to suggest that the process of allegorization in Baudelaire entails, in the first instance, a dislocation: it is the sudden realization of one’s misunderstanding, or the sudden recognition of our earlier understanding as a lie. The unsteady quality of Baudelairean allegory has been noted by others; Marie Maclean has referred to “open” and “closed” allegories (Maclean 164), and Ross C hambers has described “contextualizing” and “textualized” allegories—which may be said to operate at the same time (Mélancolie et opposition 174-6).13 It is the realization of misunderstanding that leads to the “opening” and “textualizing” of allegory, as I aim to show below. A few key examples will show how this process of missteps and misunderstandings occurs in a certain number of poems, and how these texts can help us to understand the functioning of Baudelaire’s allegorical processes. N ow, the prevalence of allegory in both the experience and the discovery of falseness is widespread in Baudelaire, and this discovery will always coincide with a stumble or a shock. One of the most famous examples occurs in “Le cygne” in the first full sentence of the poem, where the poet falls into allegorical reverie while wandering through the debris of H aussmannian demolitions: Andromaque, je pense à vous! Ce petit fleuve, Pauvre et triste miroir où jadis resplendit L ’immense majesté de vos douleurs de veuve, C e S imoïs menteur qui par vos pleurs grandit, A fécondé soudain ma mémoire fertile, C omme je traversais le nouveau C arrousel. 12

  See Newmark, “Traumatic Poetry.  T he status and understanding of Baudelairean allegory has been a critical bugaboo for decades. S ee in particular L abarthe’s Allégorie chez Baudelaire, Blood’s Baudelaire and the Aesthetics of Bad Faith, and the sections on Baudelaire in Benjamin’s Arcades Project (also discussed later in this chapter). 13

Baudelaire and the Originality of the Copy


[Andromache, I think of you! This little river, Poor and sad mirror where before had shone T he immense majesty of your widow’s grief, T his lying S imoïs swollen by your tears, S uddenly seeded my fertile memory, As I traversed the new C arrousel.]

Just what is the lie of the Simoïs menteur? As Amy Billone has pointed out, it is a fake at two levels: first, because according to legend Andromache created a false S imoïs to remind her of her native land, and second because this false Simoïs is now represented in Paris by a further falsification: the poet stands before the watery ditches of the demolition site, or possibly the Seine (Billone 288). T he long allegorical poem of “L e cygne” is thus launched by a chance encounter with puddles, which are artificial reminders of another falseness—the fake Simoïs constructed by Andromache. T he sudden and fortuitous encounter with this scene of demolition triggers a shift in perspective, allowing a misprision or misapprehension that, although fake (that is, the ditch is not the Simoïs), is nonetheless productive.14 There is a jarring encounter—and even genealogy—here between artifice and nature, as the artificial Simoïs literally impregnates (“a fécondé”) the poet’s memory. While in the economic sphere falseness may represent sterility (as in the case of a counterfeit coin), in Baudelaire it often engenders allegorical riches. T his phenomenon of misapprehension occurs frequently in Baudelaire: we see it, for example, in his mis-assessment of his lover’s expression in “L es yeux des pauvres,” or in the reader’s understanding of “L a belle D orothée.” T hese are misunderstandings the poet usually “puts right” at the end of the piece, at least in a provisional way. In essence, though, representation would appear always to be misrepresentation. There is a link in Baudelaire between allegory and lies—and this in two senses: first, Baudelaire regularly gives the lie to supposedly “natural” representations, such as those we find in “Correspondances”; and second, the most meaningful images will be those unmediated and artificial links described by Benjamin. A fine example of this occurs in “Le masque,” which has often been taken as emblematic of Baudelaire’s allegorical process; indeed, the statue by Ernest C hristophe, alluded to in the subtitle, is itself already allegorical: “statue allégorique dans le goût de la renaissance” [“allegorical statue in renaissance style”] (OC, I, 23). The poem describes a statue that, in turn, represents the figure of a woman whose tear-streaked face hides behind a smiling mask held in her own hands. Presumably the statue represents a “simple” allegory of the duality

14   Maria S cott has convincingly compared this shift in perspective to the dual vision allowed in the plastic arts by anamorphosis (Scott 10-11); it is to be associated especially with Baudelaire’s conception of allegory (Scott 120-21).

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


of the human condition.15 H owever, for Baudelaire the poem appears to read the statue—and the narrator’s viewing of it—as an allegory about the allegorical process itself. T he poem thus emphasizes the spectator’s discovery of the statue’s double meaning: the narrator, who approaches the statue from the front, initially misreads it as a representation of a comely woman; only when he takes a step to the side does he experience the sudden revelation of his own misunderstanding: Ô blasphème de l’art! ô surprise fatale! L a femme au corps divin, promettant le bonheur, Par le haut se termine en monstre bicéphale. (OC, I, 23) [O h blaspheme of art! O fatal surprise! T he woman with the divine body, promising happiness, At the top ends up a two-headed monster.]

The two heads, are, of course, the mask and the face, which Baudelaire describes thus: L a véritable tête, et la sincère face R enversée à l’abri de la face qui ment. (OC, I, 24) [T he real head, and the sincere face Tipped back behind the face that lies.]

Just what is represented here? The statue itself may be taken as a closed and stable allegory about the human condition, but the poet’s experience is based on his misapprehension of the object—a cognitive “stumble”—which is triggered by the gap between the representation and the represented, the signifier and the signified, or, here, the mask and face. In fact, in this case, the link between signifier and signified is explicitly marked by falseness, called a lie (“la face qui ment”) by the poet. F rom this perspective, the allegorical nature of the represented statue is less significant than the experience of allegorization—that sudden understanding of duplicity—that befalls the narrator. Moreover, it gives rise to a general suspicion about the stability of signs. Indeed, if a simple “step to the right or left”16 when viewing the statue undercuts our initial understanding, nothing guarantees the absolute readability of what the narrator now labels the “véritable tête” he now sees. If the first face revealed itself to be a mask, could not the same be true for the second? 15

 C hristophe named the statue on which the poem is based “L a comédie humaine,” which Baudelaire comments on in his Salon of 1859 (OC, II, 678). 16  S o Baudelaire puts it in the Salon de 1859 (OC, II, 678). Note that the “pas de gauche ou de droite” corresponds, too, to a change of footing—one that destabilizes the vision.

Baudelaire and the Originality of the Copy


T he possibility of a succession of misunderstandings, of an endless layering of fakes that may leave us reeling, should remind us of that other poem dealing with falseness and, as luck would have it, with streets: “La fausse monnaie.” In the interpretation of the counterfeit coin, the vocabulary of “L e masque” is again quite apt, for the reader and narrator can never quite distinguish between the “véritable tête” and “la face qui ment.” T his two-faced coin, which the narrator initially mistakes as genuine, is distributed by the narrator’s friend, whose intentions the narrator also misreads, finally leaving in doubt just who has been duped. Once again, it is impossible to know when we have reached the end of the chain of misunderstandings—or of masks; as Jacques Derrida has pointed out (Donner le temps, I, 155-64), the ultimate irony is that the coin may not be false at all: it may well be a false counterfeit, a real coin presented as false, not to trick the beggar in the story, but rather the beggar’s double, the narrator, who in turn passes this surprise on to the reader. In any case, the narrator’s repeated misunderstandings suffice to leave the very notion of understanding on rather unstable ground. Perhaps nowhere is this instability developed more thematically and completely than in that curious little piece, rarely commented on, entitled “L aquelle est la vraie?” [Which is the Real One?], whose very title evokes the problem of authenticity. H ere the narrator recounts his relationship with a woman whose idealized description recalls not just the beautiful “lying face” of “L e masque,” but also the perfection associated with “C orrespondances”: J’ai connu une certaine Bénédicta, qui remplissait l’atmosphère d’idéal, et dont les yeux répandaient le désir de la grandeur, de la beauté, de la gloire et de tout ce qui fait croire à l’immortalité. (OC, I, 342) [I knew a certain Benedicta, who filled the atmosphere with ideals, and whose eyes spread the desire for grandeur, beauty, glory and all that brings us to believe in immortality.]

After this opening we encounter our first misunderstanding, for in the sentence immediately following the suggestion of her immortality, Bénédicta—“trop belle pour vivre longtemps” [“too beautiful to live for long”]—expires. T he narrator will undertake to inter her himself. This funereal task completed, he surveys his work in the cemetery, his eyes glued to the plot where he has just buried his treasure. S uddenly a small creature appears, bizarre and hysterical, bearing a strange resemblance to the narrator’s dead lover. T his duplication of Bénédicta, where the ideal and the hideous share a certain similarity, recalls other allegorical doublings in Baudelaire—as in “Le masque” or “La chambre double”; in each case, the disjunction between reality and illusion is considerable, startling. In “L aquelle est la vraie,” the duplicate Bénédicta tramples the grave, crying out: C ’est moi, la vraie Bénédicta! C ’est moi, une fameuse canaille! E t pour punition de ta folie et de ton aveuglement, tu m’aimeras telle que je suis!

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


[I’m the real Bénédicta! It’s me, a real trickster! And to punish you for your folly and your blindness, you will love me as I really am!]

The poet, assured of the truth, and of the infallibility of his knowledge, shouts “Non! non! non!” while demonstrating the firmness of his refusal by stomping on the ground: E t pour mieux accentuer mon refus, j’ai frappé si violemment la terre du pied que ma jambe s’est enfoncée jusqu’au genou dans la sépulture récente, et que, comme un loup pris au piège, je reste attaché, pour toujours peut-être, à la fosse de l’idéal. [And the better to emphasize my refusal, I stomped so hard on the ground that my leg sank up to the knee in the fresh grave, and so, like a wolf caught in a trap, I remain attached, perhaps forever, to the grave of the ideal.]

