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  • Manet, Flaubert, and the Emergence of Modernism. Blurring Genre Boundaries
  • Therese Dolan
Reed, Arden. Manet, Flaubert, and the Emergence of Modernism. Blurring Genre Boundaries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. 372. ISBN0521815053

Édouard Manet's radical manner of painting and Gustave Flaubert's avowal to write a novel about nothing have often served to situate these two men as fountainheads of modernist style in their respective fields. Their work has often been interpreted as dealing a death-blow to the theory of ut pictura poesis in the wake of Gotthold Lessing's restrictive pronouncements in his 1776 essay Laocoon, where he insisted upon the separation of the arts. Arden Reed takes on the task of demonstrating the impossibility of this stance that insists on the arts shunning all aspects except those inherent in [End Page 169] their own specific medium. His thesis seeks out what he terms "graphic moments" in the works of the painter and the writer. Manet openly disdained history painting and Flaubert resolutely refused to have his works illustrated, yet Manet's paintings often invited narrative readings while scenes in Flaubert's novels came to be condemned in his lifetime as lascivious tableaux. Reed borrows a pictorial term – the triptych – for his literary analysis, positioning Manet's 1866 painting Jeune dame en 1866 in relation to Flaubert's "La Légende de Saint Julien l'Hospitalier" and "Un Coeur simple" from his Trois Contes. Through an intensive focus on these works, Reed demonstrates how the pictorial and literary arts borrow from one another and inaugurate modernist tactics of dissonance rather than harmony, how the traffic between the museum and the library creates friction rather than resolution. Reed's choice of works in which a parrot is portrayed either literally in paint or figuratively in prose is particularly advantageous in allowing him to explore the issue of narrative that stands at the crux of so many modernist debates.

Reed analyzes the issue of legibility in the realm of narrative potential, hierarchy of genres, choice of subject matter, and the stylistic finish of figural art. He demonstrates how paintings were read as narratives by critics who bypassed the painted surface to project to their readers the story being told by the figures in the painting. His chapter on the contextualization of the year 1866, the only date Manet ever included in a title as Reed has observed, is largely written for someone fairly new to nineteenth-century French art. Reed reviews the Hausssmanization of the city, describes the Salon system, explains the rise of genre painting, and notes the importance of the fini of the canvas in order to situate Manet's painting in its social, economic, and artistic context. He brings in the inevitable comparison of Courbet's Woman with a Parrot but leaves the reader wondering why Courbet's painting is referred to with a translated title while the Manet retains its French one. Reed could also have supplied less of the well-known information about the city and the Salon and delved more deeply into the Courbet-Manet relationship. What did it mean for Manet to take on Courbet as a challenge in 1866? Courbet's brand of realism was radically different from its high point in 1855 when he exhibited his Studio and published his manifesto of Realism. More about the differences between Courbet's and Manet's brands of realism could have provided a more interesting focus to this chapter which largely treads well-known territory. Courbet in the past has been compared to Flaubert, and it would have been interesting for Reed to dwell, even briefly, on the differences between the relationship to narrative between Flaubert and Courbet. Reed makes interesting comparisons between Manet, Courbet, and Lacan's reading of the narrative of Zeuxis's illusionist painting of grapes, but by then the reader has been led fairly far away from the differences between Manet's and Courbet's versions of women with parrots. Reed's attention in this chapter to the use of the language of catechresis in Houssaye, Mantz, and Zola is fascinating and might have been a richer vein to pursue in analyzing the events around the...


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