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LITERATURE AND MATERIAL CULTURE
FROM BALZAC TO PROUST

The Collection and Consumption of Curiosities

This book addresses the issues of collecting, consuming, classify-


ing, and describing the curiosities, antiques, and objets d’art that
proliferated in French literary texts during the last decades of
the nineteenth century. After Balzac made such issues significant
in canonical literature, the Goncourt brothers, Huysmans,
Mallarmé and Maupassant celebrated their golden age. Flaubert
and Zola scorned them. Rachilde and Lorrain perverted them.
Proust commemorated their last moments of glory. Focusing on
the bibelot (the modern French term for knick-knack, curiosity, or
other collectible), Janell Watson shows how the sudden promi-
nence given to curiosities and collecting in nineteenth-century lit-
erature signals a massive change in attitudes to the world of
goods, which in turn restructured the literary text according to
the practical logic of daily life, calling into question established
scholarly notions of order. Her study makes a new and important
contribution to the literary history of material culture.

Janell Watson is visiting Assistant Professor at Virginia Polytech-


nic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). She has pub-
lished articles on nineteenth-century French literature and cul-
ture, and this is her first full-length book.
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                        

LITERATURE AND MATERIAL CULTURE


FROM BALZAC TO PROUST
                      
GENERAL EDITOR: Michael Sheringham (Royal Holloway, London)
EDITORIAL BOARD: R. Howard Bloch (Columbia University),
Malcolm Bowie (All Souls College, Oxford), Terence Cave (St John’s College,
Oxford), Ross Chambers (University of Michigan), Antoine Compagnon
(Columbia University), Peter France (University of Edinburgh),
Christie McDonald (Harvard University), Toril Moi (Duke University),
Naomi Schor (Harvard University)

Recent titles in the series include

           
Surrealist Collage in Text and Image: Dissecting the Exquisite Corpse
       
The Family in Crisis in Late Nineteenth-Century French Fiction
                         (eds.)
Reading Paul Valéry: Universe in Mind
      
Proust, the Body and Literary Form
              
Reading the French Enlightenment: System and Subversion
 
Simone de Beauvoir, Gender and Testimony

A complete list of books in the series is given at the end of the volume.
LITERATURE AND
MATERIAL CULTURE
FROM BALZAC TO PROUST
The Collection and Consumption of Curiosities

JA NEL L WA TS ON
         
The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, United Kingdom

  


The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK
40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011-4211, USA
477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia
Ruiz de Alarcón 13, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Dock House, The Waterfront, Cape Town 8001, South Africa

http://www.cambridge.org

© Janell Watson 2004

First published in printed format 2000

ISBN 0-511-03351-6 eBook (Adobe Reader)


ISBN 0-521-66156-0 hardback
To C.A.S.O.R.
Contents

Acknowledgments x

Introduction 

 The bibelot
A nineteenth-century object 
 The logic(s) of material culture
Imitation, accumulation, and mobility 
 The fashionable artistic interior
Social (re)encoding in the domestic sphere 
 Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’
Bouvard and Pécuchet’s consumerist epistemology 
 Narrate, describe, or catalogue?
The novel and the inventory form in Balzac, the Goncourts,
and Huysmans 
 The parlour of critical theory
Reading dwelling space across disciplines 
 Rearranging the Oedipus
Fantastic and decadent floor-plans in Gautier, Maupassant,
Lorrain, and Rachilde 

Notes 
Bibliography 
Index 

ix
Acknowledgments

Three scholars with whom I have had the pleasure and privilege of
working personally have deeply influenced my thinking; these are
Naomi Schor (director of the dissertation version of this project), Fredric
Jameson, and Kenneth Surin. For first encouraging me to pursue the
topic of the bibelot I thank Alain Buisine. Others who have read part or
all of the manuscript in its various manifestations, offering valuable
comments, include David Bell, Jean-Jacques Thomas, Alice Kaplan,
William Reddy, Gérard Gengembre, Philippe Hamon, Julia Hell,
V.Y. Mudimbe, and James F. Hamilton. Articles derived from parts of
chapters two and three have been published in Mosaic and in French
Cultural Studies. Financial support at various stages was provided by the
Duke University Department of Romance Studies, the Ecole Normale
Supérieure Fontenay – Saint-Cloud, the Andrew W. Mellon
Foundation, and the Charles Phelps Taft Memorial Fund.

x
Introduction

This book began as a study of the bibelot, the modern French term for
knick-knack or curiosity, but quickly grew to encompass the larger
questions of collecting, consuming, classifying, and describing. For the
sake of working within a coherent historical context, the primary locus
of the book remains nineteenth-century France, though analogous
cultural phenomena can be found throughout Europe, North America,
and many former European colonies. Because the topic does transcend
national borders, I do include several critical texts from outside France.
Bibelots – knick-knacks, curiosities, collectibles, antiques, objets d’art –
proliferate in French literary texts during the last decades of the nine-
teenth century. The bibelot makes its first major canonical appearance
in Balzac’s Le Cousin Pons (). Its golden age is marked by Huysmans’s
A rebours, Edmond de Goncourt’s La Maison d’un artiste, and Mallarmé’s
famous line ‘‘Aboli bibelot d’inanité sonore’’ (, , and 
respectively). By this point in literary prose, one more intellectual than
chronological, material objects have ceased to function as mere vehicles
of information about their user and the world of people, as authors
begin to provide more and more information about objects themselves,
and the world of objects to which these belong. Plot begins to deterio-
rate, overrun by description. Signifiers multiply then begin to float free.
By the end of the century, the presence of objects in texts no longer
needs to be justified by their connections either to people or to the
‘‘real.’’ The literary object becomes gratuitous, yet authors continue to
be drawn toward it. It multiplies and proliferates in the text, just as
objects without use-value – bibelots – multiply and proliferate in the
marketplace and in the nineteenth-century interior. We could call this
phenomenon the bibelot-effect, the sudden invasion of culture by gratu-
itousness, which amounts to a way of describing modernization and
decadence in terms of a literary history of material culture. The late


 Introduction
nineteenth-century writer and critic Paul Bourget declares an under-
standing of the bibelot indispensable to the literary and cultural analysis
of his time. Several decades later, however, Proust celebrates the bi-
belot’s last moments of glory in A la recherche du temps perdu (–). Why
does the bibelot flourish in and then fade from French literature at this
particular time and place?
The literary history of the bibelot coincides with the history of
European material culture. As detailed in chapter one, by the s a
new category of objects has come into being, the category designated by
the word ‘‘bibelot,’’ whose meaning has evolved to encompass a dispa-
rate array of goods, ranging from mass-produced trinkets to priceless
collectors’ items. Examples include exquisite porcelain vases, finely
crafted snuff boxes, oriental figurines, master paintings, factory glass-
ware, and cheap souvenirs. Superfluousness, or the absence of use-
value, is the sole unifying criterion for the seemingly heterogenous list of
items belonging to this category. The confusing nature of the category
expresses the inadequacy of existing organizational frameworks for
dealing with the onslaught of material goods associated with industrial
production and mass consumption. The prominence of the term in
nineteenth-century French literature, in fiction as well as in criticism
and commentary, signals a massive semantic and spatial reorganization
of the world of goods.
Defined within the context of the consumer and industrial revo-
lutions, the bibelot can be seen as the quintessential object of modern
material culture. Its widespread presence signals that luxury goods have
become available, at least hypothetically, to the middle and even the
working classes. However, the emergence of this category of gratuitous
luxury goods cannot be explained solely by the economic history of
modern industrial production and mass consumption. The history of
older cultural practices such as collecting and interior decorating, as
well as non-monetary forms of exchange (barter, the gift, the recuper-
ation of debris, the archaeological dig), must also be taken into account.
Telling the story of the bibelot involves telling stories of collecting,
displaying, decorating, selling, shopping, classifying, and cataloguing.
That the bibelot becomes a literary object is a significant part of its
material history. Writing, in forms as diverse as novels, newspapers, and
interior decorating manuals, plays an integral part in the modernizing
reconfiguration of material culture which takes place throughout the
nineteenth century. Throughout this study, literary and para-literary
writing is juxtaposed against resolutely non-literary writing. Novels,
Introduction 
short stories, and lines of poetry are considered alongside journalism,
diaries by literary figures, literary criticism, art criticism, museum cata-
logues, how-to manuals on collecting and interior decorating, industry
reports by arts administrators and decorative arts professionals, social
commentary, and sociology. The purpose of including commercial and
social scientific writing is to broaden the discursive field, thus allowing
for a better understanding of the world of goods, which far exceeds the
bounds of the literary realm. The relationship between the bibelot and
this writing is more than a question of rhetorical style. The bibelot calls
forth a concrete practice of objects, a logic of material things, an
aesthetics, an epistemology. To be a bibeloteur, a collector of bibelots, is to
contemplate, comprehend, and organize objects in certain ways,
whether these be the objects in a living room or the objects in a novel.
The presence of the bibelot transforms literature and living rooms alike.
The bibelot-filled novel is not a ‘‘representation’’ of the bibelot-filled
living room, nor is the literary bibelot some sort of self-reflexive signifier
cut off from its material referent by means of the transcendental powers
sometimes imputed to language. Rather, the heavily descriptive novel is
as much a product of nineteenth-century material culture as is the
bourgeois living room.
The onslaught of material goods associated with industrialization and
consumer society poses several sorts of problems. First and foremost,
there is the matter of organization, classification, and order. From the
perspective of the bibelot, an object born of domestic daily life, existing
notions of order tend to be overly formalistic, based as they are on
analyses of taxonomy, collecting, and the museum. I have therefore
found it necessary to rethink the logic(s) of classification in terms of the
logic of daily life. Second, there arise issues of evaluation, of determining
the relative worth of things in terms of money, aesthetics, scholarly
interest, and/or prestige. Third, accumulations of goods present prob-
lems of representation, whether one’s purpose is accounting, inventory-
ing, or describing. Fourth, and this stems directly from the third prob-
lem, there arise issues of balance between persons and things, and
between narration and description. Classic poetics presumes that per-
sons and events should be privileged over things and descriptions,
whereas many fin-de-siècle texts challenge this formulation. Finally,
there is the matter of interpretation, of finding meaning in superfluous
material things, of reading things for information about people, or for
historical or anthropological knowledge.
These concerns continuously surface and resurface throughout the
 Introduction
chapters which follow, though each chapter brings one set of issues to
the forefront. Following the historical overview provided in the opening
chapter, chapter two makes use of Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of ‘‘practical
logic’’ to examine the less-than-coherent reasoning by which the objects
of material culture are classified, described, evaluated, and judged. In
chapter three, I move from organization to meaning, tracing a geneal-
ogy of the encoding of domestic furnishings with the vocabulary of art,
showing how distinctions of class and gender are mapped onto a
distinction between art and fashion. Chapter four shifts the focus from
meaning to knowledge, through a reading of the collecting episode in
Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet. Taking issue with previous criticism, I
argue that what seems to be an epistemology of the museum coincides
with and overlaps other epistemologies, those of domestic daily life, of
social class, and of consumption. Chapter five asks why modernist
literary critics have been harsh on inventory-like descriptions, while
poststructuralist and postmodern literary critics have embraced the
catalogue form. Chapter six examines descriptions of domestic interiors
by novelists, social commentators, and sociologists, all of whom use
similar strategies to elicit information from ordinary household objects,
in effect rendering the bibelot ‘‘readable.’’ Chapter seven charts a trend
that evolves in fantastic and decadent narrative: alterations in classic
plot structure correlate closely to alterations in traditional configur-
ations of household furnishings. Present in all chapters is the question of
order (and disorder), of the intertwined organizational logic(s) (and
illogic) of the material, the social, and the textual.
 

The bibelot
A nineteenth-century object

By the s, the medieval French word bibelot (knick-knack), which in


the fifteenth century designated miscellaneous household items of little
value, is revived by the most elite among Parisian collectors to designate
the objects most precious to them, even though the term is also used to
refer to the cheapest industrial kitsch. The term is not only revived and
reinvented during the nineteenth century, it is also associated with the
century. In Proust this association manifests itself as a break with the
twentieth century since, in implicit contrast to the narrator’s modernist
sensibility, it is only among those characters who reach adulthood
before the s that one finds bibeloteurs: Swann, Odette, Charlus, and
Madame Verdurin. The term’s uses, connotations, and associations, as
well as the goods that it designates, evolve along with ‘‘the nineteenth
century,’’ as conceptualized by those writers who speak in its name. If
this culture embraces the bibelot with enthusiasm, it is because it creates
the bibelot in its own image.
The objects designated by the term bibelot, along with the practices
designated by its variants, bibeloter [to collect], bibeloteur, and bibeloteuse
[masculine and feminine forms for both the noun ‘‘collector’’ and the
adjective ‘‘bibelot-like’’], are invested with a variety of often contradic-
tory significations – not only ‘‘meanings’’ but also ‘‘significance’’ in the
sense of perceived importance or value (aesthetic, monetary, sentimen-
tal, psychic, or other). Even though many are very consciously aware of
these significations, these are not assigned in a fully conscious way by
any individual or group, but rather evolve out of shared practices of
objects, practices which are historically and culturally specific. This
chapter provides a synchronic and diachronic overview of the uses,
connotations, and associations of the word bibelot in nineteenth-century
literary and extra-literary texts.
Synchronically, the bibelot must be understood as a category which
cuts across several domains of the world of goods: the household, the

 Literature and material culture
marketplace, the collection, and the museum. Each of these four cul-
tural spaces operates according to its own logic. Each is organized on
three levels: physical, economic, and cognitive. The cognitive level,
which includes meaning production, is inseparable from the other two
levels, the physical arrangement of goods in space and the economic
structures of exchange. Following the bibelot through these four spaces
(the household, the marketplace, the collection, and the museum), while
taking into account their individual logics and their shared multi-level
organizational structures (physical, economic, and cognitive), allows for
an examination of the configuration and reconfiguration of nineteenth-
century material culture. Diachronically, the evolution of the term’s use
must be recounted in terms of history, or better, histories, including
revolutionary history, intellectual history, and literary history.

                  
Why, at this particular time and place, nineteenth-century Paris, does it
become necessary to create a category of goods which unites valuable art
objects, industrial reproductions, and worthless junk, a group of disparate
items gathered together under the auspices of superfluousness, gratu-
itousness, heterogeneity, and accumulation? The industrial and con-
sumer revolutions provide the obvious context for this question. Rosalind
Williams describes the radical transformation of the world of goods, as
material things begin to multiply during the middle decades of the
century:
The quantity of goods available to most people had been drastically limited: a
few kitchen utensils . . . , several well-worn pieces of furniture . . . , bedding,
shoes or clogs, a shirt and trousers or a dress (and sometimes one outfit for
special occasions), some essential tools. That was all. . .
In the past century these ancient and universal patterns have been shattered
by the advent of mass consumption. . . The merchandise itself was by no means
available to all, but the vision of a seemingly unlimited profusion of commodities
is available, is, indeed, nearly unavoidable.
This multiplication of objects, their ‘‘seemingly unlimited profusion’’ at
once ‘‘real’’ and imagined, necessitates a radical reconfiguration of the
world of material things, a physical, economic, and cognitive reorganiz-
ation. However, the statement that ‘‘ancient and universal patterns’’ of
people’s relations to objects were ‘‘shattered’’ by this onslaught of goods
needs to be nuanced. It would be more accurate to say that these ancient
patterns, which are historical rather than universal, are not destroyed,
but rather modified, adapted, and supplemented in order to accommo-
The bibelot 
date new types of goods, and their (at least hypothetical) availability to
new groups of people. The reconfiguration of ancient patterns for
dealing with goods is of primary concern here.
The historically determined patterns by which people confront goods
can be thought of in terms of the constantly evolving social structure of
the world of objects. The very concept of ‘‘material culture’’ carries with
it the assumption that, like language, the world of goods is fundamental-
ly social in nature. Like words, things are created and given meaning
collectively (Saussure’s dimension of langue), though used individually
(the dimension of parole). Furthermore, as Marx insists in his theory of
the commodity, relationships among things are inseparable from rela-
tionships among people, implying that the world of things is a social
world, with a social structure which includes not only class relations and
social positioning (the stuff of ‘‘distinction’’), but also gender relations,
written and unwritten rules of exchange, usages of objects in daily life,
and the significance accorded to objects, implicitly or explicitly, con-
sciously or unconsciously.
The world of objects is directly structured by institutions and spheres
of practice which are formalized to varying degrees; for nineteenth-
century Paris these include the marketplace, the household economy,
collecting, and the museum. The nineteenth century witnesses the
expansion and further specialization of these institutions, especially with
the creation of the magasin de nouveautés [novelty shop], the grand magasin
[department store], and many new public museums. In the sphere of the
household economy, it is worth noting that the term décoration intérieure
appears in print for the first time in France in . Also significant are
the many new publications destined for female homemakers.
Though the marketplace, the household, collecting, and the museum
seem to be quite separate, governed by very different concerns and
objectives, their mutual involvement in the world of goods makes for
some striking similarities among them. One activity critical to all four
domains is the creation and maintenance of spaces in which goods are
accumulated, displayed, classified, and valorized. Practices of display
and valuation depend on acts of classification. The category bibelot
represents such a classification, one which is frequently used in the
marketplace, in the household, and in private collecting, but which is
not altogether unrelated to the public museum. The creation of the
category bibelot signals the interconnectedness of these four domains,
since it belongs to all of them but is contained by none of them,
juxtaposing the museum-worthy heirloom against the mass-produced
trinket.
 Literature and material culture

                            
The heterogeneity and disparity in value of the objects designated by the
term bibelot can be traced to the evolution of its usage, as given in Ernest
Bosc’s Dictionnaire de l’art, de la curiosité et du bibelot:
    . Ce terme, qui à son origine ne servait qu’à désigner des outils, des
ustensiles et des objets très divers et de peu de valeur, est aujourd’hui []
employé par les amateurs et les antiquaires pour désigner principalement des
objets d’art et de curiosité.
[  . – This term originally designated only tools, utensils and a wide
variety of objects of little value. Today +,, collectors and antiquarians use it
principally to designate objets d’art and curiosities.]
Bosc defines the category bibelot in terms of its changing relationship to
other categories of things: outils, ustensiles, objets très divers et de peu de valeur,
objets d’art, and objets de curiosité. He directly ties the contemporary usage
of the term to collecting by assigning it to the vocabulary of ‘‘les
amateurs et les antiquaires’’ [in this context, amateur, or enthusiast, is
synonymous with ‘‘collector,’’ with overtones of ‘‘connoisseur’’]. The
category bibelot thus shifts drastically in meaning between ‘‘son origine,’’
the Middle Ages, and Bosc’s ‘‘aujourd’hui,’’ the s, its designation
drifting from simple articles of daily domestic life to objets d’art and rare
collectors’ curiosities. The domains of collecting and of household goods
become even more entangled as more and more articles of daily life
become recognized as collectors’ objects, such as soup tureens of Sèvres
porcelain, shaving bowls of Rouen pottery, silver snuff boxes, or even
ornate antique bedwarmers, spittoons, and chamber pots.
While in  Bosc assigns the term bibelot to the vocabulary of
antique collecting, by the century’s end the term is more commonly
assigned to the vocabulary of home furnishings, as is evident in a 
treatise on interior decor co-authored by Edith Wharton:
It is perhaps not uninstructive to note that we have no English word to describe
the class of household ornaments which French speech has provided with at
least three designations, each indicating a delicate and almost imperceptible
gradation of quality. In place of bric-à-brac, bibelots, objets d’art, we have only
knick-knacks – defined by Stormonth as ‘‘articles of small value.’’
Like Bosc, Wharton too defines the bibelot in relation to other catego-
ries of things. Though French does have the advantage of numerous
terms, their meanings shift over the course of the nineteenth century,
making it difficult to discern the ‘‘delicate and almost imperceptible
The bibelot 
gradation of quality’’ which they supposedly designate. Whereas for
Wharton in  the term ‘‘bibelots’’ clearly belongs between ‘‘bric-à-
brac’’ and ‘‘objets d’art,’’ texts dating from the preceding century reveal
more ambiguity.
From roughly the s to , the ‘‘gradation in quality’’ represen-
ted by these terms was not only ‘‘almost imperceptible,’’ but also
ambiguous, particularly in the case of the central term, since a bibelot
was sometimes an objet d’art, sometimes merely bric-à-brac, while at
other times all three terms were used to describe the same object.
Furthermore, two key terms are missing from Wharton’s list: curiosité
and antiquité, which French shares with English. During the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, in France curiosité was the word commonly
used to designate collectors’ objects, while antiquité designated Greek
and Roman art and artifacts. Bric-à-brac refers to ‘‘objets très divers et de
peu de valeur’’ [‘‘a wide variety of objects of little value’’], to borrow
Bosc’s phrasing. A neighboring term, bimbelot, generally refers to toys,
but also to toiletry items and trinkets. When the word bibelot is revived
in the middle of the nineteenth century, it is used as a synonym of
curiosité, but still carries the connotation of its original meaning, ‘‘objets
très divers et de peu de valeur,’’ a pejorative overtone which the word
still carries. Antiquité came to include French and European collectibles
from the Gallic period, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, this entire lexical
chain is used more or less interchangeably to designate virtually the
same objects, though each term carries slightly different connotations.
These terms, as used during this period, can be arranged in a rough
order of least to most flattering: bric-à-brac, curiosité, antiquité, bibelot, objet
d’art. By this time the term bibelot refers strictly to decorative or
collectors’ objects, no longer designating any tool or utensil other than
antiques which no longer have use-value. There is always some degree
of irony involved in using terms with pejorative connotations, namely
bibelot and bric-à-brac, to designate valuable collectors’ objects, raising
questions about the collector’s attachment to what for many seem to be
useless trifles.

            


How does the same word come to designate inexpensive household
goods, decorative items, and rare collectibles? Changes in the meaning,
use, and connotation of the term bibelot correspond closely to changes in
 Literature and material culture
the post-revolutionary collectors’ market. Immediately following the
 political revolution, a revolution in the world of objects fuels the
association of collectors’ curiosities with the pejorative terms bric-à-brac
and bibelot. Thanks to the sudden dispossession of the nobility, royalty,
and clergy, many precious decorative art objects, luxurious household
goods, and religious cult objects find themselves on the market at very
low prices. ‘‘Une moitié de Paris vend l’autre!’’ [‘‘One half of Paris sells
the other’’], exclaim the Goncourt brothers in their history of daily life
under the Directoire (–). Their image of this huge fire sale is grue-
some: ‘‘C’est la liquidation de la guillotine’’ [‘‘It’s the guillotine’s liqui-
dation sale’’].
Louis Clément de Ris sums up the state of the post-revolutionary
collectors’ market in a biographical sketch of Charles Sauvageot, a
‘‘real-life’’ model for Balzac’s cousin Pons:
C’était le bon temps []! La tempête révolutionnaire avait dispersé aux
quatre vents du hasard et jeté au coin de la borne des myriades d’objets – de
bibelots, pour me servir de cet ignoble néologisme – amassés pendant des siècles
dans les palais des princes, les communautés religieuses, les corporations
laı̈ques, les hôtels et les maisons des riches particuliers.
[Times were good! The storm of revolution had dispersed to the four winds and
thrown out on the side of the road a myriad of objects – bibelots, to use that
vulgar neologism – which, over the centuries, had been amassed in princely
palaces, religious communities, secular corporations, and the mansions and
homes of rich individuals.]

The revolution disperses an impressive quantity (‘‘des myriades’’) of


objects into the marketplace, objects which have been confiscated from
spaces designated according to ancien régime social categories (‘‘les palais
des princes, les communautés religieuses, les corporations laı̈ques’’). The
goods of the former cultural elite are sold not only at the state auction
house where art is normally exchanged, but also in shops selling an-
tiques alongside other second-hand goods – the magasin de bric-à-brac.
Precious relics find themselves displaced and put in circulation by the
merchants of bric-à-brac and by the auctioneer. Collectors delight in the
possibility of buying these objects cheaply, even as many of them
nostalgically bemoan the demise of a more aristocratic era.
The old treasures of the dispossessed nobility and the Church go
unnoticed by all but the most ardent collectors during the first decades
of the century, when Greek and Roman antiques dominate French
decor. Hence for a number of years the terms curiosité and bric-à-brac
The bibelot 
remain equivalent to the term bibelot. Such is the case in Balzac’s Le
Cousin Pons (), in which the three terms are used interchangeably to
describe the fictitious collection of master paintings, miniatures, porce-
lain, and snuff boxes which Pons has amassed in large part from among
the junk in countless dusty Parisian magasins de bric-à-brac between 
and , the golden age of collecting when European antiques are
undervalued. Pons seeks out objets d’art amidst collectors’ curiosités, bi-
belots, and bric-à-brac. The linguistic conflation of these three terms
follows the intermingling of junk with precious decorative objects in the
marketplace. The meanings of the terms become muddled by the
physical contiguity of their referents.
Sifting through the post-revolutionary rubble becomes a game of
recognition and misrecognition ruled by the elusive mechanisms of
market value and fashion. The collector seeks to acquire exquisite
objects at affordable prices by discovering them before they attain a
high market value. By the s many ‘‘curiosités’’ have become very
expensive, though collectors interested in the more minor decorative
arts – namely, ‘‘tous les petits monuments de la vie usuelle’’ [‘‘all the
little monuments of daily life’’] of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries – are still discovering bargains. Such is the case of Edmond de
Goncourt’s foresighted aunt, with whom he discovers collecting on
Sunday afternoons:
Ma tante se trouvait être, à cette époque [around ], une des quatre ou cinq
personnes de Paris, enamourées de vieilleries, du beau des siècles passés, des
verres de Venise, des ivoires sculptés, des meubles de marqueterie, des velours
de Gênes, des points d’Alençon, des porcelaines de Saxe.
[At this time, it so happened that my aunt was among the four or five Parisians
who were enamored of the old-fashioned, of the Beauty of centuries past, of
Venetian glass, of carved ivory, of marquetry furniture, of Genoa velvet, of
Alençon lace, of Saxe porcelain.]
These household ornaments do eventually become highly valued collec-
tor’s objects. Goncourt’s aunt recognizes their value ahead of the
market. It is in the context of recognizing misrecognized value that
Balzac presents Pons as a figure ridiculed by those around him, until the
importance – and value – of his collection is generally understood.
Likewise, Clément de Ris describes the growing public recognition of
the above-mentioned model for Balzac’s Pons:
En , M. Sauvageot était un fou; en , il n’était plus qu’un maniaque.
Original en , il devint une célébrité en .
 Literature and material culture
[In  Monsieur Sauvageot was a crazy fool; in  he was but a maniac.
Eccentric in , he became a celebrity in .]

The public opinion of the collector changes along with an evolution in


mainstream tastes, which begin to favor the medieval, Renaissance, and
Oriental objects in which Sauvageot specializes. As demonstrated by the
examples of Edmond’s aunt, Pons, and Sauvageot, negotiating the
antique market involves a dialectic of recognition and misrecognition
when it comes to apprehending a bibelot’s aesthetic, historical, or
monetary value. The collector dreams of cheaply obtaining items he or
she recognizes as priceless, taking advantage of a seller’s underpricing
based on a misrecognition of their value. The collector’s dream is not
fulfilled until the full value of the cheaply acquired items is finally
recognized by the market, and thus by society at large. When used by
serious nineteenth-century collectors to designate objects they recognize
as precious, in its ambiguity the term bibelot points to the shifts in market
value which underpin this dialectic.
By mid-century, mainstream taste appropriates the beautiful objects of
France’s ancien régime once sought after only by a few eccentrics. As one
nineteenth-century commentator on collecting puts it, ‘‘La mode se met
de la partie, on s’arrache les miettes du passé; livres, médailles, estampes,
meubles antiques, menue curiosité, on veut tout avoir’’ [‘‘Fashion joins in,
people fight over the crumbs of the past; books, medals, prints, antique
furniture, minor curiosities, people want everything’’]. Fashion trends
favoring the use of antique and exotic collectors’ items in home decor
drive up their market value. The fashionability of Greek and Roman
antiques gives way to a preference for French medieval and Renaissance
antiques, later supplemented by a taste for the eighteenth-century
decorative arts. Colonial trade adds to the body of objects which the
Revolution placed on the collector’s market, as Turkish, Moorish, and
other ‘‘Oriental’’ styles become common. The Goncourts, among others,
display decorative objects from Japan in the company of French and
European antiques. By the end of the century, some antique collectors
begin to include objects from French Art Nouveau and the English Arts
and Crafts Movement in their eclectic interiors.
The growing fashionability of collecting gradually transforms its
venues of distribution. While the Parisian department store has received
much scholarly attention of late, the trajectory of the bibelot requires
taking into consideration the more archaic market forms which coexist
with the department store, forms which are not wiped out as quickly as
The bibelot 
Zola implies in his novel of feminine consumption, Au bonheur des dames.
Because the antique market deals in second-hand goods, even today it
stands on the periphery of mass consumption. The market for second-
hand goods was much more important during the nineteenth century,
since the clothing and household goods of the lower classes often
consisted of the cast-offs of the wealthier classes. These were sold by the
lowest classes of merchants in the most marginal commercial spaces. The
colporteurs were nomads; these merchants are to household goods (and
books) what Benjamin’s chiffonnier [ragpicker] is to clothing. Fairs and
bazaars furnished a setting for temporary stalls; the terms brocante,
brocanter, and brocanteur [second-hand trade, to trade in, and trader in
second-hand goods] often refer to exchange activities in such liminal
retail spaces. Ferrailleurs and quincailliers [scrap-metal dealers and iron
mongers] sometimes maintained small shops. The next step up on the
retail hierarchy would be the magasin de bric-à-brac [junk shop or second-
hand shop]. The dusty shop of the antiquaire [antique dealer] is accorded
mythical status in fictive representations such as Balzac’s La Peau de chagrin
() and Gautier’s fantastic short story ‘‘Le Pied de momie’’ ().
As the bibelot becomes more popular, it moves into more fashionable
retail space. By the s, it is found not only in the magasin de bric-à-brac,
but also in the more modern and more affluent magasins de nouveautés
[novelty shops selling cloth and what are called ‘‘articles de Paris,’’
mostly toiletry implements and trinkets]. Thus the bibelot comes to be
associated not only with used goods, but also with the new goods of
modernized production. In addition, the magasins de nouveautés are more
modern in that they cater to consumer desire, as opposed to the junk
shop whose inventory depends on the randomness of available cast-offs.
The bibelot does make its way into that most modern of retail spaces,
the grand magasin [department store]: though Zola’s fictitious retail
palace Au Bonheur des Dames specializes in clothing and accessories, its
visionary owner Mouret does eventually add a display of exotic deco-
rative goods, including bibelots.
At the same time, elegant boutiques featuring objets d’art begin to
appear in fashionable shopping areas. As Clément de Ris explains, at
the turn of the nineteenth century, ‘‘le bon temps’’ [‘‘the golden age’’] of
bargains for the pioneering collectors, ‘‘le marchand d’objets d’art tel
que nous le voyons en  n’existait pas, et rien ne pouvait faire prévoir
les hautes destinées auxquelles était appelé ce genre d’industrie’’ [‘‘the
dealer in objets d’art as we see him in  did not yet exist, and the great
destiny of this sort of industry could not then have been foreseen’’].
 Literature and material culture
Arnoux of Flaubert’s L’Education sentimentale () is the literary incarna-
tion of the new type of ‘‘marchand d’art’’ which evolves with the
growing fashionability of the bibelot. His shop l’Art Industriel looks more
like a ‘‘salon’’ than a ‘‘boutique.’’ Edmond de Goncourt, in an 
journal entry, describes a gentrification of antique dealers:
L’étonnement est extrême chez moi, en voyant la révolution qui s’est faite tout
d’un coup dans les habitudes de la génération nouvelle des marchands de
bric-à-brac. Hier, c’étaient des ferrailleurs, des Auvergnats . . . Aujourd’hui, ce
sont des messieurs habillés par nos tailleurs, achetant et lisant des livres et ayant
des femmes aussi distinguées que les femmes de notre société; des messieurs
donnant des dı̂ners servis par des domestiques en cravates blanches.
[I am extremely surprised to see the sudden revolution in the habits of the new
generation of dealers in second-hand goods. Before, it was scrap-metal dealers
from Auvergne . . . Today, it is gentlemen outfitted by our own tailors, gentlemen
who buy and read books and whose wives are as distinguished as those of high
society; gentlemen whose dinner guests are served by waiters in white tie.]
This gentlemanly dealer is a far cry from Rémonencq in Le Cousin Pons,
the Auvergnat ferrailleur turned marchand de curiosité, who dreams of
opening an elegant boutique for true amateurs. As a result of these
changes, by the s valuable objects are rarely found in junk shops,
though at times they are still playfully referred to as bric-à-brac, even
among elitist collectors.
Meanwhile, at yet another venue of distribution, the public auctions,
these goods begin to circulate more rapidly and in greater numbers,
among a growing number of buyers:
De  à , les ventes se succèdent rapidement. . . Tableaux, estampes,
émaux, livres, faı̈ences, médailles, l’antiquité, le moyen âge et le temps mod-
erne, la grande et la petite curiosité arrivent pêle-mêle et innondent la place. Le
torrent est irrésitible, il entrâne la mode et la foule; les ventes engendrent l’amateur,
l’amateur engendre les ventes, l’un pousse l’autre, et, le marchand aidant à tous
les deux, le commerce de la curiosité prend des proportions inouı̈es.
[From  to , auction follows auction in rapid succession . . . Paintings,
engravings, enamels, books, pottery, medals, antiquity, the Middle Ages and
modern times, major and minor curiosities arrive pell-mell and inundate the
place. The torrent is irresistible, it drives fashion and the crowd. Sales engender the
collector, the collector engenders sales, the one pushes the other, and, the
dealer helping both, trade in curiosities has reached unheard of proportions.]
The succession of terms in the second sentence is instructive. First, there
is a list of categories of ‘‘curiosité’’ which shows the variety of forms on
The bibelot 
the market (tableaux, estampes, émaux, livres, faı̈ences, médailles). Second, a list
of historical periods (l’antiquité, le moyen âge et le temps moderne) underlines a
different type of variety within the category ‘‘curiosité,’’ that of temporal
origin. Third, a disparity in genre is emphasized by adding to the list ‘‘la
grande et la petite curiosité.’’ The adverb ‘‘pêle-mêle’’ which follows
underscores the list’s heterogeneity. The verb ‘‘inondent’’ along with
the noun ‘‘torrent’’ in the following sentence hyperbolize the ever
increasing proliferation and circulation of these objects. The motivating
force behind this acceleration of circulation is the goods themselves,
arriving in ever greater quantity. Market and buyer enter into a procre-
ative relationship, the one (re)producing the other under the mediation
of the dealer.
By the s, it is not only collectors and investors who attend the
auctions at the Hôtel Drouot (the state-controlled auction house located
in Paris), but also high-society women who are beginning to find the
bibelot chic. ‘‘Tiens, il faudra que nous allions aux Commissaires-
Priseurs . . . Nous irons rococoter . . . C’est très amusant’’ [‘‘Well then, we
must go to the auctioneer’s . . . We’ll go rococo hunting . . . It’s great fun’’],
proclaims an elegant female character in the Goncourts’  novel of the
bourgeoisie, Renée Mauperin. ‘‘Rococoter’’ is a neologism, no doubt a
play on bibeloter, and meaning ‘‘to seek out and collect rococo objects.’’
Clément de Ris’s description of a mid-century auction demonstrates a
negative connotation of the word bibelot by its association with the
market: that of art tainted by money. In deploying the vocabulary of
collecting, the following passage first uses the non-pejorative terms
‘‘curieux’’ and ‘‘amateurs,’’ not using the term ‘‘bibelot’’ until the
question of money arises:
Cette vente restera pour les curieux la grande fête de l’année [] . . . Tout le
monde en a pris suivant ses moyens: les curieux pauvres, ceux qui sont forcés
d’admettre comme une vérité l’aphorisme voir c’est avoir, en réjouissant leurs
regards de la vue de tant de belles choses amassées par un homme d’un goût
délicat et fin; les amateurs riches, en se les disputant au milieu du feu croisé des
enchères et sous les coups du marteau de Me Pouchet; les hommes d’argent,
enfin, en plaçant en bibelots – qu’on me pardonne cet horrible vocable, il est
consacré – leur argent d’une manière au moins aussi profitable qu’en reports ou
en primes.
[For curiosity collectors, this sale will remain the grand event of the year []
. . . Everyone took part according to his means: the poor curiosity lovers, those
who are forced to accept as true the aphorism to see is to have, taking great
pleasure in gazing on so many beautiful things brought together by a man of
 Literature and material culture
refined and delicate taste; wealthy collectors, competing for them in the midst
of the crossfire of bidding, under the blows of Monsieur Pouchet’s gavel; men of
money, finally, placing their money in bibelots (pardon me for using this horrible
word, but it is fitting), which prove to be at least as profitable as stocks or
bonds.]
The linguistic progression of collecting terminology is arranged in
order of wealth, ‘‘curieux’’ – ‘‘amateurs’’ – ‘‘bibelot,’’ an order which
mirrors the chronological progression of terms for the collector:
‘‘curieux’’ (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) – ‘‘amateur’’ (eigh-
teenth and nineteenth centuries) – ‘‘bibeloteur’’ (s through the
Belle Epoque).
The term bibelot retains pejorative overtones even as the most elite
aesthetes begin to refer to themselves as bibeloteurs. Whereas in the
quotations above, from  and , Clément de Ris excuses himself
when he uses the word bibelot – ‘‘cet horrible vocable,’’ ‘‘cet ignoble
néologisme’’ – , throughout the s and up to his death in ,
Edmond de Goncourt freely uses bibelots and bibeloteur to describe his
collection, himself, and his collecting activities. The flamboyant fin-
de-siècle aesthete and poet, the count Robert de Montesquiou, likewise
employs bibelots several times in describing his famous apartments in his
memoirs. Similarly, the word is frequently used non-pejoratively in
publications of decorating professionals such as the Revue des arts dé-
coratifs, founded in , or in the title of Bosc’s  dictionary (Diction-
naire de l’art, de la curiosité et du bibelot). However, at the same time the
term is still used to designate the cheapest mass-produced trinkets and
souvenirs. For example, in Zola’s L’Oeuvre (), ‘‘bibelot’’ denotes the
antiques collected by the writer Sandoz and his wife, the extravagantly
fashionable decor of the high-society artist Fagerolles, and the cheap
glass and porcelain carnival prizes in a game booth at a popular fair.
The apparent logical contradiction inherent in using one term to
designate a heterogenous group of things highlights that it is the quality
of superfluity that unifies those objects referred to as bibelots. The
generally negative perceptions of the qualities of heterogeneity and
superfluity would seem to marginalize those things designated as bi-
belots, whereas it is this very marginality which valorizes the bibelot in
the eyes of aesthetes such as the Goncourts and Montesquiou. Indeed,
the rise of aestheticism contributes directly to the revalorization of the
bibelot during the latter part of the century.
The bibelot 

    -       


The qualities most closely associated with the phenomenon of the
bibelot – heterogeneity, accumulation, and superfluousness – can be
seen as values espoused by a series of nineteenth-century ‘‘-isms,’’ such
as dilettantism, decadence, and aestheticism; as opposed to another
series of ‘‘-isms’’ generally hostile to these qualities, such as rationalism,
utilitarianism, scientific positivism, and progressivism. Embracing the
first group of ‘‘-isms’’ and rejecting the latter, a certain nineteenth-
century French cultural elite comes to embrace the bibelot, appropriat-
ing it as a part of a modern artistic sensibility.
The modernity of the bibelot lies precisely in its association with
superfluous aesthetic qualities such as the ornamental, the merely pretty
(as opposed to the Beautiful), the domestic, the feminine, and the minor
arts. Hence the bibelot occupies a subordinate position within the
hierarchies espoused by classical aesthetics and by the Academy of
Beaux-Arts, making it an appropriate vehicle for anti-classical and
anti-Academy sentiments. Intermingled with the more widely studied
debates among painters and art critics, there is a neglected but equally
influential alternative branch of aesthetics, an art of daily life in which
the bibelot plays an essential role. This art of daily life grows out of the
advancements in interior decor and comfort developed during the
eighteenth century in France, and is further elaborated by the nine-
teenth century’s democratized cultural elite within the framework of
those aesthetic movements which extend beyond literary and artistic
genres to become ways of thinking, ways of seeing, and even lifestyles:
Romanticism, Art for Art’s Sake, Dandyism, and Decadence. The more
general attitude of aestheticism links the latter three of these movements.
In spite of Romanticism’s revalorization of medieval art and its
fascination for archaeological ruins, its literary texts do not depict
collectors, as Walter Benjamin remarks with surprise. However, in
realist and naturalist texts collecting is often associated with vestiges of
Romanticism. In L’Oeuvre, Zola presents the collection of bibelots in the
new home of writer Sandoz and his wife as such a remnant:
Le salon, qu’ils achevaient d’installer, s’encombrait de vieux meubles, de
vieilles tapisseries, de bibelots de tous les peuples et de tous les siècles, un flot
montant, débordant à cette heure, qui avait commencé aux Batignolles par le
vieux pot de Rouen, qu’elle lui avait donné un jour de fête. Ils couraient
ensemble les brocanteurs, ils avaient une rage joyeuse d’acheter; et lui conten-
tait là d’anciens désirs de jeunesse, des ambitions romantiques, nées jadis de ses
 Literature and material culture
premières lectures; si bien que cet écrivain, si farouchement moderne, se logeait
dans le Moyen Age vermoulu qu’il rêvait d’habiter à quinze ans.
[Their newly furnished salon was filled with old furniture, old tapestries, and
bibelots of all peoples and all centuries, a rising tide, at present overflowing, one
which had begun at Batignolles with the old Rouen pot which she had given
him on a special occasion. Together they made the rounds of the second-hand
dealers and bought with joyful fury. He thus satisfied old desires of his youth,
romantic ambitions born long ago of his early reading, so much so that this
writer, so fiercely modern, lived in the worm-eaten Middle Ages which he
dreamed of inhabiting at the age of fifteen.]
Sandoz’s romantic ‘‘premières lectures’’ include Hugo and Musset (pp.
–). The writer of modern life living in a medieval-inspired interior
represents an anachronism common to many authors of the period,
including Zola himself, whose own interior was Gothic. A similar
anachronism can be seen in the Sandoz’s ‘‘rage joyeuse d’acheter’’
characteristic of the modern consumer, brought to the archaic retail
spaces of the brocanteurs – spaces which still exist today. The passage also
underlines the objects’ heterogeneity (‘‘de tous les peuples et de tous les
siècles’’) and proliferation (‘‘un flot montant, débordant’’), echoing
many of the passages cited above. However, given the signification of
the Sandoz household within the novel’s social structure, namely the
contrast between the bourgeois lifestyle of the married writer as opposed
to that of his Bohemian artist friends, on a narrative level the referent of
these bibelots is not merely historicism, exoticism, or abundance, but
also and especially a bourgeois domesticity which incorporates all three
of these qualities.
Romanticism inspires not only a nostalgia for the remains of the past,
but also a veneration of the artist and of the arts. During the early
decades of the nineteenth century the cachet ‘‘artiste’’ serves as a ‘‘signal
romantique,’’ explains Alain Rey in his linguistic study of the term.
Balzac builds links among art appreciation, collecting, and Romanti-
cism in the portrait of the heroine of La Muse du département:
Une fois posée en femme supérieure, Dinah voulut donner des gages visibles de
son amour pour les créations les plus remarquables de l’Art; elle s’associa
vivement aux idées de l’école romantique en comprenant dans l’Art, la poésie et la
peinture, la page et la statue, le meuble et l’opéra. Aussi devint-elle moyen
âgiste. Elle s’enquit aussi des curiosités qui pouvaient dater de la Renaissance, et
fit de ses fidèles autant de commissionnaires dévoués.
[Once established as a superior woman, Dinah wished to put forth some visible
tokens of her love for the most remarkable creations of Art. She enthusiastically
The bibelot 
associated herself with the romantic school by understanding Art to include
poetry and painting, the written word and the statue, furniture and opera. She
also became a medievalist. She also took an interest in curiosities which might
date from the Renaissance, and commissioned her followers to become devoted
intermediaries in this quest.]
Dinah’s collection of medieval and Renaissance bibelots materializes (as
‘‘gages visibles’’) her romantic admiration not only for the decorative
arts, but for all of the arts – including writing. As fragments of Art which
stand for Art in general, these bibelots thus function as synecdoche. The
synecdoche is doubled in that the appreciation of art in turn becomes a
sign of Dinah’s status as a ‘‘femme supérieure.’’ The narrative thus
assigns these bibelots a referential function of ‘‘distinction.’’ Contrast
this use of bibelots against that Zola assigned the Sandoz, whose collec-
tibles signified not social ambition, but a cozy domesticity.
The notion of ‘‘Art for Art’s Sake’’ further valorizes the bibelot.
Gautier illustrates his famous declaration in response to utilitarianism,
‘‘je suis de ceux pour qui le superflu est nécessaire’’ [‘‘I am someone for
whom the superfluous is necessary’’] by means of a bibelot: ‘‘Je préfère à
certain vase qui me sert un vase chinois, semé de dragons et de manda-
rins, qui ne me sert pas du tout’’ [‘‘I prefer to a useful vase a Chinese
vase covered with dragons and mandarins, which is not useful at all’’].
The bibelot embodies perfectly the values of superfluity and anti-utili-
tarianism, all the more so when it is a fantastically decorated chinoiserie.
The fin-de-siècle aesthete inherits this anti-utilitarian appreciation of
bizarre ornamental objects. The historical and exotic eclecticism which
becomes incorporated into the aesthetics of collecting in many ways
defies both conservative bourgeois values and the (neo)classical aes-
thetic. This would seem to help explain the reluctance of the French
cultural elite to embrace the functionalism advocated by the English
decorative arts reformers, since functionalism could be perceived as too
closely related to Philistine utilitarianism. Yet the bibelot quickly be-
comes a stereotypical component of bourgeois decor. This necessitates a
reappropriation of the bibelot from bourgeois domesticity, a process
which relies on the plays of distinction embraced by Dandyism.
The figure of the Dandy helps to reconcile the paradoxical position of
the bibelot, at once caught up in the system of fashion yet with claims to
membership in the sphere of art, since the Dandy is not just a leader in
matters of fashion and an arbiter of taste, but also a connoisseur of the
arts. Furthermore, the anti-bourgeois Dandy, who is almost by defini-
tion a bachelor in lifestyle if not in fact, also rescues the bibelot from its
 Literature and material culture
ties to banal bourgeois domesticity. As the abundant analyses of the
Dandy insist, Dandyism goes beyond clothing to embrace an art of daily
life, which becomes ‘‘une manière d’être, entièrement composée de
nuances’’ [‘‘a way of being composed entirely of nuances’’]. The
capacity to recognize the rare bibelot among the mass of ornamental
objects on the market relies on an eye for nuances, becoming a mark not
only of erudition, but especially of a certain inbred cultural mastery.
Because he is known for the minimalism of his dress, in that his clothing
is understated yet superior by means of almost imperceptible nuances,
the Dandy is seen by art historian Linda Nochlin as ‘‘prophetic of
avant-gardism’’ in his feeling that in art and taste ‘‘less is truly more.’’
There is, however, an accompanying tendency towards accumulation
which is not entirely ‘‘modernist’’ in Nochlin’s sense of the term: first
there is the closet filled with clothing and accessories. More importantly
for us, ‘‘real’’ and fictitious dandies accumulate in the form of the
collection: the ‘‘original’’ English dandy Beau Brummell, the count de
Montesquiou, Huysmans’s des Esseintes, Jean Lorrain’s M. de Phocas,
Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, and Proust’s le baron Charlus are all
bibeloteurs.
Decadence embraces the bibelot for its rarity, luxury, and artificiality.
The interior of Huysmans’s des Esseintes (A rebours) comes immediately
to mind. Bibelots with historical, mythical, or religious significations are
first secularized then perverted in the exotic erotic decor of the decadent
text. Collectors abound in the fin-de-siècle novels of Rachilde and Jean
Lorrain, their carefully enumerated bibelots setting the stage for orgies,
thinly disguised homosexual encounters, acts of sadism, drug abuse, and
even murder.
Several referents for the (literary) bibelot have been identified thus
far: domesticity, distinction, dandyism, anti-utilitarianism, and perver-
sion. Such a range of possible significations allows the bibelot to prolifer-
ate in the full gamut of nineteenth-century literary forms, including
realism, naturalism, ‘‘l’écriture artiste’’ of the Goncourts, symbolist
poetry, and decadence. A common thread among these forms is a
propensity for extra-literary erudition in various domains, such as docu-
mentation from the ‘‘real world’’ (the Goncourts, Flaubert, Zola), schol-
arship in art history (the Goncourts, Huysmans, Lorrain), and the
seeking out of rare words (Huysmans, Mallarmé). Writing in ,
Auguste Chevrie suggests that though his century has produced no
period style of its own, it certainly has its own character:
The bibelot 
Ce caractère est l’érudition.
Tant que l’influence du romantisme, et par conséquent du réalisme, se fera
sentir, tant que nous serons dans cette période d’études, il n’y aura pas de style
spécial possible.
[This character is erudition.
As long as the influence of romanticism, and consequently realism, makes
itself felt, as long as we remain in this period of studies, no special style will be
possible.]
The recycling of past styles in the decorative arts and in architecture
requires the antiquarian’s love of erudition. According to Proust, the
spirit of erudition common to nineteenth-century writers, collectors,
architects, and decorative artists is also shared by fashion-conscious
women of fin-de-siècle high-society. In his early novel Jean Santeuil,
written in the s, the narrator explains that in creating her appartement
artistique, ‘‘une femme qui n’a jamais appris l’histoire, travaille son
hôtel pendant deux ans au Cabinet des Estampes’’ [‘‘a woman who
never learned history spends two years in the +national library’s, De-
partment of Engravings ‘working on’ her mansion’’]. Erudition thus
becomes fashionable.

‘‘             ́’’
What Chevrie identifies as erudition could be compared to the spirit of
dilettantism which characterizes the century for Paul Bourget. This
characterization is brought to bear in the most substantial nineteenth-
century analysis of the bibelot I have found, Bourget’s  newspaper
commentary, republished in his well-known collection, Essais de
psychologie contemporaine: Etudes littéraires. In it, Bourget draws an analogy
between the bibelot, the dilettante’s general intellectual attitude, and the
Goncourt brothers’ writing. In what appears to be a digression, this
piece of literary criticism presents a para-literary representation of late
nineteenth-century culture, from which can be deduced an intriguing
configuration of persons, things, literary production, and material
space. The intent here is not to read Bourget for an accurate portrayal of
some kind of world view, but rather to examine how frivolous material
goods fit into what he calls ‘‘psychologie contemporaine,’’ which he
understands as both individual and collective. The bibelot’s capacity to
carry such a heavy referential charge, as well as the nature of this
referential charge, reveals a great deal about the social significance
accorded material culture in the nineteenth century.
 Literature and material culture
Writing in the medium of journalistic literary criticism targeted at the
more culturally sophisticated newspaper reader, but nonetheless obliged
to entertain, Bourget uses an almost obligatory tone of witty irony:
Les frères Goncourt ont été des hommes de musée, et en cela des modernes,
dans toute la force du mot, car cet esprit de dilettantisme et de critique s’est
développé chez nous à ce point qu’il a étendu le musée bien au delà des
collections publiques et privées, en l’introduisant dans le moindre détail de
l’ameublement et en créant le bibelot. Le bibelot, – ce miniscule fragment de
l’oeuvre d’art, qui met sur un angle d’une table de salon quelque chose de
l’extrême Orient et quelque chose de la Renaissance, un peu du moyen âge
français et un peu du e siècle!
[The Goncourt brothers were men of the museum and were therefore moderns
in the strongest sense of the word, for our spirit of dilettantism and of criticism
has developed to the point that it has extended the museum beyond public and
private collections by introducing it into the smallest detail of furnishing and
creating the bibelot. The bibelot – that minuscule fragment of the work of art
which brings to the corner of a table something of the Far East and something
of the Renaissance, a bit of the French Middle Ages and a bit of the eighteenth
century.]
In one sentence Bourget shifts his focus from the Goncourt brothers to
the bibelot, making the transition by evoking first the museum, then the
spirit of dilettantism and criticism with which he defines his age. To be
men of the museum is to embrace this spirit, therefore to be moderns.
This spirit of dilettantism and criticism is credited with the creation of
the bibelot. The meandering connections made in this sentence will
require some unraveling.
For Bourget, in this and other essays in the collection (especially the
article on Renan), dilettantism results from an ‘‘esprit d’analyse’’ which
considers in turn a multiplicity of often contradictory cultural forms (art
works, ideas, philosophies, religions, etc.) from various countries (pp.
–). It is the resulting incertitude in the face of diversity that defines
the dilettante. Unlike the situation of contemplating a single work of art
in its original spatial and cultural context, such as a Christian church or
Greek temple, the museum presents numerous art works which have
been detached, uprooted, and isolated from the context for which they
were designed, presenting the visitor with an overwhelming number of
contradictory influences. The museum, then, is not ‘‘le domaine du
génie et de la création, c’est celui du dilettantisme et de la critique’’ [‘‘the
domain of genius and creation, it is the domain of dilettantism and
criticism’’] (p. ). Dilettantism and criticism are opposed to genius and
The bibelot 
creation. The opposition criticism/creation is used to describe the
Goncourts’ writing, which belongs to ‘‘le domaine de l’observation
pure,’’ thus requiring ‘‘des facultés de critique beaucoup plus que de
créateur’’ [‘‘the domain of pure observation’’ / ‘‘the capabilities of the
critic more than those of the creator’’] (p. ). In this spirit, the brothers
assemble and document facts to produce a ‘‘peinture’’ of the ‘‘moeurs de
notre âge,’’ reducing the novel, which should be ‘‘un art d’imagination,’’
to ‘‘une tentative de science exacte’’ (p. ). Such a project is well suited
to its time: ‘‘le roman de constatation, d’analyse minutieuse, de nomen-
clature et de petits faits, est aussi celui qui convient le mieux à notre âge
d’universel recensement’’ [‘‘the novel of observation, of minute analysis,
of nomenclature and of little facts, is also the novel which best suits our
era of universal census’’] (p. ). And yet, paradoxically, the Goncourts
are known for their self-described écriture artiste. This quasi-scientific
census or inventory (‘‘recensement’’) of minute facts is presented by
means of ‘‘une rhétorique de l’image’’ drawn from painting and sculp-
ture (pp. –). Their writing, then, partakes at once in erudite
documentation and the visual arts.
Summing up Bourget’s scattered remarks, what dilettantism, criti-
cism, the museum, and the Goncourts’ writing have in common is a
tendency to assemble and to analyze, juxtaposing things or ideas with-
out hierarchizing or concluding. In other words, philosophical eclecti-
cism meets decorative eclecticism, as the multiplication of objects con-
verges with the multiplication of knowledge. But what ultimately
underpin the creation of the bibelot as Bourget describes it – the
extension of the museum into the bourgeois salon – are the twin
nineteenth-century grand intellectual obsessions: the cult of Science and
the cult of Art. More than mere markers of distinction, material things
are at once a source of knowledge, hence their documentary value, and
a source of aesthetic pleasure. The museum as interior becomes a
private shrine of the cult of Art, rationalized by the doctrines of the cult
of Science.
These issues converge in the bibelot, which is created by the exten-
sion of the museum beyond the space of the collection into the space of
the living room (‘‘cet esprit de dilettantisme et de critique . . . a étendu le
musée bien au delà des collections publiques et privées, en l’introduisant
dans . . . l’ameublement et en créant le bibelot’’). The bibelot is born not
only of the displacement of art (from museum to living room), but also
by its fragmentation, as art is physically reformatted in miniature (‘‘min-
uscule fragment’’), suitable for display on a living room table. Moving
 Literature and material culture
the artifact from the museum to the living room represents a secondary
displacement, since the artifacts of the museum collection have already
been displaced from cultures distant in time and/or space (the Orient,
the Renaissance, the French Middle Ages, the eighteenth century, etc.).
The growing body of criticism on collecting and the museum discusses
the phenomenon of displacement at length. Bourget describes the
movement of the bibelot through the material spaces of modernity, from
the museum to the bourgeois interior, then follows its passage through
the marketplace by noting its presence ‘‘aux devantures des grands
magasins de nouveautés’’ and ‘‘dans la boutique du papetier,’’ then
mentions the ‘‘magasin de bric-à-brac’’ (p. ). In the sentences that I
have cited, though, what is perhaps more significant than the displace-
ment of the objects themselves, from museum to living room via the
marketplace, is the displacement of agency from persons – in this case
the Goncourt brothers – to a prevailing cultural attitude, as embodied in
a cultural institution – the museum. To be ‘‘des hommes de musée’’ is to
be subjects constructed in and by a world of objects.
Bourget credits the bibelot with a transformation of the nineteenth-
century interior, and with the absence of a properly nineteenth-century
decorative style, echoing the remarks of Chevrie (cited above):
Le bibelot, – qui a transformé la décoration de tous les intérieurs et leur a donné
une physionomie d’archaı̈sme si continûment curieuse et si docilement soumise
que notre e siècle, à force de colliger et de vérifier tous les styles, aura oublié
de s’en fabriquer un! (p. )
[The bibelot, which transformed the decor of all interiors and gave them an
archaic physiognomy so utterly curious and so docilely submissive that, as a
result of collating and affirming all styles, our nineteenth century has forgotten
to make one for itself.]
In other words, the cultural phenomenon of the bibelot leads to a spirit
of passive submission (‘‘si docilement soumise’’) in the face of a disparate
array of past styles, a situation which in the end circumvents the creation
of a new nineteenth-century style.
Finally, in a sentence hidden in the middle of this tirade, it is revealed
that the bibelot corresponds to the period’s psychology:
Le bibelot, – manie raffinée d’une époque inquiète où les lassitudes de l’ennui et
les maladies de la sensibilité nerveuse ont conduit l’homme à s’inventer des
passions factices de collectionneur, tandis que sa complication interne le ren-
dait incapable de supporter la large et saine simplicité des choses autour de lui!
(p. )
The bibelot 
[The bibelot, refined mania of an anxious era in which the weariness of ennui
and the illnesses of nervous sensitivity have led man to invent for himself the
artificial passions of the collector, while his internal complexity renders him
unable to tolerate the broad and healthy simplicity of the things around him.]
The connection between mental illness, artificiality, and psychological
complication corresponds to the familiar themes of decadence, which
Bourget theorizes in his famous essay on Baudelaire.
Bourget concludes his discussion of the bibelot by proclaiming its
fundamental importance to the comprehension of much of the literature
of his time:
Le bibelot . . . C’est une mode, et qui s’en ira comme une autre; mais l’analyste
de notre société contemporaine ne peut pas plus la négliger que l’historien du
grand siècle ne saurait laisser sous silence le paysage taillé du parc de Versailles.
La noble poésie de Racine est en rapport étroit avec l’horizon qui se voit de la
terrasse du vieux palais, et une grande portion de notre littérature actuelle
demeure inintelligible sans l’aspect de magasin de bric-à-brac habituel à nos
installations. (p. )
[The bibelot . . . It is a fashion which will disappear like any other, but the
analyst of our contemporary society can no more ignore it than the historian of
the great century can silently pass over the manicured landscape of the
Versailles gardens. The noble poetry of Racine is closely tied to the horizon
visible from the terrasse of the old palace, and a large part of our current
literature remains unintelligible without the presence of the curiosity shop so
common to our scenery.]
Had the ‘‘magasin de bric-à-brac’’ actually usurped the cultural place of
the Versailles gardens, Le Nôtre’s royal monument of landscape archi-
tecture? What are the implications of claiming such a substitution? The
Versailles park represents a grandiose rationalization of nature which
submits an entire horizon to seventeenth-century monarchial power.
In contrast, the magasins de bric-à-brac which populate the nineteenth-
century urban cityscape represent displays of cultural debris which
circulate in the marketplace, propelled by fashion (‘‘C’est une mode’’).
Under the Third Republic, fashion has replaced the monarch as arbiter
of style. Urban daily life has replaced court life as the locus of culture.
Le Nôtre’s rationalization of nature gives way to a pervasive commodifi-
cation of culture – at least as conceptualized in Bourget’s spatialization
of the literary imaginary.
The intimate relationship which ties material space, such as the
Versailles park and the antique/junk shop, to the literary works for
which they provide a visual field, would seem to suggest that material
 Literature and material culture
culture provides the backdrop for the staging of literary production.
However, it is important to be wary of the shiftiness inherent in the
foreground/background distinction, especially in nineteenth-century
narrative forms, where the things in space traditionally relegated to the
background suddenly move to the foreground, first in the realist descrip-
tion, then even more dramatically in the heavily descriptive narratives
of naturalism and decadence. As material objects multiply during the
nineteenth century, material culture is accorded more and more space
in the literary text. Balzac establishes ample space for material culture in
the novel, but positions it in the background. In certain of their novels,
Flaubert, the Goncourts, and Huysmans move material culture into the
foreground. A sense of instability is created by the foregrounding of
elements ordinarily considered as background, such as bibelots, result-
ing in the sort of imbalance which characterizes what Naomi Schor has
called the ‘‘ornamental text.’’ The destabilizing effects of foregrounding
the background mirrors the cultural effects of the replacement of the
monarch by the amorphous forces of the market. The bibelot affords a
unique perspective on material culture precisely because it is a moving
vantage point, shifting from background to foreground, through the
spaces of art, commerce, and private life, through material space and
literary space. The bibelot creates and is created by this movement,
forms and is formed by the subjects which manipulate it, whether these
subjects be writers or their characters, explicitly fictive or purportedly
non-fiction.
 

