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2 The Notion of Fidelity in a Bourgeois World
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The Notion of Fidelity in a Bourgeois World

The nineteenth century's fascinated belief in canine fidelity seems extravagant and at first glance trivial. The "incredible journey," or the long trek homeward of a faithful pet, unguided and against all odds, has been relegated to the theme of children's literature. But the fact is that such striking acts of fidelity were commonplace events during the French nineteenth century and the object then of much serious concern. Victor Hugo, for example, was said to have cherished an old poodle named Baron whom he had once, in a moment of perverted generosity, given away to a Russian count. Baron, miserably unable to live without his master, trotted the thousands of miles, alone, but determined, from the count's country house outside Moscow to Paris and a joyful reunion with the remorseful Hugo.1

Parisians were convinced, moreover, that bereaved canines often traveled unaccompanied to the grave of their master or mistress. They also believed in dog suicide. Newspapers and journals drew attention to such events and, in the 1870s, these issues figured prominently in animal protection discourse. Cemetery keepers remarked on the daily visits of dogs to Parisian cemeteries and noted an increase in their numbers on All Soul's Day. The fixed habits of mourning dogs were carefully noted by members of the governing council of the Parisian animal protection society like the aptly named M. Cheval, who was moved several times during his own painful visits by the "sobs of a dog prostrate in grief at the tomb of his master." So widespread was members' belief in this behavior that a city ordinance of 1874. prohibiting dogs from cemeteries set off a crisis for the Société protectrice des animaux. After weeks of discussion, the society decided that although its policy was not to set itself against the authority of the prefect, in this case it had no choice. The


overriding duty of the society was to support the interests of piously faithful dogs. Canine suicide, it is true, never became the focus of official attention, but spectacular cases were widely reviewed. So we learn of Chéri who leaped out of a window after her owner's sudden death, and of Trim, who threw himself into the river after being callously rejected by his owner.2

From our twentieth-century perspective, we might suggest that dogs do not commit suicide. They do mourn, and some have died of starvation following the death of an owner. And dogs have saved people from drowning and others have pulled people out of the snow. Animal behaviorists explain that dogs act toward humans as if humans were dogs, all of us members of the same pack. (Konrad Lorenz's notion of two dog personality types, one faithful to its master, the "pack leader," the other capable of more generalized devotion, has been nuanced in recent years.)3 Dogs are faithful, but they do not kill themselves when bereaved or rejected. We may also doubt that dogs spend their Sundays sobbing on their owners' graves or trot thousands of miles halfway across Europe, even for Victor Hugo.

Bourgeois petkeeping has cultural specificity. The contrast between what dogs ordinarily do, and what the nineteenth century thought they did, allows us to speak of petkeeping as a construct. A sense of loss informed the construct of petkeeping in nineteenth-century Paris and, by implication, the ordinary experience of bourgeois life. Various aspects of petkeeping culture suggest this, but it is with canine fidelity that the concept of loss was most widely articulated. That fidelity, as imagined by contemporaries, has a thematic integrity. It is a statement about modernity that lacks the economy of "The Swan" by Charles Baudelaire, perhaps, or the depth of Gustave Flaubert's Sentimental Education. But its representations, though set in a different register, cannot be brought into doubt.

Ideologically, the production of canine fidelity was closely related to romanticism, as the indulgences of Lamartine suggest. A friend recalled the memory of a meeting at the poet's châeau at Mâcon:

All of a sudden, under the tall trees Lamartine appeared on horseback, wearing a tall gray hat, dressed in a brown frock coat, with olive-green vest and buff-colored trousers, surrounded by his six greyhounds who gam-


boled about him. At the same time, above the gothic gate two peacocks spread their speckled tails. Sudden image of a prince in a feudal and fairy-tale domain.4

