Madison Niemann, Courtney Manning, David Ball
French Dominance Over British Culture
Throughout the course of the early 20th century, British culture was heavily influenced by the dominant French culture in many aspects of artistic traditions. The Blue Review defines a wide variety of art consisting of, but not limited to, writers, painters, actors, musicians, sculptors and poets. Throughout the course of the early 1900s there was a strong desire to integrate the French culture into these forms of art. Within the Anglophone magazine, The Blue Review, French culture is heavily integrated into art and literary articles, suggesting a French influence over British culture. Not only does the British culture look to the French as dominant in the artistic world, but the French put themselves above other cultures as well as seen in La Nouvelle Revue Francaise, a French magazine published during the early 1900s.
In the first issue of The Blue Review, released in May 1913, there is an article entitled “The Esperanto of Art” written by W.L. George. With a title like that you would expect something that would speak to multiple areas of artistic talent, however the French culture and their art forms dominate this article. The word “Esperanto” itself is a form of an international language, a language meant to be universally understood in politics. So, the Esperanto of Art would seem to express some form of international and universal art throughout Europe, but this is not the case. In his article, George picks apart the various techniques that make a great work of art. Art in this case, has many meanings, George begins the article stating that “There is, there must be a link between the painter, the sculptor, the writer, the musician, the actor, between the poet in words and the one, to-day most common, who wishes to express himself in the deeds of his own life” (28). Throughout all of his critiques of technique he uses various artists to prove his point and about ninety percent of these artists mentioned happen to be French. He is able to identify many French artists in every aspect of the word, not just painters and sculptors, but writers, poets and actors as well. Perhaps this is because George grew up in France, though he now considers himself to be an English writer, that he was able to pull a wide variety of French artists into his article. Or it is because at this time, the French were superior in the art world, and George was using their expertise as an example for the British, so they could strive to reach their level of excellence. He creates a new way to view art, not simply as a way of drawing and painting, but a way of creatively expressing emotion in a number of forms.
Throughout the article George walks readers through various terms that help them to further identify what makes a strong work of art. He is telling us that his article is going to help us find the common “Esperanto” of art, that is, the common language of all art. He classifies art into four groups: volumetric, linear, kinetic and static. Within these groups George links all art forms together through the basic structures that form the art world. He starts off with the explanation of concentration on a specific subject matter. He uses writing and painting as examples of how something can be concentrated, saying, “We nullify areas, therefore, and must lay down that the test of concentration is the effect: if the painter realizes that the author has felt all he wrote, if the writer sees that ever line was necessary, then both can be sure that they are respectively in presence of concentrated works” (30). Here he is demonstrating how both writing and painting share the same qualities when having a concentrated work; in order to know that something is complete you must be able to depict the direction that you want the work to go. They must have a strong focused concentration that is able to be the focus of the rest of the work of art. Within this concentration comes a variety of sentence structure and tone, depending on the work of art. This variety is also known as relief, which is “the matter of contrast” (30). Relief is important because it directs the viewers eye from spot A to spot B, whether it be reading a poem or viewing a sculpture, the viewer must have something that connects the work and flows with the work to look at. Being able to connect the work together on a whole, also comes through in density and depth. These two qualities are exemplified in the works of Gustave Flaubert, a French novelist, and Velasquez, a French painter. George continues by discussing the techniques of rhythm and movement, which can be found in Matisse’s works, another French painter. And of course a work of art cannot be complete without balance, which is giving every item in the work equal intensity and importance. George tells readers that there is always balance in the purely decorative. He ends by discussing grace and harmony, which are all found in the quality of lightness of a work. He uses examples of Andre Gide, Walter Pater, and Watteau to depict grace and harmony, all of who are French artist with different emphasis in the art world. He says, “While grace must stand by itself as a not especially important quality because it is not, need not, always be present, harmony must be recognized as a synonym of balance” (35). George attempts to depict an Esperanto of art, but what he is actually doing is depicting how French artists dominate the artistic world from every level. Whether or not he meant to depict this dominancy, his message is very clear. France controlled most of the artistic world, and other countries attempted to meet their standards but would never fully match the ability and prestige found in French works. The same can be found in a literature portion of the magazine as well.