What are we to make of this curious conclusion—other than to point out that it is precisely at the moment of greatest certainty that the narrator loses his footing, and finds that he is not standing on firm ground? In this single moment we find the conjunction of shock, stumbling, surprise, allegory, and fakes. Suddenly confronted with the vraie Bénédicta, he is forced to wonder about the one he has just buried, the fake one that is in the grave: la fausse qui est dans la fosse (for fausse [“fake”] and fosse [“grave”] are perfect homonyms). Indeed, the narrator remains incorrigible, attached to his fake ideal, the falseness of ideals, “la fausse/ fosse de l’idéal”.17 In “L aquelle est la vraie?” the poet leaves us in the lurch, indefinitely suspended between two answers, one foot on the solid earth, the other sunken into an abyss. The Fraud In all of these steps, stumblings, staggerings, and falls, it may seem that we have wandered a long way from frauds. But in Baudelaire stumbling leads to revelations—and less the revelation of a particular meaning than of the fact that representation is a slippery business. S uch a model is nearly diametrically opposed to certain “classic” Baudelairean poems, such as “C orrespondances.” With its deeply analogical vision of the world, “C orrespondances” seems to tender the possibility, indeed the inevitability, of eternal presence—a world of perfectly adequate representations, as evidenced by the timelessness of the present tense and the fundamental identity between phenomena of different orders (exemplified in the use of synesthesia). In this world of infinite correspondences, where everything 17  Interestingly, this image casts the narrator/poet in the role of the gravedigger (fossoyeur): the Baudelairean poet digs the grave of poetic ideals.

Baudelaire and the Originality of the Copy


is intertwined and each object is related to—and thus represents—the others, Baudelaire evokes a universe in which representation works—where it manages to capture a plenitude. E lsewhere, though, Baudelaire shows such plenitude to be illusory—the result of a dream; a lie. For example, in its play of mourning, passing, and absence, “À une passante” [“To a Passerby”] hints at a flicker of presence that will be, nonetheless, irremediably lost. Similarly, in a poem like “L a chambre double,” the veil falls from the ethereal and timeless abode, revealing the true squalor of the artist’s garret.18 In a sense, Baudelaire’s process consists of evacuating poetic images of their meaning—showing, by way of an anti-poetry, the ways in which poetic images always lie. Still, like the narrator in “Laquelle est la vraie?”, who stands buried up to the knee in Bénédicta’s grave, our understanding of the falseness of our ideals may not help us to abandon them. Baudelaire thus tells the truth about poetic images, pointing them out to be lies; but because no alternate truth is supplied, we are left in the lurch, continuing to circulate coins that we know to be false. This is an unsettled circumstance, and Baudelaire’s notion of allegory denies our ability to understand anything in any definitive way. As Benjamin suggests, Baudelaire’s allegory works like a puzzle—albeit a puzzle without a solution. Metaphor would provide the reader with the comfort of a closed system—a world of correspondences in which links are apparent, and where the world makes sense. Baudelairean allegory pulls the rug out from underneath the tidiness of metaphor, highlighting the artificiality of such illusions. T he problem is that this allegorical notion of poetry is presented in the poems metaphorically. We can see this time and again when prominent commentators of the poems decipher for us the metaphors of Baudelaire’s poetic practice. In each case it is a question of establishing a metaphorical link between an image and the practice of writing. F or us to “understand” these images, they need somehow to be stable and closed. S o we can accomplish this understanding only by provisionally forestalling the allegorical power of the images, which might otherwise leave us reeling. The different elements of this aesthetic system make for an improbable combination: although counterfeits generally succeed only if they are not recognized as fakes, Baudelaire exploits the discovery of this falseness. The aesthetics of surprise requires that the counterfeit be revealed, unmasked. What does it mean, then, to conjoin surprise and imitation, fraudulence and shock? To understand this requires resituating the notion of the counterfeit, withdrawing it from the context of finances and redefining it in that of language. In traditional rhetoric, the figure most closely associated with fraudulence is, of course, irony. As an unmarked figure (that is, a rhetorical device that has no distinguishing syntax or other markers), irony is indistinguishable from its opposite at the same time that it bears a different value—just as the best counterfeit coin will 18   Kevin Newmark has pointed to “Les sept vieillards” as an extreme case of this kind of poetic “evacuation” of meaning. Here Baudelaire represents nothing more than an experience of “absence” (Newmark, “Way Past Aging”).


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

be opposite to but indistinguishable from its legitimate counterpart. S o, the ironic utterance may be the exact replica of its “sincere” or “literal” twin, differentiated only by the most intangible of mirages: intent.

C hapter 9

National Effigies and Counterfeits: Baudelaire’s Pauvre Belgique! T hroughout the nineteenth century, life is on the move. People are constantly leaving and, in the wake of Chateaubriand, Lamartine, Nerval, Colet, and many others, the trip to the O rient becomes a necessary passage for the artist in training (even if only to ironize about it à la Flaubert). Whether motivated by a romantic taste for exoticism or by a literary colonialism in search of new territory and material, the disorientations offered by orientalism serve as both process and theme in the literature of the period. Baudelaire didn’t have to travel as far as many of his compatriots: he already felt out of place while at home, in France. It was begrudgingly that he undertook his one exotic trip to Île Bourbon (now the island of La Réunion) in 1841, at his mother’s orders. And as we know, his trip to India, which he recounted in some detail, never took place. More than geographic displacements, he preferred the shocks and ruptures of the Second Empire, whose urban renovations, however difficult to suffer, provided him with considerable poetic raw material. And yet, towards the end of his life, Baudelaire finally went abroad again. If, in the nineteenth century, the O rient represented an amalgam of seductive ideas—including sensuality, spiritualism, and high antiquity mixed with a certain stagnation—it is no surprise that Baudelaire, always willfully rebellious, ventured in the opposite direction. Instead of opting for the O riental O ther, the poet chose a destination associated in the F rench imagination with the Occident. T he most extreme examples of westernization would logically represent the cultural (if not geographic) opposite of the timeless East, emphasizing such modern ideas as youth, social liberalism, and of commercial prosperity. According to Baudelaire, there were only two countries that held this status as a western E l D orado, two “enfants gâtés des gazettes” [“children spoiled by the tabloids”]: the U nited S tates and—curious though it may seem—Belgium. T he poet opted for the more proximate destination, leaving Paris for Brussels in April of 1864. T he opposition between these two extremes—the F ar E ast and this “near West”—is not as sharp as it initially appears. E ven if their cultural values seem diametrically opposed in the F rench imagination, from a certain perspective (that is, the colonial or imperial one) they represent the same attraction: the West,   T he image comes from the Correspondance, Vol. 2, p. 607 (subsequently indicated in the text as Cor.); the second is drawn from Pauvre Belgique! in OC, II , 822.


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

embodied by America, with all its untapped resources, would merely be another Other, available for the same economic and cultural exploitation as the O rient. Belgium, although it lacked the Gold Rush perspectives of the New World, appeared in the popular press to be a land of opportunity. It was undoubtedly this convergence of culture and commerce that tickled Baudelaire’s imagination and attracted him northward for a “colonial” expedition of sorts. T he term may seem exaggerated or out of place, but at the time Baudelaire went to Brussels the trip had the same motives as the imperial forays taking place elsewhere in the world. As is commonplace in this type of situation, a gulf separates the implicit and explicit missions. According to Baudelaire’s correspondence, he left on a kind of mission civilisatrice [civilizing mission], like a missionary heading into the most remote recesses of Africa. T he reported aim: colonizing a people he considered so primitive (in comparison with his own culture) that he referred to the indigenous population as “singes” [“apes”] repeatedly in the text that recorded his trip. In particular, what he brought north of the border was nothing less than literary civilization, as it would be reflected through a series of “lectures publiques” [“public readings”] meant to mold the Belgian public to F rench tastes, or at least to Baudelaire’s own: Je suis au moment de quitter la F rance pour quelque temps, dans le but de donner dans des cercles étrangers des conférences publiques sur des sujets relatifs à la peinture et à la littérature. (Cor., 310) [I’m on the brink of leaving France for some time, with the goal of giving public lectures in foreign circles on subjects pertaining to art and literature.]

It sounds like a noble goal, but secretly and desperately Baudelaire hoped for personal gain. T he idea of public readings undoubtedly came from Poe, who had undertaken analogous readings in Virginia, also toward the end of his life—and in the hopes of turning a bit of a profit. And like Poe, Baudelaire was destitute. So, modeling himself after his precursor (as he had already done in other aspects of his life), Baudelaire left in search of fortune: nearly penniless and leaving behind a mob of creditors in Paris, he anticipated a new market in Brussels, a people in progress, starved for French culture, and ready to pay the price. Furthermore, hoping to kill two birds with one stone, he invited the editors Lacroix and Verboeckhouen to the readings, intending to sell a certain number of works to them—some of which he no longer held the rights to. But in lands of opportunity, strict adherence to the law is for dupes.

   I draw on Edward Said’s definition of Orientalism, as an imaginary and exoticizing projection by Western colonial powers (Said, 1979).    Baudelaire describes this episode from Poe’s life in his biography of the American author (OC, II, 262).

National Effigies and Counterfeits: Baudelaire’s Pauvre Belgique!


