The Michaelian
the michaelian

issue two: december 2010

Richard le Gallienne’s “The Worshipper of the Image”: How the Death Mask became a Fetish

Elisa Segnini

The British poet and essayist Richard Le Gallienne was a member of Oscar Wilde’s circle and, along with Aubrey Beardsley, Max Beerbohm, Ernest Dowson and others, a collaborator on The Yellow Book. His story “The Worshipper of the Image,” published in 1900, set a date for the fascination with the death mask of the so-called l’Inconnue de la Seine, an unknown woman who, according to the legend, was found drowned in the Seine and whose face was thought so beautiful that a plaster cast was made of her features (see figure 1). Today, it has been demonstrated that the cast cannot be considered a death mask: the features are too well preserved, the skin too smooth to be that of a victim of drowning. 1 At the end of the nineteenth century, however, the morbid charm of the legend was exploited to transform it into a commercial product that sold well to artists and collectors who shared a fin de siècle fascination with the macabre. By making this mask the subject of his short story, Le Gallienne began a trend that made of the Inconnue a popular subject of novels, short stories and plays; and later, an important subject for Man Ray, who, exploiting the medium of photography, went so far as “to open” the eyes of the death mask, giving an identity to the unknown woman. 2

Fig. 1. L’Inconnue de la Seine from Wikimedia Commons

As Erst Benkard points out, no period of history has produced as many death masks as the nineteenth century (19), some of which, like the mask of Beethoven or the Inconnue, became common decorative objects. Masks were frequently employed in these years both in the study of physiognomy and as means to create sculptures, but they were also considered independently and given an ornamental function; by the turn on the nineteenth century, they had replaced in popularity the bust and the portrait (Papet 10-11). At the same time, in fin de siècle England, authors such as Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde addressed the problem of the text as a form of mask, as a disguise for an attitude (Frankel 14–17). Le Gallienne’s story discusses both issues, as it deals on the one hand with a mask that is ambiguously close to a portrait, and on the other hand, suggests an irony (intended or not) that turns the story into a parody of the favorite themes of the period: the ill-defined line that separates the animate object from the inanimate, the obsession with the artificial and the role of the artist as a creator. Moreover, the story skillfully transforms the mask into a synecdoche, into a fragment that is brought to life through the violence that operates against a living woman. Through the point of view of the protagonist, the plaster face is treated and referred to as if it were a whole person; it speaks, eats, drinks wine and moves just as if it were a real woman. Already the first description of the cast refers to it as a “face” and even as a “woman,” creating an ambiguity between the object and a living being:

The face was smiling, a smile of great peace, and also of a strange cunning. One other characteristic it had: the woman looked as though at any moment she would suddenly open her eyes, and if you turned away from her and looked again, she seemed to be smiling to herself because she had opened them that moment behind your back, and just closed them again in time. It was a face that never changed and yet was always changing. (3)

The narrative that Le Gallienne creates for this mask recalls similar tales involving a passion for an inanimate object such E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Die Elixiere des Teufels, Edgar Allan’s Poe’s “The Oval portrait” and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Antony, a poet who lives in a lonely valley with his wife Beatrice and their little daughter Wonder, finds in a sculptor’s shop a death mask of a drowned young woman that reproduces exactly the features of his wife. He brings it home and gradually falls in love with the image, neglecting more and more his wife and spending his days in the company of the mask. One day, he hears the cast speaking. It demands of him a human sacrifice, and he is devastated to see that his daughter, a few days later, falls mysteriously ill and dies. Overcome by grief and unable to destroy the mask as Beatrice had required, he buries it in the wood and becomes once again close to his wife. Yet the temptation is such that, a few months later, he retrieves it and slowly descends into madness, rejecting his wife and becoming obsessed with the mask. Beatrice fulfills the prophesy of the cast by committing suicide by drowning and when Antony, after her funeral, goes back to the mask, he finds its beautiful, peaceful features distorted into an image that reflects his childhood dream of an insect “with the face of death between his wings” (3); an image of horror and decay, rather than the reflection of a beautiful death.

