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  • Histoire, forme et sens en littérature: la Belgique francophone, I: L’Engendrement (1815–1914) par Marc Quaghebeur
  • Catherine Emerson
Histoire, forme et sens en littérature: la Belgique francophone, i: L’Engendrement (1815–1914). Par Marc Quaghebeur. (Documents pour l’histoire des francophonies, 40.) Bruxelles: Peter Lang, 2015. 430 pp.

This, the first in a projected multi-volume literary history of Belgian francophone writing, makes repeated reference to the material to be included in the following volumes. The result is a book that gives the impression of exceeding the constraints of its single volume. Chronologically, too, the material examined goes beyond the limits imposed on the book in its title. At the beginning, this examination of Belgian literature starts before the foundation of the Belgian state in 1830, with Marc Quaghebeur arguing that Belgian national sentiment genuinely preceded the creation of a separate nation state. At the other end of the period, 1914 does not mark a total rupture: Quaghebeur alludes to developments to come, and the final two chapters deal with works published in 1927 (Georges Eekhoud’s Magrice en Flandre) and 1937 (Maria van Rysselberghe’s Il y a quarante ans), The effect is to stress the continuity of Belgian francophone writing, even though the separate chapters examine very different texts. A note at the back of the volume tells the reader that the chapters arise from previously published articles, reworked to a greater or lesser extent for integration into this volume. As a result, each chapter can be read as a self-contained examination of a work or group of works. Quaghebeur revisits some of the authors and texts that have preoccupied him in the past (Charles De Coster’s Légende d’Ulenspiegel (1867), Maurice Maeterlinck, and Émile Verhaeren), choosing at times to focus on less-known texts by influential writers, as well as works that Quaghebeur considers neglected. The readings of A. Nirep’s Mystères du Congo (1887–88) and J.-H. Rosny’s Force mystérieuse (1914) are particularly notable for the light they throw on two fascinating texts and their literary and historical contexts. Key themes tie the chapters together, situating Belgian literature in French as the first consciously francophone literature, and returning to the relationship between Belgian and French cultural figures (Baudelaire and Mallarmé receive particular attention in this regard). This focus reflects the author’s scholarly interests in francophone writing, and in the literature of both Belgium and France. The Avantpropos refers to this and the volumes to follow as the ‘fruit d’une vie’ (p. 8), and the confidence with which the author handles his material reflects this. The back cover promises five volumes, of which detailed descriptions of the first three are given in Chapter 1. It is to be hoped that this enterprise is brought to a successful conclusion, as there are tantalizing promises of what is to come (an examination of Jacques Brel and of Michel de [End Page 627] Ghelderode’s disturbing masterpiece Le Soleil se couche stand out). Approaching this volume from cover to cover, readers will notice Quaghebeur’s recurrent turns of phrase. The individual chapters, though, present a series of detailed readings that build into more than the sum of their parts.

Catherine Emerson
National University of Ireland Galway


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pp. 627-628
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