T he results of this Belgian adventure are true to the tradition of colonial catastrophes. The readings, according to everyone (including Baudelaire himself) were boring, only attracting a few listeners. A 500 franc payment, which had been vaguely promised by the artistic circle in Brussels, shrank like Balzac’s peau de chagrin, in inverse proportion to the poet’s ardent desires; after bitter negotiation, the poet collected only 100 francs, which didn’t even cover his expenses at the hotel. Worse yet, the editors Lacroix and Verboeckhouen didn’t even deign to attend the sessions. Like other colonists, Baudelaire had miscalculated the natural resources of the country he’d planned to take by storm. Furthermore, he grossly underestimated the resources he would need, and he suddenly found himself in financial straits: having arrived with empty pockets, he was relying on the expected remuneration to pay for his return to F rance. If, in Baudelaire’s view, Paris was already something of a cultural dead-end, Brussels literally became an aporia: there was no way out of the city. Consequentially, he revised his tactics, trying to “make do” and benefit from the given situation. In Les fleurs du mal he had transformed mud into gold; surely he could take a little Belgian shit (after all, this was to be the dominant metaphor) and turn it into a few coppers. From the raw material of Belgian culture, Baudelaire hoped to fashion a literary product. In a letter to N arcisse Ancelle, in which he summarized the fruits of his trip, he wrote, “J’ai été malade pendant deux mois et demi. L e joli voyage! C ependant je veux qu’il me serve à quelque chose, et je fais un livre sur la Belgique” [“I was sick for two and a half months. What a terrific trip! However, I want to get something out of it, and so I’m doing a book about Belgium”] (OC, II, 387). As soon as he had given up soliciting the Belgians as readers he could redefine them as motif: the public that had snubbed him was about to become the target of his pen. T hus Baudelaire launched the project of Pauvre Belgique!—his last little book (never completed) and which comes to us in the form of a quirky collection comprised of insults, lamentations, and defamations against his hosts, whose lack of interest in him Baudelaire could not forgive. F rom the beginning he saw this project as a means of revenge: in his correspondence he wrote: Ah! si je peux me relever en esprit et en santé, je me vengerai de ce grossier peuple… (Cor., 391) [Ah! If I could pull my wits and my health together, I’d take revenge on this crude people…] Il est temps de dire la vérité sur la Belgique, comme sur l’Amérique, autre E ldorado de la canaille française (Cor., 607).

   “T u m’as donné ta boue, et j’en ai fait de l’or” [“Y ou gave me your mud, and I turned it into gold”] (“Projet d’épilogue,” in OC, I, 192).


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France [T he time has come to tell the truth about Belgium, and about America, that other E l D orado of the F rench masses.]

He makes good on this threat, and the attack will consist principally of a catalogue of the Belgians’ flaws, of the innumerable traits of their surprising inferiority. In Baudelaire’s view, though, Belgium is distinguished by its voids; it exists under the sign of negativity. T he paradox is that the long list of conceits, holes, and flaws, of Belgian culture allows Baudelaire to fill his notebooks, where he records a superabundance of absences: Grand mérite à faire un livre sur la Belgique. Il s’agit d’être amusant en parlant de l’ennui, instructif en parlant du rien. (OC, II, 819) [Great value of doing a book on Belgium. It’s a question of being entertaining while speaking about boredom, instructive while talking about nothing.] C aractères généraux: Pas de vie dans la R ue. Beaucoup de balcons, personne au balcon. Petits jardins au fond de la maison. C hacun chez soi. Portes fermées. Pas de toilettes dans les rues. Pas d’étalages dans les boutiques. Ce qui vous manque, c’est le fleuve, non remplacé par les canaux. — Une ville sans fleuve. Et puis les montées perpétuelles empêchent la flânerie. (OC, II, 827) [General characteristics: N o life in the streets. Lots of balconies; no one on them. Little gardens at the back of the houses. Everyone at home. Doors locked. N o public toilets. N o displays in the shops. What’s missing is the river, not replaced by the canals. — A city without a river. And then, the constant high water that keeps one from strolling.] S ingulier aspect des bouches dans la rue et partout. Pas de lèvres de volupté. Pas de lèvres de commandement. Pas de lèvres d’ironie. Pas de lèvres d’éloquence. L atrines béantes d’imbécillité. (OC, II, 829)

National Effigies and Counterfeits: Baudelaire’s Pauvre Belgique!


[Odd look of people’s mouths in the street and everywhere. N o voluptuous lips. N o commanding lips. N o ironic lips. N o eloquent lips. Gaping latrines of imbecility.]

No life, no one on the balcony, doors closed, no lips…. The mark of nothingness imprints itself through the repetition of negatives—a persistent anaphor of negation. To describe this absence would be a Flaubertian task—like writing a book about nothing. However, Baudelaire is not preoccupied with aesthetics here, and he wishes, if anything, to aggravate the nullity of Belgium. Already nothing much to begin with, Belgium fades even more under the narrator’s quill. Through the textual snippets that make up this text, Baudelaire’s writing leads to the progressive evacuation of the Belgian. As if draining an abscess, Baudelaire voids the Belgian of color, intelligence, and culture until nothing is left but a form completely washed out by the poet’s ink, just as the city of Brussels, has been scrubbed with the “savon noir” [“black soap”] Baudelaire railed against (OC, II, 823). He laments the “fadeur de la vie” [“blandness of life”] (OC, II, 824), the “crâne vide [de] tous les Belges, sans exception” [“empty skulls of all Belgians, without exception”] (OC, II, 828), the “néant belge” [“Belgian nothingness”] (OC, II, 850), and “l’impuissance de conversation” [“inability to converse”] (OC, II, 847). He even blames them for their colorless blond complexion (OC, II, 838). O n the one hand, this evacuation is part of Baudelaire’s descriptive process, of the reporting; on the other, it an integral part of everyday life in Belgium, reflecting the Belgian delight in bodily evacuation: Pisseries et chieries des dames belges. La mère belge, sur ses latrines (porte ouverte), joue avec son enfant et sourit aux voisins. Amour prodigieux des excréments qu’on retrouve dans les anciens tableaux. C ’était bien leur patrie que peignaient ces peintres-là. (OC, II, 839) [Pissing and shitting of Belgian woman. The Belgian mother, seated on her latrine (door open), plays with her child and smiles at her neighbors. Prodigious love of excrements that one finds in old paintings. It was certainly their homeland those painters were painting.] Le pisseur et le vomisseur, statues nationales que je trouve symboliques. — Plaisanteries excrémentielles. (OC, II, 860) [The pisser and the puker, national statues that I find symbolic. — Toilet humor.]


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

These bodily evacuations leave the city itself afflicted. The sewage flows into the Senne, that filthy homonym of the Parisian Seine, which has so much trouble carrying away the copious excrements that the waterway “ne pourrait pas, tant ses eaux sont opaques, réfléchir un seul rayon du soleil le plus ardent” [“could not, because its waters were so opaque, reflect a single ray of the brightest sunlight”] (OC, II, 689). According to Baudelaire, there would only be one way to carry out “l’assainissement de la S enne” [“cleaning of the S enne”] and that would be an a-Senne-issement of the city itself—that is, by completely rerouting the river to “l’empêcher de passer par Bruxelles” [“keep it from going through Brussels”] (OC, II, 869). But at the end of the text, Baudelaire dreams of another evacuation, a last one, which would instead drain all the inhabitants out of the city by means of an epidemic: Aujourd’hui L undi, 28 août 1865, par une soirée chaude et humide, j’ai erré à travers les méandres d’une Kermesse de rues […] et […] j’[y] ai surpris suspendus en l’air, avec une joie vive, de fréquents symptômes de choléra. L ’ai-je assez invoqué, ce monstre adoré? Ai-je étudié assez attentivement les signes précurseurs de sa venue? […] Et comme je jouirai enfin en contemplant la grimace de l’agonie de ce hideux peuple embrassé par les replis de son S tyxcontrefaçon. (OC, II, 956) [T oday, Monday, August 28, 1865, during a hot and humid evening, I wandered through the meanders of a street festival […] and […] I happened upon, quite happily, numerous signs of cholera hovering in the air. Have I invoked it sufficiently, that beloved monster? Have I sufficiently studied the advance signs of its arrival? […] And how I will relish it at last as I contemplate the dying grimaces of this hideous people, embraced by the curves of its counterfeit S tyx.]

Empty by nature, emptied by writing, drained by sickness, in this book where Baudelaire claims to draw a national portrait, the Belgian finds himself more or less effaced. T he problem is that this erasure doesn’t entirely eliminate the Belgian, who remains as a kind of empty vessel—one that is always available to be filled with the character of others. And so, instead of resigning himself to his own worthlessness, the Belgian claims always to be something—or someone—else. Baudelaire thus defines the Belgian as a kind of social chameleon taking on the characteristics of others: “Le caractère belge n’est pas très défini. Il flotte depuis le mollusque jusqu’au singe” [“The Belgian character is not very well defined. It hovers somewhere between the mollusk and the ape”] (OC, II, 845). The reference to mollusks suggests that Belgians are vague and unformed, attaching themselves to the first thing to come along; and they are “apes” because they excel at imitating, at aping. T his predisposition for mimicry—which we can associate

National Effigies and Counterfeits: Baudelaire’s Pauvre Belgique!


with counterfeits—becomes one of the obsessive themes in Pauvre Belgique!, and it is manifest in all Belgians of every age, in all circumstances: L avage des trottoirs, même quand il pleut à verse. Manie nationale. J’ai vu des petites filles frotter avec un petit chiffon un petit bout de trottoir pendant des heures entières. Signe d’imitation et marque particulière d’une race peu difficile sur le choix de ses amusements… E sprit d’imitation chez les petites filles. (OC, II, 824, emphasis added) [Washing of the sidewalks, even when it rains cats and dogs. National mania. I have seen little girls with a little rag scrubbing a patch of sidewalk for hours at a time. Sign of imitation and distinctive mark of a race that is not very picky about its forms of entertainment… S pirit of imitation among the little girls.] Il n’y a pas de peuple plus fait pour la conformité que le peuple belge. Ici on pense en bande, on s’amuse en bande, on rit en bande. L es Belges forment des sociétés pour trouver une opinion. (OC, II, 858, emphasis added) [T here is no people better suited to conformity than the Belgians. Here they think in groups, they have fun in groups, they laugh in groups. Belgians found clubs just to form an opinion.] N’être pas conforme, c’est le grand crime. (OC, II, 865) [Not to conform, that’s the worst crime.] T oujours la singerie, la contrefaçon. (OC, II, 835, emphasis added) [Always aping, counterfeiting.] U n opticien me dit que la plupart des lorgnons qu’il vend sont de pures vitres. Ainsi ce lorgnon national n’est pas autre chose qu’un effort malheureux vers l’élégance et un nouveau signe de l’esprit de singerie et de conformité. (OC, II , 828, emphasis added) [An optician told me that most of the pince-nez glasses he sells have lenses with no correction. T his national fad for pince-nez is nothing other than a ridiculous effort at elegance, and another sign of the spirit of imitation and conformity.]