Even this brief summary elicits three questions: Why does Le Gallienne deal with a mask, and not, as is usually the case in these tales of mysterious resemblances, with a statue or with a portrait? How does the mask stand in relation to its double Beatrice? Can it be considered a fetish object and, if so, of what kind? In order to answer these questions, I will first examine the role of the mask as a familiar but mysterious object that relies on an ambiguity between the animate and the inanimate, since it is made of inorganic material and yet shaped after the feature of what was once a living being. I will then contextualize the episode as a typical Doppelgänger story and move on to an analysis of the death mask as a magical object. Finally, I will look at the story once again as a response to the changes in attitudes to the arts and the social sciences of the turn of the nineteenth century.

Why does “The Worshipper of Image” deal with a mask? The plot falls into the category of tales of artistic vampirism, in which the image becomes a masterpiece by gradually appropriating the energy of a living being. We are reminded of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Oval Portrait,” in which a beautiful painting is finished only at the expense of the death of its model. Would not a portrait have been enough, and perhaps more appropriate, to illustrate the uncanny resemblance between Beatrice and an image? In Le Gallienne’s story, the mask is not primarily worn as a disguise, but hung on the wall like a portrait. Moreover, the stereotypical function associated with the mask, that is the contrast between reality and appearance, is completely absent. In the first chapters, the mask is frequently called “the image” but, as the story progresses, it is more often referred to with the pronoun “she”, as if it were a real woman, or with the name that Antony chooses for it, Silencieux, a name that, as the author points out in the only footnote that he provides for the text, is masculine even though the mask has feminine features. Le Gallienne’s only footnote reads: “Of course, the writer is aware that while “Silencieux” is feminine, her name is masculine. In such fanciful names, however, such license has always been considered allowable.” (5) As we will see, this name is an indication of the mask’s growing androgynous attributes. 3

The answer to the question lies in the fact that Silencieux is not only a mask, but a death mask. “By preserving the face”, writes Susan Harris Smith in Masks in Modern Drama, “the death mask denies the finality of death and attests to the power of the personality. However, because the likeness is made after death, the mask also mocks human frailty. This delicate irony of the death mask, captured, for example, in the enigmatic smile of the serene l’Inconnue de la Seine, has attracted many modern playwrights” (139). Among the playwright fascinated by death masks, Smith mentions Kido Okamoto (The Mask Maker (1909), Fernand Crommelynck (Le Sculpteur des Masques 1905) and Herhart Hauptmann (Die Finsternisse 1947). Silencieux is moreover not just a death mask, but a famous one; by the time Le Gallienne wrote his story, the cast of this supposedly drowned young woman had become a fashionable item with which to adorn one’s walls. Since any contemporary reader would have recognized the reference, we can say that the relationship between the image and its model extends beyond the narrative frame: Le Gallienne borrows the mask from a reality of his time, he imagines a character (Beatrice) with the same features and, in the fictional world, inverts this relationship, giving to the mask the features of the character.

As a death mask, the features of Silencieux offer an exact proof of likeness. Reflecting on the cast’s likeness to Beatrice, the omniscient narrator wonders:

If there is any truth in those who tell us that in the mould and lines of our faces and hands — yes! And in every secret marking of our bodies our fates are written as in a parchment, would it be not reasonable to surmise, perhaps to fear, that the writing should mean the same on the one face as on the other, and that the fates as well prove identical? (6)

Had Silencieux been a portrait, its likeness to Beatrice would not necessarily have proved the existence of her double — it could have been simply the result of the imagination of the artist, and thus the resemblance (and the consequent prophecy) would not have been as fearful. Yet the death mask, which during the 19th century was frequently used for the study of physiognomy, makes this resemblance (and thus the destiny of Beatrice) more of a certainty. Moreover, the death mask, more than the portrait, implies a blurring of the boundaries between the object of representation and the body; a death mask has touched the face and becomes a trace, a witness to its absence. It is an object that can be created only in the moment of death and that thus offers a representation of a body that has already ceased to exist. In Le Galliennne’s story, this relation is reiterated as the death mask gains life and power by taking the life of a living woman.

