Art Essay on French Literature of the 19th Century: Emile Zole, J.K. Huysmans and Claude Debussy

French Literature of the 19th Century: Emile Zole, J.K. Huysmans and Claude Debussy

Comparison between Emile Zola and J.K Huysmans

            Emile Zola and Joris Karl Huysmans shared not only friendship but also had a symbiotic relationship based on their pioneering writings in French literature. According Finke, both writers were born in France with Zola being the oldest of the duo (17) Friendship between Zola and Huysmans was majorly fostered by their recognition for each other’s work. Numerous publishers had rejected Huysmans’s first book Le drageoir aux épices that was a compilation of poems. Consequently, Huysmans was forced to fund the publishing of his book and opted to use his initials J-K as the name of author. Coincidentally, Zola was among first writers to complement his work and thereafter became his mentor. Similarly, Zola was impressed by Huysmans review of his L’Assommoir. The two authors were further connected by their isolated views of naturalism. Referring to writings by Finke, as naturalists, these authors held the view that one’s behaviors and capability were based on their genetic disposition and the social factors inherent in the society such as poverty and education (22). Their naturalist view contradicted the widely accepted literary genre that was predominantly accepted by most literary scholars who were adherents to the genre of realism. In addition to having a common literary genre, examination of the authors work revealed an overriding factor, which was a cultured interest in paint artists. At the peak of his writing career, Huysmans shifted his writing themes to impressionist art. He became an art critic and occasionally defended paintings by several impressionists. Subsequently, Zola’s work also documented artists of his time. One artist who was predominantly conspicuous in Zola’s work was Cézanne. Cézanne was Zola’s childhood friend. Zola wit fully integrated numerous artists in his serialized works, in particular the novel titled A Rebours , through real life characterization. However, the relationship between the authors appears to deteriorate and a rift occurs after Huysmans denounced his naturalist views and converted to a decadent writer. His book titled À rebours, which most scholars argued was more of symbolists than of naturalists in style, marked his transition from naturalism to decadent believer.

            During 1860s and 70s, Zola used his articles which were being published in newspapers to defended the works of Cézanne, Manet, and other artists. Zola used the main protagonist of his novel “L’Oevre” to employ his reality novel. His childhood friend Cézanne was depicted in the book by the character of Claude Lantier. However, Cézanne was not impressed by Zola’s book because of the instability of Claude’s character, which Cezanne interpreted as a mock of his emotional character. Similarly, in his novel titled A Rebours, Huysmans also used his character, Des esseintes to critic the paintings by Cézanne, Moreau, Redon and others paintings. Jean des Esseintes owned a massive collection of painting by Moreau.

            In his book titled A Rebours, Huysmans mentioned the following poets, Verlaine, Corbiere and Mallarme. Although in his book it is the protagonist Des esseintes who critics the writings of the poets, in actual sense Des esseintes reviews portrayed Huysmans interpretation of various poems. The protagonist presented his arguments for and against the literary styles, on account of his personal judgment. However, Huysmans was cautious to demonstrate his immense respect for these poets.

Poets who were mentioned by Huysmans in his novel A Rebours

 According to Huysmans, Stephane Mallarme was a French poet and a famous critic. He was distinguished by his symbolist style of poetry (p. 64). His work transcended beyond the genre of symbolist and had fundamental impact on other schools of literary works that included the following, surrealism, futurism, and cubism. It was arguably agreed that the works of symbolist Charles Bauedelaire inspired most of Mallarme’s works.

Tristan Corbiere

Tristan was a French poet who died at the tender age of 29 years. The poet remained obscure in the literary world until Paul Verlaine who published his first poem noticed his work. There still exists debate whether he was a symbolist or surrealist. His only published work appeared in the Les amours jaunes that appeared in 1873

Paul Verlaine

Together with stephane Mallarme and Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine are considered as the founder of the decadents school of writers. He was also recognized as the key proponents of symbolism. Verlaine had issues with maintaining a positive public opinion. He had struggled with alcoholism and numerous divorces. Despite his challenges, the public was fond of his theatrical behaviors.