The logic(s) of material culture


Imitation, accumulation, and mobility

To call an object a ‘‘bibelot’’ is to place it in a category, therefore to


classify it. Categorizing and classifying are key steps in the processes of
organizing and establishing order. And yet, as demonstrated in the
previous chapter, the category ‘‘bibelot’’ is fraught with ambiguity, put
to often contradictory uses as a result of the disparities among the
items that the category includes. Complicating matters is the consider-
ation that the category ‘‘bibelot’’ calls forth several networks of terms
used to classify, describe, and evaluate the various objects included
within it, terms from the lexicons of the fine arts, the decorative arts,
interior decor, collecting, the souvenir, commerce, home economics,
and more. If, as I have suggested, the creation of the category ‘‘bi-
belot’’ is part of a modern and modernizing reconfiguration, reorgani-
zation, and recodification of material culture necessitated by a multi-
plication of objects in daily life, then what kind of reorganization is
this? What kind of logic can accommodate or even account for such a
disorderly order?
Bourdieu’s notion of the ‘‘logic of practice’’ can be usefully applied to
the contradictions and ambiguities of the category ‘‘bibelot.’’ The ‘‘logic
of practice’’ is to be understood in opposition to the logic of analysis used
by modernist scholars such as anthropologists (in the structuralist tradi-
tion), sociologists (in the positivist tradition), or philosophers of art (in
the Kantian tradition). It should be noted that many social scientists
have since abandoned the analytic logic that Bourdieu is critiquing here,
the logic of a highly formalist, descriptive sort, based on mechanistic,
rigid, positivist models.
The idea of practical logic, clearly inspired by Lévi-Strauss’s notions
of totemic logic and bricolage, is applied by Bourdieu both to the Kabyle
culture of Algeria and to French bourgeois culture. The point is that the
formalist analytic logic of a (now-dated) sort of theory is inadequate for
explaining the key features of either culture, for in their practical

 Literature and material culture
dimensions, although cultural phenomena like ritual, daily activities,
social structures, and perceptual categories of taste evidently do follow
perceivable patterns, these are only logical up to a point. The organiza-
tional coherence perceptible in the structures, patterns, and categories
of daily life, as well as in the categories of art appreciation, are products
of practical logic.
Daily life involves many acts of classification, of food, of tools, of
activities, of people, etc. These classifications are generated not from
theoretical schemas developed through careful analysis, but from basic
oppositions or ‘‘practical taxonomies’’ which consist in ‘‘oppositions
between up and down, masculine (or virile) and feminine, etc.,’’ oppo-
sitions which shape our thinking in a not entirely conscious way,
guiding ‘‘our perceptions of the social world.’’ Such ‘‘practical tax-
onomies’’ or classificatory oppositions are internalized by the members
of a society and go largely unquestioned. They are not entirely ‘‘logi-
cal’’ in the Aristotelian sense. Indeed, ‘‘the classifications produced by
these [practical] taxonomies owe their effectiveness to the fact that they
are ‘practical,’ that they allow one to introduce just enough logic for the
needs of practical behavior, neither too much – since a certain vague-
ness is often indispensable, especially in negotiations – nor too little,
since life would then become impossible.’’ The bibelot belongs to a
world of material objects structured by the practical logic of daily life,
which is to say ‘‘just enough logic’’ to get by. Bourdieu suggests here
that the ‘‘vagueness’’ of practical logic is necessary in situations such as
negotiation. This same vagueness is also ‘‘indispensable’’ to literature;
the extreme degree of vagueness exhibited by the classification ‘‘bi-
belot’’ lends itself beautifully to the literary ‘‘uses of uncertainty’’ of
which Flaubert is the recognized master among nineteenth-century
French authors.
Though Bourdieu distinguishes practical logic from the logic of
analysis, he shows that these are not entirely separate ways of thinking,
for practical logic actually underpins the ‘‘theoretical’’ logic of formal
analysis, and this because the above-mentioned ‘‘practical taxonomies’’
guide our constructions of scholarly analytical classifications as well.
The thinking of ethnologists and other academics can be compared to
that of ‘‘the ‘primitives’ who classify objects according to whether they
are wet or dry, hot or cold, up or down, right or left, and so on.’’ For
example, political scientists use the practical taxonomy right/left to
classify politicians. Through practical taxonomies, the logic of practice
permeates the logic of formalist analysis. The distinctions and overlaps
The logic(s) of material culture 
between formal logic and practical logic are crucial to the workings of
material culture. The case of the bibelot serves as an excellent illustra-
tion of this point, bringing together as it does the domains of the
household, the marketplace, collecting, and the museum. The formal
taxonomic logic of the encyclopedia and of the modern museum is not
the only logic of material culture. Practical logic is at work as well, even
within the walls of the museum.
Itself a classificatory category generated through practical logic, the
term ‘‘bibelot’’ is in turn defined and described with other oppositional
pairs or ‘‘practical taxonomies.’’ The primary opposition brought into
play by the category ‘‘bibelot’’ is useful/useless, since it designates those
goods which are superfluous, as opposed to those with an immediate
use-value. However, in cases where certain connotations or uses of the
term bibelot are contradicted by others, the classification ‘‘bibelot’’
shifts to encompass first one pole of an oppositional pair and then the
other, destabilizing the underlying practical taxonomies. For example,
depending on the context, as shown in examples throughout this book,
‘‘bibelot’’ designates objects which are ‘‘valuable’’ or ‘‘worthless,’’ ‘‘old’’
or ‘‘new,’’ ‘‘beautiful’’ or ‘‘merely pretty,’’ ‘‘artistic’’ or ‘‘kitsch,’’ etc.
The classification ‘‘bibelot,’’ as it is used in literary and para-literary
discourse, is based on systematic contradiction, in that oppositions are
evoked only to be undermined. For this reason, the classification ‘‘bi-
belot’’ pushes ‘‘practical logic’’ to its limits.
Another difficulty with the category ‘‘bibelot’’ is that it draws on the
categories of art appreciation, categories whose ‘‘logic’’ remains largely
practical, despite the best efforts of philosophers like Kant. In discussing
the categories of art appreciation in The Rules of Art, Bourdieu again
relies on the idea of ‘‘practical logic.’’ Artistic judgments ‘‘are organized
according to a structure, but one which does not have the formal rigor of
a properly logical construction’’ (p. ). To illustrate, Bourdieu cites a
contemporary art historian (Michael Baxandall) commenting on the
critical categories of a fifteenth-century critic (Cristoforo Landino):

Pure, easy, gracious, ornate, varied, prompt, blithe, devout, relief, perspective,
colouring and composition, design and foreshortening, imitator of Nature,
lover of the difficulties – Landino offers a basic conceptual equipment for
addressing Quattrocento pictorial quality. His terms have a structure: one is
opposed to, or is allied with, or is subsumed by, or overlaps another. It would
not be difficult to draw a diagram in which these relationships were registered,
but the diagram would imply a systematic rigidity which the terms in practice do not
and should not have.
 Literature and material culture
Baxandall here suggests an opposition between systematic analysis and
practical analysis. Bourdieu makes the further point that the terms of art
criticism originate not in philosophy, but in commerce, in the commis-
sioning and trading of paintings. ‘‘Systematic rigidity’’ corresponds to
philosophical logic, whereas the looser logic of ‘‘practice’’ corresponds
to the domain of the art market. The same is true of bibelots. Like the
lexicon of terms which Baxandall provides in this citation, an extensive
vocabulary for evaluating and categorizing bibelots develops out of the
practices of collecting and trading bibelots in antique shops and at
auctions. Erudite works on collecting and the decorative arts published
in the nineteenth century develop this lexicon into a set of terms which
serves as the ‘‘conceptual equipment’’ for describing bibelots, terms like
those of the fifteenth-century critic cited here (which are not altogether
unlike those still used today). This vocabulary of bibelot-appreciation is
then vulgarized in decorating and collecting ‘‘how-to’’ manuals aimed
at the middle classes. Journalists, essayists, and novelists also borrow
from this lexicon. Like the terms cited by Baxandall, the terms used to
evaluate bibelots ‘‘have a structure’’ which, in practice, does not con-
form to systematic rigidity.
A ‘‘plurality of logics,’’ then, guides perceptions of material culture.
Different practical and formal logics organize different fields (champs) of
cultural production. The growing autonomy of cultural fields like art,
literature, science, private space, commerce, etc., is widely recognized
as a distinctive feature of modernity. However, many of the perceptual
categories of practical and formal logic cut across several of these fields,
the bibelot and related terms being among these.
The remainder of this chapter is organized around three terms which
are not immediately recognizable as applicable to domestic goods,
collectibles, or art objects, but which occur repeatedly in discussions of
the bibelot: imitation, accumulation, and mobility. These terms function in
conjunction with and in opposition to many others. Each opens up sets
of issues related to the topic at hand, the place of the bibelot in the
modernizing reconfiguration, reorganization, and reencoding of ma-
terial culture.

       
From one perspective, ‘‘imitation’’ presupposes the equally pervasive
antonym, ‘‘authentic.’’ From another perspective, ‘‘imitation’’ presup-
poses a different antonym, ‘‘original.’’ Both sets of antonyms are
The logic(s) of material culture 
brought to the forefront during the industrial revolution, since the issue
of imitation is often linked to the copying or reproduction of older
stylistic forms. As a result, in this context the notion of imitation calls
forth further oppositions such as old/new and artistic/industrial. That
the theme of ‘‘imitation’’ is endemic to modern (and postmodern)
culture is amply demonstrated in Hillel Schwartz’s recent weighty book,
The Culture of the Copy.
The theme of imitation in modern culture is of course not limited to
industrial production, nor to the forms of ‘‘mechanical reproduction’’
discussed in Benjamin’s famous essay. Imitation, or ‘‘emulation,’’ to use
Veblen’s term, is also a key concept in discussions of social stratification.
Bourgeois culture is often seen as imitative of noble or artistic models,
which implicitly represent ‘‘authentic’’ culture. However, the binary
imitation/authenticity breaks down upon closer examination of the
chain of who serves as a model for whom. In the case of the nineteenth-
century bibelot-filled interior (what I will call ‘‘the artistic interior’’),
members of the cultural elite imitate collectors and artists; artists imitate
a romanticized image of themselves; the newly wealthy imitate the
cultural elite; the middle classes imitate representations of the decor of
their cultural superiors that they see in shop windows, in the newspaper,
in novels, and at the theater. In this sense, fashion itself is a form of
imitation.
The chain of social imitations commonly known as fashion motivated
a series of manufactured imitations: copies and reproductions of the
objects necessary to furnish fashionable fin-de-siècle interiors. It should
be noted that the techniques of mass production only gradually trans-
form the world of objects in nineteenth-century France, in contrast to
the rapid mechanization of industry in England and Germany. For
many years partial mechanization characterized French industry,
whose particular strength is luxury goods. Reproductions of antiques
produced by partially mechanized artisanal methods predominated
among the decorative goods on the collectors’ market, as well as in retail
stores. Historians now attribute the slowness of French industrialization
not to some sort of ‘‘backwardness,’’ but rather to consumer demand for
high-quality, aesthetically pleasing goods. The widespread taste for the
bibelot can be seen as part of this trend, since bibelots are produced by
the entire range of technological innovation, from hand-production to
partial mechanization to fully industrialized mass production.
Industrial improvements developed during the mid-nineteenth cen-
tury enabled the manufacture of the imitations of art objects and
 Literature and material culture
luxury goods, thereby making luxury objects available and affordable
to hundreds of new consumers. These new technologies include ‘‘zinc
d’art,’’ ‘‘bronze d’art,’’ and ‘‘galvanoplastie,’’ as well as techniques
which speed the production and decoration of glass, crystal, porcelain,
and pottery. ‘‘Dans les diverses branches de l’art de la reproduction
tout a été transformé depuis un demi-siècle’’ [‘‘The various branches of
reproductive art have been completely transformed over the last half-
century’’], remarks the Revue des arts décoratifs in . Most of these
production methods remained partially artisanal, and should not be
conflated with the mass production of full industrialization. These
various production methods increased the output, availability, and
affordability of home furnishings, especially decorative items like bi-
belots.
This increased production of furnishings and decorative objects was
accompanied by an increased production of professional and special-
ized writing about them, the publication of which peaked in the s.
The topic of imitation arises frequently in these texts, which almost
without exception make liberal use of the term ‘‘bibelot’’ in referring to
decorative objects. Chief among these publications is the Revue des arts
décoratifs, which from its first appearance in  combines the voices of
arts administrators, scholars deploying an erudite art-historical dis-
course, elite collectors, museum curators, art critics, and even some
producers from the luxury-arts industries. Several important interior
decorating manuals were published during this decade, some targeting
decorating professionals, others aimed at a middle-class public. This
body of writing is marked by inconsistencies, often within the same
article or book, resulting from conflicts among its several goals: the
elevation of the taste of the public, the preservation and historical study
of French decorative arts treasures from the past, the commercial
promotion of the French decorative arts industries, and the perpetu-
ation of aesthetic standards of elitist collectors. The two latter goals,
industry promotion and ‘‘high-brow’’ aesthetics, often simultaneously
embraced by the same writer, necessarily create an uneasy ambivalence
in regard to imitations and reproductions. Writers of the literary
sphere tend to express negative attitudes toward imitations and repro-
ductions, since for the most part they do not share the goal of promoting
the decorative arts industries. Even Edmond de Goncourt, himself
involved with many of the above-mentioned arts administrators, cura-
tors, art critics, and art collectors, shows little or no tolerance for
industrial imitation of any kind.
The logic(s) of material culture 
Because the techniques of reproduction are many, encompassing the
full range from artisanal to mass production, it is necessary to think
about degrees of imitation in sorting out these published critiques of it.
This complicates and therefore destabilizes the anchoring pole of the
oppositions we set out to examine in this section, imitation/authentic
and imitation/model or original. The various types – or degrees – of
imitation can be divided into four groups: fakes, high-quality reproduc-
tions, simulated luxury materials, and the machine-made imitations of
industrial mass-production.
First, there are imitations best defined as fakes – modern copies which
are marketed as antiques by ‘‘fabricants de fausses antiquités’’ and
‘‘marchands de vieux-neuf.’’ It is here that the opposition old/new
comes into play. The market for fakes prospers from the s to the end
of the century, thanks to the popularity of the bibelot:
Malgré les commotions les plus violentes, le Bibelot règne toujours en souverain
maître. Il faut bien que le nombre des antiquités augmente en raison directe de
celui des amateurs; et c’est se bercer d’illusions que de vouloir empêcher les
naı̈fs d’acheter des vieilleries vendues par des truqueurs de profession.
[Despite the most violent commotion, the Bibelot still reigns as sovereign
master. The number of antiques must of course increase in direct proportion to
the number of collectors. We are deluding ourselves in wanting to prevent the
naive from buying the old-fashioned things sold by professional cheats.]
This citation is taken from Paul Eudel’s Le Truquage (), which
describes in detail the fabrication of different types of counterfeit an-
tiques. The ‘‘truqueurs de profession’’ take full advantage of the many
new collectors seduced by the charm of the bibelot.
In the context of the growing problem of fakes passed off for authentic
antiques, Bosc redefines the term ‘‘bric-à-brac’’ in :
  -̀ -   . – Dans son sens générique, ce terme sert à désigner toute sorte
d’objets vieux, tels que bahuts, armures, bronzes, tableaux, etc. Le goût
prononcé du public pour ces sortes d’objets a donné lieu à une industrie
nouvelle, la fabrication du vieux neuf, exécutée plus ou moins habilement. Il faut
souvent un oeil très exercé pour distinguer un vieil objet de curiosité authen-
tique d’avec un objet faux. En général, le mot bric-à-brac est employé comme
terme de mépris; on l’applique dans la langue usuelle à des objets de peu de
valeur.
[  -  -   . – In its generic sense, this term designates all sorts of old objects,
such as chests, armor, bronzes, paintings, etc. The public’s marked taste for these
sorts of objects has given rise to a new industry, the manufacture of the new
old-fashioned, more or less well-made. Distinguishing an authentic curiosity from a
 Literature and material culture
false one often requires a very practiced eye. The word bric-à-brac is generally
used pejoratively. In common parlance it refers to objects of little value.]

Once associated with old objects, for Bosc the word ‘‘bric-à-brac’’ now
encompasses both new imitations of old valuables and old objects of no
value. In previous times ‘‘old’’ was a negative attribute; in the age of the
bibelot ‘‘old’’ is often synonymous with ‘‘authentic.’’ The opposition
‘‘vieux’’/‘‘neuf’’ folds into the opposition ‘‘authentique’’/‘‘faux,’’ now
that many old objects have acquired value as antiques. However, the
first opposition cannot be reduced to the second.
The second type of imitation comprises those which do not pretend to
be authentic; these are reproductions rather than fakes. In responding to
these products which made up an important part of the French deco-
rative arts industries in the latter part of the century, tastemaking writers
sympathetic to the concerns of trade found themselves torn between
aesthetics and commerce. Most of them discuss well-made reproduc-
tions sympathetically, though with many cautions. For example, in his
decorating manual Spire Blondel praises the mid-nineteenth-century
invention of a technique for making exact bronze reduced copies of
statues, writing that ‘‘aujourd’hui, il est peu d’intérieurs, mêmes mo-
destes, où l’on ne trouve quelques bonnes réductions de l’antique’’
[‘‘there are today few interiors, even modest ones, without some good
reproductions of antiques’’]. In a similar spirit, Eudel (cited above)
carefully distinguishes the reproduction, or avowed imitation, from the
fake, writing that ‘‘Du moment où vous ne donnez pas une copie
comme authentique, l’imitation est parfaitement légitime’’ [‘‘As long as
you do not proclaim a copy authentic, imitation is perfectly legit-
imate’’]. Honesty helps legitimate the reproduction of art works. Even
though Eudel himself numbers among collecting’s elite, he does accept
avowed reproductions. He even notes that such imitations can be
‘‘useful’’ for the arts, pointing out that the imitation ‘‘est souvent très
utile aux peintres et aux statuaires, dont elle vulgarise les oeuvres’’ [‘‘is
often very useful to painters and sculptors, whose works it popularizes’’]
(ibid.). In other words, reproductions publicize the work of artists,
making them known to a wide audience. The higher purpose of art thus
valorizes these miniaturized reproductions of statues, which might
otherwise be considered to be superfluous decorative objects.
‘‘Art’’ is often used to justify, legitimate, and sell the new decorative
products of nineteenth-century industry. Consider the following state-
ments by two decorative arts professionals:
The logic(s) of material culture 
le plus admirable de tous les progrès, c’est la vulgarisation, par le bon marché,
des oeuvres de goût, de luxe et de fantaisie, et nous sommes heureux de
constater que l’immense majorité du public, à qui les arts d’imitation ont permis
une foule de jouissances dont elle fut si longtemps sevrée, partage entièrement
notre avis.
[popularizing tasteful, luxurious, fanciful works by making them affordable is
the most admirable of all advances. We are happy to report that our opin-
ion is shared by the vast majority of the public, for whom the imitative arts
have provided a host of great pleasures, from which they were so long cut
off.]
Le génie de la science moderne semble avoir eu pour objet de diminuer (en
attendant peut-être de la détruire un jour) le privilège exclusif de la richesse en
rendant accessibles à des fortunes modestes les produits les plus merveilleux de
l’industrie et de l’art. Ce qui est certain, c’est que les belles découvertes de la
science ont aujourd’hui pour résultat de distribuer à un très grand nombre les
jouissances de la vie, dont les plus nobles et les plus vives sont le sentiment et la
possession du beau.
[In making accessible the most marvelous products of industry and the arts, the
genius of modern science seems to have held as its goal the diminution (perhaps
awaiting its destruction some day) of the exclusive privilege of wealth. Certain-
ly, the great discoveries of science have today resulted in the distribution of life’s
pleasures to the many. Among these pleasures, the most noble and vivid are the
feeling for and the possession of the beautiful.]

In their promotion of the democratization of comfort and luxury, both


of these defenses of ‘‘les arts d’imitation’’ are informed by what Philip
Nord calls ‘‘republican politics.’’ The first writer cited celebrates the
imitative arts for making tasteful, luxurious, fanciful goods more afford-
able; this ‘‘vulgarisation’’ is considered to be ‘‘[du] progrès.’’ The
second writer credits ‘‘le génie de la science moderne’’ with making the
marvelous products of industry and art available to those of modest
means. Luxury is no longer restricted to the rich. The middle classes
can now afford the ‘‘noble’’ pleasures in life, ‘‘le sentiment et la pos-
session du beau.’’ By linking ‘‘sentiment’’ and ‘‘possession’’ with a
simple ‘‘et,’’ then with ‘‘[le] beau,’’ the writer implies that the noble,
even sublime sentiments aroused by the ‘‘beau’’ can be accessed by
purchasing beautiful things. The writers place reproductions on high
moral ground by evoking the popular causes of progress, modern
science, and the democratization of tasteful luxury goods. Each of these
themes calls upon a powerful ideology. The writers group all of these
together for the purposes of legitimating the reproduction of aristo-
 Literature and material culture
cratic decor for the middle classes. Nord reads such moralistic, politi-
cized writings on domestic furnishings as a part of an elaboration of
bourgeois values. Manuals and journal articles such as those cited here
tend to equate tasteful home decor with values such as the love of
virtue and the appreciation of artistic beauty. While moral values are
clearly at issue, another motivating force behind this barrage of legit-
imating discourses and ideologies must not be forgotten, and that is the
force of consumer capitalism. These two brief statements ardently
defend the increased production and consumption of goods for a much
broader market than before, for a range of consumers unprecedented
in number.
The third type of imitation is the simulation of expensive substances –
‘‘imitations d’or, de bijoux, de parures de tout genre, d’objets d’art de
toute nature et de toute matière, simili-bronze, simili-marbre, etc’’
[‘‘imitations of gold, jewels, all manner of ornament, all sorts of objects
in all substances, simulated bronze, simulated marble, etc.’’]. The
opposition between art and luxury underpins the criticism of this type of
imitation. This helps explain a rather rigorous critique of such simula-
tions, in a decorating manual sympathetic to reproductions of sculpture
in the form of casts:
un bon moulage est partout bien placé . . . Ce qu’il importe, . . . c’est la bonne
foi. Simili bois, simili pierre, simili marbre, simili bronze, c’est-à-dire ce qui
domine trop malheureusement un peu partout dans les milieux qui nous
occupent [the modern middle-class apartment], devrait être banni impitoyab-
lement.
[a good cast is well-placed anywhere . . . Honesty . . . is what counts.
Unfortunately, simulated wood, stone, marble, or bronze predominates every-
where in the settings with which we are concerned +the modern middle-class
apartment,. These simulated substances should be banned without pity.]

This manual shows a marked ambivalence toward imitation. Well-


made casts of statues are acceptable and even desirable, while imitations
of expensive substances are denounced. Even industry professionals find
it difficult to assimilate the cheap reproduction of traditional decorative
materials.
Though the discourse of decorating professionals informs and echoes
that of literary writers, a decidedly negative attitude toward imitation
prevails among the latter, in their journalism as well as in their fiction.
For example, in Zola’s scathing portrayal of the bourgeoisie in his novel
Pot-Bouille, the adjective ‘‘faux’’ appears repeatedly in descriptions of the
The logic(s) of material culture 
simulated luxury of the modern Haussmannian apartment building in
which this novel is set. Unlike the above-cited industry representatives
who speak favorably of reproduction (the second type of imitation), most
literary writers would consider the phrases ‘‘arts d’imitation’’ and ‘‘art
de la reproduction’’ to be oxymorons. These denunciations must be
taken with a proverbial grain of salt, however, since, with the possible
exception of the Goncourts, these literary writers make use of reproduc-
tions and even fakes in their own decor; such is certainly the case of
Balzac, Zola, Huysmans, and Maupassant.
The fourth and final category of imitation, that of industrialized
mass-production, inspires harsh words in both professional and literary
discourse. Here the categories of bibelot and kitsch overlap. In a
decorating manual explicitly dedicated to middle-class housewives,
Henri de Noussane speaks out against the cheapest bibelots, those made
by machine:
La machine triomphe. Elle produit par milliers des imitations grossières de
meubles délicats. La pacotille à effet est mise à la portée de toutes les bourses.
Hélas! cette pacotille ne développe pas les instincts artistiques; elle encourage les
appétits de luxe, dangereux appétits.
[The machine is triumphant, producing by the thousands crude imitations of
delicate furnishings. Cheap trinkets are now within the grasp of all pocket-
books. Alas! these trinkets do not develop artistic instincts, but rather encourage
the appetite for luxury, a dangerous appetite.]
Noussane relies on the dichotomy art/luxury to support his critique of
mass reproduction. Cheap copies perpetuate the love of luxury, not the
love of art.
Echoing this anti-mass production sentiment with particular vio-
lence, Huysmans eloquently denounces industrial imitations of the
lowest quality – or ‘‘l’ignominieuse camelote des pastiches lancés dans le
commerce’’ [‘‘the ignominious junk of pastiches thrown into the mar-
ketplace’’], as he puts it. His colorfully vehement response is particularly
telling:
Ce n’est donc pas assez que le premier venu puisse copier à la grosse les
meubles du Musée de Cluny! Je sais bien que l’on n’est pas obligé de les acheter,
mais il faut bien les voir puisqu’ils emplissent des boulevards entiers et des rues!
– Et que sont ces boutiques à côté de ces magasins de faux Sèvres et de faux
Saxe dont le boulevard Saint-Germain regorge?
[It isn’t enough that any firstcomer can copy the Cluny museum’s furnishings
by by the gross! I realize one is not obligated to buy, but one cannot avoid
 Literature and material culture
seeing them since they fill entire boulevards and streets! – And what are these
boutiques next to the shops of fake Sèvres and fake Saxe, which abound on the
Boulevard Saint-Germain.]

Though it is not clear whether the neo-Gothic furnishings in question


represent the well-made reproductions of skilled craftsmen, or mass
production (hinted at by the phrase ‘‘à la grosse’’), the target is clearly
the entire industrialization process. Quantity is emphasized with strong-
ly worded phrasing evoking an image of overflow (‘‘emplissent,’’ ‘‘re-
gorge’’), which raises the issue of accumulation, the subject of the next
section of this chapter.
But it is not only the poor quality and mass quantity of these wares
that Huysmans finds offensive, it is also and especially their inescapable
display. After a description of the vulgar colors and neo-rococo decora-
tions of industrial porcelain, the passage continues:
L’horreur de cette vaisselle est incomparable et, quoi qu’on fasse, même en
changeant de trottoir, il faut qu’on la subisse, car l’oeil attiré par cette couleur
crue s’égare quand même vers elle et s’y attarde; il y a là une impulsion forcée,
morbide, l’attraction de l’horrible, la malacie du monstrueux, le pica du laid! –
Et je ne parle pas des redoutables étalages des pendules artistiques Louis XIII,
fabriquées par des négociants dont l’extermination lente et compliquée me
serait douce!
[The horror of this dishware is incomparable. No matter what one does, even
changing sidewalks, one must suffer it. Drawn by the crude colors, the eye
wanders toward it and pauses anyway. This impulse is forced, morbid, the
attraction of the horrible, the inedibility of the monstrous, and the acidity of the
ugly! – Not to mention the formidable displays of artistic Louis XIII clocks, made
by dealers whose long, complicated extermination would seem sweet to me.]

These products of industrial mass production horrify Huysmans’s nar-


rator. The obscure terms ‘‘pica’’ and ‘‘malacie’’ refer to deprivations of
the appetite, morbid likings for the inedible and for the acidic (respec-
tively). Furthermore, the streets of Paris inspire in the narrator a
Benjaminian ‘‘shock’’ strong enough to produce murderous intentions,
provoked not by the crowd of people but rather by the intrusive invasion
of consumer goods.
This is not the case with the traditional, stupidly innocent non-
industrial popular art of equally poor taste, ‘‘car, en somme, ces pauv-
retés ne gâtaient rien et surtout ne contaminaient point, sous prétexte
d’art appliqué à l’industrie, les oeuvres originales de Musées’’ [‘‘since,
after all, these poor things spoiled nothing, and above all did not
The logic(s) of material culture 
contaminate original Museum works, under the auspices of art applied
to industry’’]. It is here that Huysmans seems to strike at the heart of the
problem of the modern implications of the term ‘‘industrial art’’: the
‘‘contamination’’ of high culture, as if industrialized imitation were a
disease. Though the cheap industrial decorative object in no way
presents the danger of confusion with its model, as is the case with the
fake, and though it is not especially in worse taste than the naive
hand-made object of popular art, it mimics too closely ‘‘les oeuvres
originales’’ of museums, producing an acute discomfort. It is with an
obvious bitter irony that Huysmans uses the adjective ‘‘artistiques’’ in
reference to the Louis XIII clocks, although it is a common marketing
term at this time.
The various pronouncements about imitation in the body of writing I
have been citing do more that record and document an ambivalence
toward industrial reproduction. These publications help teach the
middle classes that their interior reflects their character and that of their
family. Consumers are shown how to express themselves by the good
taste of their furnishings. Of equal importance, this writing helps to set
in place a schema for evaluating and judging these new products. By
making distinctions between different types of imitation (for example,
casts of statuettes versus simulated gold or marble), subtle gradations in
quality can be used to differentiate among items which are very much
alike, creating new ‘‘categories of perception’’ (Bourdieu’s term). The
basis for social ‘‘distinction’’ is maintained, for even though luxury is
spreading, the democratization of luxury is only allowed to go so far:
although the middle classes can buy decorative goods which resemble
those of elite collectors, they are at the same time given the means to
understand the exact degree of inferiority of what they purchase.

     
The proliferation of the bibelot raises the problem of accumulation, as
signaled by the recurrence of certain expressions cited in this and the
previous chapter: encombrer, amasser, inonder, myriades, torrent, proportions
inouı̈es, flot montant, débordant, à la grosse, emplir, regorger, s’amonceler, profusion
[to encumber, to amass, to inundate, myriads, torrent, unheard-of
proportions, rising tide, overflowing, in bulk, to fill, to abound in, to pile
up, profusion]. These terms are rarely, if ever, meant to be flattering, for
accumulation poses practical problems on at least three levels: physical,
aesthetic, and moral. Physically, there is the problem of what to do with
 Literature and material culture
material abundance, where to put it, how to arrange it, how to display it.
Aesthetically, accumulation produces the effect of disorder, confusion,
and incoherence. On the moral order accumulation is associated with
greed, decadence, licentiousness, gratuity, purposelessness, and vulgar
materialism. While aesthetes and other fashion-minded Parisians who
enthusiastically embraced the bibelot typically rejected or dismissed the
moral condemnation of accumulation, even they faced the physical and
aesthetic dilemmas associated with it.
Collecting and accumulation function as a dichotomous pair. When
an accumulation is reframed as a collection, each of the negative moral
attributes of accumulation listed above translates into its ‘‘positive’’
counterpart. For example, mere accumulation represents the hoarding
of a miscellaneous group of things gathered for no useful purpose other
than the satisfaction of lustful greed. In contrast, a collection represents
the systematic gathering of a selective group of things for higher purposes
such as science, aesthetics, or memory preservation. Collecting mobi-
lizes powerful legitimating discourses such as science, art, sentimentality,
and conservation to justify interest in material, earthly things. Accumu-
lation is irrational, sensuous, and libidinal. Collecting is orderly, intellec-
tual, and purposeful. The concept of the collection not only justifies and
legitimates the acquisition of otherwise superfluous material things, but
also provides them with meaning, value, and organizational principles.
From another perspective, collecting is not the opposite of accumula-
tion, but rather a form of it, and a historically specific one at that. The
pattern of accumulation specific to a particular time and place could be
called a ‘‘mode of accumulation,’’ and would correspond to Marx’s
‘‘mode of production.’’ Collecting bibelots symptomatizes the mode of
accumulation which characterizes nineteenth-century Europe and
North America, caught up in the grip of emerging mass consumption.
What I am calling ‘‘mode of accumulation’’ determines the fate of
surplus material goods circulating in the economy, the way they are
acquired and by whom, as well as how they are stored, displayed, and
disposed of. The bibelot is by definition associated with surplus, and is a
visible marker of a shift in the mode of accumulation which corresponds
to the rise of industrial capitalism, the mode of production of late
nineteenth-century France. I have chosen to speak of a ‘‘mode of
accumulation’’ rather than a ‘‘mode of consumption’’ because the
category ‘‘bibelot’’ includes so many objects which are not considered to
be consumer goods (defined as those recently manufactured objects
which pass through the marketplace by means of monetary exchange).
The logic(s) of material culture 
More comprehensive than the notion of consumption is that of accumu-
lation, which comprises not only the purchase of consumer goods, but
also the acquisition of material artifacts through non-market mecha-
nisms like plunder, ‘‘primitive’’ exchange (such as that practiced by
ethnologists like Captain Cook), gift exchange, inheritance, second-
hand markets, auctions, and the ‘‘recycling’’ of debris. Furthermore,
bibelots are generally not ‘‘used up’’ or ‘‘consumed,’’ but rather are
stockpiled, which is more in keeping with the notion of accumulation
than with that of consumption. For these reasons, the nineteenth-
century bibelot is best thought of as a pre-consumer object. It is an object
poised on the brink of full-fledged mass consumption.
Collecting serves as a basic mechanism for the ‘‘mode of accumula-
tion’’ of emergent mass consumption. The logic and mechanisms of
collecting inform the entire nineteenth-century world of objects, provid-
ing models for displaying and classifying goods in such diverse spaces as
the living room, the department store, and the museum. Collecting, as
notion and practice, provides an already familiar model for addressing
the threefold problem of accumulation – physical problems of storage,
aesthetic problems of display, and moral problems of justifiable purpose.
Collecting must be understood as part of a broader process of assimila-
ting, managing, and promoting the material accumulation which results
from the multiplication of objects during the consumer revolution.
The accumulations of things typically associated with fin-de-siècle
bourgeois decor hardly correspond to twentieth-century notions of the
collection, which is seen as more selective and orderly than it was a
century ago. Because nineteenth-century collections were so eclectic,
the terms listed at the beginning of this section were often used to
criticize the period’s decor. These very terms in fact come to character-
ize the ‘‘mode of accumulation’’ of this era, a mode very different than
that which currently prevails in the United States and Europe. The
density of objects found in even the most elegant interiors of the s
and s would strike most people today as cluttered, chaotic, and
utterly unlivable. As Peter Thornton explains in discussing traits shared
by Victorian and fin-de-siècle Parisian interiors, those who lived in them
perceived them differently than we do:

The characteristic Victorian look, it is commonly believed, was one of clutter,


bold patterns, suffocating drapery and a proliferation of ornaments . . . One
must . . . remember that most Victorians liked [this look]: it did not seem
cluttered to them. Clearly, the Victorian eye – or rather, the Western eye
 Literature and material culture
between  and  – was exceptionally ready to assimilate complex
patterns, whether in the form of ornament or as combinations of objects.

The disposition of the ‘‘Western eye’’ towards these ‘‘complex patterns’’


in ornament or object groupings is the historically necessary condition
for the reign of the bibelot in European decor. The practice of collecting
cultivates this ocular predisposition. The Occidental eye has changed;
we no longer appreciate nor even understand such complex arrange-
ments, which are usually less chaotic than they appear to us.
The success of these ‘‘complex patterns’’ in fact depends on their
subtly structured organization, as the ‘‘how-to’’ books on home decorat-
ing are quick to explain. Blondel offers an axiom to this effect:
Les produits de l’Art Intime, quelque magnifiques, quelque luxueux, quelque
précieux qu’ils puissent être, perdent toute leur valeur décorative s’ils ne sont
groupés avec goût, ordre et symétrie.
[The products of Intimate Art, as magnificent, luxurious and precious as they
may be, lose all of their decorative value if they are not grouped together with
taste, order and symmetry.]
Yet in spite of its underlying structure, the salient feature of this decor
remains its dense encumberment. To appreciate the specificity of the
late nineteenth-century European mode of accumulation as manifested
in the bibelot-filled interior, one has but to imagine other manifestations
of accumulation, other modes specific to other times and places.
Pierre Loti finds an alternative to the fin-de-siècle European mode of
accumulation in the Far East. Loti was himself a passionate collector,
gathering bibelots from ports around the world during his voyages as a
French naval officer, while recounting these experiences in a series of
largely autobiographical novels. Madame Chrysanthème is narrated in the
first person by a naval officer at port in Japan. The officer ‘‘goes native’’
by adapting himself to the habits of Japanese daily life, taking up
residence in a Japanese house with a Japanese concubine (Puccini’s
opera Madam Butterfly was heavily influenced by this novel). Contrasting
European collecting and decorating practices with those he finds in his
new temporary home, the narrator explains that the Japanese collection
is discreetly stored in albums and drawers, shown only to select visitors
on special occasions. What he describes here can be seen as an alterna-
tive ‘‘mode of accumulation,’’ one very different from that of his Pari-
sian contemporaries. He notes that though Japanese collectibles have
become very popular among Parisian collectors, these are displayed in a
decidedly un-Japanese manner:
The logic(s) of material culture 
Je souris en moi-même au souvenir de certains salons dits japonais encombrés de
bibelots et tendus de grossières broderies d’or sur satin d’exportation, que j’ai
vus chez les belles Parisiennes. Je leur conseille, à ces personnes, de venir
regarder comment sont ici les maisons des gens de goût, – de venir visiter les
solitudes blanches des palais de Yeddo. (p. )
[I smile to myself at the thought of certain so-called Japanese salons, cluttered
with bibelots and hung with cheap gold-embroidered satin, which I have seen
in the homes of beautiful Parisians. I advise such persons to come look at the
homes of people of taste here, to come visit the white solitude of the palaces of
Yeddo.]
The aesthetics of encumberment which reigns in the homes of high-
society women in s Paris is thus contrasted against the aesthetics of
sobriety which reigns in the tastefully decorated homes of Japan. The
narrator finds sobriety more tasteful than conspicuous accumulation.
The narrator so admires the austere dignity of the Japanese interior that
he becomes critical of the cluttered interior in vogue in Paris. Describing
a visit to a Buddhist monastery, he remarks that ‘‘on se dit qu’il y a
beaucoup trop de bibelots chez nous en France; on prend en grippe
soudaine la profusion, l’encombrement’’ (p. ) [‘‘one realizes that
there are far too many bibelots at home in France. One suddenly
becomes nauseated by the profusion, by the encumberment’’].
And yet despite his admiration for Japanese austerity and his nausea
(‘‘grippe’’) at the thought of European profusion, he cannot resist
accumulating according to the patterns established by the ‘‘mode of
accumulation’’ by which he is historically determined. During his stay in
Japan, he continues to collect, filling his Japanese residence with a
bounty of bibelots. Loti’s awareness of the practical and aesthetic
problems inherent in the nineteenth-century European mode of accu-
mulation is evidenced in the following remarks:
Et ce que j’achète s’amoncelle là-haut, dans ma maisonnette de bois et de
papier; – elle était bien plus japonaise pourtant, dans sa nudité première . . . Il y
a maintenant plusieurs lampes, de forme religieuse, qui descendent du plafond;
beaucoup d’escabeaux et beaucoup de vases; des dieux et des déesses autant
que dans une pagode. (p. )
[And what I buy piles up, up there in my little house of wood and paper. It was,
however, much more Japanese in its original bareness . . . Now several lamps,
religious in form, hang down from the ceiling; numerous stools and vases; as
many gods and goddesses as in a pagoda.]
Almost in spite of himself, the narrator too has amassed ‘‘beaucoup trop
de bibelots,’’ he has not followed the example of his hosts. As he packs
 Literature and material culture
these things in preparing to leave, he becomes acutely aware of their
physical mass: ‘‘Mais quel effrayant bagage! Dix-huit caisses ou paquets,
de bouddhas, de chimères, de vases’’ (p. ) [‘‘what frightful luggage!
Eighteen cases or packages, Buddhas, chimeras, vases’’]. Loti presents
his narrator-protagonist as a person acting compulsively. This is not
unusual in the portrayal of the collector, although Loti does not use
terms like ‘‘passion’’ and ‘‘desire,’’ as do writers like Balzac and
Maupassant in their portrayals. What is singular about Loti’s depic-
tion is the comparatist aspect, the contrast he makes between Parisian
and Japanese collectors. Loti implies that the sort of collector’s compul-
sion which leads to the bibelot-filled living room is a culturally specific
feature of European collecting practices.
Just as Loti’s novel points to the cultural specificity of collecting
bibelots, so Flaubert’s Trois contes provides insight into the phenomenon’s
historical specificity. First, there is the matter of periodization, raised by
the setting of each tale in a different epoch: ancient, medieval, and
modern. This schema of periodization corresponds nicely to Marx’s
historical ‘‘modes of production’’ (ancient, feudal, and capitalist), and
can be said to correspond in turn to correlative modes of accumulation
staged in Flaubert’s tales: ancient in ‘‘Hérodias,’’ feudal in ‘‘La Légende de
Saint Julien l’hospitalier,’’ and capitalist in ‘‘Un Coeur simple.’’ These
patterns of accumulation manifest themselves in the texts in the form of
lists. In his essay ‘‘Flaubert’s Libidinal Historicism: Trois contes,’’ Fredric
Jameson notes that in each tale the enumeration of a collection ‘‘inter-
rupts the movements of agents and actants with a descriptive cumulation
that seems irreducible to narrative meaning.’’ ‘‘Un Coeur simple’’
includes a list of ‘‘the debris, the broken objects and commemorative
traces that surround the elderly Félicité’’ (p. ). The narrator of ‘‘Saint
Julien’’ lists ‘‘the phalanx of oneiric beasts, the ladder of the animal
kingdom, that nags Julien’s steps like a remorse, even as he slaughters
them in a frenzy of blood lust’’ (p. ). I would add that ‘‘Saint Julien’’ also
includes seemingly insignificant lists depicting the material abundance in
the paternal château, the notation of barrels of wine, carpets, linens, oak
chests, sacks of money, and a collection of weapons. Finally, ‘‘Hérodias’’
includes a rather lengthy passage listing the contents of the Biblical ruler
Herod’s concealed vaults of treasures, weapons, and horses.
Before further elaborating on the specific historical context of each
collection, I would like to follow Jameson in shifting the question of
history from the level of periodization to another level, one which one
might call historical subjectivity, by which I mean the relationship
The logic(s) of material culture 
between the author (or author-function) and history itself. What is
intriguing about Jameson’s essay, and the reason I discuss it here, is the
connection which he does not explicitly make, that between these enu-
merations and what he calls ‘‘libidinal historicism,’’ the main topic of
the essay. This notion is coined for the purposes of rethinking ‘‘the
writer’s relationship to history, to dead history, to the past, in some new
way, which is no longer dominated by static ideas of representation or of
some ‘vision of history’ in which a given artist is supposed to believe.’’
He continues, ‘‘Preferable, it would seem, is the notion of a libidinal
investment in the past – indeed, of a libidinal historicism’’ (p. ). Here
Jameson’s remarks can be fruitfully combined with Bourdieu’s opposi-
tion of practical logic to analytic logic. The ‘‘vision of history’’ which a
critic would ascribe to an author corresponds to the rigid theoretical
logic of positivist academic discourse. In contrast, Jameson’s ‘‘libidinal
historicism’’ belongs to a more intuitive logic of practice.
The notion of libidinal historicism allows for a reconceptualization of
the complex relationship between the three tales, seemingly so dispa-
rate, comprising as they do not only the above-mentioned historical
disparities, but also disparities of social position and genre. Félicité is a
servant, while Julien is heir to a feudal fortune then a lord in his own
right, and Herod is a Roman ruler. The servant Félicité treasures debris,
while the two noblemen stockpile treasures. Because ‘‘Un Coeur
simple’’ is set in late nineteenth-century bourgeois provincial France, it
is the only tale which can be considered realist. With its omens, sooth-
sayers, and prophetic dreams evocative of the mystical Christian Middle
Ages, ‘‘Saint Julien’’ belongs to the tradition of the conte [folk or fairy
tale]. ‘‘Hérodias,’’ set in the Middle Eastern despot’s palace, is more
difficult to classify, but most resembles a Bible story. Historical setting is
certainly the primary source of disparity among the tales. The question
which Jameson formulates, however, is not so much one of period or
genre, but rather one of historical subjectivity:

why, we might ask ourselves, should this unquestionable nineteenth-century


present, the object of a henceforth classical Flaubertian realism, project, not one,
but two distinct pasts, two distinct and seemingly irreconcilable historical
trajectories? The desacralized world seems indeed to fantasize its own geneal-
ogy in two separate semic systems: the medieval world, the world of miracles,
faith and legend; and the classical world, which we have heard Flaubert admire
for its despotism, the world of aesthetic sadism and ‘‘bloodlust,’’ of Delacroix’s
La Mort de Sardanapale, the world of Salammbô and of what will shortly be termed,
by the fin de siècle, décadence. (p. )
 Literature and material culture
The idea of fantasizing a ‘‘genealogy in two separate semic systems’’
suggests a fruitful way of thinking about the history of material culture.
To rephrase Jameson’s formulation, in Flaubert’s triptych the nine-
teenth-century mode of accumulation projects its genealogy in two
different directions, in ‘‘two distinct and irreconcilable historical trajec-
tories,’’ each with its own distinct semic system. Flaubert inscribes in
material culture, in the three collections, the traces of a connection
between the seemingly separate modern, medieval, and classical worlds,
through the gratuitous accumulation of narratively insignificant signi-
fiers. It is highly significant that these signifiers refer to material things,
many of them domestic goods. It is at once their sensual materiality and
their insignificance that makes them well suited to serve as vehicles for
libidinal impulses.
Of the collections enumerated in Trois contes, only Félicité’s could
properly be assigned to the modern world of the bibelot, though the old
servant’s treasures hardly merit even this often disparaging term.
(Flaubert in fact does not use the term ‘‘bibelot’’ in ‘‘Un Coeur simple,’’
though he does use it repeatedly in referring to bourgeois accumulations
and collections in L’Education sentimentale and Bouvard et Pécuchet). How-
ever, borrowing Jameson’s formulation, I would suggest that the accu-
mulations of princely material goods enumerated in ‘‘Saint Julien’’ and
‘‘Hérodias’’ function as a genealogy of the servant Félicité’s pitiful
souvenirs – these include cheap religious trinkets, a shell-work box given
her by her dead son, some of her bourgeois mistress’s old decorative
castoffs, like artificial flowers, an engraving of a count, and of course the
stuffed parrot Loulou. The servant’s room within the modern bourgeois
interior depicted in ‘‘Un Coeur simple’’ can thus be read as the cultural
counterpart to the private interiors of the ruling classes of the past, to the
palaces of monarchs and despots as in ‘‘Hérodias,’’ and to the châteaux of
feudal lords as in ‘‘La Légende de Saint Julien l’hospitalier.’’
Flaubert does not, of course, set out to represent a history of the modes
of accumulation, nor are material things in the three tales necessarily
meant to function as historical decor. Rather, Flaubert exhibits a libidi-
nal relationship not only to history, but also to material culture. Seen in
the light of practical logic as outlined at the beginning of this chapter,
‘‘libidinal historicism’’ can be understood as a practice of experiencing
history as the presence of the past, rather than as an analysis of history
which produces academic narrative. The practice (as opposed to the
study) of historicity produces what Jameson refers to as ‘‘some deeper
fantasy about history itself.’’ History is, for Jameson, inseparable from
The logic(s) of material culture 
political economy, hence the concluding sentence of his essay: ‘‘In
Flaubert’s political unconscious then, the mode of representation has
become the vehicle for an unresolvable libidinal meditation on the nature
of modes of production’’ (p. ). I would add that since modes of
production are inseparable from the modes of accumulation and con-
sumption which fuel them, Flaubert’s political unconscious is compelled
to libidinally meditate on accumulation and consumption as well.
The question remains, why does Félicité represent bourgeois culture
in this historically panoramic triptych, rather than a more classic bour-
geois figure like the pharmacist Homais in Madame Bovary? In posing this
question Jameson notes Félicité’s tenuous relationship to the production
process, to industrial capitalism, and to modernization generally: as a
woman and servant, she is not even a working woman or peasant, she
‘‘cannot register the truth of the modern world except by proxy and as
absence and marginalization’’ (p. ). It seems to me that Flaubert’s
‘‘political unconscious’’ leads him to libidinally cathect onto Félicité not
for her relationship to the bourgeois (or capitalist) mode of production,
but rather for her relationship to the bourgeois mode of accumulation, a
mode notable as much for its rubbish, for its production of waste, as for
its production of treasure. The production of debris serves as almost as
sure an indicator of wealth in today’s capitalist countries as gross
national product. Furthermore, unlike princely treasures such as those
of Julien and Herod in the other two tales, the treasures of bourgeois
material culture become even more garishly kitsch over time. By high-
lighting the horrifically bad taste of this culture, as compared to the
gargantuan wealth of the ancient and medieval ruling classes, made
even more splendid by the contrast, Flaubert once again reiterates the
appalling mediocrity of the modern bourgeoisie. However, to dwell too
long on the differences between the servant’s trash and the two princes’
treasures is to risk overlooking matters of form by getting lost in theme
and content. Libidinally, there is perhaps little qualitative difference
between piles of trash and piles of treasure. The poetic pleasures of
enumeratio likewise remain much the same, whether the writer lists
signifiers of beauty or signifiers of banality.

    
‘‘Mobility,’’ as opposed to ‘‘immobility,’’ ‘‘fixity,’’ or ‘‘stability,’’ can be
understood physically, socially, and economically. Physically, bibelots
are not only inert, but are also generally immobile, lying around on
 Literature and material culture
shelves gathering dust. However, the opposite is also true: again in
spatial terms, bibelots are mobile, as compared to architectural features
or even large pieces of furniture. It might be remembered that the
French word for building is immeuble, from the Latin immobilis (immo-
bile), while the word for furniture is meuble, or mobile. Socially, the
bibelot comes in all price ranges, and is thus found in the dwelling spaces
of persons spanning a wide range of classes, occupations, and lifestyles;
the bibelot is thus sociologically mobile as well. Economically, bibelots
circulate freely through the marketplace.
The spatial mobility of the bibelot corresponds to trends outlined in a
best-selling decorating manual of , pedantically subtitled ‘‘Gram-
maire de l’ameublement.’’ Henry Havard describes two main types of
interior decoration, ‘‘fixed’’ and ‘‘mobile.’’ Fixed decor relies on
‘‘l’architecture même de la pièce,’’ and thus consists of such elements as
wainscoting, wall covering, ornamental door frames, piers painted with
scenes, and the room’s general proportions. In contrast, mobile decor
relies primarily on ‘‘des meubles et des objets d’art,’’ including seating,
display cabinets, paintings, and mirrors, ‘‘disposés d’une façon plus ou
moins pittoresque.’’ The bibelot-filled interior is of course of the
second type, mobile, based as it is on the accumulation of certain types
of objects and furnishings.
The spatial mobility of the modern interior facilitates the bibelot’s
movements across social strata. With its sculpted moldings and painted
panels, the fixed decor described here by Havard is limited to the
wealthy. A simplified version of architecturally fixed decor does exist
among the rural popular classes, whose beds and storage units are often
built-in. These rustic homes, however, do not satisfy the taste for
luxury, a preference which is by no means restricted to the privileged. In
addition, the development of standardized apartment buildings de-
signed in response to urban population growth makes fixed decor even
more financially inaccessible even to many among the cultural elite.
Though a family of modest income living in Paris during the second half
of the nineteenth century cannot afford a custom-designed ‘‘fixed’’
interior decor, it can satisfy its desire for luxury by gradually accumulat-
ing the disparate elements necessary for a mobile decor, using antiques,
copies, or fakes. The density of objects in this type of interior tends to be
high not only because accumulation and profusion are valorized, but
also because period furnishings originally designed for large aristocratic
dwellings are routinely introduced into the middle classes’ smaller
modern Parisian homes and apartments. The bibelot is perfectly
The logic(s) of material culture 
adapted to add a touch of aristocratic luxury to these scaled-down
spaces. As Havard observes, mobile decor is the more appropriate
design strategy not only for the middle-class family, but also for the
artist, since the ‘‘décoration fixe’’ tends to be ‘‘moins personnelle, moins
intime.’’ Of course, the flattering association with the artist makes the
eclectic interior even more appealing to fashion-conscious members of
the middle class.
Because the middle classes cannot always afford the ‘‘oeuvre d’art de
qualité supérieure’’ recommended by Havard, another decorating man-
ual explains how the housewife of modest means can create her own
eclectic interior:
Vous avez de vieux meubles, des imitations de l’ancien et des bagatelles
modernes, un portrait de Largillière et un paysage de Corot; ingéniez-vous par
le jeu des tapis et des tentures à tout harmoniser dans un cadre élégant. Vous
trouverez là l’occasion de donner une note personnelle et, à ce mélange
composite, un caractère particulier.
[You have old furnishings, imitations of antiques and modern trifles, a portrait
by Largillière and a landscape by Corot. Playfully arrange the carpets and wall
coverings so as to harmonize everything within an elegant frame. This will allow
you to add a personal note and particular character to this composite melange.]

It is noteworthy that both manuals use the word ‘‘personnelle’’ in


conjunction with decor. These objects are personalized not by a sym-
bolic relationship to the owner (such as the souvenir), nor even by their
integration into a collection, but simply by their tasteful arrangement.
The mobile and affordable bibelot, which can be purchased, combined,
and recombined more easily than fixed architectural installations, lends
itself to self-expression – or at least is promoted that way by these two
advocates of the decorative arts industries.
The bibelot, marketed by Havard as an objet d’art, is on the verge of
becoming an objet de consommation, acquiring an ever greater economic
mobility. Though nineteenth-century Paris could anachronistically be
called a ‘‘consumer culture,’’ it is important to recognize that the
consumption practices of this period differ significantly from those of the
much later state of affairs known as ‘‘consumer society.’’ It therefore
seems to me useful to periodize the notion of consumption by character-
izing the earlier state as an era of ‘‘proto-consumption.’’ The proto-
consumer period can be thought of as a phase of apprenticeship to
consumption, which entails the establishment and learning of the be-
haviors and practices upon which present-day consumer culture is built.
 Literature and material culture
Like any consumer culture, the proto-consumer period in France is
marked by the proliferation, circulation, and accumulation of material
goods. However, the proto-consumer has not yet assimilated one of the
most characteristic traits of twentieth-century consumer society: the
disposability of goods. Defining the late twentieth-century consumer
object in terms of disposability, I identify the late nineteenth-century
consumer object with an earlier developmental stage: the mobility of
goods. Situating it in terms of an evolution of the consumer object, the
nineteenth-century bibelot belongs to the stage of mobility, as opposed
to the later stage of disposability. The mobile bibelot is subject to
proliferation, circulation, and accumulation. Although it is rarely dis-
posed of, its mobility distinguishes it from most durable goods.
Thanks to the physical, social, and economic mobility of nineteenth-
century household goods, the objects of home decor become ever more
manipulable. Traces of the modern mobility of furnishings are to be
found throughout the narratives of the period. Exemplary in this respect
are Flaubert’s L’Education sentimentale (first published in ; set in the
s) and Zola’s Nana (published in ; set in the s). Nana is
written a decade later than L’Education sentimentale, and set two decades
later. The two novels’ characters are thus separated by a full generation
of life under the consumer society of the Second Empire. As a result,
some are more evolved as consumers than are others.
I begin with Flaubert, whose Parisian characters and settings thrive
on contradictions, ambivalences, and paradoxes brought about by a
constant alternation between two opposed attitudes toward modern
consumption: unbridled enthusiasm and nostalgic resistance. In addi-
tion, buying alternates with selling, giving with taking back, fetishizing
with destroying. Above all, the world of objects in L’Education sentimentale
is a dynamic one, frenetically so, marked by ceaseless circulation,
exchange, and proliferation. Given this context, it should come as no
surprise that bibelots abound. Arnoux sells them, Frédéric buys them,
both give them to the women they pursue. In a word, the material
culture of this novel is highly mobile.
In the frequently cited descriptions of Arnoux’s shady artistic milieu,
Flaubert signals a mutation in the art market: portable art works are
now preferred over large paintings. The pitiful artist Pellerin says of
another artist’s work: ‘‘c’est joli, coquet et pas lourd! ça peut se mettre
dans sa poche, se prendre en voyage!’’ [‘‘it’s pretty, coquettish, and not
heavy! You can put it in your pocket, take it along on a journey!’’]. Later
in the novel, Arnoux changes businesses. He explains the move from
The logic(s) of material culture 
dealer of paintings to dealer of porcelain: ‘‘La grande peinture est passée
de mode! D’ailleurs, on peut mettre de l’art partout. Vous savez, moi,
j’aime le Beau!’’ [‘‘Grand painting is no longer fashionable! Besides, you
can put art anywhere. You know how I love the Beautiful’’]. Instead of
insisting on Flaubert’s already well-documented hatred of bourgeois
Philistinism in artistic matters, I would like to underline his latent
consciousness that the decorative object is becoming lighter, physically
and symbolically, and consequently more mobile, both physically and
socially. As these objects manifest heightened mobility, they at the same
time become more ‘‘consumable.’’
L’Education sentimentale incorporates this new mobility into the very
structure of the narrative: part one of the novel is separated from part
two not only by the event of Frédéric’s inheritance, but also by the
Arnoux’s change of domicile. Part two opens with Frédéric’s confused
wanderings in the streets of Paris after the destabilizing displacement of
Arnoux’s bourgeois home. The domestic mobility foreshadows a politi-
cal mobility: part three of the novel similarly stages Frédéric’s walks
amidst the chaotic aftermath following the  barricades. This insta-
bility fundamental to the text is accentuated by the surprising number of
dwellings described in the novel: more than fifteen. Frédéric moves
from the provinces to Paris, from apartment to apartment, reinforcing
the sense of movement as he simultaneously moves from career to
career, from social circle to social circle, from best friend to best friend,
from lover to lover. The movement is not always up the social or
financial ladder, but is rather circuitous and haphazard.
There is a historical basis for Flaubert’s fictitious portrayal of domes-
tic displacement. The mobility of tenants is among the effects of the
massive population movement from the provinces to Paris, and the
subsequent need for more housing which in large part fuels Haussman-
nization. Writing in the s, Georges d’Avenel notes that during the
second half of the nineteenth century, Parisians move frequently, in
search of ever better housing. D’Avenel expresses the subjective effects
of this displacement in rather flowery terms: ‘‘Mobile amas de poussière
humaine, la foule s’assoit, sans s’y attacher, devant ces foyers sans
histoire, témoins indifférents de sa joie ou de sa douleur’’ [‘‘Mobile mass
of human dust, without forming attachments the crowd sits down in
front of these hearths without history, indifferent witnesses to its joys or
sorrows’’]. For the modern Parisian, ‘‘parvenus que nous sommes,’’
writes d’Avenel, home is no longer a fixed and stable point. What
d’Avenel states rather clearly, and what Flaubert stages in Frédéric’s
 Literature and material culture
frantic search for familiar ground, is the intimate nature of the relation-
ship between persons and their built environment. The mobility of
modern dwellers who are quick to change dwellings produces changes
in the affect which human subjects invest in material objects, like
houses. Spatial mobility thus reflects a new psychological mobility, as
well as a new mobility in social relations.
In L’Education sentimentale, one element consistently present through-
out this destabilizing series of crises and transformations is shopping.
With every change of fortune, Frédéric buys new clothing and furnish-
ings. Strolling through the streets of Paris with Deslauriers, the latter
talks politics while Frédéric almost absentmindedly orders a set of dishes
from a shop, then arranges for an entirely new wardrobe. He continues
to shop all during the demonstrations and riots in the streets of Paris, for
example to furnish the temporary apartment rented for the (missed)
rendezvous with Madame Arnoux. The novel’s numerous Paris street
scenes almost invariably make mention of the shops and window dis-
plays which provide a backdrop for characters constantly on the move.
The circulation of characters through the city and among different
domiciles is doubled by a circulation of material objects. Numerous
items from Arnoux’s shop, such as table services and ornaments, are
found in the lodgings of his wife, Frédéric, and Rosanette.
Of special significance is a bibelot, Madame Arnoux’s well-known
coffret, an exquisite gift from her husband. A characteristically Flauber-
tian ambivalence toward the material object develops around the coffret,
which is simultaneously submitted to two almost contradictory processes:
fetishization and circulation. Frédéric becomes emotionally attached to
the coffret as he follows its displacements from interior to interior, in the
homes of a series of women whom he loves. He sees it for the first time in
the home of Madame Arnoux whom he loves chastely, then he discovers
the very same coffret in the home of Rosanette, the working-class mistress
that he shares with Arnoux. Finally, during the auction of the Arnoux’s
household goods following the art dealer’s bankruptcy, the coffret is
purchased by Madame Dambreuse, Frédéric’s high-society mistress. It is
at the moment of this last displacement that Frédéric feels the most
strongly attached to it, as suggested in the text, which presents the reader
with a sort of ‘‘cultural biography’’ of the object:

On posa devant les brocanteurs un petit coffret avec des médaillons, des angles
et des fermoirs d’argent, le même qu’il avait vu au premier dîner dans la rue de
Choiseul [chez les Arnoux], qui ensuite avait été chez Rosanette, était revenu
The logic(s) of material culture 
chez Mme Arnoux; souvent, pendant leurs conversations, ses yeux le rencon-
traient; il était lié à ses souvenirs les plus chers, et son âme se fondait
d’attendrissement, quand Mme Dambreuse dit tout à coup:
–Tiens! je vais l’acheter.
[Before the dealers was placed a small coffret with silver medallions, silver
corner pieces, and silver clasps, the same coffret he had seen at the first dinner
on Choiseul Street +at the Arnoux’s,, and that had afterward been at Ro-
sanette’s, then had come back to Madame Arnoux’s. Often, during their
conversations, his eyes encountered it. It was bound to his most dear memories,
and his soul melted with tenderness, when Mme Dambreuse suddenly said,
‘‘Well then, I’m going to buy it!’’]