What makes the mask’s effect more uncanny than the portrait, even when it is hardly worn, is its three-dimensionality. As a three-dimensional, hollow object, the mask lends itself well to playful and absurd games such as being dressed up as if it were a real woman. As soon as Antony brings it home, on a “sudden whim”, he lays it down in a corner of the couch and covers its neck with a black cloak, thus providing it with an imaginary body:

The image nestled into the cushion as though it had veritably been a living woman weary for sleep, and softly smiling that it was near at last. So comfortable she seemed, you could have sworn she breathed. Antony lifted her head once or twice with his fingers, to delight himself with seeing her sink back luxuriously once more. (7)

Beatrice does not find this game entertaining. “She seems so alive, so evil, so cruel,” she cries. “There is something malignant about her, something that threatens our happiness” (8). When the image begins to fall in her direction, she starts screaming in terror: “Please stop. I cannot bear it. She looks so terribly alive” (7). Yet Antony does not take her fear seriously. Later in the story, as his infatuation with the mask grows, he takes a fancy to the game of masquerade and begins to dress Silencieux in different costumes:

   “To-night, you shall go clothed as when you loved that woman in
Mitylene,” Antony would say.
   Or: “To-night you shall be a little shepherd-boy, with a leopard-skin
across your shoulder and mountain berries in your hair.”
   Or again: “To-night you shall be Pierrot—mourning for his Columbine.”
   Ah! how divine was Silencieux in all her disguises! (24)

This masquerade is one of the results of Antony’s habit of treating the death mask as if it were not just a cast of a face, but a whole, real person, capable of taking on different disguises. The first costumes Antony chooses for the cast, that of a “shepard boy” and of a “person” in love with a woman in Mitylene, 4 contribute to turning Silencieux, as its name indicates, into an androgynous mask that is no longer the exclusive portrait of Beatrice but begins to reflect aspects of Antony. The other costumes, which refer to the characters from the Commedia dell’arte, make of Silencieux a mask interpreting a mask. This game of camouflage represents in the Decadent period an occasion for duplicity. For example, Felicien’s Champsaur Nuit de Fete (1902), a “parable” in which Pierrot tries to undress a woman masker who hides innumerable other costumes. The last costume, once taken off, reveals no body, only an empty space. Similarly, in Le Gallienne’s text, the last mask does not hide a face but only a deadly void, exemplified by Silencieux’s final appearance in the story.

In order to fully understand Antony’s game with the cast, we have to pause and reflect on the story’s narrative structure. We have in fact three different perspectives: the voice of the omniscient narrator, who at times stops to comment or to elucidate for the reader, and the radically different and contradictory points of view of Antony and of his wife Beatrice. The juxtaposition and occasional merging of these perspectives creates an ambiguity through which the voice of the narrator can easily be mistaken for the voice of Beatrice or for that of Antony, making it impossible for the reader to understand which one is the ‘objective’ voice.

Since the voice of the omniscient narrator often coincides with Antony’s perspective in the chapters describing his interaction with Silencieux, the reader is often confused by the mention of actions that could only belong to a living being and that render the scene almost impossible to picture, as for example, in the episode in which Silencieux and Antony begin to dance and sing together:

So they ran in and out among pleasures together, joined strange dances and sang strange songs. They clapped their hands to jugglers and acrobats, and animals tortured into talent. And sometimes, as the gaudy theatre resounded about them, they looked so still at each other that all the rest faded away, and they were left alone with each other's eyes and great thoughts of God. (24, Italics mine)

There are several ways in which this quotation plays with an atmosphere of ambiguity and unreality. The images related to the circus and to the theatre indicate a domain to which the mask, as a theatrical object, belongs and thus emphasize that Silencieux’s world is fictional and self-referential. At the same time, the “gaudy theatre” is extended to the reality that surrounds them, thus implying a blurring of boundaries between Antony’s experience and the outside world. Antony and Silencieux seem to be dancing on a metaphorical stage, but the boundaries of this stage are not clear, and often deliberately confused by the game of perspectives. Another paradox arises from the reader’s objection that a death mask cannot open its eyes, nor does it have hands to clap. Through Antony’s perception, the cast has been assigned magical faculties and has begun to speak, yet the narrator often remarks that its eyes are closed and that one is dealing with a clay mask; with a fragment. In such scenes Le Gallienne plays with the fin de siècle sensibility through which the mask is reduced to a synecdoche. For, in this period the mask, which had previously been considered mainly as a tool for the creation of statues and as an architectural detail, becomes an autonomous decorative item.

