The birds and the bees : gender performance in Grandville's Scènes de la vie privée et publique des animaux
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Published between 1840 and 1842, J. J. Grandville’s Scènes de la vie privée et publique des animaux is a hybrid work of satirical allegory that stages the scandals, polemics, and power struggles of the July Monarchy through a collection of illustrations by Grandville and stories written to accompany them. The printed image significantly disrupted artistic hierarchies of the period and sparked heated debates about both the expertise of illustrators and the possibilities of the image, described by Philippe Kaenel as an “instrument of seduction”. Scholarly engagement with Scènes des animaux has all but ignored gender, yet the increased visibility of women in the publishing industry during the July Monarchy permanently altered the terms of modern artistic legitimacy. In this paper, I demonstrate that gender has been conceptualized, represented, and reified in terms of animality and evolutionary discourses in Grandville’s text. Drawing on Alexandra Wettlaufer’s analysis of the dialectic between word and image at play in Scenes des animaux, as well as Bakhtinian polyphony and Eve Sedgwick’s concept of erotic triangles, I consider the work in terms of a triple dialectic between word, image, and gender. Through the figures of bird and bee and their associated verbal tropes, Grandville, Hetzel, and Balzac all link women to consumerism, materialism, stupidity, and sensuality. This set of associations distance women from the field of “legitimate” literary production and disempowers them as sociopolitical agents. At the same time, the overdetermined containment strategies employed by the contributors reveal that they rely on women as their primary reading public and clientele. Economic anxiety has been displaced onto the body of the animal-woman, and the contributors dress up their objections with the accoutrements of conservative morality. In titling this project “The Birds and the Bees” —a euphemism used to explain sex and courtship to small children— I call attention to the persistence of animal metaphors related to gender and sexuality in contemporary culture.