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Reviewed by:
  • Esthétique de Barbey d'Aurevilly
  • Robert Gillan
Esthétique de Barbey d'Aurevilly. By Pierre Glaudes. (Études romantiques et dix-neuvié mistes, 2). Paris: Éditions Classiques Garnier, 2009. 196 pp. Pb €35.00.

Throughout his lifetime and for most of the twentieth century Barbey existed in what Pierre Glaudes describes as a 'quadruple enfer': he was dismissed by some as a Catholic reactionary and by others as a literary provincialist, and his reputation was tarnished by accusations of gratuitous provocation and bad taste. It is from this hell, and from the more recent dominance of psychoanalytical and narratological criticism, that Glaudes now seeks to rescue Barbey. His book comprises six chapters, developed from conference papers, that combine to defend Barbey's status as a Christian moralist through an examination of his aesthetic values. Religion is as central to Glaudes's book as aesthetics. The first chapter concerns Joseph de Maistre, with whose influence Glaudes identifies the character of Barbey's Catholic belief, his concern with atonement through the suffering of the innocent, his idealization of the Middle Ages, and his intellectual dislike of the Reformation and the Enlightenment. As with other writers considered later in the book, it proves harder to produce convincing evidence of de Maistre's aesthetic influence on Barbey's work, which Glaudes discusses mainly in the context of the indivisibility of morality and style and supports with several references to contemporaneous associations of the two writers. Chapter 2 focuses on Barbey's attitude to literary realism and his belief in the intangibility and elusiveness of the truth. Rejecting the equation of the real with the material, his attack on writers like Émile Zola was not based on the inappropriateness or immorality of their subject matter, but on the superficiality of their writing and its lack of imagination. For Barbey, literary realism implied the recreation of the intensity of the experience of life rather than the description of its surface appearance. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 examine, respectively, the grotesque, fantasy, and the sublime, creating, through extensive reference to his literary criticism, a detailed picture of Barbey's literary taste. With particular reference to Cervantes, the discussion of the grotesque highlights Barbey's idiosyncrasy, conservatism, and the tension between change and tradition in his work, themes that are developed in the consideration of fantasy, which emphasizes the importance he placed on aesthetic restraint and discipline. Examination of the conflicting classical and romantic conceptions of the sublime leads on to the final chapter, in which Glaudes concludes his moral defence of Barbey's work. Combining the book's central themes of aesthetics and religion, it offers a provocative comparison of Barbey's Les Diaboliquesand biblical parables. Harnessing the outrage that followed the publication of Les Diaboliquesin 1874, Glaudes invokes the divisiveness of Christ's own teaching to argue that Barbey sought to show the dangerous consequences of denying the sublime a legitimate outlet in religion. Structural similarities in Les Diaboliques and the parables are found in their brevity, embedded narrative, and self-referentiality. It should be noted that these shared stylistic traits do not demonstrate common intent and that Glaudes seems reluctant to allow in Barbey's own literary endeavour the moral ambiguity and capacity for binary attraction he discusses in his consideration of the sublime. [End Page 493]

Robert Gillan
Paris
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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Pages
p. 493
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-27
Open Access
No
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