Antony finds treating the cast as a real woman entertaining, while Beatrice is at first frightened, then worried about games that she identifies as a sign of her husband’s growing madness. Towards the end of the story the reader, after several chapters told entirely through Antony’s point of view, is offered an episode in which his perspective is juxtaposed with Beatrice’s own. When she enters the chalet and catches her husband drinking wine with the cast, her conclusion is plain and simple:

     “O God, he is going mad,” she cried to herself.
Antony was sitting in a big chair drawn up to the fire. Opposite to him, lying back in her cushions, was the Image draped in a large black velvet cloak. A table stood between them, and on it stood two glasses, and a decanter nearly empty of wine, Silencieux's glass stood untasted, but Antony had evidently been drinking deeply, for his cheeks were flushed and his eyes wild. (54, Italics mine)

From Beatrice’s perspective, the mask is only an object and any attempt to animate it remains a fantasy. She never sees the mask move, nor does she hear it speak. Beatrice’s aversion to the cast leads us back to the second of our questions, which concerns the relationship between her and Silencieux. As we have pointed out, the mask reproduces exactly her features, and can therefore be considered as Beatrice’s double. In the essay Das Unhemliche (1919), Freud gives a definition of the phenomenon of doubling in literature as “characters who are to be considered identical because they look alike,” in which the relationship is underlined by “mental processes leaping from one of these characters to another,” or “by the fact that the subject identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own.” Finally, Freud points out that these characters often share the repetition of the same features and fate through several consecutive generations (1919, 121).

Beatrice and Silencieux share exactly the same features. Antony is initially attracted to the cast because of its resemblance to Beatrice, but he very soon considers Beatrice beautiful only insofar as she resembles the image. In Chapter I, he almost addresses Beatrice as “Silencieux” (4) and the same confusion happens in chapters XXI and XXII, in which Antony, in his delirium, often mistakes Beatrice for the mask. On the other hand, Beatrice refuses to recognize herself in Silencieux. We are told that, at the beginning, she “had first taken the delight in her which every created thing takes in a perfect, or even imperfect, reflection of itself” (6). Yet almost immediately, scared that the physiognomic resemblance might also lead to a similar destiny, she asks Antony to take it away. Later in the story, she rejects any association with Silencieux, claiming that Antony is writing poetry for the mask, and not for her, and that it is Silencieux that he is thinking about. Throughout the story, she keeps asserting that she has nothing in common with the mask, yet the voice of narrator brings them gradually closer; already in the second chapter, we are told that the mask looks “terribly alive” and that Beatrice is “as white as the image,” and in the same episode, Beatrice is referred to as a “created thing,” a definition that could just as well apply to the death mask. As the story develops, she grows more and more passive, while Silencieux, through Antony’s hallucinations, begins to speak and to act like a woman. Beatrice regains her role as a character only when Silencieux, after the death of the child, is buried in the wood, and falls again into passivity once the mask is retrieved. Finally, the image begins to substitute the model: “Every day new life welled into Silencieux's face, as every day life ebbed from the face of Beatrice, for the love he gave to Silencieux Antony must take away from Beatrice, from whom as the days went by he grew more and more withdrawn” (12). Moreover, she herself uses initially the pronoun “she” (7- 8) to refer to the mask, thus attributing to it the life that she denies. The narrator seems here to paraphrase almost literally Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Oval Portrait,’ in which an artist decides to paint the features of his beloved wife and life gradually enters the painting as it ebbs from its model. The conclusion of both stories appears strikingly similar: “for one moment, the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he yet gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice, ‘This is indeed Life itself!’ turned suddenly to regard his beloved:- She was dead!” (Poe 570).

The traditional pattern of the Doppelgänger story, in which the protagonist must confront a double to obtain a woman’s love, is here reversed. It is not Antony, but Beatrice who experiences the rivalry of a double for her husband’s love; and as in the typical Doppelgänger story there is no real “victory” over the rival, because once one of the two is defeated, the other must perish. We can think of Edgan Allan Poe’s famous story ‘William Wilson’, in which the protagonist confronts a hated double and discovers it to be a projection of himself. Moreover, the story reflects the traditional notion of Doppelgänger in its association with imminent death, which is Beatrice’s faith in the end of the story.

