Renowned for his exotic fiction, Théophile Gautier himself declared his hatred of travel. When he did catch the bug it was, characteristically, from a painting of Cairo by Prosper Marilhat, and took the form of Romantic nostalgia for an Orient not yet visited but already familiar to the inner self. Inner voyages are not, however, the most striking feature of the pieces brought together here. Already famous for his voyages to Spain and Italy, Gautier had semi-official status for each of the three journeys recounted. He was in Algeria during the most intense phase of the conquest, accompanying the governor-general, Thomas Robert Bugeaud, on a punitive expedition to put down a Kabyle uprising in 1845. Invited for the inauguration of the train line from Algiers to Blida in 1862, Gautier published a short account that respectfully incorporates Second Empire propaganda; and he was again an important official guest in Egypt for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. While the editors provide useful historical background, neither they nor Gautier comment directly on the background of colonial violence, although Sarga Moussa does discuss Gautier’s omissions and lack of interest in politics in his Introduction to the Voyage en Égypte. Gautier saw himself as an ‘homme qui n’a aucune idée préconçue de conquête ou de civilisation’ (p. 55). The absence of political discussion by Véronique Magri-Mourgues is more surprising, but she does provide a helpful overview of nineteenth-century French writing on Algeria. Gautier’s travel writing at its best in fact takes a determinedly painterly approach: this is a man who aspires to be simply an eye. Indeed, his Algerian narrative was originally to include woodcuts by Adrien Dauzats from Gautier’s own sketches, although we are (frustratingly) told that these have never been published. His verbal tableaux explicitly situate familiar orientalist topoi within the traditions of European painting: a ‘Belle Juive’ is related to Madonnas by Raphael and odalisques by Ingres; nocturnal scenes of narrow, labyrinthine streets, asymmetric architecture, and glimpses of a poor interior are seen as engravings by Rembrandt; women in a courtyard are compared to Delacroix’s Femmes d’Alger; in Egypt we encounter a living ‘Fuite en Égypte’ (p. 178); and sites seem deliberately arranged for the gaze of the orientalist painters Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps or Marilhat (pp. 79, 176). Gautier was particularly marked by seeing the violent trances of the Aïssaoua; this, and other nocturnal excursions, evoke the terrors and pleasures of fantastic literature. Much more tame, perhaps because he had dislocated his shoulder on the ship, Gautier’s account of his Egyptian voyage is often humorous, with gentle satire at the expense of other European travellers. Whereas the 1989 and 1991 ‘Boîte à Documents’ edition, in two separate volumes, incorporated other related texts, it was relatively light on critical apparatus. The present volume somewhat confusingly offers two separate indices and no fewer than three separate contents pages; but on the whole it is a useful and accessible edition, with generous footnotes offering both background information and analysis. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2019
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