Le Moi, l’histoire: 1789–1848
Much of the writing produced during the Romantic period in France was concerned with the articulation of individual destiny and collective life. To a large degree this had to do with the enduring impact of the secular liberalism of the Enlightenment joined with the consequences of the Revolution. The individual self, free but unfulfilled, quested after an external validating power that would be capable investing selfhood with a stable meaning — hence the attempts to root the self in nature, history and in collective entities such as the nation or 'le peuple'. The period witnessed an explosion of historical writing, generally sympathetic to the political left. It also saw the emergence of the 'roman personnel', first-person narratives often strongly tinged with autobiography. This volume contains ten contributions of varying lengths. Apart from a wide-ranging article by Gérald Rannaud, most of the remaining pieces focus on individual authors, Nerval, Michelet, Tocqueville, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, Madame de Staël, Chateaubriand, Sand, Stendhal. It is a pleasure to see Rannaud quote from Georges Poulet, whose pioneering work on Romanticism and on the relationship between different forms of temporality no longer seems to receive the attention it deserves. The only article really to step outside the canon is the editor's own contribution on historical memoirs. This turns out to be a very interesting essay. Booksellers' lists of the Restoration and the July Monarchy overflowed with historical memoirs — sometimes genuine, sometimes fictitious — but scholars rarely pay these influential works the attention they deserve. Zanone looks at memoirs relating to Napoleon and identifies two main types of writing. In the first, the author's presence in the [End Page 399] unfolding of events is largely concealed from the reader. In the second, there is an unhappy juxtaposition of self and history. Only with Chateaubriand do we find something radically different. In the Mémoires d'outre-tombe 'c'est la personne même du mémorialiste qui métaphorise le monde' (p. 36). In his contribution, Jean-Claude Berchet likewise stresses the unique character of the the Mémoires d'outre-tombe, while drawing attention to the neglected Études historiques, which defined Chateaubriand's relationship to the new generation of Restoration historians. All the essays in this volume maintain a clear focus on the central problematic. We learn about Staël's treatment of Napoleon, Sand's aspiration to a prophetic form of total history and Tocqueville's analytical reflections on the formative power of events. The volume concludes with an illuminating piece on Michelet. Drawing on the Journal, Pettier shows how the historian linked his investigation of social divisions in France to a parallel exploration of inner reality. Understanding and mastering the darker aspects of the self enabled new ways of imagining the resolution of social conflict.