            Des Esseintes endeavored to acquaint himself with the finest poets and writers of his time and further understand why the public was so fixated at their writings. He began by criticizing the poem “Reve Familier” by Paul Verlaine. He observed that the collection of poems by Paul Verlaine reflected the personality of the poet. The sonnet “Reve Familier” vividly demonstrated Verlaine’s style as criticized by Des esseintes .True to Des Esseintes opinion, the poem narrates the author’s desire to meet a girl of his dreams. The irony of his situation was articulately shown by his dream of possessing his dream lover. It only goes further to indicate the author’s emotion towards his love partner. Des Esseintes goes on to marvel at the poet’s talent and prowess in prose writings.

             Among the numerous poems presented at his library, Des esseintes identified the poet named Mallarme, he was struck by one of his poem titled “Hérodiade,”. He felt comforted by the words being uttered by woman in Mallarme’s poem. He got  inspiration from the author’s choice of words and theme which contradicted the prevailing conditions of his era which he described as being money oriented. He was peculiar of the author’s ability to be versatile with numerous literature techniques. Comprehensive examination of the poems by Mallarme confirms des esseintes compliments.

            De esseintes praised writings by Tristan corbiere, especially his poetic works. He noted that the author employed unfamiliar form of writing The protagonist marvels at his style, which he argues that was not French. He labels his style to be of Negro origin. He considered his style as rugged hard. However, he classified his poetry style as highly exquisite yet entertaining. Writings by corbiere explicitly differ with conventional works of other established writers in the history of France.

Claude Debussy’s Music

   Although Claude Debussy music rose to fame during a period which dominated by symbolist artists and writers, his music’s style was considered belonging to a movement which was known impressionism. He thus practiced impressionist music, which was known for its lack of conciseness but rather vogue. Wenk wrote that Debussy intentionally structured his music to rhyme and invoke the same feelings and perceptions that the paintings of the symbolists’ artist did (p. 35). His music seemed to resonate with the themes of Zola and Huysmans works which were labeled as naturalism and to some extent symbolism. Claude Debussy was certainly an impressionist who also intricately shared the principles of symbolism. Classification of Claude Debussy’s music into today’s genre comprises of various categories. These include orchestral, ballet, chamber and solo piano. Some of his famous compositions were jeux, which was composed from 1912 to 1913 as a ballet. He also composed Noctumes, which was written from 1897 to 1999, and lamer composed between 1903 to 1905. Both of two compositions were orchestral.

             Literature works of Zola and Huysmans mainly campaigned and complemented artists whose works depicted inclination towards to symbolism and impressionism. The two writers conspicuous discussed the paintings of the following artist, Edouard Manet, Paul Cezzane, Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon. These artists were unified by their philosophical and literature view of symbolism and impressionism. Although independent of each other’s work, music composition by Claude Debussy had similarity with the works of these men who had been mentioned by Zola and Huysmans in their books. The effect of Claude Debussy’s music was to reinforce the already established genre view of symbolist and impressionist using his style of vaguely composed music.

            Debussy’s music could be conceived as an extension of literary works by symbolist poets of his time. Debussy’s music and poems by established poets such as Mallarme and Verlaine exhibited unprecedented collaboration among creative artists of the 20th century. Several compositions by Debussy reveal that his music was greatly inspired by the poet Mallarme. Although Debussy was an impressionist, his music was synonymous with symbolist’s poems. In his compositions such as the apparition, he directly used poetry text by Mallarme. He was an ardent follower of Mallarme’s works. Another poet whose work could be strongly associated with Debussy’s music was Paul Verlaine. Debussy composed a third of his work with reference to text by Paul Verlaine. Debussy borrowed greatly from texts and phrases from Verlaine in his composition of the following songs, ariettas oubliees, trios melodies, fetes galantes and petite suite. According to Wenk,  through his interaction with poets such as Mallarme, Debussy’s was able to relate creatively to the reality depicted by poet’s work into his music’s tone (p.56). Debussy works fused with Huysmans writing only after the latter became a decadent. Later works of Huysmans could be categorized as either symbolist or Romantic. His work thus was filled with numerous aesthetic symbols that to some extent identified with impressionist music of Debussy. Des esseintes love for the most lavish and cozy life further relates to impressionist overriding theme of modernism.

Cited Works

Huysmans, Joris-Karl. Against the Grain. Middlesex, England: The Echo Library, 2006. Print.

Finke, Ulrich. French 19th Century Painting and Literature: With Special Reference to the             Relevance of             Literary Subject-Matter to French Painting. [international Symposium,        Held from 26 to 29      November 1969 in Manchester.]. Manchester: Manchester U.P,             1972. Print.

Wenk, Arthur. Claude Debussy and the Poets. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.       Print.