- Réalisme (1856-1857): journal dirigé par Edmond Duranty ed. by Gilles Castagnès
The most thorough study of Edmond Duranty's life and works is Marcel Crouzet's Un méconnu du réalisme: Duranty (1833-1890), l'homme, le critique, le romancier (Paris: Nizet, 1964). By 'méconnu', Crouzet implied unjustifiable neglect, a situation he sought to rectify in nearly 800 pages of meticulous scholarship. A full return to favour of Duranty's varied output has not, however, taken place. Extracts from his writings on Realist theory are frequently anthologized, but often lack full contextualization. In addition, Duranty's novels still do not enjoy easy availability, let alone success. His image remains blurred. Does, perhaps, even the mistaken but once widespread belief that he was the illegitimate son of Prosper Mérimée still live on somewhere? Now, more than half a century after Crouzet's book, a vital step in rediscovering Duranty has been taken with the publication of the very first critical edition of his review Réalisme of 1856-57, the starting point of his endeavours, and to this day the most celebrated. This edition, by Gilles Castagnès, is truly remarkable for its detail in particulars and for its general insights. The six issues of Réalisme, from November 1856 to April/May 1857, are here published with exhaustive attention through footnotes to both textual detail and contextual matters. The initially unpublished issue zero (10 July 1856) receives similar examination in Castagnès's 'Appendice 1'. His second appendix makes available precious material from the Bibliothèque de l'Institut de France, and his third a letter connected with issue 1 from one of Duranty's collaborators at the review, Henri Thulié. This letter highlights an issue that Castagnès also discusses in his 'Préface': the co-existence within Réalisme of Duranty's wish to use the review as a mouthpiece for his own theories, which would be held dear by Zola, Maupassant, and other later Realists, and its identity also as a collaborative project, including notable contributions from Jules Assézat. Could the extreme brevity of the review's existence be attributed to this conflict of interests? Castagnès suggests that this could indeed be the case. He uses [End Page 617] his 'Préface' to discuss this and other issues of interpretation. In doing this, he adopts twenty-first-century perspectives, very different from those of Crouzet, whose unpublished doctoral thèse complémentaire on 'Le Journal Réalisme' dates from 1957. Castagnès's success in bringing fresh perspectives to Réalisme invites reflection on Duranty's later writings. For example, his thirty-eight-page essay, La Nouvelle Peinture: à propos du groupe d'artistes qui expose dans les Galeries Durand-Ruel (Paris: Dentu, 1876), has long been valued by art historians as a broad definition of Impressionism, using a frame of reference that includes Constable and Diderot. It also shares a context with Degas's celebrated pastel and tempera portrait of Duranty (1879), in the Burrell Collection. Finally, we should remember that, at the time of Réalisme, Duranty was writing his first novel, Le Malheur d'Henriette Gérard, which was written in 1856 and 1857 and first published in 1860 with a dedication to Champfleury. This first novel was therefore roughly contemporary with Madame Bovary, of which Duranty disapproved. It has been republished since, notably by Gallimard (L'Imaginaire, 1981) with a Preface, originally from 1942, by Jean Paulhan, entitled Un primitif du roman: Duranty. The designation 'primitif ' reflects Paulhan's insistence on Duranty's originality not only as theorist, but also in the domain of prose fiction.