It originated in late 19th-century France and Belgium, with important figures including among others the Polish intellectual Téodor de Wyzewa who was a leading exponent of the Polish origin of the symbolist movement in France with France’s own Edouard Dujardin.
Téodor de Wyzewa was one of the great intellectual minds of the late 19th century. He is credited as one of the pioneers of the symbolist movement which became popular in France at that time.
His relationship with Jane Avril is well documented in the biography section of this website and Jose Shercliff’s book “Jane Avril of the Moulin Rouge.”
Certainly, it seems to be the classic tale of unrequited love as although Téodor was deeply in love with Jane it seems she saw him as a close and devoted friend (we’ve all been there I’m sure).
The book by Elga Liverman Duval titled “Téodor de Wyzewa – Critic Without a Country,“ from 1961 sheds a little more light on this one sided relationship.
Here are the important extracts:
When dancer Jane Avril met Téodor de Wyzewa, she was not only a well known dancer, but her beauty had made her the darling of poets and painters. With her frail loveliness and strange other-worldly quality, she fitted perfectly into the symbolist vision of the world. Not only was Jane beautiful, but her passion for art, music and poetry was genuine. In spite of a cruel, brutal childhood she remained a dreamer.
She borrowed books and read omnivorously, she listened to Banville, Villiers, Paul Fort, Verlaine and Oscar Wilde in the cafes. She met Wyzewa at the Thursday festivities at the Bal Bullier, a popular dancing rendezvous with a rather shady reputation.
Miss Shercliff (Jane Avril’s biographer) says that in the simplicity of her art and her love of life Jane Avril would often as not prefer the poor and affectionate to the rich and proud. Wyzewa was indeed very poor when they first met.
From the beginning, Wyzewa had a tremendous influence not only on Jane’s intellectual development, but on her whole outlook on life. It is an interesting sidelight that Jane Avril, who was considered one of the best dressed women of her day, when tight lacing was believed to be essential, refused to wear a whalebone corset. Strange echo of Doctor Wyzewa’s ideas.
According to Jane, Wyzewa fell madly in love with her and continuously proposed marriage which she refused. She was his mistress for a short time, although they lived together platonically for many months. In his journal 17 years later, Wyzewa said he never loved Jane and had only wasted his time and money on her, but could not resist recalling how she had spurned his love and rebuffed any attempts at affection.
Jane was actually really fond of Wyzewa. Yet, according to a confidence made to Miss Shercliff, she never considered marriage with Wyzewa because he was an inadequate lover. In his relationship with Jane, Wyzewa revealed his characteristic traits, possessiveness and lack of respect for himself. In spite of repeated infidelities on Jane’s part he begged her to continue living with him if only on the basis of friendship. Wyzewa was thus relegated to the humiliating role of playing guardian angel to the woman he loved, rescuing her from her own follies. In time, when Wyzewa grew more prosperous, he was unstinting in his generosity, and when Jane became ill he cared for her as if she were a child. She had every reason to write of him in a most appreciative way which she did.
When Wyzewa met Renoir, with whom he had a life-long friendship, he asked the painter to do a portrait of Jane Avril. This charcoal portrait remained in Wyzewa’s possession until his death, when it was sold for his estate. The girl Wyzewa married had a striking physical resemblance to Jane Avril, and everything points to his having been very much in love with her in spite of what he wrote in his journal to the contrary. In his first autobiographical novel, Valbert, he devotes a chapter to “la petite Marie” in whom if one knows the details, Jane Avril can easily be recognised. At first Valbert hates Marie for rebuffing his amorous advances and sends her away, but later he idealises her beyond recognition and reserves the harsh words for his own inadequacies and shortcomings.
There are then the sum of the portraits left of the young Wyzewa. On the whole, the opinions of many of his literary contemporaries are not favourable. And yet what a graceful portrait Mallarmé has left of him! Jules Laforgue whom Wyzewa had only met the year before in Germany liked and trusted him enough to leave him all his manuscripts. A ravishing beauty of the day speaks of having the strangest and most beautiful friendship with a tender, affectionate and modest man with the soul of a saint. Who then is the real Wyzewa? He was, no doubt, a composite of all the different personalities described. Isabelle de Wyzewa recalls that her father could have the greatest charm, if he felt so inclined, but that he was equally capable of great irony and arrogance. Many of the quotations of Wyzewa’s contemporaries in this study coincide with her opinion. He seems to have been a strange mixture of contrasts and contradictions. His mind could send out a shower of brilliant sparks, but his soul – that of a man essentially unsure of himself – he was often thwarted and distorted. This is more than evident in his relationship with Jane Avril.
Wyzewa called himself a Slav and later told his daughter that his Slavic nature, so many-faceted, explains why his contemporaries really never understood him. It seems more likely that Wyzewa alienated people because of his irony and arrogance.
The strange thing about Wyzewa is that he was to go through many intellectual changes, even a religious crisis in his later years. However, the complex impression we have of his character as a young man remain the same.
So there it is, as clear an understanding as I can find that explains the somewhat one sided relationship but genuine friendship that existed between Jane Avril and Téodor de Wyzewa.