Oooh, this thread has been so fascinating again lately! HOWEVER. Interrupting (alas) the Dante, Ancients etc. discussion and going back to the Prouvaire-as-a-1820s/30s-French-Romantic thing for a moment, I just realised I never posted all of this in one place - list of more or less graspable things suggesting that Prouvaire is, in fact, more directly modeled on Gérard de Nerval than any other Ami is modeled on anyone else (it's mostly tiny, vague things, but they pile up!):
- As mentioned before on various instances, Jean Prouvaire is the only one of les Amis who is regularly referred to by his first name both by the narrator and by Enjolras; Gérard de Nerval not only published as plain Gérard for some time but was still referred to as Gérard and Gérard alone years after; even after his death, Gautier published "Portraits de Gérard", not "Portraits de Nerval". While many of the Romantics addressed
each other by first names (hence the need to call O'Neddy Philothée to avoid confusion with Théo [Gautier]), this is unusual.
Gérard may not have picked a medieval alias, but he did publish pseudonymously (his birth name was Labrunie) and use pseudonyms according to the nature of the work, i.e. 'Fritz' for one of his translations from German (I have not yet found the exact one [since they are all filed under 'de Nerval' today
], but I think he did use it in print; the pseudonym apparently originated on a somewhat erratic road trip around Belgium with Gautier). He is also referred to as Fritz in Gautier's "Le château du souvenir". Let me just quote that so you can all try to pronounce it (I recently spent an hour trying to sing passages from the poem to the tune of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables"):
Et Fritz explique à Cidalise
Le Walpurgisnachtstraum de Faust.
, on a 'when in doubt make no assumptions' basis, that 'Fritz' is not
a reference to any specific person. It's short for 'Friedrich', which was an absurdly common name among German males in the eighteenth and nineteenth century (about ten times as much as the French equivalent - which is 'Frédéric', of course
) ... just as absurdly common as 'Jehan' was in medieval France!
- Both Gautier and secondary sources (in this case, Jules Claretie in his bio of Pétrus Borel) continuously refer to Gérard as 'le bon Gérard' and stress that being 'bon' was his primary quality. Cf. Hugo on Jehan, 'above all he was good', 'a gentle poet' and so on. Claretie (who was not a part of the scene in any way, though) also refers to Gérard as 'l'homme le plus douce de la terre'.
- Jehan alone of les Amis sometimes refers to Buonaparte as Napoléon. Gérard's first published works were 'national elegies' dealing with both the Napoléonic era and the man himself.
- It's been agreed that 'Prouvaire' is from Rue des Prouvaires, right?
This may actually be the most (if not the only) convincing piece of evidence. (Image is a footnote in the meagre collection of his correspondance available on Gallica.)
(The Rue des Prouvaires is also at a very reasonable walking distance from the Masonic lodge mentioned in "Enjolras and his Lieutenants". But that's not saying much.)
- Gérard did also dress differently from the rest of the gang, albeit in the opposite way from how some (if not most) of us have been reading it for Jehan:
La recherche d'excentricité était alors tellement courante que, par contraste, celui qui s'habillait simplement se faisait remarquer: c'était le cas de Nerval, toujours vêtu d'un costume noir ou bleu sombre.
[The quest for eccentricity was thus so widespread that, by contrast, those who dressed plainly stood out: this was the case of Nerval, always clad in black or sombre blue.]
From Martin-Fugier, "Les Romantiques 1820-1848".
- Gérard's primary passion in terms of foreign language, literature, and culture may have been Germany, towards which Jehan shows no inclination whatsoever (sniff) (well IN MY HEAD Jehan has a lot to say on the Germans' collecting fairy tales from French Huguenot refugees and claiming them as their own national folk tales, but, um, yeah, that is in my head), but he did also join the ranks of the oriental travelers, which ties semi-neatly into Jehan's almost-orientalism.
- This is so far-fetched but brilliant it makes me giggle: the man who ended up marrying Jenny Colon (the nature of Gérard's admiration for whom has been much debated) was a flute player.
- Pétrus Borel and Gérard de Nerval are the first prominent members of Hugo's circle who die. Not only are Bahorel and Prouvaire the first of les Amis to die, but this in general speaks for Hugo perhaps deciding to maybe actually pay homage to them*. Marguerite with her insight on various draft stages confirms that Prouvaire and Bahorel were added only in the final draft (and at the same time!), after Nerval and Borel were already dead. The more I read about Borel, the less
he seems a likely Bahorel, though - far too melancholy in his own right, decidedly lacking in a 'tolerably large allowance' to waste, and not older than the rest of the gang. (I do enjoy that the first two or three times he is mentioned in Gautier's mémoirs, it is next to Gérard. And that Gautier can't stop talking about his facial hair. Ohhhh, Gautier. I keep wanting to cast him as someone but he is equal parts Courfeyrac and Bahorel [waistcoats!] and X. Well, you can't be anything in three equal parts, can you, but--)
- ... I realise this is unscientific, but but but there are so many things that sound just right
even without one concrete phrase being linked to another! Théo's recollection of how Gérard would wander the streets all day (looking like an idler, but really being lost in observation, contemplation, even composition) and his friends would leave their windows open in the hope that he would pass by and climb in, staying just a little (for he never stayed for long) seems so in tune with Jehan occupying himself with clouds (and
with acute social questions) and ... well. And then, there's a sense (or, you know, there is in my head) that the statement re: Jehan being 'in love' does not refer to his pining after a specific person but that the emotional state (and ensuing ostensibly erratic modes of behaviour/reaction) commonly associated with Being In Love is for him a sort of modus vivendi, and that could not be truer for Gérard, whose life is notoriously full of vague pining and devoid of actual (provable) romances/affairs. (Is anybody interested in hearing about Gérard Cogez' speculations re: Nerval's sexuality? He never seems to be able to decide whether he was homosexual, transsexual, in love with his mother, or all of the above. It's not strictly Prouvaire-related, so I'm not writing it all out here.)
- As for what Prouvaire has in common with Jehan Du Seigneur beside the name, the latter is
described (both by Gautier and others - although it seems likely that all 'others', as long as they were not Cénaclists themselves, used Gautier as a source) as 'sweet, with the modest, timid air of a virgin, but robust [as sculptors have to be, facing their hard material]', which is reasonably close to 'timid yet intrepid'. (Gautier's physical description of young Gérard is positively Enjolraic, by the way.)
Long story short: the lobster is totally justified (and Nerval is wonderful)
Other than that, has anyone else considered that with Hugo's rather
outspoken distaste for Racine (he wouldn't even leave his spirit in peace!), maybe he actually did mean to identify him as Prouvaire's least favourite writer rather than his third favourite? And Corneille somewhere in the middle? Hugo quotes Corneille so often in NDdP that it seems unlikely that he loathed him quite as much as he seems to have loathed Racine.
And re: Isaiah and Juvenal, there is a letter of Hugo's (from November 18, 1852) in which he justifies the violent language of his own "Châtiments" with reference to the two. Robb paraphrases it as follows:
Hugo's reasoning was this: the violence of his poems would impress the masses and give him the authority later on to prevent violent reprisal.
I can't find the original quote, sadly. But it might somehow play into Jehan's taste for them.
*Notable also that Hugo actually quotes Gérard in "Les Misérables", and he does not quote many of his contemporaries:
"God is dead, perhaps," said Gérard de Nerval one day to the writer of these lines, confounding progress with God, and taking the interruption of movement for the death of Being.