For Frédéric the object has become a souvenir, a sentimental relic, but
of which woman, Madame Arnoux or Rosanette? The scandal of
adultery is displaced from human beings to inanimate objects, trans-
formed into objects of exchange. This antique from the Renaissance
was given as a gift, only to be taken back and given again to someone
else, then taken back once more in order to put it up for sale. The end
result is that the gift, an object sacralized by its symbolic function of
linking two persons, becomes a commodity, an object desacralized by
the alienating effects of money. The gift, subject by custom to a set of
implicit rules which preclude this kind of recycling, is degraded by its
metamorphosis into a monetary transaction. By its displacements from
dwelling to dwelling, then from domestic spaces (the women’s homes) to
a commercial space (the auction house), and also by its transplantation
from one exchange system (the gift) to another (the commodity), the
coffret escapes the ascendancy of the individual. It is therefore in vain
that Frédéric attempts to reattach his sentiments to this object which
refuses to remain in place, physically or economically.
As Diana Knight clearly demonstrates, in Flaubert’s fiction the fetish-
ization of material objects associated with a beloved person is intimately
connected to the commodification and industrialization of art and
sentiments. Yet if Frédéric’s reaction to the sale of the coffret is to be
understood in terms of a resistance to commodification, then his charac-
ter is cleaved by a contradiction, since he is one of the most ardent
consumers in French literature, buying new goods with every significant
turn of events, as noted above. His drive to renew his possessions
through purchase sets in motion a cycle which is halted by his momen-
tary attachments to Mme Arnoux’s belongings. I say that the cycle is
halted because the full cycle of renewal through consumption involves
not only the acquisition of objects, but also their disposal, the attribute of
 Literature and material culture
objects which I associated with the late twentieth-century consumer
object. Frédéric resists the disposal of goods through resale: it should be
recalled that while he fails to save Madame Arnoux from dispossession,
he does manage to forestall the sale of Rosanette’s household effects.
Madame Arnoux likewise exhibits a sentimentality toward objects, in
committing to memory the contours of the bibelots in Frédéric’s apart-
ment during their last meeting in the penultimate chapter of the novel.
Her and Frédéric’s sentimental attachment to each other’s bibelots
seems to belong to an age which has already passed. Within the
emotional economy of L’Education sentimentale, because of its mobility, the
bibelot can no longer be expected to bear the weight of the tender
attachments projected onto similar objects by the Romantic heart of
yesteryear. Other characters in this novel exhibit no such sentimental
scruples. Arnoux, Rosanette, Mademoiselle Vatnaz, and Madame
Dambreuse readily traffic in bibelots; the latter’s willingness to purchase
the coffret of a rival testifies to a defiance of sentimental fetishization.
These characters are therefore much more evolved as consumers. The
cycle of acquisition and disposal to which I allude here is best expressed
in a sentence describing Rosanette:
Incapable de résister à une envie, elle s’engouait d’un bibelot qu’elle avait vu,
n’en dormait pas, courait l’acheter, le troquait contre un autre, et gâchait les
étoffes, perdait ses bijoux, gaspillait l’argent, aurait vendu sa chemise pour une
loge d’avant-scène.
[Incapable of resisting a desire, she became infatuated with a bibelot she had
seen, was kept awake by it, ran out to buy it, exchanged it for another, and
ruined fabrics, lost her jewelry, wasted money, would have sold her blouse for
box seats at the theater.]
Rosanette does not hesitate to resell what she buys. This is certainly
largely a function of her lower-class standing, intermittent poverty, and
above all her novelistic role as courtesan/prostitute: her commodified
sexuality is simply transferred to her sentimentality, by the sort of
structural analogy typical of classical narrative. Her cycle of buying-
selling-squandering-ruining-trading, however, is surely also indicative
of a more complete assimilation of the dynamics of consumption.
The most famous literary courtesan of the proto-consumer era, the
title character of Zola’s Nana, can be compared to Flaubert’s Rosa-
nette on several counts. Both inhabit bibelot-filled interiors which can
be described as ‘‘mobile’’ according to Havard’s schema (see above),
since their key feature is the eclectic combination of disparate elements
like animal skin rugs, European porcelain, and Oriental vases. More
The logic(s) of material culture 
pertinently, Nana shares Rosanette’s willingness to break the senti-
mental bonds often associated with bibelots. Nana moves several times
during the novel according to the wealth of her latest lover, again like
Rosanette. At one point Nana sells her bibelots to live in poverty with
an actor. In another famous scene she takes great pleasure in smashing
precious bibelots given her for her birthday. The facility with which
she parts with her possessions certainly symbolizes the circulation of
men in her life, but also reveals a much wider transformation affecting
the relationship between individuals and their material goods for so-
ciety at large. As is the case with Flaubert’s post-sentimental con-
sumers (Rosanette, Arnoux, Mademoiselle Vatnaz, Madame Dam-
breuse), Nana is on the verge of discovering the most distinctive
elements of fully developed consumer society: the commutability of
values, alienability, and conspicuous waste. It is conspicuous waste
which evolves into ‘‘disposability’’ during the twentieth century. In
regard to the evolution of consumer culture, the difference between
the two novels is the absence in Nana of sentimental fetishists like
Frédéric and Madame Arnoux. This reflects a more complete assimi-
lation of consumption.
Yet in another sense Nana is a less evolved consumer than those of
Flaubert. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that she is uneven-
ly evolved, for despite her very modern affective relation to objects,
she is not yet a true consumer, since unlike Flaubert’s Frédéric and the
(female) clientele in Zola’s Au bonheur des dames (), she makes no
purchases, but rather receives gifts. Nana is thus caught up in a hybrid
economy which combines the features of a gift economy with that of
an emerging consumer economy. To sell or destroy a gift is to render
it ‘‘alienable,’’ which according to the well-established anthropological
tradition characterizes the commodity form endemic to consumer so-
ciety. It should be noted that the bibelot, whether given or pur-
chased, cannot be considered a consumer object as long as it functions
as a relic, or emits a Benjaminian ‘‘aura.’’ Nana’s originality, as com-
pared to Frédéric, is to have given up the symbolic status (in the strong
sense of the sacred) of the bibelot as relic or gift, in order to benefit
from a convertibility of values (monetary or sentimental) by sale, or by
destruction in an act which draws from both the sacrificial nature of
potlach (Bataille) and conspicuous waste (Veblen). Nana’s attitude and
actions in relation to her possessions reveal that, although she is not
yet a consumer in the current sense of the term, she has already begun
to assimilate certain behaviors necessary to the full development of
 Literature and material culture
consumption as it is known today in Europe, North America, and the
wealthier countries of the Far East.
Such is not the case with Frédéric Moreau, who feels lost in the face of
the displacement of the decorative objects which he associates with
Madame Arnoux. His uneasiness is no doubt as sociological as it is
sentimental. Brian Rigby describes a paradox fundamental to the ma-
terial culture of the nineteenth-century novel: a complex aesthetic and
moral resistance to material objects accompanies elaborate descriptions
of great quantities of them. A similar ambivalence is apparent in
Frédéric: in spite of his own frequent spending sprees, he shows resis-
tance to structures of consumption that the more evolved consumers
listed above have already interiorized. Frédéric has not yet begun to
assimilate the principles of the modernizing mobility of objects – their
convertibility, circulation, and waste – whereas Nana especially seems
exhilarated by the new capacity of objects to circulate freely or to be
disposed of at will.
 

The fashionable artistic interior


Social (re)encoding in the
domestic sphere

The myth of the artist and the cult of art so permeate nineteenth-
century French literature and criticism that Claude Duchet suggests
revising the familiar schema for periodizing French studies by century:
he places the ‘‘paradigme de ‘l’artiste’’’ between ‘‘l’ère des ‘philosophes’
et l’avènement de ‘l’intellectuel’.’’ The private dwelling becomes an
important site on which the nineteenth-century ‘‘paradigme de ‘l’art-
iste’’’ is played out, for during this period, artistic sensibility is
commonly manifested by an appreciation of the ‘‘minor’’ arts of interior
furnishing and decor, fueling the popularity of collecting and the bi-
belot. To launch an inquiry into the relationship of the philosophe or the
intellectual to interior decor would be ludicrous; however, many of the
writers of the era of the artist take decor very seriously and write about it
at length, often dramatizing the sociology of aesthetic judgment in
fiction and non-fiction. Issues of class and gender complicate matters:
the image of the artist appeals to social groups from whom a mostly male
cultural elite strives to distance itself, the bourgeoisie and women. The
home interior thus becomes a field of struggle for claims to artistic taste.
At the heart of this struggle one finds the bibelot in its various guises –
objet d’art, objet de luxe, objet de mode, objet superflu, objet de consommation, objet de
désir.
The lengthy descriptions of interior decor characteristic of nine-
teenth-century novels are best understood within the context of both the
sociology and the aesthetics of the decorative arts. For this reason, in
what follows I consider literary texts alongside commercial writing on
interior decor, such as how-to manuals, trade journals, and newspaper
articles. The story of the interior which emerges from these two bodies
of writing goes something like this: the collection used as decor (in other
words, the cultural phenomenon of the bibelot) purportedly originates
among the aristocratic and artistic elite (including collectors, painters,
and writers), then is popularized and vulgarized by the middle classes,

 Literature and material culture
and by women. A common strategy for gendering decor emerges:
feminine bibelots are relegated to the sphere of fashion, while masculine
bibelots are elevated to the sphere of art.

            
The dominant decorative styles of the eras of the philosophe, the artist,
and the intellectual are, respectively, rococo, eclecticism, and modernist
functionalism. By ‘‘eclecticism’’ I refer to the incorporation of collecting
into the home interior. This generally European trend, reflected for
example in the novels of Henry James and Edith Wharton, is especially
important in France, recognized as a leader in the production of high-
quality luxury goods. Literary and commercial writers alike frequently
deploy the words art and artistique to emphasize the aesthetic value of the
furnishings and collectibles of the eclectic interior. I use the phrase
‘‘artistic interior’’ to designate this particular conceptualization of eclec-
tic decor.
Describing an interior as artistic (or in many cases, as less than artistic)
is complicated by changes in the usage of the word art in the wake of
what Pierre Bourdieu describes as the autonomization of the field(s) of
cultural production. I speak specifically of France and French, though
the situation is similar throughout Europe. By the end of the eighteenth
century, the field of art has divided into two domains, on the one hand
the beaux arts, and on the other hand l’art mécanique, also known as l’art
décoratif or l’art industriel. Semantically, artiste comes to be understood as a
derivative of beaux arts, while artisan is understood to derive from l’art
mécanique. Art becomes opposed to industrie, which eventually refers to
factory rather than artisanal production. As a result, the presence of the
word art in the compound terms art décoratif and art industriel becomes
problematic. However, the prestige-value of the term art prompts
industrialists to retain claims on it, by redefining the decorative arts in
terms of the beaux arts. Meanwhile, the decorative arts become caught up
in the trend of collecting household luxury objects produced during the
pre-industrial age. Collectors too seek to retain the kinship between the
higher-status beaux arts and their decorative/industrial/mechanical
counterparts.
As early as the s the vocabulary of art begins to appear in literary
depictions of eclectic home interiors. Many writers presume a straight-
forward homology between aesthetic status and social status. The rela-
tionship between antique furnishings, the myth of the artist, and social
The fashionable artistic interior 
hierarchies is made clear in many texts by Balzac, such as La Muse du
département, Le Cousin Pons, and La Cousine Bette. However, I will begin
with a more unusual source, George Sand’s Le Compagnon du Tour de
France (), a socially conscious novel of trade unions. The love
between the highly idealized hero and heroine, an artistically gifted
carpenter and an aristocratic heiress, is bound up in the beautifully
archaic decor of the latter’s family château, which the former is renova-
ting. In reference to this setting, the narrator remarks that at the time
when the novel is set, around , ‘‘le goût des curiosités n’était pas
encore descendu dans la vie vulgaire’’ [‘‘the taste for curiosities had not
yet trickled down into the common way of life’’]. As compared to the
time of the novel’s writing, ‘‘La boutique de bric-à-brac n’était pas aussi
essentielle dans chaque rue de Paris . . . que la boutique du boulanger’’
[‘‘The curiosity shop was not yet as essential to every Paris street . . . as
the bakery’’]. In , ‘‘S’entourer de ces objets hétérogènes et vivre
dans la poussière du passé était déjà une mode, mais une mode exquise
et répandue seulement dans les hautes classes ou chez les artistes en
vogue’’ [‘‘To surround oneself with these heterogenous objects and to
live in the dust of the past was already the fashion, but it was an
exquisite fashion which had spread only among the upper classes or
among artists in vogue’’] (p. ). Sand thus identifies the eclectic in-
terior with aristocrats and artists, disdaining the spread of this taste
outside of these two ‘‘classes.’’ The apparent contradiction between
Sand’s artistic elitism and her socialist politics is resolved by her identifi-
cation of the ideal working-class artisan as an artist; her elitism is
directed against the middle classes.
Writing nearly twenty years later, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt
echo Sand’s elitist attitude toward collecting (if not her socialist politics).
In their journal they observe that ‘‘La collection est entrée complète-
ment dans les habitudes et dans les distractions du peuple français’’
[‘‘Collecting has been completely integrated into the habits and pas-
times of the French people’’]. They too deem that this represents ‘‘une
vulgarisation de la propriété de l’oeuvre d’art ou d’industrie, réservée
dans les siècles précédents aux musées, aux grands seigneurs, aux
artistes’’ [‘‘a popularization of the proprietorship of the work of art or of
industry, which in previous centuries was restricted to museums, great
lords and artists’’]. For the Goncourts it is museums as well as artists
and aristocrats who, as collectors, are being imitated by ordinary French
people. The phrasing of the second sentence presents vulgarization as a
post-revolutionary violation of feudal property rights. Sand and the
 Literature and material culture
Goncourts socially encode the interior filled with collectibles as elite by
assigning it aristocratic and artistic origins, identifying collecting as a
Restoration () or ancien régime (‘‘siècles précédents’’) tradition. The
notion of vulgarization sets up the artist and the aristocrat as models
which other classes merely imitate.
The Goncourts soon extend their proprietary attitude toward art to
high society (whose members are not limited to what remains of the
ancien régime aristocracy), whom they accuse of collecting art objects for
illegitimate motivations, with an inadequate capacity for artistic ap-
preciation. Edmond de Goncourt is perhaps the most vocal defender of
the true collector (apparently epitomized by himself ) against those who
are just posing – not only members of the middle classes, but also ‘‘les
hommes et les femmes du monde qui ont la prétention d’être des natures
artistiques’’ [‘‘those men and women of high society who claim to be
artistic by nature’’]. The rights to the terms artiste and artistique are in
dispute throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century because they
are so often appropriated undeservingly in the eyes of those who claim
membership among the cultural elite.
The brothers seem to enjoy comparing their taste to that of persons
among the highest social ranks. In two very different entries they
evaluate the ‘‘artistic interior’’ of the Second Empire’s princess
Mathilde. They begin by mocking her amateur painting activities, and
at this point clearly number her among ‘‘les hommes et les femmes du
monde qui ont la prétention d’être des natures artistiques.’’ They then
belittle the decor of this same studio, which they find to be ‘‘encombré
de ces choses qui ne sont des objets d’art que pour les femmes, un faux
pastel de Boucher, de faux pastels de Chardin’’ [‘‘cluttered with those
things which only women consider to be objets d’art, a fake Boucher
pastel, fake Chardin pastels’’]. This sentence introduces a gender
distinction, in the insinuation that men would not consider fake pastels
to be art works, whereas women do; mistaking non-art for art becomes a
feminine trait. The gendering of art appreciation becomes common-
place, a point to which I will return below.
It is with a quite different attitude that, twelve years later, after having
developed a friendship with the princess, Edmond writes a favorable
description of her studio. The Princess had invited him to lunch to show
him her ‘‘bibelots,’’ he explains. ‘‘Me voilà dans son atelier de Paris, au
milieu de cet amas de choses, de ce monde d’objets très rares, très
précieux, très chers, dans lesquels jurent et détonnent des singularités
hétéroclites’’ [‘‘Here I am in her Paris studio, in the midst of this mass of
The fashionable artistic interior 
things, in this world of very rare, very precious, very dear objects, where
heterogenous singularities collide and clash’’]. There is no indication
here that the term ‘‘atelier’’ is used in an ironic way. On the contrary,
the terms ‘‘rares,’’ ‘‘précieux,’’ ‘‘chers,’’ and ‘‘singularités’’ indicate a
respectful recognition of the value of these tastefully chosen things. The
rivalry of taste present in the earlier passage gives way to an alliance of
taste. In both cases, taste functions as a mediator in the relationship
between the Goncourts and the princess.
In contrast, Edmond shows great disdain for the display of collectibles
in the famous Rothschild château at Ferrières in referring to its ‘‘bi-
beloterie écrasante’’ [‘‘crushing knick-knack-ware’’]. This dwelling
‘‘n’est pas un château meublé, c’est un magasin de curiosités’’ [‘‘is not a
furnished château, but a curiosity shop’’]. Unlike the princess’s bi-
belots, the Rothschild collection does not produce artistic effects, but
rather recalls the curiosity shop, an inappropriate model for the display
of a collection, as compared to the favored model of the atelier. It is not
simply the authenticity of the objects themselves that is questioned, but
rather the authenticity of the collector’s practice. As one journalist puts
it in an  article, ‘‘pour un sensitif’’ the most expensive luxury is
intolerable unless tempered by ‘‘les délicatesses et les discrétions’’ of
taste, which is innate, and cannot be improvised. The vulgar bourgeois
buys luxury, while the ‘‘sensitif’’ (a code word for ‘‘aesthete’’?) filters
vulgar luxury through his delicate and discreet taste. Thus though the
bourgeois and the ‘‘sensitif’’ own the same objects, they are signs of
vulgarity in the home of the former, as opposed to signs of artistic taste
in the home of the latter.
By the s the terms art, artiste, and artistique are commonly found in
commercial descriptions of eclectic home interiors. For example, an
 article in the professional journal Revue des arts décoratifs makes
reference to the growing passion ‘‘du mobilier de luxe et du mobilier
d’art, jointe à un goût d’archéologie qui a passé des amateurs au public’’
[‘‘for luxury and artistic furnishings, along with a taste for archaeology
which has been passed on from collectors to the public’’]. The phrase
‘‘mobilier d’art,’’ along with its variants ‘‘ameublements d’art’’ and
‘‘meubles d’art,’’ refers to furnishings chosen for their historicism or
exoticism, whether the pieces be actual antiques, modern copies, or
original modern designs inspired by historic or exotic models. Like-
wise, decorators’ catalogues and how-to manuals from the s bear
names such as Ameublements artistiques, L’Art au foyer domestique, L’Art dans la
maison, and L’Art intime.
 Literature and material culture
An  article by Victor Champier ties the public interest in the
decorative arts to larger factors such as economic growth, social ambi-
tion, and democratization. The ‘‘amour du luxe’’ has never before been
so widespread, Champier argues. Equality among the classes is manifes-
ted by the similarity of their clothing and furnishings, yet there also
prevails a desire to be noticed and to dazzle. These factors create the
conditions which favor this ‘‘penchant universel’’ for all that is flashy,
and which promotes comfort and well-being. The following sentence
describes what I am calling the ‘‘artistic interior’’:
La mode elle-même s’en est mêlée, et la passion de notre temps pour
l’archéologie mobiliaire, pour les antiquailles et les bibelots, a répandu jusque
dans les classes bourgeoises le goût de belles choses, a éveillé des curiosités
artistiques, a développé des désirs nouveaux pour le superflu élégant et aimable
qui est le signe d’un certain raffinement intellectuel.
[Fashion itself has intervened, and our era’s passion for the archeology of
furnishings, for antiquities and for bibelots, has spread the taste for beautiful
things to the bourgeois classes, has awakened artistic curiosities, has developed
new desires for elegant and lovely superfluities, which is the sign of a certain
intellectual refinement.]

The taste for that which is encoded as artistic has in turn become
encoded, since it is the ‘‘passion’’ for antiques, and not the objects
themselves, which functions as the ‘‘signe’’ of a refined intellect. Fur-
thermore, such taste, and, I would add, the awareness of the sign-
function of such taste, has trickled down into the bourgeoisie. I cite this
passage not simply in support of the now all too familiar notion of
‘‘distinction,’’ but rather to demonstrate a longstanding awareness of
what could be called a sociology of furnishings.
Echoing Champier almost a century later, Pierre Bourdieu describes
choices in home furnishings (especially antique collectibles) in a number
of the case studies which illustrate Distinction. In analyzing these
examples, Bourdieu ‘‘reads’’ codes which are already in place, exposing
an established encoding of objects by a class-inflected though ostensibly
neutral discourse of art and personal preference. I would add that these
codes are often gender-inflected as well. Furthermore, these codes are
already present in the nineteenth-century literary, para-literary, and
commercial discourse which not only reports, represents, and prescribes
such interiors, but also aids in their dissemination, which is in turn
reported, represented, and prescribed in print. As a part of the process,
these bodies of writing simultaneously develop, implement, and trans-
The fashionable artistic interior 
form a lexicon of class- and gender-inflected code words for inscribing
home furnishings and domestic objects with both personalized and
shared meanings, the interpretation or ‘‘reading’’ of which is also class-
and gender-inflected. From this perspective, ‘‘bibelot’’ is both a code
word in itself, as well as a category of things being described by other
code words.

             :


               
The late nineteenth-century cultural phenomenon of the ‘‘artistic in-
terior’’ would not be possible without a transformation in the practice
and perception of collecting. This general change can be described as a
shift from a traditional mode of antiquarianism (Pons, du Sommerard)
to a more modern mode of aestheticism (des Esseintes, Montesquiou).
These developments allow the aestheticized homes of collectors to be
presented as ideal models for the eclectically decorated artistic interior.
In a short-lived art journal of the early s, the second-rate literary
writer Octave Uzanne contrasts the homes of two types of collectors,
those whom I am calling antiquarians, and aesthetes. He first character-
izes the ‘‘grandes maisons des collectionneurs,’’ which are ‘‘bondées de
belles oeuvres, mais généralement elles sont solitaires et glacées’’ [‘‘brim
full of beautiful works, but they are solitary and glacial’’], as solemn as
‘‘un musée.’’ Compare these cold, pedantic interiors to those of the
aesthete generation of collectors, ‘‘ces jolies demeures d’artistes person-
nels qui, avec l’aide de bibelots secondaires, se créent un Eden gai,
vivant, imprévu, au milieu duquel l’âme chante des cantates à l’art dans
le prisme des beautés de l’ensemble et l’harmonie des murs chaudement
tapissés d’oeuvres amies!’’ [‘‘these pretty, personal artists’ dwellings
which, with the help of secondary bibelots, create a gay, lively, unex-
pected Eden, in the midst of which the soul sings cantatas to art in the
prism of beauties of the ensemble and the harmony of walls warmly
covered with works which are friends’’] (p. ). Uzanne’s terminologi-
cal shift from ‘‘collectionneurs’’ to ‘‘artistes’’ corresponds to the trend
that I am discussing. What changes with the shift from antiquarianism
to aestheticism is the criterion for appreciating the objects on display.
For the aesthete, objects form an ensemble to be apprehended on
several levels – visual, affective, and inspirational (in the lyric sense). The
warmth attributed to these homes comes from the close personal rela-
tionship between the ‘‘artiste’’ and his objects, which are no longer
 Literature and material culture
merely beautiful works displayed solemnly but glacially, but rather
‘‘d’oeuvres amies’’ displayed gaily and warmly, inspiring the soul to sing
to the glory of art, by providing a visual focal point (‘‘le prisme des
beautés’’) for the occupant’s fin-de-siècle soul. The collection thus be-
comes encoded in such a way that it can serve as a vehicle for a deeply
subjective artistic experience.
The fin-de-siècle dandy-poet Robert de Montesquiou draws a similar
distinction between (old-fashioned) antiquarians and (modern) aesthetes
such as himself. Reflecting on his collections in his memoirs, he explains
that early nineteenth-century collectors produce ‘‘collections entassées’’
[‘‘jumbled collections’’] since, as he puts it, Pons and Sauvageot are no
more than ‘‘des fureteurs, incapables de donner, à leurs trouvailles, une
autre interprétation que le sens immédiat de ces dernières’’ [‘‘scavengers
incapable of giving their finds any interpretation other than a literal
one’’]. The key word of this remark is ‘‘interprétation’’: the
‘‘trouvailles’’ of this new generation of collectors take on a significance
well beyond their archaeological or art historical interest, serving both
as an expression of artistic sensibility and as a source of artistic stimula-
tion (for painting or writing, or for more vague intellectual preoccupa-
tions). While antiquarians such as du Sommerard, Sauvageot, and the
fictitious Pons focused their intellectual attention on the objects them-
selves as components of art history or archaeology, the fin-de-siècle
aesthete is represented as focusing not so much on the bibelots them-
selves, but on their incorporation into an aesthetics of daily life.
The aestheticization of collecting calls on all of the arts, including
literature and music. In noting that many amateurs find a ‘‘satisfaction
littéraire’’ in choosing historical furnishings at the expense of harmony,
an article in a mid-s issue of the Revue des arts décoratifs criticizes
collections found wanting in coherence, taking a dim view of the
subordination of harmonious decorative arrangement to thematic ef-
fects (‘‘littéraire,’’ ‘‘évoquant’’). Montesquiou counters this potential
problem by using semantic content to create a harmonious decor out of
a seemingly chaotic accumulation of things in his cabinet, the ‘‘sanctu-
aire’’ of his ‘‘offices esthétiques.’’ However, rather than relying on an
analogy to literary themes, he turns to music, to opera, in describing the
eclectic encumberment of his Quai d’Orsay apartments (a model for the
decor of des Esseintes in Huysmans’s A rebours). He explains that ‘‘il n’y
avait aucune liberté dans ce flux de bibelots, endigué dans les lois fort
strictes, et régi par des correspondances thématiques, non moins que
systématiques, aussi ordonnancées que les leitmotiv wagnériens’’ [‘‘there
The fashionable artistic interior 
was no freedom in this flux of bibelots, dyked within strict laws and
regulated by thematic correspondences no less systematic, no less or-
dered than Wagnerian leitmotiv’’]. The spatial metaphor of the dyked
flux indicates an underlying principle of flow and containment. The
strict, systematic order imposed on his flux of bibelots is neither mu-
seum-like nor taxonomic, but rather conforms to the order of music.
Comparing the collection to an opera draws on a sort of Baudelairean
synesthesia, recuperating the bibelot from the museum-like curiosity
cabinet focalized on the object, into an intimate interior focalized on a
highly subjective total artistic experience. Montesquiou goes on to
describe the organization of his bibelots as ‘‘ce fouillis si ordonné, si
pénétré de symboles’’ [‘‘this tangle, so ordered, so permeated by sym-
bols’’], at once underlining what he had earlier in the memoirs called
‘‘un faux air de désordre,’’ as well as the symbolic function of his objects.

              
Like the home of the collector, the artist’s studio, or rather an idealized
image of it, undergoes the transformation from antiquarianism to aes-
theticism. The aestheticized collection based on the myth of the artist
becomes the style of decor associated with the fin-de-siècle art studio. As
a recent architectural critic puts it, the ‘‘ ‘style artiste’’’ becomes ‘‘de
rigueur’’ in fin-de-siècle artists’ studios, suggesting that artists too are
compelled to adopt the style of the artist, as if merely producing art
works is no longer enough to qualify a person as a true artist, as if being
an artist means living the lifestyle of the artist.
This transformation of the artist’s studio is explained in an article on
the studios of the Romantic generation. The studio of the Romantic
painter Decamps is calls a ‘‘boutique de bric-à-brac.’’ This pile of odds
and ends is contrasted against the ‘‘élégants boudoirs ou des nefs
gothiques où nos peintres à la mode symbolisent et esthétisent, y ac-
cumulant toujours des bibelots, mais avec un choix délicat et une
coquetterie’’ [‘‘elegant boudoirs or gothic naves where our fashionable
painters symbolize and aesthetize, always accumulating delicately and
coquettishly chosen bibelots’’]. It is noteworthy that the term ‘‘bi-
belot,’’ preferred by aesthetes, appears only in the context of fin-de-
siècle decor, whereas the term ‘‘bric-à-brac,’’ associated with antiquar-
ianism, is used in the earlier context. The two terms are in turn assigned
to different types of spaces: the ‘‘boutique de bric-à-brac’’ characterizes
the earlier studio, while the later studios are compared to the boudoir and
 Literature and material culture
the Gothic cathedral. In these feminine (boudoir) and spiritual (Gothic)
interiors, artfully chosen bibelots demonstrate their owner’s tempera-
ment through his artful arrangement of them.
Literary incarnations of the chic atelier filled with bibelots include the
studio of Coriolis in the Goncourts’ Manette Salomon, the studio of
Pellerin in Flaubert’s L’Education sentimentale, the atelier Raoule decorates
for her artist lover in Rachilde’s Monsieur Vénus, and the home of the
high-society painter Fagerolles in Zola’s L’Oeuvre. Of course, not all
artists’ studios are decorated in this way, as the article cited here points
out. In fiction, the heroic artist Bongrand of L’Oeuvre disdains the studio
decorated with ‘‘cette magnificence de tentures et de bibelots dont
commençaient à s’entourer les jeunes peintres’’ (: ).
An  how-to manual by a decorator-upholsterer implicitly pres-
ents the artist’s studio as a model for his (would-be) clients, noting that
studios are decorated like salons, with ‘‘toutes sortes de meubles, de
sièges, de bibelots, d’étoffes, de tentures’’ [‘‘all sorts of furniture, chairs,
bibelots, cloth, and wall hangings’’]. He goes on to explain that ‘‘la
profusion et la diversité des objets’’ is justified here because the artist can
use these things in his paintings. Qualities such as profusion and
diversity could be seen as negative if encoded as signs of sloppy deco-
rative arrangement, or worse, as signs of bourgeois materialism, or as
signs of a penchant for ostentation. Instead, the author of the manual
legitimates the proliferation of superfluous things by pointing out their
contribution to artistic creativity.

                 -  -    
Literary authors also establish the home of the writer as an authentic
version of the artistic interior. ‘‘Quand se rendra-t-on compte que les
ameublements artistiques ne peuvent être intéressants que chez les
artistes . . . ?’’ [‘‘When will we realize that artistic furnishings can only be
interesting in the homes of artists . . . ?], asks the narrator of Proust’s
early novel, Jean Santeuil (–). The artists named in the passage
thus introduced are all writers: Edmond de Goncourt, Anatole France,
and Robert de Montesquiou. Like the atelier of the painter or sculptor,
the home of the writer is represented here as an ‘‘authentic’’ artistic
interior. A subordinate clause which opens a long Proustian sentence
describes a decorative minimalism which one might expect to find in the
home of the artist-writer. In the sentence’s main clause, the narrator
notes that the houses of collectors such as Edmond de Goncourt,
The fashionable artistic interior 
Anatole France, or Robert de Montesquiou ‘‘intéressent le romancier et
redeviennent pour lui matière à description’’ [‘‘capture the interest of
the writer and provide descriptive material’’]. The next sentence posits a
spiritual, even mystical relationship between writers and their collec-
tions:
Après de longs pèlerinages incertains vers un dessin de Watteau, une statuette
de Clodion, une estampe d’Houkasaı̈, ils ont enfin trouvé la vraie pierre de
l’autel du dieu et l’ont intronisée à la place qui semblait l’attendre entre d’autres
idoles qu’une même ferveur, plutôt qu’une seule enceinte, y a réunies. (p. )
[After long, uncertain pilgrimages to a drawing by Watteau, a statuette by
Clodion, or a print by Houkasaı̈, they finally found the authentic altar stone of
the god and enthroned it in the place which seemed to await it, amidst other
idols united more by the same fervor than by the same enclosure.]
Montesquiou’s interior was discussed above. Anatole France’s passion
for collecting shows itself in his high-society novel Le Lys rouge (). It
should be recalled here that Edmond de Goncourt published a two-
volume annotated inventory of his and his late brother’s collections,
inscribing the myth of the artist in the title: La Maison d’un artiste ().
The fictitious and the biographical overlap here, because it is largely
through written discourse that the writer’s artistic interior is invented as
a concept, whether or not this writing makes reference to an actually
existing space.
For the writers that Proust mentions, a poeticization of the dwelling
accompanies the aestheticization of the collector’s interior. The connec-
tion between the interior and artistic production among post-Romantic
writers has been summed up by Guy Sagnès, who suggests that for many
fin-de-siècle writers, ‘‘athées de la nature, dévots de meubles et de
bibelots,’’ their room provides the poetic inspiration that the Romantic
generation found outdoors. A number of post-Romantic poets regu-
larly evoke interiors which are conceivably their own; these include
Baudelaire (‘‘La chambre double,’’ ‘‘J’ai plus de souvenirs que si j’avais
mille ans,’’ ‘‘Dans les fauteuils fanés des courtisanes vieilles,’’ etc.),
Mallarmé (‘‘Sonnet en -yx,’’ etc.), Cros (Le Coffret de santal), and Ro-
denbach (‘‘La Vie des chambres’’).
To cite another example of a writer-collector, the link between Victor
Hugo’s collecting activities, his decor, and his writing is less direct. A
collector and bricoleur (handyman, do-it-yourselfer), he often built fur-
nishings by reassembling disparate pieces of antiques. In an  book
dedicated to the house in Guernsey where Hugo lived in exile during the
 Literature and material culture
Second Empire, Gustave Larroumet observes that the eclectic decor of
the home resembles the work he wrote there, La Légende des siècles. Decor
and book alike bring together the Old and New Testaments, the Gothic,
the sixteenth century, and all succeeding centuries up to the Revolution.
Larroumet goes on to state that ‘‘Voir Hauteville-House, c’est mieux
comprendre non seulement Victor Hugo, mais le romantisme’’ [‘‘To see
Hauteville House is to better understand not only Victor Hugo, but also
Romanticism’’]. The author of an  newspaper article on the same
subject claims that the great romantic writer was not only ‘‘le rénovateur
de la poésie française,’’ but also ‘‘un précurseur en décoration et en
ameublement,’’ since already in , Hauteville House was decorated
with ‘‘ce beau désordre apparent’’ so fashionable in . Hugo’s
collection thus not only embodies the remains of the Romanticism which
he outlived, but also reflects his modernism, in that he is a precursor of
fin-de-siècle taste. That Hugo’s decor is considered worth writing about
is testimony to the period’s fascination with the decorative arts.
Balzac’s use of his interior in his writing is much more prosaic than
that described by Sagnès and Proust in regard to his successors. He
sometimes used his own interiors directly in his writing, reproducing
one of his early apartments in the description of Paquita’s boudoir in La
fille aux yeux d’or, and including many items from the inventory of his own
collection in compiling the inventory reproduced in Le cousin Pons. For
Balzac the objects of decor are related to sociology (conspicuous con-
sumption, ‘‘distinction’’), to scenes of seduction (Paquita), or to the
collector’s passion (Pons) rather than to the splenetic disposition of the
aesthete.
Alain Buisine sees a very different rapport between Pierre Loti’s
writing and his collecting, seeing Loti’s oeuvre as ‘‘le prolongement,
l’amplification littérale et littéraire’’ of the little museum of souvenirs
that the writer assembled as a child, as described in Le Roman d’un enfant
(). In the previous chapter I discussed the theme of collecting in
his largely autobiographical Madame Chrysanthème (). As manifested
in these and other texts, Loti’s relationship to his collection is more
libidinal than that of Balzac, though it is not always melancholic in the
sense of Baudelairian spleen.
The Goncourts articulate the subjective experience of the artistically
encoded interior in creating a fictitious melancholic writer, the epony-
mous hero of Charles Demailly (), an early incarnation of the acutely
impressionable neurotic aesthete common in decadent literature. Not
only is the fictitious writer Demailly overly sensitive to people as well as
The fashionable artistic interior 
to things, his sense of aesthetics is attributed to his nervous nature. It is
suggested that his writing talent – ‘‘Ce talent nerveux, rare et exquis
dans l’observation, toujours artistique, mais inégal’’ [‘‘This high-strung
talent, rare and exquisite in observation, always artistic, but uneven’’] –
is a product of his temperament and poor health (p. ). This sensitivity
is evidenced by Demailly’s refined taste in domestic objects, as ex-
plained by the narrator in a well-known passage inspired by Théophile
Gautier:
Un mobilier lui était ami ou ennemi. Un vilain verre le dégoûtait d’un bon vin.
Une nuance, une forme, la couleur d’un papier, l’étoffe d’un meuble le
touchaient agréablement ou désagréablement, et faisaient passer les disposi-
tions de son humeur par les mille modulations de ses impressions.
[An item of furnishing was either his friend or his enemy. A hideous glass for
him spoiled the taste of a good wine. A nuance, a shape, the color of the
wallpaper, the fabric of a piece of furniture, struck him as pleasant or unpleas-
ant, and altered the dispositions of his humor according to the thousand
modulations of his impressions.]

Nervous sensitivity thus translates into both artistic production and


refined taste in furnishings. Furthermore, in Charles Demailly lack of taste
signals lack of artistic talent. The poor taste of Demailly’s wife is first
revealed in her admiration for the work of a (male) vaudeville writer,
then reflected in her admiration of the tasteless luxury of the latter’s new
salon. Her preference for the hack’s bad writing and bad decor is set up
to contrast against her growing doubts regarding the true playwriting
talent of her husband, whose decorative preferences draw him to ‘‘vieil-
leries’’ and ‘‘bibelots’’ (p. ) – tasteful and artistic luxury objects which
the tasteless wife fails to recognize as true signs of distinction.
Though also a self-described neurotic, Flaubert does not share De-
mailly’s (and the Goncourts’) affectation of a refined sensitivity to
objects, nor does he share his contemporaries’ passion for bibelots.
Flaubert’s artistic sensibility is confined to his writing, while he remains
indifferent to his surroundings, as his niece Caroline de Commanville
observes in her introduction to his correspondence. Yet if Flaubert’s
home does not reflect the passion for collecting so common among his
peers, his writing does reflect this taste, in form as well as in content:
Flaubert collects textually, by compiling citations, and by making lists,
as in Bouvard et Pécuchet and Salammbô.
To cite another writer whose writing does reflect his own taste for
bibelots, Jean Lorrain fictionalizes his own room in the tale of a mad
 Literature and material culture
writer, ‘‘Ophélius’’ (). The mentally ill hero suffers in a minutely
described ‘‘pauvre chambre de rêveur et de poète avec ses mille et un
bibelots médités’’ [‘‘shabby room of a dreamer and a poet with its
thousand and one often-pondered bibelots’’]. The narrator finds his
disturbed friend’s room sinister, its very atmosphere suggesting mental
illness: ‘‘Je m’étais toujours méfié de cette chambre verte et rose, d’un
goût barbare et pleine d’une dévotion à la fois mystique et paı̈enne,
puant à plein nez, sinon le fagot, du moins la franche hystérie’’ (p. ).
Proust’s above-cited metaphoric religious expressions (‘‘autel de dieu,’’
‘‘idole’’) are repeated by Lorrain but with a hint of occult magic, in
describing the room as full of a ‘‘dévotion . . . mystique et paı̈enne,’’
smelling of ‘‘la franche hystérie’’ and ‘‘le fagot,’’ a reference to heretics
burned at the stake. The cult practices called forth by this decor are
directly linked to a hysteria more sinister than that of Demailly. This
room represents an extreme example of what Emily Apter calls the
‘‘pathological interior.’’

            


Both literary and commercial writing make use of a stereotype of
middle-class ‘‘artistic’’ decor as a vulgarized imitation of more elite
cultural models – the interiors of aristocrats, artists, and well-known
collectors. An  decorating manual describes such interiors in
terms of caricature, in noting that among the middle classes, ‘‘nous
trouvons la chambre de Monsieur meublé, ce que l’on appelle ar-
tistement’’ [‘‘we find Monsieur’s room decorated artistically, as they say’’].
Unfortunately, the manual continues, the result is but ‘‘la caricature de
la chambre d’un amateur véritable, ou d’un artiste.’’ This disparaging
remark is all the more curious, since it is found in the manual of a
decorator addressing bourgeois customers. However, this sentence is
found near the end of the first part of the book, devoted to actually
existing apartments, whereas in the second part, devoted to the ideal
apartment, the author explains how his (middle-class) customers can
avoid such vulgarity through discretion and good taste, implicitly estab-
lishing a consumer need not only for quality goods, but also and
especially for professional counseling such as his own.
By , the fashion-conscious collector has become a recognizable
social type in middle-brow literary forms. Le Bibelot, a one-act comedy
which opened at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in , parodies the
fashionable pastime of antique-collecting: the play’s elegant hero pur-
The fashionable artistic interior 
sues the lovely owner of the cover of a soup tureen he has just bought
from their mutual antique dealer. Maupassant presents a similar plot
in ‘‘Une Aventure parisienne,’’ published in the newspaper Gil Blas in
: a provincial woman meets a fashionable male writer in an antique
shop in Paris by means of a bibelot. An  short story which appeared
in the popular magazine L’Illustration mocks a bourgeois woman who
encodes her own interior as artistic: ‘‘Nous nous trouvons dans un milieu
artiste’’ [‘‘Here we are in an artistic setting’’], proclaims the heroine, as
she rehearses some lines in preparation for her upcoming house-warm-
ing dinner. Drawings and engravings reproduced in the press further
depict (and disseminate) the taste for the collection-filled interior. The
image of a theatrical scene set in a cabinet de curiosité appears in an 
issue of Le Monde illustré; the collection of a fictitious noble amateur is
depicted in an engraving which accompanies an  episode of a
feuilleton, also in L’Illustration.
It should be noted that the bourgeois bibelot is not always an attempt
at being artistic or fashionable. Bibelots can also serve as a sign of
respectability, as an enactment of the valorization of domesticity and
family life. In Flaubert’s L’Education sentimentale, this is how Frédéric
reads the bibelots in Madame Arnoux’s living room. Another interest-
ing case is Maupassant’s representations of provincial bourgeois women
and their souvenirs, in ‘‘Vieux objets,’’ ‘‘Souvenirs,’’ and Une vie. These
objects, referred to as ‘‘bibelots,’’ are precious only to their owners.
Their collection has been diagnosed by Apter as female fetishism.
While cultural historians have emphasized the use of furnishings and
decor to reinforce traditional bourgeois values, in fiction I have found
such portrayals of bibelots to be more rare than portrayals of their use as
means of demonstrating distinction or aesthetic sensitivity, or in their
use for creating seductive salons and boudoirs. The latter uses are
certainly more dramatic, and more in keeping with popular novelistic
elements such as the portrayal of social climbing, of seduction, and of
psychological complexity.

           :             
       
Bibelots are neither masculine nor feminine, though they are often
encoded as one or the other. On the one hand, by its association with
the domestic, the pretty, the detail, and the ornamental, the bibelot can
easily be considered feminine. On the other hand, the bibelot becomes
 Literature and material culture
masculinized by its association with the erudite collector and the schol-
arly tradition of the curiosity cabinet. It becomes stereotypical for men
to create an artistically inspiring atmosphere in their cabinet de travail,
while women create a sanctuary for romantic dreams of seduction in
their boudoir and dressing room. The bibelot as an element of fashion
tends to be relegated to feminized spaces, whereas men are more likely
to be portrayed as possessors and displayers of artistic bibelots.
Flaubert’s Frédéric Moreau (L’Education sentimentale), like Proust’s Swann
(A la recherche), manifests a nostalgia for an erudite aesthetics in filling his
apartment with bibelots, whereas Zola’s Nana (Nana), like Proust’s
Odette (Swann’s mistress then wife), masters the domain of fashion in
acquiring an eclectically decorated hôtel. Because gender is conferred
upon the bibelot by the context which is created for it, masculinized or
feminized bibelots can be used to reinforce and/or destabilize conven-
tional gender identities. This has important implications for the narra-
tive depiction of domestic economies and of the sexual relations which
take place therein.

          :                


Though the bibelot is strongly associated with the bourgeois foyer, in
nineteenth-century literature it is perhaps even more strongly associated
with actresses and courtesans. There are more bibelots in Zola’s Nana
than in his Au bonheur des dames, for example. ‘‘La rage de bibeloter’’ is
common among actresses, remarks Maupassant in a newspaper article
entitled ‘‘Bibelots.’’ The Goncourts identify a certain kind of porcelain
with the women of the demi-monde, in speaking of a famous actress’s
‘‘masses de Saxes modernes, ces Saxes spéciaux aux filles.’’ In writ-
ten depictions of the bibelot-filled interiors of actresses, courtesans,
and prostitutes, over time the vocabulary of collecting gives way to
the vocabulary of art, following the same evolutionary patterns as the
interiors of male artists and writers. However, in the context of
the feminized interior the descriptor ‘‘artistique’’ tends to be accom-
panied by qualifications, contestation, and irony. At the same time, these
sexualized interiors are elevated to the status of storybook fantasy,
something like the modern European equivalent of the legendary Middle
Eastern harem.
A good place to begin this genealogy of the courtesan’s bibelot-filled
boudoir is with the novel version of La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre
Dumas fils (). The novel’s opening scene is set just after the hero-
The fashionable artistic interior 
ine’s death (the body of the novel recounts her life in retrospect).
Because she has left many debts, her ‘‘meubles et riches objets de
curiosité’’ are to be auctioned off by her creditors, who have opened her
home to the public prior to the sale, hoping to increase business. Upon
entering the dead courtesan’s rooms, the narrator, a man of the world
and a self-proclaimed ‘‘amateur de curiosités,’’ easily recognizes that he
is ‘‘dans l’appartement d’une femme entretenue,’’ for her rich decor is
obviously made up of gifts from numerous lovers. Along with the
narrator, many respectable society women, or ‘‘femmes du monde,’’
have taken this opportunity to visit the interior of the celebrated kept
woman, though these women are there motivated by a different kind of
‘‘curiosité’’ than is the collector-narrator; having little or no contact with
the shady world of the kept mistress, these respectable wives and
mothers have come in search of ‘‘les traces de cette vie de courtisane
dont on leur avait fait, sans doute, de si étranges récits’’ [‘‘traces of the
courtesan’s life, about which they had no doubt heard such strange
stories’’] (p. ). It is thus the ‘‘étranges récits’’ about their less respect-
able counterparts which bring these righteous women to inspect these
luxurious furnishings, hoping that these stories will somehow be in-
scribed there. The mistress’s interior thus functions as a narrative
source within the larger narrative of the novel. By evoking the context of
curiosity collecting from the beginning of the novel, the myth of the
courtesan’s seductive decor becomes entwined with the myth of the
courtesan herself.
Non-fiction imitates fiction, at least in written accounts. A few years
later in , the magazine L’Illustration publishes engravings and an
article depicting the collections belonging to the famous actress Rachel.
The use of the term ‘‘bibelot’’ in this article is instructive, since it is
identified with collecting and decor, but not art, as we will see in a
moment. The pretext for this article devoted to the interior of the
famous actress’s recently constructed neo-classical-Louis XV-Gothic
home is a rumor that she may sell her belongings. The article’s author
enumerates the ‘‘bibelots’’ which decorate her ‘‘salon de conversation’’:
‘‘bronzes, chinoiseries, filigranes, ivoires, Saxe, Sèvres, bonbonnières,
médaillons, éventails, cassolettes, écaille, laque, nacre, cristal, jade,
lapis, onyx, malachite, marcassite, poignards, kangiars, bijoux,
joujoux.’’ The author explicitly states that ‘‘bibelots’’ is used ‘‘en style
d’amateur,’’ evoking the trend of collecting. The striking variety of
objects included in this list points to the eclecticism common to the
collections of the second half of the nineteenth century. In terms of
 Literature and material culture
discursive style, the string of names transforms the description into an
enumeration reminiscent of an inventory or catalogue. The author
underlines the bibelot’s propensity for accumulation (‘‘inimaginable
amas,’’ ‘‘encombrer’’).
The passage also indicates that bibelots ‘‘doivent nécessairement
orner’’ the homes of well-known female beauties and celebrities, not
only echoing the same stereotype which underpins the fictitious court-
esan of Dumas fils, but also gendering the bibelot as feminine. The
author elaborates on this point, dramatically proclaiming that ‘‘Etre
sans bibelot, c’est le dernier degré du discrédit et de la honte’’ [‘‘To be
without bibelots is the ultimate disgrace and shame’’]. Therefore, all of
the women in the Breda red-light district ‘‘ont du bibelot.’’ Dancers own
them too, and even the author’s female porter has some. But ‘‘il y a
bibelot et bibelot’’ [‘‘there are bibelots and then there are bibelots’’], those
one can win at the fair, and those which ship captains bring from all
corners of the world, often at great expense. It is significant that exotic
objects are so often described in written representations of sexualized
women, an association repeated in later literary works such as Proust’s
Un amour de Swann (Odette collects Oriental bibelots) and Rachilde’s La
Jongleuse.
In this article, the category ‘‘bibelot’’ does not include Rachel’s most
valuable art works. In the long paragraph discussing the sale of her
‘‘bibelots,’’ the author carefully separates these from ‘‘des ornements
d’un ordre plus élevé,’’ such as ‘‘les tableaux de choix.’’ The author
approves the sale of the former in noting the vulgar register of the term:
‘‘Je conçois, au reste, assez ce renoncement au bibelot, et le mot seul, – si
j’étais grande tragédienne, – me refroidirait de la chose’’ [‘‘Besides, I
understand well enough her giving up her bibelots, for if I were a great
tragic actress, the word itself would put me off the thing’’] (p. ). In
other words, the vulgar word ‘‘bibelot’’ was banished from the diction-
ary of the Académie Française, and consequently is not appropriate for
use in classical theater. As presented by this article, Rachel actually
possesses two collections, one which is of decorative value (the ‘‘bi-
belots’’) and one which is of aesthetic value (the ‘‘ornements d’un ordre
plus élévé’’).
The label artistic has become fully integrated into the discourse of
fashion by the time Zola writes Nana in . At the height of Nana’s
success, her wealthy aristocratic lover buys a new mansion for her use.
The magnificent ‘‘hôtel,’’ ‘‘style Renaissance,’’ newly built by an artist
forced to sell, features an expensive but vulgar artistic decor:
The fashionable artistic interior 
Le comte Muffat avait acheté l’hôtel tout meublé, empli d’un monde de bibelots,
de fort belles tentures d’Orient, de vieilles crédences, de grands fauteuils Louis
XIII; et Nana était ainsi tombée sur un fonds de mobilier artistique, d’un choix très
fin, dans le tohu-bohu des époques.
[Count Muffat had bought the mansion completely furnished, filled with
bibelots, beautiful Oriental hangings, antique sideboards, and large Louis XIII
armchairs; Nana had thus fallen into a mass of exquisitely chosen artistic
furnishings, from a confused mix of periods.]
‘‘Mobilier artistique,’’ a phrase which Zola no doubt employs with some
irony, refers to furnishings chosen for their historicism or exoticism,
whether the pieces be actual antiques, modern copies, or original
modern designs inspired by historic or exotic models. These furnishings
pass through a series of hands, signaling a process of degradation: built
and furnished by a young painter ‘‘drunken’’ by early success, the house
is sold to the wealthy aristocrat Muffat, who has been corrupted by his
desire for the working-class prostitute Nana. Her new artistic furnish-
ings reflect not her taste for art, but rather her fashionability. According
to the narrator, she is now cited by fashionable newspapers, and even
imitated by high-society women. In this passage, the word ‘‘artistique’’
has therefore become emptied of its original meaning, no longer signal-
ing refined taste, but rather its perversion.

       :           
Because the bibelot is so closely associated with feminine and bourgeois
spaces such as the courtesan’s boudoir and the family foyer, nine-
teenth-century male collectors must enlist several strategies for mascu-
linizing their domesticized collections. Encoding them as ‘‘artistic’’ is
the primary strategy used. The most clearly masculinized of these
collections are those found in the homes of ‘‘real’’ and fictitious bach-
elors, including Balzac and his character Pons; the Goncourts;
Maupassant and the narrator of his short story Qui sait?; Huysmans and
des Esseintes of A rebours, along with Durtal of the Catholic novels;
Gardilanne and Dalègre of Champfleury’s Le Violon de faı̈ence; Anatole
France and Dechartre of his novel Le Lys rouge; Jean Lorrain along with
Fréneuse and Ethal of his Monsieur de Phocas; and Frédéric Moreau of
L’Education sentimentale, as well the eponymous heroes of Bouvard et
Pécuchet.
These bachelors use their aestheticized collections to create a kind of
domesticity from which women are excluded, except as temporary
 Literature and material culture
visitors, though even then the presence of woman threatens the order of
this bachelor universe. As Vilcot observes in regard to Huysmans’s
novels, the typical Huysmansian hero is in search of a protected interior
space which is not modeled on the domestic interior comfort associated
with the bourgeois or the woman, beings with which he tends to be
fundamentally incompatible. Hence this solitary hero seeks refuge in an
interior based on other models, such as the hermitage, the museum, the
monastery, or the cloister. This observation applies to the interiors of
the above-listed bachelor-collectors as well. In these masculine sanctua-
ries, bibelots – including paintings, drawings, engravings, and fetishized
book collections – transform the otherwise dreary apartment of the
bachelor into ‘‘un temple de l’Art,’’ where the occupant lives ‘‘en
compagnie de ses objets, exclusivement’’ sheltered from the ‘‘fal-
lacieuses sollicitations du commerce.’’ In this way, aided by the appeal
to art, the bachelor not only encodes the bibelot as masculine, but also
extracts it from the bourgeois order of the marketplace. Because this
idealized interior is both elitist and sexist, I call this way of life ‘‘macho
domesticity.’’
Writing plays an important role in the process of masculinizing the
bibelot through aestheticization. By intellectualizing the interior
through publications aimed at fellow connoisseurs, writers like the
Goncourt brothers and Montesquiou promote an aesthetics based on a
high level of erudition, creating an elite culture of collecting which is
inaccessible to many women and members of the middle classes, who
usually lack the necessary classical education. At the same time, these
publications define and provide models for an interior masculinized
through an erudite aesthetics, thus culturally legitimized for a mostly
male artistic elite. The interior of des Esseintes in Huysmans’s A rebours is
the classic example of such a refined and inaccessible aesthetics.
Another strategy commonly used to reinforce the masculinity of the
bachelor-collector is, paradoxically, to identify the bibelot as feminine.
For example, Edmond de Goncourt characterizes the bibelot as a
replacement for woman in the opening remarks of La Maison d’un artiste.
The machismo of the male collector is bolstered by his possession of the
feminized bibelot – and, conversely, of the bibelotized woman, about
which more in a moment. Defining collecting in terms of womanizing
thus serves the purpose of masculinizing the bibelot-filled interior. One
of Goncourt’s more sexist statements links collecting to writing: ‘‘La
littérature, c’est ma sainte maîtresse, les bibelots, c’est ma putain: pour
entretenir cette dernière, jamais la sainte maı̂tresse n’en souffrira’’
The fashionable artistic interior 
[‘‘Literature is my saintly mistress, bibelots are my whore: the former
will never suffer in order to keep the latter’’].

             ,                 
The opposition art/fashion is often mapped onto gender distinctions,
art being identified as a masculine realm, fashion being relegated to the
feminine. However, though art and fashion tend to form an oppositional
pair, it is crucial to recognize to what degree art and fashion become
intertwined even as attempts are made to separate them into auton-
omous spheres. The decadent dandy makes fashion into an art, while
high society makes art into fashion. For example, the term ‘‘artiste’’ is
associated with fashionable decor, as when in a  newspaper article
tastemaker Mme de Girardin recommends ‘‘l’air artiste’’ for the tasteful
conversation salon. A curious cultural configuration sustains the art/
fashion conundrum: the nineteenth-century aesthetes’ legitimating code
of Art and high society’s legitimating code of Fashion are both founded
on the myth of the artist. These matters frequently manifest themselves
in the literature of the period, often inscribing interpersonal conflicts
into what seems to be mere decor.
Maupassant’s Notre coeur () tells the story of Michèle de Burne, a
cold-hearted high-society widow, and her frustrated lover André
Mariolle, a wealthy dilettante and collector. They meet in Michèle’s
‘‘salon . . . très artiste’’ (p. ), in which she has gathered an impressive
collection of art objects as well as a group of loyal male admirers, many
of whom are artists. The novel’s descriptions of Michèle’s collection of
valuable art objects become imbricated into the description of her habit
of breaking the hearts of artistically gifted intellectual men. In a series of
encounters between Michèle and her admirers staged in the salon of the
former, the machismo of artistic erudition is played against the feminin-
ity of the merely decorative.
Charles Castella insists on the dimension of class in explaining the
social use of the myth of the artist in the high-society circles which serve
as the novel’s setting: ‘‘Henceforth this elite . . . seeks the supreme
ennoblement in art. After aping each other, now the aristocracy and the
bourgeoisie, together and in unison, ape a common master model: the
artist.’’ I would like to extend Castella’s remarks on social stratification
to encompass the dimension of gender.
Maupassant describes Michèle as a typical ‘‘modern’’ woman, which
is to say one who self-consciously constructs herself as a decorative
 Literature and material culture
object. This point is presented as part of Mariolle’s musings, which are
made into generalizations through the use of indirect discourse, dou-
bling his mental voice with that of the narrator. The Mariolle/narrator
voice says that the modern woman’s body is now but ‘‘un objet à orner,’’
and no longer ‘‘un objet à aimer’’ (p. ). Maupassant thus creates a
‘‘type,’’ the ornamental but unloving modern woman, then inserts his
heroine into it. The ‘‘artifice’’ (ibid.) of Michèle’s beauty is shown to
exert an irresistible appeal on male high-society aesthetes like Mariolle,
the ‘‘l’artiste infécond’’ (p. ) whose talent is wasted on the activities of
the idle rich, including the accumulation of a ‘‘jolie collection de
tableaux modernes et de bibelots anciens’’ (p. ). In the eyes of this
collector, Michèle is comparable to a rare bibelot. She is ‘‘une créature
factice,’’ ‘‘un objet de luxe rare, attrayant, exquis et délicat.’’ She whets
the appetite of those who gaze upon her, as if she were one of those
gourmet dishes in a glass display case, ‘‘préparées et montrées pour
exciter la faim’’ (p. ). Even after becoming his lover, in spite of their
physical relationship Michèle remains as inaccessible to Mariolle as if
she were a precious artifact on display in a museum, an object which the
collector longs to take home, but cannot (p. ). Artificial in appear-
ance, she loves artificially as well, with an ‘‘ardeur factice’’ (p. ).
Michèle’s physical beauty is framed not only by artful clothing, but
also by the exquisite bibelots displayed in a salon ‘‘dont elle était presque
aussi fière que d’elle-même.’’ She owes the high quality of her decor to
the expert guidance of her male artist friends, on whose taste she relies in
choosing exceptional art objects (p. ). Each of these artists in turn
becomes ‘‘un bibelot rare’’ (p. ) on display in this salon which he
helped decorate. Mariolle too becomes trapped in her exhibit: wary
from the beginning of becoming merely one of ‘‘sa collection de favoris
plus ou moins illustres’’ (p. ), he becomes precisely that, objectified
into a belonging comparable to the ‘‘petits bibelots qui traînaient sur sa
table’’ (p. ). Thus, women and men are in turn reduced to decorative
art objects to be admired or collected.
What separates the men from the women in this novel is artistic taste.
The male characters know how to appreciate art through a sophisti-
cated aesthetics, while for the women art is simply an element of
fashionable decor, an accessory. In one of the key scenes in the novel,
during a dinner at the heroine’s home the sculptor Prédolé admires and
comments on her rare bibelots. The reader is told that the men
‘‘l’écoutaient avec un intérêt extrême, tandis que les deux femmes . . .
paraissaient s’ennuyer un peu . . . , déconcertées de ce qu’on pût prendre
The fashionable artistic interior 
tant de goût à de simples contours d’objets’’ [‘‘listened to him with
extreme interest, while the two women . . . seemed a bit bored . . .
disconcerted that anyone could so admire the simple contours of ob-
jects’’] (p. ). Not surprised that Michèle finds the sculptor dull, one of
the secondary characters, the writer Lamarthe, reflects to himself,
‘‘‘Parbleu, il n’a pas admiré votre toilette; et vous êtes le seul de vos
bibelots qu’il ait à peine regardé’ ’’ [‘‘‘Of course, he didn’t admire your
clothing; you are the only one of your bibelots that he hardly looked
at’’’] (p. ). Michèle’s display of decorative art objects is thus portrayed
as an act of narcissism. Through slippages and displacements from her
bibelot-like person to the bibelots in her living room, she offers the
objects in her collection to her admirers to be fetishized as part-object
extensions of herself. Unlike the other men, who succumb to this
strategy of seduction, Prédolé refuses this fetishism. Lamarthe explains,
Pour elle, un buste de Houdon, des statuettes de Tanagra ou un encrier de
Benvenuto ne sont que les petites parures nécessaires à l’encadrement naturel
et riche d’un chef-d’oeuvre qui est Elle: Elle et sa robe, car sa robe fait partie
d’Elle; c’est la note nouvelle qu’elle donne chaque jour à sa beauté. Comme
c’est futile et personnel, une femme!
[For our hostess, a Houdon bust, Tanagra statuettes, or a Benvenuto inkwell
are nothing more than little adornments, necessaries to the natural and rich
frame of the true masterpiece: Herself. Herself and her dress, which is part of
Herself . . . Women! how futile and self-centered they are.]
Lamarthe sums up the significance of Prédolé, the idealized artist who
idolizes genuine art, refusing to fetishize artificial women. A great artist
who lives only for art, he seems unconcerned with feminine artifice, with
‘‘nos femmes à colifichets, à dentelles et à déguisements,’’ as Lamarthe
observes. Rather, Prédolé demands ‘‘de la pure plastique, à lui, et non
de l’artificiel.’’
Lamarthe’s erudite familiarity with decorative artists forms part of
the gentleman’s education and serves as a sign of cultural mastery. He
understands that Prédolé recuperates Michèle’s decorative objects by
his admiration of them as examples of pure plastic beauty, detaching
them from their (feminine) function as seductive ornamentation in order
to elevate them into a (masculine) realm of high Art. The implication is
that even the most well-bred modern women apprehend art objects
according to a code of fashion, whereas their male counterparts appre-
hend the same objects through a code of aesthetics. Maupassant master-
fully draws on the myth of the artist (incarnated by Prédolé) in conjunc-
tion with the vogue of antique decorative arts (embodied, collected, and
 Literature and material culture
admired by Michèle and Mariolle), in order to overdetermine the
structure of the central plot element, the love relationship between the
hero and heroine. A cold but visually and intellectually stimulating
ornamental object (Michèle) ‘‘collects’’ a sensitive but unproductive
artist and connoisseur (Mariolle), who fails to live up to the standard of
the ideal artist (Prédolé).
In Proust’s Un amour de Swann the tension between aesthetics and
fashion is mapped onto class and gender distinctions following the
patterns already established in the Goncourts’ Charles Demailly and in
Maupassant’s Notre coeur: all three involve a couple consisting of a man
with refined artistic taste and a woman incapable of appreciating this
taste because she confuses art with fashion. Proust’s Swann is bourgeois
but also well educated, and welcome in the highest social circles.
Furthermore, throughout A la recherche Swann is consistently shown to
have superior taste to aristocrats in matters of art. In contrast, his
mistress Odette de Crécy, a demi-mondaine and former prostitute, makes
judgments of taste based on her naive notion of ‘‘chic.’’ Swann, on the
other hand, not only studies and collects art, but also understands what
is truly ‘‘chic’’ through his access to high-society circles. This difference
in competency level in both aesthetics and fashion plays itself out in the
furnishings of the couple’s respective apartments during their period of
courtship. Swann’s rooms are furnished with authentic antiques whose
value escapes Odette, who describes them as ‘‘meubles cassés’’ and
‘‘tapis usés’’ [‘‘broken-down chairs’’/‘‘threadbare carpets’’]. In con-
trast, she lives in a heavily draped harem-like apartment obviously
designed for scenes of seduction, filled with exotic Oriental bibelots and
large plants. Odette’s apartment thus serves as a fitting backdrop for her
early encounters with Swann. Both interiors are of course stereotypi-
cally nineteenth-century, faithfully corresponding to the social standing
and gender of each character.
Though she does not realize that Swann’s decor falls into the same
category, Odette correctly recognizes the term bibelot as ‘‘chic,’’ as
expressed through a litany of fin-de-siècle clichés. Because it captures so
well the socio-historical significance of the bibelot during the nineteenth
century, I quote the passage at length:
De ceux qui aimaient à bibeloter, qui aimaient les vers, méprisaient les bas
calculs, rêvaient d’honneur et d’amour, elle faisait une élite supérieure au reste
de l’humanité. Il n’y avait pas besoin qu’on eût réellement ces goûts pourvu
qu’on les proclamât; d’un homme qui lui avait avoué à dîner qu’il aimait à
flâner, à se salir les doigts dans les vieilles boutiques, qu’il ne serait jamais
The fashionable artistic interior 
apprécié par ce siècle commercial, car il ne se souciait pas de ses intérêts et qu’il
était pour cela d’un autres temps, elle revenait en disant: ‘‘Mais c’est une âme
adorable, un sensible, je ne m’en êtais jamais doutée!’’ et elle se sentait pour lui
une immense et soudaine amitié. Mais, en revanche ceux, qui comme Swann,
avaient ces goûts, mais n’en parlaient pas, la laissaient froide. Sans doute elle
êtait obligée d’avouer que Swann ne tenait pas à l’argent, mais elle ajoutait d’un
air boudeur: ‘‘Mais lui, ça n’est pas la même chose’’; et en effet, ce qui parlait à
son imagination, ce n’était pas la pratique du désintéressement, c’en était le
vocabulaire.
[People who enjoyed picking up antiques, who liked poetry, despised sordid
calculations of profit and loss, and nourished ideals of honour and love, she
placed in a class by themselves, superior to the rest of humanity. There was no
need actually to have those tastes, as long as one proclaimed them; when a man
had told her at dinner that he loved to wander about and get his hands covered
with dust in old furniture shops, that he would never be really appreciated in
this commercial age since he was not interested in its concerns, and that he
belonged to another generation altogether, she would come home saying:
‘‘Why, he’s an adorable creature, so sensitive, I had no idea,’’ and she would
conceive for him an immediate bond of friendship. But on the other hand, men
who, like Swann, had these tastes but did not speak them, left her cold. She was
obliged, of course, to admit that Swann was not interested in money, but she
would add sulkily: ‘‘It’s not the same thing, you see, with him,’’ and, as a matter
of fact, what appealed to her imagination was not the practice of disinterested-
ness, but its vocabulary.]
The sensitive soul of Odette’s superior elite manifests itself through an
odd list of preferences: bibelots, poetry, anti-commercialism, love, and
honor. The only readily discernible connection between these tastes and
the bibelot would seem to be the nostalgic disdain for ‘‘ce siècle com-
mercial,’’ commerce being associated with interest, as opposed to disin-
terestedness. What is most significant about this passage, though, is the
opposition drawn between really having these tastes and merely claim-
ing to have them, between the practice of disinterestedness and the
vocabulary of disinterestedness. Underpinning these remarks, then, is
an eloquent commentary on the sign-function of taste, on the difference
between having a certain taste, and deploying this taste socially. In a
sphere ruled by fashion, as high society proves increasingly to be as A la
recherche progresses, the exercise of good taste is less important than the
vocabulary of good taste.