Within two separate issues of The Blue Review, there are two articles entitled “French Books” by the editor, John Middleton Murry. Murry, an Englishman, writes these articles as opinion pieces about French work, as well as what is occurring literarily and culturally in France. In Volume 1, issue 1 of The Blue Review Murry discusses the French author, Honoré de Balzac. Murry decides to include some excerpts from Balzac’s criticism of authors such as Victor Hugo; interestingly enough, some of the criticism is in English, while some is in French. Murry quotes Balzac in translated English, though a paragraph later in the article Murry pens, “And Balzac follows out his criticism relentlessly until he reaches the conclusion” (57). The conclusion, however, that Murry includes from the same work of Balzac is written in French, he does not bother to translate this portion of the article, which could lead some English readers to confusion. This is interesting to note because it appears in an English magazine, yet Murry expects the reader to be able to read and comprehend French literary criticism in the original French language. Another aspect of the article is that Murry provides the reader with his own personal critique of the novel that was chosen for the Prix Goncourt, a French literary prize. He dedicates the rest of the article to condemning the French for picking the novel Les Filles de la Pluie by André Savignon, over Julien Benda’s work L’Ordination, which he believes to be superior. Murry critiques the works, commenting that, “Les Filles de la Pluie is chaotic, and therefore not a work of art” (59). He then comments on Benda’s work stating, “L’Ordination is, if barely a great book, is at least a good and sincere book. Its theme is to be found in the phrase, ‘La pitié c’est la mort’” (59). Murry critiques the choice of Savignon’s work being awarded above that of Benda’s, demonstrating a sincere concern for French culture, after all he is commenting solely on an award given in France, this award is inapplicable to British authors writing in the English language. This suggests to the reader that Murry believes it to be important to know the winner of a French literary prize, demonstrating that French works and culture are deemed important in British society. By discussing a French literary award he is placing importance on it, and by questioning which author it was given to, he questions the authority of the Academié Goncourt, which is interesting to note since he is an Englishman.
In Volume 1, issue 2 of The Blue Review, Murry continues the section, this time entitled, “French Books: A Classic Revival”. Within this piece he discusses L’Action Française, a French movement that was in favor of the monarchy and therefore counter-revolutionary. Murry claims, “The immediate cause for L’Action Française was the Dreyfus trial, and though English opinion was practically unanimous in supporting Dreyfus and condemning anti-Semitism, there can be little doubt that on a purely nationalist grounds the French agitation against Dreyfus was justified” (135). This is an interesting, and incredibly complex statement. For here, Murry, an Englishman, claims that the opinion of the English people was “practically unanimous in supporting Dreyfus”, however he then defends the French feeling of resentment towards Dreyfus and their wanting to keep their national identity as a Catholic nation. Perhaps he supports this because it aligns France in England in a way; L’Action Française supports the monarchy, which England also has. Or, he supports their identity as a mono-religious Catholic nation because England can also be viewed as a mono-religious nation. Moving away from a cultural reference, Murry begins to speak about a poetry movement going on in France entitled “Fantaisistes”. This is a movement dealing with fantasy. Murry writes that this school of poetry is, “The faculty that of analyzing experience with an irony that verges on cynicism and an introspection that verges on egoism” (136). He goes on to talk about how it is “eminently French” but that it has been borne down for centuries by other cultures including German, English and Spanish. This use of “borne down” seems to have a negative connotation to it, like these cultures were inhibiting and tainting a purely French tradition with their own takes on the Fantaisistes movement. This is interesting to note because he lists the English as being a culture that inhibited this movement and suggests that it would have been better off left untouched by other cultures besides the French. He seems to idealize the French in a way, siding with them on a few issues that perhaps his fellow countrymen might not. Towards the end of the piece he includes a French Fantaisistes poem by M. Derème, which is not translated from the original French it was written in, leaving it up to the reader to decipher the meaning of the poem. Once again, he assumes that the reader will be able to comprehend the poem in French insinuating that the reader is knowledgeable of the French language, and the French culture. Although The Blue Review is not a French magazine, in these specific articles it depicts French issues as if they hold high importance in the British culture. Just as the British hold the French in high regards, the French think of their culture as dominant as well, as seen in La Nouvelle Revue.
