Madame Chrysanthème as an item of nineteenth-century French Japonaiserie
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Japonisme, a Japanese influence on Western art and design, enjoyed intense popularity during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This study is primarily concerned with the interrelationship between products of that influence, items of japonaiserie, and Pierre Loti's first Japanese travelogue, Madame Chrysanthème (1887). It proposes that this work can be considered and meaningfully analysed as an item of 'literary' japonaiserie even though it contained aspects that criticised Japan. Characteristic of nineteenth-century commentary on Japan, Madame Chrysanthème is an amalgam of conflicting elements. While the work evokes and reinforces the ideas of a quaint, invigorating, and exotic Japan popular amongst European readers due largely to japonisme, at the same time its protagonist frequently criticises, belittles, and derides aspects of Japan and his Japanese experience. It is this duality combined with the major influence the work has had on Western perceptions of Japan that makes Madame Chrysanthème an important work to examine as an item of japonaiserie. This study aims towards an intra- and extra-textual evaluation of Madame Chrysanthème. It first examines various extra-textual contexts, applying these to the travelogue through an in-depth, intra-textual analysis in Part V. The stylistic and thematic similarities between the book and japonisme in the non-literary arts are examined, and their nature and extent suggest that Loti deliberately tailored Madame Chrysanthème to meet consumer expectations. Similarities centre upon narrative style and language use, as well as aspects of the 'traditional,' exotic, and unusual Japan that consumers were familiar with being given precedence over a balanced representation of the reality of Meiji Era Japan. The negative criticism levied at Japan that runs throughout the work is also examined. This aims to demonstrate that while being a formulaic 'Japanesque' travel memoir, Madame Chrysanthème also contains aspects that contrasted and conflicted with the prevailing stereotypes of japonaiserie. In particular, language use and the protagonist's response to Japanese women are vehicles by which he diminishes and derides Japan and the Japanese, while his emotional detachment contrasts with his affection for other places and peoples as recounted in other examples of his travel writing. This study aims to contribute towards the present body of scholarship on Madame Chrysanthème in several ways. Firstly, while recognising the work as a travelogue, it analyses it as an example or product of japonisme, a movement hitherto largely attributed to the fine and/or decorative arts. Conversely, it broadens conventional scholarly discussion of japonisme and japonaiserie to include travel writing. Secondly, this investigation is the first book-length study dedicated specifically to Madame Chrysanthème and japonaiserie. Its focus on the interrelationship between japonaiserie and the literary representation of Loti's first visit to Japan aims to provide a more thorough investigation and analytical combination of the various facets of this relationship than occur elsewhere. In a similar vein, it draws together writing on Loti and Japan, and interrelates and contrasts the various ideas authors have expounded. Lastly, this study aims to stimulate future inquiry into the similarities between Western stereotypical images of Japan that persist in the present-day and those Loti projected over one hundred years ago. In particular, the persistence, right up to the present day, for the Japanesque to predominate over Japan-proper in Western images of Japan, that is to say a preference for aesthetics rather than actuality, is traced to Madame Chrysanthème.