In the plunder of the past from which came so much of bourgeois culture lay, ready at hand, the emblematic representation of a virtue whose loss seems to have heightened its appeal. But if the dog was the ideal emblem of fidelity in the medieval world, the notion of fidelity in the bourgeois world is significant for its lack of resonance in French society. People owned dogs, they said, because dogs were faithful and people were not. As one theorist commented, "this fidelity, so rare in any epoch, and still more so in our own," was increasingly difficult to actualize in modern times. Dogs were appealing because "one is delighted to meet in the beast that laudable conduct that is so rarely engendered within the human species itself." "Our devotion has limits, but that of the dog, none," in the words of the author of one of the century's most popular dog-care books. Canine devotion was disinterested and selfless. The dog, another noted, "loves his master more than he loves himself." For a human being's sake, "they forsake their own kind."5

Canine fidelity was a dream image of the past brought into being with its nostalgic virtue in full view. The striking image of the (soon-to-be) republican Lamartine pretending with his greyhounds to an ancien régime life is even more effective when we recognize that its substance was deliberately empty. Lamartine gave up hunting and was rewarded with a medal of honor in 1855 from the Parisian animal protection society for his essay, "My Last Gunshot," whose content is still familiar to us today:

When the smoke of my gun dispersed, pale and trembling, I confronted my crime. The poor charming animal was not dead. He looked at me, his head resting on the grass, his eyes swimming with tears. I will never forget that look to which surprise and pain, the unexpectedness of death, appeared to give the profundity of human sentiment, as intelligible as words; for the soul speaks through the eyes, especially as it dies.6

Lamartine loved greyhounds for their "heraldic graces." So too did Walter Scott and Byron.7 Paul Adam, a writer less familiar today, explained in response to the death of his pet that "Jack's airs of heraldry


allowed me to summon up an old and gracious dream in place of my unhappiness. They saved me." Like other artifacts of the chivalrous age, of course, the canine association was generalized. Dogs of all sorts, the French insisted, appeared as virtuous in the novels of Scott.8

There was, however, a particular material link with the more recent ancien régime that we should note. After the Restoration of 1815 certain other aristocratic hunting breeds resurfaced, notably the various chiens du Poitou. When they had emigrated, aristocrats had left their dogs behind to wait out the Revolution in disguise (perhaps we might even refer to ci-devants chiens courants ). With tails and ears cut short, dogs were concealed on farms throughout Poitou, some individuals surviving in relatively unadulterated form to provide the basis of a breed.9

But, as with greyhounds, the various breeds of hunting dogs took on another meaning in a bourgeois setting. If nineteenth-century hunting rights were not restricted to persons of noble birth, they were limited by law and increasingly, as is clear from Lamartine's account, by sentiment.10 For most bourgeois citizens the hunting dog had figurative meaning only, as material for a fantasy, a creatively remembered dream of a bygone age—like a novel by Sir Walter Scott. The association must have been metonymic, the legal adjunct of the nobility calling to mind a chivalrous breed of humanity, an aura of a better world, when individuals were still faithful one to another.

In short, during the nineteenth century, faithful dogs took the place of faithless people. This arresting fantasy was presented in all sorts of different contexts, but its appeal is underscored by the differing fate within French culture of two medieval dog stories. The legend of Saint Guinefort, the holy dog, survived in rural France as the basis of a peasant cult. The other, the dog of Montargis, the dog avenger, engaged the bourgeois imagination.

Guinefort, a greyhound, belonged to a knight. One day, as the story goes, the knight, his lady, and their child's nurse each had occasion to be absent from the castle. The dog was left in charge of the baby. The knight returned first and found Guinefort, his jaws bloodied, standing above the overturned cradle of the child. Thinking that the dog had killed the baby, the knight then killed the dog. But the baby was soon discovered to be safe and sound and lying underneath the cradle. The


body of a large and dangerous snake, torn into bits, was found scattered about the room. Obviously, faithful Guinefort had saved the child's life; the greyhound had been unjustly killed.

