Abstract: Eugène Sue’s 1842-43 serial blockbuster novel, Les Mystères de Paris, took the world by storm and initiated a genre. My own focus on it takes off from an early tavern scene in which the dinner fare is un arlequin: a plate of mixed leftovers passed down (or more precisely, sold down) the social ladder, picked over and reassembled, and resold to the poor. From this early alimentary “harlequin”—a term borrowed from the name of the Commedia dell’Arte character—I will follow the harlequin aesthetic that pervades the novel, affecting clothes and other textiles, physiognomies, décor, and narrative form.
Bio: Janet Beizer teaches in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard, where she is C. Douglas Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France. She’s enjoying this year of leave as a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. The work she’s circulating is part of a book in progress tentatively called The Harlequin Eaters: The Patchwork Imaginary of Nineteenth-Century Paris.