Crossing the swarming scene that is Paris . . .
– Baudelaire, ‘Little Old Ladies’, Les Fleurs du mal
But the majority of men make their way through Paris in the same manner as they live and eat, that is, without thinking about it . . . Ah! to wander over Paris! What an adorable and delightful existence is that! Flânerie is a science; it is the gastronomy of the eye. To take a walk is to vegetate; flânerie is life.
– Balzac, ‘The Physiology of Marriage’
‘There gathers here everything that is great in terms of love or hate, of emotion and of thought, of knowledge and of power, of both happiness and unhappiness, of the future and of the past . . . Here is created a new art, a new religion, a new life; it is here that the creators of a new world are merrily at work.’ In his Paris chronicles for the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, Heine heightens the colours of Paris to contrast with the darkness of Austro-Prussian reaction; but for all that, Paris of this time was indeed the first city of the Western world, and it was no accident that another immigrant German Jew would pursue the traces of this a century later, and title the exposé of the great work that he projected, ‘Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century’.1
During Heine’s Paris years – between Adolphe and Madame Bovary, between Géricault’s Wounded Hussar and Manet’s Dead Toreador, between the completion of the Madeleine and of the Gare du Nord – the system of literature that had held sway in France for the last two centuries, and was already beginning to crack, splintered completely. I shall try here to trace the stages, over a period of something under a century, of this general rejection of genres, boundaries and hierarchies, a rejection in which Paris represents far more than a context, a mere favourable milieu. As the para-digm of the ‘modern’ city in which ‘the obelisks of industry spew against the firmament their coalitions of fumes’, whose population was constantly growing, where gas lighting was replacing oil lamps and old streets were being mercilessly destroyed, Paris played at this time the role of detonator. Formerly, when the action of a book was set in Paris, the city simply served as an abstract or stylized backdrop: you could search in vain for precise details of Paris locations in The Princess of Cleves, Manon Lescaut or La Vie de Marianne. But now, in streets that were named and described – which was already a decisive break in the literary status of the metropolis – a red-haired beggar-woman might cross paths with an adulterous countess, a great surgeon, an Auvergnat water-carrier, a ragpicker, a future minister or a policeman (Vidocq, Javert, Peyrade), not to mention a bankrupt lawyer. The hierarchy of genres, according to which certain forms were naturally designed for particular social strata, could no longer hold out. Through newspaper supplements that were sold in the streets, the novel invaded fashionable salons, libraries, and the back rooms of wineshops. Everything could become the subject of drama, verse, story or song, and all subjects were equal here, so much so that there was no longer any compulsory relationship between form and content. Vague intermediate zones would disrupt the borders between art and what was traditionally not accepted as art. In 1857, Hippolyte Babou could write without blaspheming that ‘when Balzac lifts the roofs or penetrates the walls in order to clear a space for observation . . . you speak insidiously to the porter, you slide along fences, you make little holes in partitions, you listen at doors, you focus your eye-glasses at nighttime on the silhouettes dancing in the distance behind lighted windows; you act, in a word, what our prudish English neighbours call the “police detective”.’2 And it was ‘in an obscure library in Rue Montmartre’ that the narrator of The Murders in the Rue Morgue met a certain Dupin, the first amateur detective in literature – not in London nor in New York, but in Paris where Poe had never set foot.
It was flâneurs who erected the metropolis into a theoretical object, an instrument of rupture with the forms of the past. The forerunners of this phenomenon that initiated modernity – the big city as raw material, roaming it as support for artistic creation – could already be found in the late eighteenth century.3 The elderly Rousseau, for example, setting out each day from Rue Plâtrière (now Jean-Jacques Rousseau), crossing Paris on foot to go botanizing. ‘I could never do anything’, he wrote in his Confessions, ‘sitting pen in hand at my table and paper’. And in his ‘Notes Written on Playing Cards’, ‘My whole life has been just one long reverie divided into chapters by daily walks’. In his Essai sur Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Bernadin de Saint-Pierre describes him, impeccably dressed, when
at seventy years of age he would go to the Pré-Saint-Gervais in the afternoon, or take a turn in the Bois de Boulogne, without seeming tired at the end of this walk . . . He had two star-shaped holes cut in the soles of his shoes, because of the corns that troubled him . . . He dined at half past twelve. At half past one he would often take coffee at the Café des Champs-Élysées, where we would arrange to meet. He then went off botanizing in the countryside, his hat under his arm in the bright sunshine, even during a heat wave.
Rousseau was able to find the countryside even within Paris: ‘The weather being quite nice, though cold, I went for a walk all the way to the École Militaire, expecting to find some mosses in full bloom there.’ Another day, ‘having gone for a walk in the vicinity of Nouvelle-France, I pressed further on; then veering left and wanting to circle Montmartre, I crossed the village of Clignancourt’. (This is followed, in the ‘Ninth Walk’, by the famous passage on the ‘little child of five or six squeezing my knees with all his might while looking up at me in such a friendly and affectionate manner that I was inwardly moved’.) Or again: ‘One Sunday my wife and I had gone to dine at Porte Maillot. After dinner we crossed through the Bois de Boulogne as far as the Château de la Muette. There we sat down in the shade on the grass and waited for the sun to get lower so as to return quite easily through Passy afterwards.’ (This is where the episode of the wafers offered to the little girls comes in, and ‘that afternoon was one of those of my life which I remember with the greatest satisfaction’.)
Rousseau stressed the harshness of the metropolis, and in his Reveries of a Solitary Walker you can hear as a background noise the terrible misery of pre-Revolutionary Paris. The little boy he meets close to the Barrière d’Enfer in the ‘Sixth Walk’, ‘a very nice, but lame little boy who, hobbling along on his crutches, goes about quite graciously asking passersby for alms’, belonged to that population of abandoned or lost children who are so common in the police reports. On 19 October 1773, a police commissioner by the name of Mouricaud noted:
There appeared in court Jean Louis Paillard known as Larose dwelling at the Porte Saint-Paul with Madame Blin the wine-seller who stated that last Friday Savary an agent for wet nurses gave him on getting out of the coach from Sens around four o’clock two children returned from the nurse to be taken to their fathers and mothers, one of these being of male sex whose parents lived at La Courtille, and the other of female sex who according to the address given to him by Savary was to be taken to Monsieur Le Roi at the Porte Saint-Martin and that being unable to read various persons read the address to him; that having been unable to find the father of the child either at the Porte Saint-Martin or at the market, he took this child with the other to La Courtille, and after having returned the boy to his father took the girl home with him where she ate and slept.4
Rousseau’s shadowy and dilapidated double, whom contemporaries nicknamed Jean-Jacques des Halles, the perverted and fetishistic Restif, was an informer for the police of Sartine and Lenoir, and it was his connections in high places and the blue suit under his overcoat that enabled him to explore the most dangerous places.5 ‘Owl!’ he exclaims at the start of the first of his three hundred and eighty-eight Nuits de Paris, subtitled ‘Le Spectateur nocturne’, ‘how many times have your funereal cries made me shudder in the dark of the night! Sad and solitary like you, I wandered alone in the dark through this immense capital: the glow of lampposts cutting across the shadows does not destroy them, it makes them more clear: this is the chiaroscuro of great painters!’ Restif lived in the wretched quarter between the Place Maubert and the Seine, on Rue de la Harpe, Rue de Bièvre, Rue des Bernadins and finally Rue de la Bûcherie. He had a little printing press there which enabled him to resume the trade of his youth and to publish his own works: ‘He only typeset his own works, and he was so productive that he no longer took the trouble to write them first: standing before his type-case, the fire of enthusiasm in his eyes, he assembled letter by letter in his composing-stick these pages, inspired and full of mistakes, on whose bizarre spelling and calculated eccentricities everyone remarked.’6
Restif’s field of action was above all the Marais and the Île Saint-Louis. Emotional ties attracted him to Rue de Saintonge and Rue Payenne (‘Very late in the evening – as I had been writing until a quarter past eleven, after my manual work – I went to Rue Payenne; I had taken the longest route: it was now half past twelve. The Marquise was at her window . . .’) But he also haunted Les Halles and the Boulevards:
In the evening, after leaving work, I wandered in the surroundings of the Marquise’s quarter, but it was not yet time to see her. I went as far as Rue de la Haute-Borne . . . I retraced my steps and entered a wretched beer hall on Rue Basse-du-Rempart, behind the Ambigu-Comique and the Danseurs de Corde: I asked for a light, a pot of wine, and six échaudés;7 I took out my paper and my writing case and I wrote L’Homme de nuit.
