- Voyages et fantasmes de voyages à l’époque romantiquepar Nathalie Soloman
In 1853, the writer and explorer Jacques Arago, who had been blind since 1837, published his Curieux voyage autour du monde sans la lettre A. For Nathalie Soloman, Arago’s decision to combine the practical project of travelling with a sophisticated literary exercise neatly sums up what she sees as the unstable but fundamental relationship of nineteenth-century travel writing with the real. Faced with a readership increasingly familiar with these once unknown worlds, France’s nineteenth-century travelling writers no longer sought to prove that travel writing was about discovery but instead shifted their emphasis from littéralitéto littérarité. However, rather than fix the genre’s identity, this preoccupation with the imaginary worlds of travel writingblurred it even further by highlighting the seemingly insoluble contradiction of the role played by the ‘real’ world: in other words, was travel writing to be understood as a ‘songe sur le réel’ or ‘le réel qui mène au songe’ (p. 19)? Having laid out the central aporia of nineteenth-century travel writing, Soloman structures her study around analysis of some of the genre’s key narrative features. These are identified from a relatively tight corpus of male authors (or writers who travel) including Chateaubriand, Lamartine, Nerval, Gautier, and Flaubert. [End Page 253]Soloman proves herself to be a sharp diagnostician of the writerly compulsions underpinning these canonical authors’ observations of places travelled. Moreover, her meticulous demonstration of their inevitable ‘tendance théorisante’ (p. 34) is helpful for reminding the reader why their work is now widely understood as a touchstone in the history of travel writing. Despite an implicitly structuralist influence in her discussion of key generic forms and features, Soloman is at all times careful to signal the originality of individual approaches and the inevitable diversity of a genre ‘qui cherche une définition’ (p. 42). Despite the value of Soloman’s largely unacknowledged formalist method, scholars of travel writing working in the English-speaking academy will be disappointed with her systematic failure to flesh out some recent critical findings from this context. A cursory mention of Edward Said’s work suggests Soloman has some awareness of the ways in which ongoing discussion of his theories, for example, have considerably rewired thinking on the genre from thematic andformal perspectives. Unfortunately, however, her decision to rest on a limited number of critical and primary works means she ends up short-changing broader arguments concerning the relevance of historical context to her insights. Of course, the absence of translations makes it difficult to access the full diversity of critical work that has transformed approaches to travel writing. Nonetheless, in terms of relevant French-language criticism, the inclusion of thinkers such as Jean-Marc Moura and Jean-Xavier Ridon would have provided a more varied critical landscape. Soloman is a discerning reader and the contributions of the formal approach she develops here deserve to be more widely researched and acknowledged. The lingering question, however, is whether an over-reliance on formal analysis has the ability to shed any new light on the well-trodden path she chooses to follow.