Contemporary French Civilization

A Human Comedy: Physiognomy and Caricature in 19th Century Paris

Contemporary French Civilization (1984), 8, (3), 439–441.


REVIEWS 439 laborationists, but the former favored a "front populaire," whereas the latter wanted a " f r o n t national." According to Wall, FP meant commitment to domestic priorities, while FN emphasized those of the Soviet Union. FP required attacks on the Socialist leadership, while FN called for alliances with all Socialists and even across class lines. Although the Thorez-Duclos split was no doubt real, Wall's paradigm is not entirely convincing. "Front national" is basically a broader form of "front populaire" and not antithetical. Both called for alliances with Socialists (the leadership included) and across class lines, e.g. the "main tendue " and both served the foreign policies of the Soviet Union. In 19491950 Thorez was trying to combine "class against class" (i.e. attacks on the Socialist leadership) with popular f r o n t policies. Although the former (derived f r o m the 1928-1934 period) historically preceded the popular front (1934-1936), it was not and is not a "necessary prerequisite." These reservations aside, Wall's bold assertions should provoke much fruitful debate; and we can only hope that he will find other avenues to amplify many of his important themes. North Texas State University Edward Rice-Maximin Wechsler, Judith. A Human Comedy: Physiognomy and Caricature in 19th Century Paris. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. P p . 2 0 8 . $29.95. " T h e caricaturist's art, like that of the mime, consists in finding the salient clues of character and points of exaggeration that trigger a quick and accurate reading." With this insight, Judith Wechsler has put together an illustrated study that traces the development of the decoding of character types f r o m Lavater's physiognomy (the correspondence of physical appearance and moral character, usually with leads taken f r o m the animal kingdom) and Gall's phrenology (cranial cavities and protuberances as indices to moral character) to the popular codes of 1825-30, forerunners of the even more popular physiologies of the 1840s, and caricaturists and mimes of the period between 1830 and 1970. All these endeavors were attempts on the part of Parisians to view themselves, to understand and seize some fixed points in a rapidly changing sociological panorama. Parisians became spectators of themselves, and

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Author details

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Petit, Bernard