Guinefort is known to us today mainly through the work of Jean-Claude Schmitt, who traces the twists and turns of the story in narratives and rites from the eleventh through the nineteenth century. It is a story of how a dog became a saint, how a legend became a rite, or how a story set within learned culture took on its own potency when adapted by the folk. For within peasant culture it was Guinefort, the saver of children, who became a saint, and to whom, in the nineteenth century, mothers of sick children still applied for help. Pilgrimages were made to Saint Guinefort's wood, the site where the legendary knight's castle had stood, some few miles from present-day Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne, in the department of Ain. Appalled abbés and fascinated folklorists described, as Schmitt explains, "the rite in which the mothers bore their children to the place, deposited swaddling-clothes on the bushes, and knotted together branches so as to unknot the sickly limbs."11

The theme of fidelity betrayed disappeared as within peasant culture the healing saint supplanted the emblem of loyalty. It is not so clearly obvious why within bourgeois culture, impressed in other respects by aristocratic norms, Guinefort the faithful hound had minimal and merely tangential appeal.12 The story of the knight and the dog was known to such canophiles as Aurélien Scholl, who claimed familiarity with its Western prototype in the Gesta romanorum as well as the legend's Egyptian and Islamic variations. As a child the count Bony de la Vergne learned a Creole version and noted its details in his 1858 work Les Chiens.13

Yet within the canophile topos the story of Guinefort rested sterile, anecdotal, and incidental, for the canine constellation was arranged with respect to fidelity replaced rather than betrayed. It was the dog of Montargis who became the prototype of nineteenth-century beasts, "that valiant dog" who denounced his master's murderer and forced him to confess. This dog belonged to Aubry, a courtier of Charles V who was murdered in 1371 within a wood close to Montargis and near Orléans. Only the dog witnessed the crime and succeeded in bringing the murderer, a man named Macaire, to justice. The dog followed the man everywhere, drawing attention to himself and his pursuit. Finally


the king, who already suspected the villain, ruled that a duel should take place between Macaire and the dog. The dog won the duel, which took place on the Ile de la Cité. The murderer confessed to his crime and was executed.14

In all versions of this story Aubry's dog, an ordinary greyhound, is the only observer of the crime. When people fail to denounce the murderer, the dog becomes the instrument of the judicial duel that determines the fate of Macaire. An eccentric "monument to the French monarchy," the dog of Montargis appealed to the bourgeoisie as did other replacement figures whose purpose we can now consider in some detail.15

Again and again the theme of pet ownership showed up alongside the apparent emptiness of life. One owns a dog so one doesn't have to die alone, explained one contributor to the monthly bulletin of the Parisian Société protectrice des animaux. One values a dog because it is faithful beyond the grave, wrote another, so the point is that one will be mourned.16 The discourse on canine fidelity was characterized by a relaxed confusion of the fictional and the real, but its content was organized mainly around the issue of death and dying. British contemporaries may have pointed to the ideal widow—the Indian woman who, rather than survive her spouse, would throw herself onto the burning funeral pyre of her husband. But the French, more poetically than the British, imagined the mourning dog, determinedly reluctant to live without his master, his mistress.17

"They follow us to the grave" is the theme of numerous little journal articles and anecdotes that purported to be true. The number of eyewitness accounts from all over Paris suggests a widespread willingness to believe in their veracity, to construe events so as to evoke the same meaning. The detail of these stories, the realist strategy at work in the organization of trivia—like Balzac's novels they are true and yet not true, a type of magical realism, we might say—underlines the purposeful impulse to fantasize within ordinary lives.

