- Francophone Literatures:An Introductory Survey
As an introductory survey to francophone literatures, Belinda Jack’s book provides the reader with a broad overview of the subject, assuming no prior knowledge of the concept or origins of francophonie. A brief account of French colonial history is given in the introduction to situate French languages outside of France, and the etymology of the term francophone is traced to its origins at the end of the nineteenth century, when it was coined and used to “designate both a socio-linguistic and geopolitical phenomenon: to describe French-speaking populations and to describe a French-speaking bloc” (17). Jack is careful to point out that in dealing with written texts from the francophone world, the definition of the term francophone needs to be expanded in its literary designation. According to her, to describe a literary text as francophone is to “distinguish it from a ‘French’ text and therefore to emphasize a certain difference” (17). One way of looking at this difference is to see the francophone literary project as inherently subversive where language is concerned, and throughout her book Jack gives numerous examples of francophone texts that parody or subvert canonical texts of the French tradition. A focus on linguistic or formal difference in the study of francophone texts is an interesting and necessary complement to approaches that privilege sociological, anthropological, racial, or geographical difference. Only then can the complex interactions between French and francophone literatures be fully appreciated, [End Page 227] within the dialectical relationship between the colonial and the post-colonial.
The book is divided into four major sections: Europe and North America, Creole Islands, North Africa and the Near East, and Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. Within each section, texts are grouped under chapters according to geographic areas or nations; there are fourteen chapters in all. Part one is divided into three chapters covering Belgium, Switzerland, Quebec and French Canada; part two comprises four chapters dealing with Antilles and French Guiana, Haiti, Mauritius, and La Réunion; part three has five chapters covering Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and Lebanon; part four has only two chapters, one on Sub-Saharan Africa, and one on Madagascar. Each chapter begins with a brief literary history of writing in French in the area under discussion, to show the point at which texts can be considered francophone and why. The role of periodicals and publishing houses in the development of francophone writing is highlighted, as well as the influence of various literary movements in France. In the introduction, Jack points out that the study is not comprehensive, priority being given to authors and texts generally considered as major, since her intention is not to propose a new canon. Within each chapter, a few works are discussed in some detail, but the majority only get a passing mention—not surprising, given the ambitious scope of the book. At the end of each section, “Guides to Further Reading” give the titles of major texts in each genre as well as bibliographies and other relevant studies. A Select Bibliography at the end of the book lists major works concerned with the theory of francophone literatures.
Jack’s book is pleasant to read, thanks to a straightforward style of writing and a smooth flow of ideas from one paragraph to the next. However, what the book gains in readability becomes an obstacle to easy reference. There are no subdivisions within the chapters, and since texts are discussed chronologically as well as under the various genres, the only way to locate works in a given genre for a given period (century or decade) is to skim the chapter. The index is useful only if one knows the title of a work or the name of the author. Since the book is in English and will probably attract readers with little or no knowledge of French, it is worth pointing out that quotes in French, of which there are a great number, are not translated into English. This is bound to be frustrating, especially when the two languages are...