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Romantic provocateur, flamboyant bohemian, precocious velist, perfect poet-t to mention an inexhaustible journalist, critic, and man-about-town-Theophile Gautier is one of the major figures, and great characters, of French literature. In My Fantoms Richard Holmes, the celebrated biographer of Shelley and Coleridge, has found a brilliantly effective new way to bring this great but too-little-kwn writer into English. My Fantoms assembles seven stories spanning the whole of Gautier's career into a unified work that captures the essence of his adventurous life and subtle art. From the erotic awakening of The Adolescent through The Poet, a piercing recollection of the mad genius Gerard de Nerval, the great friend of Gautier's youth, My Fantoms celebrates the senses and illuminates the strange disguises of the spirit, while taking readers on a tour of modernity at its most mysterious. What ever would the Devil find to do in Paris? Gautier wonders. He would meet people just as diabolical as he, and find himself taken for some naive provincial... Tapestries, statues, and corpses come to life; young men dream their way into ruin; and Gautier keeps his faith in the power of imagination: No one is truly dead, until they are longer loved.
Theophile Gautier (1811-1872), whose father was a minor government functionary, was born in southwestern France, but when he was three his family moved to Paris, where he spent the rest of his life. The young Gautier wanted to make his name as a painter until, at eighteen, he met Victor Hugo and decided to become a writer. Instead; within a year he had published his first collection of poetry. Gautier also formed an early and deep attachment to the brilliant but troubled poet Gerard de Nerval, and the two of them became central to the the Jeune-France movement, celebrated for its Bohemian dandyism and aesthetic provocations. (Gautier became especially notorious for the red vest he wore to the opening of Hugo's play Hernani.) In 1836 Gautier published the novel Mademoiselle de Maupin, a succes de scandale that is the source of the phrase art for art's sake, and later that year, he was hired as a critic for the daily paper La Presse, in which capacity he was to champion the work of Baudelaire, Berlioz, Delacroix, Heine and the Goncourt brothers. Gautier himself continued to publish poetry, short stories, literary criticism, plays, and ballets, including the scenario for the ballet Giselle and the unfinished History of Romanticism, which he was working on at the time of his death. Richard Holmes is the author of Shelley: The Pursuit (published by NYRB Classics), which won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1974; Coleridge: Early Visions, winner of the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year award; Dr Johnson & Mr Savage, which won the 1993 James Tait Black Prize; and Coleridge: Darker Reflections, which won the 1990 Duff Cooper Prize and Heinemann Award. His other works include Footsteps (1985) and Sidetracks (2000). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1992. He is also a professor of biographical studies at the University of East Anglia. He lives in London and Norwich with the novelist Rose Tremain.