A dog found dead on the street in Paris, for instance, may have stimulated the production of the following story, which appeared in the bulletin of the animal protection society in 1875. It concerned Finot, the dog of a poor artist "on whom fortune had yet to smile," who lived on the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. "Several days ago," we are told,


"misfortune overwhelmed the poor artist." Finot's master was stricken with pleurisy. He was taken to the hospital, where he died. Finot was bereft: "He had followed the stretcher but—one will have guessed the result—Finot was stopped at the doorstep of the hospital." He returned home and there, "refusing the hospitality offered him by the concierge," he spent the night on the street. For five days Finot maintained the same sad routine. Each day he "stayed 'put' in front of the hospital, no longer eating, drinking from the gutter only when thirst pressed him hard"; in the evening he returned to wait on his dead master's doorstep. Finally he died, "of hunger and cold, still awaiting the return of the master he loved so well."18

Prevented from expiring on their masters' or mistresses' graves, some dogs would die instead at the door of a hospital, or at the gates of a cemetery, wherever the final parting had occurred. Dog mourners maintained vigils, and some tried to dig the beloved human being out of the grave. What is curious about these stories, besides their number, is the level of belief, or suspended disbelief, in patently impossible happenstances.19

The most persistent dog mourner may be the chien du Louvre, the dog of a worker killed in battle during the Revolution of 1830, whose story was immortalized by the poet and member of the Académie française Casimir Delavigne. It was repeated in 1869 by another important figure, Pierre Larousse, in his monumental work, Le Grand Dictionnaire universel. As Larousse explained, during the attack on the Louvre on 29 July 1830, a worker was shot and his dog, Médor, his only friend, remained with the body. Several days later the corpses were piled onto an enormous hearse and driven to their final resting place. A dog was seen following the hearse. After the other mourners had left the cemetery, the dog remained behind. At daybreak he would disappear, only to return each evening to cry on his master's grave. One morning the cemetery keeper found him dead, as Larousse emphasized, "dead from grief!"— the last victim, perhaps, of the old regime.20

Canine deaths by mourning were given respectful publicity, but most were determinedly quiet affairs. More spectacular cases of canine suicide—"le suicide d'un chien," as headlines described it—were reported, such as that of Chéri, mentioned earlier in the chapter. Faithful and


devoted pet of a Mine B., rentiére, rue Sainte-Anne, her story first appeared in the Petit Moniteur. Chéri threw herself out a window a few days after the sudden death of her owner. Despite the care and attention lavished on her by the heir of Mine B., "the poor animal remained inconsolable, unable to accept the death of her mistress," as is dear from the journal's account: "The day before yesterday the young heiress, sitting by the window where her aunt had so often spent her days, placed Chéri, who was crying, on her lap and began to pet the sad dog and to offer comforting words to reassure her. All of a sudden, in a fit of despair, the dog threw herself out the window, onto the street, where she instantly died."21

We should consider to what degree the distinctions nineteenth-century individuals established between human and canine behavior were to be admonitory. Did mourners intend to emulate dogs and follow their spouse to the grave? Or were people to be moved—in a Dickensian sense—into becoming for a time a little more caring in their dealings with their fellow human beings? There seems rather an element of sighing resignation in these exaggerations that supports another view. Canine devotion, as some contemporaries noted, was suprahuman. "This precious model" was perhaps too noble for human behavior, one that the inhabitants of the nineteenth century could not be expected to follow.22 We can follow this line of mournful reasoning through stories that commented on community life.

Large-circulation journals in the 1870s and 1880s appealed to their audience by offering anecdotes of city life, "slices of life" in which the denouement doubled as a moral. In these entrefilets of modernity, a dog often appeared as a hero, one whose romantic heroics contrasted with the morally static quality of public life. Typical of these is an article from Le Gaulois of 19 October 1875, whose narrative was structured around plain fact.

It was six o'clock on a Saturday evening when the reporter from Le Gaulois came on a crowd of people lining the quai d'Orsay and the bridge that connected the river's left bank to the Jardin des Tuileries. Joining these "spectators not less moved than curious by so fascinating a scene," the reporter saw a little black and tan dog, un roquet, running back and forth along the edge of the Seine near the place where the bateaux-


mouches were docked. The little dog was frantic, "furiously, desperately barking in a strikingly pitiable way," turning in rage toward the river, "as if accusing it of a crime."

