Friday, 3 March 2017

New Addition: Gautier's 'Grotesques'

Théophile Gautier, Les Grotesques. 1861. Second Edition. Michel Lévy Frères: Paris. with ex-libris of Lucien Puteaux.

One of the foundational projects for the nascent avant-garde was historiographic: to identify and delineate a cultural tradition counter to the official histories and canons of French literature espoused by the Academy. In their place, the French Romanticists sought out obscure or villified writers and artists proscribed by the Classicist establishment, often out of print for nearly two centuries, and from them identified and brought together a subversive tradition upon which to build their own sense of collective purpose and their own arsenal of literary, artistic, and intellectual perspectives and techniques. One of the most influential projects on the avant-garde of Romanticism was a series of critical biographies of hitherto forgotten experimental writers of the Middle Ages and Renaissance published in serial by the young co-founder of the Jeunes-France group, Théophile Gautier, who went on to become arguably the most influential figure in the 19th Century avant-garde.

The articles were written and first published in 1834–35, soon after the dissolution of the Jeunes-France/Bouzingo and the formation of the Bohême-Doyenné group, centred in Gautier's own flat. The collection was published in 1843; the title 'Grotesque' is a key term in French Romanticist theory, denoting that in literature which is unique, surprising, exceptional rather than typical, which flaunts convention and accepted norms, combining humour, horror, idealism and cynicism. This mostly-disbound copy of the Second Edition belonged to Lucien Puteaux, a writer of erotic historical fiction under the pseudonym Victor Perceval with close connections to the avant-garde community, including Realist circles and Gautier's friend Alexandre Dumas. The Revenant Archive also contains another book owned by Puteaux, Le Déesse Raison by Gautier's old comrade Alphonse Brot, another Bouzingo-cofounder and first self-declared member of the "avant-garde" (see above).

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