Individuality vs. Grouping09 May 2020
As the pinnacle of elegance, the dandy is essentially a loner. His claim for originality and independence, his decided demarcation of the crowd, don’t leave any room for confreres. Theoretically that is. As so often in the theory of dandyism, the reality looks different. Dandies have always formed groups: If you think of Brummell, you can’t escape Lord Alvanley, Lord Petersham, Pea Green, George IV., and so on. After dandyism conquered France to be increasingly fused with art and aesthetics, the grouping aspect became even more central. As an artist, the dandy does not follow established rules but produces something new, unseen before. French Romantic literature features a variety of dandies, and even produced the dandy as narrator. The Jeunes-France, grouped around Théophile Gautier and Gérard de Nerval, were one of those dandy cliques. They exchanged ideas, discussed art and joined forces to propagate their radical ideas. The movement gave them much more force than a single writer could have.
Charles Manby Smith observed “the exquisite dandy tribe, a genus comparatively new,” insinuating that dandyism was quite a new thing and difficult to define. Likewise, a reader of the Kilmarnock Mirror wrote in 1818 about “the rise and progress of the Dandy-tribe”, while Joaquàn Telesforo de Trueba y Cosào remarked: “The tribe of dandies, however, being very numerous,” both hinting at the widespread acceptance of the phenomenon during the 1820s. Yet, the characteristics bestowed on the dandies were primarily negative: Their impertinent character is referred to in John Ramsay‘s denomination as “a curious tribe”. Jack Dauber accentuates the dandies’s fondness of stiffening clothing and his repose when he describes the dandies as “a tribe of beings who make very pestilent inroads upon the comfort of society”.