What the dog saw, and the crowd and the reporter witnessed, was the futile attempt of the dog's master to save himself from drowning. The man's efforts were violent but unavailing. Finally, "his head disappeared, only his arms remained in view, flailing desperately, and then . . . it was over, the body sank." At the disappearance of his master, the little dog stopped short, "trembled horribly," then "violently threw himself into the river." He struggled, "swimming, panting, pushing himself through the water," toward the spot where his master had been. But, the reporter explained, "the power of the river easily vanquished the puny animal whose little paws were so inadequate to his task and who, in a last noble effort, threw his head above the water, barked a bark of desperation, then disappeared."

What the miniature dog attempted—the rescue of a drowning human being—a city crowd made no move to effect: "None of the spectators, we regret to say," the journal explained, "made the slightest pretense of going to the aid of the dying man!" Simply flâneurs, the onlookers were there for the show.23

The behavior of a crowd similarly contrasted with canine heroism in the autumn of 1875, this time in an account by the Petit National. In this case, the disinterested nature of the dog's heroism accentuated the weakness of human bonds. According to the Petit National, the drama began when a man threw his cat into the Seine from the pont de Soiférino. Unexpectedly the cat survived the fall and managed to cling to one of the piles that supported the bridge. Passersby coalesced into a crowd and the scene became a spectacle. At this point, a dog who happened to be in the area came to the rescue of the cat. Grabbing it by the back of the neck, we are told, he "set himself the task of returning the cat to firm ground." Despite the uncomprehending struggles of the terrified cat, the dog succeeded in the rescue; then, "without dreaming of laying claim to the reward [routinely awarded to rescuers]," he coolly went on with his bathing. "Many people," the reporter observed, "would not do as much, even for one of their own kind."24


The Société protectrice des animaux cited these examples not to condescend but to underscore the pathos of ordinary lives. Together, these and other stories sketch a larger, and even poignant, narrative of Parisian life. Mindful of their significance, the society gathered these stories, originally printed in newspapers and journals, for its monthly bulletin that was distributed throughout the country. Sociétaires themselves submitted such articles as appeared in their own newspapers and at least within the circle of the society the message was amplified. But pets were ensured a multimedia deployment of their most salient characteristic.

The Salon exhibition of art in 1861 presented the portrait of a hero dog, Mustapha, whose story had appeared in the newspapers and was to be repeated very frequently in canophile literature. Mustapha was heroically faithful to a treacherous master who fell into the Seine as he tried to drown his pet, only to be rescued by the dog he had been exerting himself to kill. Sometimes in these accounts Mustapha is a Newfoundland, sometimes a poodle. Sometimes his master is an impoverished worker, sometimes not. Two endings of the story were current. In the one, master and dog return home together, the dog as happily loyal as ever, the master sadder, maybe wiser. In the other, Mustapha is purchased by a wimess who subsequently commissions the portrait that is exhibited in the salon. But always we learn that the dog is a better person than his master.25

Stories about canine fidelity were produced and disseminated on all levels of bourgeois culture, at times anecdotal, at times more poetic. Canophile literature, for instance, can be said to begin in 1836 with Lamartine's poem Jocelyn and Fido, "cet ami du pauvre Solitaire," whose three-month wait for his master's return weakened his body but not his devotion:

There, when my dusty feet struck against my poor home
An affectionate howl was my only welcome;
Alas, it was my dog, beneath my window crouch'd
Worn thin, by three months' absence of his master touch'd.26

