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  • Censure, autocensure et art d’écrire: de l’Antiquité à nos jours
Censure, autocensure et art d’écrire: de l’Antiquité à nos jours. Sous la direction de Jacques Domenech . ( Interventions). Brussels, Complexe, 2005. 376 pp. Pb €39.90.

Censorship has created its own canon, and many of the usual suspects line up here: Sade, Diderot, Voltaire and Rousseau, Lolita and Emmanuelle. Other [End Page 421] subjects include Aristotle in the thirteenth century, Erasmus, Molière's Dom Juan (a good essay by Olivier Bloch), La Fontaine, Leo Strauss's handling of Spinoza, Sartre's La Nausée, the nouveau roman, and, in Jean Emelina's entertaining contribution, the embarrassment caused to seventeenth-century scholarship by the rude bits of the bible. There are excursions to ancient Rome, eighteenth-century Basque country, Genovesi's Rome and Franco's Spain. The editor's Introduction and Conclusion strive to bind all this together, sometimes at the cost of overgeneralization: although he says, for instance, that censorship has always aimed to deny the very existence of the works it targets, the perverse attractions of the censored text must always have been as apparent to censors as to their victims and opponents; and, to consider only the example of the French Enlightenment, Domenech's home territory and the centre of the collection, something more complex than attempted obliteration characterized censorship towards the end of the Ancien Régime, with its ever more convoluted system of privilèges, permissions and semi-official nods and winks.

Several of the best essays consider the 'art of writing'. Marie-Paule de Weerdt-Pilorge argues against ahistorical notions of self-censorship in discussing Saint-Simon's Mémoires; Paule Adamy comes to see the Goncourts' Journal as a semi-literary space accommodating material that could not be published in plays and novels; and Huguette Krief, using a broad notion of self-censorship, examines the rhetorical and emotional shifts in Mme du Deffand's letters to Horace Walpole, who found her style too effusive and novelistic. 'En comparaison de vous' she concedes, 'je ne suis qu'une caillette, une diseuse de lieux communs' (the caillette, as urban readers of FS may have forgotten, is the abomasum or rennet-bag, the fourth stomach of ruminants). Yet the remark itself, like many others in the correspondence, is as eloquent as it is poignant ('Vous m'avez rendue poussière; je vous le pardonne, n'en parlons plus'), and her self-restraint and self-abasement appear at once painfully sincere and a triumph of epistolary art. I also enjoyed Jean-Marie Seillan's reading of abbé Bethléem's Romans à lire et romans à proscrire (first edition 1905, eleventh revised edition 1932). Bethléem called Le Temps retrouvé 'particulièrement répugnant', elaborated a singular typology of readers (distinctions must be drawn between 'petites jeunes filles', 'jeunes filles déjà grandes' and 'grandes jeunes filles'), and, in a peculiar display of verbal repetition compulsion, railed against René Maran, author of the Goncourt prize-winning Batouala: 'Issu de parents noirs, il est noir lui-même [no surprises there, but already some indication of where Bethléem's trauma may lie], et son roman, roman nègre, est consacré aux noirs'. Seillan is doubtless right to warn the scholar against the superficial pleasures of the bêtisier, but it seems like poetic justice to take the censor's comments out of context in order to disparage them.

Nicholas Harrison
King’s College London

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