Nineteenth-century French writers contribute substantially to the for-


mation of associative chains linking judgments of taste to the myth of the
artist. Though this configuration of the cultural codes of art was to last
 Literature and material culture
for many decades, making its way to the Americas, influencing other
European countries, it was already disappearing when Bourdieu was
carrying out the research for Distinction in France in . Today, in
Europe and North America, the term ‘‘art’’ has been radically redefined
by cultural events such as pop-art, the valorization of popular culture,
and the incredible prices commanded by the art market. ‘‘Art’’ now
seems to apply to everything and nothing. Unless one is an extremely
wealthy and knowledgeable collector, to repeat the nineteenth-century
claim that one’s home interior is ‘‘artistic’’ would be perceived as either
naive or pretentious. What does remain of the nineteenth-century
encoding of domestic things are a set of familiar novelistic conventions,
a practice of enacting identity through personal possessions, an advertis-
ing industry aware of this practice, and an academic field, the sociology
of the sign.
 

Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’


Bouvard and Pécuchet’s consumerist epistemology

In nineteenth-century France the multiplication of material things co-


incides with what is perceived to be an explosion of knowledge, two
events which come together in the new public museums which also
proliferate during this period. Writing within and against this context,
Flaubert accords a central place to the museum episode in his novel
Bouvard and Pécuchet, left unfinished at the time of his death in . To
summarize briefly, the novel’s (anti-)heroes, two unmarried Parisian
copy clerks, retire to the country on an unexpected inheritance, where
they undertake a seemingly endless series of studies and experiments
from aboriculture to literature to theology and much more. The two
petty-bourgeois hobbyists have no formal training in any of the activities
they undertake, and must rely on their own rather confused readings of
scholarly treatises and how-to manuals, which often contradict each
other. The long series of amateurish study and scientific experimenta-
tion, which provides the only real plot structure for this unusual novel, is
recounted (in the third person) in great detail, always following the same
pattern: each new enterprise is begun with enthusiasm, soon followed by
failure, frustration, and dejection, until the haphazard discovery of a
new project, which sets the whole cycle going again. The effect is comic,
though repetitious.
At one point during the course of these successive scholarly activities
the hobbyists take up archaeology, an interest inspired by the discovery
of an antique chest which, in the serial fashion characteristic of the
novel, leads them to ‘‘le goût des bibelots’’ and then ‘‘l’amour du moyen
âge.’’ They then turn most of the ground floor of their home into a
museum. Many literary critics have commented on this episode, but
they invariably concentrate on the figure of the museum, abstracting it
out of the domestic context of the living room space in which it is set. It is
significant that at certain points Flaubert does use the term ‘‘bibelot’’ to
describe the artifacts in the museum collection, signaling that they

 Literature and material culture
belong not only to the sphere of erudition, but also to the sphere of
domesticity. In addition, the novel’s critics have relied on a completely
dehistoricized notion of the museum, usually to discuss epistemology at
an abstract, disembodied level, whereas Flaubert was keenly aware that
the museum was very much a product of his time. At the same time,
though some criticism does mention class and social position, little
attention has been paid to the many consumer purchases Bouvard and
Pécuchet make in the name of science. Therefore, in addition to re-
situating Flaubert’s museum episode in the context of the history of the
museum, I also propose a rethinking of the epistemology deployed
therein. Bouvard and Pécuchet is informed not only by the epistemology of
the museum, but also by the epistemologies of the domestic, of social
position, and of consumption. In short, the novel’s museum episode
must be completely rethought in terms of the much broader context of
the history of modern material culture. This involves shifting the em-
phasis from an Enlightenment view of epistemology to an anthropologi-
cal view of culture. This also involves a rethinking of Enlightenment
notions of order.

                 
I will take as emblematic of a certain critical moment the well-known
essay by Eugenio Donato, ‘‘The Museum’s Furnace: Notes Toward a
Contextual Reading of Bouvard and Pécuchet’’ (), whose assumptions
about the nature of the museum are widely shared. Stated briefly, the
large body of Bouvard and Pécuchet criticism produced during the late
s and early s almost invariably associates the museum with a
pre-modern, naive faith in order, totality, and transparent meaning;
these studies then demonstrate that for Flaubert such naive faith has
become impossible, leading him to write a novel which is radically
modern in its production of incoherence, fragmentation, and a post-
Saussurean linguistic uncertainty. I do not dispute the validity of this
conclusion, but rather this characterization of the museum. Recent
scholarship in the growing interdisciplinary field of museum studies
necessitates a reformulation of the notion of the museum, predicated on
a shift in emphasis from the epistemological to the cultural.
Donato, in one of the best-theorized formulations of the poststruc-
turalist, ahistorical strain of Flaubert criticism, compares the museum to
the encyclopedia, understanding it as a totalizing system of knowledge
based on the classical episteme of taxonomia, or Order, as defined by
Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’ 
Foucault in The Order of Things. To characterize the museum in this way
is, perhaps paradoxically, to de-historicize it, in two senses. First, the
museum is not an abstract universal concept like taxonomia, but rather
an evolving institution imbued with local and historical particularity.
The earliest public museums in France were not founded until the s.
Second, if we lend credence to Foucault’s epistemes, I would argue that
the nineteenth-century museum belongs to the modern episteme of
History rather than to the classical episteme of Order. To properly
grasp the episteme of the museum it is necessary to distinguish between
order and Order: the order of the nineteenth-century museum differs
from the Order of Linné and Buffon, as well as from the order of its
twentieth-century counterparts.
Donato erroneously oversimplifies the museum and Foucault in re-
ducing both to expressions of taxonomic Order. Claiming that Foucault
himself is ‘‘rooted in the episteme of the Enlightenment he describes so
well,’’ Donato understands the epistemic shift from Order to History
(which roughly corresponds to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,
respectively) as ‘‘simply the displacement onto human history of what
was until then considered ‘natural history.’’’ In other words, Donato
restates the shift from Order to History as a simple disciplinary shift from
natural history to human history. Donato in this way retains the En-
lightenment notion of taxonomic Order for the nineteenth-century
episteme of History. By redefining the nineteenth-century epistemic shift
this way, Donato demonstrates his profound misapprehension of
Foucault. Donato writes, ‘‘The eighteenth century generated its botan-
ical nomenclatures by a procedure based upon the same epistemology
that would later on be applied to archeological artifacts.’’ Donato makes
his error in assuming that Foucault is referring to an archaeology based
on taxonomy in The Archaeology of Knowledge, disregarding epistemic shifts
within archaeology, treating this disciplinary field as an ahistorical
abstract concept, just as he does the museum. In fact, Foucault specifi-
cally defines the type of archaeology described by Donato as the tradi-
tional type which modern archaeology has surpassed. It seems clear to
me that the museum belongs to modern archaeology, which corresponds
to what The Order of Things defines as the modern episteme of History.
In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault describes this disciplinary
transformation of archaeology in terms of history, and vice versa:

To be brief, then, let us say that history, in its traditional form, undertook to
‘‘memorize’’ the monuments of the past, transform them into documents, and lend
 Literature and material culture
speech to those traces which, in themselves, are often not verbal, or which say
in silence something other than what they actually say; in our time, history is
that which transforms documents into monuments. In that area where, in the past,
history deciphered the traces left by men, it now deploys a mass of elements that
have to be grouped, made relevant, placed in relation to one another to form
totalities. There was a time when archaeology . . . attained meaning only
through the restitution of a historical discourse; it might be said, to play on
words a little, that in our time history aspires to the condition of archaeology, to
the intrinsic description of the monument. (p. )

What is transformed is the fundamental relationship between the disci-


plines of history and archaeology, and their documents or monuments.
This analysis can usefully be adapted to the historical and archaeologi-
cal aims of the public museum. The ‘‘monuments’’ to which Foucault
refers correspond to the artifacts in the museum. The old order of
history sought meaning by superimposing a layer of discourse on the
monuments of the past, or artifacts, making them into documents. The
new order of history, a history which aspires to archaeology, makes the
document itself into a monument/artifact. Discourse does accompany
the deployment of the museum’s monumentalized documents, dis-
course in the form of labels, catalogues, voices of tour guides, and
comments of visitors. However, the primary aim of the modern museum
is not to seek the discourse of history behind or beyond the document,
but rather to describe the documents themselves in as much detail as
possible. The rise of the modern museum signals that the artifact’s
materiality has become as significant as its discursivity. For modern
archaeology, material culture produces knowledge.
In other words, the ‘‘object’’ of knowledge is no longer the discourse
which the material object represents, but rather the material object itself;
this is what it means for history to aspire to the ‘‘condition of archaeol-
ogy.’’ Rather than seeking out the discourse which functions as the
referent of the object, this new history models itself on archaeology,
according intrinsic value to the description of the monument. In this
way, the (material) object of history achieves a new autonomy, an
adequacy which surpasses its function as mere signifier. We could say
that the old history belongs to the order of linguistics, whereas the new
history belongs to the order of the artifact.
Unlike the textual space of the encyclopedia, then, the museum is
primarily artifactual, both literally and conceptually. Though the ency-
clopedia is of course material and while the museum is certainly subject
to linguistic order, the crucial difference between the textual nature of
Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’ 
the encyclopedia and the artifactual nature of the museum has too long
been overlooked as a result of critical theory’s linguistic-oriented phases
of poststructuralism, deconstruction, and semiotic postmodernism.
Donato writes of ‘‘the failure of the epistemology of the Museum to offer
an adequate continuous representation between Words and Things’’ (p.
). Such was never the epistemological aim of the museum. The
modern artifact does not represent history, as a word represents a thing.
Rather, the artifact embodies history.
Such artifacts function analogously to the superfluous narrative ob-
jects which produce Barthes’s ‘‘reality effect.’’ In the realist text, super-
fluous material things do not stand in for some traditional kind of
narrative ‘‘meaning,’’ but rather signify realism itself. Likewise, tradi-
tional history lent speech to artifacts, whereas modern history lets
artifacts stand directly for the ‘‘real’’ of history itself. If in Barthes’s
formulation Flaubert’s barometer and Michelet’s little door proclaim
‘‘we are the real,’’ then modern museum objects proclaim ‘‘we are
history’’ – or, depending on the type of museum, ‘‘we are science,’’ ‘‘we
are culture,’’ or ‘‘we are art.’’
The museum is not a space of pre-modern Order, of transparent
meaning, or of totalization. The passage from Foucault cited just above
does suggest that the monumentalized documents of modern history
(which I am comparing to museum artifacts) must be assembled so as to
‘‘form totalities.’’ ‘‘Totalities’’ is perhaps an unfortunate translation of
the French ‘‘ensemble.’’ At any rate, the modern ‘‘totalities’’ created by
the grouping of documents do not correspond to the Enlightenment
ideal of an encyclopedic totalization of knowledge as described by
Donato, since for Foucault the very ‘‘theme’’ and ‘‘possibility’’ of a
traditional ‘‘total history’’ ‘‘begin to disappear’’ with the advent of modern
history, which becomes what he calls ‘‘general history.’’ The old ‘‘total
history’’ sought a ‘‘system of homogenous relations,’’ whereas the new
‘‘general history’’ challenges the old ‘‘principle of cohesion.’’ ‘‘A total
description draws all phenomena around a single centre – a principle, a
meaning, a spirit, a world-view, an overall shape; a general history, on
the contrary, would deploy the space of a dispersion.’’ The monumen-
talized documents of the new history correspond to this space of disper-
sion, which is the space of the modern museum, created with the dawn
of the nineteenth century. Seen in this way, the museum is not and was
never meant to be, as Donato would have it, a space of homogenization.
Donato would prefer that Foucault and the museum were simply
throwbacks to the Enlightenment ideal of Order, since his own
 Literature and material culture
methodology, deconstruction, is an effective critique of Order, but has
little to tell us about History. Laurence Porter accuses Donato of being
rooted in the ‘‘rhetoric of deconstruction,’’ observing that Donato’s
essay ‘‘suffers from critical oversights resulting from the libido deconstruc-
tendi, that is to say, from the need to create structures where there are
none, so that they can subsequently be dismantled.’’ Porter further
observes that Donato spends two dense opening paragraphs convinc-
ing the reader that Bouvard and Pécuchet are systematizers and total-
izers, whereas the novel provides no indication that they have any
over-arching system in mind, but rather indicates that accident deter-
mines what they will study next. By insisting on the presence in the text
of a will to order, to totalization, and to transparent meaning, which
proves to be conceptually untenable, Donato and others create a vi-
cious circle which allows them to remain safely within the realm of the
conceptual. If history is discussed, as it is in Donato’s article, it too
becomes an untenable abstract concept. In this way, history is deftly
reduced to a pre-modern illusion of linguistic unity, a totality ripe for
reversal. In a sense, this allows history to be avoided, even as it is being
discussed.
It is time to re-historicize Bouvard and Pécuchet, to think about its
relationship to history in a new way. The main problem with Donato
and company is a stubborn refusal to consider epistemology outside of
the confines of the disciplines which Bouvard and Pécuchet explore in
series – geology, archaeology, and history are the disciplines which
frame the museum episode. Even in their avoidance of history through
the proclamation of its epistemological demise, this rather dated post-
structuralist criticism is written from within the modern episteme of
History, rooted in that set of anthropocentric assumptions whose inter-
nalization provides the condition of possibility for the social sciences –
the sciences of Man. We are just now entering the as yet unformulated
next episteme, which, as Foucault predicts in the famous last lines of The
Order of Things, will erase man (‘‘an invention of recent date’’). A sign of
this impending shift is the self-examinations to which cultural anthro-
pology is currently subjecting itself, questioning its own foundational
assumptions, its enabling myths. Many historians, sociologists, and
other scholars – including art historians and museographers – are asking
similar questions about their disciplines’ structures of knowledge. What
this work shows us, among other things, is that the museum is much
more than a classificatory space, that it is also and especially a space of
identity-formation and a powerful instrument of cultural politics. Born
Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’ 
of the episteme of History, the museum is inseparable from history, from
the history of its own formation, as well as from the history of consumer
capitalism, itself inseparable from the history of empire. However, a
certain kind of understanding of the museum can come about only from
the position of the new, post-historical episteme. By post-historical, I do
not mean ahistoricism, but rather a radical historicism, a critical effort at
constant historicizing. I use the prefix ‘‘post-’’ to signal a need for
self-reflexive caution, for a self-conscious, auto-critical awareness of the
anthropocentric, Eurocentric, positivist tendencies of traditional his-
toriographical practice.
What I propose, then, is a ‘‘post-historical’’ re-reading of Bouvard and
Pécuchet, to replace the ‘‘post-structuralist’’ readings which strike me as
inadequate for dealing with current concerns in cultural (including
literary) criticism. Whereas post-structuralist readings situated the text
in the dehistoricized context of the production of language and dis-
course, a post-historical reading would situate the text in the radically
historicized context of the production of culture. For the post-structural-
ist critics, history was seen as a linguistic act, as one type of text among
others, such as literature. For the post-historical critic, history is seen as
one type of cultural production among others, such as daily life, con-
sumer culture, literature, and even economics (from this point of view
economics itself must be seen as a cultural production).
Such a reading must recontextualize Bouvard and Pécuchet’s mu-
seum in terms of the broader context of material culture, considering
privileged epistemological artifacts (such as museum objects) alongside
the artifacts of daily life (such as bibelots), as both are transformed by the
multiplication of knowledge and the proliferation of consumer goods.
This is precisely what Flaubert does in the museum episode, in juxta-
posing museum artifacts against the banal artifacts of (petty-)bourgeois
‘‘daily life.’’ The broader perspective of material culture subjects the
museum to numerous extra-epistemological logics of ‘‘order,’’ as sig-
naled by Flaubert’s uses of the term ‘‘bibelot’’ throughout the museum
episode. Flaubert creates and then observes a pair of comical characters
who set out to study only those artifacts which fall within the confines of
archaeology, but who find this sphere of material things inseparable not
only from related disciplines such as geology and history, but also from
daily domestic life, the marketplace, and the larger social sphere around
them. The contamination of spheres of objects, whose perception as
separate was only ever illusory, underpins the fictitious world of material
culture in Bouvard and Pécuchet.
 Literature and material culture
For most of the novel’s critics, that the museum is housed in the
domestic space of a bourgeois living room serves only to signal that the
museum is being ridiculed by Flaubert, and that consequently the copy
clerks’ museum project is doomed to failure, like their experiments in
botany, medicine, chemistry, etc. But to confine their exercises in
erudition to the domain of Knowledge-with-a-capital-K is to evade the
issue of the relationship between epistemology and the extra-disciplin-
ary domain of daily life, including the individual experience of the
industrial and consumer revolutions. Flaubert’s novelistic vulgarization
and domestication of the museum, as distilled in the term ‘‘bibelot,’’
merely mimics a larger system of objects to which the museum artifact
and the bibelot both belong, showing that the order of artifacts never
really manages to escape the vulgarity and domesticity of the objects of
daily life. To relegate the museum to the realm of Knowledge, even
while proclaiming its fundamental failure, as do Donato and others, is to
fail to recognize that the museum is merely one ‘‘system of objects’’
among others, that objects of Knowledge are as subject to the libidinal
logic of desire coopted by consumer capitalism, as they are to the (failed)
logic of Reason.
Criticism almost unanimously reads Bouvard and Pécuchet’s mu-
seum as lacking any ‘‘fundamental unity,’’ as an ‘‘irreducible heterogen-
eity,’’ as ‘‘disconnected fragments,’’ as suffering from a ‘‘fundamental
incoherence.’’ While I agree that Bouvard and Pécuchet exposes the
failure of the museological order of things, I disagree with the conclusion
that the objects in the novel represent an incoherent lack of order. There
are logics which organize the novel’s world of objects, but these belong
to the realm of what Bourdieu calls ‘‘practical logic,’’ based on those
orders of things which escape the formalist logic of museological order.
These alternative types of order include domestic order, mimetic order,
social order, and the order of consumption. The novel’s collection is not
disordered, but rather multiply ordered.

                   
The novel’s chapter  opens with a declaration that the two former
copy clerks have become archaeologists and that their country house
now resembles a museum (p. ). However, the museum contains not
only their archaeological finds, but also geological specimens and mem-
entos brought from their Parisian apartments, for which Pécuchet had
already set aside a room (‘‘pour ses collections,’’ p. ) upon moving into
Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’ 
the new home two chapters earlier. During the museum episode they
will also add their phallus collection made up of anything vaguely
oblong, ‘‘des palonniers de voiture, des jambes de fauteuil, des verrous
de cave, des pilons de pharmacien’’ [‘‘carriage bars, chair legs, cellar
bolts, pharmacy pestles’’] (p. ).
In chapter  (three chapters later), after they have moved on to other
projects upon becoming disenchanted with the museum, the word
‘‘bibelot’’ appears in a sentence which expresses despair in the face of
the failure: ‘‘Bouvard voulut dresser le catalogue du muséum, et déclara
ces bibelots stupides’’ [‘‘Bouvard wanted to compile a museum catalogue,
then declared these bibelots stupid’’] (p. ; my emphasis). The terms
‘‘bibelot’’ and ‘‘muséum’’ appear in contradicting clauses. The Latinate
version of the French ‘‘musée’’ underlines the irony behind the juxtapo-
sition of the two terms. By using the word ‘‘bibelot’’ in reference to the
objects that make up the ‘‘muséum’’ of the two ‘‘archéologues,’’
Flaubert creates a deliberate ambiguity as to their status, confusing the
vocabulary of a fashionable Parisian pastime and style of interior decor
(‘‘bibelot’’) with the terminology of serious historical and scientific
scholarship (‘‘muséum’’).
The juxtaposition of ‘‘bibelot’’ against ‘‘muséum’’ is prefigured in the
earlier versions of the manuscript, in which Bouvard and Pécuchet’s
collection is first referred to as a ‘‘parloir gothique,’’ becoming ‘‘parloir
gothique – musée,’’ and finally ‘‘musée.’’ It is thus not by accident that
a piece of furniture inspires their interest in collecting, as fore-
shadowed in chapter , in the offhand remark that the two friends would
often admire ‘‘un vieux meuble’’ and wish they had lived during the
period of its use, even if they knew nothing of the period (p. ). The
topic of antique furniture is evoked again in chapter  to explain the
genesis of the museum:
Pour avoir des morceaux dans le genre du meuble [the dilapidated antique
chest which is missing a panel] Bouvard et Pécuchet s’étaient mis en campagne.
Ce qu’ils rapportaient ne convenait pas. Mais ils avaient rencontré une foule de
choses curieuses. Le goût des bibelots leur était venu, puis l’amour du moyen
âge. (p. ; my emphasis)
[Bouvard and Pécuchet set off to find pieces to match the old chest. What they
brought back was unsuitable, but they had encountered a host of curious
things. They had acquired a taste for bibelots, then a love for the Middle Ages.]
Once again, the vocabulary choice ‘‘bibelots’’ seems odd in relation to
‘‘l’amour du moyen âge.’’ The interests which make up the curious
 Literature and material culture
progression ‘‘meuble – bibelots – moyen âge’’ recall Bourget’s image of
the museum spilling into the salon to create the bibelot (see my chapter
), only in reverse order. In this case, it is a piece of furniture that inspires
the taste for bibelots, which only then (‘‘puis’’) leads to a love of the
Middle Ages, which in turn will inspire the transformation of Bouvard
and Pécuchet’s salon into a museum. It is the progression of interests that
seems odd: looking for pieces to repair an antique chest sets off an
interest in the past, rather than the other way around. This passage
demonstrates that the order of Flaubert’s museum is subject at once to
domestic order, and to the scientific order of the museum.

                   
Examining the collection’s spatial arrangement in Bouvard and
Pécuchet’s house, as can best be determined by its various presentations
in the text, there emerges a logical system of classification in terms of
potential value. The inventory of the collection amounts to the naming,
usually with a few qualifiers, of nearly fifty items. These easily divide into
two groups, based on the spatial presentation. The first group is com-
posed of the items in the entry and first room, all of which closely
resemble objects found in museums or historical sites visited by
Flaubert; while these items are not necessarily museum-worthy, they are
certainly museum-like. In contrast, the second group of objects, located
in the second room or library, contains only objects which are best
described as petty-bourgeois: the mementos the clerks brought with
them from Paris, a few masterpieces of kitsch acquired later (a shell-
work cabinet with plush trimmings, a petrified cat), and the ridiculous
collection of ‘‘phalluses’’ (mentioned above) in its ‘‘compartiment
nouveau’’ (p. ). The items in the second room are neither museum-
worthy nor even museum-like. The one notable exception to this ar-
rangement is the statue of Saint Peter, which is placed in the second
room with the petty-bourgeois kitsch, but in the window, a place of
honor.
The grouping of objects into two distinct spaces provides order for
them. This order can be discerned only by rereading the novel’s descrip-
tions of the collection with the attention to detail particular to the
museum catalogue. The post-structuralist critics who have devoted
articles to Flaubert’s museum (Donato, Schuerewegen, Lalonde) all
privilege generalized concepts, glossing over the almost overwhelming
quantity of accurate, carefully accumulated details present in Flaubert’s
Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’ 
writing. For example, Donato could not have seen the classificatory
spatial arrangement separating the museum-like artifacts from the petty-
bourgeois bibelots, since in his study he uses a short enumeration of the
collection found in an earlier draft, rather than the much more elaborate
descriptions in the last version of the text. Lalonde likewise fails to notice
these organizing principles in providing examples of accumulated ob-
jects with ‘‘no connection between them.’’ He is less than accurate in
stating that the coconuts are next to the antique medallions and the
sombrero next to a funeral urn, since the collectors have in fact placed
these objects in two separate rooms, the coconuts and sombrero being
found in the library while the antique medallions and funeral urn are
displayed in the first room with the other items presumed to be of
historical value. There is a coherence underlying the apparent ‘‘funda-
mental incoherence characteristic of this collection.’’

       
Flaubert’s mockery is aimed less at an abstract concept of the museum
than at the actual museums of his time. The above-cited criticism seems
to assume that Flaubert chose the objects of Bouvard and Pécuchet’s
museum at random. On the contrary, it is much more likely that
Flaubert culled Bouvard and Pécuchet’s museum from the collections of
what might be called Flaubert’s musées reçus (to play on the title of
Flaubert’s own Dictionnaire des idées reçues), museums which Flaubert
almost certainly visited. Several such musées reçus are named in the
novel’s account of the couple’s Parisian activities in chapter , but as is
often the case with books cited in the novel, Flaubert does not list all of
his sources. The Parisian public collection that is the obvious model for
the fictitious private museum is one not mentioned by Flaubert, the
‘‘Musée des Thermes et de l’Hôtel de Cluny.’’ A second model, also
unmentioned, is located in Flaubert’s home town, Rouen’s ‘‘Musée
d’Antiquités et le Musée Céramique.’’ A third musée reçu, Caen’s ‘‘Musée
de la Société des Antiquaires de Normandie,’’ is mentioned in Flaubert’s
notes and scenarios but not in the novel. For the purposes of this section,
the petty-bourgeois bibelots in the second room will be considered
separately from the carefully chosen items which Flaubert has con-
sciously grouped together in the entry and first room.
I have read the nineteenth-century catalogues of each of these three
museums, and have also read Flaubert’s travel notes from French
historical sites. In them I have found items which correspond almost
 Literature and material culture
exactly to virtually every artifact Flaubert locates in the entry and first
room of Bouvard and Pécuchet’s house, as well as the statue of Saint
Peter in the bow-window of the second room. Having made this careful
comparison, I am convinced that Flaubert visited and recalled all three
museums in his novel: any author who would read , books and
make two visits to an out of town museum (Caen) would not neglect
similar museums in cities where he resided (Rouen and Paris). The
author draws on his memory (or on lost or unedited notes) to reproduce
the objects he saw there. Furthermore, the founding of museums is a
topic of current interest at the time of the writing of the novel: all three
model museums were founded during Flaubert’s lifetime. Likewise,
many of the artifacts described in the catalogues of these actual mu-
seums were discovered in France during the mid-nineteenth century.
The correspondence between actual museum objects and those dis-
played in the entry and first room of the fictitious museum challenges
Schuerewegen’s reading of the juxtaposition ‘‘locks, bolts, screws’’ as a
sign of fundamental incoherence (p. ), since the museum at Caen
contains similar items. The reader might also be tempted to interpret
the fragments of ‘‘tuiles rouges’’ [‘‘red tiles’’] in the same way, whereas
the same item is found in all three model museums. When carefully
compared to actual museum catalogues, Bouvard and Pécuchet’s collec-
tion is not simply an ‘‘anti-museum,’’ as the other articles imply, but
rather a surprisingly accurate mimicry of Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus.’’ A
mimetic order guides the choice of these objects.
It could be argued that in spite of their resemblance to actual museum
objects, the items of the fictitious museum are obviously inauthentic. But
to adopt this conclusion would be to fall into the trap set by the text’s
repetition of idées reçues [truisms, clichés]. The problem of counterfeit
antiques had in fact become a commonplace of collecting, thus finding
its way into Flaubert’s Dictionnaire des idées reçues – twice:
      Sont toujours de fabrication moderne.
               Sont toujours de fabrication moderne.
[     Always of modern manufacture.
             Always of modern manufacture.]
Authenticity poses a problem not only for the private collector, but also
for the public museum, including such prestigious institutions as
Cluny. During the mid-nineteenth century museums varying greatly
in quality begin to appear all over the provinces. ‘‘How many galleries
and museums would survive a serious and rigorous examination of their
Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’ 
attributions?,’’ asks an  critique of a provincial museum. Thus by
constantly placing in doubt the authenticity of the museum-like artifacts
in the entry and first room of the museum, Flaubert is invoking an idée
reçue. Bouvard and Pécuchet’s fictitious doubts regarding the authentic-
ity of their artifacts are thus mimetic of the concerns of actual museum
directors.
The comic presentation of objects might also be taken as confirma-
tion that these objects are inauthentic. However, comic presentation
does not necessarily imply inauthenticity. For example, the two collec-
tors discover a ‘‘bahut Renaissance’’ [‘‘Renaissance chest’’] which
Gorgu was using to store oats. This comic situation is actually copied
from real life: Flaubert’s friend Laporte had reportedly seen and ac-
quired bahuts which had served to store oats. Similarly, the ‘‘vieille
poutre de bois’’ [‘‘old wooden beam’’] (p. ) in the entryway, which is
reportedly ‘‘l’ancien gibet de Falaise d’après le menuisier qui l’avait
vendue – lequel tenait ce renseignement de son grand-père’’ [‘‘the old
gibbet from Falaise, according to the carpenter who sold it to them, and
who had gotten this information from his grandfather’’] (p. ), corre-
sponds to an item in the museum at Caen described in Flaubert’s notes:
‘‘carcan de la haute justice d’Annebaut qui est une poutre’’ [‘‘pillory of
Annebaut’s death sentence decrees, which is a beam’’]; the beam which
is a pillory in the ‘‘real’’ museum becomes a gibbet or gallows in the
fictional one. As for finding museum-worthy objects in odd places such
as barns and lumberyards, such anecdotes are common among collec-
tors. The Renaissance chest and the gibbet cannot be immediately
dismissed as pitiful imitations. Of course, it is entirely possible that
Flaubert doubts the authenticity of the actual models for the fictitious
objects, or that the textual copies are intended as purely visual imita-
tions. Such ambiguity produces a constant shifting of the target of the
irony in the text. But even assuming the similarity is intended as purely
visual, the question posed by the resemblance of Flaubert’s museum to
its models remains puzzling: why does the author go to such lengths to
reconstitute the museums of his time, when he could have haphazardly
listed a miscellaneous pile of junk, as other critics have assumed he did?
This meticulous imitation, like Flaubert’s ambition to write a novel
consisting entirely of idées récues, is integral to the radical irony of this text
whose author/narrator hides behind a faithful copy of the bêtise [stupid-
ity] around him, taking great pains to add no omnipotent judgments of
his own. Yet the writer is never absent from the text; there is no such
thing as pure copy. Flaubert invents by imagining two copy clerks whose
 Literature and material culture
collection includes copies of the contents of prestigious museums. The
mimesis of well-known museums turns ironic in the attribution of a
museum-worthy collection to a pair of seemingly incompetent collec-
tors, and by its juxtaposition against the petty-bourgeois kitsch displayed
in the library, which is no doubt also based on specific objects familiar to
the author. Whereas I am convinced that the kitsch objects in the
library are copied and not imagined, the idea of presenting them as
museum objects included in the guided visit is pure invention. Which
raises a difficult question posed by Flaubert’s deadpan irony: why are
both groups of objects presented as equally worthy of display?
Does this equalizing juxtaposition debase the potentially museum-
worthy objects, or elevate the artifacts of kitsch? Both responses are
equally true, based on Flaubert’s self-contradicting fascination with
both the banal and the sublime, with the ‘‘clinquant’’ as well as for the
‘‘or.’’ Intrigued by the banal object according to an often-cited letter to
Louise Colet (‘‘Il y a dans chaque objet banal de merveilleuses his-
toires’’), Flaubert is also an ‘‘archéologue et antiquaire,’’ equally
captivated by barbarian treasures ‘‘énumérées avec la minutie et
l’exactitude d’un inventaire’’ as if by ‘‘un commissaire-priseur qui
s’amuse,’’ in the words of Sainte-Beuve in his critique of Salammbô, the
tale of exotic splendor and barbaric atrocity set in ancient Carthage [‘‘In
every banal object there are marvelous stories’’ / ‘‘archaeologist and
antiquarian’’ / ‘‘an auctioneer having fun’’]. Emma Bovary’s bour-
geois luxury appears all the more ridiculous when contrasted against the
sublime decor of the young priestess Salammbô’s bedroom, ‘‘avec toutes
ses raretés et ses bibelots carthaginois; c’est d’une chinoiserie exquise’’
[‘‘with its rarities and knick-knacks from Carthage; it’s exquisitely
Oriental’’]. But isn’t the sublimity of the ridiculous one of the funda-
mental tenets of the realist enterprise? Don’t the endless descriptions of
interiors in the realist novel function as a sort of museum of lower-class
objects? Given the author’s double predilection for both archaeologi-
cal and banal objects, the inclusion of both classes of objects in the
museum begins to seem logical, in an ironically Flaubertian way.

     


Plus il ira, plus l’Art sera scientifique, de même que la science
deviendra artistique.
[Art will become more and more scientific, just as science will
become artistic.] Flaubert to Louise Colet, 
Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’ 
Though Bouvard and Pécuchet’s curiosities are organized spatially by
division into two rooms, there is an apparent disorder even within the
presentation of the museum-like objects in the entry and first room. This
apparent disorder is in fact typical of nineteenth-century collections,
making the clutter of Flaubert’s fictitious collection a mimesis of the
arrangement of actual museums. Bouvard and Pécuchet’s museum
copies not only the objects of actual museums, but also their arrangement.
Historically, the museum evolves from and with the practices of
private collectors. Private collections were often provided with an
epistemological order in catalogues, such as the one Bouvard thought of
creating (‘‘Bouvard voulut dresser le catalogue du muséum, et déclara
ces bibelots stupides’’). However, according to a recent history of col-
lecting, the physical arrangement of actual nineteenth-century collec-
tions often followed quite a different order:
Elaborate printed catalogues designed for visiting tourists or scholars existed for
many continental collections. These catalogues were frequently laid out in a
logical way, but often enough the objects themselves were simply arranged with
an eye to aesthetic impact rather than according to any theoretical or educa-
tional principles.

Thus the apparent disorder of Bouvard and Pécuchet’s museum is not


necessarily contrary to the aims of real private collections, whose own
displays were guided not only by the spirit of science manifested in the
catalogue organized ‘‘in a logical way’’ according to ‘‘theoretical or
educational principles,’’ but also by a spirit of art manifested in the
physical display of objects ‘‘simply arranged with an eye to aesthetic
impact.’’ The ‘‘eye to aesthetic impact’’ becomes a concern of the
nineteenth-century museum as well. Moreover, the concern for aes-
thetic impact influences the displays of the scientific artifacts of archae-
ology, geology, and natural history, just as the scientific concerns of art
history gradually begin to influence the display, and especially the
cataloguing, of art objects. It must be remembered that today’s art
museums are arranged much more ‘‘scientifically’’ than were their
nineteenth-century predecessors.
Like the early nineteenth-century public museums, including the
Louvre, the disordered presentation of the museum-like objects in
Bouvard and Pécuchet’s collection reflects the simultaneous presence of
two traditional modes of collecting, an erudite mode practiced by the
‘‘curieux de science et d’histoire’’ and an aesthetic mode practiced by
the ‘‘curieux de l’art.’’ Krzysztof Pomian attributes the emergence of
 Literature and material culture
these two types of collectors in the eighteenth century to social differen-
ces, noting that ‘‘The contrast between history and aesthetics therefore
grafted itself onto the rivalry between scholars and courtiers.’’ Erudite
scholars tended to collect medallions which they appreciated for their
historical value, while courtiers preferred shells for aesthetic reasons.
However, these are only tendencies; many collections contained both.
Pomian, after having extensively studied seventeenth- and eighteenth-
century private collections in France and Italy, observes that ‘‘complete-
ly homogenous collections seem, however, to have been exceptions.’’
As Alphonse Maze-Sencier writes in his  Livre des collectionneurs, the
vast majority of the collectors of his day are ‘‘éclectiques,’’ defined by the
fact that ‘‘ils admirent ce qui est admirable et recueillent les pièces de
choix dans tous les genres, sans s’inquiéter si elles complètent une série
ou forment un tout parfaitement homogène’’ [‘‘they admire all that is
admirable and gather the best pieces of all kinds, without worrying
about whether or not they complete a series or form a perfectly
homogenous whole’’].
The duality of Flaubert’s fictitious collection is set in place by the
novel’s secondary characters: Dumouchel and Larsonneur are the
scholars, while the notary Marescot, a bibeloteur, represents the courtly,
or mondain, mode of collecting. Dumouchel not only gives Pécuchet the
coconuts which adorn first his Paris apartment and then the ‘‘library’’ of
his country estate, the professor also directly inspires the ‘‘geological
specimens’’ in the museum:
Dumouchel . . . les pria de recueillir à son intention des ammonites et des
oursins, curiosités dont il était toujours amateur, et fréquentes dans leur pays.
Pour les exciter à la géologie, il leur envoyait les Lettres de Bertrand avec le
Discours de Cuvier . . . (p. )
[Dumouchel . . . asked them to gather for him some ammonites and sea-
urchin’s cases, curiosities which he had always collected, and found frequently
in their area. To get them excited about geology, he sent them the Letters of
Bertrand and the Discourse of Cuvier . . . ]
The terms ‘‘curiosité’’ and ‘‘amateur,’’ as opposed to the more contem-
porary term ‘‘bibelot,’’ are in keeping with this older tradition of
collecting. Likewise, Larsonneur encourages their interest in Celtic
history:
Il était perdu dans le celticisme . . . Il les priait même de recueillir pour lui,
quelques-unes de ces haches en silex, appelées alors des celtae, et que les druides
employaient dans ‘‘leurs criminels holocaustes.’’
Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’ 
Par Gorgu, ils s’en procurèrent une douzaine, lui expédièrent la moins
grande – les autres enrichirent le muséum. (pp. –)

[He was lost in Celticism . . . He even asked them to gather for him a few of
those flint axe-heads, then called celtae, which the Druids used in their ‘‘criminal
holocausts.’’
Through Gorgu they acquired a dozen and sent him the smallest, while the
others enriched the museum.]

The very act of collecting is thus physically set in motion by these two
savants, the professor and the lawyer/archaeologist, in their requests that
the two hobbyists procure for them certain curiosities. Again, the
vocabulary choice is not accidental: the word ‘‘muséum’’ in its Latinate
form underlines the historical nature of these artifacts.
In contrast, Marescot is described in a rough draft as ‘‘leur rival
comme collectionneur de bibelots’’ [‘‘their rival in collecting bibelots’’],
a vocabulary choice which in this context suggests a bourgeois mode of
collecting which serves as a mark of social distinction. It is the soup bowl
belonging to the abbot and admired by Marescot which inspires Bouvard
and Pécuchet’s interest in ceramics. More importantly for my present
purposes, the text attaches the fashionable cachet artiste to this type of
collecting: Marescot, who owned several pieces of old Rouen stoneware,
‘‘tirait de là comme une réputation d’artiste’’ [‘‘which gave him a sort of
artistic reputation’’] (p. ). Similarly, Bouvard and Pécuchet’s collec-
tion is meant to give its owners a ‘‘réputation d’artiste’’: when receiving
visitors to the museum, Pécuchet wears his ‘‘bonnet de zouave qu’il avait
autrefois à Paris, l’estimant plus en rapport avec le milieu artistique’’
[‘‘the Zouave’s cap that he had before in Paris, considering it to be more
suitable for the artistic setting’’] (p. ). Flaubert’s earlier outlines
describe the museum episode as the ‘‘phase artistique’’ during which the
former copy clerks ‘‘prennent le genre artiste,’’ once again mixing the two
modes of collecting, this time with a clearly ironic tone. Throughout
these passages the term artiste is used ironically, its meaning having been
emptied for Flaubert with the inclusion of the famous articles ‘‘Art’’ and
‘‘Artistes’’ in the Dictionnaire des idées reçues.
Neglecting the dual nature of collecting which gives rise to a spirit of
eclecticism, Bouvard and Pécuchet criticism tends to examine the museum
exclusively in terms of encyclopedic erudition, completely bypassing
aesthetic concerns present in the text as well as in the period’s concep-
tion of the collection. This aesthetic or artistic aspect of the collection
manifests itself not only in the choice of objects collected, but also in
 Literature and material culture
displays based on an impressionistic eclecticism, as opposed to a more
methodical arrangement. Clément de Ris contrasts the two organizing
principles in describing the rearrangement of a mid-nineteenth-century
private collection often visited by other collectors:
Au fouillis plein d’imprévu . . . avait succédé un classement méthodique que regrettaient
un peu les véritables amateurs, ceux qui recherchaient avant tout le caractère.
La collection ainsi rangée était plus instructive, on y embrassait plus facilement
chacune des séries qui la composent; mais elle était moins amusante . . .
[A jumble full of the unexpected . . . was succeeded by a methodical classification, which
was considered rather unfortunate by the true collectors, those who sought
character above all. Arranged in this way, the collection was more educational,
for it was easier to grasp each of the series which it included, but it was less
entertaining . . . ]
Following the lead of private collectors, the nineteenth-century museum
inherits both modes of display, not only ‘‘methodical classification’’ but
also the more entertaining ‘‘fouillis plein d’imprévu’’ so alien to our late
twentieth-century museum aesthetic.
Donato’s reduction of the museum to encyclopedic taxonomia is
completely ahistorical. He supports his version of ‘‘the ideology that
governs the Museum in the nineteenth century’’ by citing American and
British museum directors writing between  and , that is to say
thirty to fifty years after Flaubert’s death, concluding that the dominant
feature of the museum is the erasure of heterogeneity. If we compare
these twentieth-century citations to the discourse of French museum
directors in Flaubert’s time, the ‘‘ideology’’ we find is quite different.
From the time of the opening of the Louvre in , the two aspects of
the collection – erudite and artistic – formed the basis of a polemic as to
the aim of the public museum. Should a museum be ‘‘un livre
d’histoire’’ or ‘‘un beau livre d’images’’ [‘‘a history book’’ or ‘‘a beautiful
picture book’’]? This debate concerns not only the purpose of the
museum, but also its physical arrangement. In his preface to the 
catalogue, Rouen’s museum director declares: ‘‘un Musée méthodique
pour le savant, passe encore, mais pour le public un Musée artistiquement
installé d’abord’’ [‘‘a methodical museum is fine for the scholar, but for
the public an artistically arranged museum is preferable’’]. He ex-
plains his preference for a picturesque artistic arrangement over a cold,
dry, pedantic chronology:
En , la manie du classement à outrance n’était pas encore de mode. Aussi
a-t-on installé d’une manière très pittoresque le Musée d’Antiquités de Rouen.
On a fait de même d’ailleurs au Musée de Cluny, qui date à peu près du même
Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’ 
temps, et il est certainement de nos jours des esprits chagrins qui ne peuvent se
consoler de voir un luxueux fanal de galère vénitienne du e siècle dominer
des pierres tombales du Moyen âge, tandis que des meubles Renaissance
supportent des ivoires byzantins ou des miniatures du siècle dernier. Les
classements méthodiques ont certes du bon, il serait puéril de le méconnaı̂tre; mais
la sécheresse d’une exhibition rigoureusement chronologique et le classement
par ordre nous paraı̂tront difficilement préférables à un agencement artistique qui
séduit et attire, même les natures les plus vulgaires. Une installation pittoresque
parle bien plus à l’esprit qu’un étalage sec et froid, inspiré d’un étroit pédantisme, et c’est
par le premier système, plutôt que par le second, qu’on obtient une réelle
vulgarisation.
[In , the mania for extravagant classification was not yet fashionable. Rouen’s
Museum of Antiquities was thus arranged in a very picturesque manner. The
same was done at the Cluny museum, which dates from roughly the same
period. Certainly today there are sad souls who cannot get over seeing a
luxurious sixteenth-century Venetian galley lantern overlooking Medieval
tombstones, while Renaissance furniture bears Byzantine ivory figurines and
eighteenth-century miniatures. It would be puerile to deny the merits of
methodical classification; however, I for one find it hard to prefer the aridity of an
exhibit based on rigorous chronology and orderly classification, over an artistic
arrangement which seduces and attracts even the most common mind. A pictur-
esque installation speaks more to the soul than does a dry and cold display inspired by
narrow pedantry. It is by means of the first system rather than by the second that
true popularization is achieved.]

This passage makes clear that ‘‘le classement par ordre’’ is by no means
the dominant mode of organizing museums during Flaubert’s lifetime,
since ‘‘la manie du classement à outrance’’ only becomes popular (‘‘de
mode’’) during the second half of the century. This is why the juxtaposi-
tion enumerated here – ‘‘fanal de galère – pierres tombales – meubles
Renaissance – ivoires byzantins – miniatures’’ – seems no more hetero-
genous or disordered than the objects assembled in the first room of
Bouvard and Pécuchet’s museum.
In addition to the frequency of the ‘‘installation pittoresque,’’ the
museums of Flaubert’s time were in general less specialized than those of
today. For example, whereas at present Cluny displays exclusively
medieval artifacts, its  catalogue includes not only ‘‘Objets prov-
enant de fouilles et remontant aux époques celtique, gauloise, gallo-
romaine et aux premiers temps du moyen âge’’ [‘‘objects from digs
dating back to the Celtic, Gallic, and Gallo-Roman periods, as well as
the early Middle Ages’’], but also a collection of ceramics which extends
through the eighteenth century. In addition, it seems that the quantity
of artifacts on display was as important as their quality, reflecting the
 Literature and material culture
prevailing taste for dense accumulations. Cluny’s disparate collection
was streamlined after World War II to accommodate the more rigorous
museum standards of the twentieth-century public, ‘‘for whom it is no
longer possible to display the most remarkable pieces lost amidst those
which are secondary, not to mention suspect.’’ Flaubert mimics the
nineteenth-century museum’s tolerance for secondary works with
Bouvard and Pécuchet’s statue of Saint Peter. Flaubert had seen such a
statue on two visits to the museum at Caen, and describes it in detail in
his travel notes. More surprisingly, the Caen museum’s ‘‘real’’ cata-
logue implies that the statue is not a masterpiece, by describing it as the
‘‘travail grossier d’un statuaire inhabile’’ [‘‘the crude work of an un-
skilled sculptor’’].
Critics of Bouvard and Pécuchet have misinterpreted the spirit of eclecti-
cism which is so much a part of the tradition of collecting in Europe,
reading the museum of Bouvard and Pécuchet anachronistically, based
on a twentieth-century perspective. While it is of course true that
assembling a museum implies an attempt at organizing fragments into a
representative and coherent whole, this aspect has been overem-
phasized in Bouvard and Pécuchet criticism. As a result, the preference of
many nineteenth-century collectors and curators for the happy hetero-
geneity of eclecticism has been overlooked.

         
The museum episode mimics not only the physical order of the nine-
teenth-century museum, but also the social order of the nineteenth-
century culture which embraces the museum. Pierre Bourdieu and
Alain Darbel instigated a sociology of the twentieth-century museum.
Flaubert’s novel can be read in terms of a sociology of the museum in his
time.
Sociological hybridization characterizes both the novel’s collection
and its collectors. By their attributed social origins alone Bouvard and
Pécuchet are already comical, since as ‘‘autodidactic cleaks,’’ they begin
from a ‘‘position doomed to ridicule.’’ The two copy clerks who
through an inheritance become country gentlemen then savants, eventu-
ally becoming archaeologists and collectors, have arranged their socio-
logically hybrid collection accordingly. The items collected as savants
greet the visitor in the entry and first room, while the second room or
library contains objects of petty-bourgeois decor, including the items
brought by the couple from the apartments they occupied as clerks in
Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’ 
Paris, such as Pécuchet’s coconuts and the portrait of Bouvard’s uncle.
The presence of the ‘‘arbre généalogique de la famille Croixmare’’
[‘‘family tree of the Croixmare family’’] underlines the significance of
social origins.
The same is true of the secondary characters, whose savant and artistic
interests in collecting are contrasted against their strictly bourgeois
professions: Larsonneur is a lawyer and archaeologist; Marescot is a
notary and ‘‘ami de beaux-arts,’’ even an ‘‘artiste’’ (pp. , ). As is
the case for the objects of the collection, there are also ‘‘real’’ models for
these collectors: two socially hybrid amateurs, the engraver/archaeol-
ogist E.H. Langlois and the clergyman/archaeologist l’abbé Cochet,
were associated with the museum at Rouen. Other models for these
bourgeois collectors were abundant in Flaubert’s hometown, where the
collector is a ‘‘character type well represented among the Rouen bour-
geoisie of Flaubert’s time . . . Among these collectors, one finds the
upper and petty bourgeoisie, and all of the professions.’’
The definition ‘‘antiquaire’’ of the  Dictionnaire de la conversation et
de la lecture criticizes the casual collector:
tels sont ces individus qui, sans avoir fait les études préparatoires nécessaires
pour se livrer à une recherche hérisée de difficultés, prennent pour l’amour de
l’antique la triste manie de recueillir sans ordre et sans choix une foule de
débris, souvent apocryphes, dont ils forment à grands frais de prétendues
collections . . .
[Without having done the preparatory studies necessary for undertaking re-
search fraught with difficulties, such individuals mistake the love of antiques for
that sad mania which consists in the disordered and indiscriminate gathering
together of masses of often apocryphal debris, out of which, at great expense,
they form so-called collections . . .]
I include this citation to demonstrate that the incompetent casual
collector has become a social type, and that the critique of such hobby-
ists has become an idée reçue. By its comical presentation of the collection,
the text suggests that Flaubert’s collectors have simply assembled a
disordered and indiscriminate mass of debris. Or is the text simply
copying another idée récue? What if two semi-imbeciles do succeed in
creating a museum that rivals famous private collections and public
museums of its time? What better way to mock elitist collectors who are
already mocking the mock collector, than to attribute an impressive
array of authentic antique artifacts to two ‘‘autodidactic clerks’’? The
discourse of authenticity becomes inseparable from the discourse of
social status.
 Literature and material culture
The comments of secondary characters as they visit the museum are
directly linked to their social positions. The noble comte de Faverges
appreciates the collectors’ interest in the Middle Ages, ‘‘époque de foi
religieuse et de dévouements chevaleresques’’ [‘‘an era of religious faith
and chivalrous devotion’’] (p. ), which he sees as favorable to his
moral and political leanings. The unsophisticated provincial bourgeois
widow Mme Bordin admires the petty-bourgeois objects (especially the
shell-work cabinet and petrified cat from Saint Allyre) while Marescot
the notary/collector dismisses them, more interested in the ceramics, a
collectors’ item fashionable enough to be included in the Dictionnaire des
idées reçues (‘‘ Plus chic que la porcelaine’’). Gender is at play
here as well: Mme Bordin’s role as an ignorant admirer of a collection is
very similar to that of Balzac’s Mme Camusot in Le Cousin Pons. Though
both belong to the same social class as other male characters who
appreciate collectors’ objects (Marescot and M. Camusot), as women
they lack the education essential to the serious collector. Finally, the
lowest class of ‘‘bibelots,’’ the religious objects exchanged for museum
objects in chapter , are admired by a member of the lowest social class,
the servant Marcel, who ‘‘nettoyait ces splendeurs, n’imaginant au
paradis rien de plus beau’’ [‘‘cleaned these splendid things, imagining
nothing as beautiful even in paradise’’] (p. ). The museum episode
traces a descent down the social ladder of collecting.
Class also determines the degree of ambiguity in the text’s treatment
of the question of museum-worthiness and value. Whereas the text
remains stubbornly ambiguous in giving contradictory clues as to the
authenticity of the first group of objects, the petty-bourgeois objects in
the second room are described in enough detail that we can be sure they
had no collector’s value at the time. Likewise, the phalluses, the collec-
tion-within-the-collection added later, are clearly a grotesque imitation
based on a purely visual similarity, like the ornamental garden of
chapter  and the pathetic do-it-yourself gymnasium equipment of
chapter . The case of the religious bibelots displayed by the colpor-
teur, as well as those seen during the two clerks’ pilgrimage to la
Délivrande (a site comparable to Lourdes; chapter ), is particularly
instructive here in terms of ambiguity and clues which indicate a
possible authenticity. The museum items which the former collectors
exchange with the colporteur are all located in the first room of the
museum and correspond to actual museum objects. While this mer-
chant’s interest in the exchange may or may not mean that these objects
are authentic antiques, it would seem to indicate that they are clever
Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’ 
enough facsimiles – and popular enough items – to be sold to other
less-than-expert collectors. In contrast, unlike these potentially valuable
objects, the religious objects are disparaged by the narrator, the
Flaubertian narrator whose voice is rarely so clear. The description of
the religious objects in the boutiques at la Délivrande ends, ‘‘ – et le
soleil, frappant les verres des cadres, éblouissait les yeux, faisait ressortir
la brutalité des peintures, la hideur des dessins’’ [‘‘ – and, striking the
framed glass, the sun dazzled the eye, bringing out the crudeness of the
paintings and the hideousness of the drawings’’] (p. ). The various
series of objects – the potentially museum-worthy objects, the petty-
bourgeois objects of the library, the phallus collection, the religious
bibelots – are presented in the novel in the order of descending value.
The lower the class of bibelot the more clearly its worthlessness is
inscribed in Flaubert’s text.

         


In overemphasizing epistemology, Bouvard and Pécuchet criticism has not
only dehistoricized the museum, but has also neglected another histori-
cal aspect of the novel: its internalization of nascent consumer culture.
Claude Mouchard and Jacques Neefs have discussed Bouvard and Pécuchet
in terms of ‘‘the explosion of various fields of knowledge.’’ What has
not yet been adequately addressed is the commodification of knowledge
exposed by Flaubert’s novel. The nineteenth-century explosion of
knowledge, along with the disciplinary domains which organize and
generate this knowledge, must also be understood in relation to the
explosion of consumer goods in the marketplace.
Each of the copy clerks’ new epistemological undertakings begins
with a perceived need to make purchases. Verbs like acheter, se procurer,
and se faire expédier [to buy, to procure, to have sent] appear repeatedly
throughout the novel. Bouvard and Pécuchet accumulate not only
museum artifacts, but also the tools and supplies necessary to carry out
their various experiments. Again and again Flaubert mentions the
growing piles of debris left behind as projects are abandoned, as if
foreshadowing the massive waste produced by consumer societies.
Above all, Bouvard and Pécuchet accumulate books. Donato com-
pares the museum not only to the encyclopedia, but also to the library to
which Foucault devoted an essay. However, following Foucault’s lead,
Donato treats the library conceptually, failing to recognize the modern
nature of Bouvard and Pécuchet’s library: its constant expansion
 Literature and material culture
through new acquisitions. Many critics cite the lines in chapter  in
which Bouvard declares that they will not need a library in the country,
to which Pécuchet replies, ‘‘D’ailleurs, j’ai la mienne’’ [‘‘Besides, I have
mine’’]. What holds them back at this point is a difficulty in deciding
what to buy, how to decide ‘‘si tel livre ‘était vraiment un livre de
bibliothèque’’’ [‘‘if a given book was ‘really a library book’’’] (p. ).
During the course of the novel their library does grow, almost exponen-
tially, following the same dynamic by which their museum grew, a few
items at a time, discovered one after another as one perceived need leads
to the next, following the now-familiar patterns of modern consump-
tion.
For Bouvard and Pécuchet, science belongs to anyone who can make
the necessary purchases of supplies (such as the anatomical dummy
purchased for their studies in anatomy) and especially of books. The
importance of books is demonstrated during Bouvard and Pécuchet’s
ongoing medical debates with the local doctor:
De quel droit les juger incapables? est-ce que la science appartenait à ce mon-
sieur! . . .
Donc acceptant son défi, ils allèrent jusqu’à Bayeux pour y acheter des livres.
Ce qui leur manquait, c’était la physiologie; – et un bouquiniste leur procura les
traités de Richerand et d’Adelon, célèbres à l’époque. (p. ; my emphasis)
[What right did he have to judge them incompetent? Did science belong to him!
...
So, accepting his challenge, they went all the way to Bayeux to buy some
books. What they lacked was physiology, so a book dealer procured for them the
treatises of Richerand and of Adelon, who were famous at the time.]

It is noteworthy that the books purchased here belong not to the domain
of the dusty library, but to the domain of nouveautés, or new consumer
goods: this bookseller gets them the latest books, those which are well
known at the time. Knowledge has become a lack to be filled through
consumption (‘‘la physiologie’’ . . . ‘‘leur manquait’’). Just as desire is by
its very nature destined to remain unfulfilled, so the consumer must
constantly experience the deceptions of incomplete satisfaction. The
desire for satisfaction leads to new purchases, which provide only partial
satisfaction, which leads to another series of purchases, ad infinitum. At
the same time, the repetition of this sequence provides a steady source of
pleasure. This is the same pattern by which Bouvard and Pécuchet
consume science, hoping for full satisfaction from each new project,
experiencing disappointment when satisfaction proves to be partial,
Flaubert’s ‘‘musées reçus’’ 
then repeating the cycle again with high hopes for their newest epis-
temological enterprise. As we have learned from Lacan, the aim of this
endlessly repeating cycle is not satisfaction, but rather the prolongation
of desire.
After their disappointment with the results of their venture into
aboriculture, undertaken ‘‘comme spéculation!’’ (p. ), they realize that
science is costing them too much money and effort. ‘‘Ensuite, ils
s’accusèrent d’avoir été trop ambitieux – et ils résolurent de ménager
désormais leur peine et leur argent’’ [‘‘Afterwards, they reproached
each other for having been too ambitious, and they resolved to better
manage their efforts and their money, from then on’’] (p. ). How-
ever, they are immediately lured into the next project, a decorative
garden inspired by a book they already own, The Architect of the Garden.
Luckily they find an inexpensive means of realizing the project, which
implicitly justifies new expenditures:
et dans un enthousiasme progressif, après beaucoup de tâtonnements, avec
l’aide d’un seul valet, et pour un somme minime, ils se fabriquèrent une résidence
qui n’avait pas d’analogue dans tout le département. (p. ; my emphasis)
[and with growing enthusiasm, after much feeling their way around, with the
aid of a single servant, and with minimal expense, they built themselves a residence
unmatched by any in the region.]

For the bricoleur, science takes on the lure of the bargain.


The same spirit of consumption fuels their search for bibelots and
museum objects. An odd paragraph which appears in the middle of the
recounting of their search for medieval artifacts demonstrates the de-
gree to which the spirit of consumption consumes them. ‘‘Quantité de
choses excitaient leurs convoitises, un pot d’étain, une boucle de strass,
des indiennes à grands ramages. Le manque d’argent les retenait’’
[‘‘Lots of things whetted their appetite, a pewter pot, a strass buckle,
flowered calico’’] (p. ). This list of coveted objects unrelated to their
‘‘amour du moyen âge’’ [‘‘love of the Middle Ages’’] suggests a close
relationship between their mania for collecting and what we would
now characterize as a more general mania for shopping, where the
desire for one object seems inevitably to lead to the desire for an-
other.
A passage which I cited above follows a similar logic of consumption:
Pour avoir des morceaux dans le genre du meuble Bouvard et Pécuchet
s’étaient mis en campagne. Ce qu’ils rapportaient ne convenait pas. Mais ils
 Literature and material culture
avaient rencontré une foule de choses curieuses. Le goût des bibelots leur était
venu, puis l’amour du moyen âge. (p. )
[Bouvard and Pécuchet set off to find pieces to match the old chest. What they
brought back was unsuitable, but they had encountered a host of curious
things. They had acquired a taste for bibelots, then a love for the Middle Ages.]
One type of object, an antique piece of furniture, leads to an interest in
another type of object, bibelots, which leads to an interest in the objects
of the Middle Ages. This succession of interests seems haphazard from a
purely intellectual point of view. It is the logic of the consumer object,
more than the logic of the epistemological object, the museum object,
which connects what will become a series of activities for Bouvard and
Pécuchet. In search for one type of object (replacement pieces for the
dilapidated antique chest) which they do not find, many other objects
are found. The failed search for one object leads not to utter frustration
and despair, but rather to the discovery of other objects – bibelots, etc.
‘‘Le goût des bibelots,’’ though foreshadowed by visits to museums in
chapter , ultimately comes (‘‘leur était venu’’) from visits to the market-
place.
The contiguity between the museum and the marketplace in
Flaubert’s novel can be read as the literary text’s internalization of
modern material culture. The bibelot brings the museum into the salon
by way of the marketplace. The museum artifact remains haunted by
the specter of the bibelot because both belong to the same Western
system of objects. The spaces of the bibelot – the curiosity shop, the
magasin de nouveautés, the department store, the bourgeois living room –
remain bound to the space of the artifact – the museum. The curiosity
shops in Balzac’s La Peau de chagrin and Gautier’s ‘‘Le Pied de momie’’
resemble museums. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that the
museum resembles the curiosity shop, since the latter has been around
longer. The critics of Bouvard and Pécuchet remind us that the museum is
indebted to the culture of the encyclopedia. It is time we recognized that
the museum is equally indebted to the culture of the marketplace. The
object of knowledge is not so easily disentangled from the object of
consumption.
 

Narrate, describe, or catalogue?


The novel and the inventory form in Balzac,
the Goncourts, and Huysmans

The various middle and upper classes of late nineteenth-century Paris


become increasingly accustomed to consulting catalogues, of museums,
of art auctions, of estate sales, and of the new department stores. It is no
coincidence that this proliferation of catalogues coincides with the
proliferation of the bibelot and other material goods in the home and in
the marketplace. This culture in the grips of rationalizing bureaucratiz-
ation perceives a need to inscribe in writing its new material abundance.
The catalogue form evolves out of the simple inventory, the written
accounting of material accumulation, a representational tool invented
by merchants and adopted by collectors of curiosities, antiquarians, and
museographers. As the bibelot invades the novel, taking up more and
more space in the body of the text, it brings with it the catalogue form, a
form of writing born of the profane sphere of material culture, not the
sanctified sphere of ‘‘literary’’ writing. However, while mainstream
literature assimilates the catalogue form during the nineteenth century,
mainstream literary criticism does not embrace the literary catalogue
until the advent first of poststructuralist then of postmodernist literary
criticism. The divergence of the critics reveals much about the litera-
ture itself.

