The passionate pursuit of beauty : the literary career of Judith Gautier (1845-1917)

Jessome-Nance, Barbara, Department of French, University of Virginia
Denommé, Robert T., French Department, University of Virginia

Judith Gautier's career as a poet, dramatist, novelist, translator and critic spanned more than fifty years. A scholar who spoke and wrote Chinese, she became a distinguished Orientalist and the first female member of the Academie Goncourt. Unfortunately, posterity has not confirmed the success and acclaim she enjoyed as a writer during her lifetime. The reasons for this success and subsequent decline are not difficult to explain. In an age of colonial expansion, the exotic setting of most of her writings had a relevance and fascination they do not have today. Yet, in spite of this, there is a great deal of merit in her work for the serious student of literature.

In addition to augmenting the existing bibliographies, this study proposes to focus on Judith Gautier's literary career and her development as a writer. By examining her two-volumes of memoirs in relationship to her other writings, we hope to show that these go beyond the static label of Orientalism which has tended to characterize her literary production thus far. Seen from this perspective, Judith Gautier appears as a writer who was not only conscious of her craft but aware of her orientation and strength of purpose as well. Although she revered her father, Theophile Gautier, as an artist and admired other prominent writers of the period, she felt no strong ties to any particular movement. She used their art as a springboard to her own creations rather than as examples to be imitated. While her works are not radically different from that of her contemporaries, they, nevertheless, evidence her own personal statement and distinctive style. As one of the leading forerunners of imaginative interpretations of the Far East in French literature, she brought to her fiction her meticulous craftsmanship as a writer, poet and scholar. As a skillful stylist, she fused lucidity and concision with her poetic imagination, and in the process contributed some substantial fiction. She recreated, particularly in her Oriental writings, an independent, aesthetic and personal world rather than an historical reality and managed to project in this world, her own dreams for humanity. Judith Gautier placed her hopes in the beauty of life, for she preferred to underscore the nobler side of man and to believe in the possibility of dreams and ideals. This pursuit of beauty was not meant to express the final cause of art but rather functioned as a formula for her own creation, and eventually became the guiding principle by which she attempted to live her life. "Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated," stated Oscar Wilde in his preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. "For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty." As an artist and creator of beautiful things, Judith Gautier realized many qualities of a talented artist and wrote with the language and insight of a true poet.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
novelist, career, Judith Gautier, poet, dramatist

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-02-18 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:33:05.

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: