Reviewed by:
Victor Hugo et le romanesque. Textes réunis et présentés par Agnès Spiquel . ( Études romanesques, 9). Paris, Caen, Lettres modernes Minard, 2005. 216 pp. Pb €30.00.

In her brief but useful opening remarks, Spiquel clarifies how the romanesque for Victor Hugo became not simply a thematic concern, but also a structural strategy. Hugo not only maximizes the novel's potentially ironic interaction of the story itself with the telling of that story, he also observes how that exchange between object and subject operates in other modes of writing as well. He considers how the novel, as a melting pot of various genres from the historical and the philosophical to the poetic and the fantastic, not only can be read according to those particular tones, but moreover how those types themselves can be read through their crossover in the novel form. Two introductory explorations from Anne Ubersfeld and Judith Wolf helpfully flag the major theoretical issues that are at stake in such a case study. They underpin a hybrid concept of the romanesque as a perpetual doubling of the general and the individual that motivates and yet thwarts the drive towards genre and interpretation. We can move beyond thematics such as mystery, adventure and romance to appreciate how, as a mode of writing, the romanesque is inherently bound up in questions of identity and being. The novelist's trade of description, intrigue and revelation can be structurally examined to explore how the narrative voice indicates a shifting and duplicitous form that can be traced outside novel writing. No fewer than thirteen contributions then elaborate upon how various aspects of Hugo's writing help illustrate this compelling argument. Far from being the kind of rhapsodic celebration that Hugo's 2002 bicentenary seemed to encourage, the contributors sharpen their critical edge by cutting through the Olympian reputation of their subject to serve up a substantial analysis. Although Hugo's mammoth œuvre is evidently too expansive to be compressed into one study, it is regrettable that, although two essays each look at a relatively little-known work like Le Rhin, Les Contemplations is strangely absent. None the less, there is a great deal of diversity on display here, from narrative works like Quatrevingt-treize to autobiography in Victor Hugo raconté par un témoin de sa vie, as well as poetry such as Les Orientales. Worth particular mention is Pierre Laforgue's discussion, which looks at Hugo's frantic output in 1860 to construct a cross-section of his writing. Laforgue points to the thematic and formal connections between the poetry of La Fin de Satan, the fiction of Les Misérables (the manuscript of which Hugo was returning to) and the essays towards his original preface to that novel, entitled Philosophie. Commencement [End Page 401] d'un livre. This 'cross-reading' seems to be precisely the kind of dynamic approach that these essays advocate, and would be a welcome addition to future studies of not only the novel, but also one of the nineteenth century's most pivotal figures.

Bradley Stephens
Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Additional Information

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