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Reviews Novel Configurations: A Study ofFrench Fiction, by Allan H. Pasco; xiii & 226 pp. Birmingham, Alabama: Summa Publications, 1987, $24.95. This is a bold and in many ways very effective attempt to classify novels into a limited number ofcategories—endomorphic, paramorphic—by means oftwo basic concepts: process and image. Process is associated with narration and closure, and illustrated by La Chartreuse de Parme; image is associated with description and openness, and illustrated by Gobseck. Subsequent chapters deal with "Germinal and the endomorphic novel," "subversive structure in LImmoraliste ," "negative representation in En rade," and "Proust and the paramorphic novel." When the author uses the term "endomorphic," he does so with a different meaning from the one given it by W. Sheldon in his classic works The Varieties of Human Physique (1940) and The Varieties of Temperament (1942). For Professor Pasco, "endomorphic" means "internally structured," or "vertebrate" (P- 18). I do not agree with every position taken by Professor Pasco, as when he espouses the idea that "you and I can't read Dante well if we haven't read Borges" (p. 15). This seems to imply either that there is only one way to read Dante well or at least that the way or ways that do not include reading Borges are invalid. Such a view seems to me much too adamant and rigid—especially in these days when we accept the principle of the infinite multiplicity of valid readings. It is good to see the author taking issue with various critics (Weinreb, Matthews, Walker) and writers (Saporta), thus establishing his independence of mind. But his wholesale rejection of interdisciplinary approaches in literary theory and criticism (pp. 19—20), while weU-intentioned, is much too extreme— and scarcely even argued, except on the basis of some unfounded fear of "distortion," Only abuses can lead to distortion, and while abuses do exist, they are not necessarily interdisciplinary. With regard to the essays on particular novels, there are again some comments I cannot agree with. One is the grouping together of the novels of Marivaux, Crébülonfib, and Voltaire as "organized for the most part around plot." One has only to compare La Vie de Marianne—meandering, psychological—with 172 Reviews173 Candide to see that the latter differs from the former precisely by its emphasis on plot. Also, the idea that Manon and Des Grieux are the victims of "blind destiny" that "afflicts the two lovers with one randomly chosen catastrophe after another" (p. 128) is extremely debatable, and depends on our taking the word of Des Grieux, that most unreliable of first-person narrators. Elsewhere, Pasco is much better on point of view. Professor Pasco's attempted justification of the rejection of Philip Walker's myth interpretation of Germinal by Grant and Hemmings is unconvincing: they were simply objecting to an excellent, imaginative reading based on a new approach—because it was new. Walker's contribution has been briUiant and seminal. But I am inclined to agree with Pasco rather than Walker in seeing Zola's reference to Ceres in relation to Mme Hennebeau as a straightforward parallel—not as ironic, as Walker suggests. On the other hand, the claim that Germinal "sets off the Voreux-Réquillart giant against a god residing in a tabernacle " (p. 76; italics mine) seems strange: I do not read any such opposition in the novel between these two elements. Professor Pasco's study ofA la recherche du temps perdu is quite right to associate the trio of steeples with the trio of trees (p. 156); indeed, these triads, like that ofthe three farms, are ofcrucial symbolic significance for the psychological makeup of the novel. In spite of some disagreements on points of detail, I came away from this volume impressed with its ambition to forge a broad new way of viewing the genre. The work is imaginative and well informed, and does not shy away from the close reading that is an essential test for any theory. The readings are sensitive and mature, and there is no question in my mind that Pasco's grasp of, for example, the unreliability ofthe narrator ofLImmoraliste is accurate: the views of Laurence Porter and John Booker on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 172-173
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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