              


Critical reactions to catalogue-like descriptions, or enumeratio for those
who prefer a more elegant latinate term, can be divided into two camps:
on the one hand, modernists who, valuing tightly woven narratives,
object to descriptive excesses which they see as threatening the unity of
the novel as a whole; and on the other hand, poststructuralists and
postmodernists who celebrate the fragmentation, openness, and non-
hierarchization of lists, inventories, and catalogues. Critics from both
camps evoke the bibelot in discussions of the catalogue. This critical

 Literature and material culture
‘‘battle’’ over catalogue-like description was never directly fought, but
can be pieced together from many books and articles. The two camps
rally around two different authors: the modernists denounce the cata-
logue-like descriptions of the Goncourts, while the poststructuralists and
postmodernists celebrate the catalogue-like descriptions of Huysmans.
While both camps manage to recuperate Balzac and Flaubert, the
modernists are more drawn to the former, while the postmodernists
tend to champion the latter.
In his essay ‘‘Narrate or Describe?,’’ whose title I borrowed for this
chapter, Georg Lukács (of the modernist camp) denounces the heavily
descriptive novel as a product of industrial capitalism. Though I do not
share his modernist aesthetic, I do share his conviction that heavily
descriptive novels are produced by the conditions of capitalism, that
Zola, the Goncourts, and Flaubert produce ‘‘capitalist prose.’’ The
logic of modern material culture under consumer capitalism permeates,
indeed generates, the heavily descriptive novel. However, Lukács con-
structs his argument not around politics, but around form, presuming
that good form requires the subordination of description to narration.
For Lukács, the ideal narrative form is the epic, a form which fully
integrates description into the only truly poetic project, the recounting
of the lives of characters, of their actions and experiences. Epic estab-
lishes ‘‘order and hierarchy among objects and events’’ (p. ), thus
subordinating description to narration, eliminating all details which do
not directly pertain to the dramatic conflict which is being staged.
Because Goethe, Tolstoy, Walter Scott, and Balzac use detailed descrip-
tion only in the service of narrating the actions of ‘‘men,’’ they are epic
poets. Because Zola, the Goncourts, and Flaubert describe for descrip-
tion’s sake, they are mere observers. The balance between description
and narration in a novel is directly linked to the balance established
between persons and things. When things ‘‘are described out of any
context with the lives of the characters,’’ they attain ‘‘an independent
significance that is not their due’’ (p. ). ‘‘The characters have no
connection at all with the objects described.’’ Ultimately, ‘‘description
debases characters to the level of inanimate objects’’ (p. ).
Organizing the novel around inanimate things rather than around
the actions of characters results in a loss of internal cohesiveness. The
novel degenerates into a grouping of picturesque scenes. ‘‘The charac-
ters’ lives, the careers of the protagonists, merely constitute a loose
thread for attaching and grouping a series of pictures of objects, pictures
which are ends in themselves.’’ He adds that ‘‘From an artistic point of
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
view, the individual pictures . . . are as isolated and unrelated to each
other as pictures in a museum’’ (p. ). This point is worth elaborating.
The comparison to the museum is indeed fitting, for the logic of the
museum is the logic of juxtaposition, of collocation, contiguity,
metonymy. In the museum setting, paintings and artifacts are placed
side by side. There is no intrinsic connection among these items, only
the external connections of similarity or seriality based on genre, theme,
provenance, etc., connections imposed on them by curators, catalogues,
or the viewer. Unlike linguistic elements, the material objects possess
neither semantic nor syntactic connections, for as one analysis of the
museum display puts it, ‘‘The problem with things is that they are
dumb. They are not eloquent, as some thinkers in art museums claim.’’
Connections must be added by a narrator figure, either a speaking guide
or a text. In highly descriptive novels, Lukács’s analogy suggests, things
are merely juxtaposed against each other, as well as against human
characters, without sufficient connections having been established by a
narrating function.
Juxtaposition is also the logic of the catalogue, characterized as it is by
numbered entries, which may be grouped by criteria such as theme,
date, or provenance, but which otherwise are not connected to each
other in the way that the sentences and paragraphs of a novel or essay
are syntactically connected to each other. Juxtaposition is the chief
characteristic of what Roland Barthes calls ‘‘the semantics of the ob-
ject.’’ Though objects are signs which function within semiotic systems,
their syntax is very elementary:

In reality the objects – whether these are the objects of the image or the real
objects of a room, or of a street – are linked only by a single form of connection,
which is parataxis, i.e., the pure and simple juxtaposition of elements. This kind
of parataxis of objects is extremely frequent in life: it is the system to which are
subject, for example, all the pieces of furniture in a room. The furnishing of a
room achieves a final meaning (a ‘‘style’’) solely by the juxtaposition of el-
ements.

According to this formulation,‘‘in reality,’’ ‘‘pure and simple juxtaposi-


tion’’ is the form of connection which links things to each other. In
narrative, however, it is expected that material objects be connected to
persons in more linguistically complex ways. By organizing the novel
according to the logic of objects, connections between persons and
objects are loosened, producing a sense of alienation as objects and
persons seem to become detached. The irony is that by comparing these
 Literature and material culture
descriptions of material settings to paintings in a museum, Lukács
borrows an object of modern material culture to describe overly object-
oriented texts, organizing his own argument around a logic of objects.
To catalogue, to inventory, to enumerate, or to list, is certainly to
describe with a minimum of narrative elements, leaving little room for
plot and character development. Whereas modernists like Lukács are
troubled by the excesses to which detached, runaway description can
lead, postmodernists celebrate excesses of all sorts. Conceding that
‘‘That which one gives to description, one takes away from character,’’
Naomi Schor launches a postmodernist defense of Flaubert’s descriptive
excesses in Salammbô, a novel dominated by lengthy enumerations of
the visual and sensual delights and horrors of exotic ancient Carthage,
of its armies, weapons, clothing, food, palace, temple, religious cult
objects, etc. As cited in the previous chapter, Saint-Beuve refers to the
author of Salammbô as an ‘‘archéologue et antiquaire,’’ noting among
other descriptive excesses that King Hamilcar’s treasures are enu-
merated ‘‘avec la minutie et l’exactitude d’un inventaire’’ as if by an
auctioneer. Such descriptions are a key feature of what Schor calls the
‘‘ornamental text,’’ a term referring to the highly descriptive texts which
result from ‘‘the invasion of the body of the novel by details.’’ In her
poststructuralist, feminist defense of the detail, Schor notes that critical
reactions to what I call catalogue-like description, what she calls the
ornamental, depend largely on the aesthetic values of the critic:

To say that a text is ornamental necessarily implies a revalorization of the


ornamental, an unthinkable operation as long as a modernist aesthetic totally
dedicated to a bleached writing hostile to all decorative elements held sway.
Salammbô, a ‘‘purple’’ text according to Flaubert’s celebrated word, might well
be the precursor text of postmodernism and as such requires the elaboration of a
hermeneutic specially adapted to its texture.

Schor calls for a postmodernist reevaluation of the ornamental text,


which for her amounts to the deconstruction of a series of hierarchically
ordered pairs: ornamented over ornament, essential over accessory,
whole over detail. In dismantling these pairings on which the modernist
aesthetic is built, a postmodernist rereading would revalorize what the
modernists reject in the ornamental text: the imbalance between de-
scription, plot, and character development.
Taking up Schor’s call for a revalorization of the ornamental, in her
Ornament, Fantasy and Desire in Nineteenth-Century French Literature, Rae Beth
Gordon draws parallels between ornamental texts and ornamental art
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
objects. Citing ‘‘the attacks on the excesses in decoration’’ described in
Ernst Gombrich’s study of the decorative, she observes that ‘‘all of the
antagonism and suspicion directed at ornament in the decorative arts
will also be leveled at ornamental texts,’’ then goes on to show the
richness and artistry of the ornamental text by identifying rhetorical
figures in description with ornamental figures in the decorative arts
(arabesque, lace, trills, frills, decorative frames, trompe l’oeil, etc.). She
creates a psychoanalytic dimension for such ornamental figures, which
often involve depictions of decorative objects, by identifying them with
displaced desire. Gordon’s analysis, then, abstracts decorative objects,
quickly leaving behind their materiality, their physical production,
display, and consumption, in favor of rhetoric and psychoanalysis.
Schor and Gordon set out to recuperate the ornamental text from the
devalorization it suffered under the sway of modernist criticism, under-
taking a task that seems much less urgent now that the postmodern
aesthetic ‘‘holds sway.’’ Post-modernist criticism, the term under which
I am grouping deconstruction, poststructuralism, post-structuralist fem-
inist criticism, psychoanalytic criticism, and queer theory, has suc-
ceeded in revalorizing all of the perverse excesses of those Flaubertian
texts which make him the precursor of the decadents, elevating
Salammbô, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, and ‘‘Hérodias’’ to the critical
acclaim once reserved for Madame Bovary. The postmodernist aesthetic
has likewise canonized the grand novelistic catalogue, Huysmans’s A
rebours, about which more will be said below.
My own perspective of the bibelot necessitates an approach more
materialist than that of the modernists or the postmodernists. To speak
of ornamental art objects is to introduce the domain of material culture
into literary analysis. Ornamental texts devote a great deal of attention
to material culture. What I would like to add to Gordon’s excellent
rhetorical and psychoanalytic treatment is a much more material di-
mension, one which takes into account the physical and economic
circulation of decorative objects in late nineteenth-century culture.
‘‘Bibelot’’ is for me a less abstract term than ‘‘ornament,’’ and it is on
the physical and economic ‘‘thingness’’ of the bibelot that I will insist.
The ‘‘invasion of the body of the novel’’ by the bibelot, to play on
Schor’s phrasing, brings with it the organizational schemas of material
culture, first and foremost the catalogue form itself. The bibelot goes
hand in hand with the inventory: bibelots are countable, they are
physical things which in a monetary economy demand to be accounted
for, even in a literary text. Whether they line the shelves of a shop, a
 Literature and material culture
museum, or a curio cabinet in a living room, expressing their presence
in writing almost always requires recourse to enumeratio, whether for the
purposes of a literary account or of a financial account. Through
enumeration, the logic of the marketplace invades the novel by way of
form.

        :            


Paul Bourget’s  essay ‘‘Edmond et Jules de Goncourt’’ associates
the brothers’ writing style with their love of bibelots. Likewise, three
mid-twentieth-century critics also evoke the brothers’ passion for the
bibelot in evaluating their writing. Two of these critics, Jean-Pierre
Richard and Joan Dangelzer, staunch upholders of the modernist aes-
thetic, bring up the bibelot in order to condemn the Goncourts’ inven-
tory-like descriptive style. Their arguments show much in common with
that of Lukács in ‘‘Narrate or Describe?’’ On the other hand, Robert
Ricatte, though he is writing at the same time as Richard and thus can
hardly be called a postmodernist, expresses appreciation for the inven-
tory form. How can the bibelot and the inventory be used both to praise
and to condemn? I will consider first the condemnation, then the praise.
Dangelzer, who shares Lukács’s modernist aesthetic stance (though
she exhibits none of his historical perspective), associates the writing
style of the Goncourt brothers with the detail, the bibelot, and the
inventory.
D’habitude, ils ne savent pas contrôler leur frénésie de détail. Avec ce regard
fureteur du bibelotier, ils ne se contentent pas de raconter les choses en gros, de
communiquer une impression générale au lecteur. Ils inspectent et inventorient
tous les coins, passent la main sur toutes les étagères, relèvent chaque excentri-
cité, chaque hasard curieux.
[Usually they were unable to control their frenzy for detail. With the rummag-
ing gaze peculiar to the collector, they are not content to give the reader an
overview or a general impression. They inspect and inventory every nook and
cranny, touching every shelf, picking out each eccentricity, each curious hap-
penstance.]
It is the Goncourts’ ‘‘regard fureteur du bibelotier’’ which inclines them
to list details rather than give a general impression. The bibelot and the
inventory are thus identified with the detail in the detail/general dichot-
omy, here hierarchized in favor of the general, in accordance with the
tenets of the modernist aesthetic. The details noted by the brothers are
not only too numerous, but also too heterogenous, since in their exhaus-
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
tive inspection (‘‘tous . . . toutes’’) they tend to pick out ‘‘chaque
excentricité, chaque hasard curieux.’’
Dangelzer illustrates her points with a detailed discussion of the
description of Coriolis’s art studio in Manette Salomon. Her typically
modernist reaction to the typically nineteenth-century visual complexity
of the brothers’ fictitious studio gives a disparaging though not entirely
inaccurate summary of the five-page enumerative description in the
original text. Ironically – perhaps intentionally – in her own rendering
of ‘‘ces entassements de bibelots’’ [‘‘these piles of knick-knacks’’] the
critic reproduces the impression of excess in her long description of the
Goncourts’ long description. Dangelzer herself includes lists in her own
lengthy summary of the passage in question, in noting the presence of
weapons displays, flags, casts of sculptures, animal heads, hats, coats,
plaster casts, escutcheons, a statuette, a jug, a bit of amber, a shell, a
gobelet, a mask, an animal skin, an oriflamme, a camel harnass, and a
water pipe. Judging from Dangelzer’s recourse to the list, enumeration
would seem to be inevitable when it comes to writing about bibelots,
even in derision. Her summary conveys an impression of physical
excess, of a space so overstuffed as to be stifling.
Are such descriptive excesses merely the result of incompetent writ-
ing, or of an inability to exercise self-control? This is what Dangelzer
implies, even though she does acknowledge that the Goncourts’ descrip-
tions are not always excessive. She admires the ‘‘belle sobriété’’ and
‘‘exquise mesure’’ that the brothers use in describing interior decor in
their Germinie Lacerteux, in contrast to the descriptive excesses she finds in
Manette Salomon. She asks herself the obvious question, but without
answering it: if the authors were capable of restraining their descriptive
frenzy in Germinie Lacerteux, why do they not do so in Manette Salomon? The
Goncourts produce two different kinds of novels, those with an efficient
but sparse amount of descriptive detail (such as Germinie Lacerteux, Renée
Mauperin, and Soeur Philomène), and ornamental texts so overwhelmed by
descriptive detail that one begins to question whether or not they can be
called novels (like Manette Salomon and Madame Gervaisais). In this respect
a parallel can be drawn between the Goncourts and Flaubert, who also
produces two kinds of novels, realist works like Madame Bovary long
admired for their efficient use of description well integrated into the
narrative, and, conversely, ornamental works like Salammbô which have
been harshly criticized for their descriptive excesses.
A key element which differentiates the two kinds of novels produced
by the Goncourts (and Flaubert), the soberly restrained from the de-
 Literature and material culture
scriptively ornamental, is the aestheticizing gaze of the protagonists. For
example, whereas the artist Coriolis of Manette Salomon has the trained
eye and mastery of cultural codes necessary to appreciate the aesthetic
stimulus provided by his exotic collection, the maid Germinie and her
very middle-class female employer of Germinie Lacerteux would be totally
out of place in an artistic interior. (Flaubert’s case is similar: Salammbô,
a high priestess of ancient Carthage, logically belongs in a setting of
sumptuous barbaric splendor which would overwhelm Emma Bovary,
the provincial bourgeois housewife. A similar contrast can be drawn
between the servant Félicité and Herod’s wife Hérodias, in Trois contes.)
In creating characters like Coriolis and Madame Gervaisais, the Gon-
courts confer upon them their own ‘‘regard fureteur du bibelotier,’’ as
Dangelzer so aptly phrases it.
In the midst of her passionate attack, then, the modernist critic
identifies a key element necessary to the revalorization of the ornamen-
tal text: the collector’s rummaging gaze, the eye for detail, the fascination
with the visual, with appearances. Borrowing the words of Huysmans, it
could be said that the Goncourts and certain of their protagonists
number among ‘‘les gens aux pupilles raffinées, exercées par la littéra-
ture et par l’art’’ [‘‘people with refined pupils, kept in practice by
literature and art’’]. Ornamental, bibelot-like texts privilege the visual,
indeed ‘‘attempt a vain competition with the visual arts,’’ hence their
affinity for surface effects and the resulting valorization of the superfi-
cial. The visual is intimately related to the inventory form in the novel.
As Dangelzer herself observes, before inventorying, the brothers inspect
(‘‘Ils inspectent et inventorient’’). The visual examination precedes the
acts of nomination and notation. The inventory which results is written
with – and designed to be read with – ‘‘l’éducation de l’oeil des gens du
è siècle,’’ to borrow a phrase from Edmond’s La Maison d’un artiste (:
). Dangelzer claims that it is difficult to understand how anyone could
work in Coriolis’s studio (‘‘On ne comprend pas comment on pourrait
travailler dans cet atelier’’). Realistic representation is not the point of
this studio, for in Manette Salomon visual stimulation is essential to artistic
creation.
Jean-Pierre Richard, like Lukács and Dangelzer, denounces the Gon-
courts’ inventory-like descriptions. In the following sentences from a
chapter called ‘‘Deux écrivains épidermiques’’ in his Littérature et sensa-
tion, he evokes the bibelot in support of his main argument, that the
brothers are incapable of going beyond the epidermis, a figurative way
of saying surface, as opposed to depth:
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
Alors les Goncourt se réfugient dans le bibelot; ils élisent comme valeur
suprême le joli, ce beau sans profondeur, ou pis encore la joliesse, c’est-à-dire ce
qu’il y a de plus superficiel et de plus insignifiant dans le joli. Plus de dangers ici,
aucune tentation de fuite: l’objet tient tout entier dans la paume des mains; il
peut se manier et se palper, et sa vérité la plus profonde se limite aux plaisirs que
procure son maniement. Bref le bibelot séduit par son charmant sourire, mais
c’est un sourire mort, privé de prolongement et d’écho.

[Thus the Goncourts take refuge in the knick-knack. They choose as the their
supreme value the pretty, that beauty without depth, or worse yet prettiness, which
is to say the most superficial and least significant in the pretty. No danger here,
no temptation to flee: the object can be held in the palm of the hand; it can be
handled and felt, its most profound truth limited to the pleasure derived from its
handling. In short, the knick-knack seduces by its charming smile, but it is a
dead smile, one deprived of duration and echo.]

Richard’s unfavorable evaluation of the Goncourts is based on the


modernist critical assumptions that surface is always inferior to depth,
that matter is inferior to the idea(l), that the detail is inferior to the
whole, that the pretty is inferior to the Beautiful – in short, the hierarchi-
cal oppositions brought into question by deconstruction, poststructural-
ism, and postmodernism. As literary bibelotiers, or collectors of knick-
knacks, the Goncourts lose themselves in the superficial (‘‘sans profon-
deur’’) and the sensual (‘‘se manier et se palper’’). Evidently the visual
and the tactile do not produce the right sort of ‘‘sensation’’ for Richard,
for they are equated with the epidermis, rather than with profundity.
The critic concedes ‘‘la finesse de leur observation’’ [‘‘their refined
powers of observation’’], but for him, as for Lukács, mere observation is
not enough. By neglecting depth in favor of surface, the compositional
whole suffers. The Goncourts ‘‘se retrouvent dans un univers gravement
désintégré où tout n’est que détail, poussière. Aucun sens des masses ou
des ensembles ne vient plus encadrer ni soutenir la finesse de leur
observation’’ [‘‘find themselves in a seriously disintegrated universe
where all is but detail, dust’’] (p. ). The brothers render no sense of
the whole, no overview, because they provide no framework (‘‘aucun
sens d’ordre,’’ ‘‘encadrer’’), no support (‘‘soutenir’’). The whole is pul-
verized into the dust of details. Therefore they manage to produce only
an eclectic jumble. ‘‘Leurs descriptions deviennent d’interminables
pêle-mêle où leur fébrilité a jeté en vrac les notations les plus hétéro-
clites’’ [‘‘Their descriptions become unending jumbles where in their
feverishness they throw together in bulk the most heterogenous nota-
tions’’] (p. ). That their textually excessive enumerations are said to
 Literature and material culture
be produced out of feverishness (‘‘fébrilité’’) recalls Dangelzer’s phrase
‘‘frénésie de détail.’’
To rephrase and spell out Richard’s and Dangelzer’s comparisons of
the Goncourts’ writing to their activities as bibelotiers, it can be said that
the brothers’ interminable, disorderly descriptions are shaped by the
aesthetic logic of the bibelot in home decor. The Goncourts fail to
subordinate descriptive details, analogous to bibelots, to the text as a
whole, which for Richard and Dangelzer should be analogous to sound
architectural design, based either on the Greek ideals of balance and
harmony or on the modernist ideals of geometry and functionalism.
Classicism limits ornament; modernist functionalism banishes it. Nei-
ther classicism nor modernism allows for the clutter imposed by the
predominance of the bibelot in fin-de-siècle decor. The Goncourts’
writing is cluttered and disorderly like the bibelot-filled living room.
Any recuperation of inventory-like description, then, entails a positive
valuation of those elements deemed inessential or insignificant by the
modernists: the visual, the detail, and disorder. Long before post-
modernism embraces these qualities, aestheticism valorizes them in the
name of art. It is on this basis that the Goncourt specialist Robert
Ricatte presents the brothers’ inventory-like descriptions in a positive
light, even though he is a contemporary of Richard. Ricatte insists that
‘‘la minutie des Goncourt y est toujours volontaire’’ [‘‘the meticulous-
ness of the Goncourts is always deliberate’’], as if in response to Dangel-
zer’s above-quoted remark that the brothers ‘‘ne savent pas contrôler
leur frénésie de détail’’ [‘‘were unable to control their frenzy of de-
tail’’]. If the Goncourts refuse to control their passion for detail in
some of their novels but not in others, they must have their reasons.
Ricatte asks himself why an inventory-like description might be desir-
able. He includes among his examples the bibelot-filled art studio in
Manette Salomon mocked by Dangelzer. He warns the reader not to fall
for the ‘‘ruses d’artiste’’ hidden in apparently simplistic, haphazard
‘‘descriptions en forme d’inventaire’’ [‘‘descriptions in inventory
form’’]. He maintains that such descriptions are often ‘‘le résultat d’une
astucieuse contamination, d’un regroupement savant de toutes les
curiosités qu’on peut rassembler dans une pièce, par exemple dans
l’atelier de Coriolis’’ [‘‘the result of an astute contamination, of an
erudite arrangement of all of the curiosities that one can gather in a
room, for example in the studio of Coriolis’’]. As a result of the
Goncourts’ artistic ruses, ‘‘Le désordre donne une allure plus raffinée à
ce procédé énumératif,’’ and ‘‘La précision, où elle paraı̂t exclue,
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
engendre l’étonnement’’ [‘‘Disorder gives the enumerative process a
more refined allure’’; ‘‘Where precision seems excluded, it sur-
prises.’’] The operative word here is ‘‘artistes,’’ for after all, even in
classical rhetoric, aesthetic effect is an acceptable motivation for de-
scription. Ornamental description in nineteenth-century literature is
inseparable from the cult of art and the artist. Recognizing the impor-
tance of aesthetics in the Goncourts’ oeuvre, Ricatte sees artful effect in
the catalogue-like description, praising the brothers’ detailed invento-
ries of seemingly heterogenous elements for their capacity to render a
scene at once strange and familiar. Art justifies the Goncourts’ focus on
material things. This aestheticizing, visually oriented focus on material
things contributes to the growing autonomy of the object, as it becomes
less tied to character development and less clearly integrated into
narrative composition.

                 :         ,
       
In the passage cited above, Dangelzer contrasts the excesses of the
Goncourts’ description of Coriolis’s art studio with the descriptions of
Balzac, claiming that even though the latter ‘‘pourtant meuble ses
intérieurs à souhait’’ [‘‘does indeed amply furnish his interiors’’], he
never produces the sense of suffocation and fear of being crushed by
falling objects that one encounters in Coriolis’s studio. This compari-
son is curious, since Balzac in fact includes an even longer collection
inventory in one of his early novels, La Peau de chagrin. However,
Balzac’s inventory of the antique shop in which Raphaël purchases the
magic skin is much more suited to the modernist aesthetic, whereas
something like an aesthetics of excess is needed to appreciate the
Goncourts’ presentation of the claustrophobia-inducing collection of
an artist’s bibelots. Again, for the modernists it comes down to a
question of balance and proportion, of establishing the proper equilib-
rium between description and narration, between the visual and the
semantic, between chaos and order, and, above all, between persons
and things. The Goncourts tip the balance so prized by modernism,
even though, for example, their description of Coriolis’s art studio is on
many counts very similar to Balzac’s description of the antique shop. In
the end Balzac’s inventory leaves the reader with an impression of
order, whereas many find the Goncourts’ enumerative descriptions
disorderly.
 Literature and material culture
While enumeratio in the novel is criticized in terms of excess and
disorder, paradoxically, one of the main functions of actual inventories
and catalogues is to provide a rational framework for organizing ma-
terial goods. Interestingly enough, the most striking similarity between
the novelistic inventories in La Peau de chagrin and Manette Salomon is that
both Balzac and the Goncourts actually thematize disorderly juxtaposi-
tion. The narrators of both novels convey to the reader that the objects
in question form a chaotic jumble, in the framing sentences which
introduce their enumerative descriptions. I cite first Balzac, then the
Goncourts, italicizing the rhetoric of uncontrolled pell-mell:
Au premier coup d’oeil, les magasins lui offrirent un tableau confus, dans lequel
toute les oeuvres humaines et divines se heurtaient . . . Le commencement du
monde et les événements d’hier se mariaient avec une grotesque bonhomie . . . C’était
une espèce de fumier philosophique auquel rien ne manquait, ni le calumet du
sauvage, ni la pantoufle vert et or du sérail, ni le yatagan du Maure, ni l’idole
des Tartares. (Balzac, La Peau de chagrin, pp. –; my emphasis)
[At first glance, the storerooms presented him with a confused picture, in which
all works human and divine collided . . . The beginning of the world and recent
events joined hands with grotesque camaraderie . . . It was a sort of philosophical dung
heap, lacking nothing, neither the savage’s peace pipe nor the harem’s silver and
gold slipper, neither the Moor’s yataghan nor the Tartars’ idol.]

Ses quatre murs ressemblaient à un musée et à un pandémonium. L’étalage et le


fouillis d’un luxe baroque, un entassement d’objets bizarres, exotiques, hétéroclites,
des souvenirs, des morceaux d’art, l’amas et le contraste de choses de tous les
temps, de tous les styles, de toutes les couleurs, le pêle-mêle de ce que ramasse un
artiste, un voyageur, un collectionneur, y mettaient le désordre et le sabbat du
bric-à-brac. (the Goncourts, Manette Salomon, p. ; my emphasis)
[Its four walls resembled a museum and a pandemonium. The display and the
jumble of a baroque luxury, a pile of bizarre, exotic and heterogenous objects, of
souvenirs and bits of art, the amassing and the contrast of things from all times, of
all styles, of all colors, the pell-mell of things gathered by an artist, a traveler, a
collector, brought to this place the disorder and the sabbath of bric-à-brac.]

Because the theme of disorderly juxtaposition runs through both de-


scriptions, this antique shop and this art studio can be seen as counter-
examples to many discussions of the collection which focus on seriality,
order, and control. One common theory of collecting suggests that
collectors satisfy a need for control by manipulating the world of objects,
where they can impose an order which is lacking in the ‘‘exterior’’ world
of people. The desire for control is not a feature of Balzac’s and the
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
Goncourts’ presentations of these particular collections. On the con-
trary, it is clear from these descriptions that whoever arranged them
delighted more in the chaotic excesses produced by radical juxtaposi-
tion, than in any possibility for seriality or order.
This is not to say that these collections are completely lacking in
organization. Both inventories are loosely organized by the very fram-
ing rhetoric which characterizes them as tumultuous piles. In the sen-
tences quoted just above, Balzac begins with ‘‘Au premier coup d’oeil,
les magasins lui offrirent un tableau confus.’’ The eye, or gaze, of the
protagonist, the grammatical antecedent of ‘‘lui,’’ acts here as a framing
and focusing device, gathering the confusion of objects into a single
‘‘tableau.’’ The ‘‘magasins’’ at the same time provide a physical bound-
ary for the collection. In the sentences from Manette Salomon, the Gon-
courts begin by naming the physical bounds of the collection, ‘‘Ses
quatre murs.’’ The gaze, however, is not given a focal point, for the
Goncourts’ narrator is completely disembodied in this description, a
point to which I will return below.
Both inventories also include lists of artifacts which are similar in
structure and not altogether unlike in content. Here is a sample, first
from Balzac, then from the Goncourts:
Des crocodiles, des singes, des boas empaillés souriaient à des vitraux d’église,
semblaient vouloir mordre des bustes, courir après des laques, ou grimper sur
des lustres. Un vase de Sèvres, où madame Jacotot avait peint Napoléon, se
trouvait auprès d’un sphinx dédié à Sésostris . . . Les instruments de mort,
poignards, pistolets curieux, armes à secret, étaient jetés pêle-mêle avec des
instruments de vie: soupières en porcelaine, assiettes de Saxe, tasses diaphanes
venues de Chine, salières antiques, drageoirs féodaux. (La Peau de chagrin, p. )

[Stuffed crocodiles, monkeys and boa constrictors smiled at church windows,


seemed ready to bite the busts, run after the lacquerware, or climb the
chandeliers. Next to a Sèvres vase on which Madame Jacotot had painted
Napoleon, there was a sphinx dedicated to Sesostris . . . Instruments of death,
daggers, curious pistols, secret weapons, were thrown in pell-mell with instru-
ments of life, porcelain soup tureens, Saxe plates, diaphanous cups from China,
antique salt shakers, feudal candy dishes.]

Partout d’étonnant voisinages : un éventail chinois sortait de la terre cuite d’une


lampe de Pompéi; entre une épée à trois trèfles qui portait sur la lame: Penetrabit,
et un bouclier d’hippopotame pour la chasse au tigre, on pouvait voir un
chapeau de cardinal à la pourpre historique tout usé; et un personnage d’ombre
chinoise de Java découpé dans du cuir était accroché auprès d’un vieux gril en
fer forgé pour la cuisson des hosties. (Manette Salomon, p. )
 Literature and material culture
[There were surprising combinations everywhere: a Chinese fan protruded
from the earthenware of a lamp from Pompeii; between a sword with three
trefoils and Penetrabit inscribed on its blade, and a hippopotamus shield for tiger
hunting, was a well-worn figured purple Cardinal’s hat; and a Javanese shadow
puppet cut from leather hung next to an old wrought iron grill for making holy
wafers.]

While only Balzac’s shop contains a substantial number of natural


history specimens and curiosities from the New World, both mix the
goods from ‘‘the Orient’’ with goods from Europe, and the historic with
the exotic.
Also note that each of these sentence groups includes placement
information which helps the reader visualize not only the objects, but
also their arrangement (‘‘souriaient à,’’ ‘‘auprès de,’’ ‘‘jetés . . . avec,’’
‘‘sortait de,’’ ‘‘entre,’’ ‘‘accroché auprès [de]’’). These spatial indicators
organize the fictitious collection physically. The fictive inventory must
supply the visual aspects of organization in addition to providing mean-
ing and syntax. In contrast to the catalogue which is designed to aid the
viewer of an actual collection, in the case of a fictive inventory the
objects in question are not physically present. This is also true of an
inventory such as Goncourt’s La Maison d’un artiste which is designed to
be read outside of the context of viewing the collection. While the
collector’s or buyer’s catalogue usually includes a brief description of
each individual item, it does not necessarily need to explain how the
items are displayed physically.
Differences between Balzac’s and the Goncourts’ descriptions al-
ready begin to show when their rhetoric of organization is examined a
bit more closely. Balzac’s description of ‘‘ce chaos d’antiquités’’ in the
shop includes more framing and organizing language than does the
description of the Goncourts. For example, in the sentences cited
above Balzac sums up the entire multi-story antique shop with a few
oppositions, grouping lists of heterogenous elements into large concep-
tual categories: ‘‘oeuvres humaines’’ and ‘‘divines,’’ ‘‘le commence-
ment du monde’’ and ‘‘les événements d’hier,’’ ‘‘les instruments du
mort’’ and ‘‘des instruments de vie.’’ These abstractions, organized
into pairs, shape the collection into a conceptualizable entity. Another
rhetorical strategy allows fragments to be reassembled into wholes. The
antique shop is presented as a gathering space to which ‘‘tous les pays
de la terre semblaient avoir apporté . . . quelque débris de leurs
sciences, un échantillon de leurs arts,’’ a space where ‘‘l’univers lui
apparut par bribes’’ [‘‘all nations of the earth seem to have brought . . .
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
some scrap of their sciences, a sample of their arts’’ / ‘‘the universe
appeared to him in snatches’’] (pp. , ). Because Balzac’s narrator
suggests that the fragments (‘‘débris,’’ ‘‘échantillon,’’ ‘‘bribes’’) could be
reconstructed to compose a whole (‘‘l’univers,’’ ‘‘toute la création con-
nue,’’ pp. , ), a sense of unity is maintained in spite of the eclecti-
cism of the collection.
Balzac’s classificatory and organizational rhetoric does not, however,
erase the rhetoric of juxtaposition, but rather allows him to play on a
tension between order and chaos, alternating between the language of
organization and the language of disorder. As David Bell (a poststruc-
turalist/postmodernist reader of Balzac) warns, to read this inventory as
‘‘an exercise in classification waiting to be accomplished’’ would be
‘‘tantamount to a refusal to take seriously the lavish elaboration of the
semantics of disorder contained in the language used to describe the
shop itself,’’ a semantics built on such terms as ‘‘confusion, chaos,
accidents, monstrosity, madness, fog, oceans.’’ As for the thematics of
classificatory order, the narrator offers us the geologist Cuvier, whose
classificatory work could be used as a model to organize the eclectic
juxtaposition found in ‘‘ces trois salles gorgées de civilisation, de cultes,
de divinités, de chefs-d’oeuvre, de royautés, de débauches, de raison et
de folie’’ [‘‘these three rooms stuffed with civilization, cults, divinities,
masterpieces, kingdoms, debaucheries, reason and folly’’] (p. ). How-
ever, Balzac calls Cuvier ‘‘le plus grand poète de notre siècle’’ [‘‘the
greatest poet of our century’’] (p. ), making him into a figure of
interpretation rather than a figure of classification. The protagonist
Raphaël too is described as a poet (p. ). Furthermore, the narrator
explains that for Raphaël ‘‘cet océan de meubles, d’inventions, de
modes, d’oeuvres, de ruines, lui composait un poème sans fin’’ [‘‘this
ocean of furnishings, of inventions, of fashions, of works, of ruins,
composed for him a poem without end’’] (p. ).
Raphaël’s role as interpreter and poet of the collection is the device
by which Balzac establishes strong connections between persons and
these things, and between these things and plot. It is highly significant
that the antique shop is narrated through the eyes of Raphaël, for his
fictitious subjectivity is the strongest organizational element in the novel,
and is ultimately the source of its narrative unity. In addition, the
presence of this strong subjectivity animates the description of the
collection, creating a sense of movement. The ‘‘tableau confus’’ pre-
sented by the shop’s ‘‘magasins’’ [storerooms] is not entirely still, since
the reader moves through them with the protagonist. The reader’s eye
 Literature and material culture
follows the protagonist’s eye, led up staircases and through doors as the
character enters new storerooms.
More importantly, Balzac’s text spells out a close connection between
the protagonist, the cultural debris which surrounds him, and the
narrative as a whole. The chaos of barely ordered material excess from
so many other times and places serves to generate miniature narratives
of which Raphaël is the hero: upon seeing and handling various curiosi-
ties and artifacts, he, for example, breathes the air of ancient Rome
(‘‘Les caprices de la Rome impériale respiraient là tout entiers’’ [‘‘The
whims of all Imperial Rome breathed there’’]), is transported to Renais-
sance Italy (‘‘En touchant une mosaı̈que . . . son âme s’élançait dans la
chaude et fauve Italie’’ [‘‘Touching a mosaic . . . his soul rushed toward
hot, wild Italy’’]), becomes a pirate (‘‘il devenait corsaire . . . vivement
inspiré par les couleurs nacrées de mille coquillages’’ [‘‘he became a
pirate . . . keenly inspired by the pearly colors of a thousand shells’’]),
etc. (pp. –). This thematics of diversity through the juxtaposition of
debris is even more completely recuperated back into the narrative at
the conclusion of the long descriptive passage: it is here in the antique
shop that Raphaël acquires the magical, wish-granting, oriental ‘‘peau
de chagrin’’ [wild ass’s skin] which gives the novel its name.
The disorderly space of the shop ultimately becomes a model of
Raphaël’s very subjectivity. The description soon reveals that ‘‘ce chaos
des antiquités’’ is homologous to the feverish, nervous, confused mental
state of Raphaël as he wanders through the shop, penniless, bro-
kenhearted, and suicidal. The collection becomes a simile for Raphaël
himself, who, on the brink of committing suicide, finds himself torn
between life and death:
Poursuivi par les formes les plus étranges, par des créations merveilleuses assises
sur les confins de la mort et de la vie, il marchait dans les enchantements d’un
songe. Enfin, doutant de son existence, il était comme ces objects curieux, ni tout à fait
mort, ni tout à fait vivant. (La Peau de chagrin, p. ; my emphasis)
[Followed by the strangest of forms, by marvelous creations poised on the brink
of life and death, he walked under the spell of a dream. Finally, doubting his
existence, he was like one of these curious objects, neither entirely dead nor
entirely living.]
Poised on the brink of life and death, the objects take on the human
qualities of Raphaël, even as he takes on the inhuman qualities of the
objects, setting up a homologous relation of mutual reflection and even
mutual influence.
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
As compared to the antique shop scene in La Peau de chagrin, in their
rendering of the art studio in Manette Salomon, the Goncourts make many
fewer and much looser connections between material things and the
narrative elements of character and plot. As a result of the loosening of
these connections, things in this novel acquire the ‘‘independent signifi-
cance’’ which Lukács feels ‘‘is not their due.’’
The major difference between the presentations of the collections in
La Peau de chagrin and Manette Salomon lies in the positioning of the
protagonist during the course of the description. Whereas the reader of
La Peau de chagrin enters the antique shop with Raphaël, the reader of
Manette Salomon abruptly stumbles upon Coriolis’s studio accompanied
only by a very distant narrator. The Goncourts’ ‘‘tableau’’ of the
collection is presented directly to the reader, without the mediation of
characters. The framing sentence that opens a new chapter of Manette
Salomon with the inventory of the art studio makes no reference to a
personified point of view, but rather establishes physical dimensions by
reference to the metric system: ‘‘C’était un atelier de neuf mètres de long
sur sept de large’’ [‘‘The studio was nine meters long by seven wide’’]
(Manette Salomon, p. ). The reader is moved through Coriolis’s collec-
tion solely by the use of disembodied locational indicators, with which
most of the paragraphs begin (‘‘sur l’un des panneaux de la porte,’’ ‘‘A
côté de la porte,’’ ‘‘De l’autre côté de la porte,’’ ‘‘Le milieu du panneau
gauche,’’ etc. [‘‘on one of the door panels,’’ ‘‘Beside the door,’’ ‘‘On the
other side of the door,’’ ‘‘The middle of the left panel’’], pp. –).
The Goncourts’ reader is not even told up front that the studio which
is being inventoried belongs to Coriolis. The only clue is that this name
appears as the last word of the chapter before the inventory (p. ).
From this mention, the reader either infers that the studio being de-
scribed in the next chapter belongs to Coriolis, or is left reading a
lengthy description without knowing why. People are strangely absent
from the bulk of the description. It is not until the end of the passage that
the reader learns that four beings are present throughout the narrative
time of the novelistic inventory: Coriolis, two artist friends, and a
monkey. These characters are not mentioned until near the end of the
description, six pages into the chapter, at which time they are shown to
be painting, drawing and sleeping (p. ). They are not made to speak
until after a brief but filmic description of their visual aspect, by which
they are presented as if they too are visual elements of the colorful scene.
The phrase ‘‘là-dedans, dans cet atelier’’ [‘‘in there, in this studio’’]
groups them within the walls of the studio with the same kind of
 Literature and material culture
positional framing rhetoric that introduced the chapter and the descrip-
tion of the material objects in the collection (‘‘C’était un atelier de neuf
mètres de long sur sept de large,’’ p. ).
Since the figure of Coriolis does not appear until the end of the textual
presentation of his things, his relationship to his collection is not made
entirely explicit by the narrator, as was the case with Balzac. The
half-finished paintings and art supplies are obviously connected to
Coriolis’s activities, but this is something which the reader is left to
presume. Here is one such reference:
Après la colonnette s’étalait une grande toile orientale abandonnée, sur le bas
de laquelle étaient écrits, à la craie, des adresses d’amis, des noms de modèles,
des dates de rendez-vous, des mementos de la vie parisienne, qui entraient dans
des jupes d’almées. (p. )
[Beyond the small column, there lay unfurled a large abandoned oriental
canvas, on the bottom of which there were written in chalk the addresses of
friends, the names of models, the dates of meetings – mementos of Paris life
slipped into the skirts of Egyptian dancers.]
It is easy enough to surmise that Coriolis and his friends have written the
addresses, names, and dates on this canvas, evidently painted by Co-
riolis, whom the reader already knows to be an orientalist painter.
There is no narrator’s voice explaining to the reader how this disor-
dered, overcrowded studio provides visual stimulus to the artist, but
merely this and other juxtapositions of the fragments of the artist’s work
and Bohemian daily life with the fragments which make up his collec-
tion. The artist’s canvasses, his ‘‘tableaux,’’ become part of the collec-
tion, which is then presented as a textual tableau.
The elements enumerated in the Goncourts’ description are, in
Lukács’s words, ‘‘as isolated and unrelated to each other as pictures in a
museum.’’ The connection between Coriolis and his things is estab-
lished only by juxtaposition, contiguity, and metonymy, in contrast to
the relationship of homology and simile which Balzac uses to tie
Raphaël to the items in the antique shop. It is important, though, not to
understand the things in the antique shop as substitutes for the protag-
onist: as homology and simile, the things remain figures, symbols, and
thus subordinate to Raphaël, the referent which justifies their place in
the narrative. Balzac’s protagonist retains his primacy, as the strong
referent to which the symbols (or signifiers) remain properly subordi-
nate. In contrast, the juxtaposition practiced by the Goncourts tends to
equalize all elements present. In the description of the art studio, things
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
threaten to usurp the place of people (and not just because people run
the risk of being smashed by falling bibelots, as Dangelzer suggests). The
proportion which the Goncourts upset here is that between persons and
things. By relegating the persons to the end of a long enumerative
passage, things are at least momentarily accorded precedence over
people. I suspect that this is precisely the aspect of this novelistic
inventory which Dangelzer and the other modernists find most disturb-
ing. Because things are accorded such prominence within the narrative,
and are not explicitly connected to persons, they acquire a strange
autonomy.
These characteristics of the Goncourts’ writing – suppression of
connecting rhetoric and the consequent lack of subordination of things
to people – are directly related to their attitude toward material things,
for the brothers presume the description of the latter to be important
itself, an attitude made evident in a brief preface in which Edmond
justifies writing La Maison d’un artiste by evoking ‘‘la mélancholique vie
latente’’ of things (: n.p.). Conversely, Lukács, in his insistence that only
human relationships matter, denies the importance of describing things
for their own sake: ‘‘A ‘poetry of things’ independent of people and of
people’s lives does not exist in literature’’ (p. ).
The confused jumble of objects in the art studio of Manette Salomon is
not, however, without narrative motivation. These motivations are not
explicitly stated, as if the Goncourts presume that their readers will
make the necessary connections for themselves. Several correlations
can easily be deduced by a modern (if not modernist) reader already
convinced of the signifying potential of material things. Coriolis, the
owner of these objects, is a painter, an orientalist who draws visual
inspiration from the juxtaposition of exotica against European artifacts,
just as Raphaël the poet drew narrative inspiration from the same
juxtaposed combinations in Balzac’s antique shop. In one of the cita-
tions from Manette above, the phrases ‘‘morceaux d’art,’’ ‘‘de tous les
styles,’’ and ‘‘de toutes les couleurs’’ evoke Coriolis’s artistic vocation.
In addition, in the story Coriolis has just returned from a trip to ‘‘the
Orient,’’ hence the reference to ‘‘ce que ramasse un artiste, un
voyageur.’’ A final sentence five pages later sums up the atmosphere of
the studio:
Une ombre flottante dormait tout le jour dans ce réduit de mystère et de
paresse, dans ce petit sanctuaire de l’atelier, qui, avec ses odeurs de dépouilles
sauvages et sa couleur de désert, semblait abriter le recueillement et la rêverie
de la tente. (pp. –)
 Literature and material culture
[A floating shadow slept all day in this recess of mystery and laziness, in this
little studio sanctuary, which, with its smell of savage remains and its desert
color, seemed to shelter the contemplation and reverie of the tent.]
Coriolis’s studio, then, a dream-inducing desert tent in miniature, an
orientalized space in the middle of Paris, not only houses Coriolis’s
paintings, plaster models, and supplies, but also doubles as dwelling
space for himself, two male painter friends, and a monkey also brought
back from the East. The bachelors of this household live a happy
bohemian life, for the heroine of the novel, Manette Salomon, who will
eventually marry Coriolis, has not yet appeared.
During the second half of the novel Manette slowly dismantles the
happy scene depicted in the inventory-like description of the art studio.
The oriental beauty of this Jewish woman appeals to Coriolis as a
painter, who at first hires her as a model, then falls in love. However, in
time she will drive away the artist friends, reduce Coriolis to artistic
impotence with her worldly ambitions, instill a strict household budget,
and even do away with the ‘‘bibelots’’ (p. ). The Goncourts, always
sympathetic to the figure of the artist and usually suspicious of women,
turn Manette into a terrible Jewish shrew, and show the effects of her
influence through a denuding of Coriolis’s studio space. They sadly
report that ‘‘Son atelier, dépouillé de ce clinquant d’art sur lequel l’oeil
du coloriste aime à se promener, semblait vide et froid, presque pauvre’’
[‘‘His studio, stripped of the flamboyant art upon which the colorist’s
eye loves to wander, seemed empty and cold, almost impoverished’’] (p.
). The artist cannot create in such a cold, colorless, empty atmo-
sphere. The chaos of juxtaposed bibelots, then, is made necessary to
the narrative by two motivations: first, it enables artistic creation, and
second, it is antithetical to bourgeois married life.
It is crucial to recognize that La Peau de chagrin and Manette Salomon are
separated by some thirty-six years of literary history. The object, es-
pecially the artistic object, gains a strong foothold in the literary text not
only because of the influence of Balzac, but also thanks to the work of
romantic writers like Gautier and Nerval. If the Goncourts dare to
present the decorative object on an equal footing with characters, it is
not only that the object has gained a ‘‘fantastic autonomy’’ from
people and from plot, but also because readers are entrusted to recog-
nize for themselves the signifying potential of the ‘‘choses, au milieu
desquelles s’est écoulée une existence d’homme’’ [‘‘things, amidst which
the existence of a man has passed’’].
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 

 ,      ,      :            


        
A sketch of the French literary history of catalogue-like description must
necessarily account for Balzac’s Le Cousin Pons, generally considered the
definitive novel of collecting, cited in most discussions of collecting from
the time it was published to this day. Several noteworthy analyses have
been devoted to it over the past twenty years, evidencing the fascination
which inventories and collections hold for postmodernist criticism. In
this late novel Balzac makes a very different use of the novelistic
inventory, a most realistic use. Published over fifteen years after the
romantic, fantastic, philosophical novel La Peau de chagrin, Le Cousin Pons
is a mature work of realism whose plot is much more complex and more
tightly woven than that of the earlier work.
Curiously enough, the great novel of collecting includes no descrip-
tion of Pons’s collection which even comes close in length to the
catalogue-like enumeration of the objects in the antique shop in La Peau
de chagrin, even though the narrator of Le Cousin Pons states that collection
is the ‘‘heroine’’ of the rather melodramatic story. However, though
catalogue-like description remains restrained, an actual catalogue ap-
pears in this novel: in presenting Pons’s collection, Balzac first depicts
then later cites the collector’s catalogue, a physical, written inventory
meticulously enumerating and describing the items included in the
collection. Balzac does not reproduce this fictitious catalogue in the
novel, but merely evokes it and cites from it.
When Pons’s art collection first appears in the text, the mention of its
catalogue allows the author to give a brief, efficient overview of it in one
paragraph of average length, which I cite here (for the sake of clarity, I
have used ellipses to replace some often-cited remarks on Pons’s an-
tique-hunting techniques and on the collector’s market):
. . . Pons cachait à tous les regards une collection de chefs-d’oeuvre en tout genre
dont le catalogue atteignait au fabuleux numéro . . . . C’était des tableaux
triés dans les quarante-cinq mille tableaux qui s’exposent par an dans les ventes
parisiennes; des porcelaines de Sèvres, pâte tendre . . . Enfin, il avait ramassé les
débris du dix-septième et du dix-huitième siècle, en rendant justice aux gens
d’esprit et de génie de l’école française, ces grands inconnus, les Lepautre, les
Lavallée-Poussin, etc., qui ont créé le genre Louis XV, le genre Louis XVI . . . Le
premier, Pons avait collectionné les tabatières et les miniatures (p. )
[. . . Pons kept hidden from view a collection of masterpieces of all genres,
whose catalogue had reached the fabulous number of , . . . These were
 Literature and material culture
paintings selected from among the , exhibited annually at the Paris
auctions. There was also Sèvres porcelain, pâte tendre . . . In sum, he had
gathered the debris of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, giving just due
to those of wit and genius among the French school, those great unknowns, the
Lepautres, the Lavallée-Poussins, etc., who created the Louis XV and Louis
XVI styles . . . Pons had been the first to collect snuff boxes and miniatures]

By letting us know up front that the collection has been catalogued, and
that it contains nearly , items, Balzac is able to sketch out a rapid
impression of its importance and extent simply by noting the kinds of
items it includes. Unlike the contents of the antique shop in La Peau de
chagrin, Pons’s collection is highly specialized, consisting in paintings,
miniatures, porcelain, and snuff boxes. Though the collection as a whole
is often referred to throughout the novel, this is the most extensive
enumeration of it until much later.
The next description of the collection occurs during a scene which is
placed nearly halfway through the novel. In between, there develops an
intrigue of money-grubbing greed, whereby Pons’s valuable collection
of ‘‘biblots’’ [sic] (pp. , , ; author’s italics) is disputed by two
rival groups of avaricious characters, one headed by a distant bourgeois
cousin, Madame Camusot, and the other headed by the petty-bourgeois
concierge, Madame Cibot. After an illness exacerbated by the cold-
heartedness of his ‘‘cousins,’’ Pons dies, leaving his valuable collection to
his closest friend, a naive musician, but the plotting women wrest it from
him in the end, aided by a group of shady art dealers and legal advisors,
some of whom work for both sides. The ending is tragic, not only
because the hero dies a miserable death, but perhaps more significantly
because the bourgeoisie (represented by Mesdames Camusot and Cibot)
triumphs over the artists (Pons and Schmucke).
Pons’s failure to extract his collection from this network of petty-
bourgeois and bourgeois socio-economic relations hinges on the way
Balzac positions him within a family structure. Pons is a homely bach-
elor who shares his apartment with another homely bachelor, the naive
musician to whom he tries to leave the collection. However, Pons,
though a musician and art aficionado, is not content to live for art alone,
as is his idealist roommate Schmucke, for in addition to being materi-
alist through his passion for collecting, Pons is also a connoisseur of
gourmet food. To satisfy his gourmet appetite, he relies on dinner
invitations from various bourgeois cousins (hence the title of the novel),
many of whom are only distant cousins by marriage. Pons’s position
within traditional kinship structures is thus a very marginal one, first in
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
his sharing domestic intimacy with another man, Schmucke, and sec-
ond in his stretching family ties to include distant cousins, including
Madame Camusot.
In an attempt to consolidate his place on the most important standing
dinner invitation list, that of his ‘‘cousins’’ the Camusot, Pons brings
Madame Camusot a gift, a rare collector’s item, a fan painted by
Watteau for Madame de Pompadour. When this gift fails to elicit the
reciprocal gift of the continued standing dinner invitation, Pons brings a
prospective groom for the Camusot’s daughter, whom the couple is
having trouble marrying appropriately for want of a better dowry. The
bourgeois hostess and her daughter are invited to visit Pons’s collection
as a pretext for meeting the prospective groom. This is how Madame
Camusot learns the monetary value of her ‘‘cousin’’ Pons’s collection.
By bringing his bourgeois cousin a precious bibelot (the fan) then by
inviting her into his otherwise closed sanctuary of art (to meet the suitor),
Pons sets in motion his own demise.
This visit furnishes the occasion for the second and lengthiest de-
scription, allowing Balzac to incorporate a four-page enumeration into
the plot. Upon seeing the collection, the prospective bridegroom im-
mediately recognizes its artistic and monetary value, which he patient-
ly explains to the Camusot’s daughter, who dutifully listens. As the
suitor leaves the apartment building, the owner of the second-hand
shop downstairs overhears the evaluation, which he reports to the
concierge, Madame Cibot. A third enumerative description of the
collection appears in the novel when the contriving concierge intro-
duces art dealers and legal advisors into the dying Pons’s apartment, so
that they may evaluate it for the purposes of negotiating the antici-
pated inheritance. Although this description does include much infor-
mation on art and artists, it does not seem gratuitous, because it is
offered through the eyes of one of the art dealer characters in the act
of evaluating the collection for the purposes of the main plot, the
disputed inheritance.
The fictitious collection’s fictitious catalogue mentioned near the
beginning of the novel reappears near the end, after Pons’s death. We
are told that the catalogue is entirely handwritten, in two copies, in
Pons’s hand. This time it is cited by one of the characters, the lawyer
Frasier, who is shown reading it, comparing it to the paintings on
display in Pons’s apartment. The document of antiquarianism and art
history drawn up by Pons is thus reappropriated by Frasier and trans-
formed into a legal document. During this scene, the conniving lawyer
 Literature and material culture
Frasier reads the following catalogue entry aloud to Madame Cibot, the
concierge; his own comments follow:
‘‘No. . Magnifique portrait peint sur marbre, par Sébastien del Piombo, en , vendu par
une famille qui l’a fait enlever de la cathédrale de Terni. Ce portrait, qui avait pour pendant un
évêque, acheté par un Anglais, représente un chevalier de Malte en prières, et se trouvait
au-dessus du tombeau de la famille Rossi. Sans la date, on pourrait attribuer cette oeuvre à
Raphaël. Ce morceau me semble supérieur au portrait de Baccio Bandinelli, du Musée, qui est
un peu sec, tandis que ce chevalier de Malte est d’un fraı̂cheur due à la conservation de la
peinture sur la    (ardoise).’’
– En regardant, reprit Frasier, à la place No. , j’ai trouvé un portrait de
dame signé Chardin, sans No. !... [ . . .] j’ai vérifié les tableaux, et il y a huit
substitutions de toiles ordinaires et sans numéros, à des oeuvres indiquées
comme capitales par feu monsieur Pons et qui ne se trouvent plus... Et enfin, il
manque un petit tableau sur bois, de Metzu, désigné comme un chef-
d’oeuvre...
[‘‘No. , Magnificent portrait painted on marble by Sebastian del Piombo in , sold by a
family who had it taken from the cathedral at Terni. Paired with a bishop’s portrait bought by
an Englishman, this portrait depicts a Maltese knight praying, and was found hanging above
the Rossi family tomb. Without the date, this work could be attributed to Raphael. This piece
seems to me to be superior to the portrait of Baccio Bandinelli in the Museum, which is a bit
dry, while this Maltese knight retains a freshness preserved by its being painted on      
(slate).’’
‘‘Looking at place ,’’ Frasier continued, ‘‘I found a woman’s portrait signed
Chardin, with no number ! ... +. . ., I checked the paintings, and there are eight
substitutions of ordinary canvases without numbers for works which the late
Monsieur Pons has identified as major, and which are no longer here... And
finally, also missing, there is a small painting on wood by Metzu, designated as a
masterpiece...]
This is the only catalogue entry actually cited. It is presented as if it were
from a ‘‘real’’ collection catalogue, numbers and all. Pons’s detailed
comments on the painting and its attribution show the catalogue to be a
labor of love by a true connoisseur of art. The tone is very similar to that
Edmond de Goncourt will use in the catalogue-style entries of La Maison
d’un artiste. However, Frasier reads the catalogue not as an art lover, but
as a lawyer, treating it like an inventory of Pons’s estate, like a legal
document. The lawyer uses the art collection catalogue only to verify the
identity and presence of objects which interest him only for their
potential monetary value. The catalogue reveals to him not information
about art, but clues about a theft.
Pons’s catalogue, like his collection, partakes of (at least) three very
different socio-cultural domains: art collecting, the marketplace, and the
law. Though these domains are not coextensive, they are at the same
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
time inseparable. In the modern (Euro-American) world, no object
attains value in one sphere without also attaining value in the two
others, and therefore no object enters one without entering the others.
This is, in a sense, the ‘‘moral’’ of Le Cousin Pons: it is futile to try to keep a
collection gathered from the marketplace from falling back into the
marketplace. The law proves to be complicit with the market. The art
collection is a socially symbolic system. Hiding it, even if it is never
found, does not make it less social.
As for the relationship between persons and things in Le Cousin Pons,
though the collection is featured prominently, the strong plot structure
keeps it well subordinated to the actions of the characters. Pons’s
personal relationship to his collection, though, differs significantly from
that between protagonist and the collection in Balzac’s La Peau de chagrin
and the Goncourts’ Manette Salomon. The lengthy catalogue-like descrip-
tions of the collections in the latter two novels are used, at least in part,
to ‘‘map out’’ the complex subjectivities of the poet/philosopher
Raphaël and the artist Coriolis. Pons, in contrast, exhibits the very
simplified subjectivity of the monomaniacal man ruled by passion, in
this case a double passion, collecting and gastronomy. Motivated by
simple passions, Pons functions as a rational economic agent, negotiat-
ing in order to acquire that which he desires most, exchanging minimal
amounts of money for undervalued collectibles, exchanging a valuable
collectible for dinner invitations. The catalogue of bibelots in Le Cousin
Pons serves as an accounting of value, of artistic value for Pons, and of
monetary value for Frasier and the other bourgeois characters.

            ,         :
   
In French literary history, two books mark a high point in the evolution
of catalogue-like literary description. In  (well after brother Jules’s
death) Edmond de Goncourt published La Maison d’un artiste, a two-
volume inventory of and commentary on the collections gathered in his
home. Three years later his friend Joris-Karl Huysmans published A
rebours, the founding novel of decadence, whose main plot consists in the
choosing, arrangement, and rearrangement of the decor and collectibles
in the hero’s secluded house. Many critics have commented on the
catalogue-like nature of this novel, as well as on the similarities between
it and Goncourt’s catalogue. Both Huysmans and Goncourt use the
term ‘‘bibelot’’ to collectively designate the contents of the homes they
 Literature and material culture
inventory in elaborating a refined aesthetics of daily life. These books
break with literary tradition, marking a moment of rupture in the very
possibilities for describing interior decor in literature: material objects
have begun to rival human characters in importance.
What made Huysmans’s strange novel A rebours possible, and why has
postmodern literary criticism taken such a keen interest in it? Given the
exigencies of plot and character development generic to the novel form,
the very existence of a novel like A rebours must be regarded as puzzling.
The premiss of the novel can hardly be called a plot: the wealthy duc des
Esseintes retires from society and moves to a house which he decorates
only with the most exquisite bibelots, with books made bibelot-like by
the care with which they are expensively bound, with paintings, engrav-
ings, and other well-chosen furnishings. Few other persons are men-
tioned; of these, none qualify as secondary characters. The bulk of the
novel consists in des Esseintes’s choosing, arranging, rearranging, and
musing on these objects. To write such a novel is to write as a bibeloteur,
savoring the contours of every item, pausing to let each object inspire
study, ideas, and fantasies. Because objects are so central to this novel, it
seems only logical that its author turns to the catalogue form, to
inventory art works, artifacts, books, furnishings, domestic goods,
plants, food substances, diseases, and drugs.
The writing of A rebours was made possible by the textual space which
earlier novelists had carved out for material culture, for descriptions of
the man-made material environment. It has been suggested that the
‘‘novelization’’ of A rebours renders it obviously superior to Goncourt’s
inventory. I would argue instead that by choosing to write a catalogue
instead of a novel, Goncourt makes a significant move, a move which
enables the conceptualization of A rebours. By devoting his energies
entirely to the sphere of things, Edmond opens the way for a novel like A
rebours, where interactions with material culture take the place of inter-
actions among human characters.
The organization of A rebours follows the model of La Maison d’un
artiste, in which Goncourt enumerates the contents of his house room by
room. Just as the space of La Maison d’un artiste is the space of Edmond’s
house, the house of des Esseintes is almost the only setting of A rebours.
What renders A rebours especially catalogue-like is that many if not most
of its chapters revolve around the collections gathered in the various
rooms of the house. A rebours is organized not by plot, not by the
interactions of human characters, but by material things in physical
space, in the space of a house, a private dwelling which is also a
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
museum, a library, a decorator’s showroom, and a sanatorium. As one
postmodernist critic puts it,‘‘the reader is invited to move from chapter
to chapter just as a visitor moves from room to room in a well-organized
museum.’’ First Huysmans shows us des Esseintes’s bedroom, study,
and dining room, as the decorative choices in each are explained in
accord with an elaborate aesthetics. There are chapters almost entirely
devoted to paintings and engravings, while another chapter is devoted
to the famous jewel-encrusted turtle, and still others to exotic hothouse
flowers, liqueurs, and perfumes. Three different chapters scattered
throughout the novel are consecrated to the library.
Many postmodernist critics speak of the catalogue-like qualities of A
rebours, one calling the novel ‘‘a catalogue of rarities,’’ another ‘‘a story
that never ceases to march in place and which lives only by recourse to
the catalogue.’’ A third critic refers to ‘‘the long catalogue of invento-
ries of A rebours,’’ suggesting that the novel is a catalogue of inventories,
‘‘an overabundance of catalogues and lists, a litany of erudite nota-
tions.’’ In complete contrast to the above-cited modernist critics of the
Goncourts’ writing, none of these critics finds the inventory-like aspect
of A rebours problematic, a reaction which signals a drastic shift in critical
tastes. The studies of Huysmans to which I refer were all published since
the mid-s, when A rebours was ‘‘canonized’’ by its inclusion on
France’s national teaching exams, the  and the Agrégation, in itself
strong evidence that what I have been calling the ‘‘postmodernist
aesthetic’’ dominates French studies today.
Why have the catalogue, and with it the museum, the collection, and
the bibelot, suddenly become privileged objects of critical enquiry?
Poststructuralist and postmodernist critics have recuperated these ob-
jects, the products of the modern material culture of consumer and
industrial capitalism, by abstracting them into figures of the free play of
language. This act of critical abstraction relies on the killing off of the
concrete referent in favor of pure textuality. Patrick Wald Lasowski
provides a particularly lucid articulation of this move to separate lan-
guage from materiality. He begins by banishing the referent:
But from La Maison d’un artiste by Goncourt (whose ‘‘setting of delicious inti-
macy’’ was appreciated by Huysmans) to A Rebours, the referent – the group of
objects which Goncourt inventories – is effaced. The text is affirmed.