Ever ready to rescue young women in danger, especially if they were pretty, Restif was undoubtedly the first to describe the pleasure of nighttime wandering in this Paris populated by beggars, whores and thieves, the intoxication that takes hold of someone who has walked for a long while quite alone, and aimlessly, just following the streets.
It was Gérard de Nerval who carried this exploration of nocturnal Paris to an extreme, and Nerval had a very high opinion of Restif. ‘Rousseau’s example’, he wrote, ‘has no bolder imitator than Restif . . . No writer perhaps has ever before possessed to such a high degree the precious qualities of imagination. Diderot may well have been more correct, Beaumarchais more fluent, but did either of them have even half this wild and quivering verve, which does not always produce masterpieces, but without which masterpieces would not exist?’8 Nerval’s Les Nuits d’octobre, a more high-flown version of Restif’s Nuits, begins with a realist profession of faith. His chapter on ‘The Halles’ is the first precise description of the atmosphere of that quarter, which would remain unchanged until the 1970s: the arrival of produce early in the night (‘The little square of the markets begins to grow animated. The wagons of the market-gardeners, the fish merchants, the dairymen and greengrocers constantly cross one another. When the wagoners reach their destination, they refresh themselves in the cafés and bars, which remain open here the whole night’); the sales agents (‘ “These men in work clothes are richer than us”, my companion tells me. “They disguise themselves as peasants. Under their smocks or overalls they are perfectly dressed, and tomorrow will leave their blouse at the tavern and return home in a Tilbury”’); the saleswomen (‘One of them cries: “My little cabbages, make your ladies flower!” And, as it is only wholesale at this time, a large number of ladies would have to “flower” to buy so many bouquets. Another chants the song of her position: “Reinette and Lady apples!” “Red and white Calvilles!”’). Nerval and his friend enter an elegant restaurant (‘The custom here is to order Ostend oysters with a little stew of chopped shallots in vinegar and pepper . . . Then it is onion soup, which is cooked admirably at the Halles, and into which the more refined toss grated Parmesan’), then a wretched dive (‘An immense counter divides the room in two, and seven or eight women ragpickers, regulars in this place, make a display on a bench opposite the counter. The back is occupied by a fairly motley crowd, who often erupt in quarrels’). But Nerval does not stick to his ‘realism’ for too long. Already, when his steps lead him to Montmartre, his other district of choice, it is the quarries that he depicts, a place of fantasy par excellence. And at the end he walks in his dream down ‘corridors, endless corridors’, a nightmare that prefigures the hallucinated wandering at the end of Aurélia:
The stars shone in the firmament. Suddenly it seemed to me that they had just gone out, like the candles I had seen in the church. I believed the end of time had arrived, and we were coming to the end of the world heralded in the Apocalypse of St John. I thought I was seeing a black sun in the deserted sky, and a red globe of blood above the Tuileries. I said to myself: ‘Eternal night is beginning, and it will be terrible. What will happen when men perceive that there is no more sun?’
These first solitary explorers of the city night have a whole line of descendants: Villiers, Huysmans, Apollinaire, Breton – who preferred Restif to Rousseau, and ranked Nerval among those ‘who had heard the voice of Surrealism’.9 But alongside this dark and silent Paris still imbued with the feel of nature, a different city was emerging in the 1830s, a city in which ‘three thousand shop-fronts sparkle, and the great poem of display sings its strophes of colour from the Madeleine to the Porte Saint-Denis’.10 This brilliantly lit city, in which the flâneur swims with the crowd, in which vice, fashion and money display themselves on the Boulevards along with goods for sale, is that of Balzac. This attribution should be taken in the strong sense: the relationship between La Comédie humaine and the Paris of the July monarchy is not just one between a work of art and its model. The echo of the regime could not but influence the physiognomy of a work such as Balzac’s, as reflected in the fact that certain Russian aristocrats are said to have divided up the roles of Balzac’s Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life and fashioned their lives after those of the characters they had selected. In his Grand Dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle, Pierre Larousse, a Voltairean and republican, who hated Balzac as a defender of throne and altar, judged that ‘his influence on the literature of his time has been no less than his influence on manners in a certain class of society, and in many respects it has been no less deplorable’.
At first glance, Balzac is no less severe towards Paris than was Rousseau. In the preface to Ferragus the words ‘monster’ and ‘monstrous’ recur several times, and he notes how ‘every man, every fraction of a house is a lobe of the cellular tissue of that great courtesan’, a metaphor that came very naturally to an admirer of Broussais and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. At the start of The Girl With the Golden Eyes, the motif of ‘gold and pleasure’ is taken ‘for a lantern . . . to explore that great stucco cage, that hive with its black gutters’, and the reader is warned: ‘it is not in mere sport that Paris has been called a hell . . . There all is smoke and fire, everything gleams, crackles, flames, evaporates, dies out, then lights up again, with shooting sparks, and is consumed.’ But right in the midst of such moralizing reflections, Balzac lets escape, like a confession, his love for the great city. The same is true in Ferragus, where he suddenly exclaims: ‘O Paris! he who has not admired your gloomy passages, your gleams and flashes of light, your deep and silent cul-de-sacs, who has not listened to your murmurings between midnight and two in the morning, knows nothing as yet of your true poesy, nor of your broad and fantastic contrasts.’ And, after the long opening of The Girl With the Golden Eyes, in which the population of the city, ‘wan and colourless’, is ‘like the faces of those houses upon which all kinds of dust and smoke have blown’, we suddenly hear an elegiac note: ‘Upon one of those fine spring mornings, when the leaves, although unfolded, are not yet green, when the sun begins to gild the roofs, and the sky is blue, when the population of Paris issues from its cells to swarm along the Boulevards, glides like a serpent of a thousand coils through Rue de la Paix towards the Tuileries, saluting the hymeneal magnificence which the country puts on; on one of these joyous days, then . . .’ It is then, in the broad avenue of the Tuileries, that Henri de Marsay catches the eye of an unknown girl, ‘whose rays seemed akin to those which the sun emits, and whose ardour set the seal upon that of her perfect body, in which all was delight’.
