- Fashioning Spaces: Mode and Modernity in Late-Nineteenth-Century Paris by Heidi Brevik-Zender
Glorified as one of today's foremost fashion capitals, Paris of the late nineteenth century offered an abundance of spaces where one could marvel at fashionable attire donned by ladies and dandies alike. Fashioning Spaces (University of Toronto Press, 2015) examines what author Heidi Brevik-Zender refers to as the "spatial turn" (5) in representations of Paris during the Third Republic. More precisely, the book addresses the depiction of spaces related to fashion in literary works between roughly 1870 and 1900. Brevik-Zender focuses on what she terms "dislocations," which are "[…] spaces of disruption in which [End Page 1120] challenges to traditional relationships of power--primarily those of class and gender--provocatively occur" (7). Fashionable locations abound in literature written about nineteenth-century Paris, from Haussmannian boulevards to department stores and public parks. However critics have privileged these more evident sartorial locales, neglecting the three dislocations foregrounded in Fashioning Spaces: the staircase, the antechamber, and the fashion atelier. With this impressive monograph, Brevik-Zender convincingly demonstrates the great extent to which writers used fashion's dislocations--spaces in which clothing was displayed, worn, tried on, or fabricated--to negotiate the social climate of their era.
Fashioning Spaces contains three parts, each of which includes two chapters treating one of the three featured dislocations. The author examines both widely read and lesser-known texts, with evident choices like Zola's Au Bonheur des dames and La Curée treated alongside works by Rachilde and Feydeau. The book's diverse corpus includes novels, plays, and short stories and is supplemented by abundant examples from visual and material culture – including paintings by Caillebotte and Degas, ornate details from Third Republic dress, caricatures by Vernier and Grévin, and even performance techniques made famous by modern dancer Loie Fuller. Deftly covering a vast range of cultural material, Brevik-Zender exposes the permeability of the literary, artistic, and social worlds in late-nineteenth-century Paris.
The book opens with a vivid description of the Opéra Garnier, recreating the excitement that accompanied the unveiling of the long-awaited opera house and its grandiose staircase. Concerning other notable staircases, enthusiasts of Au bonheur des dames will be unsurprised to discover an analysis of the department store's predominant escalier central. Nevertheless, Brevik-Zender's argument for the staircase as an emblem for civil insurgency and the trauma incited by the Paris Commune sheds new light on this familiar critical terrain. The second chapter focuses initially on Rachilde's La Jongleuse in which the female writer uses the intimacy of the private stairwell to stage the novel's most dramatic moments in order to subvert the male gaze. As a transition from Rachilde, Brevik-Zender calls upon the "plunging perspectives" (87) of Caillebotte's paintings in which the implied staircase one would mount to reach the vertical viewpoint of each scene paradoxically represents the moral decline associated with social ascent, a theme the author unpacks in Maupassant's Bel-Ami and Daudet's Sapho.
The third chapter returns to Zola with passages from Au bonheur des dames and Nana that focus on antechambers and the notion of waiting. Unlike other novels from the Rougon-Macquart that emphasize speed and the rapid changes associated with modernity, Brevik-Zender shows how the antechambers of Bonheur and Nana dramatize patience and anticipation, symbolically linking these concepts to the delayed eruption of the Siege of Paris. The robe à transformation (a dress with a changeable bodice) then serves as the point of entry into the fourth chapter that reveals how this piece of attire, in addition to the space of the antechamber, reflects the dynamics of waiting and transformation in Maupassant's short story "La Parure." [End Page 1121]
The final part of Fashioning Spaces begins with a visual analysis of Félicien Rops's watercolour Le Muscle du grand couturier, a provocative image that exposes the gender and sexual dynamics of the book's concluding dislocation: the fashion atelier...