This critic identifies the referent with physical objects of Goncourt’s


collection, then states that such concrete referents are obliterated by
Huysmans in his textualization of them. The text affirms itself at the
 Literature and material culture
expense of the concrete. The implication here is that La Maison d’un
artiste is not a text, or at least is somehow less a text that is A rebours.
This view refuses to recognize the textuality of the collection cata-
logue, that the actual catalogue is a narrative form. For that matter, the
collection itself must be recognized as a sort of text, following the recent
‘‘society as text’’ turn in cultural criticism, which is to say the trend of
reading non-textual objects such as pictures, cityscapes, and shopping
malls as systems of signs, following the example set by Barthes in
Mythologies and later elaborated by Baudrillard, among others. Though
this view is not unproblematic, and is currently being rethought and
revised by many in the social sciences, it does bring into question
Lasowski’s implicit insinuation that Goncourt’s catalogue does manage
to refer directly to the referent, the physical objects of this collection. If
these objects are redefined as signs, and if the actual catalogue is
recognized to be a ‘‘text,’’ then the relationship between Goncourt’s
catalogue and Huysmans’s novel must be rethought. The referentiality
of an actual catalogue is no less problematic than that of the fictitious
catalogue. The poststructuralist analysis of representation also applies to
the non-literary domain, even to the most banal commercial uses of
writing. I do understand that words and objects are two separate
entities, and I am by no means arguing for a return to a naive notion of
referentiality. What I object to in Lasowski’s formulation, and countless
others like it from the poststructuralist branch of postmodernist criti-
cism, is the implication that the words in ‘‘actual’’ catalogues, such as
the one written by the Goncourts or even the more banal catalogues
published by department stores, are more referential that the words in a
novel.
In writing La Maison d’un artiste, it may seem that Goncourt sets out to
directly denote objects by naming, classifying, and describing them.
However, he too relies on what Barthes has called the ‘‘reality effect,’’
an effacement of the narrative signified in favor of the concrete referent,
the ‘‘real’’ of art, the collector’s object itself. I would suggest that
Goncourt too actually seeks to surpass the concrete object-ness of the
object, using the semiotic richness of language to turn concrete objects
into something else, into signifiers of beauty, of refinement, of artistic
genius. This is what is ‘‘signified’’ by the signifiers of the catalogue. The
concrete objects designated in Goncourt’s catalogue are not evoked for
themselves, for their value as concrete referents, but rather for what they
represent, which is not simply art, but also the artistic sensibility which
makes a house ‘‘la maison d’un artiste.’’ Goncourt chooses a special
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
genre with which to textualize his collection, the genre of the catalogue,
a highly specialized form of writing appropriate to collecting and art
history. The catalogue thus redefined provides yet another example of
the ‘‘realist illusion’’ at work. The objects evoked in the catalogue are
just as much linguistic entities as the objects evoked in a novel. The
objects named in A rebours function within the textual fabric of the novel
form. The objects named in La Maison d’un artiste function within the
textual fabric of the catalogue form.
Likewise, the voice which ‘‘narrates’’ Goncourt’s catalogue, La Mai-
son d’un artiste, also functions as a literary character, as does the first-
person narrator in any literary work, fictitious or non-fictitious. The
first-person narrator must never be confused with the author, even
when the work in question has no literary pretensions, whether it be a
collector’s catalogue or, for that matter, a department store catalogue.
The department store catalogue too seeks to create for its implied
readers a ‘‘dream world,’’ to borrow Rosalind Williams’s term. The
catalogue text partakes of a poetics all its own. To read a collection
catalogue as an exercise in mere referentiality is to read the catalogue
naively, especially in the case of a catalogue with as much literary merit
as that of Edmond de Goncourt.
At the same time, while there are undeniably concrete referents for
the objects evoked in Goncourt’s catalogue, there are also concrete
referents for des Esseintes’s bibelots. Though des Esseintes is a fictive
character, the objects which Huysmans describes in A rebours existed in
the material culture around him, in museums, in antique shops, in his
own interior (though at best he owned copies, not originals), in the
interiors of friends, including Goncourt. Because Huysmans knew Gon-
court and his interior well, and knew his catalogue as well, to a large
extent, the referents of La Maison d’un artiste are also the referents of A
rebours.
Having banished referentiality from A rebours with the stroke of the
poststructuralist pen, Lasowski goes on to equate the many rare words in
the Huysmansian lexicon with the bibelot. ‘‘Word is bibelot,’’ he writes
(p. ). Rare words are like rare antiques. Just as des Esseintes seeks out
rare bibelots in order to escape the commercialization, utilitarianism,
and industrialized mass-production which for him characterize the
abysmal times in which he lives, just as he seeks to escape into the past
by recourse to the fine craftsmanship of a bygone era, so, according to
the word-as-bibelot metaphor, does Huysmans seek refuge in special-
ized, rarified language. The bibelot is equated with the rare objects
 Literature and material culture
which collectors and art dealers keep separate from the mass market of
industrial goods. Just as the elitist collector seeks sublime objects from
outside of the spheres of the banal and the commercial, Huysmans
prefers the words stored away in the recesses of specialized dictionaries
and encyclopedias.
In his article, Lasowski relives des Esseintes’s own fantasy of escaping
the realms of the banal and the commercial, an escape which is impossi-
ble for critic and character alike. Lasowski’s own escape relies on the
separation of language from the realm of referentiality, which is in this
case the commercial sphere:
Thus I have read A Rebours as an economic fable in which the fate of objects
selected by Des Esseintes out of hatred for department stores, grocery stores,
and variety stores plays less of a role than the fate of words selected by
Huysmans as so many linguistic goods from the great number of specialist
works, encyclopedias, and other well-stocked curiosities to which he ceaselessly
appealed in writing his work . . . If the writerly apparatus finds inspiration in the
conditions of the drafting of a department store mail order, the dictionary
proves to be the exhaustive catalogue of objects available in our storerooms. (; author’s
emphasis)
The dictionary is like a department store catalogue. However, Lasowski
is careful again to maintain the strict separation between words and
things, by insisting that the A rebours is less about ‘‘the fate of objects
selected by des Esseintes’’ than about the ‘‘the fate of words selected by
Huysmans.’’ Lasowski does bring up the critiques of consumer society
by sociologists like Georges d’Avenel, Abraham Moles, and Baudrillard,
but the use he makes of these critiques remains resolutely metaphorical.
The author is compared to the consumer, but for Lasowski this is only a
comparison. Implicit in this comparison is the writer’s non-identity with
the consumer:
Lost in his dictionary like the consumer lost in his catalogue, before the
continuous unwrapping of products launched on the market, Huysmans un-
leashes the hunger which torments him: he writes, thereby opposing his own lists
to those bourgeois recaps which proliferated at that time . . . (p. ; my
emphasis)
Huysmans is like a consumer, but not a consumer. His lists are like
bourgeois catalogues (various guidebooks, speciality dictionaries, recipe
books, etc.), but at the same time they are opposed to them.
Jean Borie expresses the interpretation of escape which Lasowski
presumes:
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
All traces of commerce have been expurgated, the solitary figure sits enthroned
in the contemplation and benevolent sacredness of a museum whose unique
objects, disdainful of fashion, bear witness to the exquisite singularity of his
personality and his tastes, without time, out of this world.

However, neither des Esseintes nor Huysmans manages to escape


bourgeois society, certainly not by recourse to the catalogue. It is by the
catalogue form that the logic of bourgeois culture enters into Huys-
mans’s novel, for, despite his efforts at nostalgic esotericism, he cannot
succeed in opposing his lists to those of commerce. The escapist fantasy
which des Esseintes lives through his museum-like house filled with
‘‘authentic’’ bibelots is produced by the very consumer culture which it
denies. Antiques do belong to the modern system of objects, explains
Baudrillard. They are not ‘‘survivals from the traditional, symbolic
order,’’ but rather modern signifiers of something else, of historicalness,
marginality, or exoticism. As Bourdieu shows again and again in
Distinction, antiques function as cultural capital, as markers or signifiers
of bourgeois taste.
Des Esseintes is in fact a modern consumer, even though he banishes
from his home all modern products produced for and sold by the
bourgeois consumer market, as Rosalind Williams convincingly argues
in her historical study of consumption in nineteenth-century France. It
is impossible to retreat from the marketplace, not only because decorat-
ing a modern house requires shopping, but also because the principle of
elitist exclusivity implies that even when all choices are negatively
determined by the market, they remain determined by it nonetheless. As
Williams explains:
Despite his desperate attempts to exclude the values of the marketplace from
Fontenay [the location of the house], they remain potent, acting like invisible
magnetic poles casting a field of force over his life, relentlessly pulling and
distorting all his feelings and choices. The emotional energy he expends in
resisting the market is testimony to its power. Des Esseintes’s very attempts to
resist modern consumption, heroic as they may be, are themselves shaped by
it.

Though des Esseintes practices what Williams calls ‘‘elitist consump-


tion,’’ by his very resistance to ‘‘democratic’’ or ‘‘mass’’ consumption he
participates in it. Nor do his elaborate efforts at creating sensory experi-
ence (by transforming his dining room into a ship galley to create the
illusion of being at sea, or by inducing dream states with rare perfumes)
succeed in lifting him out of the realm of bourgeois consumption, for
 Literature and material culture
escape to a ‘‘dream world’’ is the aim of all consumption, argues
Williams. ‘‘When des Esseintes describes his aim as substituting ‘the
vision of reality for the reality itself’ or transporting himself ‘far away
from everyday life into the region of dreams,’ he could be defining with
equal accuracy a significant aspect of mainstream culture, that aspect
called here the dream world of the consumer’’ (p. ).
While Williams’s reading shows subtlety and insight, and while I
wholeheartedly endorse her emphasis on the social, economic, and
political aspects of A rebours, what does seem problematic is that at times
she speaks of des Esseintes as if he were a consuming subject. It should
be noted that many literary critics too read the novel through the lens of
its protagonist des Esseintes, adopting the subject position he occupies,
clearly identifying with his refined aesthetics. However, it is crucial to
recognize that even less than other literary characters, des Esseintes is
not a psychological entity. He is, rather, an aesthetic system, a nexus of
criteria for discriminating among goods. The subjectivity of des Es-
seintes is completely enmeshed in the objectivity concretized in the text
as products of material culture, the furnishings, books, art works, bi-
belots, and other collectibles contained within the house. A rebours, then,
is not just a fable whose hero is the ultimate consumer, but also the
reprogrammation of a subjectivity, a reprogrammation upon which the
very functioning of consumer society as we know it depends. Des
Esseintes is constructed not as a subject which creates an object world,
but rather as a subject created by an object world. Des Esseintes, the
most modern of bibeloteurs, impossibly rich, implausibly refined, believ-
ing passionately in the power of possessions, is the implied subject of the
most wonderful of retail catalogues.
The figure of des Esseintes is what in the end holds the novel together,
providing order to the collection by functioning as a selection and
organizing system. This is why the novel does not seem fragmentary or
unstructured, despite its many enumerative passages and its lack of
action. The main character’s neuroses, described in between descrip-
tions of books and bibelots, are depicted not in the interests of psycho-
logical realism, but in the interests of the coherence of the novel’s
aesthetic system. For this reason, I must agree with Jeffrey Loomis that
‘‘A Rebours is surely a coherent naturalistic tale,’’ in its recounting of the
psychic decay of the protagonist. The fictitious furnishings of this
eccentric house are even more intimately tied up with the literary
character des Esseintes than were the antiques with which Raphaël
interacted in Balzac’s La Peau de chagrin, for des Esseintes’s house is a map
Narrate, describe, or catalogue? 
of his psyche, just as his psyche is a map of the house. The novel lays out
the geography of both, like an atlas.
If des Esseintes’s house is full of personified things, he must also be
understood as an objectified person. Huysmans confuses persons and
objects, intermingling the logic of their functioning. Many critics have
noted that in his obsession with all that is artificial (mechanical fish in an
aquarium with colored water, hothouse flowers which look artificial, the
jewel-encrusted tortoise), des Esseintes tries to make himself into an
artificial object as well. His very body becomes more and more object-
like as the novel progresses and as his nervous illness worsens: increas-
ingly unable to ingest solid food, he is finally forced to take his nourish-
ment by enema rather than by mouth, finding great satisfaction in this
artificial means of sustaining his body. His own body thus becomes an
experiment in rendering living things more object-like, as he does with
the hothouse flowers and the jewel-encrusted turtle which dies from the
weight of the precious stones.
Following this line of reasoning, if the house is a museum, then so is its
occupant des Esseintes. Françoise Court-Perez writes of des Esseintes
that ‘‘the character himself, as if swallowed up by his creation, attempts
to convert himself into a museum, with his mind like drawers, his body
reified little by little.’’ If des Esseintes is a museum, he is also an
antique shop and a department store stockroom. Though description
overtakes narration in this odd novel, the balance between persons and
objects seem proportionate, since descriptions of the house amount to
descriptions of its occupant, and this because the cavernous interiority of
both space and psyche is the very space of A rebours.

              
As material things acquire more and more prominence in the novel,
they simultaneously become more and more autonomous from the
exigencies of narrative plot and character development. This growing
autonomy of the material object results from the incorporation into the
novel of the logic of modern material culture, especially consumer
culture. This logic is a ‘‘practical logic’’ of excess, of overproduction
and overaccumulation, as well as of circulation, exchangeability, repro-
duceability, seriality, fungibility, and interchangeability. Mainstream
literary criticism has resisted the logic of material culture until quite
recently. The catalogue itself is a vehicle of this logic of material
culture, for the inventory and the catalogue are the written forms of
 Literature and material culture
cumulative stockpiling, in commerce, in collecting, and in the legal
profession (estate inventories, etc.). From this perspective, what in the
end distinguishes the modernist from the postmodernist critics is that
the latter have assimilated the logic(s) of consumer culture. Post-
modernism is after all the cultural logic of consumer capitalism, to play
on Fredric Jameson’s famous formulation. The mid-s turn to
Benjamin and the Frankfurt school serves as testimony to an interest in
and incorporation of the logics of consumer culture on the part of
postmodernist literary critics, even and perhaps especially those who
gloss over Benjamin’s Marxism.
 

The parlour of critical theory


Reading dwelling space across disciplines

Any writer wishing to describe the densely decorated, bibelot-filled


bourgeois interior of the nineteenth century faces a problem: how to go
beyond simple inventory to produce substantive commentary. This
usually entails finding some sort of meaning behind or beyond what is
being depicted literally. Novelists face a special challenge: how to render
such a description significant to plot and character development. Nine-
teenth-century French novelists rise to this challenge by developing
what amounts to a social theory of domestic furnishings, a theory which
oddly resembles that implicit in discussions of the bourgeois interior by
European sociologists and social commentators, the latter echoing the
former.
The primary concern of this chapter is ordinary household knick-
knacks, not the artifacts and objets d’art of serious collectors and aes-
thetes. By what epistemology do social theorists and novelists give
meaning to the most ordinary knick-knacks, curiosities, and bibelots in
the most banal bourgeois domestic space? A commonly used inter-
pretive strategy relies on figurative homology. Descriptions of the nine-
teenth-century interior tend to be composed such that the physical
structures of the house (layout and furnishings) parallel family struc-
tures, social structures, and, especially near the turn of the century,
psychological structures.

                


Before moving on to specific examples, it will be instructive to consider
the epistemology of the bibelot from various disciplinary perspectives.
Collectors, archaeologists, and museographers extract meaning from
ordinary domestic interiors, and, by extension, from the most trivial
decorative objects. Sociologists, social commentators, and novelists also
extract meaning from knick-knacks and other domestic furnishings, but

 Literature and material culture
their epistemology differs significantly. Different disciplines construct
different kinds of knowledge from domestic objects, each according to
its own conventions regarding what information should be presented,
what kind of commentary should be made, and how this information
and commentary should be organized. This process of meaning extrac-
tion is a form of ‘‘reading,’’ in the semiotic sense. ‘‘Readings’’ in turn
generate writing, the various narratives, scholarly studies, and essays
published in these various fields.
Collectors, archaeologists, and museographers have produced a siz-
able body of published writing on household objects, whether these be
ordinary furnishings and utensils or elaborate works of art. Those
working within these disciplines generally begin the meaning-produc-
tion process by removing domestic objects from dwelling space, placing
them in a workshop, curiosity cabinet, or museum in order to study
them as disembodied artifacts. The space in which objects are studied
affects the way they are read. To place objects into a space designed
with study in mind is already to classify and to organize them. An
epistemology is already built into spaces like museums and display cases.
After removing items to a space of study, certain kinds of information
are then gathered: color, form, material, size, geographical origin,
maker, date or period, school or style, techniques of manufacture, use,
etc. This information is then used to group disparate pieces into a
coherent historical (or aesthetic) framework. When written up, a sort of
narrative is produced, though the narrative framework may seem lost
amidst the copious amounts of descriptive detail endemic to the writing
of these disciplines. Because their focus is material things, collectors,
archaeologists, and museographers are allowed and indeed encouraged
by writerly convention to concentrate on physical form and to dwell on
minute detail.
Novelists and social theorists proceed quite differently. They do not
remove domestic furnishings from dwelling space in order to study
them, but rather produce meaning from within a physical context which
is organized as living space, not as study space. In order to make objects
in such a space ‘‘readable,’’ the ‘‘practical logic’’ by which dwelling
space is organized must be transformed into analytical paradigms. In
accomplishing this task, novelists and sociologists use similar assump-
tions to different ends, writing up their readings of interiors for incor-
poration into novelistic or sociological description. Though both novel-
ists and social theorists are expected to focus primarily on persons,
novelists must, by convention, develop a story line and a cast of charac-
The parlour of critical theory 
ters. Not only must material things acquire significance by their rela-
tionship to people, but information about them must be integrated into
a coherent narrative with a plot. Faced with such a task, it is customary
to subordinate, if not restrain, descriptions of material things. The case
of sociologists and social commentators is somewhat different, even
though many nineteenth-century novelists aspire to social analysis. As
with the novelist, the focus must be on people, on human actions,
beliefs, behavior, psychology, social organization, and the like. How-
ever, even though sociologists certainly make use of narrative tech-
niques, there is much more room for descriptive commentary than in
the novel, since the sociologist is not constrained by the need to depict
actions organized into a plot.

    :                             
To restate matters a bit differently, novelists, social commentators, and
sociologists who take an interest in material culture face the narrative
task of connecting two objects of analysis: persons and material things.
The primary figures for making connections are analogy, homology,
and reciprocal influence. This is how Balzac establishes a relationship
between dweller and dwelling in the well-known (and critically well-
worn) description of Madame Vauquer’s boarding house in Le Père
Goriot. Balzac is of course celebrated for the unity of his compositions,
which masterfully blend lengthy descriptions with narrative action,
colorful but realistic characters, and complex but orderly plots. His
descriptive portraits of important characters combine details of physiog-
nomy, clothing, and housing. Homology is a mechanism which Balzac
routinely uses to organize and unify his lengthy descriptions. The
portrait of Madame Vauquer is exemplary for the way it explicitly
situates her in a mutually determining relationship to her environment,
including her interior decor.
The opening sentence of Le Père Goriot simultaneously introduces
Madame Vauquer and her bourgeois boarding house: ‘‘Madame
Vauquer, née de Conflans, est une vieille femme qui, depuis quarante
ans, tient à Paris une pension bourgeoise établie rue Neuve-Sainte-Gen-
viève, entre le quartier latin et le faubourg Saint-Marceau’’ [‘‘Madame
Vauquer, née de Conflans, is an old woman who for forty years has kept a
bourgeois boarding house on Neuve-Sainte-Genviève street in Paris, be-
tween the Latin quarter and the Saint-Marceau area’’]. The sentence
grammatically locates the mistress in the subject position, with the
 Literature and material culture
house as the direct object. Through this positioning, the story of a
person is accorded prominence over the description of setting, though
the house is given an equal amount of attention in the sentence, based
on the number of words devoted to it. This sentence, with Madame
Vauquer as subject and her house as predicate, prefigures the organiz-
ation of the heavily descriptive pages which follow. However, the
positions of Madame Vauquer and her boarding house are momentar-
ily reversed, since the house is depicted in detail before the owner
makes her second appearance. After briefly evoking the downward
mobility of the bourgeois boarders (including old Goriot), and the
house’s dubious neighborhood (already mentioned in the first sentence),
the narrator begins his description of the rundown house from the street
(named in the first sentence), first providing the exterior view. He then
moves inside to the shabby interior of ‘‘la maison Vauquer.’’ The text
gives several samplings of the interior’s tasteless decor, detailing the
chairs, wallpaper, greasy tablecloth, and cheap bibelots. Even new,
these objects would have reflected the worst of bourgeois and even
petty-bourgeois taste. To underline their present state of decline, the
narrator provides a list of adjectives which summarize the general
condition of the pension’s furnishings: ‘‘vieux, crevassé, pourri, trem-
blant, rongé, manchot, borgne, invalide, expirant’’ [‘‘old, cracked, rot-
ten, trembling, eaten away, one-armed, one-eyed, invalid, expiring’’]
(p. ). These adjectives could also be applied to most of the pensioners,
especially the aging Madame Vauquer and old Goriot, whose sad
situations have already been mentioned in the text. The message is
becoming clear: the pensioners and their pension have both deterio-
rated into a similar state of ruin, the condition of the one mirroring that
of the other. By the time the equally dilapidated Madame Vauquer is
shown entering this decrepit space, the stage has been set. Her face,
nose, hands, and torso are said to be ‘‘en harmonie avec’’ the room,
‘‘dont madame Vauquer respire l’air chaudement fétide sans en être
écoeurée’’ [‘‘in harmony with’’ / ‘‘whose hotly fetid air Madame
Vauquer breathed without feeling nauseous’’]. Only a creature of this
noxious milieu is able to breathe here. The relationship between dwel-
ler and dwelling is reciprocal: ‘‘toute sa personne explique la pension,
comme la pension implique sa personne’’ [‘‘her entire person explained
the boarding house, just as the boarding house implied her person’’]
(ibid., my emphasis). To understand the one is to explain, even project,
the other. Furthermore, the old woman’s pale, plump body ‘‘est le
produit de cette vie, comme le typhus est la conséquence des exhala-
The parlour of critical theory 
isons d’un hôpital’’ [‘‘is the product of this life, like typhus is the
consequence of a hospital’s exhalations’’].
The innovation introduced by this kind of description is that the
similarities drawn between Madame Vauquer and the pension are not
mere analogies. What is being presented here is not simply a person
amidst a group of things, but also and more importantly a theory about
the relationship between them. The dwelling is more than a metaphori-
cal or allegorical reflection of its owner, for if the room is ‘‘en harmonie
avec’’ the physical traits of Madame Vauquer, if her tattered skirt
‘‘résume’’ the public rooms and garden, ‘‘annonce’’ the kitchen and
‘‘fait pressentir’’ the other inhabitants, this is because Madame Vauquer
‘‘est le produit de’’ her life in the pension, just as disease ‘‘est la
conséquence’’ of the bad air in hospitals. This is not so much a poetics as
a social theory, or, one could perhaps say, a social poetics: people are
products of their milieu, such that descriptors for the one entity apply to
the other. To describe a room in this way is not to reproduce ‘‘the real,’’
but rather to advance a hypothesis about the mutual construction of
persons and their built environment.
The claim that the description of the Vauquer pension is founded on
a social theory rather than simply on a poetics is hardly a revelation,
given that Balzac considers his novels to be works of social science, and
describes himself as docteur ès sciences sociales. It is well known that Balzac
models his novelistic portrayals of society on the natural sciences,
especially zoology, as he so famously explains in his preface to La Comédie
humaine, the vast cycle of novels which (among other things) is meant to
be a zoology of French society. It follows from Balzac’s reasoning based
on zoological theories that Madame Vauquer is a human type deter-
mined by her environment, just as any animal species is determined by
its habitat.
The scientifically minded individual of the nineteenth century is a
keen observer. It is thus fitting that the description of the maison
Vauquer is presented by a third-party narrator-observer who appears to
be conducting a visual examination of the house as he records its
physical characteristics for the reader who cannot see it. At the same
time, he interjects interpretations and background information, elabor-
ating and synthesizing as he notes visual data. To borrow a notion from
semiotics and visual culture studies, the narrator is ‘‘reading’’ the house.
The analogy of reading implies that the house is composed of signs.
Physical characteristics become ‘‘signifiers’’ of something else (the aging
process, a bourgeoisie in decline, social marginalization, etc.). The
 Literature and material culture
narrator’s clever ‘‘reading’’ of this interior is made easy, since the
connections he appears to be finding between dweller and dwelling are
in fact created by the text itself. The reading narrator, the object read
(the house), and the interpretation are all fabricated together, based on
the interpretive schema of homology, by which dwellers and dwelling
space coexist in a mutually influential interrelationship. Material details
are made to form a coherent system which not only mirrors the coherent
system of characters, but also mirrors and reinforces the coherence of
the entire novel.
Balzac’s interiors firmly establish a place in the novel for ordinary
domestic objects. His successors will make use of what soon becomes a
narrative convention, filling their own novels with the details of house-
hold decor. Writers like the Goncourts and Huysmans will allow ma-
terial culture to virtually take over the novel, at the expense of character
development and plot.

                 


Proust announces the end of the Balzacian-style interior. In his early
novel Jean Santeuil, written between  and , he insinuates that
because the relationship between persons and their furnishings has
changed over the past fifty years, Balzacian descriptions of interiors are
no longer possible. Proust does not give up describing interiors, how-
ever, though he must learn to do so differently.
Jean Santeuil is written in the third person from the point of view of the
eponymous hero, a young man poised on the threshold of high society,
eager to enter, but realizing that in order to do so, he must master the
unwritten codes of its mysterious rituals, rites, and hierarchies. The
situation is of course similar to that faced by the first-person narrator in A
la recherche du temps perdu, but is even more similar to that faced by Balzac’s
socially ambitious protagonists. Two of Balzac’s most famous youthful
social climbers, Rastignac and Lucien de Rubempré, are indeed invoked
by Proust’s narrator and compared to the protagonist of Jean Santeuil,
making it clear that this novel is in many ways a rewriting of Balzac’s Le
Père Goriot, Illusions perdues, and Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes.
Proust’s meditation on novelistic descriptions of interior decor forms
a part of the character portrait of Jean Santeuil’s ambitious aunt,
Madame Desroches, who, beginning from a lowly social position, man-
ages to launch one of the most fashionable salons in Paris. However, at
the moment in the recounting of her success story where Balzac would
The parlour of critical theory 
place a physical description of the salon, Proust’s already slippery nar-
rator throws out this curious disclaimer: ‘‘La description de l’hôtel
Desroches serait sans intérêt pour le lecteur’’ [‘‘The description of the
Desroches mansion would be without interest for the reader’’]. The
next three pages gesture at offering an explanation as to why. What is at
issue is the relationship between furnishings, social situation, and taste.
What the narrator appears to be describing is a breakdown of the
homologies which enabled Balzac to construct a coherent universe
through interior description.
In setting up his demonstration of the unreadability of the fin-de-siècle
interior, the narrator of Jean Santeuil first offers an analysis of how
furnishings are chosen in Balzac’s day (the s and s). By starting off
with the phrase ‘‘en un temps où’’ [‘‘at a time when’’], the implication is
that the choosing of furnishings in the present time (the s) is
somehow different. In Balzac’s time it was the selection process that
allowed household goods to take on meaning, the way furnishings
‘‘entraient peu à peu dans une maison selon que celui qui l’habitait les
trouvait utiles, les trouvait beaux ou savait que ses parents, ses collègues,
les gens de sa classe ou de sa fortune avaient l’habitude de les trouver
beaux et de les rechercher’’ [‘‘entered a house little by little, according to
whether the inhabitant found them useful or attractive, or knew that his
family or colleagues, or those of his class or income level, tended to find
them attractive and to seek them out’’]. Because things are selected in
this way, details of style mattered: ‘‘la nuance d’un rideau, la forme d’une
chaise, les ornements d’une pendule n’étaient pas choses indifférentes,
parce qu’elles semblaient choisies pour ainsi dire par une personne’’
[‘‘the nuance of a drape, the form of a chair, or the ornaments of a clock
were not inconsequential, because they seemed to have been chosen, so
to speak, by someone’’]. Although an individual selects these pieces, in
choosing a chair, for example, ‘‘le faible bras d’un homme’’ is guided by
‘‘toute une époque’’ [‘‘a man’s feeble arm’’ / ‘‘an entire epoch’’]. Such
furnishings become embedded with a web of social relations:

Assemblés autour de chaque famille, les meubles semblaient l’entourer des


instruments de ses plaisirs, des images de ses goûts, des symboles de son temps.
La maison n’était que comme un autre costume, moins étroit mais plus
durable, que moulait en quelque sorte à sa ressemblance l’âme de l’individu
avec les âmes plus vastes auxquelles elle participe. (pp. –)

[The furnishings assembled around each family seemed to surround them with
the instruments of their pleasures, the images of their tastes, and the symbols of
 Literature and material culture
their times. The house was but another suit of clothing, less tight but more
lasting, and which in a way molded to itself the individual’s soul with the vaster
souls with which it interacted.]

In this way, a piece of furniture surpasses the individual to participate in


the socio-historical. By tying characters and their possessions to social
position and historical situation, Proust has elaborated a sort of sociol-
ogy of furniture in Balzac’s time.
It can be surmised from this analysis that Balzac’s selection process
leads to a straightforward, harmonious homology between dweller(s)
and dwelling. As a result, these interiors are easily interpretable, thus
highly ‘‘readable’’:
Et un ameublement apparaissait ainsi comme une sorte d’histoire où côte à côte
l’individu, la profession, la classe avaient arrêté leur présence, fixé leur vie,
exprimé leur rêve, déposé leur mémoire. Et c’est comme sur les chartes, sur le
grimoire poudreux de l’histoire, qu’un Balzac pouvait se pencher sur un appartement
comme pour le déchiffrer et, d’après la forme des choses, ressusciter les génér-
ations des hommes. (ibid.; my emphasis)
[A piece of furniture thus appeared as a sort of story where, side by side,
individual, profession, and class had halted their presence, fixed their lives,
expressed their dreams, deposited their memories. And it is as if over charters,
over the dusty magic book of history that a Balzac could bend over an apartment as if
to decipher it and, according to the form of things, resuscitate generations of
people.]

These apartments function like texts, like a story, a legal document, or


a book written in secret code. By carefully scrutinizing the otherwise
ordinary things in a dwelling, at the beginning of the nineteenth cen-
tury it was possible to decipher the dweller’s profession, class, plea-
sures, and tastes. It is worth pausing over the last phrases of this
quotation, ‘‘d’après la forme des choses, ressusciter les générations des
hommes.’’ This is the task of the archaeologist, to reconstruct the past
from its physical remains, to piece together a narrative from material
things.
The Proustian narrator’s meditation on Balzac sets up his discussion
of the unreadability of bibelot-filled interiors half a century later. He
does qualify his remarks by limiting them to the interiors of high society,
but by beginning the paragraph with ‘‘il n’en est plus de même
aujourd’hui’’ [‘‘it is no longer so today’’], it is historical change that he
emphasizes. After all, Balzac does apply his descriptive techniques to
high society interiors as well, and shows them to be quite readable.
The parlour of critical theory 
Obviously using the Balzacian interior as a point of comparison, Proust
points out what the observer will not learn from the fin-de-siècle high-
society interior, what these women pretentiously call their ‘‘apparte-
ment artistique, qu’il soit Renaissance, Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis
XVI, Empire ou anglais.’’ Such rooms will not tell the visitor whether
their occupant is the wife of a great doctor, lawyer, banker, or lord, nor
will the visitor learn from them whether the mistress of the house is
‘‘intelligente ou bête, idéaliste ou positive, paresseuse ou active, mélan-
colique ou gaie’’ (p. ). Unlike the information-packed Balzacian
interior, this ‘‘appartement artistique’’ provides no revealing clues. The
interior has nothing to ‘‘say’’ (‘‘dire’’) to the observer, he can ‘‘learn’’
nothing from it (‘‘vous n’apprendrez pas de lui non plus si . . . ’’).
Meaning has been drained from the fashionable salon, but how?
This has to do with the way in which these women select their
furnishings. Without explicitly stating it, the narrator identifies a prob-
lem: the artistic apartment does not necessarily signal artistic taste on
the part of the owner. The dwelling does not reflect the dweller as it
ought to, according to Balzacian convention. Having just enumerated
what the high-society ‘‘appartement artistique’’ will not show the ob-
servant visitor, the narrator goes on to say that the visitor will see ‘‘de
beaux objets d’art Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI ou Empire, ou des
meubles et des tentures de Maple.’’ However, these objects do not reveal
the artistic tastes or historical interests of a woman, because ‘‘une femme
qui n’a jamais appris l’histoire, ‘travail’ son hôtel pendant deux ans au
Cabinet des Estampes, en compagnie d’artistes, ou si elle n’en connaı̂t
pas en compagnie de connaisseurs’’ [‘‘a woman who never learned
history spends two years in the +national library’s, Department of
Engravings ‘working on’ her mansion, in the company of connois-
seurs’’]. He then gives examples of women whose decor bears no
relation to her personality, background, or tastes:
Une qui n’a jamais rien lu laisse traı̂ner sur la table de sa chambre un seul livre,
La Somme royale de Turgot parce que cette chambre est Louis XVI . . . Mme S.
n’a jamais été au Louvre, parce qu’elle n’aime pas la peinture, mais, parce
qu’elle est riche, elle recherche les dessins de Watteau et la première manière de
Gustave Moreau. (p. )
[One woman who has never read a thing leaves lying around on her bedroom
table a single book, The Royal Sum by Turgot, because it is a Louis XVI room . . .
Madame S. has never been to the Louvre because she does not like painting,
but because she is rich, she seeks out Watteau drawings and Gustave Moreau’s
early manner.]
 Literature and material culture
These historic, artistic, and literary interiors are inhabited by non-
historians, by non-readers, and by non-art lovers. These objects, the
period bibelots, book, and drawings which evoke history, literature, and
art, do not indicate the tastes and interests of these rooms’ inhabitants.
The ‘‘beaux objets d’art’’ and other furnishings do not surround these
families with ‘‘des instruments de [leurs] plaisirs, des images de [leurs]
goûts, des symboles de [leur] temps,’’ as did the furnishings of Balzac’s
time, at least according to Proust. The furnishings and bibelots of the
s have become what Baudrillard might call empty signifiers, signify-
ing fashion itself.
Proust’s narrator gives an example of the kind of art work he would
find appropriate in the interiors of these wealthy, socially established,
but non-artistic women. The interior of Mme X***, a woman from a
family of Jewish or protestant bankers, should be decorated with family
portraits of the protestant or Jewish bankers from whom she descended.
Instead, Mme X*** lives in ‘‘l’hôtel de La Rochefoucauld,’’ which is to
say a mansion which once belonged to an aristocratic Catholic writer,
and displays in her bedroom the portrait of another aristocratic Catholic
writer, Mme de Lafayette (pp. –). Her identity markers (Jewish or
Protestant, bourgeoisie, family of bankers) do not match the identity
markers deployed in her decor (Catholic, aristocracy, writers). It could
be surmised from Proust’s discussion that even though this woman was
not born into these circles, her acquisition of La Rochefoucauld’s house
and Mme de Lafayette’s portrait might be appropriate if she were a
lover and connoisseur of art, whether of painting or of literature.
However, she can claim these decorative markers neither by birth, nor
by artistic inclination. It can be further surmised that, in Balzac’s time, if
Mme X*** had furnished her home with paintings, she would have
chosen family portraits, and that these family portraits would have
revealed much more about her than does the portrait of Mme de
Lafayette. The problem posed in Proust’s text turns what might now be
read as a problem of identity into a problem of reading.
This problem of readability provides Proust with much narrative
fodder for A la recherche du temps perdu. If we accept Deleuze’s thesis that
A la recherche recounts the narrator’s apprenticeship in reading and
deciphering signs, then domestic objects can be understood as obtuse
signs which at first mystify Marcel (the name by which many commen-
tators designate the narrator), but whose mysteries he eventually learns
to penetrate. What Marcel expects to ‘‘read’’ in domestic objects is a
correlation between taste and social standing. For example, before he
The parlour of critical theory 
gains entry into the prestigious salons of the Faubourg Saint-Germain
(the social sphere of the aristocratic Guermantes family), Marcel ex-
hibits confusion when a person’s artistic taste does not seem to equal
their social standing. He discovers through informants and by a
glimpse through a window of her hôtel that the pinnacle of aristocratic
high society, Madame de Guermantes herself, lives amidst rather ba-
nal bourgeois furnishings. He had imagined the magic world of the
Faubourg to be completely different than the world of his own ordi-
nary bourgeois experiences. The young Marcel had anticipated that
bourgeois furnishings were limited to bourgeois homes, and that aris-
tocratic homes would be furnished with marvelously aristocratic
things, even though he could not yet have conceptualized what these
furnishings might be. During the course of his apprenticeship in the
reading of signs, Marcel gradually learns that the bourgeoisie is often
much more educated, and usually much more attentive to matters of
taste, than the aristocracy. It turns out to be the bourgeois characters
Swann and Madame Verdurin who consistently manifest superior
taste in A la recherche, and not the prince, princess, duke, and duchess of
Guermantes.
An exception to the mediocre taste and artistic education of the
Guermantes family is Charlus. In La Prisonnière, it is suggested that his
profound appreciation of art is linked to his homosexuality. Further-
more, it is only the most debased homosexuality ‘‘à laquelle puisse
correspondre chez le même être un affinement des qualités morales’’
[‘‘that corresponds in one and the same person to an intensification of
the intellectual qualities’’]. Strangely enough, the ‘‘rapport’’ between
the physical and the moral explains why ‘‘l’univers des poètes et de
musiciens, si fermé au duc de Guermantes, s’entr’ouvre pour M. de
Charlus’’ [‘‘the world of poets and musicians, so firmly barred against
the Duc de Guermantes, opens its portals to M. de Charlus’’]. Proust
insists on Charlus’s initiation into the highest artistic realms, not just on
the matters of decorative taste stereotypically associated with homosex-
uals: ‘‘Que ce dernier ait du goût dans son intérieur, qui est d’une
ménagère bibeloteuse, cela ne surprend pas; mais l’étroite brèche qui
donne jour sur Beethoven et sur Véronèse!’’ [‘‘That the latter should
show taste in the furnishing of his home, which is that of a housewife
with a taste for curios, need not surprise us; but the narrow loophole that
opens upon Beethoven and Veronese!’’]. Refined artistic sensibilities
correspond to depraved physical sensibilities. The relation between the
physical and the spiritual is inverse, but still proportional. Homologies
 Literature and material culture
between interior decor, behavior, and taste are convoluted in Proust,
but they are not abandoned.
What Marcel eventually discovers, then, is that correlations between
social standing and taste are tenuous, but that there are connections
nonetheless. The homology between dweller and dwelling proves to be
less readily apparent in Proust’s novelistic world than in Balzac’s, but
the connection between material possessions and social class is not
altogether without logic. For example, certain characters, especially
Madame Verdurin and Odette, show a high degree of awareness of the
sign-function of furnishings, deliberately and strategically choosing and
displaying items that they believe to be ‘‘artistique’’ or ‘‘chic’’ (respec-
tively). The commentary of Proust’s narrator reveals that these two
characters deploy household things as signs, only to have other charac-
ters misunderstand their meanings, or reinterpret them contrary to the
owner’s intentions. In the case of Odette, Swann sees through her naive
and even false notion of ‘‘chic,’’ because he understands the mondain
world of furnishings-as-signs better than she. He thus interprets Odette’s
furnishings contrary to her intentions, understanding them as the trap-
pings of a typical, uneducated courtesan. Conversely, Madame Ver-
durin’s taste is shown to be far superior to that of her social superior,
Madame de Cambremer: the former collects antiques and art objects
which the latter misunderstands, preferring her own bourgeois decor.
Madame Verdurin understands the ‘‘cultural capital’’ of artistic taste,
effectively using it to proclaim her ‘‘distinction.’’ These signs are lost on
Madame de Cambremer.
This is an opportune place to open a parenthesis on Bourdieu, for the
applicability of his phrases ‘‘cultural capital’’ and ‘‘distinction’’ to Proust
is hardly fortuitous. In Distinction Bourdieu cites Proust several times,
turning to literature to corroborate his own sociological theory of the
social function of aesthetically informed taste. Proust’s ‘‘aesthetics’’ is
given precedence over that of Kant, for reasons which are explained in a
‘‘Postscript’’ which is subtitled ‘‘Towards a ‘Vulgar’ Critique of ‘Pure’
Critiques.’’ Proust is accorded a privileged relation to ‘‘truth’’ because
he is associated with ‘‘practice,’’ whereas Kant is associated with ‘‘the-
ory.’’ Bourdieu accords literature more truth-value than Enlighten-
ment reason. His analysis of the workings of the judgments of taste does
share some fundamental principles with the analysis of taste which
gradually unfolds in the volumes of A la recherche du temps perdu. It could be
said that, like Proust’s Marcel, the narrator of Bourdieu’s Distinction has
undergone a similar apprenticeship in reading signs, and has also
The parlour of critical theory 
worked through the complexities of the relationship between taste and
social position. Throughout the case studies and interviews presented in
Distinction, Bourdieu describes strategic uses of taste similar to those
employed by Odette and Madame Verdurin, as well as similar misun-
derstandings of the taste of others.
It would seem, then, that although Proust’s use of furniture does not
directly reflect social structure, as was the case with the interior of
Balzac’s Madame Vauquer, A la recherche does follow the logic of homol-
ogy, insofar as the incongruence between social standing and taste is
‘‘read’’ in furnishings. Clever readers like Proust and Bourdieu can
properly interpret even the modern incommensurabilities between
dweller and dwelling.

   :                  -          
There are interesting parallels between the analysis of domestic furnish-
ings in Balzac’s and Proust’s novels, and that found in Max Nordau’s
famous work of social commentary, Degeneration, first published in ,
the same decade as Jean Santeuil. Like Proust, Nordau detects a change in
the relationship between dwellers and their dwellings.
Nordau was both a literary and social critic, as well as a trained
physician. He left Hungary for Germany, then settled in Paris where he
lived for most of his life. I cite his widely read and translated Degeneration
() because in it he makes use of the dweller/dwelling homology to
tie the bibelot-filled interior not only to literary and artistic movements,
but also to social and psychological transformations. Nordau ‘‘reads’’
the bourgeois interior as symptomatic of the individuals and the society
of his time. The notion of symptom is taken literally here, since Nordau
is using medical discourse to diagnose ‘‘degeneration,’’ a mental and
moral disease. Degeneration is written from the point of view of a liberal
who believes in science, progress, and (middle-class) morality. Though
politically liberal, Nordau’s aesthetics are quite conservative. His posi-
tivist Darwinian notion of progress grounded in science pitted him
against those who proclaimed that art should be free from utilitarian
and moralistic concerns.
Though Nordau seeks and finds symptoms of ‘‘degeneration’’
throughout Europe, he claims that it is especially prevalent in France.
The French words ‘‘decadence’’ and ‘‘fin-de-siècle’’ are for him practi-
cally synonyms of ‘‘degeneration.’’ He writes: ‘‘Fin-de-siècle is French, for
it was in France that the mental state so entitled was first consciously
 Literature and material culture
realized.’’ The term ‘‘mental state’’ already implies the search for a
pathology. The common feature of the various manifestations of this
mentality is ‘‘a contempt for traditional views of custom and morality’’
(p. ). Nordau senses ‘‘the end of an established order,’’ the immanent
decline of the current epoch of history, which is signaled by the attacks
on order and rational logic waged in the arts by symbolists and aes-
thetes. ‘‘All certainty is destroyed’’; ‘‘forms lose their outlines’’; ‘‘moral
sea-sickness’’ spreads. Though ‘‘the great majority of the middle and
lower classes is naturally not fin-de-siècle,’’ the fin-de-siècle minority of
‘‘rich educated people or fanatics’’ exerts a disproportionate amount of
influence, and thus presents a real danger, warns Nordau.
Such views allow for no sympathy toward the bibelot, whose preva-
lence throughout Europe is indicative of mental and moral degener-
ation. Of the ‘‘furniture and bric-à-brac’’ of the ‘‘fin-de-siècle’’ dwell-
ing, here is a sample of what Nordau has to say:

Here are at once stage properties and lumber-rooms, rag-shops and museums
. . . On all the tables and in all the cabinets is a display of antiquities or articles of
vertù, big or small, and for the most part warranted not genuine; a plate beside
a long-necked Persian waterpot of brass, a bonbonnière between a breviary bound
in carved ivory, and snuffers of chiselled copper. (p. )
Nordau describes the same bibelot-filled interiors as the other authors
cited throughout this book. However, whereas the Goncourts, Huys-
mans, and company aestheticize the always passionate, sometimes per-
verse and neurotic, relationship between the collector and his surround-
ings, Nordau denounces it as confusion:

Everything in these houses aims at exciting the nerves and dazzling the senses.
The disconnected and antithetical effects in all arrangements, the constant
contradiction between form and purpose, the outlandishness of most objects, is
intended to be bewildering. There must be no sentiment of repose, such as is
felt at any composition, the plan of which is easily taken in, nor of the comfort
attending a prompt comprehension of all the details of one’s environment. He
who enters here must not doze, but be thrilled . . . All is discrepant, indiscrimi-
nate jumble. The unity of abiding by one definite historic style counts as
old-fashioned, provincial, Philistine, and the time has not yet produced a style
of its own. (p. )
The qualities presented by the bibelot-filled interior defy classical no-
tions of rational order: ‘‘disconnected,’’ ‘‘antithetical,’’ ‘‘outlandish-
ness,’’ ‘‘bewildering,’’ ‘‘discrepant,’’ ‘‘indiscriminate jumble.’’ ‘‘Unity’’
is perceptively recognized as an outmoded value. Again, the implication
The parlour of critical theory 
is that persons and their environment are not only mutually reflective,
but also mutually constitutive: the confusion of styles not only mirrors
mental confusion, but also amplifies this confusion by ‘‘exciting the
nerves and dazzling the senses.’’ A tale of transformation can be detec-
ted by ‘‘reading between the lines’’ of this description: if the ‘‘indiscrimi-
nate jumble’’ of fin-de-siècle decor creates a sentiment of bewilderment,
then it follows that traditional (early nineteenth-century) decor creates a
‘‘sentiment of repose’’ through its easily comprehended ‘‘composition.’’
The homology between persons and things is so strongly established
that social and psychological changes produce decorative changes, and,
though perhaps to a more limited degree, vice versa, decorative changes
produce social and psychological changes.
Nordau draws on medical discourse to diagnose the collecting of
bibelots as symptomatic of a mental disorder:
The present rage for collecting, the piling up, in dwellings, of aimless bric-à-
brac, which does not becomes any more useful or beautiful by being fondly
called bibelots, appear to us in a completely new light when we know that
Magnan has established the existence of an irresistible desire among the
degenerate to accumulate useless trifles. (p. )
It is not the diagnosis that interests me, but rather the gesture of reading
degeneration into the subversion of the rational order associated with
traditional home decor. Nordau makes the assumption that the orderly
or disorderly arrangement of furnishings reflects and even contributes to
mental and moral order or disorder, respectively.

   :                         -  -   ̀     
I now turn to a fin-de-siècle sociologist’s discussion of bibelot-filled
interiors, Georg Simmel’s lengthy commentary on domestic goods in
The Philosophy of Money, published in , roughly contemporaneous
with the above-cited texts of Proust and Nordau. Like Proust and
Nordau, Simmel too tells a tale of historical transformation, in analyzing
the changing relationship between people and their household things.
Though there are certainly important differences between French and
German patterns of domestic consumption, as cultural historians like
Whitney Walton amply demonstrate, the taste for eclectic, cluttered
interiors is common throughout Europe during the s. That the
relevance of Simmel’s cultural analysis exceeds the national boundaries
of Germany is evidenced by the many translations of this book. His
 Literature and material culture
commentary on interior decor is relevant to this chapter because it is
sociological in perspective, and much more lucidly articulated than, for
example, Walter Benjamin’s impressionistic reflections on the Louis-
Philippe interior, which might have been a more obvious choice. Above
all, Simmel’s commentary posits structural homologies between dwel-
lers and dwellings in theoretically sophisticated ways.
In the final chapter of The Philosophy of Money, Simmel uses the
Hegelian subject/object dialectic to analyze profound cultural changes
which take place over a one hundred-year period, from the end of the
eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth. This chapter, called
‘‘The Style of Life,’’ includes a discussion of ordinary household furnish-
ings and other products of material culture. Furnishings and consumer
goods are used to illustrate the process that Simmel calls the ‘‘objectifi-
cation of culture,’’ which occurs as money comes to dominate social
relations. The result is a ‘‘growing estrangement’’ between (human)
subjects and (material) objects.
‘‘The divergence of subjective and objective culture’’ occurs on many
levels, and can be seen for example in the results of the division of labor
which comes about with industrialization. As material things are pro-
duced and consumed in ever greater quantity, producing and consum-
ing subjects alike become distanced from them, rendering relationships
between persons and things increasingly impersonal. At first, ‘‘Custom
work, which predominated among medieval craftsman and which
rapidly declined only during the last century, gave the consumer a
personal relationship with the commodity.’’ Later, when consumers no
longer buy goods directly from craftsmen, the personal relationship
between persons and goods deteriorates, as ‘‘exchange relations become
increasingly complicated and mediated.’’ Finally, factory production
separates the worker from the end product through specialization.
(Human) subjects become separated from (material) objects, though
paradoxically while confronting them in abundance.
The relationship between people and their home furnishings also
grows more distant during this time: ‘‘During the first decades of the
nineteenth century, furniture and the objects that surrounded us for use
and pleasure were of relative simplicity and durability and were in
accord with the needs of the lower as well as of the upper strata’’ (p. ).
The phrase ‘‘in accord with’’ echoes Proust’s characterization of the
Balzacian interior. Simmel next points out a generational difference in
the relationship between persons and their furnishings: ‘‘This resulted in
people’s attachment as they grew up to the objects of their surroundings,
The parlour of critical theory 
an attachment that already appears to the younger generation today as
an eccentricity on the part of their grandparents’’ (pp. –). Detach-
ment is associated with the ‘‘younger generation’’ of the s, while
attachment is associated with their early nineteenth-century grand-
parents. This growing detachment (alienation, in the language of Marx
and Lukács) is the tale of historical transformation that Simmel tells
through his ‘‘readings’’ of domestic interiors.
The comfortable attachment of subjects to objects still prevalent in
the early nineteenth century erodes as a result of several factors, notably
abundance, specialization, differentiation, and commodification. By the
s, the ‘‘sheer quantity’’ of specialized objects ‘‘makes a close and, as
it were, personal relationship to each of them more difficult.’’ People
were closer to objects in earlier times, because ‘‘a few and simple utensils
are more easily assimilated by the individual.’’ Later, ‘‘an abundance of
different kinds almost form an antagonistic object to the individual self’’
(p. ). Now there are too many different kinds of things to cope with.
Further contributing to the sense of detachment are the alienating
effects of the money economy. ‘‘What is distressing is that we are
basically indifferent to those numerous objects that swarm around us,
and this is for reasons specific to a money economy: their impersonal
origin and easy replaceability’’ (ibid.). I understand ‘‘impersonal origin’’
to mean that objects are produced by persons unknown to the consum-
ing subject. Their ‘‘easy replaceability’’ would seem to refer to their
being made equivalent through the abstract medium of money.
Simmel next describes the modern configuration of the world of
objects as ‘‘an interconnected enclosed world that has increasingly fewer
points at which the subjective soul can interpose its will and feelings’’
(ibid.). In other words, the subject/object relationship begins to give way
to object/object relationships which seem to exclude the subject. The
subject confronts a world of material objects which he/she experiences
as separated from the self.
Finally, objects become separated from people by their mobility.
Simmel observes that new types of transportation make the commodity
more mobile than ever, moving it without its being accompanied by its
merchant. ‘‘By their independent, impersonal mobility, objects com-
plete the final stage of their separation from people,’’ he concludes
(ibid.). Mobility is what in the end lies behind the eclecticism of fin-de-
siècle home furnishings. Also attributed to mobility is the prevailing
taste for decorative historicism: ‘‘The historicizing preference of our
century . . . is only the internal aspect of the general development of its
 Literature and material culture
adaptability and its wide-ranging mobility. This is the root of the bewil-
dering plurality of styles that are absorbed, presented and appreciated by
our culture’’ (p. ; my emphasis). The juxtaposition of historic and
exotic furnishings in home decor is but one aspect of ‘‘the bewildering
plurality of styles’’ which proliferate in many sectors of culture at this
time, ‘‘from the construction of buildings to the format of books, from
sculptures to gardens and furniture with their juxtaposition of Renais-
sance and Japanese styles, Baroque and empire, the style of the Pre-
Raphaelites and realistic functionalism’’ (p. ). This ‘‘multitude of
styles’’ results from ‘‘the enlargement of our historical knowledge, which
in turn is associated with modern man’s penchant for change mentioned
earlier’’ (ibid.).
Simmel then ties the plurality of styles to the process of detachment,
which he ascribes to the objectification of culture. The very possibilities
of choice presented by this barrage of styles leads to the further degrada-
tion of the subject/object bond. I have highlighted the terms which refer
to the ever widening subject/object separation:

Only where a variety of given styles exists will one detach itself from its content so
that its independence and specific significance gives us the freedom to choose
between the one or the other. Through the differentiation of styles each individual
style, and thus style in general, becomes something objective whose validity is
independent of human subjects and their interests, activities, approval or disap-
proval. The fact that the entire visible environment of our cultural life has
disintegrated into a plurality of styles dissolves that original relationship to style where
subject and object are not yet separated. (p. ; my emphasis)

The multiplication of objects in daily life, then, both reflects and


contributes to the alienating separation of subjects from material ob-
jects. The eclectic decor of the fin-de-siècle living room is the product of
fin-de-siècle culture. However, the ‘‘plurality of styles’’ is not merely the
effect of modern society’s adaptability and mobility, the ‘‘multitude of
styles’’ confronting subjects also contributes to objectification by dissolv-
ing ‘‘that original relationship to style’’ by which subjects and objects
were still attached.
To summarize the commonalities among Proust’s, Nordau’s, and
Simmel’s accounts of the nineteenth-century interior, it could be said
that all three writers tell stories of ‘‘then’’ and ‘‘now,’’ ‘‘then’’ being the
early nineteenth century, the time of Balzac, ‘‘now’’ being the last
decade of the nineteenth century. ‘‘Then’’ household interiors were
intimately and harmoniously interconnected with the lives, mentalities,
The parlour of critical theory 
family, and social milieu of their inhabitants, because furnishings were
appropriate to the inhabitants’ tastes (Proust), because the orderly
arrangement of furnishings reflected mental and moral order (Nordau),
because the inhabiting subjects felt an affective attachment to their
furnishings (Simmel). Consequently, ‘‘then’’ the arrangement of in-
teriors was homologous to the mental and social structures of inhabi-
tants in a straightforward, direct way, such that clues about the moral
character and social situation of the inhabitants could be ‘‘read’’ by
carefully examining the interior’s furnishings. By the s, the ‘‘now’’
of the stories of Proust, Nordau, and Simmel, all of this has changed.
The bibelot-filled, aestheticized interiors popular in the s ‘‘now’’
are confused and confusing. Many are decorated with art work which
the inhabitants neither understand nor appreciate (Proust). They are
piled with a jumble of heterogenous eccentricities that only a deranged
mind would assemble (Nordau). These interiors represent not only the
alienated and alienating, objectified, material world of industrial capi-
talism, they also represent, through the historicizing styles they bring
together, an expansion of knowledge intellectually inassimilable by any
one subject (Simmel). Even in the s, after the transformations in
question, the relationship between dweller and dwelling is still
homologous, since for each of these writers, changes in the household
interior coincide with changes in mentalities and social life. What is less
clear is how ‘‘readable’’ these new interiors may be, especially for Proust
and Simmel, who hypothesize that inhabitants have become discon-
nected from their furnishings. Balzac, for example, was able to extract
information from furnishings because their owners were attached to
them in a way which has been lost, at least according to these writers.

