“C’est le pays de la toilette”: Fashion and Space in Flaubert’s Le Château des cœurs

Written in collaboration with Louis Bouilhet and Charles d’Osmoy, Flaubert’s play Le Château des cœurs (1863) remains one of his lesser-known literary works. A féerie set in Paris and several magical lands, the play’s fifth act takes place in a fashion wonderland called the “île de la toilette.” Building on recent scholarly engagement with fashion, I argue that Le Château addresses two new modes of sartorial production—haute couture and confection. While these two industries occupied seemingly opposing positions, Le Château casts these two fashion sites as interchangeable, fluid spaces, thereby implying a lack of hierarchy between haute couture and confection. A similar dynamic is at play in Flaubert’s literary style. Following Jacques Rancière’s argument that Flaubert’s writing dissolves the boundaries between art and everyday life, I propose that the treatment of sartorial space in Le Château is not only revelatory of mid-nineteenth-century fashion production, but it is also inextricably tied to Flaubert’s aesthetics.

Kasia Stempniak
Hamilton College
Volume 50.1–2