Preferred Citation: Ferguson, Priscilla Parkhurst. Paris as Revolution: Writing the Nineteenth-Century City. Berkeley:  Univ. of California Press,  1994.

4 Haussmann's Paris and the Revolution of Representation


Saccard montrait, dans toute cette affaire, un amour d'artiste.
Zola, La Curée

In all this business Saccard showed an artist's love.

But the Paris that survives will be the legacy of the Second Empire, Haussmann's Paris, Saccard's Paris—and Zola's Paris. La Curée offers Zola's solution to the representation of the modernizing city. The portrayal of haussmannization partakes of a larger effort to convey the essence of contemporary society in the making. In the Paris of La Curée, Zola proclaims his aesthetics—the aesthetics of modernization. Saccard, in effect, stands as the greatest artist of the novel because he most fully realizes the force and the vision of modern life. That this vision comprehends material destruction and social disorder and the


accompanying sickness, madness, and immorality gives Zola's measure of modernity. The Saccard who plunges Paris into disarray constructs that modernity, or more accurately for Zola, writes it. For "in all this business Saccard showed an artist's love" (251), he creates movement and, like Zola in this novel, creates life out of destruction.

Other artists in La Curée amplify the definition of revolutionary art, of a modern art, by which Zola creates the Paris of the Second Empire. The most obvious representative of art in the novel is the great couturier Worms. Almost a caricature of the romantic artist, Worms keeps all the women in thrall, makes his customers wait for hours, and produces an outfit only when truly inspired. Contemplating his client, "he reflected further, seemed to descend to the very depths of his genius, and, with the triumphant grimace of a Pythian oracle . . . , finished [his pronouncement]" (139). Yet the ideas come from Renée—the "prodigiously original and graceful dress" that she wears to the Tuileries is her "real discovery" that comes to her one sleepless night (166),just as her "daring imagination" leads her to "risk" the "famous" hunting scene gown.

In this partnership, Worms is the artist who offers Renée, and the society of which she is part, a privileged means of expression and Zola a privileged mode of characterization. Her dresses put Renée on display: her excess (the Tahitian tunic that leaves her virtually nude), her plight (the dress embroidered with the deer hunt), her fragility (the black and white dress she wears for her first visit to the Tuileries turns her into "a flower for the picking, a mysterious white and black carnation," 168), her growing disequilibrium (her "crazy outfits," 217), and her increasing ignominy ("the nymph Echo's dress . . . spoke of the game that she had accepted, for the singularity of offering herself to Maxime in public," 313).

Clothes both make and express the woman and, beyond the woman, the society. Worms is the representative artist of the Second Empire because his medium so perfectly captures its frivolity, its excess, its extravagance—and also its mobility and impermanence. Like Saccard's account books that appear and disappear throughout the novel, Worms' outfits make up the archives of the Second Empire. Renee's deer hunt gown plays on the double sense of la curée, since it figures her own situation as quarry and also the larger hunt that designates the regime as a whole. Then too, Worms, like Saccard though without specific intention, is responsible for Renée's


downfall—his bills and they alone push her into ever greater debt. Artist to the hunt, Worms takes his place in the pack of hounds that Saccard unleashes against Renée.

There is one more artist in La Curée, a slightly ridiculous figure all too easily dismissed by his contemporaries in the novel and most likely by readers as well. Yet, still more directly than Worms' creations Hupel de 1a Noue's tableaux vivants figure this society and the woman who is at once its quarry and its model. A prefect in the provinces who manages to spend eight months of the year in Paris, where he likes to tell scabrous stories and seduce women as much as anyone else, M. Hupel de la Noue is very much a man of this world. And the man of this world achieves his art. The election that this prefect orchestrates in the provinces is "a veritable heroic-comic poem" (246). But his finest moment is the staging of the tableaux vivants, "The Love of Handsome Narcissus and the Nymph Echo," at the costume ball given by the Saccards. He writes his poem not with words but "with ingenious combinations of fabrics and poses chosen from among the most beautiful" (273). All the women have appropriate roles, from the "Inseparables" as "a reminder of Lesbos" (279) in one corner of the first tableau, to Renée as Echo and Maxime as Narcissus in all three tableaux. Hupel de la Noue intends Echo's pose to show "the sorrow of unsatisfied desire" (280), and the nymph dies of those unsatisfied desires.

The second tableau presents the other side of the Second Empire, Saccard's side: "After the temptation of flesh, the temptation of gold." The ploy is classic, as one of the men remarks, adding the ultimate compliment, "You know your times, Monsieur le Préfet" (283). The "Inseparables" costumed as Gold and Silver and clothed in real gold and silver, the other women covered with the precious stones that they at once embody and represent, and especially the great pile of twenty-franc pieces spilling all over the stage—these elements overwhelm the drama of Echo and Narcissus in the foreground much as la curée obscures the drama of Renee and Maxime.

The conversations in the audience between scenes, which are all about the financing of the new Paris, replay the work taking place on the stage. The two industrialists need no tutoring in the classics to read the allegorical tableau with absolute accuracy: to them, the money on stage suggests all the money necessary to tear down the city and build it up again. The parallel does not escape Saccard's brother


the minister Eugène Rougon: "We would do great things if M. Hupel de la Noue minted currency for us" (286). The complicated allusions in the tableaux to Ovid's Metamorphoses and to classical mythology, which Hupel de la Noue tries to explain at length, are beyond the audience, their competence and their interest. If these sensible and essentially practical men and women (290) instinctively reject the final tableau that portrays the death of Echo and Narcissus, they respond enthusiastically to the first two tableaux, effortlessly recognizing their world in the reality of the scene as well as in the temptation that scene represents.

