5
Andrinople
by Callifolio

 

Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly (1808-1889) wrote one of the classic texts about the figure of the dandy, Of Dandyism and of George Brummell. He also wrote one of the classic texts of misogyny, Les bas-bleus (The Bluestockings), first published in 1878. He takes women writers to task for being blue-stockings, meaning over-educated pedants: “les femmes qui écrivent ne sont plus des femmes. Ce sont des hommes,--du moins de prétention,--et manqués!” (xi). The woman who writes presumes to occupy the rank of a man. She inevitably fails (she misses the mark, she is “manqué”), however, and thus is mocked twice: first for her pretensions, then for her failure.

 

The young Rachilde met Barbey in the late 1870s, when she was just starting out as a writer (she was eighteen when Les bas-bleus appeared). She did not publish an account of her interview with him until much later in her life, when she was an established and successful author (see Quand j'étais jeune (1947) and he was long dead.

 

The account of her meeting was full of ambivalence. She suggests that his eccentric appearance (see description below) borders on the ridiculous. From the pretentious velvet clothes, to the badly executed vanity of dyeing his hair (and even eyebrows), including the false ostentation of his rings, everything in this portrait mocks Barbey's performance as a dandy.

 

But one element of this costume in particular merits further exploration for the chain of metaphorical associations it puts into play: Barbey’s “Andrinople” cloak. The attribute “d’Andrinople” appears at first glance to describe simply the cloak’s color: “rouge d’Andrinople” was a shade of red verging on orange known in English as “Turkey” or “madder” red (after the plant that was used for the dye), but the color evoked a mix of both fascination and disgust. On the one hand, the color, named for the Turkish city of Adrianopolis (modern Edirne), was once considered “one of the great wonders of the Orient." Clothes with this difficult-to-produce color were a luxury item, with connotations of an exotic, orientalist technology in keeping with the dandy’s desire to seek out the sartorially superior and to express his discriminating taste no matter what the cost. But because the color was difficult to produce as a dye, it was also famously a trade secret, and the secrecy surrounding it gave rise to rumors that it involved all sorts of barbaric ingredients, including rancid oils, urine and excrement, and animal blood as well as the root of the madder plant that gives the color its name in English. To be fair, many organic dyes include such natural ingredients, but this color had a particularly distinctive reputation. 

By drawing attention to the color of Barbey’s cloak, Rachilde both confirms Barbey’s dandyism and also uses it against him, sullying him by hinting at the unpleasant ingredients of his costume. In addition to being covered in liquid filth (the noisome secret ingredients of the cape), the man beneath the cloak is also “deliquescing” (to borrow a favorite decadent word made popular in the work of the entirely fictional author Adoré Floupette).

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