T his condescending tone is consistent with the superiority complex commonly associated with imperialist discourses; we see that the poet on his civilizing mission holds the indigenous people in low esteem. H owever, his position is ambiguous. Admittedly, Baudelaire exploits the Belgians, which has comic results, when

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


he describes them as a barbarian people. He extracts from their flaws a literary product to which he holds the property rights, and which he plans to sell to F rench consumers avid for everything that will raise or reinforce their notions of identity and national superiority. O n the other hand, and despite his systematic denigration of the Belgians, it’s hard to see Baudelaire as a defender of the F rench. Indeed, he excoriates his own compatriots on a regular basis, and it would be possible to read Pauvre Belgique! as less representative of an imperialistic discourse than it is symptomatic of Baudelaire’s general misanthropy. After all, Baudelaire is in a delicate position to be playing at cultural imperialism, for he is already marginalized within the F rench society he supposedly represents. A relentless critic of F rench culture and tastes, the object of a censorship trial, impoverished, and legally deprived of many of his rights (since the institution of the conseil de famille in 1852), Baudelaire has been more a victim of imperial F rance than its privileged representative. Is it even possible to speak of a “civilizing mission” when the missionary himself belongs to the socio-economic periphery of the imperial state? If Baudelaire is not championing F rench culture over Belgian, what game is he playing at in Pauvre Belgique!? It becomes clear that, at least in this case, the dynamic of cultural imperialism cannot be reduced to a simple distinction between power and impotence. Indeed, the simplicity of Baudelaire’s harangue becomes complicated, and we find the Belgians marked by a heterogeneity that is incompatible with stereotypical nationalistic judgments. While a rigorous distinction between “us” and “them” is generally essential to concepts of nationality and of cultural (or ethnic) difference, in Pauvre Belgique! the borders become blurred. T he origin of this problem can be found in the process of imitation at which the Belgians excel. Baudelaire upbraids the Belgians for their nullity, for their status as permanently blank slates, and yet he also points to their penchant for conformity, and to their ability to adopt the habits of others. C haracterized as a homogeneous national pack, they look to new horizons in order to fill their own vacuousness; good at copying, they nevertheless need a model. And so, according to Baudelaire, they end up doing culturally what Belgium had long done in its publishing industry: they counterfeit the F rench. S o, the chosen model in this “C apitale de S inges” [“C apital of Apes”] (OC, II, 819-20) will end up being their neighbors to the south. What’s worse is that the Belgians can’t even imitate successfully; instead, they copy the French badly. T he resulting burlesque is so ludicrous that in his descriptions Baudelaire ends up creating the genre of the histoire belge, the Belgian joke. The register of these imitative fiascos foreshadow the cliché-ridden discourse F laubert would later relish in Bouvard et Pécuchet. Baudelaire writes: L es Belges montrent leurs vins. Ils ne les boivent pas par goût, mais par vanité, et pour faire acte de conformité, pour ressembler aux F rançais. (OC, II, 834)  S ee T odorov, Nous et les autres (esp. 235-351).

National Effigies and Counterfeits: Baudelaire’s Pauvre Belgique!


[T he Belgians show off their wines. They don’t drink them because they like them, but out of vanity, and as an act of conformity, to resemble the F rench.] Prostitution belge, haute et basse prostitution. Contrefaçons de biches françaises. (OC, II, 837, emphasis added) [Belgian prostitution, high and low prostitution. Counterfeits of F rench sweethearts.]

And in the sectioned entitled: “Accusations très légitimes contre l’esprit de SIN GERIE BEL GE ” [“Very legitimate complaints against the BEL GIAN spirit of APIN G”] (OC, II, 844): L e libre penseur belge dont la principale caractéristique est de croire que, vous ne croyez pas ce que vous dites, puisqu’il ne le comprend pas. C ontrefaçon de l’impiété française. L ’obscénité belge, contrefaçon de la gaudriole française. (OC, II, 845) [The Belgian free thinker, whose principal characteristic is to believe that you do not believe what you are saying, because he doesn’t understand it. C ounterfeit of F rench impiety. Belgian obscenity, counterfeit of F rench innuendo.] [L e Belge] fait semblant d’avoir la petite vérole pour ressembler au F rançais. (OC, II, 846). [The Belgians pretend to have smallpox in order to be like the French.] Petit croquis du gandin belge. Il dit orgueilleusement Je me la casse, ou bien: Messieurs, vous me la faites à l’oseille.—S i près de lui se trouve une femme qui sente bon, ne reconnaissant pas l’odeur de la famille, il s’écriera: Ça schlingue rudement ici! Alors il étouffe de joie; il se prend pour un Parisien… (OC, II , 847). [Quick sketch of the Belgian dandy. He trots out the phrase, I’ve got to skedaddle, or else: Gentleman, you’re making a monkey’s ass of me.—If a woman who smells nice happens to be next to him, not recognizing the family stench, he’ll cry out: It reeks to high heaven! And he’ll die of happiness; he thinks he’s become a Parisian…] D u reste, pas de littérature, française, du moins. U n ou deux chansonniers, singes dégoûtants des polissonneries de Béranger. U n romancier, imitateur des copistes des singes de Champfleury. (OC, II, 879, emphasis added)


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France [Moreover, no literature, at least not F rench. A couple of songsters, disgusting imitations of Béranger’s naughty songs. O n novelist, an imitator of the copiers of those who ape Champfleury.]

This sampling—and it barely scratches the surface—may suffice to suggest the scope of Baudelaire’s exaggeration. F rom a certain point of view, it is not at all surprising, because ever since “De l’essence du rire” (1855) the poet had emphasized exaggeration as one of the most useful forms of entertainment: it creates in the reader an immediate sense of superiority vis-à-vis the caricatured object, which is what triggers the laughter. H ere, the superiority of the reader (French) also participates in the register of imperialism, where the power of the reader/dominator is heightened and flattered. And yet, the notion of counterfeiting complicates this dynamic, for it would appear that the F rench reader considers himself superior to the Belgians, who are in the midst of imitating… the (French) reader himself. Under greater scrutiny, the fine line between “us” and “them” begins to break down: it turns out that they are in the process of reproducing us, in so many ways. But what can be said about the Baudelairean narrator? H e occupies a third position, identifying himself with “us” (that is, the French reader) as little as he does with “them” (the Belgians). In fact, what appears to annoy Baudelaire most profoundly is that Belgium attempts to mirror F rance. T o add to his misery, the duplication extends beyond the character of the people, stretching to the physical structures of their city. Brussels herself reminds him of a miniature Paris, with its fluvial homonym, the Senne, running through it; moreover, its composite construction style draws in large part on F rance for its inspiration: Architecture civile et moderne. C amelote. F ragilité des maisons. Pas d’harmonie. Incongruités architecturales.—Bons matériaux.—L a pierre bleue.—Pastiches du passé.—D ans les monuments, contrefaçons de la F rance.—Pour les E glises, contrefaçons du passé. (OC, II, 938, emphasis added) [Civilian and modern architecture. Junk. Fragility of the houses. Lack of harmony. Architectural incongruities.—Good materials.—Blue stone.—Imitations of the past.—In the monuments, counterfeits of F rance.—C oncerning the churches, counterfeits of the past.]

In this context of doubling, the word counterfeiting, which is obsessively repeated in the text, begins to unfold all its force and complexity. It is no longer just a simple imitation; this term must be taken in the sense of counterfeit money, as a worthless object passing for something of real value, pretending to be legal tender. And yet, what is the status of the hard cultural currency the Belgians imitate? Here the double starts to double back on itself, for the society Belgium is falsifying has no privileged status in Baudelaire’s eyes. T o start with, the poet is hardly alone in seeing the Second Empire as a farcical reproduction of the first (see, for example,

National Effigies and Counterfeits: Baudelaire’s Pauvre Belgique!


Mérimée’s approach, discussed in chapter 3, above). Moreover, in a great number of his poems (in prose as well as in verse) it is easy to detect lamentations over the steady deterioration of the F rench. In 1862, as he prepared to leave Paris, he complained of the capital’s degeneration to his mother: Tu ne saurais croire jusqu’à quel point la race parisienne est degradée […] les artistes ne savent rien, les littérateurs ne savent rien, pas même l’orthographe. Tout ce monde est devenu abject, inférieur peut-être aux gens du monde…—Je vais fuir la face humaine, mais surtout la face française. (Cor., 254) [You have no idea how much the Parisian race has declined […] artists know nothing, authors know nothing—not even how to spell. All these people have become abject, perhaps inferior to common folk….—I want to flee from the face of humanity, but especially from the face of the F rench.]