The "incredible wait" was itself an echo of a minor Homeric theme that in the nineteenth century was given predominant importance. It was


the wait of Argus, not the return of Ulysses that, significantly, was translated into the bourgeois idiom. For example, Marshal Jean-Baptiste Philibert Vaillant, in 1854. minister of war and later household minister to Napoleon III, saw fit to mention Argus in the following terms in a defense of dogs that he published in 1866. The dog of Ulysses should be remembered, he urged, "that old blind dog who recognized his master after an absence of more than twenty years and who died making one last effort to lick his master's hand."27

We might compare the process that privileged Argus to the one that assured the dog from Montargis a hero's welcome in the bourgeois world (and a place also in the minister's caniography). Freely borrowing from Homer for a section of Les Quatre Vents de l'esprit, Victor Hugo shifted the center of the story from the homecoming of an aged sailor to the wait of a faithful dog. The dog has grown old in his master's absence and lies still, lifeless, on the day the sailor's ship at last arrives in port. As evening falls and the master approaches his house,

Old, himself, and hastening his step that age had broken
He murmured the name of his dog in a low voice.
Then, raising his eyes full of shadow, exhausted,
The dog looked at his master, and wagged
For one last time his poor old tail,
Then died. It was the hour when under the blue canopy
Like a torch shining forth from the depths, Venus shone
And I said: From whence the stars? Where goes the dog?
Oh night!28

Canine fidelity, like the timelessness of a literary form, stands in contrast here to the dominant, punctuated, nineteenth-century experience of time. Equally important is the presence of "the incredible wait" in anecdotes of everyday life. Sir Hector Pinpin, one of Emile Zola's dogs during the 1890s, was a failed Argus but was no less admirable for the effort. According to Zola's sister, he died of grief during Zola's exile in England: "He was simply incapable of living away from his master," she explained.29 As with "the incredible wait," so too with themes that operated on parallel levels, such as "the incredible journey," which we mentioned in the introduction with respect to Victor Hugo and Baron, and "the incredible rescue," a theme whose content is now sufficiently obvious.


In a weave of fiction and fact, the notion of canine fidelity developed in response to perceived shortcomings in contemporary life. The potency of this device had much to do with its association with medieval times and to a lesser extent with ancient history, both real and imagined. But the theme of canine fidelity expressed itself as a continuing statement of protest against bourgeois individualism. It outlived the romantic mode, and the longing for an organic and integrated life wrapped itself around other articulations of discontent.

It found expression in concrete sentimentality at the end of the century in that most pathetic of inventions, the public pet cemetery. The Parisian dog cemetery was founded in 1899 by Marguerite Durand, the editor of the feminist journal La Fronde, and by Georges Harmois, a lawyer and animal advocate. A place in the outskirts of Paris was chosen, Asniéres, already a petit-bourgeois fantasy—a picnic ground—and the inspiration for Georges Seurat's painting of self-absorbed swimmers, Une Baignade à Asnières (1883-1884 ). For five francs, in 1902, one could bury one's pet in a common grave. But for fifty francs one could assure the favored beast a private plot for ten years—and for one hundred francs, an undisturbed rest of thirty years. Restrictions were placed on the type of monuments allowed, and graveside services were forbidden. "Ceremonies and decorations that mimicked human burial," the regulations explained, were expressly prohibited.30 The line between human and canine was carefully drawn in ways that suggest a de facto pastiche, an insistent confusion of canine and human.

The epitaphs engraved on canine gravestones are moving. Visitors to the cemetery in the early twentieth century remarked on the frequency of the still familiar, "The more I know people, the more I love my dog" (a favorite expression also of Sociétaires who variously attributed it correctly to Pascal and wrongly to Montaigne). Bereaved owners could choose between a number of such expressions. A list of epitaphs to British dogs published in 1898 by a Parisian veterinarian and canine publicist included, "One would have thought he was human, but . . . he was faithful!"31 And the touching, "Deceived by the world, never by my dog," engraved recently on a monument to a dog named Jane echoed the sentiments of the owner of Emma who, in 1900 on an immense monument that interests visitors today (figure 2), engraved as if to a


Figure 2. The pet cemetery at Asnières: monument to Emma. Collection Roget-Viollet.


lover, "To the memory of my dear Emma . . . faithful and sole companion of my otherwise roofless and desolate life."

