ABSTRACT

The process of literary transformation peculiar to Nerval outstrips flat description—in the same way that the essential characterization of his more poetical and rhythmic prose proves elusive under the yoke of everyday language. In what concerns Nerval’s selection of source material on which to perform interpretational surgery, there is no great degree of agreement: is he a historian writing illicit fiction, or a romancier embroidering à tort et à travers on the accepted histories? Léon Cellier wrote in 1957: ‘Sauf le cas particulier où le souci du rare a poussé Nerval à exhumer des documents peu connus, il se contente le plus souvent de puiser à tort et à travers dans des ouvrages de vulgarisation’. 1 Cellier goes on to discriminate (following Durry) between the quality of the source and the quality of the result, but his previous forthrightness persists in the memory, outweighing the later qualification. Auguste Viatte’s famously lapidary statement is in similar vein: ‘On n’écoutera point sans preuve un romancier tel que Gérard de Nerval: il emprunte une partie de sa documentation à Nodier, on sait ce que vaut la source: à peu près autant que Nerval lui-même; cela n’empêche pas des historiens d’ajouter foi à ses fictions et d’en assimiler la valeur à celle des manuscrits originaux.’ 2 The comment is, partly, just—in protesting against using the work of a littérateur as reliable documentation. In spirit, however, it is dismissive of both Nerval and Nodier, neither of whom would unironically claim 70academic accuracy for their fictions. With reference to Les Illuminés, Nerval is acting more as a creative writer than as a historian of illuminism in any acceptably narrow definition of the term; the semantic field of the word illumination and the broader literature of eccentricity are, ultimately, more enlightening.