In short, the F rench S econd E mpire had already watched over the disintegration of the city and of F rench culture, resulting in the evacuation of everything poetic— including the alienation of the poet. Belgium’s duplication of F rance merely repeats these phenomena, adding a layer of simulacrum. The text Baudelaire begins during his trip north risks taking part in this same imitative logic: as a travel book it unfaithfully reproduces a country that badly imitates an original, which is already revealed as inauthentic. But Pauvre Belgique! plays another game: far from merely participating in the act of counterfeiting, Baudelaire exploits it, turning it towards his own ends. F or in this case the counterfeit can also serve as an effigy. T o understand the importance of this nuance, as well as its effects, it will be helpful to glide between texts, slipping into another of Baudelaire’s works, dating from the same period. “Le galant tireur” [“The Gallant Marksman”], written during his stay in Brussels, is thematically similar to Pauvre Belgique!—at least insofar as it deals both with a trip and insults. T he main lines of this little anecdote are easily drawn: A carriage going through a forest stops in the vicinity of a shooting range. When the couple gets out and the husband expresses his desire to “tirer quelques balles pour tuer le temps” [“take a few shots in order to kill time”], he tries his luck, but each shots misses the mark: “plusieurs balles frappèrent loin du but proposé; l’une d’elles s’enfonça même dans le plafond” [“several bullets hit well away from the proposed target; one of them even planted itself in the ceiling”]. The shooter’s wife begins to laugh at her husband’s bad aim, making him blue in the face, and triggering this exchange: celui-ci se tourna brusquement vers elle, et lui dit: “O bservez cette poupée, làbas, à droite, qui porte le nez en l’air et qui a la mine si hautaine. E h bien! cher   T his is especially evident in Baudelaire’s assessment of the reading public, as seen in poems such as “Le chien et le flacon” (OC, I, 284).


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France ange, je me figure que c’est vous.” E t il ferma les yeux et il lâcha la détente. L a poupée fut nettement décapitée. Alors, s’inclinant vers sa chère, sa délicieuse, son exécrable femme, son inévitable et son impitoyable Muse, et lui baisant respectueusement la main, il ajouta: “Ah! mon cher ange, combien je vous remercie de mon adresse!” (OC, I, 349-50) [he turns to her sharply and says: “Take a look at that doll over there, to the right, the one with its nose in the air and the haughty look. Well, my dear angel, I’m imagining that that is you.” And he closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. T he doll was neatly decapitated. T hen, bowing before his dear, his delightful, his hateful wife, his inevitable and relentless Muse, and kissing her hand respectfully, he added: “Ah, my dear angel, how grateful I am to you for my skill!”]

Barbara Johnson, dissecting this poem some years ago, cleverly detected within it a masterful example of the “disfigurement” of metaphor (Johnson 83-100); here we will satisfy ourselves with a portion of Johnson’s reading, which simply points out that metaphors imply a kind of copy. In particular, the puppet with the haughty expression doubles, in a caricatured form, the wife. In “L e galant tireur” the copy is part of a displacement. While it is the wife’s mockery that so aggravates the shooter, it is the doll that takes the fall: as so often occurs, that which must not be accomplished literally (such as uxoricide), will be done indirectly, by way of figures. S o, in “L e galant tireur” we can say that the husband’s shot actually hits the mark (his wife), but only figuratively; his anger falls on the copy, on the figurine, which takes her place. Now, it is tempting to read Pauvre Belgique! according to this same logic, where Belgium features as a stand-in, an effigy. But an effigy of what? O f F rance, of course. T he idea is that Pauvre Belgique!, which starts out as an attack on the Belgians, uses Belgium as a carnival mirror for France. This explains Baudelaire’s affirmation, in his travel book, that, in the style of the gallant marksman, he aimed at two targets simultaneously: La fin d’un écrit satirique, c’est d’abattre deux oiseaux avec une seule pierre. A faire un croquis de la Belgique, il y a, par surcroît, cet avantage qu’on fait une caricature des sottises françaises. (OC, II, 819) [The goal of a satirical piece, it’s to kill two birds with a single stone. By doing a sketch of Belgium, there is also this advantage: you do a caricature of French idiocies.]

T he text thus adheres to the logic of “L e galant tireur,” with the Belgians in the role of the doll in the shooting range: identified as the counterfeit of the Frenchman, the Belgian resembles the F renchman, just as the doll resembles the wife/muse. T his means that the true target of Pauvre Belgique!, despite appearances, is not the Belgians, but rather, that which they replace, and that which the narrator cannot attack directly: the Frenchman themselves. After all, the French have always

National Effigies and Counterfeits: Baudelaire’s Pauvre Belgique!


played the role of the execrable muse in Baudelaire’s poetry. Pauvre Belgique! takes the place of another book, the one Baudelaire could not write. He does not hide this motivation in his correspondence: Ah! S i je peux me relever en esprit et en santé, je me vengerai de ce grossier peuple, en attendant que j’aie assez d’autorité pour dire ce que je pense de la France elle-même. (Cor., 391, emphasis added) [Ah! If I can get my mind and my health back, I’ll take my revenge of this vulgar people, while waiting to have enough authority to say what I think of France herself.] Enfin, que je sois contraint de rester ici avec des dettes, ou que je me sauve à Honfleur, je finirai ce petit livre, qui en somme, m’a contraint à aiguiser mes griffes. Je m’en servirai plus tard contre la France. (Cor., 409, emphasis added) [After all, whether I am forced to remain here with my debts, or if I escape to Honfleur, I will finish this little book, which has in fact forced me to sharpen my claws. I will use them later against France.]

There is a distinctive link in Pauvre Belgique! between figurative and geographic displacement. By traveling, Baudelaire is able to reach the F rench, distilled to their caricatured quintessence beyond the border. Because of this ploy of displacement, the F rench will read Pauvre Belgique! and laugh, not knowing that that, in fact, they are laughing at a caricature of themselves. T he ideological blindness, which is an integral part of his sense of cultural superiority, means that the reader will always assume the caricature is that of someone else. T his oblique blow—the derision of the F rench by substitution, by means of the Belgians—brings into play a disinfatuation, a multifaceted disenchantment. First of all, Baudelaire deflates the image of Belgians in the eyes of the French by showing that, far from representing an exotic and utopian otherness, Belgium is only a monotonous repetition of the same. The formal structure of the book further impedes infatuation since the composite and fragmented format of Pauvre Belgique! (which Baudelaire’s premature death only accentuated) makes the book a kind of literary collage. Devoid of characters and story, it offers not even the slightest narrative development: the text lacks all the key elements that normally allow the reader to identify with a work. On another level, what makes this text particularly interesting is that Baudelaire shows to what extent cultural infatuations are reciprocal. T he projection of an illusory otherness onto the other is not univocal, and the traveler’s lack of recognition of the native can be seen in the doubling of this same lack of recognition in the other direction. For, in Pauvre Belgique!, the Belgians copy the F rench not only in their language, their tastes, and their habits, but also in their infatuation with their national neighbors. It’s


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

almost as if F rance and Belgium play the role of lovers gazing into each other’s eyes, trying, like the couple in “Les yeux des pauvres,” to read their own thoughts. T he romantic analogy becomes more explicit in the section the poet devotes to the Belgian’s reaction to the idea of a union, which would be less romantic than political and cultural: it’s the idea of an eventual annexation with F rance: Peur de l’annexion, mais désir que la France la désire. (925) [F ear of annexation—but desire that F rance should want it.] L a Belgique ne veut pas être envahie, mais elle veut qu’on désire l’envahir. C ’est une lourdaude qui veut inspirer des désirs. (924) [Belgium doesn’t want to be invaded, but she wants others to want to invade her. It’s an oafish woman who wants to be seductive.]

Not only personified, but also feminized (which makes it even more similar to the woman in “Le galant tireur”), Belgium is connected to other forms of otherness. T hrough the evocation of these rather personal terms, the self-styled “imperialist” discourse crosses national and nationalistic borders to involve itself in other forms of otherness. It extends from the notion of sexual identity (in the image of the lovers) to this insurmountable and irreducible otherness found in every interpersonal relationship. T he imperialist discourse reveals itself to be only a particular case of the universal failure to understand others. Moreover, Pauvre Belgique! shows us the simplicity of these misunderstandings. T he Belgians believe everything and anything about the narrator as long as the information conforms to their preconceived notions about the F rench, or rather about F rench writers: A tous ceux qui me demandaient pourquoi je restais si longtemps en Belgique (car ils n’aiment pas que les étrangers restent trop longtemps) je répondais confidentiellement que j’étais mouchard. E t on me croyait! A d’autres que je m’étais exilé de F rance parce que j’y avais commis des délits d’une nature inexprimable, mais que, j’espérais bien que grâce à l’épouvantable corruption du régime français, je serais bientôt amnistié. E t on me croyait! E xaspéré, j’ai déclaré maintenant que j’étais non seulement meurtrier, mais pédéraste. C ette révélation a amené un résultat tout à fait inattendu. L es musiciens belges en ont conclu que M. R ichard Wagner était pédéraste. (OC, II , 855) [In response to all those who asked if I’d be staying long in Belgium (because they don’t like foreigners who stay too long), I said confidentially that I was an informer.

National Effigies and Counterfeits: Baudelaire’s Pauvre Belgique!


And they believed me! I told others that I had exiled myself from F rance because I had committed crimes of an inexpressible nature, but that I hoped, thanks to the horrible corruption of the F rench government, that I would soon be amnestied. And they believed me! E xasperated, I then declared that I was not only a murderer, but a homosexual. T his divulgation brought about an entirely unexpected result: Belgian musicians concluded that Mr. R ichard Wagner was homosexual.]