     :                    

What has been the fate of the nineteenth-century interior during the
present century? In order to analyze the mid-twentieth-century house-
hold interior, Jean Baudrillard found it necessary to define its prede-
cessor. In The System of Objects, he sketches out a prototype ‘‘traditional
interior’’ easily recognizable to readers of nineteenth-century novels as
the typically realist dwelling. For this reason, Baudrillard’s remarks are
pertinent to the topic of the literary interior in general, and the bibelot in
particular. Like Proust, Nordau, and Simmel, Baudrillard also tells a
‘‘then’’/‘‘now’’ story involving the household interior, which is shown to
 Literature and material culture
be homologous with the mental, familial, and social structures of its
inhabitants, such that changes in any one of these structures are mir-
rored by similar changes in the other structures. Baudrillard’s periods,
though, are located further down the time line, ‘‘then’’ being the
nineteenth century, ‘‘now’’ being the mid-twentieth.
‘‘Everything began with objects,’’ declares Jean Baudrillard in a
retrospective reflection on his own work. The objects with which
‘‘everything began’’ are located in the nineteenth-century interior: the
first chapter of his first book, The System of Objects (Le Système des objets,
), begins with a lengthy description of ‘‘The Traditional Environ-
ment.’’ What Baudrillard describes under this rubric is the stereotyped
image of the ideal bourgeois family dwelling, the conditions of possibil-
ity for which come into being with the economic growth, technological
improvements, and ideological constructs coterminous with the indus-
trial and consumer revolutions. For Baudrillard this type of interior, his
‘‘then,’’ no longer exists in its original form in his ‘‘now,’’ the s.
Because all of his subsequent theories of consumer society, free-floating
signifiers, simulacra, and seduction originate in this first book, which
begins with the bourgeois dwelling, it could be said that the nineteenth-
century interior is the parlour of Baudrillard’s critical theory.
The ‘‘traditional environment’’ described in The System of Objects
strangely resembles Balzac’s maison Vauquer, and Proust’s Balzacian
interior. The affinities between Baudrillard’s theories and literature are
perhaps explained by his intellectual debt to Roland Barthes. Here are
some of the key sentences which introduce Baudrillard’s bourgeois
family house. I have italicized the rhetorical indicators of homology:
The arrangement of furniture offers a faithful image of the familial and social
structures of a period. The typical bourgeois interior is patriarchal . . . The
emphasis is on unifunctionality, immovability, imposing presence and hier-
archical labelling. Each room has a strictly defined role corresponding to one or
another of the various functions of the family unit, and each ultimately refers to a
view which conceives of the individual as a balanced assemblage of distinct
faculties. The pieces of furniture confront one another, jostle one another, and
implicate one another in a unity that is not so much spatial as moral in character.
They are ranged about an axis which ensures a regular chronology of actions;
thanks to this permanent symbolization, the family is always present to itself.
For Baudrillard, what characterizes the traditional household is that the
structure of its furnishings and the layout of its rooms reflect and
reinforce the structures of the patriarchal family, as well as the social
structures of bourgeois society, also patriarchal of course. The dweller/
The parlour of critical theory 
dwelling homologies so starkly presented here are certainly symp-
tomatic of the prevailing winds of structuralism in s France, but the
similarity to Balzac is certainly not to be overlooked. The dwelling
structure described here corresponds to a nineteenth-century concept of
the family house, since before this time, what he calls the ‘‘typical
bourgeois interior’’ did not have separate rooms with strictly defined
uses; indeed, such arrangements were not common in aristocratic dwell-
ings until the eighteenth century. The language that Baudrillard
chooses for characterizing this environment projects what is now com-
monly recognized as the totalizing, hierarchizing, essentializing theo-
retical constructs which will be deconstructed by so-called postmodern-
ist criticism: ‘‘unifunctionality,’’ ‘‘immovability,’’ ‘‘hierarchical labell-
ing,’’ ‘‘strictly defined role,’’ ‘‘unit,’’ ‘‘balanced assemblage,’’ ‘‘unity,’’
‘‘permanent symbolization.’’ By insisting on this group of adjectives, he
sets up the reversal that he will identify later in the chapter.
As if the point that the ‘‘traditional’’ family space faithfully mimes
‘‘traditional’’ family structures may not be clear, Baudrillard drives
home the point in a second paragraph. He chooses the most system-
atic, unified, totalizing image available to him, the biological organism.
The traditional environment ‘‘constitutes an organism whose structure
is the patriarchal relationship founded on tradition and authority.’’
The ‘‘heart’’ of this organicized household ‘‘is the complex affective
relationship that binds all the family members together.’’ The family
home actually functions like an organism: ‘‘the primary function of
furniture and objects here is to personify human relationships . . . and to
be inhabited by a soul.’’ The model of organic unity is the very model
which Balzac and Zola use for their novelistic portrayals of society, in
comparing humans to animals, insisting that humans and animals are
organized in the same way, both individually and socially. Baudrillard
reinforces the notion of the personification of inanimate things by
evoking anthropomorphism of the ‘‘primitive’’ sort, writing that ‘‘In
their anthropomorphism the objects that furnish [the traditional in-
terior] become household gods, spatial incarnations of the emotional
bonds and the permanence of the family group’’ (p. ). The spatial
incarnates the emotional. Household objects turn into deities. The
family thus inscribes itself into the things around it. It is because
furnishings function anthropomorphically that they can be endowed
with meaning. They function as symbols because they embody the
family. The referent of these symbols is ultimately the dweller and his
social relations.
 Literature and material culture
Baudrillard describes, analyzes, and interprets this ‘‘traditional’’ re-
gime of meaningful domestic goods only in order to declare that it no
longer exists. This is a typically Baudrillardian move: twenty years later
he declares that the ‘‘system of objects’’ no longer exists. The identifi-
cation of rupture is, after all, the basis of theories of modernity and
postmodernity, since to be ‘‘modern’’ something has to be different than
it was before. To evoke the notion of the modern is to tell a ‘‘then’’/
‘‘now’’ story.
Localizing a modernizing rupture in the transmutations of the bour-
geois interior, Baudrillard posits that by the mid-twentieth century,
furnishings are no longer anthropomorphic, nor are they sacred. How-
ever, traditional furniture itself does not disappear, but returns in a
desacralized form, that of nostalgia. A ‘‘modern generation’’ casts aside
the ‘‘household gods’’ of its grandparents. However, ‘‘on occasion,’’ the
castoffs are ‘‘reinstated . . . in an up-to-date nostalgia for whatever is
old.’’ This furniture then ‘‘passes from a naı̈ve utility into a cultural
baroque.’’ Such traditional furniture is popular ‘‘because it embodies
the official certainties of the group and enjoys the sanction of the
bourgeoisie,’’ and, furthermore, echoes ‘‘the persistence of traditional
family structures across broad social strata of modern society’’ (p. ).
The important aspects of the transformation here described are sys-
temic, conceptual, and semiotic. It is not simply the emergence of new
designs or new decorating schema that changes the interior, but rather
the way the mid-twentieth-century inhabitants interact with their in-
teriors. Furthermore, even in the late s, traditional furnishings are
still manufactured, are still purchased, and are often still arranged in
traditional ways. However, these furnishings are no longer sacralized
incarnations of family and social structures. Instead, they take on the
function of symbolizing the persistence of traditional structures. Domestic
objects are no longer gods, but quaint revivals. They no longer repro-
duce family structure, but merely mark loss.
What is eradicated with furniture’s passing from a (nineteenth-cen-
tury) ‘‘naı̈ve utility’’ to a (twentieth-century) ‘‘cultural baroque’’ is the
principle of organic unity. With the traditional interior arrangement,
the ‘‘then’’ of the then/now rupture, the house was the double of the
body, ‘‘the symbolic equivalent of the human body.’’ The body’s ‘‘po-
tent organic schema is later generalized into an ideal design for the
integration of social structures’’ (p. ). House, body, and society are
structured homologously. ‘‘Then,’’ the organizational structure of the
home interior was based on the organic principles by which the human
The parlour of critical theory 
body generated or engendered the house as body, as well as the social as
body.
‘‘Now,’’ after the rupture, organic structure is being replaced by the
functionality of technocratic, communicational, systemic principles.
The ‘‘basic ordering principle’’ of the nineteenth-century system of
objects was ‘‘Nature.’’ Conversely, ‘‘what we glimpse today in modern
times is the coming end of this order of Nature; what is appearing on
the horizon . . . is a qualitatively new kind of relationship, a new kind of
objective responsibility’’ (p. ). ‘‘Our old pieces of furniture remained
concrete symbols’’ of ‘‘the very idea of genesis.’’ Today’s world is not
reproduced organically, but ‘‘constructed’’ (ibid.). The new world op-
erates not according to organic principles, but rather according to
‘‘practical computation and conceptualization on the basis of total
abstraction’’ (ibid.). In these sentences, the ‘‘then’’ and the ‘‘now’’ are
organized into a series of opposed images and metaphors. ‘‘Then,’’ the
‘‘order of nature’’ predominated, providing organizational, conceptual,
and even experiential schemas based on the organic notions of ‘‘gen-
esis,’’ ‘‘origins,’’ and ‘‘essences,’’ of a world perceived as ‘‘given.’’ In
contrast, ‘‘now,’’ ‘‘in modern times,’’ the order of technology domi-
nates, replacing the old nature-based schemas with inorganic schemas.
The world is not ‘‘given,’’ but made. It is no longer engendered, but
constructed. As nature gives way to technology, genesis gives way to
production.
For Baudrillard, it is the whole structure of meaning production that
is put in jeopardy at this moment of rupture, in the passing from nature
to technology, from a regime of anthropomorphic interior decor to a
regime of functional interior decor. The house and its furnishings can
no longer function as an organic entity because the very regime of
meaning which it is meant to symbolize – ‘‘origins, received meanings
and ‘essences’’’ – has collapsed. Because the house is no longer
grounded in the body, there is no longer a basis for the personification,
anthropomorphism, and sacralization of furnishings. The nineteenth-
century structure of meaning, affect, and identity formation has been
replaced by a twentieth-century system of functionality, organization,
and technical control. The dweller is no longer a creator of relics and
idols, of graven images. Rather, in the modern, functional home he is a
technocrat, ‘‘an active engineer of atmosphere’’ (p. ).
The structure of meaning has been eradicated, not the traditional
home furnishings themselves, insists Baudrillard again in the central
part of The System of Objects, in two sections entitled ‘‘Marginal Objects:
 Literature and material culture
Antiques’’ and ‘‘A Marginal System: Collecting.’’ Antiques and collec-
tibles incorporate the modern ‘‘system of objects’’ as markers of origins,
as reminiscences of the earlier, organic regime of meaning. ‘‘Unique,
baroque, folkloric, exotic and antique objects’’ do not ‘‘fall outside’’ the
mid-twentieth-century interior decorative principle of ‘‘functional cal-
culation’’ (p. ). These are not to be understood as ‘‘survivals from the
traditional, symbolic order,’’ but rather as signifiers of ‘‘historicalness,’’
or ‘‘marginality,’’ or ‘‘exoticism,’’ or ‘‘naturalness’’ (p. ). In the twenti-
eth-century interior, ‘‘the antique object presents itself as a myth of
origins’’ (p. ).
For Baudrillard, the twentieth-century interior does in a sense remain
‘‘readable,’’ despite the (hypothesized) collapse of the ‘‘traditional’’
organic structure of meaning. It is not symbolism, however, that one
‘‘reads’’ in the new interiors, but rather the communicational strategies
of technological society, along with the new mental structures of the
technological dweller. This new bourgeois dweller is at once engineer
and modern consumer, for modern advertising targets the new strategic
approach to interior design (p. ). One must ‘‘read’’ functionality,
system, and code in the modern interior, not symbols whose referential-
ity was established based on a relationship of organic analogy to the
body of the individual dweller. Anthropomorphism is eradicated by the
abstraction of system.
The readings of household interiors presented thus far collectively
express an intimate relationship between persons and things as a char-
acteristic of the nineteenth-century interior. Those writing in the last
decade of the nineteenth century, Proust, Nordau, and Simmel, along
with Baudrillard writing seventy years later, convey a sense of loss in
recounting stories of rupture with this time when dwellers experienced
an intimate, affective relationship to their furnishings. Given the prevail-
ing stereotype of the perverse overattachment of late nineteenth-century
dwellers to their bibelot-filled interiors, the sentiment of loss detectable
in these tales of transformation is perhaps surprising. This is the paradox
of modern material culture: too much distance between persons and
things results in alienation, whereas too much closeness results in
fetishism. To clarify at the risk of oversimplification, the collector acts
out of passion and is fetishistically overattached, whereas the consumer
acts out of compulsion and remains unnaturally detached. However,
collectors survive to this day, while consumers already existed during
the nineteenth century.
The parlour of critical theory 

      


Thus far, we have seen interiors which were rendered readable for two
purposes, narrative and sociological. Interpretive descriptions of house-
hold goods serve as a novelistic device, and as a tool for sociological
analysis. There is a third purpose for which domestic goods are com-
monly rendered readable, and this is marketing. Advertisers warn that
since furnishings reveal information about their owners, they must be
chosen with extreme care. Baudrillard’s moralistic interpretation of the
arrangement of ‘‘traditional’’ domestic space echoes the writings of
many late nineteenth-century newspaper and magazine articles extol-
ling the virtues of domesticity, texts which in turn echo and are echoed
by the advertisements of the same period. The epistemology that ren-
ders the household interior ‘‘readable’’ serves not only to increase
knowledge production, but also to increase consumption.
A number of cultural histories have reconstructed the inscription of
bourgeois values into taste in home furnishings, by close readings of
home decorating advice by tastemakers, decorative arts professionals,
and advertisers. One such study cites a particularly cogent expression of
this discourse on the moral dimensions of dwelling space, a discourse
which was developed during the second half of the nineteenth century.
In her homemaking manual, published in Paris in , Mme Hen-
nequin writes, ‘‘It is in the home, if one is careful to make it what it ought
to be, . . . that family bonds will be tied.’’ In other words, the home
supports the tying of family bonds, but only if it is properly organized
and managed, only ‘‘if one is careful to make it what it ought to be.’’ She
adds that ‘‘The influence of the home is immense, and more far-
reaching than one can say.’’ In these two sentences, agency subtly
shifts back and forth between persons and things: persons (the implied
reader, the recipient of this advice) make the home what it is, but the
home in turn has far-reaching effects on what people are. The relation-
ship between dweller and dwelling is reciprocal.
The architectural critic Viollet-le-Duc, writing in , repeats and
anticipates many nineteenth-century writers in positing what amounts
to the readability of the interior. The state of an entire civilization can be
‘‘read’’ from dwelling space. ‘‘Les goûts, les habitudes, les moeurs de
l’homme se trahissent dans la maison qu’il se fait et où il demeure avec
sa famille’’ [‘‘Man’s tastes, habits, and customs reveal themselves in the
house he builds for himself and where he lives with his family’’].
Dwellers leave behind readable traces in their dwellings.
 Literature and material culture
The notion that a house’s furnishings reveal information about those
who choose them is exploited for marketing purposes. By convincing
consumers that they are represented by their possessions, advertisers
hope to convince them to buy more and better possessions. Leora
Auslander cites this late nineteenth-century department store advertise-
ment:

The wife’s task is to create an agreeable interior. There her personality can
express itself in all of the details that make up the home. Her tastes and her
character will be so clearly reflected there, that without even knowing her, a
visitor with some skills at observation could represent to himself the mistress of
the house as she really is, ‘‘careful and flirtatious, attentive and artistic,’’ all of
these qualities will emerge in the furniture and the things . . . Of course, all the
faults of laziness, of lack of taste, of inattention will also leave their mark.

Auslander and other cultural historians have noted that the task of
organizing and properly encoding the interior tends to fall to the wife
and mother. The self-image of the entire family depends on the taste
and choices of the mother. The home is the site of self-expression, to the
extent that the personality is reflected there. Any fault in furnishings
risks being ‘‘read’’ unfavorably by observant visitors.
Baudrillard’s strategy of reading dwelling space in terms of homolo-
gies between decorative arrangements and social structures follows
reading practices well established in literature, social commentary,
turn-of-the-century sociology, journalism, treatises on taste, and adver-
tising aimed at consumers. Such is the strange genealogy of the theories
of a leading, albeit often contested, voice in cultural criticism. This is not
to entirely dismiss the theory, but rather to point out postmodernism’s
roots in bourgeois daily life. If postmodernism is the ‘‘cultural logic of
late capitalism,’’ then it is also the cultural logic of consumption. It is
only fitting, then, that Baudrillard, whose name has become virtually
synonymous with postmodernist theory, especially for its critics, should
ground his thinking in the bourgeois household, the space where the
durable goods of early mass consumption gather to create a private
dream world, a haven for the industrial capitalist, who seeks escape in a
domesticized aesthetic sphere.
What remains somewhat troubling is that the starting point of Baud-
rillard’s ‘‘critique’’ of consumer culture so completely incorporates the
discourse of consumer culture. This is not to say that there is any
‘‘outside’’ point from which to critique consumer culture, certainly not
now. Rather, in order to move forward in the critique of consumer
The parlour of critical theory 
culture, the very hypothesis of the readability of furnishings and other
belongings urgently needs questioning. While it seems undeniable that
possessions do function as symbols of the self, and that they always have,
this symbolic function has been ingrained in and exploited by the
machinery of consumer capitalism. Any ‘‘theory’’ of the deep meaning
of material things must therefore be greeted with caution. The belief in
the readability of man-made things is fundamentally constitutive of the
consuming subject. It is time to quit ‘‘reading’’ for a moment, in order to
ask what such readings of possessions ultimately do, whose purposes
they ultimately serve.
 

Rearranging the Oedipus


Fantastic and decadent floor-plans in Gautier,
Maupassant, Lorrain, and Rachilde

To rearrange the living room is to rearrange the Oedipal structures of


kinship, sexuality, and sociality, and vice versa. While this formulation
may or may not hold true for actual physically existing households, it
works surprisingly well for nineteenth-century French literature. For
example, many fantastic and decadent writers rearrange the traditional
bourgeois interior in direct proportion to their rearrangement of bour-
geois social order. In order to express this interconnectedness of the
material, the textual, and the social, I propose the notion of the bour-
geois Oedipus, defined as two related sets of norms historically specific
to late nineteenth-century Europe: on the one hand a set of normative
plot structures, and on the other a set of socially accepted rules which
regulate kinship, sexuality, and economic exchange.
These norms are applied to the world of goods by way of the notion of
fetishism, the term first coined in the mid-eighteenth century to describe
primitive religion, later appropriated by sociology (Comte) and the
critique of commodity capitalism (Marx), then finally by fin-de-siècle
sexologists (including Freud). In all three cases ‘‘fetishism’’ denotes a
perceived over-privileging of things, the elevation of things to a status
usually reserved for persons or deities. These various notions of fetishism
all assume that things can and do mediate relationships between people,
but that there is a danger inherent in things being substituted for people.
In other words, while it is legitimate for the subject to take on other
persons (mortal or divine) as objects of psychic investment or desire
(within limits, such as incest or homosexuality), inanimate things are
regarded as inappropriate objects for intense subjective investment.
Things must remain subordinated to persons, and must never be sub-
stituted for them, at the risk of falling into one of the three forms of
fetishism: primitive animism (fetishism in its original anthropological
sense), reification (Marxist fetishism), or perversion (Freudian fetishism).
Bourgeois social prescriptions for dealing with material objects are,

Rearranging the Oedipus 
however, contradictory, since persons are expected to exhibit some ties
to the things around them, lest they fall into alienation. This is the
paradox of modern Euro-American material culture: we should be
attached to our possessions, for after all, they define us and express us,
and yet at the same time we should not be too attached to them,
otherwise we are vulgar materialists, or worse, fetishists. The bourgeois
Oedipus dictates that a balance be struck between these two extremes,
alienation and fetishism.
This way of thinking about material things leads to an impasse,
however, since by problematizing the attachment to things, attention is
deflected from the larger set of relations being enacted. For this reason,
I have from the outset of this study rejected the assumption that
relationships between persons and persons are somehow preferable to
relationships between persons and things, instead assuming that sub-
jects make psychic investments in objects, whether these be persons or
things, and that investments in relationships to things are not less
‘‘natural’’ or ‘‘normal’’ than investments in human relationships. From
this perspective, literary depictions of characters over-investing in
things amount not to the ‘‘representation’’ of psychological perversion
but rather to the application of similar organizational frameworks to
text, psyche, social relations, and the household floor-plan (by which I
mean not just the layout of the rooms within the house, but also the
arrangement of furnishings within the house and the position of the
house within larger spatial configurations). To state that to rearrange
the interior is to rearrange the Oedipus is to rephrase the point made in
the previous chapter regarding the homologous relations between per-
sons and things in novelistic and sociological descriptions of household
interiors: if the structure of the home reflects familial and social struc-
tures, then any breakdown of one of these structures will eventually
reverberate in the others. It is my presumption that this correspondence
between personal relationships and furniture is more a matter of writer-
ly convention than of psychology.

 .       


Nineteenth-century authors commonly employ the figure of anthropo-
morphism, the personification of inanimate things, to establish struc-
tural homologies between persons and things, between dwellers and
dwellings. In numerous fantastic short stories, when the anthropomor-
phism of objects is taken too far, inanimate objects come to life, as in six
 Literature and material culture
nineteenth-century tales by Gautier, Maupassant, and Lorrain, all of
which are set in bibelot-filled interiors. In his classic study of the
fantastic, Todorov demonstrates that the supernatural often results
when a figurative expression is taken literally. The figure literally
enacted in these six stories is that of personification. Extending
Todorov’s remarks beyond poetics to encompass the social realm of
bourgeois patriarchy, it could be said that the animated furnishings in
these stories violate the stable structure of the patriarchal house, and this
in response to the violations of the patriarchal family structure, for the
animated objects in question all belong to bachelors, to men who refuse
to become patriarchs by their refusal of marriage and children. The
unmarried protagonists’ refusal of patriarchal social norms results in the
refusal of their furnishings to behave normally.
‘‘The arrangement of furniture offers a faithful image of the familial
and social structures of a period,’’ writes Baudrillard, adding that ‘‘The
typical bourgeois [read: nineteenth-century] interior is patriarchal.’’
The fantastic interiors under consideration here operate according to a
variation of Baudrillard’s theory of the patriarchal floor-plan: if the
structure of the traditional dwelling reflects family structure (and, by
extension, social structures), then, by an admittedly fallacious logic, it
follows that any breakdown in the family structure will eventually
reverberate in the structure of the house (including its system of furnish-
ings). Gautier, Maupassant, and Lorrain rearrange realism’s anthropo-
morphic interior in direct proportion to their rearrangement of the
order of the bourgeois Oedipus. In narrative, a male protagonist’s
refusal to pursue marriage precludes all Oedipal plots, those classical
narrative intrigues of rivalry and seduction. In classic nineteenth-
century narrative, the anthropomorphized interior must be restructured
to compensate for any rearrangement of the grand Oedipal narrative
cycle. In these tales of fantastic furnishings, the suppressed family
structure returns by way of the furniture, magically reanimated.

No escaping the marketplace


Maupassant’s Qui sait? () clearly inscribes the rearranged Oedipus
into its floor-plan. The tale’s aging bachelor hero has withdrawn from
the society of other people, whose contact he has grown to abhor. He
seeks refuge in his bibelot-filled house, thinking he is safe and isolated.
However, his private domestic interior proves to be contiguous with the
social space of the marketplace. This story literally enacts the principle
Rearranging the Oedipus 
of commodity fetishism, that relations among material things are truly
relations among people.
The confusion of persons with things becomes apparent very early in
the tale, when the misanthropic protagonist (and narrator) confesses, ‘‘je
m’attache . . . beaucoup aux objets inanimés qui prennent, pour moi,
une importance d’êtres’’ [‘‘I become . . . very attached to inanimate
objects, which become as important to me as beings’’] (: ). This
remark sets up the opposition between inanimate objects and human
beings. In the sentences which follow, the use of personification further
blurs the distinction between persons and things. The narrator explains
that ‘‘ma maison est devenue . . . un monde où je vivais . . . au milieu de
choses, de meubles, de bibelots familiers, sympathiques à mes yeux
comme des visages’’ [‘‘my house became . . . a world where I lived . . .
amidst things, furniture, and bibelots which in my eyes seemed as
familiar and friendly as faces’’]. In this house, become a world unto
itself, he feels ‘‘content, satisfait, bien heureux comme entre les bras
d’une femme aimable’’ [‘‘contented, satisfied, and happy, as if in the
arms of an loveable woman’’] (ibid.). The narrator’s household objects,
metaphorically endowed with friendly faces and caressing arms, replace
the society of men (and women). He no longer clearly differentiates
between persons and things.
The figurative anthropomorphism of this household interior fore-
shadows an uncanny event: the sudden animation of the narrator’s
beloved furnishings. One dark night he returns home from town to find
his things leaving through the front door, of their own accord. The
formerly inanimate objects move like animals, the piano like a horse, the
smaller items like ants, fabrics like octopi. The crawling crystal shines in
the moonlight like glow-worms. When the narrator sees his prize pos-
session walking out, an antique desk described ‘‘un rare bibelot du
dernier siècle,’’ he seizes it ‘‘comme on saisit un voleur, comme on saisit
une femme qui fuit’’ [‘‘a rare bibelot of the previous century’’ / ‘‘as one
seizes a thief, as one seizes a fleeing woman’’] (:). He reacts to the
desk as if it were a person, first a male then a female. The inanimate
items which, by way of the simile marker ‘‘comme,’’ have already been
compared to friendly faces and caressing arms, have suddenly become
living bodies.
According to the story, the next day, the servants and the police
confirm the loss of the furnishings, offering the logical hypothesis that
thieves have stolen them. The servants and the police serve the narrative
function of guarantors of the real, confirming an actual occurrence
 Literature and material culture
which they explain rationally. The narrator does not confess what he
saw, the animation of the furnishings, fearing he will be believed mad.
The reader is thus left with two possible explanations for the strange
event, the logical hypothesis of ordinary thieves put forth by the servants
and the police, as well as the supernatural explanation given to the
reader by the ‘‘eyewitness,’’ the narrator.
This hesitation between the real and the unreal defines the nine-
teenth-century fantastic. Because they are concretely material, house-
hold furnishings easily anchor the ‘‘reality effect’’ of the fantastic, but
because they are made anthropomorphic through simile, furnishings at
the same time provide a point of entry for the supernatural. Paradoxi-
cally, in this and other fantastic stories, bourgeois dwelling space an-
chors both reality effects and supernatural effects. The fantastic itself
coincides with the nineteenth century’s preoccupation with the material
and with the ‘‘real.’’ Many if not most critics of the fantastic have
commented on the role of interior decor in this genre, and on the
widespread presence of antiques, bric-à-brac, and bibelots. Though
realistic, the interior decor depicted in Maupassant’s story is by no
means solely mimetic. While bibelots are of course typical elements of
interior decor during the heyday of the fantastic, the narrative moti-
vation behind the frequent inclusion of historic and exotic artifacts in
fantastic interiors is that they lend themselves to supernatural effects.
Antique and exotic bibelots evoke distant times and places, mediating
between the physical ‘‘reality’’ of the domestic interior, and the imagi-
nary worlds to which such artifacts refer semantically.
The dénouement of Qui sait? takes place in Rouen, where the nar-
rator’s ‘‘tendresse pour les bibelots se réveillait dans cette cité d’anti-
quaires’’ [‘‘tenderness for bibelots was awakened in this city of antique
dealers’’]. Prowling the antique shops, he stumbles upon his own stolen
things, but when he returns the next day with the police, the items have
disappeared again, only to turn up mysteriously in his own house,
exactly where they belonged. The change in setting from the private
interior to the public marketplace is significant. To summarize the plot
in terms of household objects, the magically endowed furnishings leave
the domestic sphere, return to the marketplace from whence they came,
then return once again to the home.
One ‘‘moral’’ which could be drawn from this story is that the
man-made objects of modern bourgeois society are always already
social, made by other people, then bought and sold by other people.
Surrounded by such objects, one is not alone, not even in the confines of
Rearranging the Oedipus 
one’s own dwelling. Nineteenth-century narrative, both fictitious and
non-fictitious, inscribes the normative structures of the Oedipus into the
world of goods by means of the figure of anthropomorphism. Writing
helps map Oedipal structures onto the new bourgeois forms of material
culture, reinforcing them by projecting them back iconographically.
The bourgeois Oedipus is made to incorporate not only the material
culture of domesticity, but also the material culture of the market, the
burgeoning consumer culture created by and for families, but which
soon enough seems to consume the family in turn. If the family group is
inscribed physically in the dwelling, so are the contours of the social, not
only through the social structuring of the family, but also and especially
through the marketplace which, in the nineteenth century, was per-
meating all spheres. By way of the circulation of goods in and out of
domestic space, the marketplace connects the family to the larger social
world. The bourgeois invention of the private is therefore only partially
successful, for, as fiction of the domestic reveals, the private is never
private enough. In this context, material things both threaten and
fascinate. The bibelot distills this threat and fascination.
In Maupassant’s story, the absence of the family in the solitary
bachelor’s home cannot eradicate the presence of the social inscribed in
modern material goods. In the commodified world of the nineteenth-
century French bourgeoisie, it is only ‘‘natural’’ that what comes from
the marketplace returns to the marketplace, just as the fantastic furnish-
ings of Qui sait? make their way back to an antique shop. On some level,
the story expresses an unease with retail culture, with the proliferation of
goods in the modern marketplace and in the bourgeois home. Many
fantastic narratives set in interior space are permeated by a fear that the
inanimate world will take over the human world (a fear which in the
twentieth century has been displaced onto computers, robots, and
cyborgs). Anthropomorphism taken literally is the threat which moti-
vates this fear, though, at the same time, it is also the poetic device which
motivates this narrative.

Reviving dead women


The five remaining examples of animated bibelot stories follow the same
plot pattern as Qui sait?, insofar as personification prefigures the sudden
animation of the inanimate, but these also share a second salient plot
feature: in each, a material object is transformed into a sexually desir-
able woman, a reanimated dead woman who appears during the night
 Literature and material culture
before the male bachelor protagonist sleeping in a bibelot-filled interior.
In each case the actual material object reanimated belongs to the
culture of the bibelot: an eighteenth-century porcelain coffeepot
(Gautier’s La Cafétière), a tapestry from the same period (Gautier’s
Omphale), a mummy’s foot purchased at an antique shop (Gautier’s Le
Pied de momie), a lock of hair found in an antique chest also purchased at
an antique shop (Maupassant’s La Chevelure), and a plaster cast of a
Renaissance statue in the Louvre (Lorrain’s Réclamation posthume). The
fantastic domestic object is shown to pass through the public spaces of
collecting: the antique shop (La Chevelure, Le Pied de momie) and the public
museum (Réclamation posthume). As with Qui sait?, the anthropomorphism
of domestic objects is pushed to extremes, effacing the boundaries
between the animate and the inanimate. Considering these stories as a
group, a trend emerges: domestic furnishings take on supernatural
qualities when bachelors take up collecting.
In this group of tales, violations of the boundaries between persons
and things are shown to violate the boundaries not only of domestic
order, but of social order as well. The Oedipus cycle presents narra-
tives of rivalry and of seduction, of familial and social interactions, of
desire and the law. In the realm of Western literature, both oral and
written, it provides the most basic plots of adventure, quest, and
struggle, usually intertwined with tales of courtship. In the nineteenth-
century novel, these simple plots associated with what the French call
the romanesque translate into what Peter Brooks calls ‘‘male plots of
ambition.’’ It is no accident that the first-person hero of all of these
fantastic tales is a bachelor, thus having already violated the Oedipal
narrative dictum to go out into the world and seek a mate. A male
protagonist’s refusal to pursue marriage precludes all Oedipal plots.
The anthropomorphized interior must be restructured to compensate
for this rearrangement of the Oedipal master narrative. The living
female love object evacuated from the plot returns by way of the
furniture, magically reanimated.
Maupassant provides an exemplary instance of a dead woman
coming to life in a bibelot-filler interior. At several points in La Chevelure
(), the first-person hero, a wealthy collector, personifies antique
bibelots by comparing them to living women. First, an antique watch
palpitates like the heart of the woman who owned it. The watch, ‘‘si
mignonne, si jolie,’’ continued to ‘‘palpiter,’’ and unlike its now de-
ceased owner, continued to ‘‘vivre sa vie de mécanique, et elle con-
tinuait toujours son tic tac régulier, depuis un siècle passé’’ [‘‘so cute, so
Rearranging the Oedipus 
pretty’’ / ‘‘palpitate’’ / ‘‘live its mechanical life, and had continued its
regular tic tock for a century now’’] (p. ). Next, antique objects are
endowed with the power to seduce and charm, again like a woman: ‘‘On
regarde un objet et, peu à peu, il vous séduit, vous trouble, vous envahit
comme ferait un visage de femme’’ [‘‘You look at an object, and little by
little it seduces, disturbs, and invades you, as would the face of a
woman’’]. Charmed, ‘‘on l’aime déjà, on le désire, on le veut’’ [‘‘you
already love, desire, and want it’’] (p. ). Finally, buying a new bibelot
is like getting married, such that the collector even experiences a ‘‘lune
de miel’’ [‘‘honeymoon’’] during which he caresses the new bibelot ‘‘de
l’oeil et de la main comme s’il était de chair . . . [O]n va le contempler
avec le tendresse d’amant’’ [‘‘with the eye and the hand, as if it were
flesh . . . You contemplate it with the tenderness of a lover’’] (pp. –).
With the personifying metaphors which portray collectors as lovers and
bibelots as female love objects, Maupassant sets up the scene of re-
animation.
The lovely ‘‘bibelot’’ around which this story ultimately revolves is an
antique secretary which the narrator purchases, and in whose drawers
he later finds a lock of hair, the ‘‘chevelure’’ which provides the story
with its title. This lock of hair becomes a fetish object in the strict sexual
sense, constantly stroked and contemplated by the narrator; he even
sleeps with it. Eventually he awakes in the middle of the night to find
that his love object has come to life, in the form of a beautiful woman
whom he possesses night after night.
The antique watch, the seventeenth-century chest, and the lock of
hair are brought together by the market into the space of the antique
shop. What differentiates these antique curiosities is that each represents
a different degree of physical intimacy with the human body – more
precisely, with the female body. The antique desk is anthropomorphic
insofar as any piece of furniture is made by a human body, and designed
to the scale and use of the human body. The still-functioning century-
old watch is much more anthropomorphic, living its mechanical life as a
continuation of the beating heart and warm touch of its original owner.
Like the ticking watch, the lock of hair is almost living yet eternal.
However, the lock of hair was a part of the original female owner’s body,
‘‘la seule partie vivante de sa chair qui ne dût point pourrir’’ [‘‘the only
living part of her flesh which did not have to decay’’] (p. ). A lock of
hair is a relic in the strictest sense of the term, like the bone fragments of
saints preserved in reliquaries. It is therefore to some extent logical that,
of the three objects, it is the lock of hair which finally comes to life. The
 Literature and material culture
watch, a possession, linked to its owner by relations of contiguity and
resemblance, can only inspire strong emotion in regard to its dead
owner, whereas the lock of hair, linked by synecdoche, narratively
motivates its owner’s revivification.
The narrative motivation behind the reanimation, the regeneration
of a living body from a -year-old lock of hair, is thus multiply
determined by previous occurrences of personification. The story is in
this way highly structured, since all of the objects mentioned in it
contribute to the elaboration of the main plot line. Indeed, since the
missing woman is compensated for on the level of the sign, signifier for
signifier, the order of the bourgeois Oedipus is likewise maintained,
albeit on a strictly symbolic level, even though the substitution of the
lock of hair for the female partner violates the ‘‘normal,’’ prescribed
order of Oedipal sexuality. As the mate that the bachelor-narrator
refuses to take, the reanimated dead woman can be understood as a
rhetorical or narrative return of the repressed. At the same time,
narrative order is further reinforced, because the organizational frame-
work of structural homologies remains stable: changes in the system of
furnishings compensate for changes in traditional familial and social
structures. Household, familial, and social structures remain
homologous, which makes for an orderly narrative.

More female body parts


The relationship between fantastic bibelots and body parts comes to the
forefront again in Gautier’s Le Pied de momie, first published in . As in
Maupassant’s two tales of animation, Gautier takes the reader to an
antique shop, but, unlike Maupassant who only names objects directly
relevant to his plots, Gautier takes the time to enumerate some of the
contents of the antique shop, giving the reader a sense of the colorful
heterogeneity which greets the eye of the protagonist, recalling the visit
to the antique shop in Balzac’s La Peau de chagrin (published nine years
earlier than Gautier’s story). The major difference between Balzac’s and
Gautier’s antique shop scenes, other than length, is that Gautier’s
protagonist notices that most of this shop’s objects are not authentic, but
rather cheap copies which the shady proprietor passes off as genuine. It
is significant that the fantastic object selected from the shop, the
mummy’s foot of the title, is verified to be ‘‘un pied authentique’’ [‘‘an
authentic foot’’] (p. ). Because, as in La Chevelure, a long-dead woman
is regenerated from a preserved body part (the mummified foot),
Rearranging the Oedipus 
authenticity is made a condition of possibility for the functioning of this
fantastic event.
Le pied de momie begins as the narrator browses in search of a unique
paperweight. His attention is finally drawn to a small foot, which he first
takes to be bronze. Upon picking it up he realizes that the foot is not
metal, but rather the embalmed flesh of a mummy, revealed to be that
of an Egyptian princess. The old merchant laughs at the idea of using an
Egyptian princess’s foot for a paperweight, dismissing it as an ‘‘idée
d’artiste’’ (p. ). He also warns that the old Pharaoh would not
approve of this use, but the protagonist ignores the warning, taking the
mummy’s foot back to his apartment.
That evening, the proud owner of the mummified paperweight
returns home after dinner. At first all seems normal, though this normal
state of calm is expressed through personification, with the figure of
sleep: ‘‘tout avait l’air endormi et tranquille’’ [‘‘everything seemed to be
sleeping and tranquil’’]. A bit later, as in the other tales cited above, the
personification of the protagonist’s decor intensifies, foreshadowing
strange occurrences: ‘‘cet intérieur si calme parut se troubler . . . et les
disques des patères semblaient des yeux de métal attentifs comme moi
aux choses qui allaient se passer’’ [‘‘the calm interior appeared to grow
disturbed . . . and the disks of the drapery fixtures seemed to be metal
eyes, as attentive as I to the things which were about to happen’’] (p.
). The emotions and mental state of the narrator are thus displaced
onto the room. Dweller and dwelling alike grow anxious and attentive,
setting the stage for a fantastic anthropomorphic transformation.
At this point the ,-year-old Egyptian princess herself appears,
missing a foot, which she reclaims from the narrator. Gautier empha-
sizes the restoration of the princess’s fragmented state by having her
exclaim how happy her father will be, ‘‘ ‘lui qui était si désolé de ma
mutilation’’’ and who in the hopes of avoiding such a mishap had dug
her an especially deep tomb so that ‘‘ ‘il pût me conserver intacte’’’ [‘‘‘he
who was so devasted by my mutilation’’’ / ‘‘‘he could keep me intact’’’]
(p. ). This story could easily be read as a classic case of foot fetishism,
of the displacement of sexual desire onto a part-object substitute. Ross
Chambers reads it as a Romantic poetic project of restoring wholes
from fragments. In addition to the logics of sexuality or of modernist
poetics, there is also at work a logic of market exchange.
In the story, the appearance of the mutilated princess sets off a series
of exchanges, following the logic of the marketplace, the logic of the
space in which the embalmed foot was acquired at the beginning of the
 Literature and material culture
story. The Egyptian princess explains that she has no money to pay for
the return of her foot, because the greedy merchant who robbed it from
her in the grave also took all of her coins and jewels, which had been
entombed with her. The narrator gallantly returns the foot to her
without asking for payment in return. The grateful princess, though,
leaves him a small green figurine in exchange, then takes him on a
dreamlike voyage to meet her Pharaoh father, who asks him what he
would like as a reward. When the young man asks for the princess’s
hand in marriage, in exchange for the foot, the Pharaoh refuses on the
basis of the ridiculous age difference (the protagonist’s twenty-seven
years as opposed to the princess’s thirty centuries). In the middle of this
discussion, our hero awakes, thinking he has dreamed the entire epi-
sode, only to find the figurine in the place of the mummy’s foot. The
physical presence of the bibelot suggests that the impossible event really
happened, preserving the fantastic hesitation between the natural and
the supernatural.
The entire story of the mummy’s foot is set in motion and kept
moving by the circulation and exchange of material objects from the
domain of antiquarianism, the domain from whence the bibelot is born.
Not only is all of this set amidst the culture of the modern Parisian
antique market, it is also imbricated in the trade routes of mercantilism
and colonialism, of goods moving from the Middle East to Western
Europe. The bibelot market is an international market. Following the
trajectory of the embalmed foot, the international marketplace is shown
to be connected to the private household then to kinship structures,
since as a result of buying a woman’s body part, the young bachelor
hero nearly succeeds in buying a bride. Monetary exchange and barter
lead to marriage exchange, recalling the narratives written by anthro-
pologists studying gift exchange in the South Pacific. In this way, the
story accomplishes the restoration of the Oedipal narrative, the mar-
riage plot imposed on a solitary bachelor.
Nearly half a century later, Jean Lorrain rewrites Gautier’s tale in the
decadent mode. Through exaggeration, his Réclamation posthume ()
transforms Gautier’s classic fantastic narrative into a tale of decadent
sadism. In Lorrain’s hands, Gautier’s lighthearted but macabre model
becomes what we could call the ‘‘hypermorbid’’ (to play on Baudril-
lard’s ‘‘hyperreal’’). Lorrain’s first-person narrator finds his fantastic
object not in an antique shop, but in a museum, the Louvre. He has a
plaster cast made of the head of Donatello’s statue La Femme inconnue,
asking the cast maker to include blood-like globs to simulate decapita-
Rearranging the Oedipus 
tion, then he paints the cast himself, using garish colors. It decorates the
apartment where he, a bachelor of course, lives alone.
The story opens with the visit of a male friend who, upon seeing the
macabre cast, warns against profanation, as did Gautier’s shop owner.
In Lorrain’s version the artist Donatello replaces the princess’s angry
Pharaoh father, as the friend warns him that he has quite criminally
infringed on the artist’s rights and committed a desecration. Just as the
mummy’s-foot paperweight was described as an ‘‘idée d’artiste,’’ so the
poem which serves as epigraph to Réclamation posthume describes the hero
as an ‘‘Artiste épris vivant d’un moulage de plâtre’’ [‘‘Artist smitten alive
by a plaster cast’’]. Discussions of Pygmalion or Freudian fetishism
would certainly be in order here, but what concerns me most is the
displacement and fragmentation of bourgeois social structures by way of
the manipulation of material culture. As a copy of a museum piece,
Lorrain’s statue must be understood in its full materiality, as a product
of modern industrialization.
When in Lorrain’s tale the woman’s body begins making its nighttime
appearances (this time there are several), the narrator first perceives not a
full body, but only a statue-like foot, ‘‘un pied nu: et ce pied vivait, . . . un
peu rose au talon et d’un grain de peau si uni et si pâle qu’on eût dit un
précieux objet d’art, un albâtre ou un jade posé sur le tapis’’ [‘‘a naked
foot: and this foot was living, . . . a bit pink at the ankle, its skin so smooth
and pale that it could be taken for a precious art object, like a piece of
alabaster or jade lying on the carpet’’] (p. ). It should be recalled that
Gautier’s hero first thought that the mummy’s foot was of marble, though
after its reanimation there is no more confusion with the inanimate. The
situation is slightly different in Lorrain’s tale, since the reanimated feet of
Donatello’s statue appear to have come to life, yet are still statue-like.
Lorrain leaves the distinction between the animate and the inanimate,
between flesh and art, decidedly unclear.
However, unlike the apparitions of the other four stories discussed
above, in Réclamation posthume it is not a beautiful young woman that
appears, but rather an animated ‘‘cadavre de morte.’’ The head of the
body is missing (p. ). The vivified plaster head stares at the narrator,
but does not rejoin the body before the narrator faints, ending the story.
Lorrain’s woman remains fragmented, her decapitated state subtly
repeated in the story’s last sentence by a descriptive separation of her feet:

Et la tête de plâtre pendue à la muraille regardait le cadavre, et dans le cadre


obscur de la porte maudite, le corps décapité tressaillait longuement; et sur le
 Literature and material culture
tapis sombre, les deux pieds se tordaient, convulsés dans une angoisse atroce; à
ce moment, la tête darda sur moi son regard d’outre-tombe et je roulai brisé sur
le tapis. (p. )

[And the plaster head hanging on the wall watched the cadaver, while the
decapitated body quivered prolongedly in the shadowy frame of the accursed
door; and on the dark carpet, the two feet writhed, convulsed in excrutiating
anguish; at this moment, the head cast its other-worldly gaze upon me, and,
wrecked, I fell to the carpet.]

The head remains attached to the wall, looking across the room at the
body framed by the door, while the feet writhe against the background
of the carpet, set off from the rest of the sentence by semi-colons.
Though Oedipal order is respected to the extent that a male collector
develops a cathexis around a feminized part-object, the part–whole split
is left unrestored in the end of this tale, precluding narrative closure, as
well as any possibility of so-called normal sexual union. The narrator
does not take the reanimated woman to bed, as did the protagonist of
Maupassant’s La Chevelure, nor does he court her, pursuing marriage as
did the protagonist of Gautier’s Le Pied de momie. Lorrain’s revivified
woman is left in pieces, as are the Oedipal plots of sexual union and the
pursuit of a young beautiful bride.
In terms of the logic of material culture, a significant difference
between Lorrain’s tale and those of Maupassant and Gautier lies in the
issue of authenticity, of the model versus the copy: the fantastic object in
Le Pied de momie is an authentic mummy’s foot, and in Maupassant’s La
Chevelure, an authentic lock of hair. In contrast, in Lorrain’s tale, the
fantastic object is a plaster cast of a head, hardly a classic fetish object, as
are feet and hair. Furthermore, the woman’s foot which does appear in
Lorrain’s tale is not generated from an actual woman’s preserved body
part, but rather from a statue, and not from the ‘‘authentic’’ original,
but rather from a copy of a statue, a simulacrum of a simulacrum, to
borrow Baudrillard’s well-worn phrase. Lorrain’s plaster cast is not of
the whole statue, but rather of a part, a part whose severance from the
whole is emphasized in the story. By building an illusion based on a
copy, and one that is not whole at that, narrative order is in the end
subverted. Authenticity is replaced by appearance. Antiquarianism
gives way to aestheticized illusion. Romanticism’s idealized muse
(Gautier) gives way to a particularly monstrous decadent femme fatale
(Lorrain). All of this is caught up in the issues of imitation and reproduc-
tion which so haunt industrial culture. It could be said that in the
Rearranging the Oedipus 
fantastic, the discourse of authenticity produced out of the material
culture of antique furnishings grounds ‘‘the real’’ on which the fantastic
relies for its hesitation between the natural and the supernatural. Lor-
rain’s Réclamation posthume distances itself from this practice of grounding
the real in domesticized antiques by taking us into the logics of the copy,
the series, and the simulacrum, whereby the antiquarian’s concern with
authenticity gives way to emphasis on appearance.

  .            
With its recurring themes of masks, casts, and copies, Lorrain’s fantastic
and decadent fiction repeatedly raises the question of the simulacrum,
an issue crucial to the material culture of European industrialization. In
Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard schematizes the ‘‘successive phases
of the image’’:
it [the image] is the reflection of a profound reality;
it masks and denatures a profound reality;
it masks the absence of a profound reality;
it has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum.
As I said at the beginning of this chapter in regard to another of
Baudrillard’s formulations, whether or not this schema is found to have
relevance to sociology or history, it does work very well for thinking
about the use of material objects in nineteenth-century French litera-
ture. In this context, the ‘‘reality’’ in question here would be that
conceptual construct which underpins positivism, nineteenth-century
science, and the realist novel, all of which make up the reality grounded
in the bourgeois values embodied in Balzac’s bourgeois living rooms.
Objects in Balzac either reflect a profound reality, or mask and denature
a profound reality; in both cases, the profound reality ‘‘exists’’ without
question. Objects in Flaubert question the very existence of this
profound reality, at times masking and denaturing it, at times masking
its absence. Within the classic fantastic of Gautier and Maupassant, the
supernatural is but another face of profound reality, a reality more
profound than the natural.
Lorrain’s simulacra, such as the plaster cast of the Donatello statue,
mask ‘‘the absence of a profound reality,’’ the fourth of the ‘‘successive
phases of the image.’’ The era of simulation is fostered in by the
industrial era of serial production, just as the cult of authentic antique
bibelots is in many ways a nostalgic reaction to industrialization. While
 Literature and material culture
Jean Lorrain evokes the cult of the bibelot throughout his fantastic and
decadent fiction, his work also manifests an assimilation of the copy, of
the series, of the simulacrum, through his frequent evocations of repro-
ductions of art works, by means like photography (Ophélius) and plaster
casts (Réclamation posthume). His obsession with masks and portraits con-
tributes to the frequent confusion of persons and things. Anthropomor-
phism in his work at times leads to an almost complete erasure of the
boundaries between humans and their material artifacts.
The absence of the ‘‘real’’ in the work of Lorrain is perhaps most
evident on the psychological plane. Even in their fantastic tales, writers
like Gautier and Maupassant use the anthropomorphism of domestic
objects to reinforce the illusion of psychological realism, by reinforcing
the mental structures attributed to their characters through the dou-
bling of these structures in the structure of a personified material
culture. In contrast, rather than personifying objects, Lorrain objectifies
people, insisting on their visual, surface qualities, on the mask-like
nature of their personas. Consequently, a logic of objects governs the
logic of human relations. Collecting, the bibelot, and the museum take
on new dimensions in Lorrain.

Serialized sexuality
In his most important novel, Monsieur de Phocas, Lorrain serializes sex-
uality while exalting serialized art, a serialization accomplished by the
logics of collecting and of copying. The word bibelot appears frequently
throughout this decadent work, eliciting fixations on interior decor, on
the antique market, and on the culture of the museum. The hero, the
duc de Fréneuse, alias Phocas, is to a large extent modeled on Huys-
mans’s reclusive des Esseintes of A rebours. Fréneuse too is a collector, of
gemstones, antique jewelry, precious carpets, rare weapons, and strong
poisons, most of which he has gathered on yearly trips to ‘‘l’Orient’’ (p.
).
The logic of collecting guides Fréneuse’s pursuit of his main obses-
sion, eyes the color of emeralds and of the sea. The eyes are perhaps the
least gendered part of the body, as compared, for example, to the hair
and feet which were the fetish-objects in Maupassant’s La Chevelure and
Gautier’s Le Pied de momie. At the same time, eyes are also easily
assimilated into the Baudelairean/Huysmansian aesthetics of mineral-
ity and artificiality. Fréneuse finds these emerald, sea-green eyes not
only in people, male and female, but also in the statues and paintings of
Rearranging the Oedipus 
major museums. Captivated by the statue of the Greek ephebe Antinoüs
in the Louvre, whose eyes he would like to replace with emeralds, he is
equally struck by the eyes of Salomé and other exotic female beauties in
the paintings on view in the museum of Gustave Moreau. He finds the
same eyes in female acrobats and in male sailors.
Collecting provides a logic for groupings based on physical similari-
ties. The logic of seriality which animates the activities of the collector
also animates this search for eyes of a similar type. Seriality is established
through a visual resemblance which allows the collecting subject to pass
from males to females, from humans to their portraits, from the animate
to the inanimate. In this way, seriality serves the purpose of dissimula-
ting homosexual desire, since desire can begin with a legitimate Oedipal
object (for a man, a woman) then, through the logic of seriality, move on
to an illegitimate object (an inanimate object like a statue; or for a man,
another man). The logic of seriality is thus put to the service of the logic
of inversion.
The novel’s characters are also created out of the logic of seriality, of
resemblance, of artistic reproductions, of the simulacrum. Fréneuse
encounters others who share his obsession with eyes, first Claudius
Ethal, an older man and mentor figure who later introduces him to a
second, younger man, the disturbingly handsome Thomas Welcôme.
Fréneuse identifies strongly with Welcôme, then learns that he has
probably killed another older man, Burdhes. Near the end of the novel,
young Fréneuse copies the alleged crime of young Welcôme, by mur-
dering his own older mentor, Ethal.
Throughout the recounting of these serialized liaisons, obsessions,
and murders, a number of collectors’ objects are displayed and ex-
changed. Ethal, an artist, ceremoniously shows Fréneuse several collec-
tions, of masks, of wax statues, and of painted portraits, some of which
he gathered from the international antique collectors’ market, others
made by himself or by artist friends. While traveling, Ethal sends other
collectors’ objects to Fréneuse, as gifts. In Holland he purchases ‘‘le plus
merveilleux bibelot,’’ ‘‘une pièce de musée,’’ a sixteenth-century wax
sculpture of an Infanta, which he then shows to Fréneuse on his return,
all with great fanfare. These displays and exchanges depend on a
circulation and replaceability of objects which defy the Oedipal order of
bourgeois sexuality, for the showing and exchanging takes place be-
tween men, recalling then violating the rules of gift exchange governing
courtship and marriage negotiations, for such frequent expensive per-
sonal gifts are customarily reserved for fiancés and family members.
 Literature and material culture
Furthermore, these objects all function as effigies, joined to the various
characters of the novel by associative chains based on resemblance and
portraiture. Ethal compares his own likeness to that of a dwarf in a
painting in a museum, which he urges Fréneuse to go and see. One of
the engravings which Ethal sends as a gift includes a figure which
resembles Fréneuse. Wax figures are preferable to portraits because
their resemblance is superior. Claudius’s collection of wax ‘‘portraits,’’
of young adolescent boys and famous aristocratic women, is called ‘‘un
boudoir de mortes’’ [‘‘a boudoir of female cadavers’’] (p. ). The
cadaver-like quality of art is thus underlined, and reinforced by Ethal’s
attraction to sick and dying models, in accordance with the fin-de-siècle
fashion of pale, wraith-like, drugged, or diseased women, such as those
painted by the pre-Raphaelites.
From London, Ethal sends Fréneuse the most obviously symbolic of
all of the bibelots mentioned in the novel, a black onyx statue of the
Middle Eastern goddess Astarté. This statue was found in the temple
Burdhes, allegedly murdered by Welcôme, had erected for a cult he
imported from the Far East. The black onyx Astarté witnessed the
murder of Burdhes, who was found dead in the temple. In the ensuing
estate sale Ethal bought the statuette, admiring its slender androgynous
body and emerald eyes, with a tiny skull in the place of its genitals. By
sending Fréneuse the green-eyed statue which witnessed the death of
Burdhes, amidst ‘‘des décors de crime’’ (p. ), Ethal prefigures the
scene of his own murder, setting up the decor for a second murder
scene. However, present as a witness to Ethal’s murder is not the
statuette of the ‘‘déesse androgyne’’ (p. ), but rather the wax bust of a
dying young Italian street urchin, sculpted by Ethal himself. A male
statue-witness is thus substituted for a female one. On the night of his
murder, as Ethal strokes the head of the male adolescent’s bust, Fré-
neuse notices his emerald ring (green of course, the eye color which
obsesses him), which he knows contains a strong poison which kills
instantly. The younger man breaks open the hollow stone of the ring on
Ethal’s teeth, killing him. The replacement of the androgynous female
effigy (the onyx Astarté present at Burdhes’s murder) by the adolescent
male effigy (the wax bust of the dying street urchin present at Ethal’s
murder) repeats the logic of seriality. Such substitutions of effigies for
people, of male effigies for female ones, mask the replacement of one
gender for another in relations of sexual desire.
The plot of double murder is inscribed in the novel’s ‘‘floor-plan,’’ in
the spatial dimension of its settings. As compared to the solitary lifestyle
Rearranging the Oedipus 
of Huysmans’s des Esseintes living in his suburban retreat, Fréneuse
leads a sordid social life, which alters the floor-plan of Monsieur de Phocas,
in comparison to A rebours. Huysmans’s des Esseintes spends almost the
entire narrative time of the novel confined to his own collection-filled
house, while Lorrain’s Fréneuse spends most of the time of the narrative
outside of the confines of his Parisian family mansion. Whereas very few
scenes are set in the space of the protagonist’s home, several important
scenes are set in his friend Claudius Ethal’s Parisian art studio, whose
decor, based on the aesthetic of fin-de-siècle collecting, is transformed
like a theater set for each different scene. Fréneuse does visit his own
long-deserted childhood home during the novel, a country estate in
Normandy, drawn by the memory of a long-dead farmhand’s beautiful
eyes. Other scenes are set at vaudeville-type theaters, and in cheap hotels
frequented by the lowest-class prostitutes. Fréneuse the wealthy collector
roams these spaces as if no home can contain his murderous desires and
obscure vices, so many figures devised to mask the unspeakable (and
unspoken) homosexual attractions which drive him from his home.
Fréneuse, then, is a wandering collector, a thematic which amounts to
a rewriting of the customarily fixed floor-plan of the bibelot-filled
interior. In this novel, the logics of circulation and exchange become
more important than the logics of display and decor. With Lorrain, the
bibelot achieves its ultimate degree of mobility. In fin-de-siècle narra-
tive, the seriality of the collection lends itself to the seriality of love objects.
Given this floor-plan, it is significant that Monsieur de Phocas begins and
ends with the theme of travel, the long trip that the protagonist under-
takes after the murder of Ethal, a voyage announced in the opening
chapter then again at the end. Like Welcôme, suspected of Burdhes’s
murder, Fréneuse too will set off for a long voyage to the Far East. ‘‘Les
voyages, c’est l’exil volontaire,’’ remarks Ethal. In Monsieur de Phocas, the
aesthetics of collecting leads not to the construction of a sanctuary, but
rather to the exiled state of the traveling dealer in clandestine artifacts,
the lifestyle of the adventurous pillaging antiquarians and archaeologists
of high colonialism. One is also reminded of the seafaring figure of
collector Pierre Loti, an admirer of exotic women and of young male
sailors. The traveling collector makes the world his floor-plan.

Rearranging the patriarchal floor-plan


The homologies between Oedipal family structures and household
layout are readily apparent in Rachilde’s La Jongleuse, first published in
 Literature and material culture
. The novel’s female protagonist, a wealthy widow by the name of
Eliante Donalger, rearranges the Oedipus not just through the thematic
of decadence embodied in her exotic furnishings, but also in the layout
of her strange double house, with its decadent side and a rather conven-
tional bourgeois side. Doubling de-centers Eliante’s house, which
proves to be anything but patriarchal. Within this house, persons take
on object-like qualities, while material things are personified, though
here the confusion between persons and things does not produce the
fantastic, but rather the perverse: onanism and a hint of incest.
Rachilde’s knife-juggling heroine Eliante Donalger is in many ways a
decadent version of Maupassant’s Michèle de Burne, heroine of Notre
coeur. Like Michèle, Eliante too is a frigid seductress pursued by an
ardent admirer, in this case a young medical student named Léon
Reille. Eliante also collects, though not as a fashion-conscious high-
society woman like Michèle, but rather as a high priestess in the temple
of Eros. Eliante’s collections consist not in European art treasures like
Michèle’s, but rather in exotic curiosities amassed by her now-deceased
sea-captain husband from ports of call around the world: ‘‘bibelots
étranges de complication japonaise ou de tourment chinois’’ (p. ),
costumes and dresses spanning cultures from Spain to Oceania, and
erotic Chinese figurines of wax and ivory, some of them stolen from a
pagoda. Eliante shows these exotic objects to Léon (and to the reader) at
various points in the novel, adding to the atmosphere of decadence,
making La Jongleuse a period piece which draws on the full range of
decadent fin-de-siècle anti-bourgeois commonplaces – the frigid femme
fatale, Oriental exoticism, stylized eroticism, barbaric excesses, and
primitive idolatry.
Maupassant compares Michèle and her suitors to bibelots. In making
similar comparisons, Rachilde goes much further, deliberately blurring
the distinctions between persons and things by effacing psychological
depth in favor of visual effects, privileging aesthetic effect over psycho-
logical affect. For example, like Michèle, Eliante transforms herself into
an ornamental bibelot by the artificiality of her dress and make-up. The
reader encounters only the decadent version of Eliante in the first
chapter, narrated in the third person through the eyes of the smitten
Léon. She strikes him as ‘‘très artificiel,’’ with her ‘‘face de poupée
peinte’’ [‘‘very artificial’’ / ‘‘painted doll’s face’’]. Her slick hair, ‘‘à
reflets d’acier,’’ imitates her black silk dress, ‘‘cette gaine satinée presque
métallique’’ [‘‘with steel highlights’’ / ‘‘this almost metallic satin
sheath’’] (p. ). Is she a woman or an automaton? ‘‘Rien ne la révélait
Rearranging the Oedipus 
femme. Elle demeurait une grande poupée peinte’’ [‘‘Nothing showed
her to be a woman. She remained a big painted doll’’] (p. ). Attempt-
ing to dissimulate his desire, Léon confides to her, ‘‘Vous me semblez un
objet curieux, et cela m’amuse de vous regarder de près . . . derrière la
vitrine’’ [‘‘You seem like a curiosity, and I find it amusing to look at you
up close . . . behind glass’’] (p. ; author’s ellipses).
To return to Baudrillard’s ‘‘successive phases of the image,’’ one could
ask what is the ‘‘reality’’ being ‘‘masked’’ by Eliante’s artificial appear-
ance, the image of herself that she presents and projects to Léon and the
world? This is what Léon seeks to find out when she invites him to
accompany her home after a party. Captivated by her unreal, mysterious
façade, Léon is immediately obsessed with seeing underneath Eliante’s
sheath-like dress. ‘‘Rien ne la révélait femme,’’ states the narrator,
assuming the point of view of Léon. By removing the dress, Léon expects
to ‘‘reveal’’ the woman behind the artificial, painted, metallic exterior.
He will be disappointed, but not just by the refusal of sex.
On this first visit to the house, Léon enters Eliante’s private rooms
through the garden and remains unaware of her bourgeois persona and
the bourgeois stage setting on the courtyard side of the house, about
which more in a moment. After a spicy meal consumed from impossibly
delicate china in contorted shapes, he is invited into the boudoir, where
Eliante’s most prized collectible is displayed: a life-sized Tunisian vase.
The third-person narrator personifies this inanimate object with physi-
cal descriptors such as ‘‘de la hauteur d’un homme,’’ ‘‘hanches
d’éphèbe,’’ ‘‘d’une apparence tellement humaine,’’ ‘‘bras immobilisés,’’
and ‘‘blessure’’ [‘‘as tall as a man,’’ ‘‘an ephebe’s haunches,’’ ‘‘very
human in appearance,’’ ‘‘immobile arms,’’ ‘‘wound’’] (pp. –). The
scandalously anthropomorphized vase is also endowed with a perceiv-
ing consciousness, this time in the words of Eliante: ‘‘Et qu’a-t-il vu, mon
Dieu? . . . Il ne les racontera pas, mais il sait’’ [‘‘And, my God, what has
he seen? . . . He won’t tell, but he knows’’] (pp. –). If Eliante is as
artificial as a bibelot, this large bibelot is as lifelike as a person. What
happens next makes this the best-known episode of Rachilde’s oeuvre:
Eliante brings herself to orgasm by rubbing up against the vase, fully
clothed, in front of her horrified human suitor. This artificial sexual
act, this simulacrum of sexuality, is the first performance of Eliante the
juggler. Léon watches this intimate sexual act, but does not see under
the artifice of the dress, because it is not removed. Even in this, the most
animal of human acts, she remains coolly unnatural, not a real woman
but an artificial one.
 Literature and material culture
Though Léon will never possess Eliante physically, near the story’s
end he will see underneath her dress, as he watches her perform a
Spanish dance bare-breasted. However, there is still no sense that a
secret has been exposed. It is as if Eliante, juggler and dancer, is all
surface, all performance, as if she constructs herself as purely visual.
While Léon, and with him the reader, expects to learn a dark secret, to
see beneath the mask-like make-up and metallic clothing, he (and we)
are disappointed, not because we are not told any secrets, but because
there seems to be nothing to tell. What we see is what we get, so to speak.
Peter Brooks has identified a number of eighteenth- and nineteenth-
century plots of veiling and unveiling the female body constructed as an
object of knowledge, as ‘‘the real.’’ La Jongleuse can be seen as a
counterexample to these masculinist plots of revealing truth by reveal-
ing women’s bodies. The body of Eliante reveals no secret knowledge,
no profound reality.
Yet if Eliante shows no depth, she is shown to be double, like her
house: her place in society forces her to live a bourgeois life alongside
her life of decadence. This is because upon her return to Paris after her
seafaring husband’s death, she finds herself compelled to take in her
dead husband’s poor relations, a deaf brother and an orphaned niece
named Missie. These family ties burden Eliante with bourgeois re-
sponsibilities. She is forced to be a surrogate mother to young Missie,
who has reached the age of marriage. It is crucial to understand that
Eliante’s bourgeois double is not her ‘‘true self,’’ but rather another role,
another mask. Alternating between decadent seductress and bourgeois
matron, she has two different wardrobes and even two different faces,
the decadent one created through make-up. The decadent face does not
‘‘mask’’ the bourgeois face, for the bourgeois face is also a mask.
This family structure which necessitates a double life generates the
floor-plan of the double house. Eliante’s decadent private rooms on
the garden side of the house are contiguous to but separated from the
uncle’s and niece’s bourgeois rooms on the courtyard side of the
house, which also features a bourgeois salon where visitors are re-
ceived by the whole ‘‘family,’’ the brother-in-law, the niece, and
Eliante. The reader always enters the house with the arrival of Léon,
sometimes by the garden door, sometimes by the courtyard. This
structure sets up the novel’s double plot: while Léon thinks he is
pursuing a decadent femme fatale, he is at the same time being drawn
into a bourgeois scheme of marrying off a poor and none too attractive
surrogate daughter, for during his first visit to the bourgeois side of the
Rearranging the Oedipus 
house, Eliante will propose to Léon that he marry her niece Missie.
This complicates her position in regard to Léon.
Eliante’s relationship to Léon is double, since she is both seductress
and potential mother-in-law. Her reasons for refusing him sexual plea-
sure are double as well. As decadent femme fatale she will not sleep with
Léon for aestheticized reasons of narcissistic self-idolatry, preferring the
perfect asexual symmetry of the vase. The decadent side of her dwelling
is a temple, where she is both idol and high priestess, performing her
love ritual as both ‘‘dieu’’ and ‘‘comédienne’’ [‘‘goddess’’ and ‘‘actress’’]
(p. ). As bourgeois surrogate mother, she refuses Léon because she
wishes him to marry Missie, freeing her from her bourgeois familial
bonds. Eliante proposes this marriage the first time that Léon visits her
in the ‘‘étonnant salon bourgeois’’ on the courtyard side of the house (p.
). He is shocked to see Eliante, his ‘‘idole mystérieuse,’’ totally trans-
formed, dressed in a matronly way, sallow-skinned without her makeup
(p. ). Later in the novel she will pay a surprise visit to Léon’s apartment
(furnished with ‘‘des masses de livres’’ and ‘‘quelques petits bibelots’’; p.
) in order to pursue the topic of Léon’s marriage to Missie. ‘‘Je suis un
peu sa mère’’ [‘‘I am in a sense her mother’’], Eliante explains (p. ).
Léon is shocked by her unaccustomed bourgeois appearance, the iden-
tity which she has donned for the purposes of motherly matchmaking.
What has happened to the decadent Eliante, ‘‘l’Eliante d’amour,
l’Eliante de rêve’’? Had she ever existed? he asks himself. ‘‘Encore une
horrible jonglerie’’ [‘‘More horrible juggling’’] (ibid.).
In the end Eliante tricks Léon into bed with Missie by seducing him,
leading him into her exotic bedroom, then substituting the surrogate
daughter for herself at the last minute. In this strange narrative econ-
omy, vases are substitutable for male lovers, daughters are substitutable
for mothers. With Missie’s displacement into Eliante’s bed, the bound-
aries dividing the double house are crossed, as are narrative boundaries:
the bourgeois marriage plot is grafted onto the decadent seduction plot.
The next morning Léon awakes to find Missie in bed beside him, just as
Eliante is committing suicide juggling knives. Less than a year later,
Léon and Missie are proud parents. The bourgeois masterplot is re-
stored. The femme fatale fades into a dream image. The bourgeois
family structure is reproduced.
Given the novel’s double plot, Léon’s pursuit of Eliante and his
arranged marriage to Missie, to diagnose Eliante’s sexual encounter
with the vase as a mere case of psychoanalytic perversion would be to
miss its narrative purpose: to provide a counterplot to the bourgeois
 Literature and material culture
masterplot of marriage. Like the bachelor-collectors in the six fantastic
tales discussed above, the widowed Eliante refuses the traditional plot
structure of remarrying or taking lovers. Again, as is the case with these
male bachelors who see nighttime apparitions of reanimated women
amidst their bibelots, the lovers that Eliante refuses are iconographically
inscribed in her decor. In addition to the vase with which Eliante
ritualistically masturbates, there are other collector’s objects which
stand in for people, though in a more banally metaphoric way, through
resemblance. Léon, in black evening attire, is compared to a black statue
of Eros whose bow and arrow, hands, and an arm have been broken off
(p. ). When shown her collection of erotic Chinese figurines, Léon
notices that the female figures all bear a striking resemblance to Eliante
herself (pp. –). Such personifications add to the perverse eroticiz-
ation of Eliante’s decor. The refused heterosexual liaisons are marked
by the vase, the statue of Eros, and the erotic figurines. Oedipal order is
thus restored narratively through a game of substitution, the love rela-
tions signified by the bibelots standing in for the relations not lived by
the human characters. While I would never claim that the collector’s
object is in general a part-object substitute, a fetishistic sublimation of
desire (as some analysts of collecting have), collecting certainly can be
used this way in narrative. Eliante’s collection of exotic and erotic
bibelots is not only a substitute for physical union with the male Other,
but also and especially a figure of narcissistic onanism, a doubling of her
own self. The economy of collecting is thus caught up in a sort of
black-market sexual economy constructed in parallel with a bourgeois
economy of Oedipal sexuality.
Above I suggested that in her visual and performative splendor,
Eliante lacks depth. Though we ‘‘see’’ little of Léon’s body, clothed or
unclothed, his character is unusually shallow as well: he is all spectator,
all eyes, all questions. As with Lorrain, in Rachilde visual play between
the subjects and objects of the gaze takes precedence over psychological
realism. As the narrative embodiment of the gaze, Léon is the double of
the reader. He is also the double of fin-de-siècle society, for even if he
fancies himself to be a bit of an aesthete, he is above all a man of
bourgeois means, a double of the ambitious Balzacian hero à la Rastig-
nac, the bourgeois Oedipal hero in search of a beautiful high-society
lover, secretly desiring the mother. The characters of Rachilde’s La
Jongleuse and Lorrain’s Monsieur de Phocas are doubles of literary arche-
types, and were never intended as doubles of ‘‘real’’ persons; no effort is
made to construct them as psychologically realistic. The same is true of
Rearranging the Oedipus 
their houses, which are simulacra of Balzacian archetypes. If Balzac’s
heroes, heroines, and houses are meant to be simulacra of ‘‘the real,’’
then Rachilde’s and Lorrain’s are simulacra of Balzac’s simulacra.
There is no depth, only surface. Such characters function like objects of
decor. The novel itself becomes an elaborate floor-plan.

