[PW] ? Origin of "Epater le Bourgeois" (Quotation Query #738)

Mark Carson mahousu at gmail.com
Tue Feb 16 09:32:55 PST 2016

On Tue, Feb 16, 2016 at 10:53 AM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu>

> The expression "épater le bourgeois" or "épater la bourgeoisie" is vaguely
> attributed to Baudelaire and other 19th-century French literary figures.
> Can anyone find concrete examples of early usage or early attribution of
> this phrase?

I've seen it most commonly attributed to Théophile Gautier, either as
describing his own goals, or as a phrase he used in describing
Baudelaire's, in particular Baudelaire's goals in writing Les fleurs du
mal. Frustratingly, though, none of the sources I looked at gave a specific
reference. I searched through what I could find online of Gautier's
writing, and did not find that exact phrase, though there are certainly
similar sentiments.

The earliest reference I found associating it with Gautier is on page 34 of
Maxime du Camp's 1890 biography of him, "Théophile Gautier," evidently part
of a series "Les grands écrivains français." It's not directly attributed
to him, but used in describing an incident where, during Mardi Gras, a
young woman stripped and danced around naked in public, and the young men
with her fought off the police who were trying to arrest her. The text was
vague on the details, but this must have been in the 1830s.

Mark Carson     mahousu at gmail.com

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