Freud quotes Otto Rank’s analysis of the double in connection with mirrors, shadows and guardian spirits. He does not mention the mask, but it can be considered as one of the forms through which the Doppelgänger can take shape. Explaining the source of this phenomenon, he argues that the double was initially an insurance against the destruction of the ego, a denial of the power of death and that these ideas have sprung from a phase of primary narcissism, from the unbounded self-love that dominates the mind of the child. “When this stage is over”, he writes, “the double reverses its aspect and, from being an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of death” (Uncanny 122).

This reading can be very well applied to Le Gallienne’s story: on the one hand Beatrice, a mature woman, is immediately frightened by the mask and sees in it a foreboding of her own destiny. On the other hand Antony, who loves his poetry more than anything else and who considers human love a dangerous distraction, can be considered as still experiencing a phase of extreme narcissism and thus sees the mask as amusing and reassuring. “I loved her,” he explains to Beatrice, “because I love you; but I would rather break her in pieces than that she should make you unhappy” (8).

Predictably, Antony does not maintain his promise—his love for the artifact (that is for the mask), supplants his love for Beatrice. Antony grows more and more confident of the power of the artificial over the natural, of craft over life. His love for Silencieux, which he is free to adorn with every detail of his imagination, is nothing but self love, as is his passion for poetry, since his verses are both inspired by and deal exclusively with the mask. It is than not surprising that Silencieux gains through the story androgynous features, that it comes to resemble Antony as much as it resembles Beatrice. Antony, who is aware of his narcissism, does not find his infatuation remarkable: “There is in all love a component of make-believe. Every woman who is loved is partly the creation of her lover’s fancy” (13).

In this light, we can now also see Silencieux not only as a double for Beatrice, but also Antony. It is a mask with a masculine name that shares with Antony a sort of telepathy, that displays through its features Antony’s unconscious desire to see Beatrice dead and that, through its growing androgynous attributes, reduces Beatrice’s feminine features to an image of sameness. Beatrice has in fact become an antagonist; as an imperfect human being, she is not able to maintain her status of muse and becomes a distraction to Antony’s dedication to poetry. “To turn a muse into a wife,” reflects Antony at the beginning of the story, “however long and faithfully loved, is to bid good-bye to the muse” (9). Later we learn that “Beatrice was beginning to bore him, not merely by her sadness, which his absorption prevented his realising except in flashes, but by her very resemblance to the Image — of which, from having been the beloved original, she was, in his eyes, becoming an indifferent materialisation”(13). The conquest of the artificial over the natural, of art over life is yet only temporary, as the author moralizes a little too obviously: “What we call immortality in art is but the shadow of the soul's immortality; but the immortality of love is that of the soul Itself” (47). Art can perhaps strive to be superior to life, seems to be the author’s conclusion, but there is no art without life, nor is there art based uniquely on self love.

The question of narcissism leads into the last question: Can Silencieux be considered a fetish object? In its original meaning, the word fetish was used by the Portuguese (feitiço) as meaning “false” or “of false value” in respect of the objects of idolatry that they found in their colonies. Kaplan, in Cultures of Fetishism, explains that, like other words deriving from the Latin factitus, fetish or feitiço suggests mask, masquerade, disguise, fake (2). We can adopt Kaplan’s definition of fetishism as “the extravagant, irrational devotion to some material object, idea or practice” (1). This definition is usually further divided into an anthropological and into a sexual notion. From the anthropological point of view, fetishism is defined as the belief that certain natural or artificial objects hold magical or supernatural power, while in its sexual meaning it indicates the displacement of erotic interest on an object or a part of the body. According to Freud, this displacement is nothing but a simulacrum, since the fetish emerges as a structure to prevent the fear of castration from becoming a threat in the child’s mind and since the child has at the same time retained and given up the belief that the woman should have a phallus (1927, 47-157). Therefore, the fetish is at the same time a reassuring image of presence and absence.

One can certainly speak of the notion of an irrational devotion to a magical object, considering that the title of the work is “The Worshipper of the Image” and that Antony believes the mask can speak and even promises to it a human sacrifice. On the other hand, we also know that Antony becomes totally infatuated with Silencieux, and that this love slowly replaces his love for Beatrice. As frequently happens with the sexual fetish, his attraction begins with an association with reality, the mask’s resemblance with his beloved, but gradually its erotic attraction becomes autonomous and he forgets any resemblance between the two. Laura Mulvey, in Fetishism and Curiosity, reminds us that “Unlike a fully alive human being with dangerous, unpredictable desires who must be wooed and courted, fetish objects are relatively safe, easily available, and undemanding reciprocity” (7).