Baudrillard has declared that by the mid-twentieth century, household


furnishings are no longer anthropomorphic, as they were during the
previous century. Dwelling space in nineteenth-century fantastic and
decadent narratives does indeed remain anthropomorphic, hauntingly,
morbidly, and perversely so. However, the perverse bibelots of Lorrain’s
and Rachilde’s decadent floor-plans should be understood as the last
gasp of the anthropomorphized interior.
In nineteenth-century narrative, the figure of anthropomorphism
allows for the passing between domains, from psychology to decor, from
the animate to the inanimate, from the physical or spatial to the
economic and the cognitive, from the private to the public, from the
domestic sphere to the marketplace, from the familial to the social.
Structural homology shows these spheres to be interrelated without
being coterminous. Boundaries between them are present, but blurry.
The logic of material culture informs nineteenth-century narrative
logic, as bibelots and other domestic goods circulate through all of these
spheres, crossing boundaries, allowing narrative to pass among them
without completely denying their (always only partial) separateness.
The anthropomorphism of material culture in literature is more than
rhetorical, more than metaphorical, more than psychological, for ac-
tual, ‘‘real-life’’ man-made objects are very much anthropomorphic.
Elaine Scarry explains that made objects, or artifacts, are produced by
the body, for the body, projecting the body, extending it, and in turn
transforming it. The room is ‘‘an enlargement of the body,’’ supple-
menting the protective function of skin and of clothing (pp. –). At the
same time, ‘‘while the room is a magnification of the body, it is simulta-
neously a miniaturization of the world, of civilization’’ (p. ). By the
mid-nineteenth century, the time during which Marx is writing, the
made world envelops the body to the point that it is difficult to remem-
ber that it was made by the body for the body. As Scarry shows in her
reading of Marx, with the dawn of industrial capitalism, material objects
become increasingly alienated from both their producers and their
consumers. As things become separated from people, the marketplace
takes on an autonomy haunting in its seeming unnaturalness.
 Literature and material culture
The bibelot extends the body in a different way than does a chair or a
tool, which are the artifacts that Scarry uses as examples. Antique and
exotic bibelots were produced for bodies long dead or far away. The
industrial reproduction of such bibelots further distances them from the
bodies by which and for which they were originally designed and made.
In many ways they do not ‘‘fit’’ the modern body comfortably. Faced
with the proliferation of these alienated and alienating bibelots in the
home and in the marketplace, the place of the body in relation to them
becomes unclear, muddling the boundaries between persons and things.
It is no longer certain that ‘‘man’’ is in control. Given this situation,
nineteenth-century writers respond by dramatizing the anthropomor-
phism of things, precisely because it is threatened by the growing
detachment between them and persons. This is one of the dramas
played out around the bibelot in fiction from Balzac to Proust. Fantastic
and decadent fiction plays on the threat posed by the separation of
persons and things, in genre-specific ways. In the stories and novels
discussed in this chapter, characters become overly attached to things
and dangerously detached from other persons. The realms of the
animate and the inanimate are thus deliberately confused. Inappropri-
ate attachments and detachments restructure domestic, sexual, and
social order, the order of the bourgeois Oedipus, in the fantastic through
figurative fetishism, and in the decadent through serialized simulation.
Notes

Note on translations: Historical and literary sources are quoted in the


original French, with longer citations followed by an English translation
in brackets. Twentieth-century theoretical and critical sources have
been quoted in English from published translations whenever available.
Unless a published translation is cited, all other translations are my own.

      
 Williams, Dream Worlds, pp. –.
 Chandra Mukerji contests this periodization, pushing the dawn of con-
sumption back to the early modern period. See her From Graven Images,
chapter .
 Pearce, On Collecting, pp. –; Barthes, ‘‘Semantics of the Object.’’
 Gere, Nineteenth-Century Interiors, p. .
 Bosc, Dictionnaire, p. .
 Octave Uzanne parodies this trend in a short story, ‘‘Le Crachoir’’ [‘‘The
Spittoon’’], in Le Bric-à-brac de l’amour ().
 Wharton and Codman, The Decoration of Houses, p. .
 ‘‘La bimbeloterie, ainsi nommée du vieux mot bimbelot, jouet d’enfant,
dérivé lui-même de l’italien bimbolo, poupée, comprend non-seulement les
divers jouets destinés à l’amusement des enfants, mais encore les masques,
certains objets d’étagère, et des articles pour les confiseurs, les coiffeurs, les
couturières et les modistes’’ (Burée, Les Eventails. La Bimbeloterie, p. ).
 Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Histoire de la société française pendant le
Directoire, p. .
 Clément de Ris, La Curiosité, p. ; author’s emphasis.
 Bonnaffé, Causeries sur l’art et la curiosité, p. .
 Goncourt, La Maison d’un artiste, : ; author’s emphasis.
 Clément de Ris, La Curiosité, . On the parallels between Pons and the
other collectors of his time, see Lorant, Les ‘‘Parents pauvres’’, esp. : –,
and his introduction and notes to the Pléiade edition of Le Cousin Pons.
 Bonnaffé, Causeries, p. .

 Notes to pages –
 Vachon, La Belle maison, pp. –.
 On the department store, see Miller, The Bon Marché; Bowlby, Just Looking;
Williams, Dream Worlds; and Schor, ‘‘Before the Castle,’’ in Bad Objects. On
other retail forms, see Nord, Paris Shopkeepers; and Jones, ‘‘Women Buying
and Selling in Ancien Régime Paris,’’ in De Grazia, ed., The Sex of Things.
 Magraw, ‘‘Producing, Retailing, Consuming: France –,’’ in Rigby,
ed., French Literature, Thought and Culture, p. .
 Bourget, ‘‘Edmond de Jules de Goncourt,’’ in Essais, p. .
 ‘‘[I]ls offrent une réponse anticipée à tous [les] désirs [d’un peuple],’’ ibid.
 Clément de Ris, La Curiosité, p. .
 Flaubert, L’Education sentimentale, p. .
 Goncourt, Journal, June , : .
 Bonnaffé, Causeries, p. ; my emphasis. In France, the public auctions are
state regulated. These regulations changed just after the revolution. The
auctions were moved to the hôtel Drouot in , where they are still held
today (ibid.).
 Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Renée Mauperin, p. ; authors’ emphasis.
 Clément de Ris, Curiosité, p. ; author’s emphasis.
 Ibid., pp. , ; Goncourt, Maison, : , , ; Journal, : , ,
, , , , , , , , , , , , and : , ,
, , , , , , , .
 Montesquiou, Les pas effacés, : .
 Zola, L’Oeuvre, in Les Rougon-Macquart, : , , , , .
 Benjamin, ‘‘Edward Fuchs, Collector and Historian,’’ p. . On Romanti-
cism and collecting, see Wainwright, The Romantic Interior; and Pearce, On
Collecting, pp. –, , and –.
 Zola, L’Oeuvre, : ; my emphasis. On Romanticism in L’Oeuvre, see
Zamparelli, ‘‘Zola and the Quest for the Absolute in Art’’; and Brady,
‘L’Oeuvre’ d’Emile Zola, pp. –.
 Edmond de Goncourt comments on Zola’s ‘‘épatant faux mobilier
moyenâgeux, Renaissance,’’ underlining the same paradox: ‘‘Le lit de
l’auteur de l’Assomoir serait défendu par une grille en fer forgé’’ (Journal, 
January , : ). See also Dakyns, The Middle Ages in French Literature, pp.
–.
 Rey, ‘‘Le nom d’artiste,’’ p. .
 Balzac, La Muse du département, : ; my emphasis.
 Gautier, ‘‘Préface’’ [] to Mademoiselle de Maupin, p. .
 Barbey d’Aurevilly, Du dandysme, p. .
 Nochlin, Realism, p. .
 ‘‘Brummell passait pour avoir une des plus nombreuses collections de
tabatières qu’il y eût en Angleterre’’ (Barbey d’Aurevilly, Du dandysme, p. ).
 McGuinness, ‘‘Mallarmé’s Ptyx and the Symbolist ‘Bric-à-Brac’’’; Hel-
geson, ‘‘Presque Rien: Mallarmé’s Objects.’’
 Chevrie, Pourquoi n’avons-nous pas de style moderne, p. .
 Bourget, ‘‘Edmond de Jules de Goncourt,’’ in Essais, p. .
Notes to pages – 
 Simmel makes a similar connection in his Philosophy of Money (), pp.
–.
 See Silverman, Art Nouveau in Fin de Siècle France.
 See Mukerji, ‘‘Territorial Gardens.’’
 On the relationship between monarchial power and style, see part  of
Auslander, Taste and Power: Furnishing Modern France.

     (  )               
 Bourdieu, In Other Words, pp. , , –; The Rules of Art, pp. –; Outline
of a Theory of Practice, pp. –; and The Logic of Practice, pp. –.
 Bourdieu, In Other Words, pp. , .
 Ibid., p. .
 Ibid., p. ; my emphasis. See also Jenkins, Pierre Bourdieu, p. .
 Culler, Flaubert: The Uses of Uncertainty.
 Bourdieu, In Other Words, p. .
 Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy: A Primer in
the Social History of Pictorial Style (Oxford: Oxford University Press, ), p.
, cited in Bourdieu, The Rules of Art, pp. –.
 Bourdieu, In Other Words, p. .
 Zukin, ‘‘Mimesis in the Origins of Bourgeois Culture.’’
 On fashion as imitation, see Tarde, The Laws of Imitation, pp. –; and
Simmel, ‘‘Fashion,’’ in On Individuality and Social Forms.
 See for example Walton, France at the Crystal Palace; and Nord, ‘‘Republican
Politics and the Bourgeois Interior.’’
 Servant, Les Bronzes d’art (); Bouilhet, ‘‘La Galvanoplastie’’ (–);
Noguès, ‘‘Les cristaux’’ (n.d.); Vidal, ‘‘La décoration céramique par impres-
sion,’’ (–). On bronze statues, see Walton, France at the Crystal Palace, pp.
–; and Wosk, ‘‘The Anxiety of Imitation: Electrometallurgy and the
Imitative Arts,’’ in Breaking the Frame, pp. –.
 [No author], ‘‘Une Histoire de la reproduction artistique’’ (–).
 Walton, France at the Crystal Palace, pp. – and –.
 Silverman, Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Siècle France, pp. –; Nord, ‘‘Republican
Politics and the Bourgeois Interior,’’ pp. –.
 G., ‘‘La Guerre à la contrefaçon’’ (–), .
 Eudel, Le Truquage: Les contrefaçons dévoilées (), : –.
 Bosc, Dictionnaire, p. ; author’s emphasis.
 Blondel, L’Art intime et le goût en France (), p. . See also Cardon, L’Art au
foyer domestique (), p.  (cited below); Servant, ‘‘Les Bronzes d’art,’’ p. ;
and Blanc, Grammaire des arts décoratifs (), pp. –.
 Eudel, Le Truquage, : –; my emphasis.
 De Noirmont, ‘‘Imitations artistiques en cuir bouilli,’’ in ‘‘Revue de
l’Exposition de ’’ (–).
 Blanc, Grammaire des arts décoratifs, pp. –.
 Nord, ‘‘Republican Politics and the Bourgeois Interior,’’ p. .
 Notes to pages –
 Baudrillart, Histoire du luxe privé et public (), cited by Eleb-Vidal and
Debarre-Blanchard, Architectures de la vie privée, pp. –.
 Cardon, L’Art au foyer domestique, p. . See also Blanc, Grammaire des arts
décoratifs, pp. –.
 On kitsch, see Moles, Le Kitsch, Calinescu, Five Faces of Modernity, and
Sternberg, Les chefs-d’oeuvre du kitsch.
 De Noussane, Le Goût dans l’ammeublement, p. ; my emphasis.
 Huysmans, ‘‘Le Musée des arts décoratifs,’’ p. .
 Ibid., p. .
 Chevrie, Pourquoi n’avons-nous pas de style moderne, p. . On the relationship
between the detail and mechanical reproduction, see Schor, Reading in
Detail, pp. –.
 On the moral critique of luxury, see for example Campbell, The Romantic
Ethic, pp. – and –; Eleb-Vidal and Debarre-Blanchard, Architectures de
la vie privée, pp. –; and Williams, Dream Worlds, pp.  and –.
 Nicholas Thomas makes a similar point in a different context in his
‘‘Licensed Curiosity: Cook’s Pacific Voyages,’’ in Elsner and Cardinal, eds.,
The Cultures of Collecting.
 My use of this term is unrelated to the concept of ‘‘Regime of accumula-
tion,’’ as explained in Boyer, The Regulation School, pp. xii–xiii and –.
Historical accounts of forms of accumulation which predate modern col-
lecting can be found in Pomian, Collectors and Curiosities, pp. –; Alsop,
The Rare Art Traditions, pp. –; and Pearce, On Collecting, pp. –.
 Thornton, Authentic Decor, p. .
 Ibid., p. .
 Blondel, L’Art intime, p. .
 See for example Balzac’s Le Cousin Pons and Maupassant’s ‘‘La Chevelure.’’
 Jameson, ‘‘Flaubert’s Libidinal Historicism,’’ p. .
 Havard, L’Art dans la maison (), p. .
 Cuisenier, L’Art populaire, pp. –.
 Eleb-Vidal and Debarre-Blanchard, Vie privée, p. .
 Ibid., p. .
 Havard, L’Art dans la maison, p. .
 Noussanne, Goût dans l’ameublement, p. .
 Watson, ‘‘Assimilating Mobility.’’
 Flaubert, L’Education sentimentale, p. . On art and the artist, see Fairlie,
‘‘Aspects de l’histoire de l’art dans ‘l’Education sentimentale’’’ and ‘‘Pel-
lerin et le thème de l’art dans ‘l’Education sentimentale’.’’
 Andrieu, ‘‘Les Maisons,’’ p. .
 D’Avenel, Le Mécanisme de la vie moderne, : . The chapter entitled ‘‘La
Maison parisienne’’ appeared in La Revue des deux mondes in .
 Ibid., pp. –.
 Daunais, Flaubert et la scénographie romanesque.
 Expression borrowed from Igor Kopytoff, ‘‘The Cultural Biography of
Things: Commoditization as Process,’’ in Appadurai, ed., The Social Life of
Notes to pages – 
Things.
 Flaubert, L’Education sentimentale, p. . See Haig, ‘‘Madame Arnoux’s
Coffret.’’
 On the gift/commodity distinction, see Gregory, Gifts and Commodities.
 Knight, ‘‘Object Choices: Taste and Fetishism in Flaubert’s L’Éducation
sentimentale,’’ in Rigby, ed., French Literature, Thought and Culture in the Nineteenth
Century.
 For a psychological reading of this scene, see Apter, Feminizing the Fetish, p.
.
 See for example Thomas, Entangled Objects.
 Rigby, ‘‘Things, Distinction and Decay in Nineteenth-Century French
Literature,’’ in Rigby, ed., French Literature, Thought and Culture in the Nineteenth
Century.

                      
 Duchet, ‘‘L’artiste en question,’’ p. . Romantisme devoted three issues to the
question of the artist: . (st quarter, ); . (st quarter, ); .
(st quarter, ).
 Saisselin, The Bourgeois and the Bibelot.
 Walton, France at the Crystal Palace, p. .
 Bourdieu, The Rules of Art, pp. , , –, –.
 Rey, ‘‘Le nom d’artiste,’’ p. .
 Leduc-Adine, ‘‘Les arts et l’industrie au e siècle,’’ p. ; Woodmansee,
The Author, Art and the Market, p. .
 On Sand’s idealization of the worker, see Schor, George Sand and Idealism.
 Goncourts, Journal, ( December ), : .
 Ibid. ( March ), : ; author’s emphasis.
 Ibid. ( December ), : .
 Ibid. ( December ), : .
 Ibid. ( September ), : .
 Uzanne, ‘‘Note sur le goût intime,’’ p. .
 De Noirmont, ‘‘Ameublements d’art,’’ pp. –.
 De Noirmont, ‘‘Ameublements d’art’’; ‘‘Meubles d’art,’’ advertisement.
 Guinard, Cardon, Havard, Blondel respectively.
 Champier, ‘‘A propos de l’enquête sur les industries d’art,’’ p. ; my
emphasis.
 Uzanne, ‘‘Note sur le goût intime,’’ p. .
 Montesqiou, Les Pas effacés, : , .
 Fourdinois, ‘‘De l’état actuel de l’industrie du mobilier,’’ pp. –.
 Montesqiou, Les Pas effacés, p. ; author’s italics.
 Feray, Architecture intérieure et décoration, p. ; see also Praz, Histoire de la
décoration d’intérieur, p. .
 Nogressau, ‘‘Intérieurs d’ateliers,’’ p. .
 Lenoir, Traité théorique et pratique du tapissier, p. .
 Notes to pages –
 Proust, Jean Santeuil, p. .
 Sagnès, L’Ennui dans la littérature française, p. .
 Larroumet, La maison de Victor Hugo, pp. , .
 Houssaye, ‘‘De Marine-Terrace à Hauteville-House,’’ p. .
 See Dangelzer, La Description du milieu, p. , and Lorant’s notes and
introduction to the Pléiade edition of Le Cousin Pons.
 Buisine, ‘‘Le culte des reliques,’’ in Tombeau de Loti, p. .
 Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Charles Demailly, p. ; see also Silverman,
Art Nouveau, pp. –.
 Cited by Danger, Sensations et objets, p. ; my emphasis. The Goncourt
brothers comment, ‘‘Flaubert n’a aucun sentiment artistique. Il n’a jamais
acheté un objet d’art de vingt-cinq sous. Il n’a pas chez lui une statuette, un
tableau, un bibelot quelconque. Il parle pourtant d’art avec fureur; mais ce
n’est que parce que, littérairement, l’art est une note distinguée, bon genre,
qui couronne un homme qui a un style artiste, et puis c’est anti-bourgeois’’
(Journal,  December , : –).
 Lalonde, ‘‘La Collection curieuse de Bouvard et Pécuchet,’’ pp. –.
 Lorrain, ‘‘Ophélius,’’ in Contes d’un buveur d’éther, p. . On Lorrain’s decor,
see Jullian, Jean Lorrain ou le satiricon , pp. , –, , –, –,
–, as well as d’Anthonay, Jean Lorrain: Barbare et esthète, pp. –.
 Apter, Feminizing the Fetish, p. .
 On bourgeois imitation during the eighteenth century, see Scott, ‘‘Counter-
feit Culture on the Right Bank,’’ in The Rococo Interior, pp. –.
 Cardon, L’Art au foyer domestique, p. .
 d’Hervilly, Le Bibelot. Prior to Pons, the fictitious collector is generally
portrayed as a maniacal fool blinded by his passion (Lorant, Parents pauvres,
: –).
 Bauquenne, ‘‘Ménages parisiens,’’ p. .
 Le Monde Illustré  ( January ): ; Ohnet, ‘‘La Comtesse de Sarah,’’
L’Illustration  ( November ): .
 Apter, ‘‘Splitting Hairs: Female Fetishism and Postpartum Sentimentality
in Maupassant’s Fiction,’’ in Feminizing the Fetish.
 See for example Walton, ‘‘Constructing the Bourgeoisie Through Con-
sumption,’’ in France at the Crystal Palace, pp. –; Nord, ‘‘Republican
Politics and the Bourgeois Interior’’; and Auslander, ‘‘The Bourgeois Stylis-
tic Régime,’’ in Taste and Power, pp. –.
 Blanche de Géry, ‘‘L’Ameublement moderne,’’ series of articles in La Mode
de Paris. On bibelots suitable to the man of the house, see  September and
 November , pp.  and . On the woman’s dressing room, see 
August , p. .
 Journal ( December ), : .
 Dumas fils, La Dame aux camélias, pp. –.
 Havard notes that ‘‘les dames du meilleur monde’’ attend the auctions of
actresses and visit ‘‘leurs hôtels somptueux’’ (L’Art dans la maison, p. ).
 Mornand, ‘‘L’hôtel de Mademoiselle Rachel,’’ p. ; author’s emphasis.
Notes to pages – 
 Zola, Nana, : ; my emphasis.
 On Maupassant’s strange ‘‘mobilier de putain,’’ see Goncourt, Journal (
December ), : ; Nadine Satiat, Introduction to Notre coeur, ;
Dominique Frémy, Brigitte Monglond, and Bernard Benech, introductory
material to Maupassant’s Contes et nouvelles, : –.
 Vilcot, Huysmans et l’intimité protégée, pp. –.
 Borie, Huysmans: Le Diable, le célibataire et Dieu, p. . Eve Sedgwick has
suggested that the literary character of the bachelor is sometimes – but
certainly not always – homosexual (Epistemology of the Closet, pp. –).
 Goncourt, Journal ( February ), : . Sexist genderings of collecting
and the bibelot persist. Werner Muensterberger repeatedly compares col-
lecting to Don Juanism in his Collecting: An Unruly Passion, while Rémy G.
Saisselin combines sexism with elitism in his The Bourgeois and the Bibelot. On
Baudrillard’s sexist theory of collecting, see Schor, ‘‘Cartes postales,’’ –.
 ‘‘Chroniques,’’ La Presse,  January and  May , cited in Champier,
‘‘Les artistes de l’industrie,’’ p. .
 Castella, Structures romanesques et vision sociale, p. .
 Maupassant, Notre coeur, p. . On Prédolé, see Vial, Guy de Maupassant et
l’art du roman, pp. – and .
 Proust, A la recherche, : ; Remembrance of Things Past, : –.

      ’ ‘‘ ́  ̧  ’ ’


 Flaubert, Bouvard et Pécuchet, ed. Gothot-Mersch, p. .
 On the museum episode, in addition to Donato see Schuerewegen, ‘‘Mu-
séum ou croutéum? Pons, Bouvard, Pécuchet et la collection’’; Lalonde, ‘‘La
Collection curieuse de Bouvard et Pécuchet’’; Michel Crouzet, ‘‘Sur le
grotesque triste dans Bouvard et Pécuchet,’’ in Cogny et al., Flaubert et le comble,
pp. –; Leclerc, La Spirale et le monument, p. ; Kempf, ‘‘Pièces de musée,’’
in Bouvard, Flaubert et Pécuchet, pp. –; Wing, ‘‘Detail and Narrative
Dalliance in Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet.’’ On the impossibility of unity, see
Anne Herschberg-Pierrot, ‘‘La mise en texte des idées reçues dans Bouvard et
Pécuchet,’’ in Toro, Gustave Flaubert: Procédés narratifs et fondements épistémologiques;
Grange, ‘‘Les deux colonnes’’; and many of the articles cited in what follows.
 Donato, ‘‘The Museum’s Furnace,’’ p. . On epistemology, see Eckhard
Höfner, ‘‘Bouvard et Pécuchet et la science livresque,’’ in Toro, Gustave Flaubert;
and John Greene, ‘‘Structure et épistémologie dans Bouvard et Pécuchet,’’ in
Cogny et al., Flaubert et le comble.
 Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, pp. –.
 Ibid., p. ; author’s emphasis.
 Ibid., pp. –.
 Porter, ‘‘The Rhetoric of Deconstruction: Donato and Flaubert,’’ p. .
 See also Françoise Gaillard, ‘‘Un inenerrable histoire,’’ in Cogny et al.,
Flaubert et le comble, and Seylaz, ‘‘Bouvard et Pécuchet ou l’histoire au
présent.’’
 Notes to pages –
 See Surin, ‘‘Liberation.’’
 This work includes that of Clifford Geertz, James Clifford, Michael Taus-
sig, Marilyn Strathern, and Nicholas Thomas.
 See especially Clifford, ‘‘On Collecting Art and Culture’’; Karp and Lavine,
Exhibiting Cultures; Pearce, ed., Museums and the Appropriation of Culture; and
Bennett, The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics.
 Lalonde, ‘‘La Collection curieuse,’’ p. ; Donato, ‘‘The Museum’s Fur-
nace,’’ pp. , ; Schuerewegen, ‘‘Muséum ou croutéum,’’ p. .
 Flaubert, Bouvard et Pécuchet, ed. Alberto Cento, pp. , , , , , .
 See also Wing, ‘‘Detail and Narrative Dalliance,’’ p. .
 Lalonde, ‘‘La Collection curieuse,’’ p. .
 Kempf also takes note of the objects in the library in his Bouvard, Flaubert et
Pécuchet, p. .
 Schuerewegen, ‘‘Muséum ou croutéum,’’ p. .
 Many of the Parisian activities described in chapter  are taken up again
later in the novel, as Claudine Gothot-Mersch observes in ‘‘Le Roman
interminable: un aspect de la structure de Bouvard et Pécuchet,’’ in Cogny et
al., Flaubert et le comble, pp. –.
 An outline of the novel hints at this often discussed tendency: ‘‘Donner
comme vraies des indications bibliographiques fausses’’ (‘‘Premier scé-
nario,’’ in Bouvard et Pécuchet, ed. Cento, p. ).
 Gervais, Musée de la société des antiquaires de Normandie (); du Sommerard,
Musée des Thermes et de l’Hôtel de Cluny (); Adeline, Le Musée d’antiquités et le
musée céramique de Rouen (); Flaubert, Carnets de travail.
 On Flaubert’s prodigious memory, see Danger, Sensations et objets dans le
roman de Flaubert.
 France’s first public museum, the Musée des Monuments Français, was
established in  under the direction of Alexandre Lenoir. The Musée de
Cluny was founded in , Caen’s Musée des Antiquités in , and
Rouen’s Musée d’Antiquités in , the ceramic collection being added
later in .
 For example, the fragments of ‘‘tuiles rouges’’ in the Caen museum were
discovered at Saint-Aubin-sur-mer in , and those of Cluny at La
Souterraine in . The ‘‘lacrymatoires’’ at Cluny were found in the
department of Nord in . Cluny’s ‘‘plombs’’ were found in the Seine
between  and .
 In Flaubert, Bouvard et Pécuchet, ed. Gothot-Mersch, pp.  and .
 Erlande-Brandenburg, ‘‘L’Evolution du musée de Cluny,’’ p. .
 Philippe de Chennevières, Gazette des Beaux-Arts (), cited by Poulot, ‘‘La
visite au musée,’’ p. . See also Poulot, ‘‘L’invention de la bonne volonté
culturelle,’’ and Sherman, Worthy Monuments.
 Pierre Lacour and Jules Delpit, Catalogue des tableaux, statues, etc. du Musée de
Bordeaux (Bordeaux: N. Duviella, ), , cited by Sherman, Worthy Monu-
ments.
 Flaubert’s notes from the Caen museum: ‘‘Bahuts Renaissance, style Jean
Notes to pages – 
Goujon’’ (Carnets, p. ). Caen museum catalogue: see items ,  and
, ‘‘coffres de mariage.’’ Cluny museum catalogue: ‘‘. – Coffre de
mariage, forme de bahut sur pieds et à couvercle, en bois sculpté. – Ecole
française du e siècle.’’ See also items –, ‘‘bahuts’’ and ‘‘coffres.’’
Rouen museum catalogue: ‘‘bahuts’’ found in almost every room. ‘‘Il faut
aussi ajouter que Laporte, l’ami et le collaborateur de Flaubert, en avait
trouvé qui servaient de coffres à avoine, et que Flaubert les avait admirés
dans la salle à manger de Laporte à Grand-Couronne’’ (René Dumesnil as
cited by Alberto Cento, Commentaire, p. ).
 Flaubert’s notes from the Caen museum: ‘‘Dans l’escalier, carcans de la
haute justice d’Annebaut qui est une poutre, entraves formidables’’
(Flaubert, Carnets de travail, p. ).
 On Flaubertian irony, see Chambers, ‘‘Répétition et ironie,’’ in Mélancolie et
opposition, pp. –; Warning, ‘‘Reading Irony in Flaubert’’; Humphries,
‘‘Bouvard et Pécuchet and the Fable of Stable Irony.’’
 ‘‘Je veux qu’il n’y ait pas dans mon livre un seul mouvement, ni une seule
réflexion de l’auteur’’ (letter to Louise Colet,  February , cited by
Bollème, La leçon de Flaubert, p. ; Flaubert’s emphasis).
 The Carnets de travail include detailed notes on objects of religious kitsch such
as those described in the text. On personal possessions of Flaubert cited in
his fiction, see Andrieu, ‘‘Les Maisons.’’
 August .
 Sainte-Beuve,  December , Nouveaux lundis, p. .
 Ibid., p. .
 On the relationship of the petit-bourgeois to the museum, including com-
ments on Bouvard et Pécuchet, see Buisine, ‘‘Sociomimesis: physiologie du
petit-bourgeois.’’
 Wainwright, The Romantic Interior, p. .
 Bonnaffé, Physiologie du curieux (), pp. –.
 Pomian, ‘‘Medals/Shells = Erudition/Philosophy,’’ in Collectors and Curiosi-
ties, p. .
 Pomian, Collectors and Curiosities, p. .
 Maze-Sencier, Livre des collectionneurs, p. .
 Flaubert, ‘‘Quatrième scénario,’’ in Bouvard et Pécuchet, ed. Cento, p. .
 Ibid., pp.  and .
 An exception to this trend is Leo Bersani’s chapter ‘‘Flaubert’s Encyclo-
pedism,’’ in which it is argued that Bouvard and Pécuchet appears to be an
encyclopedic novel, but its accumulations of facts serve to mask the point
that art is useless.
 This change in organization took place in  (Clément de Ris, Curiosité,
pp. –; my emphasis).
 Donato, ‘‘The Museum’s Furnace,’’ pp. –; author’s emphasis.
 J.-M. Roland, ministre de l’Intérieur, in a  letter regarding the arrange-
ment of paintings in the Louvre, cited by Pommier, ‘‘Postface,’’ p. .
 Adeline, Musée de Rouen, p. ; my emphasis.
 Notes to pages –
 Ibid., p. ; my emphasis.
 Du Sommerard, Musée des Thermes et de l’Hôtel de Cluny, pp. –. Still
located in the Thermes and Hôtel de Cluny, today the museum is called the
‘‘Musée National du Moyen Age.’’
 Erlande-Brandenburg, ‘‘Evolution de Cluny,’’ p. .
 Flaubert, Carnets, pp.  and .
 Catalogue item .
 Bourdieu and Darbel, The Love of Art.
 Mouchard and Neefs, Flaubert, p. . See also Buisine’s ‘‘Sociomimesis.’’
 See Flaubert’s early outlines of the novel in Bouvard et Pécuchet, ed. Cento, pp.
 and .
 Adeline, Le Musée d’antiquités et le musée céramique de Rouen, p. .
 Chaline, ‘‘Le milieu culturel rouennais au temps de Flaubert,’’ p. .
 Dictionnaire de la conversation et de la lecture: Inventaire raisonné des notions générales les
plus indispensables à tous, par une société de savants et de gens de lettres, : –.
 In Bouvard et Pécuchet, p. . On the ‘‘chic’’ of faı̈ence (Italian-style stone-
ware), see Champfleury’s novel Le violon de faı̈ence, pp. ,  and .
 Flaubert, Bouvard et Pécuchet, pp. –. Leclerc has pointed out that many of
Bouvard and Pécuchet’s projects are based on purely visual imitations,
including the garden and the gym (La Spirale et le monument, p. ; see also his
chapter , ‘‘La reproduction,’’ pp. –).
 These include the ‘‘vieux fers’’ (no doubt included among the ‘‘quincaillerie’’
mentioned by Flaubert in chapter ), the ‘‘plombs’’ (not mentioned before
this point in the novel), and the ‘‘hallebarde’’ mentioned in chapter .
 Mouchard and Neefs, Flaubert, p. .
 Leclerc, La spirale et le monument, p. .
 Foucault, ‘‘Fantasia of the Library,’’ which is on The Temptation of Saint
Anthony.
 Suzanne Allen describes Bouvard and Pécuchet as ‘‘colporteurs’’ of science.
It would be more accurate to describe them as customers, rather than
peddlers, of science. In fact, at one point they actually purchase a scientific
manual from a colporteur (‘‘D’un ‘ cloporte ’ colporteur’’).
 See Campbell, The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumption.
 This idea is repeated, becoming part of the cycle. For example: ‘‘Pour
entendre tout cela (chemistry), selon Bouvard, il aurait fallu des instru-
ments. La dépense était considérable; ils en avaient trop fait’’ (p. ).
 For a fuller discussion of the connections between consuming, collecting,
and desire, see, among others, Belk, Collecting in a Consumer Society, pp. –,
–, –; and Stewart, ‘‘Objects of Desire,’’ in On Longing, pp. –.

      ,    ,      ?


 By ‘‘postmodernist literary criticism’’ I refer especially to the s sort that
identifies what is ‘‘postmodern’’ about high-modern writers, generating
Notes to pages – 
books like Flaubert and Postmodernism (edited by Schor and Majewski) and
Postmodern Proust (Gray).
 Lukács, ‘‘Narrate or Describe?,’’ p. .
 For a detailed discussion, see Bal, Double Exposures, pp. –.
 Spencer R. Crew and James E. Sims, ‘‘Locating Authenticity: Fragments of
a Dialogue,’’ in Karp and Lavine, eds., Exhibiting Cultures, p. .
 Barthes, ‘‘Semantics of the Object,’’ p. .
 See Buisine, ‘‘Un cas limite de la description: l’énumération.’’ See also
Brochu, Roman et énumération.
 Schor, Breaking the Chain, p. .
 Sainte-Beuve,  December , Nouveaux lundis, : ; my emphasis.
 Schor, Breaking the Chain, p. .
 Ibid., p. ; my emphasis.
 Gordon, Ornament, Fantasy and Desire, p. .
 It is telling that of Flaubert’s novels, Foucault chooses to write about The
Temptation of Saint Anthony (‘‘Fantasia of the Library’’).
 ‘‘Comment ‘écrire’ la collection? . . . Décrire la collection implique néces-
sairement un inventaire’’ (Gérard Gengembre, introduction to Balzac, Le
cousin Pons, p. ).
 Dangelzer, La Description du milieu, pp. –; my emphasis. I retain the
French original for critics Dangelzer, Richard, and Ricatte because they
make use of the vocabulary of collecting in the passages cited.
 Ibid., p. . For a positive reading of the studio, see Crouzet, ‘‘Rhétorique
du réel dans Manette Salomon,’’ pp. –.
 Dangelzer, La Description du milieu, p. .
 On descriptive restraint in Renée Mauperin, see Nadine Satiat’s introduction
to the edition of the novel cited in the bibliography, pp. –.
 Huysmans, A rebours, p. .
 Lukács, ‘‘Narrate or Describe?,’’ p. .
 See Knapp, ‘‘The Goncourt Brothers: Ecriture-Sensation.’’ On ‘‘pic-
turalisme,’’ see Caramaschi, Réalisme et impressionisme dans l’oeuvre des frères
Goncourt, esp. pp. , , , .
 Dangelzer, La Description du milieu, p. .
 Richard, ‘‘Deux écrivains épidermiques: Edmond et Jules de Goncourt,’’ in
Littérature et sensation, p. ; author’s emphasis.
 Ricatte, La Création romanesque chez les Goncourt, p. .
 Ibid., pp. –.
 Barthes, ‘‘The Reality Effect,’’ pp. –. As Debray-Genette (of the post-
modernist/post-structuralist camp) observes, description in narrative al-
ways lacks internal motivation (Métamorphoses du récit, p. ; see also pp. ,
, ).
 Many theorize seriality as the key feature of the collection. See for example
Schor, ‘‘Cartes postales: Representing Paris ,’’ pp. –; Baudrillard,
The System of Objects, p. ; and Stewart, On Longing, pp. –.
 See for example Muensterberger, Collecting: An Unruly Passion, p. .
 Notes to pages –
 Balzac, La Peau de chagrin, p. ; my emphasis.
 Cazauran, ‘‘Le ‘Tableau’ du magasin d’antiquités dans La Peau de chagrin,’’
p. .
 Bell, Circumstances, p. .
 The detrimental effect of married life on the artist is a well-worn theme in
nineteenth-century French literature, as in Zola’s Oeuvre, to cite the best-
known example. See Michel Crouzet’s preface to Manette Salomon, pp. –.
 Baudrillard’s hyperreal comes into being when value acquires a ‘‘fantastic
autonomy’’ (Symbolic Exchange and Death, p. ).
 Goncourt, Maison d’un artiste, : n.p.
 Biasi, ‘‘La collection de Pons comme figure du problématique’’;
Schuerewegen, ‘‘Muséum ou croutéum? Pons, Bouvard, Pécuchet et la
collection’’; Paulson, ‘‘Le Cousin Parasite: Balzac, Serres et le démon de
Maxwell’’; Bell, ‘‘Statistical Thinking in Balzac.’’
 On the melodramatic aspects of Le cousin Pons, see Greene, ‘‘Balzac’s Most
Helpless Heroine: The Art Collection in Le Cousin Pons,’’ and Gérard
Gengembre’s introduction to the edition I cite (p. ).
 There is a discrepancy in the text, since later the collection is numbered at
, objects (p. ).
 See Mustière and Née, ‘‘De l’artiste et du pouvoir: l’Allemagne comme
horizon mythique du romantisme dans Le Cousin Pons.’’
 Balzac, Pons, p. ; author’s italics, guillemets, and ellipses; my ellipses in
brackets.
 ‘‘A rebours, c’est La Maison d’un artiste, mais avec du génie’’ (Juin, preface, p.
). See also Lethève, ‘‘Goûts et dégoûts,’’ p. .
 Court-Perez, Joris-Karl Huysmans: A Rebours, p. . See also J.P. Vilcot,
Huysmans et l’intimité protégée, pp. –.
 See Dottin-Orsini, ‘‘Des Esseintes et les femmes peintes.’’
 Lethève, ‘‘Goûts et dégoûts de des Esseintes,’’ p. ; Livi, J.-K. Huysmans: à
rebours de l’esprit décadent, p. . See also Phalèse, Comptes A rebours, p. ; and
Brunel, ‘‘Du catalogue au roman.’’ On the classical roots of modern
description, see Debray-Genette, ‘‘La Pierre descriptive,’’ in Métamorphoses
du récit, pp. –.
 Soler, ‘‘Le Bazar de Satan: Inventaires et diabolisme dans A rebours,’’ p. .
 Lasowski, ‘‘Le Faux Joris-Karl Huysmans,’’ p. .
 See Harris, A Society of Signs?.
 Silverman, Art Nouveau, p. ; Fosca, Edmond et Jules de Goncourt, p.  n.;
Sagnès, L’Ennui dans la littérature française, p. ; Court-Perez, Joris-Karl
Huysmans, pp. , –.
 Borie, Huysmans: Le Diable, le célibataire et Dieu, p. .
 Baudrillard, System of Objects, p. .
 Williams, Dream Worlds, pp. –.
 Ibid., p. ; see also pp. – in Williams, and de la Motte, ‘‘Writing
against the Grain,’’ p. .
 Humphries, ‘‘Flaubert’s Parrot and Huysmans’s Cricket.’’
Notes to pages – 
 Loomis, ‘‘Of Pride and Fall,’’ p. .
 Williams, Dream Worlds, p. .
 Court-Perez, Joris-Karl Huysmans, p. .

                   
 Balzac, Le Père Goriot, p. ; my emphasis.
 Lepenies, Between Literature and Science: The Rise of Sociology, p. .
 ‘‘L’animal est un principe qui prend sa forme extérieure . . . dans les milieux
où il est appelé à se développer. [. . .] La Société ne fait-elle pas de l’homme,
suivant les milieux où son action se déploie, autant d’hommes différents
qu’il y a de variétés en zoologie?’’ (Balzac, preface to La Comédie humaine).
 Jameson, ‘‘The Realist Floor-Plan,’’ p. .
 On the signification of various Balzacian interiors, see Frölich, ‘‘La descrip-
tion du boudoir de Mme du Tillet’’; and Guichardet, ‘‘‘Espaces intérieurs’
et décors,’’ in Balzac ‘archéologue’ de Paris, pp. –.
 Proust, Jean Santeuil, p. .
 Deleuze, Proust and Signs, p. .
 Proust, A la recherche, : –; Remembrance, : .
 Bourdieu, Distinction, pp. , –. See also pp. , , , and Outline of a
Theory of Practice, pp. –.
 George L. Mosse, introduction to Nordau, Degeneration, pp. xiii–xxxvi.
 On these notions in particular and on the Philosophy of Money in general, see
Miller, Material Culture and Mass Consumption, pp. –, and Poggi, Money and
the Modern Mind.
 Simmel, The Philosophy of Money, p. .
 Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of Communication, p. .
 For Adorno, the nineteenth-century bourgeois interior is the parlour of
Kierkegaard’s critical theory: ‘‘It is the bourgeois intérieur of the nineteenth
century, before which all talk of subject, object, indifferentiation, and
situation pales to an abstract metaphor . . . Just as in the metaphorical
intérieur the intentions of Kierkegaard’s philosophy intertwine, so the intérieur
is also the real space that sets free the categories of the philosophy’’ (Adorno,
Kierkegaard, p. ).
 Baudrillard, The System of Objects, p. . The English translation of the
italicized rhetoric of homology is accurate.
 Bourdieu describes his earliest reading of the Kabyle house as ‘‘perhaps the
last work I wrote as a blissful structuralist’’ (The Logic of Practice, p. ).
 d’Avenel, Le Mécanisme de la vie moderne, : –.
 Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of Communication, p. .
 See especially Belk, Collecting in a Consumer Society.
 Mme Hennequin, L’Art et le goût au foyer (Paris: Armand Colin, ), p. ,
cited and translated by Leora Auslander, ‘‘The Gendering of Consump-
tion,’’ in de Grazia and Furlough, eds., The Sex of Things. See also Auslander,
Taste and Power; Nord, ‘‘Republican Politics and the Bourgeois Interior in
 Notes to pages –
Mid-Nineteenth-Century France’’; and Walton, France at the Crystal Palace.
 Viollet-le-Duc, Habitations modernes, p. .
 Auslander, ‘‘Gendering,’’ p. ; Auslander’s translation.

                
 Pietz, ‘‘Fetishism and Materialism,’’ in Apter and Pietz, eds. Fetishism as
Cultural Discourse, pp. –.
 An example of this kind of thinking about object investment can be found in
Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus.
 Todorov, The Fantastic, pp. –.
 Baudrillard, The System of Objects, p. ; see chapter  above.
 On the first-person narrator, see Todorov, The Fantastic, pp. –.
 Ibid., p. 
 Harter, Bodies in Pieces, p. .
 Vacher-Gravelli, ‘‘Quand l’objet ancien devient fantastique’’; Ponnau, ‘‘La
Perte du sens et le blanc du texte: L’envers du décor’’; Chambers, ‘‘Gautier
et le complexe de Pygmalion,’’ p. ; Castex, Le Conte fantastique en France,
pp. –; Bancquart, Maupassant: Conteur fantastique, pp. –, –, –;
Schapira, ‘‘Le Thème du mort-vivant’’; Harter, Bodies in Pieces, pp. –. On
fictitious haunted houses of the same period, see Vidler, ‘‘Houses,’’ in The
Architectural Uncanny.
 Pomian, ‘‘The Collection: Between the Visible and the Invisible,’’ in
Collectors and Curiosities.
 Brooks, Reading for the Plot, pp. –.
 La Chevelure is one of the examples that Todorov uses to illustrate his
observation that the fantastic often involves taking a rhetorical figure lit-
erally (The Fantastic, p. ).
 Chambers explains that the reconstitution of the fragmented character –
both subject (male narrator) and object (female lover) – is a precondition for
the proper functioning of what he calls Gautier’s Pygmalion complex
(‘‘Gautier et le complexe de Pygmalion’’). See also Shapira, ‘‘Le thème du
mort-vivant dans l’oeuvre en prose,’’ pp. –; and Steinmetz, ‘‘Ombelles
sur tombeaux: Gautier, poète frénétique?,’’ p. .
 For recent anthropological studies of gift exchange, see Strathern, The
Gender of the Gift, and Thomas, Entangled Objects.
 Unlike Gautier, Lorrain leaves his Pygmalion complex unresolved, to
borrow the phrasing of Chambers (‘‘Gautier et le complexe de Pygmalion’’).
 From ‘‘The Precession of Simulacra,’’ in Simulacra and Simulation, p. . This
schema bears a striking resemblance to the stages which Nietzsche outlines
in explaining ‘‘How the ‘Real World’ at last Became a Myth,’’ in Twilight of
the Gods.
 Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, pp. –.
 See my discussion of mobility in chapter .
 Dauphiné, introduction to Rachilde, La Jongleuse.
Notes to pages – 
 Rae-Beth Gordon diagnoses Eliante as a hysteric by her refusal of a male
partner, as well as by her attraction to textiles and ornamental objects
(Ornament, Fantasy and Desire, pp. –).
 Peter Brooks has collected and exposed many such plots in his Body Works,
which he has lavishly illustrated with paintings of nude women, in a sense
repeating the plot structure he analyzes.
 On the relation between family structure and sexuality in Rachilde, see
Hawthorne, ‘‘The Social Construction of Sexuality,’’ p. .
 On Rachilde and motherhood, see Lukacher, ‘‘‘Mademoiselle Baudelaire’:
Rachilde and the Sexual Difference.’’
 Baudrillard, The System of Objects; Muensterberger, Collecting: An Unruly
Passion; Apter, ‘‘Cabinet Secrets,’’ in Feminizing the Fetish.
 ‘‘Les romans de Rachilde dénoncent le leurre de la représentation, du réel
et de la vérité . . . En ce jeu de miroirs, l’origine se perd, et l’identité; la
ressemblance se fond en semblance, la marque sexuelle se perd sur les
corps’’ (Besnard-Coursodon, ‘‘Monsieur Vénus, Madame Adonis,’’ p. ).
 See especially part , ‘‘Making,’’ in Scarry, The Body in Pain. On the place of
the body in architecture, especially its displacement from modern designs,
see Vidler, ‘‘Bodies,’’ in The Architectural Uncanny.
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bridge, MA: MIT Press, .
Vilcot, J.P. Huysmans et l’intimité protégée. Archives de lettres modernes, no. .
Paris: Lettres Modernes, .
Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène-Emmanuel. Habitations modernes. Paris: A. Morel, .
Wainwright, Clive. The Romantic Interior: The British Collector at Home, –.
New Haven: Yale University Press, .
Walton, Whitney. France at the Crystal Palace: Bourgeois Taste and Artisan Manufacture
in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, .
Warning, Rainer. ‘‘Reading Irony in Flaubert.’’ Style . (Fall ): –.
Watson, Janell. ‘‘Assimilating Mobility: Material Culture in the Novel During
the Age of Proto-Consumption.’’ French Cultural Studies  (): –.
‘‘The Gendered Political Economy of Zola’s La Curée.’’ Nineteenth-Century
French Studies .– (Fall–Winter –): –.
‘‘The Micropolitics of Home Decorating in th-century France.’’ Mosaic
. (June ): –.
Wetzel, Andrea. ‘‘Reconstructing Carthage: Archeology and the Historical
Novel.’’ Mosaic . (Winter ): –.
Williams, Rosalind. Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century
France. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, .
Wing, Nathaniel. ‘‘Detail and Narrative Dalliance in Flaubert’s Bouvard et
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Woodmansee, Martha. The Author, Art and the Market: Rereading the History of
Aesthetics. New York: Columbia University Press, .
Wosk, Julie. Breaking Frame: Technology and the Visual Arts in the Nineteenth Century.
New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, .
Zamparelli, Thomas. ‘‘Zola and the Quest for the Absolute in Art.’’ Yale French
Studies, special issue, ‘‘Zola,’’ edited by Naomi Schor,  (): –.
Zukin, Sharon. ‘‘Mimesis in the Origins of Bourgeois Culture.’’ Theory and
Society . (Fall ): –.
Index

accumulation, , , – bric-à-brac, meaning and use, –, –, 


aesthetes, ,  Brooks, Peter, , 
aestheticism, , – Brummell, Beau, 
anthropomorphism, –, –, – Buisine, Alain, 
antiquité, meaning and use of, 
Apter, Emily, ,  Castella, Charles, 
archaeology, , –, ,  catalogues: and literary criticism, –, ,
art: and the bibelot, , –, –; versus –; in literary texts, –
fashion, –; vocabulary of, –,  Chambers, Ross, 
art for art’s sake,,  Champfleury, 
artificiality, , – Champier, Victor, 
Auslander, Leora,  Chévrie, August, –, 
authenticity, –, , –,  class: and collecting, , –; and luxury
goods, , ; and imitation, , –, ;
Balzac, , , , , –, , –, , and interior decor, –, , –, 
–; La Cousine Bette, ; Le Cousin Pons, classification, , , 
, , , , , , , , , , Clément de Ris, Louis, , , , –
–; La Fille aux yeux d’or, ; Illusions Cluny, musée de, –, –
perdues, ; La Muse du département, –, Colet, Louise, 
; La Peau de chagrin, , , –, ; collecting: aesthetics of, –; as interior
Le Père Goriot, –, ; Splendeurs et decor, –; cultural and historical
misères des courtisanes,  specificity of, –; space of, , ;
Barthes, Roland, , , , vocabulary of, –, 
Bataille, Georges,  collector’s market, , –, , –, –,
Baudelaire, Charles, , , ,  –
Baudrillard, Jean, , , , , –, collector’s objects: designations for, –;
, , ,  organization of, , –, –, –
Baxandall, Michael,  Commanville, Caroline, 
Bell, David,  Comte, Auguste, 
Benjamin, Walter, , , , , ,  consumption: and demand for imitations, ,
bibelot: as category, , –, ; meaning and , ; stages of, –, –, –; in
use, , –,  Huysmans, –; in Flaubert, ,
bimbelot, meaning and use, – –, –; in Zola, –
Blondel, Spire, ,  Court-Perez, Françoise,
Borie, Jean, – Cros, Charles, 
Bosc, Ernest, , – curiosité, meaning and use of. , , –
Bourdieu, Pierre, , –, , ; Distinction, Cuvier, Georges, 
–, , –, –; practical logic,
–, ; sociology of the museum,  Dandyism, , –
Bourget, Paul, , –,  Dangelzer, Joan, –, , 


 Index
Darbel, Alain,  household goods: designations for, –; as
D’Avenel, Georges, –,  collectors’ objects, , –, 
De Girardin, Madame,  how-to manuals, , , 
De Noussane, Henri,  Hugo, Victor, –
Decadence, , , , , , –, – Huysmans, J.-K., , , ,, , ; A
decorative arts, , , , , – rebours, , , , , , , , ,
Deleuze, Gilles,  , ; Le musée de l’art décoratif,’’
description, –, , –, – –
Donato, Eugenio, –, –, , 
Du Sommerard, ,  imitation, –
Duchet, Claude,  industrial art, 
Dumas fils, Alexandre,  interior decor: first appearance of term, ; in
decadent literature, –; in fantastic
eclecticism, , , – literature, –; gendering and
encyclopedia, order of the, , –, – sexualization of, –; social theories of,
enumeratio, , , ,  –
epistemology, –, , –,– irony, –
erudition, , –
Eudel, Paul, ,  James, Henry, 
Jameson, Fredric, –, 
fantastic literature, –, 
fashion, , , , – Kant, Immanuel, , , 
fetishism, , , –, , ,  Knight, Diana, 
Flaubert, Gustave, , ,; Bouvard et knowledge, –, , 
Pécuchet, , , , –; Dictionnaire des
idées reçues, –, ; l’Education Lacan, Jacques, 
sentimentale, , , –, , , , ; Lalonde, Normand, –
Madame Bovary, , , , –; Landino, Cristoforo, 
Salammbô, , , , –; La Tentation Larroumet, Gustave, 
de Saint-Antoine, ; Trois contes, –, , Lasowski, Patrick Wald, –
 Lévi-Strauss, Claude, 
Foucault, Michel, –,  literary criticism, , – –,
France, Anatole, –,  living room, , –, , 
Freud, Sigmund,  logic of practice, see Practical logic
Loomis, Jeffrey, 
Gautier, Théophile, , , , , , , Lorrain, Jean, –, ; Monsieur de Phocas, ,
, – , –, ; Ophélius, ; Réclamation
gender, , , –, – posthume, , –, 
gift exchange, – Loti, Pierre, –, 
Gombrich, Ernst,  Lukács, Georg, –, , , , , 
Goncourt brothers, –, , , –, , ,
, , –, ; Charles Demailly, –; magasin de bric-à-brac, –, –, , 
Germinie Lacerteux, –; Histoire de la société Mallarmé, Stéphane, , , 
française pendant le Directoire, ; Madame market, see Collector’s market
Gervaisais, ; Manette Salomon, , –, Marx, Karl, , , , 
–; Renée Mauperin, ,  material culture, concept of, 
Goncourt, Edmond de, , , –; La Maison Maupassant, , , , –; La Chevelure,
d’un artiste, , –, – –, , ; Notre coeur, –, ;
Gordon, Rae-Beth, – Qui sait?, , –; Une aventure parisienne,

Havard, Henri, ,  Maze-Sencieer, Alphonse, 
Hennequin, Madame,  mobility, –, –
heterogeneity, , –, , , , – Moles, Abraham, 
history, –, – Montesquiou, Robert de, , , , –, 
homology, –, – Mouchard, Claude, 
Index 
Museum: in Flaubert, –; aesthetics of, Rothschild château, 
–; and the creation of bibelot, –,
organization of, – Sagnès, Guy, , 
Sainte-Beuve, , 
naturalism, , ,  Sand, George, –
Neefs, Jacques,  Saussure, Ferdinand de, , 
Nerval, Gérard de,  Sauvageot, Charles, , –, 
Nochlin, Linda,  Scarry, Elaine, 
Nord, Philip, – Schor, Naomi, , –
Nordau, Max, –,  Schuerewegen, Franc, , 
Schwartz, Hillel, 
objet d’art, meaning and use of, –,  Simmel, Georg, , 
order, –, –, –, –, –, superfluousness, , –, , 
– symbolist poetry, 

personification, – Taste, , –


plot, , , ,  Thornton, Peter, –
Pomian, Krzysztof, – Todorov, Tzvetan, 
Porter, Laurence, 
practical logic, , –, ,  utilitarianism,, 
Proust, Marcel, , , –, , ; A la Uzanne, Octave, –
recherche du temps perdu, , , , , ,
–, , –; Jean Santeuil, , –, value, , , –, , 
– Veblen, Thorstein, , 
Versailles, 
Rachilde, , , , – Vilcot, J.P., 
reading, , – Viollet-le-Duc, 
realism, , 
Renan, Ernest,  Wagner, Richard, –
reproductions of antiques, – Walton, Whitney, 
revolution, industrial and consumer, ,  Wharton, Edith, , 
Rey, Alain,  Wilde, Oscar, 
Ricatte, Robert, – Williams, Rosalind, , 
Richard, Jean-Pierre, , –
Rigby, Brian,  Zola, Emile, , , ; Au bonheur des dames,
Rodenbach, Georges,  , , ; Nana, –, , –; L’Oeuvre,
Romanticism, – , –, ; Pot-Bouille, –
                   

       : Michael Sheringham (Royal Holloway, London)


      : R. Howard Bloch (Columbia University), Malcolm Bowie (All Souls
College, Oxford), Terence Cave (St John’s College, Oxford), Ross Chambers (University of
Michigan), Antoine Compagnon (Columbia University), Peter France (University of
Edinburgh), Christie McDonald (Harvard University), Toril Moi (Duke University), Naomi
Schor (Harvard University)

 J. M. Cocking: Proust: Collected Essays on the Writer and his Art


 Leo Bersani: The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé
 Marian Hobson: The Object of Art: The Theory of Illusion in Eighteenth-Century France
 Leo Spitzer, translated and edited by David Bellos: Essays on Seventeenth-Century
French Literature
 Norman Bryson: Tradition and Desire: From David to Delacroix
 Ann Moss: Poetry and Fable: Studies in Mythological Narrative in Sixteenth-Century France
 Rhiannon Goldthorpe: Sartre: Literature and Theory
 Diana Knight: Flaubert’s Characters: The Language of Illusion
 Andrew Martin: The Knowledge of Ignorance: From Genesis to Jules Verne
 Geoffrey Bennington: Sententiousness and the Novel: Laying down the Law in
Eighteenth-Century French Fiction
 Penny Florence: Mallarmé, Manet and Redon: Visual and Aural Sign and the Generation of
Meaning
 Christopher Prendergast: The Order of Mimesis: Balzac, Stendhal, Nerval, and Flaubert
 Naomi Segal: The Unintended Reader: Feminism and Manon Lescaut
 Clive Scott: A Question of Syllables: Essays in Nineteenth-Century French Verse
 Stirling Haig: Flaubert and the Gift of Speech: Dialogue and Discourse in Four ‘‘Modern’’
Novels
 Nathaniel Wing: The Limits of Narrative: Essays on Baudelaire, Flaubert, Rimbaud and
Mallarmé
 Mitchell Greenberg: Corneille, Classicism and the Ruses of Symmetry
 Howard Davies: Sartre and ‘‘Les Temps Modernes’’
 Robert Greer Cohn: Mallarmé’s Prose Poems: A Critical Study
 Celia Britton: Claude Simon: Writing the Visible
 David Scott: Pictorialist Poetics: Poetry and the Visual Arts in Nineteenth-Century France
 Ann Jefferson: Reading Realism in Stendhal
 Dalia Judovitz: Subjectivity and Representation in Descartes: The Origin of Modernity
 Richard D. E. Burton: Baudelaire in 
 Michael Moriarty: Taste and Ideology in Seventeenth-Century France
 John Forrester: The Seduction of Psychoanalysis: Freud, Lacan and Derrida
 Jerome Schwartz: Irony and Ideology in Rabelais: Structures of Subversion
 David Baguley: Naturalist Fiction: The Entropic Vision
 Leslie Hill: Beckett’s Fiction: In Different Worlds
 F. W. Leakey: Baudelaire: Collected Essays, –
 Sarah Kay: Subjectivity in Troubadour Poetry
 Gillian Jondorf: French Renaissance Tragedy: The Dramatic Word
 Lawrence D. Kritzman: The Rhetoric of Sexuality and the Literature of the French
Renaissance
 Jerry C. Nash: The Live Aesthetics of Maurice Scève: Poetry and Struggle
 Peter France: Politeness and its Discontents: Problems in French Classical Culture
 Mitchell Greenberg: Subjectivity and Subjugation in Seventeenth-Century Drama and Prose:
The Family Romance of French Classicism
 Tom Conley: The Graphic Unconscious in Early Modern French Writing
 Margery Evan: Baudelaire and Intertextuality: Poetry at the Crossroads
 Judith Still: Justice and Difference in the Works of Rousseau: ‘‘bienfaisance’’ and ‘‘pudeur’’
 Christopher Johnson: System and Writing in the Philosophy of Jacques Derrida
 Carol A. Mossman: Politics and Narratives of Birth: Gynocolonization from Rousseau to Zola
 Daniel Brewer: The Discourse of Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century France: Diderot and the
Art of Philosophizing
 Roberta L. Krueger: Women Readers and the Ideology of Gender in Old French Verse
Romance
 James H. Reid: Narration and Description in the French Realist Novel: The Temporality of
Lying and Forgetting
 Eugene W. Holland: Baudelaire and Schizoanalysis: The Sociopoetics of Modernism
 Hugh M. Davidson: Pascal and the Arts of the Mind
 David J. Denby: Sentimental Narrative and the Social Order in France, –: A Politics
of Tears
 Clair Addison: Where Flaubert Lies: Chronology, Mythology and History
 John Claiborne Isbell: The Birth of European Romanticism: Staël’s ‘‘De l’Allemagne’’
 Michael Sprinker: History and Ideology in Proust: ‘‘A la recherche du temps perdu’’ and the
Third French Republic
 Dee Reynolds: Symbolist Aesthetics and Early Abstract Art: Sites of Imaginary Space
 David B. Allison, Mark S. Roberts and Allen S. Weiss: Sade and the Narrative of
Transgression
 Simon Gaunt: Gender and Genre in Medieval French Literature
 Jeffrey Mehlman: Genealogies of the Text: Literature, Psychoanalysis, and Politics in Modern
France
 Lewis C. Seifert: Fairy Tales, Sexuality and Gender in France –: Nostalgic Utopias
 Elza Adamowicz: Surrealist Collage in Text and Image: Dissecting the Exquisite Corpse
 Nicholas White: The Family in Crisis in Late Nineteenth-Century French Fiction
 Paul Gifford and Brian Stimpson (eds.): Reading Paul Valéy: Universe in Mind
 Michael R. Finn: Proust, the Body and Literary Form
 Julie Candler Hayes: Reading the French Enlightenment: System and Subversion
 Ursula Tidd: Simone de Beauvoir, Gender and Testimony
 Janell Watson: Literature and Material Culture from Balzac to Proust: The Collection and
Consumption of Curiosities