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Less is Gore: Graphic Violence in the Fiction of Judith Gautier

From: Women in French Studies
Volume 21, 2013
pp. 27-40 | 10.1353/wfs.2013.0013



The exceptionally beautiful Judith Gautier (1845–1917), daughter of Théophile Gautier and Italian opera diva Ernesta Grisi, was raised in the epicenter of Europe’s literary and artistic avant-garde. Among the weekly visitors to her parents’ home were Flaubert, Baudelaire, Delacroix, Dumas, Taine, Mallarmé, Puivis de Chavannes, and the Goncourt brothers. She became a best-selling novelist, an early champion of Richard Wagner, a successful journalist, musicologist and art critic, a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and the first woman elected to the prestigious Goncourt Academy. She was instrumental in introducing Europeans to both Chinese and Japanese poetry. Yet, despite these fascinating and remarkable achievements, critical studies devoted to her are limited to a handful of articles. I attempt to correct this oversight by examining the prominent place accorded to gore, gruesomeness, and the macabre in her works. In so doing, I hope to show how these texts, through their deft handling of traditionally “masculine” subject matter, not only provided an entrée to the rarefied, male-dominated world of nineteenth-century French letters, but also articulated a unique theory of the novel—one that sees fiction writing above all as the expression of the violence inherent to and existing inside representation itself.

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