Several writers have described how, starting with The History of the Thirteen and Old Goriot, the stories that make up La Comédie humaine are interlinked, the principal and secondary characters reappearing from one book to another and giving the whole construction its unity. But this network or concatenation does not just link people, but also places, as Walter Benjamin noted:
Balzac has secured the mythic constitution of his world through precise topographic contours. Paris is the breeding ground of his mythology – Paris with its two or three great bankers (Nucingen, du Tillet), Paris with its great physician Horace Bianchon, with its entrepreneur César Birotteau, with its four or five great cocottes, with its usurer Gobseck . . . But above all, it is from the same streets and corners, the same little rooms and recesses, that the figures of this world step into the light. What else can this mean but that topography is the ground plan of this mythic space of tradition, as it is of every such space, and that it can become indeed its key.11
And moreover, what forms the connecting tissue of La Comédie humaine, far more than the return of the main characters in their favoured locations, is the wealth of its secondary ties, ‘those indications of kinship, neighbourly relations and friendship, references to business deals and clients, records of addresses that seem borrowed from the registers of civil status or commercial directories, in the dryness and barrenness of which history seeks its most intense and surest evocations’.12
As far as Balzac’s personal and physical relationship with Paris is concerned, what is always quoted is the beginning of Facino Cane, where the narrator follows a couple of workers coming back from the Ambigu-Comique: ‘As I listened, I could make their lives mine, I felt their rags on my back, I walked with their gaping shoes on my feet; their cravings, their needs, had all passed into my soul, or my soul had passed into theirs. It was the dream of a waking man.’ I don’t think that Balzac really ever did proceed in this way. The fact that he cites in this passage Rue Lesdiguières where he had lived, and uses the first person singular, is not enough to make this autobiographical information. It is a prelude like any other of Balzac’s, and he never began without a kind of tuning-up. He was either unable or unwilling to start in media res, like the beginning of Stendhal’sLucien Leuwen that we cited in the previous chapter, or the clash of cymbals that opens The Charterhouse of Parma.
A Balzac who slept by day and worked by night, the dressing gown, the cut goose-quills, the coffee pot – that legend certainly contains an element of truth. But Balzac was not a recluse like Proust in his final years. He spent a great deal of time out and about, seeking out a residence worthy of the ‘Foreigner’, buying his particular mixture of coffees – bourbon on Rue de la Chausée-d’Antin, martinique on Rue des Haudriettes, and moka on Rue de l’Université. Théophile Gautier, who often accompanied him, wrote:
How he loved and knew this modern Paris, at a time when lovers of local colour and the picturesque still failed to appreciated its beauty! He crossed it in every direction, by night and by day . . . He knew everything about his beloved city; it was for him an enormous monster, hybrid and formidable, an octopus with a hundred thousand arms that he heard and saw living, and which in his eyes had a kind of immense individuality. You could often have seen him, especially in the mornings, when he rushed to the printer’s to take in copy and collect his proofs. You would remember his green hunting jacket, his black-and-grey check trousers . . . he walked buried in large shoes with flaps, a red scarf drawn in a knot around his neck. Despite the disorder and poverty of this attire, no one could have been tempted to take this great man whom they passed as a common unknown, swept as he was by his dream like a whirlwind.13
Gozlan was a companion of Balzac with whom he rambled the centre of Paris in all directions, seeking a name on a shop sign to use for the hero of his latest novel. They walked for hours. ‘Let’s just continue as far as Saint-Eustache’, Balzac asked Gozlan:
That was only a pretext to get me to measure the whole length of Rues du Mail, de Cléry, du Cadran, du Faubourg-Montmartre and the Place des Victoires, peppered with magnificent Alsatian names that conjure up the taste of the Rhine. Until in Rue du Bouloi – and this I shall never forget in my whole life – after raising his gaze above a poorly marked gate in the wall, an oblong, narrow, dilapidated gate opening into a damp and dark alley, he suddenly changed his tone and, with a shiver that passed from his arm to mine, uttered a cry and said: ‘There! There! There! Read it, read it!’ His voice broke with emotion. And I saw the name MARCAS.
‘Marcas! What do you think? Marcas! What a name! Marcas!’
‘I don’t see . . .’
‘Stop it! Marcas!’ ‘But . . .’ ‘Stop it, I tell you. It’s the name of names! We won’t look for another. Marcas can be a philosopher, a writer, a great politician, an unknown poet, everything. Marcas, and I’ll call him Z. Marcas, to add a certain flame, a sparkle, a star!’14
The quarters of Paris where the characters of La Comédie humaine live were chosen with the same care as their names, and the same goes for their clothing and their domestic surroundings. The Left Bank, apart from the Faubourg Saint-Germain, was the realm of déclassés, marginaux, victims of life – or of those who made a business of living among them, such as the good judge Popinot in The Commission in Lunacy (his house was on Rue du Fouarre, ‘always damp, from the stream that carried towards the Seine the dark waters of some dye-works’), or else troublesome policemen such as Peyrade, who lived with his daughter on Rue des Marais-Saint-Germain (now Visconti), where Balzac had his printing press, and Corentin who lived on Rue Cassette, where Carlos Herrera established himself with Lucien de Rubempré. Also in The Commission in Lunacy, the poor Marquis d’Espard, stripped of everything by his wife, who pretended he was spoiled, lived with his two sons on the Montagne Saint-Geneviève, ‘in an apartment whose destitution was unworthy of his name and social position’. At the start of The Black Sheep, Mme Bridau, an elderly widow without a penny, comes to live in ‘one of the most horrible corners of Paris’, ‘that portion of Rue Mazarine which runs from Rue Guénégaud to the point at which it joins Rue de Seine’. Rue des Quatre-Vents (also ‘one of the worst streets in Paris’, according to The Atheist’s Mass), in the shadow of Saint-Sulpice, successively housed – in one of those buildings ‘of which the narrow door opens into a passage with a winding staircase at the end, with windows appropriately termed “borrowed lights”’ – two young people at the time still poor and unknown: Arthez, the great writer of the Cénacle, one of Balzac’s ‘doubles’, and Desplein, who ended up as surgeon-in-chief at the Hôtel-Dieu, like his model the great Dupuytren.
Further out, in the Faubourg Saint-Marceau, the poverty was still worse. Colonel Chabert, the hero of the battle of Eylau, who was taken for dead and had no legal existence, lodged in Rue du Petit-Banquier (now Watteau), and the good Derville, the lawyer who visits him, was forced to go on foot, as his coachman refused to enter an unpaved street whose ruts were too deep for the wheels of a cabriolet.
On the Right Bank, the Marais, then at its nadir, was a quarter of characters who were humble but worthy. Cousin Pons, leader of an orchestra in a little theatre on the Boulevards, who gave music lessons in a few boarding schools for girls so as not to die of hunger, lived, as we have seen, on Rue de Normandie. In The Wrong Side of Paris, Mme de la Chanterie, at the age of seventeen, ‘found herself obliged to live, along with the little girl that she cared for, from the work of her hands, in an obscure quarter to which she had retreated’; during the Revolution this ruined noblewoman exercised the demanding profession of corset-marker in Rue de la Corderie-du-Temple.
