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Reviewed by:
  • Enquête en Armancie
  • Francesco Manzini
Enquête en Armancie. By Georges Kliebenstein . Grenoble, ELLUG, 2005. 253 pp. Pb €22.00.

Kliebenstein presents Armance as a 'grand cryptogramme' (p. 13), or else a 'cryptodrame', to be deciphered through an interrogation of 'le destin' (p. 30). As a result, he sets out to apply the general theory of his Figures du destin stendhalien (see FS, LX (2006), 128–29) to the specific case of Stendhal's notoriously enigmatic first novel. In the course of his investigation he makes full use of the forensic skills that made for the success of his previous book, producing [End Page 276] meticulously detailed analytical set-pieces dealing, often delightfully, with such problematic issues as Stendhal's choice of title, the representation of impotence and homosexuality, the status of the hors-textes and the novel's theatrical qualities (including its unexpected partial recourse to the unities). At the same time, Kliebenstein frustrates by choosing not to chase up a number of good leads that might have taken his enquiries still further: he repeatedly acknowledges the place of socio-political readings in any account of the novel, yet never develops such a reading himself; he cites Stendhal's denunciation of 'comédies qui ne sont pas comiques' (p. 103), but analyses this denunciation from the point of view of rhetoric, as an example of a 'schizologie' (as distinct from an oxymoron), without seeming to take the hint that Stendhal might himself have generated comedy in his 'scènes d'un salon de Paris'; despite allowing for some discussion of other works in Stendhal's fictional corpus, particularly in a lengthy coda recapitulating the arguments in favour of his concept of transrhetorical hendiadys as a useful investigative tool, Kliebenstein fails adequately to set Armance in the context of Mina de Vanghel and Vanina Vanini, fictions that repeat many of the themes and figures of the novel. Kliebenstein's concluding emphasis on hendiadys does not entirely satisfy, perhaps because Armance, with its artfully flaccid ending, serves as a poor illustration of what is a very persuasive general theory. Much better is the evidence Kliebenstein uncovers by looking more closely at the novel's title: his analysis of Armance's displacement of Octave is pursued to reveal first her hermaphroditic fusion with her cousin (or else the fission of his character), and then her final perpetuation of his existence at the side of his — now her — overprotective mother. Kliebenstein has produced a brilliant investigation of a subject he treats quite seriously: it is in this respect the image of the novel's rather serious hero(-heroine), but it tends to exclude the potential laughter of the 'Happy Few', one of the possible responses to this tale of misanthropy, of a hero succumbing to what Stendhal elsewhere refers to as 'la haine impuissante'. Kliebenstein's first book paid no attention to English-language scholarship; this time two works in English do make it into the bibliography. The more substantial of the two, Pearson's Stendhal's Violin (see FS, XLIII (1989), 475–76), with its excellent chapter on Armance and the laughter it provokes, serves as a necessary complement to what is the most enjoyable and illuminating book-length study of the novel currently available.

Francesco Manzini
Institute of Germanic & Romance Languages


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pp. 276-277
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