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Christiansen on Montandon, ed. (2015)

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Montandon, Alain, editor. Tissus et vêtements chez les écrivains au XIXe siècle: sociopoétique du textile. Romantisme et modernités 163, Honoré Champion, 2015, pp. 484, ISBN 078-2-7453-2934-9

Hope Christiansen, University of Arkansas

The product of an international colloquium held in 2013 at the Centre National du Costume de Scène in Moulins, this hefty volume brings together thirty-one essays on a wide range of authors and works. In his introduction, Alain Montandon affirms the relevance of the collection by underlining the ubiquity of fabrics and clothing in nineteenth-century literature, particularly novels—“De Balzac à Proust, jamais les romanciers n’ont accordé autant d’attention aux costumes de leurs personnages” (17)—then lays a foundation for the essays to follow, defining key terms such as la sociopoétique, “[qui] analyse la manière dont les représentations et l’imaginaire social informent le texte dans son écriture même et sont à la source d’une création poétique” (8), la physiognomie, already quite familiar to scholars thanks to Honoré de Balzac, and la vestignomonie, “la science tirée de l’observation des vêtements et costumes”; what may appear to be but “une enveloppe, une simple surface,” Montandon insists, “est à la fois un produit social et l’émanation de qualités individuelles que le romancier va décrire en détail” (12). The volume’s section headings (“Costumes et habits,” “Étoffes et couvre-chefs,” “Destins de la couture,” “Le Théâtre du costume,” “Corps, érotisme et synesthésies”) attest to the richness and diversity of this subject.

As difficult as it is to single out individual contributions in an edited volume, especially when the essays are so meticulously researched and well-written across the board, several here seem to call for special mention. Maria Scarpa’s study of women and needlework in texts by Émile Zola (Le Rêve), Balzac (La Vieille Fille), Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly (Le Chevalier des Touches), and Gustave Flaubert (Un cœur simple) argues convincingly for a link between needlework and the construction of femininity: “[a]iguilles et travaux d’aiguille, linges et lessives entrent en système avec la question des états de femme” (267). Whereas Scarpa casts a wide net as far as focus is concerned, Isabelle Percebois trains her vision on a single work, Le Rêve—a text she deems “inclassable” because it challenges the boundaries of Naturalism (298). She proposes that embroidery allows Zola’s heroine, Angélique, to bring to life her dream of falling in love and living happily ever after, the fabric becoming at once a space “où se mêlent le réel et la légende et où se lisent ses désirs, conscients et inconscients” (286) and a veritable protagonist, a “tissu-vampire” that consumes her as she plies her needle (294). Nao Takaï explores, in a simple but engaging piece, the paradoxical nature of tulle, which, in novels by Balzac, Zola, and the frères Goncourt proves to be “tout à la fois immaculée et érotique” as it “voile et dévoile au même instant, promet et dérobe le corps, l’idéalise et le sexualise […]” (197). Shoshana-Rose Marzel, for her part, gives the auditory aspect of clothing its due, noting the constant references in nineteenth-century fiction to froissements, murmures, bruissements, friselis, craquements, frôlements, claquements, glissements, sifflements, frémissements, and especially to frou-frou (417). “[L]a sonorité textile” fills multiple narrative functions, “celles de créer des atmosphères, de matérialiser la relation intime, d’introduire une figure de style et enfin, de diffuser quelques codes culturels” (417). Finally, Liana Nissim inventories the fabrics showcased in La Dernière Mode, a journal written and edited by Stéphane Mallarmé during the final months of 1874—its short life the result of waning interest in “les revues high-life” in favor of publications targeting the bourgeoisie (161). Silk, velvet, and cashmere are privileged in the journal’s pages, along with tulle (white for young ladies, of course, but a rainbow of colors for the mothers presenting them at balls), taffeta, brocade, gauze, batiste, crepe, and Tibetan wool, among others, not to mention “des profusions de dentelles: guipure, blonde, valencienne, gaze de Chambéry […]” (163). Nissim is struck by the obvious delight that Mallarmé takes in naming, referring to “l’alchimie verbale savamment façonnée de l’énumération” (165).

Other authors include Charles Baudelaire, George Sand, Mme de Ségur, les frères Grimm, Alphonse Daudet, Jean Lorrain, Victor Hugo, Jules Michelet, Eugène Labiche, Théophile Gautier, Jean-Gaspard Deburau, le mime Séverin, Henri Sauvage, and Marcel Proust. There is, in short, something for every dix-neuviémiste here. Whether the reader dips into this collection at random or adopts a start-to-finish approach, the landscape of textiles evoked in these essays is so lush that a sensory overload of the most pleasurable kind will likely ensue.    

Volume: 
45.1-2
Year:


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