All dogs were faithful, unexpectedly, in a world that rationed human virtue by class. Petkeeping was a class-conscious activity, as well: "As there are social classes, so there are canine ones," commentators often noted.32 It is striking to consider, therefore, that the manufacture of fidelity in everyday imaginary life was, in a sense, class-blind. The nineteenth-century canine, "that friend of the last hour," was faithful no matter what sort of master it had, good or bad, worker or bourgeois.33 The chien du Louvre, Mustapha the hero, Chéri the suicide, as well as Baron, that intrepid friend of Victor Hugo, all obeyed the same ambivalent impulse. These histories of faithful dogs contained an acknowledgment of class and an empathic transcendence of it. The duality emerged quite clearly and powerfully, for example, in an article from the Petit Journal in the 1860s that was reprinted and broadcast by the animal protection society. An apology for pets, it reads also as an indictment of modern life.

As the story goes, the reporter had been wandering along the rue de la Sourdière, "one of the most melancholy streets in Paris." The street itself, the unlikely neighbor of the busy marché Saint-Honoré, was, as its name suggests, an obstinately silent protest "against the brouhaha and the activity that surround it."

Some little way ahead of the author walked an elderly woman "of the people." Her dog, the reporter noted, "was simply repulsive." A mongrel of indeterminate color, fat, short, and small, on a loose leash, Azor moved sluggishly in response to the gentle commands of his owner. All of a sudden, two street urchins ran up to the elderly couple and jumped on the leash. The impact threw the dog into the gutter where he began to tumble head over paws, the leash wrapping itself around his neck, until he was strangled. The woman fainted and the reporter was solicitous. He brought her to a pharmacy where she recovered herself a little and then, gathering up the body of the dead dog, she wandered off, "without knowing where."

"She'll die of it," the pharmacist said, and the author learned a lesson that he imparted to his readers: "Ever since that day, I dare not laugh at the last affections of old people!" Pets, the author reflected, "take the


place, perhaps, of dead or departed children, of daughters who have been seduced, of spouses who have been ungrateful." At the time of life when "a great emptiness begins to surround those who have reached sixty or seventy years of age," pets are there, "inadequate objects (objets insuffisants ) for feelings ready to expire." Like the rue de la Sourdière, perhaps, oblivious to the activity that surrounds it, a pet is comforting to those who are out of step with their times. The moral of the reporter's story was more simple: "Don't, therefore, laugh at animals. Who among us can be sure that our last regret will not be for an Azor?"34

Bourgeois empathy extended the boon of canine fidelity to marginal people—to the blind, of course, and to the elderly. The dog ladies of Paris who fed strays caught Baudelaire's imagination, "certain sexagenarian maidens, whose deserted hearts are devoted to beasts because stupid men no longer want them."35 But less articulate contemporaries also sensed the depeopling of a burgeoning Pads, the "capital of the nineteenth century."36 Underlying their obsession with canine affect and beastly devotion was bourgeois' apprehension at the fragility of life, as one last anecdote of modern times suggests. The following article appeared in the Gazette de France:

One evening last month around eleven o'clock a barbet made the rounds of the cabarets still open in the outer boulevards. First, he would attract attention by yapping, expressing himself almost as if in a human language. Then he would begin to howl and seize people by their clothing, pulling them toward the door of the cabaret. In several places these maneuvers only brought him kicks, but at a cabaret frequented by retired soldiers, he met with a more sympathetic reception. The soldiers followed the dog, who led them to a place where a man in workers' attire lay senseless. . .. Several minutes later and he would have died.37

The contrast between our perception and contemporary reception of these stories is significant. Their absurdity has illustrative value and may make us rethink the meaning of kitsch. Fidelity appears in this context as pointing toward the troubling and problematic core of modern life. A reification of essential humanity and its concentration onto nonhuman beings was at once a solution to and a recognition of the breakdown of human potential. The producers of canine fidelity expressed conserva-


tive resignation to a world that held little insurance against loneliness and isolation. They acknowledged alienation as the human condition; at the same time they used a deliberately ironic ploy to arrest its progress: canine fidelity looked backward toward the Middle Ages, but the normative ideal it presented was prima facie ridiculous.

