L'Empereur fardé: Napoléon III des Châtiments à Débâcle

This article takes as its point of departure the historically controverted detail of the makeup that Napoleon III was said to have worn on the battlefieds of Sedan. Tracing the origin of the Emperor’s rouge to Victor Hugo’s Les Châtiments (1853), it explores the intertextual connections that tie Zola’s La Débacle (1892) to Hugo’s historical writings on Napoleon III and the Second Empire (Les Châtiments, Napoléon le Petit, Histoire d’un crime). Reading the cosmetic detail and its figural associations within the discursive context of Hugo’s writings, I argue that Zola draws on and recontextualizes Hugolian motifs of theatricality, histrionics, blood, corruption, contamination, and expiation with a view to humanizing, in the context of the defeat at Sedan, the vilified Hugolian figure of the Emperor. Like a palimpsest, the makeup reveals Zola’s debt to a body of texts that lie at the foundation of the Rougon-Macquart’s historical poetics. (In French) (BCL)

Lintz, Bernadette C.
Volume 2007 Spring-Summer; 35(3-4): 610-27.