- Imaginaires de la chasse de 1870 à 1914 par Isabelle Guillaume
Can hunting, as a "thème épistémologique et esthétique" (9) of France's collective imagination between the years 1870 and 1914, hold the interest—over four hundred pages—of those of us readers who buy our meat at the supermarket? Yes, Isabelle Guillaume argues: textual and visual representations of hunting reveal something important about the evolutions of French society between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I. Guillaume observes that hunting could be made to serve entirely opposite ideologies. It could represent democratization, as the Third Republic remade a post-revolutionary society in which the right to hunt was no longer the exclusive privilege of kings and aristocrats. Contrariwise, the hunt could snobbishly signal the social superiority of those who adhered to Ancien Régime mores and practices. A similar semiotic ambivalence surrounds the figure of the braconnier. Following the Prussian victory, journal articles devoted to all things cynégétique (a lovely new vocabulary word for this reader) deplored the pillage of French forests by Prussian troops, the theft of hunting rifles and dogs by the invaders. Poachers in these narratives are figured as crafty guerrilla fighters heroically resisting German aggression. Distinct from regular French troops, the intrepid lone braconnier and his isolated victories permitted French authors to reimagine the disastrous war in terms of victory, however small and local these victories might be (46). However, conservative authors used the braconnier to represent lawlessness, even a tendency to bloodshed and homicide, in terms that echo anti-Communard rhetoric denouncing the stereotypical "mauvais ouvrier, paresseux et violent" (114). Nostalgia for a mythologized past marks romantic tales of man's confrontation with ferocious animals and wild nature, even as the advent of firearms, railways, and electricity left some writers deploring a modern France "décoloré[e] par la civilisation" (354). But there were other hunting grounds outside of Western Europe. Beyond the borders of the Hexagone, tales of big-game hunting coincide—not coincidentally—with expanding French imperialism, particularly in Africa and Asia. For example, tales of French hunters who "liberated" Algeria from the danger of lions permitted a re-imagining of the French invasion of North Africa as a protective measure—one that earned repeated performances of gratitude by Arab tribes, a common trope (248)—rather than a conquest. Among the works that Guillaume studies, there are a few canonical authors, including Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant, and Daudet. However, Guillaume's source material relies primarily on popular works: "témoignages" of the Franco-Prussian war or of safaris (fictional or actual, with a certain slippage between the two); children's literature; visual representations of hunting, including the famously "failed" 1881 portrait of Eugène Pertuiset by Manet (252). The sheer weight of these collected materials, and the repetitious, even cliché tropes, lend support to Guillaume's hypothesis: that the theme of hunting held a [End Page 234] crucial, contested place in the collective French imagination during the final decades of the long nineteenth century. An engrossing read for dix-neuvièmistes.