We easily recognize that the appeal of canine fidelity was not a mere ideological figment. The love bestowed on stray dogs by the elderly women with whom Baudelaire identified was real. So too, certainly, were the feelings of the owner of Azor, killed by street urchins in the rue de la Sourdière. And a relationship whose termination triggered suicide was surely intense, such an experience as occurred when "a former schoolteacher living in Paris killed himself . . . out of grief for his old dog, run over by a carriage."38

Petkeeping has a universality that neutralizes many peculiarities of time and place, as studies often attest. Medical research suggests that the quality of contact between human beings and pets is of a higher level than that between individuals and most other human beings. Blood pressure, for instance, generally remains the same or rises when people are talking to other individuals but falls when they are speaking to a pet. People's "voice tones and facial expressions," in the terms of the researchers, "resemble those used by lovers or by mothers with small children." Physiologically, pets function as intimate companions. Researchers found that people treated their pets like children and thus the impact of the loss of a pet is great, especially to the elderly. "Having to give up one's pet," psychiatrists say, "can be a severe source of stress leading to depression, physical illness, or suicide."39

The signs and symbols of petkeeping loosely enclose both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Engraved on tombstones or acted out in suicides, the affect registered as powerfully in nineteenth-century Paris as it does in recent psychological case studies. And treatment prescribed in dog-care books supports the notion that pets were like people; it appears provocatively in an 1899 study, L'Enfance du chien.40 Pets function metaphorically, we might say. But the exaggerations of Victorian canine fidelity argue against a wholly ahistorical explanation and suggest that dogs may have functioned as ersatz humans for many individuals in


the nineteenth century. Of greater consequence to our subject is to reflect on the exaggerated place of canine affect as an idea within bourgeois culture.

Canine fidelity was a construct, and as such is comparable, mutatis mutandis, with constructs that inform the nineteenth-century novel. I suggested above a comparison with the Balzacian strategy of piling detail onto detail to create an imaginary world. On another level of interpretation, if the secret of a novel's appeal is the coherence of the fictional world it creates—positing a totality against the fragmented lives of readers—canine fidelity appealed by offering itself as a completion to an imperfect world. Within bourgeois and petit-bourgeois culture, in elite and ordinary life, stories paid attention to canine fidelity, energetically depicting faithful dogs and patching up a damaged social fabric—behind the facade of genre, unexpectedly, modern life was bleak.

The image of the city presented in these stories suggests that ordinary nineteenth-century citizens found their experience strangely disconcerting. The same disaffection that prompted Emile Zola in the 1870s to describe the Haussmannization of Paris as the hacking to death of a sentient being emerges here, albeit on an anecdotal level.41 The source material on petkeeping is coincident with that on the modernization of Paris—the series of changes in the physical plant that, beginning in the 1830s and reaching its climax in the late 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s, doubled the population and area of the capital and replaced, seemingly, neighborhood life by boulevards. The relation of material change to mentalité can be debated. But the evidence suggests that the terms of modernism were equally accessible to culture builders on elite and mass levels alike. For it seems a useful and telling paradox that, amid an equally powerful discourse on family life, the bourgeois themselves were exclaiming (as the Goncourt brothers commented about the modernity of Poe) that people seemed to be gone—to be replaced by empty things.42 For many, this was the void that canine loyalty might fill.


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2 The Notion of Fidelity in a Bourgeois World
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