The collector was one of the archetypal figures of the nineteenth-century French cultural imagination. During the July Monarchy (1830-48) a new culture of collecting emerged, which continued to develop over the course of the century and which attracted the attention of a wide range of social commentators and writers. From the sketch-writing of the 1830s to the late nineteenth-century decadent fictions of Jean Lorrain, from Balzac’s Cousin Pons to Proust’s Charles Swann, the literature of the period abounds in examples of men (and occasionally women) afflicted with what the Larousse Grand Dictionnaire called in 1869 ‘la collectionnomanie’.
This book examines these representations of the collector. It shows that woven into them are fundamental anxieties generated by the experience of modernity, involving the nature of identity and selfhood, the relentless accumulation of commodities in a capitalist system of production and the (in)ability of language to translate experience accurately.