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In her study Narcissus and Echo: Women in the French Récit, Naomi Segal presents a feminist-psychoanaltyic reading of canonical works by French male authors of confessional récits from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century. Segal focuses on two works in each chapter: Manon Lescaut and Carmen; René and Adolphe; Mademoiselle de Maupin and La Confession d'un enfant du siècle; Sylvie and Dominique; and L'Immoraliste and La Porte étroite. The first chapter is devoted to a presentation of the focus of Segal's study and to an exposition of the distinctions she makes between double and mirror, and sight and voice. The last chapter discusses the theoretical psychoanalytic implications of her analysis of the French récit for our understanding of the discourse of desire.
Segal proposes a new interpretation of the myth of Narcissus and Echo to direct a rereading of confessional récits based on the distinction between the use of male figures as doubles and female figures as mirror. Whereas the Echo and Narcissus story had previously been placed in a "prelinguistic and pre-sexual mode," Segal convincingly argues that Echo's presence in the story and her desire must be acknowledged and tied to the myth's sexual politics (the silencing of the woman's voice and desire). The distinction between the double (a dissemination of the male self, as suggested by Narcissus' story, which is a way for the male to carry his inadmissible impulses), and the mirror (a female Other, represented [End Page 633] by Echo's story, which is used by the self to find himself in the body of a woman) is crucial for Segal's argument that the récit is centered on the female presence but also on the marginalization of this presence.
Segal defines the confessional récit as a first-person narrative, embedded in a frame narrative, in which a male tells (significantly enough, to an intended male reader) of his failed life, for which a woman is usually held responsible. Throughout her examples Segal points out how the male speech is presented as reliable and the female speech is discredited. Segal's analysis of plot uncovers a common pattern: a male figure, like Narcissus, is really not looking at himself, but at the face of a woman, which functions as a mirror which is the "effigy of the mother's earlier look." The male's attempt to find himself in the lost mother's body invariably fails, and the women in the récit pay for it: they die because they represent the depriving mother.
Segal's insights into the gendered characteristics of the récit are convincing, and her reading of such famous works like Manon or Carmen are revealing and exciting. Likewise her analysis of Gide's two works provides a way to go beyond his ironical stance and deconstructs his textual politics. Other analyses are less convincing. For example, Mademoiselle de Maupin shows the power of the woman's gaze and voice, but Segal does not really provide any explanation of this and does not modify her static definition of the récit. Similarly the selection of her texts is unsettling. She bases it on the popularity of the works, thus excluding female authors (even a popular one like Sand) so that her claims about the "genderization" of the récit seem incomplete.
Last, Segal's reliance on psychoanalytic theory would require a thorough exposition of her terms and an explanation of which version she is using or modifying (Freud's? Lacan's?), especially because she seems to conclude that the récit is a version of the Lacanian imaginary phase. However, Segal's novel emphasis on the fate of the woman's voice in the récit, and her distinction between double and mirror are enlightening.