The final transformation of this society will not come for some time. But it will come. For Zola, finishing La Curée under the Republic, it had come. Hupel de la Noue, like Zola, takes the measure of his time. But the prefect-poet is, as Zola is not, the prisoner of this society. He can only proceed by allegory, whereas Zola, as he tells us, adopts "the realist's lens," "a simple window pane that claims to be so perfectly transparent that the images go through it and are then produced in all their reality."[21] Zola refuses the distancing classical allegory. He takes reality not at one remove but directly. Zola, the text tells us again and again, is the greatest artist of the Second Empire. The classics in La Curée serve as the sublime backdrop from the past against which the present is measured and found wanting: Racine's Phèdre consciously replayed by Renée and Maxime, Ovid's Metamorphoses translated by Hupel de la Noue for modern times in the tableaux vivants, the Pythian oracle turning up as Worms, Renée as a "gigantic Messalina" (220), the vulgar demi-mondaine Blanche Müller as the heroine in Offenbach's operetta La Belle Hélène, itself a semiparodic appropriation of classical models for modern times. If Marx saw in the Second Empire history replayed as farce, Zola saw literature replayed as parody. Yet that parody serves Zola well, for it supplies the foundation on which he builds his history and his novel.

Saccard is the greatest artist in La Curée because he is on Zola's side, on the side of energy, of creation, of mobility, in a word, of modernity. Zola's modern art moves, and he, the omnipresent artist, moves with it. The protean writer encompasses every artistic role—architect, couturier, stage designer, interior decorator—and master of the new city. Zola well recognizes the costs of that modernity—Renée's fate is exemplary—but he squarely faces the challenge and accepts those costs. Renée herself has to acknowledge her husband's


superiority as an agent of a new world. He is less an individual than a will to power; he is totally oblivious of personal danger, at work in a forge, indeed practically a forge unto himself (he is the "color of iron," his laugh is like "a pair of tongs") (311). How could Zola not be drawn to the winner of this arduous steeplechase, "chewing on his 20-franc pieces as he runs" (312)? For Saccard has brought forth a new city and a tomorrow that will long outlive the individual.


So too Zola. "We are the men of tomorrow, our day is coming," Zola wrote his friend and disciple Paul Alexis in February 1871. Haussmannization and the Second Empire itself have taken necessary steps in the march of progress. With this perspective of the past as the future in the making, Zola joins the Victor Hugo of Paris-Guide discussed in chapter 2. Written just three years before La Curée, this introduction to the collective work on Paris collapses the whole of the nineteenth century into the movement of revolution. Zola wrote a very different nineteenth century, but he too wrote the revolution, the revolution of modern urban society. For this reason Haussmann presides over La Curée, his hand everywhere. The evident depravity of the emperor, the corruption of the regime, and the dissoluteness of its subjects condemn this society. But Zola faces the future. The preface to the Rougon-Macquart, written in 1871, relegates the Second Empire to "a dead reign, a strange era of shame and madness." Yet from that dead reign Zola will bring a living literature; from that era of shame and madness, he will create a scientific analysis, the literature of tomorrow, the literature of the republic. If haussmannization was a moment to be denounced, the city that emerged from that moment yet raised a monument to the eternal city of light, the capital of the world. Another revolution that made the world we live in.

Revolution has become permanently inscribed on the modern landscape. But it never entirely escapes the ambiguity of the relationship with tradition, with the past. This tension, between past and present, between fixity and movement, quite as much as any particular phenomenon, conveys the sense of modernity, the sense of great social movement—modernization—for which, to all intents and purposes, one can posit no end. To see oneself as "modern" means to


see oneself as "revolutionary," to recognize the continuing significance of disruption in everyday life. Modernity forces the connection between the ever-changing material conditions of postrevolutionary society and the consciousness of change. The particular bent of modernity, the explanations of change, will naturally vary. Where Zola fixed on haussmannization as the paradigmatic manifestation of this postrevolutionary society, Marx indicted capitalism. Yet the two contemporaries were not as far apart as their divergent political agendas might lead one to assume. Their imaginations occupied similar terrain. The purpose of interpretation differs greatly, but surely Zola would have recognized his own imaginative context, including the vision of La Curée, in Marx's contention that, with the advent of modern industry, "all bounds of morals and nature, of age and sex, of day and night, were broken down. Capital celebrated its orgies."[22]

Zola worked with and from this understanding of revolution as change, to the straining toward the new and the destruction of every boundary. At the same time, his novel, like every interpretation, aims at fixing experience, at arresting movement, at making connections to the known, to the familiar, to the past. As Haussmann reached to the past for the seal of Paris, so Zola wove his work about revolutionary change around interpretive devices from the past—the somewhat forced invocation of Phèdre, the association of woman and city, the dense metaphorical structures, and most strikingly, the image of the hunt. But revolution is a process and, like the other social processes of mid-nineteenth-century Paris, urbanization and modernization, it cannot so easily be contained. The modern condition speaks to just this acute sense of the ambiguity and ultimately to the impossibility of containment.


4 Haussmann's Paris and the Revolution of Representation

Preferred Citation: Ferguson, Priscilla Parkhurst. Paris as Revolution: Writing the Nineteenth-Century City. Berkeley:  Univ. of California Press,  1994.