The Realist Author and Sympathetic Imagination by Sotirios Paraschas (review)
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The Realist Author and Sympathetic Imagination. By Sotirios Paraschas. (Studies in Comparative Literature, 28.) Oxford: Legenda, 2013. xii + 223 pp.

In this compelling study Sotirios Paraschas revisits a number of nineteenth-century literary texts in terms of their shared recourse to an ‘authorial double’, who is defined, very specifically, as ‘a character who can enter the minds of his fellow-characters through a process of imaginative identification’ (p. 13). Positing a distinction between moral sympathy and the more complex workings of the double’s ‘sympathetic imagination’, Paraschas demonstrates that the latter, in fact, sabotages the reader’s inclination towards sympathy as a moral sentiment. A parallel argument relates this process to the responses of the authors in question to the legal and economic conditions of authorship. (By no means the least impressive dimension of this study is Paraschas’s research into the history of copyright law.) The principal authors considered are Balzac, George Eliot, and Baudelaire, with Hoffmann and Gide being adduced as reference points at the respective ends of realism’s chronological span. While each author forms the discrete subject of a separate chapter, their subsequent reappearances enhance the overall theses. The central arguments are contextualized with the aid of such philosophers as Diderot, the brothers Schlegel, and, most originally of all, Adam Smith. The identification of Mordecai in Daniel Deronda as an authorial double inaugurates an innovative reading that has the appearance of being of major significance. Baudelaire specialists will need to take account of the analysis of Le Spleen de Paris in terms of an identification of the two voices in the opening poem as dialogical authorial personas — the flâneur and the poet — with both being ironized by their creator. Paraschas associates the former with attempts to satisfy the needs of the sympathetic imagination, but he reveals, perceptively, that the prose poems recount failure as well as success in this respect. With support being provided by the initial appearance of the first twenty of them in the space reserved for the feuilleton in La Presse, he further argues that they may be read as ‘a comment on the commodification of literature in general’ (p. 106). He also provides convincing justification for existing, often rather loose, designations of Balzac’s Vautrin as a surrogate author. Similarly, he is not the first to see the Antiquary in La Peau de chagrin sharing Protean characteristics with his creator, but his thoughtful analysis of the figure as an illustration [End Page 405] of ‘the author as capitalist’, which implicit function he develops in his consideration of Gobseck, opens up some suggestive new perspectives. The arguments are based throughout on meticulous research, close attention to textual detail, and an adroit engagement with literary theory. They are also conveyed with notable elegance and clarity. Paraschas is not afraid to contest claims made by such influential theorists as Paul de Man, whose view of realism as a regression from the ironic novel of the eighteenthcentury is here neatly reversed. Undergraduates would find his admirably succinct introductory discussion of the ‘realist author’ a source of elucidation and stimulus. Aside from the occasional misspelling of an unfamiliar proper name, the material presentation is exemplary.

Michael Tilby
Selwyn College, Cambridge