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Nerval: l’écriture du voyage. By Hisashi Mizuno . Paris, Champion, 2003. Hb €33.00.

This substantial study examines Nerval's travel works, the Voyage en Orient (1851) and Lorely — Souvenirs d'Allemagne (1852), in the form in which they originally appeared, as fragments published in journals from 1838 to 1852. It focuses, not on textual differences (which are minimal), but on the effects on Nerval's writing of changes in the political climate of the time and the varying readership of the journals for which he wrote. Although not denying that Nerval's travel writing is an aesthetic and creative act, and paying some attention to theatricality of presentation and the aura of dream and myth, Mizuno's study deliberately diverges from a path that it regards as sufficiently well trodden, in order to emphasize Nerval's engagement with real life and the issues of the time: the most convincing and original sections of this study are those that deal with Nerval's depiction of the conflicts of aims in contemporary English and French foreign policy for Syria and the Lebanon, or with his presentation of the 'Oriental female', which Mizuno reads as an exceptionally cool-headed analysis of relationships between the male Western European traveller and his Eastern subject (although more could have been made of the Javanese slave being taught to speak French by means of the phrase 'Je suis un petit sauvage'). Even the apparently anodine depictions of Dutch and German 'fêtes artistiques' of 1850 to 1852 are seen as alluding quietly to current political events in France. Nerval's travel writing emerges in this perspective as an 'écriture subversive et oppositionnelle', which is more or less overt according to whether it appeared in a journal of the Left or of the Right. Although casting a welcome new light on Nerval's travel writing, this work could have benefited from more revision. The French is often awkward and sometimes incomprehensible. Nerval's words are sometimes misunderstood. The chronological approach leads inevitably to repetitions. There are heavy-handed and unnecessary paraphrases, not only of Nerval's own sometimes tortuous religious and mythical elucubrations but also of passages where Nerval is at his lightest and most elusive. More crucial is the unaccountable omission of any discussion of Nerval's Nuits d'octobre, those wayward and original depictions of travel at home, in and around Paris, which are every bit as engaged, subversive and politically oppositional as anything to be found in the Voyage en Orient. Moreover, the pendulum has swung too far away from the literary and creative. Much more could have been done to link the idea of Nerval's changing forms not only with historical change but with formal developments in the genre of travel writing. There is little more than a tantalising nod towards what Mizuno calls a 'nouvelle expression poétique', where (as in Flaubert's travel accounts) an espousal of the 'modern' ideals of scientific simplicity and clarity create a new 'poésie de la présence'. That this has all the [End Page 402] makings of a good book is clear from the Conclusion, with its succinct and convincing formulations; but these will come too late for most readers.

Adrianne Tooke
Somerville College, Oxford

Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Launched on MUSE
2007-01-10
Open Access
No
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