The ARTFL database provides material for studying the literary fortunes of the image of the poet in 19th century French literature. The patterns in distributions of allusions to poets and poetry are compared to those of sales of books of poems to gauge the importance of literary allusions to poetry as a reflection of societal trends.
Results produced by the ARTFL search engine are divided into chronological periods using the break-down suggested by Imbs (1971), and are further divided into the following genres on the basis of what is provided by the ARTFL search engine: Novel, Theater, Poetry, Non-Literary Prose. In all cases of period and genre identification, decisions embodied in the structure of the ARTFL database are respected. The raw numbers provided by ARTFL have been divided by the number of words in all the texts in a given period and genre, then multiplied by 10,000 so that relative frequencies can be compared.
|Table 1: Relative Frequency of Evocations of Poetry in 19th Century French Literature|
The high number of allusions to poetry in the theater of the period 1833-41, in poetic texts for the period 1833-1849, and in the novel of 1842-49 corresponds to the Romantic period in France. Indeed, Lamartine, a leading Romantic poet was named provisional President of the Republic in 1848. The decline in the allusions to poets and poetry seems to correspond with the rise of realism in literature, and with the collapse of Romantic ideals of political power after the coup d'état engineered by Napoleon III in 1851.
A second period of increased importance of poetry begins in 1880-92 in the novel and continues to 1914, with similar but less systematic increases in the theater and in poetry itself. This has led certain historians of literature, like Echelard (1994), and Lagarde and Michard (1969) to talk about an increase of prestige and influence of poets and poetry in the final years of the 19th century.
Table 2 shows the number of literary texts published per annum during a part of the period under consideration (Charle 1985).
|Table 2: Annual Production of Literary Texts: 1830-1905.|
Not only did the late 19th century production of books of poetry never come close to equaling the numbers achieved in the high Romantic period (1830-40), but the proportion of volumes of literary texts devoted to poetry is considerably smaller at the end of the 19th century than at the beginning. This empirical information can be combined with the impression that less important literary personalities stressed the importance of poetry at the end of the period than at the beginning, to produce a general interpretation. It would seem, then, that while poetic vision was an important social force during the Romantic period, those who knew what the society valued, because they produced books for the market, did not consider it important in the years immediately preceding the First World War, in spite of what certain critics were to suggest at a later date.