Twilight of the Wagnerian God: Reexamining Huysmans’s and Mallarmé’s Poetic Critique of Wagner

This article offers a comparative study of Huysmans’s poetic paraphrase “L’Ouverture de Tannhæuser” (1885) and Mallarmé’s sonnet “Hommage” (1886). The texts were commissioned by the editor of the Revue wagnérienne, Édouard Dujardin, following a concert of Wagnerian excerpts the three attended. However, despite that original connection, these two Wagnerian poems have never been analyzed side by side. This essay is the first to juxtapose them in order to uncover commonalities in their attitude toward Wagner and music, a subject in which neither author was formally trained. Ultimately, I argue that the poems as creative and critical texts helped define French Wagnerism as a movement split between its reverence and irreverence of Wagner. They did so by poking fun at the “God Richard Wagner” and his cult-like following, an iconoclastic gesture that paved the way for the questioning of poetic norms among the French avant-garde of the mid–1880s.

Adeline Heck
FNRS – Université libre de Bruxelles