Silencieux becomes a fetish both in an anthropological and in a sexual sense, as it is both an object of devotion and of erotic yearning. We must remember that, in other contemporary texts and particularly in French decadent literature the mask is linked to the severed head and to the myth of Salomé, of the castrating woman (see Lorrain). “In its larger, more encompassing meaning,” writes Mulvey, “fetishism is about the deadening and dehumanizing of otherwise alive and therefore threateningly dangerous, unpredictable desires” (7).

Silencieux deadens and dehumanizes Beatrice’s potentially threatening femininity, providing an easy, undemanding object to substitute her too complicated love. Only through her own death mask could Beatrice, as her name suggests, become the muse and the inspiration of Antony’s poetry. Le Gallienne knew and was inspired by the works of the Pre-Raphaelites, who cultivated a deep interest in medieval art and especially in Dante’s Vita Nova, an allegorical work that describes the poet’s love for Beatrice, her death and her ascension to Heaven. “The Worshipper of the Image” follows the same pattern, describing first the poet’s love for Beatrice, then her death and her metamorphosis (through her double Silencieux) into an eternal, not earthly figure that can be a pure source of inspiration, or as Antony phrases it, into “some form midway between life and death, inanimate and yet alive, human and yet removed from the accidents of humanity.” (12)

The same renunciation of earthly passions that in Dante’s Vita Nova leads the poet to a deeper spiritual development and makes his soul immortal has in “The Worshipper of the Image” a much darker connotation. At the end of the story, we learn that “the eyes of Silencieux were wide open, and from her lips hung a dark moth with the face of death between his wings” (57). This image mirrors on the one hand the relationship of the mask to Beatrice and on the other hand Antony’s childhood dream (3). As we have seen, the mask had initially been identified as a portrait of Beatrice, but had later grown autonomous from its model. In the final lines of the story, Silencieux and Beatrice are again reunited into the same entity; the death mask can be beautiful only as long as she draws life from her double, but once Beatrice perishes, it expresses nothing but the reality of death. On the other hand, the image reflects the relationship of the mask to Antony: just like Dorian Gray’s portrait, it appears as a horrible reflection of the violence that has been perpetrated through Antony’s hand towards his wife and his daughter. As double of both Beatrice and Antony, Silencieux becomes an allegory of death to which no longer follows the illusion of eternity.

The comparison with the Vita Nova leads us to consider the story as a modern parody of Dante’s parable in which the ending, from an image of salvation and eternal life, becomes a representation of death and damnation. This view reveals the growing discomfort of the turn of the century with the notion of l’art pour l'art; with the idea that art constitutes a world of its own that art must strive to imitate. If the natural world is assumed to be a creation of God, Silencieux, as an object of art, was created by man only, and as Beatrice predicts, will gradually become an object of destruction.

As an image of a face that is throughout the story treated as if it were a complete woman, Silencieux is also representative of the importance that the fragment takes in the visual arts of the period and of its treatment as a synecdoche, as a part that is used to refer to the whole; in our story, the hollow surface of the mask, the totally insubstantial, is made substantial through a synecdoche that, through Antony’s perception, becomes literal as the death mask turns into a living being. At the beginning of this essay we have pointed out that Le Gallienne’s mask is inspired by the death mask of the Inconnue de la Seine and we have observed how this mask had in the last years of the nineteenth century become a commercial item. As Papet argues, art critics warned in these years against excessive decorativism and wrote at length about the tendency to use mask as autonomous decorative objects (10). Paul Vitry, curator of the Louvre, published in 1903 an article entitled “Masques,” in which he complained the ambiguity of the genre and defined modern art as “un morceau isolé qui ira rouler n’importe où” ( “an isolated piece that will roll no matter where.” Papet 11). Le Gallienne not only anticipates this observation, he also explains (and perhaps mocks) the possible function that the mask might serve as, deprived of its theatrical and architectural function, it becomes not only a decorative, but also a fetish, object.

