Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly (1808-1889)

Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly (1808-1889)

Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly (1808-1889).

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski / C. Jean

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Born into a family ennobled in 1756, Barbey d'Aurevilly, born in Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte in a very royalist environment, was immersed from childhood in the stories relating to the Chouannerie, which the future writer would transcribe in his works. Although a contemporary of Musset or Nerval, Barbey did not take part in the romantic combat, of liberal tendency, and began rather late an independent work, by publishing first An old mistress (1851), then The Entangled (1854). These novels, filled with visions as satanic as they are divine - Barbey always cultivated ambiguity - were the first to nourish a sort of Norman cycle on the chouannerie, marked by masterpieces such as The Knight of the Touches (1864) or A story without a name (1882). Breaking with his time, he mainly announced fin-de-siècle, decadent and symbolist literature (Devilish, collection of short stories, 1874). It was a whole spiritual lineage that Barbey thus guided towards the renewal of royalist traditions, at the time when the Action française de Maurras was born in France and when a return to religion was to flourish in Péguy and Claudel.

Image Analysis

Direct, cold image of the writer looking at the viewer haughtily, almost with disdain, and barely turning towards him, this portrait stands out face and hand in the light, playing above all on the elongation of shapes (fingers, mustache ). It is the aristocrat who reveals himself here, supremely superior in his remoteness, as refusing all contact with an exterior whom he deems unworthy of him, a man of transcendent visions. In this portrait of the writer now recognized as a master, Lévy sought to give an eternal image of a superior man, foreign to the contingencies of his time, as also suggested by his old-fashioned frock coat and his lavallière tie, very showy. .


This late portrait of Barbey, made at the time of his literary consecration when he published A story without a name, is an essential reference. A sort of sacred icon, the work presents the model of an entire fin-de-siècle school of thought as a god that only initiates can approach: it is only them that Barbey condescends to look at in this portrait. He is the supreme teacher in a democratic society that is taking hold, to which he feels a stranger and whom he denounces, especially through Zola. His new disciple Huysmans is, it is true, a defector from the naturalist school.

  • dandyism
  • writers
  • portrait
  • chouannerie
  • christianity
  • Nerval (Gérard de)
  • Maurras (Charles)
  • Peguy (Charles)
  • Musset (Alfred de)
  • French action
  • Barbey d'Aurevilly (Jules)
  • low angle
  • decadence
  • fin de siècle spirit
  • Huysmans (Joris-Karl)
  • Poet
  • royalism
  • symbolism
  • Zola (Emile)
  • reactionary


Patrick AVRANE, Barbey d'Aurevilly, Brussels, Desclée de brouwer, 2000.Michel WINOCK, The Voices of Freedom: the writers involved in the 19th century, Paris, Seuil, 2001.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "Jules Amédée Barbey d´Aurevilly (1808-1889)"

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