Narcissistic Fiction: Music Theater of the Everyday in Édouard Dujardin’s Les Lauriers sont coupés (1887)

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Adeline Heck
University of California Press
19th-Century Music

The Symbolist novella Les Lauriers sont coupés (1887) by Édouard Dujardin (1861–1949) is the first work of fiction in Western literature to be entirely written as an interior monologue. Yet it took more than thirty years for Dujardin’s innovation to be recognized thanks to James Joyce acknowledging Les Lauriers as an important formal influence for Ulysses (1922). Subsequently, Dujardin claimed in the essay “Le monologue intérieur” (1931) that his goal had been to transpose Wagnerian procedures into writing. Since then, scholars have either denied or confirmed the novel’s Wagnerian inspiration. The latter interpretation has become the consensus in scholarship. However, in their efforts to connect Les Lauriers with Wagner, previous studies have neglected the constant presence of French musical theater references in the novel, presumably because their presence represents a form of paradox for a devout Wagnerite like Dujardin. This article is the first to analyze them. It also ties these references together with Symbolism’s interest in metafiction, that is to say, in fiction that reflects on its own existence as fiction. I argue that Dujardin was eager to follow the model of the Wagnerian novel proposed by his friend Teodor de Wyzewa in the Revue wagnérienne, that of setting on paper the poet’s entire existence by depicting his/her every emotion, sensation, and thought. In his discovery of the difficulty involved in performing such a task, Dujardin switched his focus to what his mentor Mallarmé called a “Type”: a depersonalized character, who is supposed to stand in as a representative of France’s youth. Hence, the protagonist of Les Lauriers sont coupés being an average character, with musical tastes that are illustrative of his time. Thus, the numerous musical references peppering Les Lauriers are not connected to the elitist world of Wagnerism in the 1880s, but rather to what were then beloved favorites like François-Marie Boieldieu’s La Dame blanche (1825), or Edmond Audran’s La Mascotte (1880). But there is an added twist, as Dujardin did not let go of Wagner’s influence entirely and used Audran’s operetta as a springboard with which to experiment with Wagnerian leitmotifs in literature. Ultimately, I show that the musical references in Les Lauriers are systematically divorced from real-life performance in order to become strictly mental creations that highlight just how isolated and self-absorbed the protagonist—and, by extension, the author himself in the act of creation—really is.