In the Court of the Pear King
French Culture and the Rise of RealismBook - 2005
The period 1830-1832 witnessed a remarkable series of cultural and political milestones in France. In 1830, a revolution overturned one monarchy, only to replace it with another. In 1831, Charles Philippon's caricature of Louis-Philippe, the new monarch, as a pear achieved extraordinary popularity. Drawn on walls from one end of France to another, the pear caricature became a national obsession. In that same year, George Sand moved from the provinces to Paris and challenged gender stereotypes by adopting men's clothes and writing fiction in a man's voice. During 1830-1832, Stendhal and Balzac developed the techniques of the realist novel that still dominate much of the world's fiction. Sandy Petrey explores the factors accounting for such consequential innovations in so short a time, so restricted a space. In Petrey's view, these disparate events betoken a common recognition of society's capacity to make and unmake what it recognizes as real.
Petrey's first two chapters explore the popularity of the pear caricature. The remaining chapters focus on Balzac, Stendhal, and Sand, addressing these writers' concern with society's power to define and transform the identity of its members. For Petrey their work continually recalls the hybrid character of Philippon's pear, both totally unlike the king and the king's spitting image. While the French government declared the July Revolution a nonevent and the July Monarchy an incontrovertible fact, French fiction concentrated on society's power to declare an individual a nonperson or to make presence out of absence, plenitude out of emptiness.