Very different from these fallen nobles, the characters whom Balzac places around the Place Vendôme, Rue Saint-Honoré and Les Halles belong to the world of business. When he was in Paris, the illustrious Gaudissart, ‘one of those profound dealers who speak in the name of calicots, jewellery, cloth and wine, and are often more clever than ambassadors, who generally know only conventions’, lived in the Hôtel de Commerce, at the end of Rue des Deux-Écus. ‘La Reine des Roses’, the perfumery where César Birotteau perfected his ‘Double Paste of Sultans’ and ‘Carminative Balm’, was on Rue Saint-Honoré, close to the church of Saint-Roch where he had been wounded on 13 Vendémiaire (which enabled him to make ‘solid reflections on the absurdity of an alliance between politics and perfumery’). Popinot, his former clerk who was now his son-in-law, set up home on Rue des Cinq-Diamants (now Quincampoix). Gobseck’s colleague, the usurer Gigonnet who plays a role in Birotteau’s financial collapse (many writers have stressed how meticulously this is described, with fraudulent manoeuvres at the Tribunal of Commerce – in matters of bankruptcy Balzac was of course in his element), lived on Rue Greneta, ‘on the third floor of a house whose window-sashes, with small and very dirty panes, swung by the middle, on pivots . . . The stairs were covered with filth. Each landing of this noisome stairway bore the names of the occupants in gilt letters on a metal plate, painted red and varnished, to which were attached specimens of their craft.’
But the most Balzacian quarter of all was the Nouveau Paris beyond the Boulevards, the arc between the Faubourg Saint-Martin and the Champs-Élysées.15 When Balzac was attempting to buy a house, this was the region that he explored. On 4 December 1845, he wrote to the ‘Foreigner’:
Tomorrow I am going to see in Rue des Petits-Hôtels, Place Lafayette [now Franz Liszt] as you know, a little hôtel for sale, just beside the church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul that we went to see . . . Rue des Petits-Hôtels opens into Rue Hauteville, which comes down to the boulevard by the Gymnase, and into the Place Lafayette, which reaches Rue Saint-Lazare and Rue de la Pépinère via Rue Montholon. You are at the heart of that part of Paris known as the Right Bank, where all the theatres, boulevards, etc. are; it’s the quarter of the big banks.
And indeed, Keller’s bank in La Comédie humaine is on Rue Taitbout – also where the painter Théodore de Sommervieux16 lived, and for a while Rastignac as well. Claparon’s bank is on Rue de Provence, and Mongenod’s bank on Rue de la Victoire, in a magnificent hotel with courtyard and garden. Of Old Goriot’s two daughters, Mme de Restaud lived on Rue de Helder, and Delphine de Nucingen on Rue Saint-Lazare, in ‘one of those many-windowed houses with a mean-looking portico and slender columns, which are considered the thing in Paris, a typical banker’s house, decorated in the most ostentatious fashion; the walls lined with fine stucco, the landings of marble mosaic’. Her garden bordered that of the Hôtel de Saint-Réal, where the Marquise hides away the Girl With the Golden Eyes. On Rue de la Chausée-d’Antin, Camille Maupin ‘purchased for one hundred and thirty thousand francs one of the finest houses in the street’.17 Rue Saint-Georges was less elegant: this was the street of the lorettes, the world of ‘Fanny Beaupré, Suzanne du Val-Noble, Mariette, Florentine, Jenny Cadine, and their kind’. It was here that the Baron de Nucingen installed poor Esther, and that later Du Tillet – the little thief who had become a big banker and a centre-left deputy – would lodge ‘the illustrious Carabine, whose lively mind, cavalier manners, and brilliant lack of shame formed a counterweight to the works of his domestic, political, and financial life’.18
Another region of venal love, the Quartier de l’Europe, was still under construction:
Without the Aspasias of the Notre-Dame de Lorette quarter, far fewer houses would be built in Paris. Pioneers in fresh stucco, they have gone, towed by speculation, along the heights of Montmartre, pitching their tents in those solitudes of carved free-stone, the like of which adorns the European streets of Amsterdam, Milan, Stockholm, London, and Moscow . . . The situation of these dames is determined by their location in these apocryphal regions. If the house is near the line traced by Rue de Provence, the woman has an income, her budget prospers; but if she approaches the farther line of the boulevards extérieurs or rises towards the horrid town of Batignolles, she is without resources. When Monsieur de Rochefide first encountered Madame Schontz, she lived on the third floor of the only house that remained in Rue de Berlin; thus she was camping on the borderland between misery and its reverse.19
The Faubourg Saint-Honoré and the Champs-Élysées were clearly the realm of the aristocracy – along with the Faubourg Saint-Germain, but we have seen how Balzac, as later also Proust, drew the borders of this more in terms of symbolism than geography. The Marquise d’Espard, former wife of Colonel Chabert, lived close to the Élysée, and the beautiful Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, one of the queens of Parisian society, occupied the immense Hôtel de Cadignan, right at the top of the quarter. But in these parts one could also meet more recent fortunes, and not always well acquired: ‘Though without a family, a parvenu, Du Tillet had married in 1831 – God knows how! – the youngest daughter of the Comte de Granville, one of the most famous names in the French judiciary.’ This enabled him to live ‘in one of the finest hôtels on Rue Neuve-des-Mathurins’.20
Thus the links of the chain cast across the city both host and connect the Paris episodes of La Comédie humaine. Balzac’s extraordinary innovation of using the ties in this network to construct the ‘themes’ of his characters would become one of the hallmarks of French narrative, from Eugène Sue to Georges Simenon, with Les Misérables and Zola’s Paris novels as steps on the way. And if Proust most frequently has the key locations for his characters away from Paris, if Oriane brings in the Vivonne and its water lilies, and Albertine the Balbec seawall, his procedure is the same, and this is not the least of the borrowings that À la recherche du temps perdu makes from La Comédie humaine.
‘The Paris Prowler’, ‘The Solitary Walker’ and ‘Glows and Smoke’ were among the titles Baudelaire had considered before Banville and Asselineau judiciously chose Le Spleen de Paris for the original posthumous edition of his ‘little prose poems’. It needed the combination of a poet’s unhappiness and a great unsteadiness of the city itself for the elaboration ‘with fury and patience’ of a work that is complex to the point of sometimes being perceived, either as ‘this buried temple . . . in which he wildly illuminates an immortal pubis’, as ‘the work that bends the curve stretching from the taedium vitae of the Romans to the “modern style”’, or again as ‘the transfiguration of absolute commodification’.21 His contradictions and divergences, which for so long were criticized, are precisely what brings him so close to us, contributing to establish that ‘sudden coincidence’ in which nineteenth-century Paris focuses on itself and gathers itself up before erupting anew. In the allegories that Baudelaire reprises, radically transforming their character with the help of the same ‘cruel demon’ that he saw at work in the etchings of Meryon, he combines and goes beyond the visions of the big city that Nerval, Balzac or Poe had, and on 19 February 1859 he could with all justice write to Poulet-Malassis: ‘FinishedNouvelles Fleurs. It will break everything, like a gas explosion in a glazier’s.’
