Worship of difference, desire to shock… Who, from Stendhal to Baudelaire, via Barbey d'Aurevilly, distinguishes himself from worldly dandyism and literary dandyism?
Born at the dawn of the 19th century in France, the “dandy” originated in England.
It is then said of a young man belonging to a group of high society, which regulates fashion.
George Brummell, considered the inventor of the modern man's costume, thus led part of the court of George IV to abandon the heavy silk clothes embellished with braid.
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Of controversial origin, as read in the
Online Etymology Dictionary
, it could be that the "dandy" comes from the French "Dandin" (derived from "dandiner", "to walk awkwardly"), a false surname used by Rabelais, Racine, La Fontaine, or even Molière, to designate a foolish person.
But the term could also find its source in a region located on the border between England and Scotland.
There, young people who attended church or the annual fair in eccentric attire were called "dandies".
So says a traditional Scottish ballad dating back to 1780.
Refinement in defiance of conventions
It was in the 1810s that the term was adopted in London, in order to qualify the elegant socialites who distinguished themselves by the refinement of their toilet and their manners.
At the time, great figures of literary romanticism, such as the poet Byron, prided themselves on rigorously following fashions, exaggerating them to the point of ridicule.
In 1836, in his
Essay on English Literature
, Chateaubriand wrote:
“The dandy must have a conquering, light, insolent air;
he must [...] wear mustaches or a beard trimmed in circles like Queen Elizabeth's strawberry [...]: he reveals the proud independence of his character by keeping his hat on his head, rolling on the sophas, stretching out his boots in the face of the ladies seated in admiration on the chairs in front of him.
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Because, in the meantime, through the intermediary of English fashion and the diffusion of literary romanticism - a movement by which authors place the expression of "me" and the freedom of feeling above reason and morality -, the "dandy" lands in Paris.
As can be read in the
Trésor de la langue française
, the “dandy”, defined by Villiers de l'Isle-Adam or Baudelaire, remained a man concerned with clothing research.
But by emphasizing the
“ethical and intellectual”
connotations of the word, the concept of elegance has been eclipsed by the spirit of impertinence that the term also implies.
"Paul Léautaud, sordid and black, with a greasy collar, was a dandy all the same"
, writes Mauriac, in 1959, in
Opposed to worldly "dandyism", we then speak of literary "dandyism", in reference to authors whose non-conformism and ethical research were based on contempt for social conventions and bourgeois morality.