The paradox is that such ramblings, in spite of (or as a result of) their strangeness, only reinforce the Belgians’ infatuation. It’s an experience Baudelaire did not share: Pauvre Belgique! testifies to his disenchantment with the French, with the Belgians, and with everyone else. T his in no way implies that Baudelaire escapes the trap of the illusory characterization of others; to the contrary, the FrancoBelgian caricature he offers is more evidence of such distortions. But if Baudelaire is taken in by the trap, he isn’t taken by surprise. By showing that the illusion of the other is only, after all, an illusion, he disenchants the reader, showing the naïve belief in radical or exotic otherness, demolishing the infatuation that travel literature generally seeks to produce. H is disenchantment, however, only holds for the capital. When the guide of Pauvre Belgique! ventures outside of Brussels (reported in rare fragments within the text), he finds a charming countryside sprinkled with towns and villages filled with little architectural marvels. In these few fragments, the narrative softens. It’s here that Baudelaire finds a new world, that he gives himself over to his own exoticism, and that he believes he has found his E l D orado. C uriously, the countryside produces gentler illusions than the city, and although one still finds elements of the Franco-Belgian duplication, the caricature is undone and neutralized. T hus, when the poet passes by Malines one day, he hears the bells ringing and recognizes certain notes: Airs profanes adaptés aux carillons. A travers les airs qui se croisaient et s’enchevêtraient il m’a semblé saisir quelques notes de La Marseillaise. L ’hymne de la C anaille, en s’élançant des clochers, perdait un peu son âpreté. H aché menu par les marteaux, ce n’était plus le grand hurlement traditionnel, mais il semblait gagner une grâce enfantine. O n eût dit que la R évolution apprenait à bégayer la langue du C iel. L e C iel, clair et bleu, recevait, sans fâcherie, cet hommage de la terre confondu avec les autres. (OC, II, 948) [S ecular tunes adapted to the chimes. Amidst the various tunes that crossed and mingled, I thought I caught a few notes of the Marseillaise. T his hymn of the R abble, launched from the bell towers, lost a little of it roughness. D iced up by the hammers of the chimes, it was no longer that great traditional caterwauling, but it seemed to take on a certain childish grace. You’d have thought that the R evolution was beginning to stammer out a few words of the language of

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


H eaven. And H eaven, clear and blue, received without anger this terrestrial homage, mixed with all the others.]

This fleeting vision of an earthly paradise, where coarse fashionings are purified, where the capital’s alienation disappears, was only momentary, and quite rare for Baudelaire. It’s the type of commentary he generally reserved for that other pilgrimage site, Honfleur.

  Thélot, “Paris/Honfleur.”

C hapter 10

C onclusions: F utures of the F alse “L e S age ne rit qu’en tremblant,” wrote C harles Baudelaire in 1855: “T he Wise Man only laughs while trembling” (Œuvres complètes, II, 526). This cryptic maxim, which Baudelaire attributed tentatively to Bossuet or Bourdaloue, requires an explanation, which the poet provides in these terms: L e S age, c’est-à-dire celui qui est animé de l’esprit du S eigneur, celui qui possède la pratique du formulaire divin, ne rit, ne s’abandonne au rire qu’en tremblant. Le Sage tremble d’avoir ri; le Sage craint le rire, comme il craint les spectacles mondains, la concupiscence. Il s’arrête au bord du rire comme au bord de la tentation. Il y a donc, suivant le S age, une certaine contradiction secrète entre son caractère de sage et le caractère primordial du rire. (OC, II, 527) [T he Wise Man, which is to say he who is animated by the spirit of the L ord, he who is charged with the practices of the divine formulary, laughs, or gives himself over to laughter, only while trembling. T he Wise Man trembles because he has laughed; the Wise Man fears laughter, just as he fears urbane spectacles, concupiscence. He stops on the edge of laughter as if at the brink of temptation. T hus there is, according to the Wise Man, a certain secret contradiction between his character as a wise person and the primordial character of laughter.]

As we have seen, mystification does not always go hand in hand with humor, but Baudelaire’s observation points to its potential incompatibility with those who occupy the position of “wisdom”—or, more generally, with authority. While authority can engage in the tactics of fraudulence, it is unlikely to conform to the final step of a full-blown mystification, for a revelation of fraudulence undermines the credibility of future utterances (or actions) by its perpetrator. Because credibility and authority are nearly synonymous terms, any deterioration of one will necessarily afflict the other. Indeed, mystification will always imitate some kind of authority, whether it be the sovereignty of legal coinage (Baudelaire’s “La fausse monnaie”), the brushstrokes of old masters (Balzac’s “Pierre Grassou”), the primordial forms of folk oral traditions (Mérimée’s La guzla), the legal authority of males (Sand’s Gabriel), or any of the other instances of authority examined in the preceding chapters. T his imitation corrodes the power of authority, and it corresponds to a loss of control for the “dupe”—as dramatized in Mérimée’s mystifications, traps, and ambushes. T his corrosion of authority leads the victim of a hoax to experience a loss of footing—that well-known sensation of having the rug pulled out from


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

under one’s feet. This is, in short, the great function of mystification: it drives cracks in the edifice of authority; it promotes a potentially creative instability, pushing its victims to become ever more critical, and ever less inclined to take authority for granted. As we have seen, the inscription of fraudulence within literature blossoms at the same time R omanticism claims special authority for originality and authenticity. These are ideal conditions for any kind of mystification, which grows parasitically, like a vampire, feeding off the blood of its host. The new authority accorded to originality occasioned a reassessment of just what was meant by fraudulence in a literary context, and in 1812 C harles N odier—no stranger to literary falsehoods himself—published a volume addressing the question. In Questions de littérature légale [Questions about Legal Literature] he attempted to catalog all the various ways in which literature (in its mode of production) might stray from the straight and narrow, and the mere table of contents (provided here in explanatory translation) is a relatively clear summary of the scope of his inquiry: I. Imitation II . Quotation III . Allusion IV. S imilarity of ideas V. Plagiarism VI. L iterary theft VII . Ghostwriting VIII . F orged authorship IX. Intercalation X. S upplements XI. Pastiches XII . L iterary schools XIII . S pecial styles XIV. C ounterfeits XV. F alse manuscripts XVI. Plagiarized titles XVII. False books XVIII . F alse quotations XIX. F alse dates XX. F alse scarcity   N odier’s association with literary falsehood was well established. H e published Jean Sbogar anonymously, allowing the critics to flounder for some time—and he was later accused of plagiarizing the novel. H e also employed pseudonyms: for example, his Critiques de l’imprimerie appeared under the name D octeur N éophobus.    As Jeandillou explains, Nodier first published the volume on plagiarism anonymously, under conditions that made this volume, paradoxically, a bit of a mystification itself (55-7).

Conclusions: Futures of the False


XXI. Altered titles XXII . F alse advocacy

T he margin of error is small in a list that will not even tolerate allusion, quotation, and conformity to a particular style; indeed, even Nodier’s own volume, which quotes a number of authors and alludes to others, is on thin ice. But the catalog is relatively complete, and it would be possible to find examples of each of these strategies today, employed for reasons that are variously commercial, aesthetic, political, or vindictive. Indeed, one need only examine the current practices of oppositional publication under political dictatorships—or the renegade pre-release translations of popular trade books—to get an idea of the creativity and craftiness of those whose motivations range from political survival to financial gain. If N odier catalogued all the species of literary fraudulence in 1812, what does it mean that we still find examples of each category today? Have we, as readers, learned nothing? Are we still so easily fooled? F or one thing, it would be senseless to suggest that Baudelaire’s Pauvre Belgique! somehow marks a turning point—or even less an end point—in the endless development of fakes: Baudelaire is preceded, accompanied, and followed by many others. What changes is the credulity of the reader, who learns with experience. Even readers who look forward to being taken “for a ride” become inured to the same old tricks. Like Vautrin behind his disguises, fakes must constantly reinvent themselves in order to avoid detection, and for this reason, they engage in a kind of dogged, relentless creativity as they strive to stay one step ahead of the readers they attempt, in one fashion or another, to gull. N evertheless, we can hazard a few speculations about the future (if not necessary the “evolution”) of the aesthetics of fraudulence from the end of the nineteenth century and beyond. Although they are not developed here, the points that follow are intended to provide signposts for future work. F irst, I have attempted to show in the preceding chapters that while fraudulence may be, as N odier showed, implied in the production of literature, it can also be the subject of literary and cultural phenomena. Increasingly through the century we find a conscious reflection on the nature of fraudulence, often associating the fake with something keenly connected to literature. In fact, it is less a question of pitting the fake against the authentic than of dismantling the difference between them. T hus, when André Gide wrote what he considered his “only novel” in 1925, it is Les faux-monnayeurs [The Counterfeiters], a tale ostensibly about a counterfeiting ring, but in which one of the main characters is writing a novel that is also entitled Les faux-monnayeurs. T he novel written within the novel creates a mise en abyme; however, it is one in which the entanglements between inside and outside are considerable, each novel undercutting the originality or primacy of the other. Gide has exploited the link between writing and counterfeiting, with distinctly Baudelairean echoes. Working at the same time as Gide, albeit in a wholly different vein, another group claimed Baudelaire as its precursor: the surrealists. It is no coincidence that

Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France


they tapped into every category of N odier’s catalog of fraudulence. In addition to having a penchant for mystification, many surrealists embraced aesthetic principles neighboring on theft and undeclared reproduction: indeed, the practice of collage or of ready-mades is nothing if not the creation of an “original” work largely or entirely based on unattributed quotation. And when Marcel D uchamp’s portrait appeared on a perfume bottle—dressed in drag, under the name R rose Sélavy (1921)—the exploit recalls the portrait of Mérimée, feminized in a Spanish mantilla, that accompanied certain copies of the Théâtre de Clara Gazul. More unsettling, perhaps, is the close cousin of the fake known variously as hyperreality (the term is Umberto Eco’s) and simulacrum (as described by Jean Baudrillard). For Eco, hyperreality describes the substitution of “actual” reality by a false “other.” Like those imprisoned in Plato’s cave, the viewer sees only these shadows of the real, and he takes them for the real. Eco’s prime examples of such hyperreality are all decidedly American: the H earst C astle, L as Vegas, and American museums where false grand masters (one thinks of Balzac’s “Pierre Grassou”) hang on the walls. A prime example greets him in the gift shop of the Museum of New York: At the exit they sell, along with the post cards and illustrated histories, reproductions ranging from the purchase agreement of Manhattan to the Declaration of Independence. About all this they say, “It looks old and feels old,” because the facsimile, in addition to the tactile illusion, also has an odor of old spices. Almost real. U nfortunately, the purchase agreement of Manhattan, written in pseudo-antique letters, is in E nglish, whereas the original was in D utch. And thus it is not a question of a facsimile, but—if I may allow myself this neologism—rather of a “fac-different.”