‘It always seems to me that I should feel well in the place where I am not, and this question of removal is one which I discuss incessantly with my soul.’22 Rue de l’Estrapade, Quai de Béthune, Rue Vaneau, Hôtel Pimodan on the Quai d’Anjou, Hôtel Corneille on Rue Corneille, Hôtel de Dunkerque et Folkestone on Rue Lafitte, Rue de Provence, Rue Coquenard (now Lamartine), Rue de Tournon, Rue de Babylone, Rue Pigalle, Rue des Marais-du-Temple (now Yves-Toudic), Boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle, Hôtel d’York (now Hôtel Baudelaire) on Rue Saint-Anne, Hôtel du Maroc on Rue de Seine, Hôtel de Normandie on Rue des Bons-Enfants, Rue d’Angoulême (now Jean-Pierre-Timbaud), Hôtel Voltaire on Quai Voltaire, Rue Beautreillis, Hôtel de Dieppe on Rue d’Amsterdam, Hôtel du Chemin de Fer du Nord on the Place du Nord – from the Lycée Louis-le-Grand to Dr Duval’s hydrotherapy establishment on Rue du Dôme, Baudelaire’s last staging post before the Montparnasse cemetery, his Paris dwellings map an archipelago whose main two islands are the Latin Quarter and Nouveau Paris between the Boulevards and the northern barrières. Its geography would certainly not be very different it we actually knew all the places where Baudelaire slept. On 5 April 1855 he wrote to his mother: ‘In just ONE MONTH I have been forced to move SIX times, living in wet plaster, sleeping with fleas – my letters (the most important ones) returned, or forwarded from one hotel to the next; I took a big decision, lived and worked at the printer’s,23 as I could no longer work where I lived.’ In ‘My Heart Laid Bare’, he noted: ‘Study of the great Disease of horror of being Settled. Reasons for the Disease. Steady increase of the Disease.’
Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin wrote, ‘was forced to claim the dignity of a poet in a society that no longer had any kind of dignity to offer. Hence the buffoonery of his attitude.’24 Baudelaire belongs to that line of artists who, from Byron on, worked at their physical character to the point of making this an integral part of their work – a part that would later become preponderant, with Duchamp, Warhol, or Beuys. As so often, the ideal that he seeks to attain he describes in someone else: ‘His manners, a singular mixture of hauteur with an exquisite gentleness, were full of certainty. Physiognomy, approach, gestures, movements of the head, everything designated him as a chosen creature, above all on his good days.’25 Here it is Edgar Allan Poe, whom he made into a kind of complete double of himself. Undoubtedly too great an importance has been placed on Baudelaire’s judgements on photography, and not enough on the number and quality of the photographic portraits we have of him, so poignant that even the talent of Nadar or Carjat is not sufficient explanation. First of all, in very studied poses, we see a handsome young man with an insolent look – like Rembrandt in his first self-portraits. Twenty years later, the series ends with a photograph taken in Brussels and inscribed to Poulet-Malassis, ‘the only being whose laughter relieved my sadness in Belgium’, an image in which the long greying hair and tired eyes express ‘the mortal fatigue that precedes death’ which Proust speaks about, precisely apropos Baudelaire.26
At Levêque and Bailly’s pension on Rue de l’Estrapade, where Baudelaire was supposedly preparing for the École des Chartes, his friend Prarond describes him descending the stairs, ‘thin, his collar open, a very long waistcoat, full cuffs, a light gold cane in his hand, with a supple, slow and almost rhythmic step’.27 Later, Nadar tells of meeting him near the Hôtel Pimodan on the Île Saint-Louis: ‘Black trousers drawn well above his polished boots; a blue workman’s blouse, stiff in its new folds; his black hair, naturally curly, worn long his only coiffure; bright linen, strictly without starch . . . rose-coloured gloves, quite new . . . Baudelaire walked about his quartier of the city at an uneven pace, both nervous and languid, like a cat, choosing each stone of the pavement as if he had to avoid crushing an egg.’28 Baudelaire entering the editorial office of Le Corsaire-Satan: ‘You then saw his fantastic black suit appear on the boulevard, the cut that he had imposed on the tailor insolently going against the prevailing fashion – long and buttoned, opening at the top like a horn and ending in two narrow pointed lapels, like a whistle, as Petrus Borel supposedly said.’29In 1848, ‘you would see him . . . on the outer boulevards, dressed either in a loose jacket or a blouse; but as irreproachable, as correct in this democratic outfit as in the black suit of more prosperous times’.30 Two months after the trial over Les Fleurs du mal, in October 1857, the Goncourts, never short on low comments, were dining at the Café Riché on Rue Le Peletier: ‘Baudelaire was having his supper alongside us, tieless, bare neck, shaved head, as if dressed for the guillotine. Just one refinement: little washed hands, cleaned and manicured. The head of a madman, a voice sharp as a blade. A pedantic manner of speech: the look of Saint-Just or a practical joker. He defends himself, quite stubbornly and with a certain rough passion, against the charge that his verses caused outrage to good manners.’
Baudelaire described himself on several occasions as a ‘dandy’ or ‘flâneur’, and these terms have since been constantly applied to him. This is clearly not without good reason, and yet they should be used only with a double filter, as it were, made necessary both by Baudelaire’s own taste for mystification, and by the shift in the meaning of these words in the century and a half that divides us from Les Fleurs du mal. Baudelaire certainly was a Parisian dandy in the sense of refinement of dress, cool insolence, the affectation of impassibility. In My Heart Laid Bare, provocations proliferate: ‘Woman is “natural” – that is to say, abominable. Moreover, she is always vulgar – that is to say, the opposite of the dandy.’ Or again: ‘The dandy should aspire to be sublime, continually. He should live and sleep in front of a mirror.’ Or more ambiguously: ‘The eternal superiority of the dandy. What is a dandy?’ Finally, almost revealing himself: ‘A dandy does nothing. Can you imagine a dandy speaking to the people, unless to scoff at them?’31
And yet to grasp the root of his thinking, there is in his portrait of Monsieur G., ‘The Painter of Modern Life’, this passage in which it is impossible that Baudelaire did not have himself in mind:
I might perhaps call him a dandy, and I should have several good reasons for that; for the word ‘dandy’ implies a quintessence of character and a subtle understanding of the entire moral mechanism of this world; with another part of his nature, however, the dandy aspires to insensitivity, and it is in this that Monsieur G., dominated as he is by an insatiable passion – for seeing and feeling – parts company decisively with dandyism . . . The dandy is blasé, or pretends to be so, for reasons of policy and caste. Monsieur G. has a horror of blasé people.32
And when Baudelaire wrote to his mother: ‘How often I’ve told myself, “Despite my nerves, despite my terrors, despite the creditors, despite the horrors of solitude, I must pull myself together . . .!”’ (1 January 1865), or again: ‘I’m attacked by a frightful illness, which has never played such havoc with me as in this year – I mean my reveries, my depression, my discouragement, my indecision’ (31 December 1863). This was far indeed from the elegant display on the steps of Tortoni’s.
