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Reviewed by:
  • Haunting Presences: Ghosts in French Literature and Culture
  • Sarah Cooper
Haunting Presences: Ghosts in French Literature and Culture. Edited by Kate Griffiths and David Evans. (French and Francophone Studies). Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2009. xii + 178 pp. Hb £75.00.

It is rare to read an edited volume on a themed topic that features contributions of a consistently high standard and of equal interest. Kate Griffiths and David Evans are to be congratulated on having achieved this feat and gathered together a fascinating collection of articles devoted to the abiding presence of ghosts in French literature and culture. The scope of the book is impressive: the first half contains articles on the medieval period, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the nineteenth century; the second section focuses on twentieth-century French literature, theory, photography, and film. Co-written admirably by Griffiths and Evans, the Introduction combines contemporary critical theory with commentary on the historical range of literary and cultural areas under discussion in subsequent chapters. The book works to historicize the unstable ontology of the ghost — to flesh out, in Derridean terms, a hauntology. Derrida’s work is a signal point of reference for a number of contributors, as is the groundbreaking research of Colin Davis, whose article on Lord Lyttelton opens the volume and resonates with his other recent publications on the dead and their unfinished business with the living. Davis’s piece brings out the Enlightenment desire to suppress belief in the ghost in favour of rational explanations for why things go bump in the night. But such repressive moves succeed in ensuring the survival, rather than disappearance, of the ghost in the post-Enlightenment era. Davis’s article has implications beyond its immediate subject, and his theoretical concerns echo throughout the volume, in pre- and post-Enlightenment contexts. Helen Swift’s articulate understanding of intra-poetic relationships as a history of ghosts leads us elegantly through late medieval poetry, while John Nassichuk and Joseph Harris deal eloquently with Renaissance tragedy and the work of Racine respectively. Fiona Cox’s lively discussion of Hugo’s Les Misérables takes the haunting of characters, by the living and the dead, to a metatextual level by describing this epic text as a haunted work in its own right. In the second part of the book, contributions by Lynsey Russell-Watts, Jean-Xavier Ridon, Andrew Asibong, Frédéric Regard, Sarah Tribout-Joseph, and Henriette Korthals Altes steer us through the different media of the twentieth century to consider ghostly presences in literal and metaphorical terms in the work of Ernaux, [End Page 384] Marker, Ozon, Cixous, Pinget, and Quignard. The book is beautifully produced and the typography virtually flawless. Unfortunately, the prohibitive cost will mean that there will be very few individual purchasers, but the book can be recommended strongly to libraries. Each century represented, and each medium considered in the twentieth century, has a spectral history of its own that is waiting, in some cases, to be explored in far more detail; thus, this text has the capacity to stimulate much future research across the entire discipline of French studies on this most haunting of topics.

Sarah Cooper
King’s College London


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pp. 384-385
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