We can find reflected in the story a common notion in the social sciences of the period, which viewed the artistic genius as a form of illness and degeneration, as well as a growing preoccupation with reification, with the treatment of humans as objects, and conversely, with the attributions of human qualities to objects, a concern that had become more pressing with the growth of industrialization. The criminologist Cesare Lombroso, a supporter of social Darwinism and of the theory of degeneration, argued that criminality was inherited and could be detected by an examination of physiognomic attributes. In 1889, just a year before Le Gallienne’s story, he published L’uomo di Genio, a text in which he argues that the artistic genius is a form of hereditary insanity. This concern with physiognomy and with the nature of the artistic genius is recognizable in Le Gallienne’s story. Perhaps the value of the Worshipper of the Image consists in the fact that it lends itself well to the unraveling of its symbolism, leading to interpretations that can tell us much about the sensibility of the turn of the century and that help us to have a better understanding of why death masks, in this period, should be given so much attention.

Elisa Segnini
Dalhousie University

1 For a detailed study of life masks and death masks see À Fleur de Peau. Le Moulage sur Nature au XIX siècle (Paris : Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2001).
2 Among these works are Jules Supervielle’s “L’Inconnue de la Seine” (1929), Herta Pauli’s “L’Inconnue de la Seine” (1931), Louis Aragon’s “Aurélien” (1944), Vladimir Nabokov’s “L’Inconnue de la Seine” (1934), and Claire Goll’s “Die Unbekannte aus der Seine” (1936) For more information about this mask and its treatment in literature and in the arts, see Heléne Pinet “L’Eau, la Femme, la Mort. Le Mythe de l’Inconnue de la Seine,” passim.
3 Masque, in French, is a masculine noun. However, since the cast represents female features that in the protagonist’s perspective are constantly personified, the choice of a masculine name remains puzzling. Silencieux is an adjective, a grammatical category that can be joined to a masculine or a feminine noun but that has in itself no gender — and that as such indicates the androgynous connotation that the mask acquires in the story.
4 Mytilene is otherwise known as Lesbos. This costume could possibly be a reference to Sappho, Lesbos’ most famous citizen and poet. This interpretation would reinforce the use of the plaster cast as a mask for the poet’s subjectivity.

Works Cited

Alighieri, Dante. Vita Nova. Ed. Guglielmo Gorni. Torino : Einaudi, 1996.
À fleur de peau. Le Moulage sur Nature au XIX Siècle. Paris : Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2001.
Benkard, Ernst, Undying faces, a collection of death masks. Trans. Margaret Green. London: Hogarth Press, 1929.
Champsaur, Félicien.  Nuit de Fête. Paris: Offenstadt Frères, 1902.
Frankel, Nicholas. Masking the Text. Essays on Literature & Mediation in the 1890s. High Wycombe: The Rivendale Press, 2009.
Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny (1919), trans. David McLintock ed Hugh Haughton. New York, NY: Penguin Books 2003.
---. “Fetishism”. Trans. J. Strachey.  The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. XXI.  London: Hogarth and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1927. 147-157.
Harris Smith, Susan.  Masks in Modern Drama. Berkeley : University of California Press, 1984
Hoffman, E.T.A. The Devil’s elixirs. (1776-1822). Edinburgh: W. Blackwood 1829.
Kaplan, J. Louise. Cultures of Fetishism. New York, Palgrave Macmillian, 2006.
Le Gallienne, Richard. “The Worshipper of the Image” (1900). Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.
Lombroso, Cesare. L'Uomo di Genio in Rapporto alla Psichiatria (1899). Torino: Bocca,1989.
Lorrain, Jean. Monsieur de Phocas (1901). Paris, Flammarion, 2001.
Mulvey, Laura. Fetishism and Curiosity. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1996.
Papet, Édouard. “Un regard sur le masque.” Masques. De Carpeaux à Picasso. Paris : Hazan, 2008. 10-11.
Pinet, Heléne. “L’Eau, la Femme, la Mort. Le Mythe de l’Inconnue de la Seine.”Le  Dernier Portrait. Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2002.
Poe, Edgar Allan.“William Wilson”Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. (1809-1849). Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966.
---. “The Oval Portrait”Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. (1809-1849). Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1966.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). Ed. Andrew Elfenbein. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007.