The term ‘flâneur’ today is inseparable from the notion of idleness; flânerie is perceived as an unproductive way of spending time. But what Baudelaire feared more than anything was precisely his tendency to idleness. On 4 December 1847 he wrote to his mother: ‘The absolute idleness of my apparent life, in contrast with the perpetual activity of my ideas, throws me into unheard-of fits of rage.’ When he let himself go, this was not in the street but at home when there was nothing to be done: ‘On occasion I’ve had to spend up to three days in bed, sometimes because I had no clean linen, sometimes because there was no wood . . . To be honest, laudanum and wine are of little help against sorrow. They make the time pass but they don’t change one’s life.’33 For Baudelaire, therefore, there was nothing passive about flânerie. He reflects on its function in poetic work in relation to a major figure of his day, and even if his feelings towards the man are ambivalent, to say the least, this is still impressive:
For many years now Victor Hugo has no longer been in our midst. I remember the time when his figure was one of those most frequently encountered among the crowds, and many times I wondered, seeing him appear so often amid holiday excitement or in the silence of some lonely spot, how he could reconcile the needs of his incessant work with the sublime but dangerous taste for strolling and for reverie. This apparent contradiction is evidently the result of a well-ordered life and of a strong spiritual constitution which permits him to work while walking, or rather to be able to walk while he is working.34
And in ‘The Painter of Modern Life’, Baudelaire focuses and develops his theory of flânerie:
For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to choose to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of world, and yet to remain hidden from the world – such are a few of the slightest pleasures of those independent, passionate, impartial natures . . . the lover of universal life enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy. Or we might liken him to a mirror as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.35
It was not just reasons of a poetic order that drove Baudelaire into the streets of Paris. His removals were conducted in a handcart, and he never had with him what he needed for his work. ‘At the Hôtel Pimodan,’ Banville recalls, ‘when I went there for the first time, there were no dictionaries, no desk, no table with what he needed for writing, let alone cupboards and dining room, nor anything that recalled the compartmentalized arrangement of a bourgeois apartment.’36 It was worse when he lived with Jeanne, who made life quite impossible. On 27 March 1852, at two in the afternoon, he wrote to his mother: ‘I am writing this in a café opposite the long-distance post office, in the midst of noise, card games and billiards, so as to be calmer and be able to think more clearly . . . Sometimes I escape from my rooms in order to write and I go to the library or to a lending library, or a wine shop or a café, as I’m doing today. The result of all this is that I live in a state of constant rage.’37
The Paris street, for Baudelaire, had two distinct functions. The first of these was something like a search. It was not a question of accumulating documentary material, like Zola later on walking through the Goutte d’Or or along the Rue de Seine with notebook and pencil: Baudelaire was never short of sarcasm towards ‘a certain literary procedure known as “realism” – a disgusting insult thrown in the face of all analysts, a vague and elastic word that for the vulgar means not a new method of creation but a meticulous description of accessories’. Nor does he set great store by what he calls ‘observation’. When he evokes ‘Honoré de Balzac, that prodigious meteor who would cover our country with a cloud of glory’, he is amazed ‘that his great glory was to pass for an observer; it has always seemed to me that his chief merit was to be a visionary, and a passionate one at that’.38 What Baudelaire sought in the crowds was the shock of encounter, the sudden vision that kindled his imagination, creating the ‘mysterious and complex enchantment’ that was the essence of poetry.
There are certain texts in which he reveals his manner of keeping abreast of ‘this marvellous world that envelops and drenches us like the atmosphere’:
One day on a pavement I saw a large gathering; I managed to lift my eyes above the shoulders of the gawpers, and this is what I saw: a man lying on his back on the ground, his eyes open and fixed on the sky, another man standing in front of him and speaking only in gestures, the man on the ground responding only with his eyes, both with the animated air of remarkable goodwill. The gestures of the standing man said to the understanding of the man lying down: ‘Come on then, happiness is just two steps away, on the corner of the street. We have not completely lost sight of the shore of dejection, we have not yet reached the high sea of dreams; so courage, my friend, tell your legs to satisfy your thought.’
The other, who clearly had already ‘reached the high sea’, did not want to listen, and his friend,
still full of indulgence went off to the tavern by himself, then returned with a rope in his hand. He certainly could not suffer the idea of sailing and running after happiness alone; and so he came to collect his friend in a carriage. The carriage was this rope, and he passed the carriage around his friend’s waist. The friend, still lying down, smiled; he certainly understood this motherly thought. The other made a knot; then he started walking, like a gentle and well-behaved horse, and pulled his friend to the rendezvous of happiness.39
The other reason why Baudelaire was to be found more often outdoors than at home is that the slow elaboration of his poems was made while walking. ‘For my part, I saw him composing verses on the hoof while he was out in the streets; I never saw him seated before a ream of paper’, wrote Prarond. And for Asselineau: ‘Baudelaire worked slowly and unevenly, going twenty times over the same passage, spending hours in conflict with himself over a word, and stopping in the middle of a page to go and “cook” his thought in the oven of flânerie and conversation . . . In sum, flânerie (slowness, unevenness) was for him a condition of perfection and a necessity of his nature.’40 The first verse of ‘The Sun’ is reminiscent in this respect of Descartes’ preface to The Discourse of Method:
When the cruel sun strikes with increased blows
The city, the country, the roofs, and the wheat fields,
I go alone to try my fanciful fencing,
Scenting in every corner the chance of a rhyme,
Stumbling over words as over paving stones,
Colliding at times with lines dreamed of long ago.
One may well ask whether Proust – who knew Les Fleurs du mal by heart41 – was not remembering these paving-stone words over which Baudelaire stumbles when, at the end of Time Regained, the narrator stumbles over a cobble in the courtyard of the Hôtel de Guermantes, and collides, not with ‘lines dreamed of long ago’, but rather with something that is not so distant, a ‘dazzling and indistinct vision’ of Venice, that ‘a chance happening had caused . . . to emerge, in the series of forgotten days’.42 And a few seconds before finding himself plunged into the final party, it is again Baudelaire who comes to the Narrator’s mind:
Above all in Baudelaire, where they are more numerous still, reminiscences of this kind are clearly less fortuitous [than in Nerval] and therefore, to my mind, unmistakable in their significance. Here the poet himself, with something of a slow and indolent choice, deliberately seeks, in the perfume of a woman, for instance, of her hair and her breast, the analogies which will inspire him and evoke for him ‘l’azur du ciel immense et rond’ and ‘un port rempli de flammes et de mâts’. I was about to search in my memory for the passages of Baudelaire at the heart of which one may find this kind of transposed sensation, in order once and for all to establish my place in so noble a line of descent and thus to give myself the assurance that the work which I no longer had any hesitation in undertaking was worthy of the pains which I should have to bestow upon it.43
These simple words, ‘something of a slow and indolent choice’, could serve as an epigraph for any reflection on Baudelairean flânerie.
Apart from the Louvre and the Carrousel in ‘The Swan’, Baudelaire does not name or describe any place, but this does not prevent each one of his Paris poems, in verse or in prose, from being very precisely located. He either moves in the elegant quarters where women have the lightness of the women of Constantin Guys, or else, in the bustle of the Boulevards, he meets the ‘Passerby’, the ‘Mendicant Redhead’, and also – ‘in the explosion of the New Year: chaos of mud and snow, crossed by a thousand carriages’ – the ‘Pleasant’, that idiot ‘who seemed to me to concentrate the entire spirit of France’. (Baudelaire speaks of France as Nietzsche would do of Germany, which is not their only point in common.)
