Cultural Studies

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By Miranda Gill

What did it suggest to name somebody 'eccentric' in nineteenth-century Paris? And why did breaking with conference arouse such ambivalent responses in middle-class readers, writers, and spectators? From excessive society to Bohemia and the demi-monde to the madhouse, the scandal of nonconformism provoked nervousness, disgust, and infrequently secre craving. In a tradition preoccupied by way of the necessity for order ye at the same time attracted to the values of freedom and innovation, eccentricity continuously demonstrated the bounds of bourgeois id, finally turning into inseparable from it. This interdisciplinary research charts moving French perceptions of the anomalous and peculiar from the 1830s to the fin de siècle, concentrating on 3 key matters. First, through the July Monarchy eccentricity was once associated with type dandyism, and commodity tradition; to many Parisians it epitomized the harmful seductions of modernity and the starting to be status of the courtesan. moment, within the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution eccentricity was once linked to the Bohemian artists and performers who inhabited 'the unknown Paris', a area of social exclusion which middle-class spectators discovered either interesting and repugnant. ultimately, the popularization of scientific theories of nationwide decline within the latter a part of the century ended in lowering tolerance for person distinction, and eccentricity used to be interpreted as a symptom of hidden madness and deformity. Drawing on quite a lot of assets, together with etiquette manuals, style magazines, newspapers, novels, and psychiatric treatises, the learn highlights the imperative position of gender in shaping perceptions of eccentricity. It presents new readings of works by means of significant French writers and illuminates either famous and ignored figures of Parisian modernity, from the courtesan and Bohemian to the feminine dandy and circus freak.

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Extra resources for Eccentricity and the Cultural Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Paris

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Excentrique’ was listed in a figurative sense in the eighth edition of Boiste’s dictionary in 1834; see Leduc-Adine 1984: 151–3. Two early instances of partially figurative use have been cited: Rabelais writes in his Tiers livre of the ‘fol lunaticque, fol erratique, fol eccentrique’, and there is an isolated example in Cotgrave’s 1611 dictionary; see Eichel-Lojkine 2002: 23. 70 The earliest fully figurative use of the adjective ‘excentrique’ occurred in 1803; see Mackenzie 1939: I, 196, 201. 71 See respectively Littré 1885: 1552–3 and Champfleury 1877: 8.

The Rise of Eccentricity 27 was considered eccentric by both his English and his French contemporaries. 34 After the 1789 Revolution, these meanings merged with discourses of English Romanticism and the ‘modern’ age. 35 The astronomical connotations of eccentricity faded around the end of the eighteenth century, but the term retained its connotations of celebrity and wonder. The term was democratized for a mass audience in England in the period 1790 to 1830. A proliferation of cheap magazines for lower middle-class audiences foregrounded the term ‘eccentric’ in their titles or subtitles (examples include Kirby’s Wonderful and Eccentric Magazine, the Eccentric Magazine, and the Eccentric Mirror).

Edward Young’s Conjectures on Original Composition (1759) crystallized a century-long series of skirmishes about originality outside the literary establishment, and provided a focal point for subsequent debate about genius. 16 Young equated originality with genius and organic growth, and imitation with mere learning and mechanical production. He suggested, significantly, that the underlying source of artistic originality was the variation between minds: Born Originals, how comes it to pass that we die Copies?

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