Balzac, Grandville, and the Rise of Book Illustration by Keri Yousif (review)
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Reviewed by
Yousif, Keri. Balzac, Grandville, and the Rise of Book Illustration. Surrey UK: Ashgate, 2012. Pp. xi + 193. ISBN: 9781409418085

As its name suggests, Balzac, Grandville, and the Rise of Book Illustration takes aim at the episodic but decades-long collaboration between novelist and illustrator—its rivalries, its forms of symbolic resistance, its artistic and economic stakes. The book's author, Keri Yousif, frames the professional relationship between these influential artists (where little amity appears to have existed) as a model for the structural and æsthetic changes that swept over the cultural field of mid-nineteenth-century France. Set primarily against the backdrop of the contentious July Monarchy (1830-1848), the book's historical narrative sets these artists afloat in a roiling current of editors, publishers, government censors and an increasingly diverse reading public.

Yousif shows how Grandville's star status allowed him to challenge the long-held hegemony of authors such as Balzac and how, in turn, Balzac deployed a significant amount of intellectual and social capital to contain the scope and importance of illustration. In short, their work circulated along the increasingly blurred boundaries that had previously defined various forms of media, from the satirical press to the roman-feuilleton, and from collaborative editions to the illustrated book, where the notion of authorship was suddenly as apt to be associated with the illustrator as it was with the writer. In this, Balzac, Grandville, and the Rise of Book Illustration offers a persuasive story about how these artists found themselves at loggerheads as they undertook the task of staking out new symbolic territory. It makes a strong argument about the factious rise of visual culture and its wide-ranging effects on literary [End Page 330] production. Broadening her scope, Yousif also asks how these men navigated between artistic legitimacy and commercial success, a line of theoretical inquiry that is deeply indebted to the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Richard Terdiman and others.

Yousif examines instances of direct collaboration (and competition) between Balzac and Grandville in works such as Les Français peints par eux-mêmes (1840-1842) where the illustrator is permitted entry into the literary field as a kind of translator to the author's verbal images. In later works, where the artist gets top billing, the tables are turned. Yet a new force occludes the illustrator's triumphant rise to prominence—that of the publisher who, as Yousif demonstrates, "took on the status of æsthetic, technical, and financial coordinator" (83).

An equally compelling aspect of this project examines these artists' self-reflexive treatment of their own and rival art forms. As concerns Balzac, these include memorable characters such as Gobseck of Scènes de la vie privée (1830) and the illustrator Bixiou of La Comédie humaine (1842-1848) who teach and are taught how to see. Through these emblematic characters and in articles devoted to the subject, Balzac argued for the author's ability both to describe the visible world and to penetrate the appearances of things, arriving at their true nature, one that is hidden from the superficial caricaturist.

Yousif traces Grandville's explorations though his contributions to satirical newspapers, commissioned pieces and major works such as Les Métamorphoses du jour (1854) and Les Scènes de la vie privée et publique des animaux (1842). In the latter, the illustrator's famous hybrid human-animal figures parody contemporary society but also popular social taxonomies such as the one put forward by Balzac in his own Scènes and in the contemporaneous Comédie. Of particular importance, Yousif notes, is Grandville's Un Autre Monde (1844). In placing the illustrator at the center of its utopian cosmogony (while simultaneously effacing its anonymous author, Taxile Delord), the work stands as Grandville's supreme—but ultimately failed—attempt to displace the author's centrality while giving himself financial and creative control of his work.

Balzac, Grandville, and the Rise of Book Illustration offers many advantages for teachers and researchers alike. For instructors interested in providing a broad summary of the events that led to the rise of the illustrated book during the July Monarchy (especially in light of the restrictive 1835 press...


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