restricted access Novel Configurations: A Study of French Fiction (review)
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Reviewed by
Allan H. Pasco. Novel Configurations: A Study of French Fiction. Birmingham: Summa, 1987. 236 pp. $24.95.

Configurations consists of five essays, each covering a particular novel—La Chartreuse de Parme, Gobseck, Germinal, L'Immoraliste, En rade, A la recherche du temps perdu—framed by a theoretical introduction and conclusion. Most of the essays consist of previously published material that appeared during the period of 1973-1978. None of the critical literature to which Pasco refers is dated later than 1978. Given the author's laudable concern with bringing secondary materials to the reader's attention, it is unfortunate that more recent criticism is not included. Uniting these essays, albeit rather loosely, is Pasco's particular concept of novelistic form. He refers to more traditional novels as "endomorphic": those that have an "inner form" based upon the "process" constituted by plot structure and those whose internal organization is based upon description—"image novels." Some novels are readily characterized by the author as fitting into one or the other of these categories (Germinal would be a "process novel," Gobseck an "immage novel"). Others, such as L'Immoraliste, rely, as Pasco demonstrates, on the tension between both types. Proust's novel and more recent works, such as La Jalousie or La Prise de Constantinople, are characterized as "paramorphic." These novels present a multiplicity of structures whose elucidation demands a more active, creative participation by the reader. Such categories (which can be further subdivided) have a certain heuristic value but are so vaguely derived and defined as to be of very limited usefulness given the diversity and complexity of the genre.

Although Pasco does not lose sight of these defining concepts, it rapidly becomes obvious, as one reads the essays, that his concern with novelistic configuration is subordinate to other interests—namely, his preoccupation with myth, imagery, and symbolism in the works he examines: religious images in La Chartreuse de Parme, the symbolism of the moon and of gold in Gobseck, Greek mythology [End Page 717] in Germinal, Apollonian and Dionysian imagery in L'Immoraliste, water images in En rade, analogical chains and metaphor in A la recherche du temps perdu.

With the exception of the chapter on A la recherche du temps perdu, where Pasco unduly emphasizes the importance of involuntary memory and metaphor (never mentioning metonymy) and vastly oversimplifies the novel's complex temporal organization (here reference to more recent criticism would have been useful), the essays are replete with critical perceptions that illuminate the texts under discussion—their language, themes, and structures. Pasco's forte is obviously interpretation rather man analysis. His treatment of Etienne Lantier's evolution from "beast . . . to saint, and finally to reborn Heraclean hero," his exploration of the disparity in L'Immoraliste between the evolution of Michel's character and the novel's style, and his fascinating analysis of water and dream imagery in En rade, which gives new interest to a novel most critics would dismiss as one of Huysmans' secondary works, are particularly noteworthy. Throughout the essays Pasco readily communicates his enthusiasm for the literature he examines and the pleasure he derives as a critical reader.

Novel Configurations, despite its shortcomings, is a readable and useful collection of interpretive essays. Both undergraudates and more advanced students of literature will find this volume insightful and stimulating.

Philip H. Solomon
Southern Methodist University