In C19th France this thorny question cropped up with remarkable frequency in literary culture, and it proved extremely difficult to agree on a satisfactory answer.
In this paper I look at how poets used metaphors of the body to evaluate their own verse, and that of their peers. Leconte de Lisle, for example, wrote scathingly of Lamartine that his verse ‘lacked muscle, blood and sinew’, that it was ‘flaccid’ and ‘effeminate’ in contrast to the hyper-virile verse of Victor Hugo, which burst forth in volcanic eruptions, an unstoppable force.
This peculiar obsession with a gendered, bodily conception of poetry stems, I argue, from profound anxieties around masculinity following the 1789 Revolution which only intensified as the C19th progressed.
As such, we will read a selection of poems as sites of precarious self-construction for male writers threatened by various social, economic, and cultural forms of emasculation.
What becomes clear is that, while the much-maligned canon of ‘pale, stale males’ continues to dominate research and teaching in the field, masculinity – as it emerges from these authors’ thinking – is anything but a stable entity.
Dr David Evans
About the Speaker
Dr David Evans is Reader in French at the University of St Andrews.
He arrived in 2004 to his first lecturing post and has since given several talks to friends at the Franco-Scottish Society.
He works mainly on C19th French poetry with a particular interest in music, rhythm and form, and tonight’s talk draws on current preparations for a book on poetic masculinities.
Recent projects – and potential topics for future Franco-Scottish gatherings – include song settings of Verlaine by international composers, cultural identity in the French-language poetry of Brittany, and feminist engagements with canonical culture in Lisa Robertson’s brilliant novel The Baudelaire Fractal (Coach House Books, 2020).