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  • La Production du descriptif: Exogenèse et endogenèse de L’Éducation sentimentale
  • Laurence M. Porter
Le Calvez, Éric. La Production du descriptif: Exogenèse et endogenèse de L’Éducation sentimentale. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002. Pp. 392. ISBN90-420-1380-x

Here Éric Le Calvez continues the defense and illustration of genetic criticism exemplified by his Flaubert topographe: L'Éducation sentimentale. Essai de poétique génétique (Rodopi, 1997). Poring over the 4,800 manuscript pages, variants, scenarios, and notes preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale (n.a.f. 17599–611), Le Calvez examines the successive states of 53 descriptive passages in Flaubert's novel through the critical lenses of stylistics and narratology. He provides diplomatic transcriptions of most of the passages he cites, often including variants. In his previous book, he sought to understand how descriptions arose and were developed within L'Éducation sentimentale, how their status varied within a context in flux, and what role they came to play in the whole. In the present work, he examines how the shifting relationships of a descriptive passage with its context may illuminate the creative process by throwing light on important theoretical issues such as Flaubert's treatment of the subjectivity of the characters, the representation of time, and the role of the author's personal observations and readings in the elaboration of his novel. Le Calvez addresses three main problems concerning supposed evidence of writerly intention: the use of manuscripts per se; the study of travel journals and reading notes used in Flaubert's preliminary documentation; and the principles governing the author's revision of texts already written. Le Calvez conscientiously avoids considering the final, published novel as a goal toward which all Flaubert's previous drafts inevitably tend (14–19). He often reveals Flaubert's vacillations among several possibilities, each motivated by valid but sometimes clashing principles of composition that do not necessarily form a consistent hierarchy of importance: avoiding distracting alliteration or assonance; deciding whether a particular description should be presented as timeless or in a dynamic relationship with virtual, narrative time; organizing the successive details of descriptions like a "traveling shot" in film, according to the successive perceptions of a strolling or inquisitive protagonist; juggling absent, implicit, or overt focalization (statements revealing who [End Page 199] perceives what, and how); and subtly contrasting the reality of what is described with the naïve amazement or inarticulate disillusionment of the protagonist.

Encountering this study, the non-specialist might derive the most enjoyment and enlightenment from the initial and concluding sections. The chapter "Principes méthodologiques: scénarios et brouillons" and the next eleven pages (21–45) would help anyone who studies an author's preliminary sketches and drafts. The ending of the chapter "Génétique scénarique: Méandres flaubertiens" (46–89), offers exemplary analyses of over twenty plot outlines for individual sections of L'Éducation sentimentale. Chapters 4–5 discuss both real and fictional intertexts (published sources), revealing, for example, that an initial source for a scene may end up being written out of it altogether, as happened with the guidebook passages that originally inspired Flaubert's account of Frédéric and Rosanette's visit to the château of Fontainebleau, and with the novel (the Goncourt's Manette Salomon) that initially provided details for describing the forest around it (177–253). The hypertext (links to other texts, provided by explicit mention or by allusion) "se constitue ainsi par une synthèse progressive de plusieurs textes, fusionnant leurs sens, divers voire opposés, pour établir un univers diégétique nouveau, dont la sémiosis paraît autonome et surtout inédite" (meaning "without precedent"; 253).

The dense, provocative discussions in Chapter 5 ("Endogenèse: génétique et narratologie," 255–73) respectfully question the assumption, frequent in narratology, that descriptions always represent a timeless pause in an ongoing narrative. When descriptions are focalized (attribute the perception of the scene to one of the characters), Le Calvez explains, they often involve a temporal progression during which the character encounters a new or altered scene and experiences it as an unfolding revelation. Le Calvez's following chapters illustrate how focalization may...


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