And yet, this is a falseness without mystification, for it doesn’t actually expect to trick anyone: no one leaving the gift shop thinks he has purchased the historic document. S uch a representation wears its inauthenticity on its sleeve, and it carries no potential for humor or deception. R eproductions in modern America (and, by extension, modern everywhere) do not even claim to be authentic, Eco argues, because authenticity is no longer a criteria in the aesthetic field. The tourist does not think that the Coliseum in Las Vegas is the “real” one; nor does he mistake D isneyland’s enchanted castle for a medieval fortress. E co’s somewhat nostalgic conclusion is that authenticity has no place in entertainment. Jean Baudrillard echoes this nostalgia in a different register. H is theory of simulation also steps beyond the threshold of fakes: Simuler n’est pas feindre. […] [F]eindre ou dissimuler, laissent intact le principe de réalité: la différence est toujours claire, elle n’est que masquée. T andis que la

 E co, La guerre du faux, 26; my translation.

Conclusions: Futures of the False


simulation remet en cause la différence du “vrai” et du “faux”, du “réel” et de l’ “imaginaire”. (Simulacres et simulations 12) [To simulate is not simply to feign. […] [F]eigning or dissimulation leaves the principle of reality intact: the difference is always clear, or is only masked. Whereas simulation calls into question the difference between “true” and “false”; between “real” and “imaginary”]

Baudrillard points to the development of a society in which successive transformations in representation lead to a representation that has no relation to any reality; it is not mis-representation or a distortion of reality but a totally imaginary creation (Simulacres et simulations 16). This is, in a sense the development of a virtual world, or virtual reality, that is devoid of external referent. These postmodern perspectives would appear to sound the death knell for frauds, hoaxes, and counterfeits—but that would be to underestimate their resilience. O f course, it is not because a world is virtual that it will be any less subject to mystifications—that may themselves be equally virtual, and that may ultimately call into question the apparent seamlessness of virtuality. In short, mystification appears to be an unstoppable force, and one whose limits are always invisible. As the proverb goes, once burned, twice shy, and the reader who has been taken in on one occasion will proceed more cautiously in the future. For who can say what nooks and crannies fraudulence might infiltrate, what new authority it may attack? Who knows? Perhaps even academic research—such as works on the nature and operation of fraudulence—will be found to engage in this process. In fact, the mere suggestion of such a possibility suffices to create a hairline fracture in the edifice of authority. If it were the case that books like the one presently in your hands cannot be trusted (and I underscore that if), we would have to console ourselves like all the other victims of hoaxes—by knowing that we are not the only dupes.

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Abramson, Julia 9 allegory 108, 138, 147-53 ambiguity and allegory 149-51, 153 duplicity 7, 10, 31, 161 and gender 125-30, 133-5 and the law 115-17, 122, 124 and the supernatural 26, 31 see also boundaries ambush see traps, ambush Austin, J.L . 66 authenticity artistic ideal 95, 101-2, 151, creation of 92, 115-16, 119-21 element of R omanticism 11-16, 18, 172, 174 in history 46, 87, 124-5 illusion of 19, 23, 32, 50, 63, 87 opposed to fraudulence 1, 6-11, 105 see also false; fraudulence; lying; originality Babelon, Martin 102, 108 Baer, R onni 99, 107 Balzac, H onoré de 3, 157 “Avant-propos” (to the Comédie humaine) 110, 117 “L e chef-d’œuvre inconnu” 95, 105-6, 111, 113 Les Chouans 108-10 Le Colonel Chabert 85, 93, 113 Le dernier Chouan 108-10 “U n épisode sous la terreur” 92 Louis Lambert 95-6, 125 Ordre du Cheval Rouge 105, 112 Le père Goriot 3, 93-4, 111, 113-14 “Pierre Grassou” 17, 96-112, 171-4 La recherche de l’absolu 95 La rabouilleuse 95 “S arrasine” 30, 93, 95, 125-9, 133, 135

Séraphîta 95, 126, 129 Barbin, H erculine 135 Bardèche, Maurice 109 Barthes, R oland 35 Baudelaire, C harles “D e l’essence du rire” 42, 144, 146-51, 164 Les Fleurs du mal 64, 143, 157 “C orrespondances” 147-9, 151-2 “L e cygne” 146, 148-9 “L e masque” 17, 149-51 “L e soleil” 145-6 “À une passante” 53 “L e vin des chiffoniers” 146 Pauvre Belgique! 18, 130, 155-70, 173 Salon de 1859 142, 150 Spleen de Paris 131, 141, 143 “L a belle D orothée” 149 “C hacun sa chimère” 144 “L a chambre double” 151, 153 “Le chien et le flacon” 142, 165 “L a fausse monnaie” 2, 17, 138-45, 151, 171 “L e galant tireur” 165-6, 168 “L aquelle est la vraie?” 151-3 “L e mauvais vitrier” 143-6 “U ne mort héroïque” 143-6 “Perte d’auréole” 146 “Préface” (L etter to Arsène Houssaye) 141-2 “L es sept vieillards” 147, 153 “L e vieux saltimbanque” 145 “L es yeux des pauvres” 149 Baudrillard, Jean 2, 18, 174-5 Begag, Azouz 2 Belgium 18, 46, 60, 64, 155-8; see also Baudelaire, Pauvre Belgique! Benjamin, Walter 102, 147-9, 153 Besser, Gretchen 105 Bierman, John 48


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

Billone, Amy 149 Blood, S usan 148 Bonaparte, L ouis N apoleon 45, 48, 50-53, 56, 60, 63-5, 69, 75 boundaries 1, 2, 4-5, 24, 28, 35, 41, 46, 67, 102, 113, 115, 124-7, 141; see also ambiguity Bourdieu, Pierre 47, 66 Brix, Michel 11 C almet, D om Augustin 24-5, 27 canular, see hoax (and mystification) caricature 4, 17, 45-6, 48-63, 69-71, 75, 92-3, 115, 164, 166-9 C arpenter, S cott 9, 31, 96, 126 castration 129, 133 C habot, Jacques 30 C hambers, R oss 47, 146, 148 chance 146-9; see also contigency Chapelle expiatoire, see E xpiatory C hapel C harles X 65, 99 Charte constitutionnelle 72-4, 92 C hartier, Pierre 7, 13 C hateaubriand, F rançois-R ené 86, 125, 155 C hiappe, Jean-F rançois 85, 87 C ircourt, Adolphe de 65 C ollet, F rancis 142 contingency 147; see also chance C orsica 38-42 counterfeit aesthetic principle 2-3, 34, 64, 113, 117, 124, 135, 138, 141-3, 153, 173, 175 apocryphal works 121 detection of 116-17, 151, 153 imitation 45, 56, 135, 160-69, 172-5 inauthentic documents 36, 38-9, 64, 119-20, 132 money 3, 56, 114-16, 122, 138, 140, 142, 151, 173 opposed to authenticity 14, 63-4, 92, 135 in publication (contrefaçon littéraire) 3, 11, 16, 65, 124, 172 role of the reader 122 theme 95 see also effigy; forgery; fraudulence; hoax; plagiarism

credulity 21, 23-4, 26, 29 31, 34-5, 43, 173; see also dupes D arcos, Xavier 19-20 D aumier, H onoré 93 D e Man, Paul 147 D errida, Jacques 2-3, 31, 141-3, 151 D escloseaux 85, 87 D iderot, D enis 8-14, 32 disguise 35, 92-3, 97-9, 101, 105-15, 119-24, 173; see also Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du mal, “L e masque” D ou, Gerrit 99-100, 105-7, 123 D umas, Alexandre 92 D unn, S usan 74, 92 D urand, Alain-Philippe 102, 106 dupes 22, 26, 32, 35-7, 116, 120, 124-5, 128, 131, 142, 151, 156, 171, 175; see also credulity; hoax E co, U mberto 18, 174 effet de réel, see Barthes, R oland effigy 56, 80, 137-8, 141, 155, 157, 161, 163, 165-9; see also counterfeit E mery, Alan & Marcia 107 E xpiatory C hapel 71, 87-8, 92 fake, see false; fraudulence; imposture false as aesthetic principle 1-9, 16-18 definition 3-4, 172-3 in Balzac 93-4, 97, 101, 110-12 in Baudelaire 140, 143, 147-53, in Mérimée 29, 31, 35, 45-6, 56, 67, 69 in S and 125-35, in Vidocq 113-16 see also caricature; counterfeit; hoax (and mystification); fraudulence falseness, see false falsity, see false fantastic literature 22, 30, 32-3, 37, 43; see also ghosts; supernatural Farce de maître Patelin 5 fausse monnaie, see counterfeit; forgery F laubert, Gustave 60, 97, 124, 155, 159, 162 F onyi, Antonia 20, 27, 42,

