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Théophile Gautier, préface to Mademoiselle de Maupin

Par   •  6 Décembre 2018  •  2 145 Mots (9 Pages)  •  274 Vues

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His conception of utility

For Gautier, there are two kinds of utility, and the word is relatif in sense : « What is of service to one person is useless for another ». For the poet (Gautier), the rhymes are useful. As for the cobbler, the rhymes are useless when the shoe is required. According to Gautier, there is absolutely nothing useful on this Earth. He says : « Our being alive and on earth is of very little service ». He describes the really useful things for life as « a little soup and a piece of meat twice a day (…), a hollow cube measuring seven or eight feet in each direction, equipped with a breathing hole and a blanket ». For the poet, these things are not really necessary compared to the beautiful and art. For him, art is more useful than the rest. For the poet, only the beautiful account. For the poet, « keeping oneself alive is not living ». Living is the beautiful and the pleasures.

The usefulness of beautiful - The beautiful and the pleasures as purpose of life

According to Gautier, « Nothing beautiful is indispensable to life ». It’s the most important sentence in the text. For example, the flowers and their beauty aren’t indispensable to the world. But Théophile Gautier would rather give up potatoes than roses. He can’t believe that there is a single utilitarian in the world who would grub up a tulip-bed for the sake of planting cabbages. The poet thinks that the beauty must be preferred to everything. For instance, Michelangelo should be preferred to the inventor of white mustard. For Gautier, « The useless alone is truly beautiful ». « Everything useful is ugly, since it is the expression of a need, and man’s needs are, like his pitiful, infirm nature, ignoble and disgusting ». So, according to the author, the beautiful is the useless. Théophile Gautier is « one of those for whom the superfluous is necessary ». He would happily give up his rights as a Frenchman and a citizen for the sight of an authentic Raphael. In the same way, the poet prefers « the street-fiddler and the tambourine to the sound of the judge’s bell ». Again, he would sell his shirt for a jewel. Gautier is oriented towards all that is beautiful, rather than to all that is necessary. Finally, he says : « You see that utilitarian principles are rather remote from my nature, and that I shall never be a contributor to virtuous journals ». Here, we can understand that Gautier is really very different from the moral journalists and utilitarian critics, he is an artist. « Instead of creating a Monthyon Prize to recompense the virtuous », Gautier should prefer to bestow a reward on anyone who could invent a new pleasure. According to Gautier, « Pleasure seems the goal of life, and the only useful thing in the world ». In fact, the pleasure is the only important thing on the Earth. It’s the finality of the life. This idea is the idea of God. Indeed, for Gautier, God made women, fragrances, beautiful flowers for the purpose of enjoyment. God is not in favor of virtue, he has endowed every human being with a subtle sense of smell to breathe the beautiful flowers. Théophile Gautier says : « He accorded to ourselves alone the glorious privilege of drinking without thirst, striking a light, and making love all year round, things which distinguish us from the brute beats much better than the use of newspapers ». Here, it’s clear that the pleasure is the primordial thing in the human being’s life. Once time again, Gautier doesn’t hesitate to criticize newspapers and journalists.

A last thing : for Gautier, the suppositious perfectibility of the species is an absurd thing. Lots of people think that the man is a machine admitting of improvement. He finishes his preface by the sentence : « Has anything been done since all this perfecting started, that was not done as well, or better, before the Flood ? ». For Gautier, the progress isn’t to be envied.

Finally, this Preface is a criticism of the press. Théophile Gautier blames the moral journalists and utilitarian critics. He is against the useful things. He claims the superiority of beautiful, pleasure, aesthetics and style. For him, the rest is superficial. Furthermore, he is against the progress.

II)To what extent the text is significant

The novel Mademoiselle de Maupin is best known for his preface. It appears as a manifesto of Parnassus, in reaction to the lyrical Romanticism. Gautier criticizes moralist or utilitarian visions of the literature. Poetry must be released from the worry of utility and morality. He also proclaims his conception of art : independent and unnecessary, art covers only the beautiful. Gautier is here the precursor of Parnassus and the doctrine of « art for art's sake » (only art is important). For him, the literature has for goal to reach the beautiful. Gautier is seen as the precursor of Parnassiens in search of beautiful against lyrical outpourings of Romantics and rewarding work of form. For Gautier, the style, the form, the aesthetics and the rhymes are very important. For Gautier, art has to goal than beauty.

In his preface, Gautier opposed the moral rigors of the old bourgeois world at an artistic and epicurean ideal who advocated the enjoyment, the taste of pleasures and refinements. He establishes the artist's right to treat any subject, putting bourgeois morality side.

For Gautier, the artist must break away from his narcissism too encouraged by the romantics (the "I" of the poet). The poet must work on the form of his poem, rather than its social, political or historical sense. The poem becomes a finite object. The poetic expression is so aesthetic.

From the preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin, Gautier issued a manifesto proclaiming the « autonomy of art », the cult of pure aesthetics, in which recognized Parnassus, and other poets like Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé. Baudelaire also dedicated his collection Les Fleurs du Mal to Théophile Gautier in 1857. Parnassus lasted 6 years, from 1860 to 1866. The Parnassus of 1866 resumed works of writers like Leconte de Lisle, Heredia, Sully Prudhomme or Verlaine. Parnassus follows the theory of « art for art's sake » advanced by Théophile Gautier in the preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin. We now understand that the interest of art is art itself. Parnassus advocates a writing which is cold, objective, devoid of any personal feelings. In 1870, advances of Rimbaud, Verlaine and Mallarmé announce Symbolism.

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