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Reviewed by:
  • Œuvres poétiques complètes
  • Catherine Bordeau
Gautier, Théophile. Œuvres poétiques complètes. Edition établie, présentée et annotée par Michel Brix. Paris: Bartillat, 2004. Pp. 931. ISBN2-84100-326-4

This anthology collects all of Gautier's poetry in one volume for the first time and is also [End Page 185] the only edition of his complete poetic works in print, making it an invaluable resource. Michel Brix presents a convincing case for the ways in which he has improved on René Jasinski's edition of Gautier's Poésies complètes, published in 1932 and reprinted by Nizet in 1970. Brix notes that Jasinski's three-volume edition does not include the poetry that Gautier wrote for the theatre or the libertine poems (LVI). Furthermore, Brix faults Jasinski for failing to maintain all of the editorial choices that Gautier made in his own Poésies complètes and for merging early and late versions of his poetry (LIX). Brix affirms the need to respect the author's last wishes and to avoid mixing chronologically distinct elements (LIX). Therefore, his own edition adheres to Gautier's choices in Poésies complètes, placing the omitted poems and epigraphs in separate sections. The notes do not include variants, but do provide information on the poems' first publication, indicate omitted epigraphs, and clarify vocabulary and allusions.

In addition, the anthology contains an introduction, a chronology, bibliographies, and writings on Gautier by his contemporaries, including an article by Henry James translated into French for the first time. The introduction begins with a biographical account of Gautier's career as a poet and later addresses the important question of why his poetry was neglected by critics. In defending Gautier's worth as a writer, Brix emphasizes Baudelaire's admiration for him and explores what these two poets share. In the process, he makes broad claims about the history of Romanticism and the nature of Gautier's writing as a whole. Unfortunately, however, the condensed format of the introduction limits his ability to defend his claims about the entirety of Gautier's writing.

Brix divides Romantic writers into two camps: those such as Hugo who celebrate platonic love and cast the poet as a seer delivering divine truth and those such as Sainte-Beuve who believe that poetry should convey poets' subjective response to the world around them. Brix places Baudelaire and Gautier in the latter camp. Although his comparisons between Gautier and Sainte-Beuve are suggestive, Brix's argument weakens when he denies elements of Gautier's work that would seem to align him as well with the visionary currents in Romanticism. He argues that Gautier rejects the quest for an ideal: "Tout au long de sa carrière littéraire, Gautier reviendra inlassablement sur la vanité de la quête de l'idéal, en amour ou en art" (XXXII). Although certain works support his claim, others do not fit easily into this formula, as seen when Brix seeks to diminish the importance of idealized female characters. This gesture is particularly evident when he writes off the ethereal female characters in Gautier's ballets:

Ainsi, Gautier ne croyait pas au platonisme mais, lorsqu'il écrivait des scénarios de ballet pour l'Opéra (La Péri, notamment), il jouait – comme d'une " recette " à succès – la carte de l'amour divin, de la beauté idéale, de l'intercession de la femme entre la terre et le Ciel : même aux yeux de ceux qui n'y croient pas, les anges font bien de la scène. Pourtant, notre poète aurait mieux fait, à nos yeux à nous, de jouer la carte de l'univocité.


The suggestion that Gautier had no real interest in "divine love," "ideal beauty," and "woman's intercession between earth and Heaven" does not hold up given his development of these themes in novels such as Avatar and Spirite. Brix's rejection of these themes reflects the important role that his own tastes and values play in his argument, [End Page 186] as seen most strikingly in his remark about what Gautier "should have done." His description of the visionary...


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