But often – and this is the Paris of his ‘fanciful fencing’, of his favourite walk along the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin – he spent hours in the faubourgs. The word often recurs in Les Fleurs du mal and Paris Spleen, sometimes in its strict sense (‘Along the old street [faubourg] on whose cottages are hung/The slatted shutters which hide secret lecheries’), where ‘along’ conjures up a street like Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple, which Baudelaire certainly strolled when he lived on Rue des Marais-du-Temple and Rue d’Angoulême), and sometimes in its more general sense of the urban periphery: ‘January, irritated with the whole city,/Pours from his urn great waves of gloomy cold/On the pale occupants of the nearby grave-yard/And death upon the foggy slums [faubourgs]’). In ‘The Rag-Pickers’ Wine’ (‘In the heart of some old suburb [faubourg], muddy labyrinth,/Where humanity crawls in a seething ferment’), in ‘The Seven Old Men’ (‘I was following, steeling my nerves like a hero,/Arid arguing with my already weary soul/A squalid street [faubourg] shaken by the heavy dumpcarts’), in the strange ‘Miss Bistouri’ (‘As I came to the end of the suburb [faubourg] under the gaslight I felt an arm slipped gently under mine’), or in the marvellous projected epilogue to the 1861 edition: (‘Your bombs, your daggers, your victories, your feasts,/Your melancholy faubourgs/Your boarding-houses’), the Paris faubourgs are always for Baudelaire a place of misery and death. The colours here no longer have anything of the reds and greens that he admired in Delacroix, or of what enchanted Proust there – the wide doorways, marine suns, gold and shimmering antique cities, ‘and the scarlet colour that they bring here and there into his work’, as he writes in the letter to Rivière. Baudelaire’s faubourgs, for their part, are unrelieved grey. They are rainy as they should be in autumn, and, despite the enormous body of images accumulated since Hesiod on this season of the year, Baudelaire’s verses on ‘the ends of seasons charged with enervating splendours’ read as if no one had spoken of them before him. The first lines of ‘Mists and Rains’: ‘O ends of autumn, winters, springtimes drenched with mud,/Seasons that lull to sleep . . .’; or of ‘Autumn Song’: ‘Soon we shall plunge into the cold darkness;/Farewell vivid brightness of our short-lived summers!/Already I hear the dismal sound of firewood/Falling with a clatter on the courtyard pavements’; or the opening of ‘The Confiteor of the Artist’: ‘How penetrating is the end of an autumn day! Ah, yes, penetrating enough to be painful even; for there are certain delicious sensations whose vagueness does not prevent them from being intense; and none more keen than the perception of the Infinite.’
This ‘melancholy faubourg’ is the Paris of the poor. This is where you meet ‘The Good Dogs’ (‘the filthy dog, the poor dog, the dog without a home, the loafing dog, the mountebank dog’), and their masters, the ‘Rag-Pickers’: ‘Yes, these people harassed by domestic worries,/Ground down by their work, distorted by age,/Worn-out, and bending beneath a load of debris,/The commingled vomit of enormous Paris’. The two ‘crepuscule’ poems are populated by the poor: ‘Twilight’ (‘It is now that the pains of the sick grow sharper!/Sombre Night grabs them by the throat; they reach the end/Of their destinies and go to the common pit’); and ‘Dawn’ (‘It was the hour when amid poverty and cold/The pains of women in labour grow more cruel;/The cock’s crow in the distance tore the foggy air/Like a sob stifled by a bloody froth’). Towards the sick, the lame and the dying who people Les Fleurs du mal and Paris Spleen, towards the beggars, old men in rags, wrinkled old women, ragpickers, prostitutes wandering ‘past the lights shaken in the wind’, the frightful blind, ‘the poor women, dragging their thin cold breasts’, Baudelaire never shows pity, nor – still worse – charitable tenderness, sentiments so widespread at the time, and that drive him into a rage (from ‘The Devil and George Sand’: ‘If I met her, I would be unable to refrain from throwing a stoup of holy-water at her head.’)44 He is saved from this by his Satano-dandyism, but above all, what he experiences towards these down-and-outs is fraternity. When all is said and done, he feels himself one of them. At the end of ‘Little Old Women’, after ‘My anxious eyes are fixed on your uncertain steps,/As if I were your own father; how wonderful!’, he utters this amazing cry: ‘Ruins! My family! O kindred minds!’45 On another day, in the midst of a travelling fair, he sees
a pitiful acrobat, stooped, obsolete, decrepit, a human ruin, backed against one of the posts of his shack . . . He was not laughing, the wretched man! He was not crying, he was not dancing, he was not gesturing, he was not shouting; he was singing no song, neither jolly nor woeful, he was not beseeching. He was mute and motionless. He had given up, he had abdicated. His destiny was done . . . And, turning around, obsessed by that vision, I tried to analyse my sudden sorrow, and I told myself: I have just seen the image of the old writer who has survived the generation whose brilliant entertainer he was; of the old poet without friends, without family, without children, debased by his wretchedness and the public’s ingratitude, and whose booth the forgetful world no longer wants to enter!46
It is this identification with the oppressed that defined Baudelaire’s political position throughout his life, and not his provocative and contradictory declarations, on which subject we should never forget what he wrote of his ideal model: ‘Poe was always great, not only in his noble conceptions, but even as a jester.’47 Those who have spread the legend of a Baudelaire who retracted his revolutionary errors of February and June 1848, the good Catholic seriously won over to the doctrines of Joseph de Maistre, are the heirs of those who despised and persecuted him all his life. It was a mask he put on when he wrote in My Heart Laid Bare: ‘I have no convictions, as such things are understood by my contemporaries, because I have no ambition.’48 A few lines further on, this mask is raised a little. Walter Benjamin, in the parallel that we have seen him make between Baudelaire and Blanqui, shows the extent to which the former’s position after June 1848 was one of camouflage:
Behind the masks which he used up, the poet in Baudelaire preserved his incognito. He was as circumspect in his work as he was capable of seeming provocative in his personal associations . . . His prosody is comparable to the map of a big city in which it is possible to move around inconspicuously, shielded by blocks of houses, gateways, courtyards. On this map the places for the words are clearly indicated, as the places are indicated for conspirators before the outbreak of a revolt . . . His images are original by virtue of the inferiority of the objects of comparison . . . Les Fleurs du mal is the first book that used in poetry not only words of ordinary provenance but words of urban origin as well. . . He uses quinquet, wagon or omnibus, and does not shrink from bilan,réverbère, or voirie. This is the nature of the lyric vocabulary in which an allegory appears suddenly and without prior preparation. . . Where la Mort or le Souvenir, le Repentir or le Mal appear, centres of poetic strategy are indicated. The flash-light appearance of these figures, recognizable by their majuscule, in a text which does not disdain the most banal word betrays Baudelaire’s hand. His technique is the technique of the putsch.49
1 Of Walter Benjamin’s two exposés of his project, that of 1935 was titled ‘Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century’, and that of 1939, written in French, ‘Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century’.
2 In La Vérité sur le cas Champfleury (Paris, 1857). Cited by Walter Benjamin in ‘Charles Baudelaire, a Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism’, The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2006).
3 I use ‘modernity’ here in Baudelaire’s sense: ‘Modernity is the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent – half of art, the other half being the eternal and unchanging’ (The Painter of Modern Life, ‘Modernity’). For an analysis of present-day fluctuations in the use of the word, see Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics (London: Continuum, 2004). An editorial in the 18 May 2000 issue ofLibération began with the words: ‘The first alarm aroused by mobile phones was almost contemporary with the appearance of this symbolic object of modernity.’
