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The Function of Literature in Baudelaire’s La Fanfarlo Michele Hannoosh B AUDELAIRE’S LA FANFARLO is a story replete with books, writers, readers, and critics, and yet the function of literature in the narrative has prompted no systematic study. Most of the major elements of the plot turn around a literary object: Samuel is introduced immediately as a writer, and his character defined in terms of his method of reading and the contradictory contents of a “ typical” nineteenthcentury artist’s library; his first encounter with Madame de Cosmelly is dominated by a novel of Walter Scott’s, and the second by his own volume of poetry, Les Orfraies; he contrives to meet La Fanfarlo by means of his journalism; in the end he is reduced to grinding out books for money and founding a socialist newspaper; long discussions of litera­ ture occupy the first half, and allusions to literary characters and works occur throughout.1 We might ask, then, why literature plays so promi­ nent a role in the story, and to what effect? On the one hand, the theme reflects the status of parody in the work. The overt use of texts within a text is a convention of parody, which as a genre depends on the same metafictional principle: the incorporation of one work within another, which thereby comments on it. La Fanfarlo loosely follows the plot of Balzac’s Béatrix, as Prévost first argued,2and in a number of individual episodes parodies Balzac, Musset, Gautier, Laclos and others. The scene with Madame de Cosmelly, as all com­ mentators have noted, is a blatant parody of Romanticism. Baudelaire makes this absurdly clear through not only the agglomeration of Roman­ tic clichés, but also the narrator’s highly ironic presentation and sarcastic commentary. But the parody of Romanticism does not cease there. Samuel’s Romantic élucubrations in the first episode are clearly a ruse designed to win Madame de Cosmelly. He knows the tricks—and clichés—of the trade and uses them as skillfully as the narrator himself. He becomes an object of mockery, however, in the context of the larger story: the confi­ dent poseur considers himself a Valmont, a Lovelace, a Chatterton, a Henri de Marsay, but actually plays right into the hands of his intended victim. This the narrator makes plain by naming the literary models 42 S p r i n g 1988 H a n n o o sh against whom Samuel measures parodically, like these, or with whom he compares (Tartuffe), calling him a fool (569), and ridiculing Les Orfraies as an unoriginal collection of puerile clichés (558).3Samuel is a parody of the seducer, and the story a parody of the plot which he imagines for it: he is used by Madame de Cosmelly when he expects to reap the fruits of her gratitude, and made miserable by La Fanfarlo when he expects to bask eternally in the “ contentement savoureux” (578) which loving her has inspired. The would-be hero becomes a victim, the lover an object of scorn, the poet a hankerer after official recognition through the intrigues of his mistress with the minister. At this level too the parody is clear, in the consistently ironic turn of events (the plot abounds in the conven­ tional ironic devices of misunderstanding and quidproquo) and the nar­ rator’s condescending final remarks about the degradation of the hero. While the parody and irony are easily perceptible, their interpretation has proved more difficult. Most commentators concur on the parody of Romanticism in the first half, but take the second as a “ serious” state­ ment of a new aesthetic or a “ positive” view of Romanticism: the con­ scious cultivation of detachment, difference, duality, illusion, and irony which distinguishes the dandy and the true artist, an aesthetic of artifice approaching Baudelaire’s formula for modernity.4 But this view neglects to take account of the irony present in the second half. Moreover it raises the crucial problem of motivation in the plot: if Samuel’s experience with La Fanfarlo represents the “ new” aesthetic to replace the “ old” Roman­ tic one of the Madame de Cosmelly episode, why does it fail...


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