Index forgery 3, 11, 16, 39, 64, 102, 113-17, 120, 121, 124, 130, 135; see also counterfeit forgetting, see memory F oucault, Michel 135 Frank, Claudine 64 F rappier-Mazur, L ucienne 108-10 fraud, see fraudulence fraudulence in Balzac 94-5, 102, 105, 113 in Baudelaire 138, 143-5, 152-3 definition and aesthetic function 1-23 in Mérimée 27, 32, 34-9, 46, 60, 67, 69 related to simulacra, 174-5 and R omanticism 11-15, 107, 172-3 in S and 128-35 in symbols of the R estoration government 72 in Vidocq 113, 116-17, 123-4 see also authenticity; counterfeit; false; hoax (and mystification); pseudonyms; traps Garnand, J. 109 Gautier, T héophile 126-8 gender 17-18, 93, 124-35, 146, 149 Germany 8, 11-14, 60 ghosts 21-2, 24, 27, 69, 92, 127 Geisler-S zmulewicz, Anne 23 Gide, André 3, 18, 137, 173 Glasgow, Janis 125, 135 Godechot, Jacques 72-4 Goethe, Wolfgang von 11, 14, 19, 109 Goldstein, R obert Justin 46, 50, 71 Goux, Jean-Joseph 137 Graffigny, Françoise d’Issembourg d’H apponcourt de 7 Grojnowski, Daniel 16 Groom, Nick 11, 16 gullibility, see credulity H amon, Philippe 2-3 hoax (and mystification) in Baudelaire 142, 244 definition of 1-7, 13-14 destabilizing of authority 14, 18, 45, 171, 175


general dynamic (in Mérimée) 34, 36, 37, 40, 43, 65, 67 marginalization in literary history 7-8, 20 narratives of deflation 21-3 oppositional (in Mérimée) 66-7 in R omantic aesthetics 15-20 victims of, see dupes violence of 23, 27, 34, 35-44 see also counterfeit; dupes; fraudulence; traps H omer (The Odyssey) 1-2 H ubert-Matthews, Veronica 129 H ugo, Victor 19-20, 45-6, 60, 114-15, 124, 137-8, 141 imitation 11-12, 28, 30, 35, 96, 98, 105, 109-10, 113, 124, 144, 161-4, 171-2; see also mimesis imposture 2, 17, 29, 45, 47, 49-50, 63-6, 69, 128, 130, 135; see also fraudulence; hoax (and mystification); counterfeit intention authorial 5, 46-7, 65-6, 154 in mystifications 5, 46, 75, 142-3, 151 irony 13, 31, 46, 65-6, 71, 131, 134-5, 143, 151, 153-5, 158-9; see also persiflage Isbell, John C laiborne 11 Iseminger, Gary 46 Jameson, F redric 96 Jeandillou, Jean-F rançois 1-4, 144, 172 Johnson, Barbara 166 jokes aesthetics (Schlegel) 15 Belgian (histoire belge) 162 links to violence 34, 37 practical 2, 7, 34, 37, 42 Khadra, Y asmina 2 Labarthe, Patrick 148 L aclos, C hoderlos de 6-8 L a T ouche, H enri de 18, 110, 125-6, 128, 135 law authority of 113 censorship (Riancey law, etc.) 46-7, 71


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

civilization (rule of law) 38-9, 42 copyright 11 electoral 104 fiction 115, 121-2, 124 gender (and succession) 133-5 police 113, 115, 118-24 Léger, Jack-Alain 1-2 L emaire, Gérard-Georges 103 L ’H éritier, L .-F . 120-21, 124 L ouix XIV 73 L ouis XVI execution 63, 71, 73, 75 exhumation 80-88 E xpiatory C hapel 17 monuments to 71, 88-92 speaking beyond the grave 74, 88 testament of 88 tomb of 75-80, 88, 92 L ouix XVIII , 72-4, 80, 83-4 L ouis-Philippe 59, 71, 87, 92, 105; see also pears lying fiction 1, 9 narrators 9, 22, 25, 143, 149, 150, 153 paradox of the liar 9, 119 see also authenticity; fraudulence Maclean, Marie 148 Mallarmé, S téphane 137-8, 141 Marie-Antoinette (Queen of France) 17, 75, 80-81, 84, 88; see also L ouis XVI Marx, Karl 45, 56, 60 Massardier-Kenney, F rançoise 126 Maurois, André 105 memory in Baudelaire 147, 149 collective 69, 83 false 69 manipulation of 71-5, 80, 83 obliteration of 80, 83-4, 87 preservation of 74, 87 see also Expiatory Chapel; Louis XVI Mérimée, Prosper Carmen 20, 22, 30-31, 38, 40, 42 “L a chambre bleue” 21-2, 25, 30, 32, 42, 64 Chronique du règne de Charles IX 65

Colomba 20, 22, 30, 37-42, 64-5 “F ederigo” 37 Les faux Démétrius 29, 46-67, 69 La guzla 19-30, 32, 35-8, 65, 67, 171 Histoire de la fausse Elisabeth II 67 La jaquerie 65 Lettres d’Espagne 30, 43 Lokis 25, 29, 31-8, 40-42, 64 “L a partie de tric-trac” 37 Théâtre de Clara Gazul 19, 21-2, 32, 36, 65, 67, 174 “L a Vénus d’Ille” 22, 25, 28, 30-31, 42 “Il viccolo di Madama L ucrezia” 21-3, 28, 30, 32, 42 Miller, J. H illis 31 mimesis 35, 96, 105, 113, 115, 124; see also realism Molière 5, 8 Montaclair, F lorent 37 Montesquieu, C harles L ouis de S econdat, Baron de 5-6 Mortimer, Armine 181 Moulessehoul, Mohammed, see Khadra, Y asmina Murphy, S teve 142 mystification 1-3, 13-31; see also counterfeit; fraudulence; hoax (and mystification) N apoléon III , see Bonaparte, L ouisN apoléon N erval, Gérard de 3, 45-6, 119, 155 Newmark, Kevin 142, 148, 153 N odier, C harles 11, 16, 27, 30, 172-4 The Odyssey, see H omer orientalism 155-6 originality 11-12, 30, 36, 48, 87, 96, 98-9, 105-11, 115-16, 120, 124, 137-8, 165, 174; see also authenticity; false; fraudulence parasites 31 pastiche 64, 97-9, 102, 107, 164, 172 pears 71, 75, 87, 93, 105; see also L ouis-Philippe performance 10, 17, 67, 109, 111, 117 126, 140, 144-6 persiflage 7, 13; see also irony

Index Peters, Kris 6 Petrey, S andy 71 Philipon, C harles 69-71, 75, 87, 92-3 plagiarism 4, 7, 11, 16, 17, 99, 102, 104-5, 107, 109, 121, 172; see also law, copyright; Balzac, Honoré de, “Pierre Grassou”; Vidocq, Eugène F rançois porousness, see boundaries practical joke, see jokes; hoax (and mystification) prank, see jokes; hoax (and mystification) Prasad, Pratima 125-6 Preiss, N athalie 15 Prendergast, C hristopher 9, 96 Prioult, Albert 109 pseudonyms 1-4, 19, 172 Quérard, Joseph-Marie 4 R acine, Jean 25-8 R aisson, H orace, and Maurice Alhoy 121 R aitt, Alan 60, 64 R annaud, Gérald 97, 102 realism 3, 9, 32, 35, 43, 69, 93, 105, 108, 113; see also mimesis; R omanticism representation artistic 14, 95, 108, 113, 152-3 linguistic 7, 147, 149 misrepresentation 46, 121, 149-50, 175 political 103 portrayal 28, 35-6, 41, 48, 80, 93, 117, 150, 175 R evolution, F rench 1, 73, 75, 80, 84-5, 87, 169 R evolution of 1830 103-4 R obb, Graham 105 R obert, Jean-Baptiste Magloire 83 R omanticism 11-16, 20, 35, 80, 94, 107, 124, 168, 172 R osanvallon, Pierre 104 Rose, Mark 11 R ousseau, James 93 R ousseau, Jean-Jacques 12, 14, 123 R oy-H enry, Bruno 114-15 R uthven, K.K. 2-3


S aid, E dward 156 Salon (of the Louvre) 96-9, 103-4, 110; see also Baudelaire, Salon de 1859 S and, George Gabriel 17, 125-135 L a Marquise 125-6 see also gender; performance; law S angsue, D aniel 24, 27 S avant, Jean 114-16 S chaeffer, Jean-Marie 32 S chlegel, F riedrich von 15-16 S chor, N aomi 129 S chuerewegen, F ranc 96, 143 S cott, Maria 142, 149 S cott, Walter 109-11 S ermain, Jean-Paul 6 S erres, Michel 31 shock, see surprise simulacrum, see counterfeit S maïl, Paul, see Léger, Jack-Alain S mith, N igel 125 S ova, D avid 118 speech acts 47, 66-7; see also Austin, J.L . Staël, Germaine Necker, Baronne de 11-15 S tora, Benjamin 2 supernatural 20-23, 26, 30, 32, 43; see also fantastic literature; ghosts surprise as aesthetic principle 139 142-8, 15053 in mystifications 35, 37, 40, 139, 142, 169 swindling, see traps, swindling T erdiman, R ichard 47, 71 T hélot, V. Jérôme 170 T héron, D aniel, see Léger, Jack-Alain T hompson, J.M. 48, 50 T odorov, T zvetan 32-3, 162 tombs 75, 78, 80, 84, 88, 92; see also L ouis XVI, tomb of traps ambush 39-41, 43, 67 readerly 18, 35-7 swindling 2, 93-4, 101, 116, 121 see also hoax (and mystification) trick, see hoax (and mystification)


Aesthetics of Fraudulence in Nineteenth-Century France

vampires 23-32, 40, 42, 172 Vibert, Bertrand 97, 102 victims, see dupes Vidocq, E ugène-F rançois biography 114-15 Les chauffeurs du nord 114 Dictionnaire d’argot 118 forgery 114-15, 117, 120, 124 Mémoires de Vidocq 114-24 Les voleurs 114-18, 120, 122-3

violence, see hoax (and mystification), violence of Wing, N athaniel 126, 135, 137 wolf 32, 35, 122-3, 152 Y ovanovitch, Voyslav M. 19, 27 Zola, Émile 104 Zweig, S tefan 105