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  • Snapshots of Family Intimacy in the French Eighteenth Century:The Case of Paul et Virginie
  • Suzanne R. Pucci (bio)

For Roland Barthes, "Le premier homme qui a vu la première photo . . .a dÛ croire que c'était une peinture: même cadre, même perspective. La Photographie a été, est encore tourmentée par le fantôme de la Peinture" . . . ["The first man who saw the first photograph must have thought it was a painting: same framing, same perspective. Photography has been, and is still, tormented by the ghost of Painting."1 ] This essay explores the tableau in terms of its role as a "phantom" or "ghost" that effectively shadows the family photo as a previous and significant early paradigm of domestic intimacy.2 I suggest that family photos constitute an ulterior development of eighteenth-century representations. My essay is attempting, in other words, to trace this genealogy of the family picture.

Increasingly, "intimacy" has become in the last fifteen years the object of literary, historical, social, and psychological analysis, though recently the term has often been confined primarily to describing western romantic sentiments in terms of relations within and increasingly outside of conventional marriage. Such is the case in Anthony Giddens's Transformation of Intimacy, Zygmunt Bauman's Liquid Love: The Frailty of Human Bonds, and Lauren Berlant's edited collection entitled Intimacy.3 In effect, sociologist Stephanie Coontz recently contrasts a concept of intimacy with marital relations in her latest book, Marriage, a History, [End Page 89] subtitled From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage.4 "Intimacy" in these texts and contexts is a term and a concept that has been appropriated most recently to define what lies specifically outside the domestic as well as marital spheres.

Yet the relation of intimacy to the domestic sphere does have resonance today even if the exact term is not always used. There is a current attempt in sociological studies to understand whether the lack of family closeness, of intimacy, that many feel stems, as Coontz says, from a "nostalgia trap" for "The Way We Never Were," or whether such a thing as domestic intimacy has in a real sense been lost and that "The Way We Really Are Now" involves coming to grips with families that are indeed changing.5 My study employs the term "domestic intimacy" in order to raise the issue of close family sentiment which those historians, particularly of mentalités, have studied as emerging in the eighteenth century.6 Thus, my interest in the subject of domestic intimacy derives from a question I pose at a time in contemporary society when intimacy has come into focus as a problematic notion both in terms of conjugal and couple relations as well as in terms of a mythical and/or changing landscape of the family.

An often neglected aspect of what now binds or what in the past bound family members together is the way this closeness or lack thereof was and is perceived; that is, how it has been represented at particular moments and through which media. I do not look here to historical or sociological evidence to understand attitudes in the late eighteenth century toward the question of family bonds. Rather, this essay turns to the textual and/or pictorial strategies that uncover the inclinations and (dis)avowed desires and tendencies as they inhabit and organize representations of domestic intimacy.

In his text Emile, Jean-Jacques Rousseau mentions, seemingly in passing, what became in effect a powerful cultural convention: "Il n'y a point de 'tableau' plus charmant que celui de la famille" (my emphasis). 7 "Picture" here could refer to painting or engraving, as well as to a concept of tableau, but of course certainly not to the photograph of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet Rousseau articulated what did emerge in the nineteenth-century photograph and what remains operative today as well: the family as a domestic unit is "charming" perhaps because it is conceptualized and often conceived as a cohesive picture.

Rousseau goes on in the beginning of book 1 of Emile to elaborate on the dangers and pitfalls that can disrupt such a charming picture.8 What disfigures...


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pp. 89-118
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