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Title: Dynamic reflections : mirrors in the poetic and visual culture of Paris from 1850 to 1900
Author: Etheridge, Kate
ISNI:       0000 0004 6496 743X
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis explores the transformation of the mirror's symbolic role in the poetry and visual art of late nineteenth-century Paris. For centuries the mirror has been associated with both truth and artifice, whether in religion, popular culture, art, or theories of aesthetics. In the context of nineteenth-century literature, M.H. Abrams uses the mirror to represent the age-old idea of the artist as an objective reflector of the world, juxtaposing this with the nineteenth-century notion of the artist as a subjective lamp. However, this thesis shows that, far from being abandoned as a symbol of artistic expression, the mirror motif was reclaimed and reinterpreted by Baudelaire and his artistic and poetic successors. The thesis argues that their works highlight the distortions and ambiguities that the mirror can produce, using it as a motif to challenge and alter our mode of vision. This thesis focuses on the visual and poetic culture of Paris between 1850 and 1900, when mirrors were increasingly visible in a range of public and private settings. Building on Walter Benjamin's descriptions of Paris as a city of mirrors and a locus of multiple, shifting gazes, the thesis examines how the perceptual experiences of modernity feed into the development of the mirror's symbolic role. Through a series of close readings, the thesis analyses the dynamics of mirror-vision and explores the shared preoccupations of art and poetry in their treatment of subjectivity, vision, and self-reflexive artistic practices. The thesis is arranged into three sections, examining texts by Charles Baudelaire, Henri de Régnier, Jules Laforgue, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Marie Krysinska, and artworks by Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Berthe Morisot, and Mary Cassatt. The first section assesses Baudelaire's works as a turning point for the mirror's symbolic significance, particularly examining how Baudelaire reinterprets the association between mirrors and femininity. The second section explores this latter connection in the art and poetry of Baudelaire's late nineteenthcentury successors. The third section examines the mirror's appearance in various ambiguous or ill-defined spaces, assessing how this affects the reader's or viewer's perceptions. I conclude that in the art and poetry of this period, the mirror becomes an emblem of self-reflexivity. Through works that prioritise mobility, multiplicity, and fragmentation, these artists and poets subvert the mirror's associations with mimesis in order to expose the dynamic uncertainty of vision and artistic representation.
Supervisor: Pearson, Roger Sponsor: AHRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Paris ; Mirrors ; Impressionism ; Poetry ; Self-reflexivity ; Symbolism ; Art ; Nineteenth century