4 Arlette Farge, Le Cours ordinaire des choses dans la cité du XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Le Seuil, 1994).
5 The parallel between Rousseau and Restif (also known as Rétif de la Bretonne) was taken up by Maurice Blanchot: ‘To write without care, without awkwardness or effort, is not so easy, as Rousseau shows by his own example. It could only be expected that, by the law of historical duplication, the tragic Jean-Jacques would be followed by a comic one, for lack of care or awkwardness, as well as chatting, finally took its place in literature with Restif, and the result was not very convincing’ (Le Livre à venir [Paris: Gallimard, 1959]).
6 Gérard de Nerval, ‘Les Confidences de Nicolas’, first published in La Revue des Deux Mondes (15 August, 1 and 15 September 1850), and later included in Les Illuminés. Restif’s typographic eccentricities would have enchanted Perec: ‘Sometimes he liked to try a new system of spelling; he suddenly warned the reader by a parenthesis, then continued his chapter, either suppressing some of the vowels in the Arab style, or throwing the consonants into disorder by replacing “c” by “l”, “l” by “t”, “t” by “ç”, etc. – always following rules that he explained at length in notes’ (ibid).
7 For the Haute-Borne, see above, p. 213; an échaudé was a triangular cake (p. 100).
8 G. de Nerval, Les Confidences de Nicolas.
9 ‘Alongside him [de Sade], and yet offering a higher literary interest, it is correct to rank Restif de la Bretonne, whose books Le Paysan et la Paysanne pervertis and Monsieur Nicolas appear today as more important works than Rousseau’s Confessions, already in your library catalogue’ (‘Projet pour la bibliothèque de Jacques Doucet’, inOeuvres complètes, vol. 1 [Paris: Gallimard]). And on Nerval, ‘we could no doubt have seized on the word SUPERNATURALISM, which Gérard de Nerval used in the dedication to Les Filles du Feu. It seems in fact that Nerval possessed to a remarkable degree the spirit that we ourselves claim . . .’ This term, used by Nerval in the dedication of his work to Alexandre Dumas (‘this state of super-naturalist reverie, as the Germans call it’), is a reference to his friend Heine, who on many occasions defined himself as a ‘super-naturalist’ – for example in ‘Le Salon de 1831’.
10 H. de Balzac, ‘Histoire et physiologie des boulevards de Paris’.
11 Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 83.
12 Chevalier, Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses.
13 Théophile Gautier, Honoré de Balzac (Paris: Poulet-Malassis, 1859).
14 Léon Gozlan, Balzac en pantoufles (Paris: Michel Lévy, 1862).
15 No major character in La Comédie humaine lives in the east of Paris. If the Faubourg Saint-Antoine is often mentioned, this is only in a metaphorical sense (as when Madame Madou ‘bore down like an insurrectionary wave from the Faubourg Saint-Antoine’). The Faubourg du Temple only makes an appearance because Birroteau ‘hired some sheds, with the ground about them, in the Faubourg du Temple, and painted upon them in big letters, “Manufactory of César Birotteau”’.
16 Honoré de Balzac, At the Sign of the Cat and Racket.
17 Balzac, Beatrix.
18 Balzac, The Unconsicous Comedians.
19 Balzac, Beatrix.
20 Honoré de Balzac, A Daughter of Eve.
21 Stéphane Mallarmé, Le Tombeau de Charles Baudelaire; Benjamin, The Arcades Project; Giorgio Agamben, Stanze (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1981).
22 Baudelaire, ‘Anywhere Out of the World’, Paris Spleen.
23 He was working on his translation of Edgar Allan Poe.
24 Benjamin, ‘Charles Baudelaire, a Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism’.
25 Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Poe, His Life and Works. In 1864, in a letter to Thoré who had accused Manet of imitating Spanish painting, Baudelaire wrote: ‘Well, I myself am accused of imitating Edgar Poe! Do you know why I’ve translated Poe so patiently? Because he was like me. The first time I opened one of his books, I saw, with horror and delight, not only topics I’d dreamed of, butsentences I’d thought of, and that he had written twenty years before’ (Selected Letters, p. 204).
26 This photograph, taken by Charles Neyt, is reproduced in the catalogue Baudelaire Paris, with a preface by Yves Bonnefoy and texts by Claude Pichois and Jean-Paul Avice (Paris: Paris-Musées, 1993). The Proust quotation is from ‘À propos de Baudelaire’, Nouvelle Revue française, 1 June 1921: ‘Perhaps it is necessary to have experienced the mortal fatigue that precedes death, in order to be able to write about it the enchanting line that Victor Hugo would never have found: “And who makes the bed of the poor and the naked”.’ Proust died on 18 November 1922, and had already long been familiar with this ‘mortal fatigue’.
27 Cited in François Porché, Baudelaire, histoire d’une âme (Paris: Flammarion, 1944).
28 Firmin Maillard, La Cité des intellectuels (Paris: 1905), cited in Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 230.
29 Charles Asselineau, Charles Baudelaire (Paris: Lemerre, 1869; republished Paris: Cognac, 1990).
31 Charles Baudelaire, My Heart Laid Bare and Other Prose Writings (London: Soho Book Company, 1986), pp. 176–80 (translation modified).
32 Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays (London: Phaidon Press, 1964).
33 Selected Letters of Charles Baudelaire, p. 31.
34 ‘Reflections on Some of My Contemporaries’, in Baudelaire as a Literary Critic (Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1964), p. 235.
35 Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life, pp. 9–10.
36 Théodore de Banville, Mes souvenirs (1882).
37 Selected Letters of Charles Baudelaire, pp. 47–8.
38 Charles Baudelaire, ‘Madame Bovary par Gustave Flaubert’, published in L’Artiste, 18 October 1857.
39 Charles Baudelaire, ‘Le Vin’, in Du vin et du haschisch.
40 Alphonse Séché, La Vie des Fleurs du mal (Amines, 1928), cited by Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 231; Asselineau, Charles Baudelaire.
41 In ‘À propos de Baudelaire’, where he cites several verses, Proust inserts a note: ‘When I wrote this letter to Jacques Rivière, I did not have a single book beside my sick-bed. You will therefore excuse the possible inexactness, which is easy to correct.’
42 Proust, Time Regained, Remembrance of Things Past, vol. 3, pp. 899–900.
43 Ibid., p. 959.
44 Baudelaire, My Heart Laid Bare, p. 185.
45 In ‘Against Saint-Beuve’, Proust, addressing his mother who did not like Baudelaire, wrote: ‘Certainly, in a sublime poem like “Les Petites vieilles” not one of their sufferings eludes him. It is not only their immense sorrows: he is inside their bodies, he shudders with their nerves, shivers with their debilities’ (Marcel Proust, Against Saint-Beuve [Harmondsworth: Penguin 1988], pp. 40–1).
46 ‘The Old Acrobat’, Paris Spleen (University of Georgia Press, 1997), p. 29, trans. Kaplan.
47 Charles Baudelaire, Notes nouvelles sur Edgar Poe.
48 Baudelaire, My Heart Laid Bare, p. 178.
49 Benjamin, ‘Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism’, pp. 98–100.