"Don’t be waiting up for me this evening, for the night will be white and black."
(La rue de la Vieille-Lanterne, Lithographie de Célestin Nanteuil)
These are supposed to be the last written words by Gérard Labrunie, aka Gérard de Nerval, left to his aunt, a lonesome evening of the immemorial year 1855. He was found at dawn, January 26, hanging from a railing in squalid rue de la Vieille Lanterne, near Chatelet quarters, Paris bas-fonds of the times.
Yes, he hanged, this man of gloom - the widower - the unconsoled. And, yes, he had troubles of mind, after 1849. Factually, a severe melancholia, maybe associated with schizophrenias or bipolar disorders.
But once you have read the work, once you know the fellow (a meeting with the man and he was your friend for life, said Théophile Gautier), you will be ending with the received image of Nerval the silly man, lobster on leash and making poetry from tarot’s guide.
Let aside for a while the distracted soul, and let us consider the strong and sanguine and demanding body, the hard boiled spirit, the woman worshipper. Women ? Brave Gerard is known to have been a constant unlucky man, isn’t he ? Maybe. maybe not exactly. The fact is the man has a “type” :
« (…) la femme idéale des tableaux de l’école italienne, la Vénitienne de Gozzi ; bionda e grassotta, la voilà trouvée ! » (1840, Letter to Théophile Gautier, Œuvres, Pléiade, II, p. 1432).
And Gautier answers : « Enfin tu as trouvé le blond, ce blond au pourchas duquel nous avons bu tant de chopes de bière. » (Pléiade, I, p. 796). In Baden, Vienna, in Venetia, in Brussels, Nerval soul often swoons as pale ladies wander.
Blonde, or redish, but black eyed ones. A type we know very well, don’t we, since Byron (“Her hair, I said, was auburn, but her eyes were black as death”). Since Musset’s Rosine. Since Petrarque’s Laura. But Nerval and fellow Gautier turn it their light own way. Light, sometimes, always sensual.
(Titien, Vénus au Miroir - Washington)
Besides, the search for faces/bodies coincidates with an artistic search. And “besides” is a wrong word. It is simply a one and unique search for Geai Rare. “We had decided, contrarily to the spanish taste of these days, to write a blond and even, possibly, a redish novel”, theorizes (making fun of it, though not only) Gautier. As for Nerval, there is no joking at all (under this serious lightning, this “soleil noir”). And soon, the lightness become freshness, colors blacken, suddenly pale means white.
Jenny Colon dies before summer 1842. Sophie Dawes, baronne de Feuchères, fantasmatic and distant vision, owner of Mortefontaine’s domain, in 1840.
(Jenny Colon , Gravure de Prud’hon)
Gautier’s Cydalise had vanished in 1832 winter (from phtisia, of course). A Venetian blond known and immediately forgotten (or never forgotten, it’s quite the same), a dark eyed pale Austrian tanned under the sun of French South. They have all gone for good. Every single black and blonde is know laying under the cool wood of Arcadia. Cemetery girls. Just like her mother have been for all his/her life. Nerval was not Three years old yet when she passed, he did not speak an intelligible language for human beings. Certainly never did.
"Ou sont nos amoureuses?
Elles sont au tombeau!
Elles sont plus heureuses
Dans un séjour plus beau.”
Aurelia, Cydalise, Jenny. Isis, Mary, Pandora. One. The nights would be white and black. In sunhine and in shadow. Ride, Nerval boldly ride,…