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Realities vs. Representations in Hugo's Paris

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A City of Facades

Nineteenth century Paris is a city of many facades. It represents itself as a city of culture, economic status and technological advancement. But how does it represent its physical characteristics? How is the geography of Paris represented to the local and international public? How does the culture represent the geography? Finally, how do these representations relate to the Real Paris landscape? Below you will find a brief outline that shows where I intend to journey in searching for the answers to these questions.

Pierre Renoir, Le Pont Neuf, Paris, 1872

Shown above is just one of the many examples of how the Paris landscape was represented.


  • Images - Looking at visual imagery (painting, daguerreotypes, etc.) makes it possible to contrast and compare how different representations of Paris during the 19th century presented different visions of reality to the public. The motivations for the those creating these images, whether they be political or artistic can be seen by contextualizing images within the history of the period.
  • Maps- Maps help to place the geography of the city in an overall context. However, these also send strong messages about how one should view the city.
  • Hugo's View of Paris - Victor Hugo presents the readers of Les Miserables with many descriptions of the Paris landscape and those who lived within it. How did Hugo view the city as a whole, both physically and socially?
  • The Real View of Paris - All of these representations fit into a larger picture. These representations were based on specific and tangible places and people in Paris. How do the real places and people of Paris relate to images presented to the public in the 19th century?

Below is a simple analysis of two visual images. It shows how each representation will be discussed throughout this webpage.

"La Cite & Le Pont-Neuf", M.C. Daubigny. 1867
"Le Pont-Neuf et Le Louvre", Anton Melbye. 1848

These are two representations of the Pont-Neuf in Paris that loins la Cite to the mainland of the city. The image on the left is a drawing by M. C. Daubigny that was included in the Paris Guide of 1867. The image on the right is a daguerreotype by Anton Melbye from 1848. Both of these image give detailed accounts of what the Pont-Neuf would have liked like between 1848 and 1867. However, there are some subtle differences. The daguerreotype, by the nature of the medium is a more accurate method of depicting the bridge than a drawing. It is also interesting to note that M. Melbye's composition includes a tangle of boats. He might have chosen this busy spot on purpose to depict the business growing on the shores of the Seine, or it might have been impossible to avoid the growing industry.

M. Daubigny's drawing does not include this bustling business, despite the fact that in the 1860's steamboats would have been populating the shores of the Seine as they were a mode of transportation. Daubigny's representation shows only three rowboats tied near the bank and a team of fishermen dragging a net. Daubigny depicts a clean, provincial view of Paris while also getting in the grand buildings in the background. Also, because this drawing was an illustration is a tour guide, it is safe to say that Daubigny was presenting a positive view of Paris culture, therefore excluding the unattractive mass of boats.

This is a quick analysis of two representations of the same area of Paris. It should give a rough example of how I will present the different representations of Paris and why they are significant.

 


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