During Lent
Concerning fin de siècle ingenuousness and Mlle Yvette Guilbert,
five lectures at the Théâtre d'Application, by M. Hugues Le Roux.


   Ingenuousness? People frequently tell us about that of the singer, and in telling us about it they amuse us without convincing us: we have too much respect for the ingenuous to want to give them to Mlle Yvette Guilbert as a companion and too frequently have we savoured, at the Concert Parisien or the Nouveau Cirque, her keen delights to call it ingenuousness. Ingenuousness? Should we then not talk about that of the critic who has given five lectures on Yvette Guilbert, four more than M. Ganderax gave on Molière? But that is no longer ingenuousness exactly. It is something - if I dare use an expression that has come to us from M. Prudhomme which he uses to adorn some of his observations today - very "fin de siècle", and, something that is not difficult, even more "fin de siècle" than Mlle Yvette Guilbert.
   It is worth mentioning here, in fact, that by virtue of an evolution too complex to be analyzed here, French criticism between 1889 and 1891 has become dogmatic once more, not in a different sense, but on different grounds than previously. Let's take M. Jules Lemaître for example.
   It is for one of the seemingly less contestable literary works of art that he feels the most fondness, professes the greatest veneration: he dare not affirm anything, for fear of judgement, or give his judgement other than as an entirely personal preference, denying it beforehand any universal value. It is for an evening spent at the Concert Parisien: he tries to create a theory of the musical "catch-phrase" and to create scientific basis for the simple café-concert song. Take our most refined dilettantes, our most elegant Pyrrhonians to the Scala and behold they turn into fierce dogmatics. We would not know how to attribute such a marvellous metamorphosis to the mysterious suggestions that float through the café-concerts, in winter on the blue cigar smoke, in summer in the blue brightness of the moon. The things that can be reduced to formulae, because they are governed by laws, which, in a word, are the subject of science, are precisely the most physical, the most material manifestations of what we do, whereas art, in its highest creations, because of its quasi-divine essence, avoids scientific investigation entirely. The Heart and aesthetic Thought have their reasons that Reason can scarcely understand. But laughter, that laughter that shakes us at the café-concert, - translation of the unhealthy pleasure that we experience in order to feel our momentary irrationality - our reason knows the reason for it. And thus the shows at the café-concerts, by continuing to remain wholly outside literature, have become material for literature, and the critic of the café-concert is born. From that time on it has become a most agreeable exercise for the greatest virtuosos of style. They have sung the praises and merits of M. Paulus or M. Valti, one on lyrical style, one in evangelical flavour. The disproportion between the dignity of the epithets that aggrandize these rather secular persons, and the persons themselves, greatly amuses the reader. And if from the learned combination of lyrical style and evangelical style is born the apocalyptic style, the critic then adopts the attitude of St Joan at the Nouveau Cirque that is not without some piquancy. M. Jules Lemaître's collected articles will become, as well as many other things, a very instructive repertoire for this new form of literature.
   But if because of this M. Le Roux's lecture is very "fin de siècle", Mlle Guilbert is not at all. One does not become more refined just because one has ceased to be ingenuous. No more than her near namesake, the drunken but good sailor of M. Loti, our sister Yvette is not "fin de siècle". What connection is there between this woman, who is so funny, so invigorating, so healthy, whose manner of speaking, so lacking in colour and naturalism, is mingled with so much good intention, such good will, so much of the charm and good grace of Mme Judic, what connection is there between her and the "flowers of vice", the sensuous and sickly flowers which, with their scrawny elegance, adorn so bizarrely the fantasies of Chéret and of Willette? Dressed in a simple white dress which made her long black gloves stand out still more, with her white powdered face, in the midst of which her exaggeratedly red mouth bleeds like a cut, she looked rather more like those creatures, brutally drawn and with their own intense life, which are scattered through the work of Raffaelli. As such, in her physical appearance - as well as in her diction - she makes one think of naturalism, of a naturalism that is already outdated, and so very different in any case from the art of today.
   No, she is no longer the little woman stepped down from one of Chéret's posters to lead a new "embarkation to Cythera". We admire Mlle Yvette Guilbert's talents more than anybody. But, despite all our best efforts, we do not find her perverse at all. Perhaps that is ingenuousness.


Le Mensuel no 5, February 1891.

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