La Nouvelle Revue Française tries to approach art from an international perspective, but both the literary and critical content convey a fixation on “high”—specifically—French, culture. Jean Schlumberger opens the La Nouvelle Revue Francaise with his article “Considérations,” in Vol. 1 (published in 1909), with a discussion of how artistic communities form. He poses two overarching considerations: the more ephemeral issues of fashion, aesthetic taste, and cultural custom; then, what Schlumberger calls problèmes essentiels, referring to the ideological dilemmas, which “Each artist must face, alone, in the most decisive moments of one’s life” (Schlumberger, 5). Those artists who have arrived at similar conclusions to these questions form camaraderie, or artistic circles, which give preferences to an agreed upon body of work, representative of the group’s artistic tastes—much like the type of artistic community that Ezra Pound was attempting to cultivate in Anglophone literature. Despite the parallel sentiments, the article focuses solely on the French reactions to established artistic conventions. Even vers libre (free verse) is discussed as a purely French conception for “liberating poets…important in breaking from the discomfort of the Alexandrine” (Schlumberger, 7). This reference to the French poetic form would seem to exclude English-speaking poets, whose traditional poetic form was iambic pentameter. He does make a distinction, however, between the French language and French culture, alluding once again to internationalist sentiment while simultaneously excluding foreigners, saying that Francophone culture extends past France’s borders, “but…our responsibility is limited to that which happens [in France]” (Schlumberger, 10).
Having read Schlumberger’s article, it would seem that the La Nouvelle Revue Francaise not only has a preference for French literature, but French ideologies as well. In the magazine’s sixth issue, however, André Gide suggests a more universal, humanistic approach to ideological perspectives, in his response to Henri Clouard’s “Enquête de La Phalange.” (La Phalange was another French literary publication). Gide claims that Clouard’s approach to establish a national literature is “simple, too simple: one chooses in the body of literature the several works which seem them best, which is to say, in this case, those which gratify one’s own tastes and temperaments the most” (Gide, 431). In his own footnote, Gide lists the authors to whom Clouard refers—Racine, Marivaux, Barrès, Moréas, Mme de la Fayette, and Gérard de Nerval. This canonization of authors, is distinctly Francophone, but directly parallels the English canon that T.S. Eliot would revise “to gratify [his] own tastes and temperaments”. But Gide echoes Matthew Arnold’s humanistic ideologies, arguing that without the individual’s experience, neither nationalism nor universalism would exist, stating: “the most human works [of art]—those which remain of the most general interest—are also the most particular: those which manifest the genius of a race through the genius of an individual” (Gide, 430) He continues, “What is more national than Aeschalus, Dante, Shakespeare, Molière, Goethe, Ibsen, Dostoïevsky?” (Gide, 430). In a final recognition of outside influence, Gide asks the reader (and Clouard) to consider that “our best artists are very often the product of hybridizations and uprootings” (Gide, 432). Thus, at the root of any national literature is the work of the individual, which can then be adopted as a nationalist work only after its reception by the general public.
Within both an Anglophone and a Francophone magazine, the French culture is seemingly idealized. The Blue Review emphasizes various aspects of French culture, at times integrated in essays, opinion pieces and even an advertisement for La Nouvelle Revue Française. Not only can French influence be found in the articles stated above, but throughout The Blue Review on the whole. Thus demonstrating that the English attempted to model their works off of existing French pieces. The English reader was also expected to be able to comprehend the French language as well as French cultural references without explanation. In La Nouvelle Revue Francaise the French culture is shown to transcend past France’s borders in its influences on other countries. Thus it is clear that the French culture had large influences in multiple facets of the British culture overall.