Wednesday, 2 November 2016

To have genius and be obscure

“Dandies... as you know - scorn all emotions as being beneath them, and do not believe, like that simpleton Goethe, that astonishment can ever be a proper feeling for the human mind.”

“For with dandies, a joke is the only way of making yourself respected.”

“Beauty is single. Only ugliness is multiple, and even then its multiplicity is soon exhausted.”

“Ever since the creation of the world there have been men like me specially intended to astonish men... men like you.”

"The most beautiful destiny: to have genius and be obscure."

As James J. Conway over at Strange Flowers says of Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly:
[He was] the author of Du dandysme et de George Brummell, published in English as The Anatomy of Dandyism. Appearing in 1844, this slim volume was the first serious appraisal of the cult of the dandy which grew around George “Beau” Brummell in Regency England. Like jazz, like Samuel Beckett, like Tina Arena, dandyism had to go to France to be taken seriously.

For Brummell and his associates, dressing well required hours in front of the mirror to arrive at an ensemble of suiting and grooming so perfect that it eluded notice. But Barbey d’Aurevilly knew that dandyism wasn’t just “the art of deportment, costume, and fortunate and audacious dictatorship of the toilet and exterior elegance. It is certainly that, but it is much more.” And if it were possible to codify the dandies’ self-presentation as a “look” (and caricatures of the time prove that it was) then that “look” had been and gone.

In any case, for Barbey d’Aurevilly, “mimicry is not resemblance. One can catch an air or a pose, as one can steal the shape of a dress-coat; but the comedy is wearisome, the mask is painful…” The French dandy was, by all accounts, quite the head-turner, and the effort he went to in constructing his look was much in evidence. Tall for the era, he stepped out in rouge and lipstick, with rings on his fingers, dye in his hair and lace at his cuffs. The whole arrangement owed little to the cool reserve of les rosbifs; as Barbey d’Aurevilly noted, “I have been as dandy as one can be in France,” further commenting that “the country of Richelieu will never produce a Brummell”.
It may never have produced a Brummell, but d'Aurevilly's influence was far-reaching, paving the way as he did for such legends of Dandyism as Charles Pierre Baudelaire and Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam - and of course the "decadents" of the Aesthetic movement, including Oscar Wilde.

Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly (2nd November 1808 – 23rd April 1889)


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