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August 18, 1991|Charles Solomon

NOTABLE OR NOTORIOUS: A Gallery of Parisians by Gordon Wright (Harvard University Press: $10.95, illustrated). These short biographies detail the lives of minor 19th-Century artists, writers and dilettantes, chosen because Wright feels they embody popular attitudes: "Indeed, they may be even more representative of their times than are the certified geniuses, whose stature makes them exceptional rather than typical." With the possible exception of talented the graphic artist Theophile Steinlen, whose work has received increasingly favorable notice in recent years, no one would mistake Wright's subjects for anything but minor figures at the fringes of the arts. Delphine Gay de Girardin may have been a popular gossip columnist and hostess during the early 19th Century, but no one reads her plays today, nor do they read the voluminous serial novels of her friend, Eugene Sue. It seems unlikely that Wright's mini-biographies will win many new readers for his subjects. Too often, he fails to show why anyone would want to know more about these people: e.g. Was Clemence Royer really a victim of sexism and academic elitism, or was she ignored by the intellegentsia because so many of the ideas she propounded were erroneous? For connoisseurs of historical trivia only.

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