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  • Prosper Mérimée le sang et la chair: une poétique du sujet
  • Corry Cropper
Chelebourg, Christian. Prosper Mérimée le sang et la chair: une poétique du sujet. Paris: Lettres Modernes Minard, 2003. Pp. 158. ISBN2256904741

Prosper Mérimée le sang et la chair: une poétique du sujet, marks the first number devoted to Mérimée in the Archives des lettres modernes series since Eric Gans' 1972 Un Pari contre l'histoire. In his book, Chelebourg analyzes two themes that punctuate Mérimée's works and have long merited a book-length study: violence and sexuality. He examines various incarnations of these themes in Mérimée's fiction and attempts [End Page 192] to explain them based on a theory of the sujet. This subject is "un être de langage" whose essence can be extracted from "toutes les productions imputables à l'imaginaire du sujet" – from fiction to correspondence to manuscripts – and whose objective is to repair "une 'difficulté d'être' par le jeu sur les signifiants" (8 – here and throughout, all italics within quotes are Chelebourg's). In other words, Mérimée's subject depicts violence and sexuality as he does, "dans le but de compenser les traumatismes infligés à l'image du moi" (9).

Chelebourg's study of violence in Mérimée is without a doubt this book's most important contribution to Mérimée studies. He begins by situating Mérimée's representation of violence in the context of Classsical/Romanatic debate of the early nineteenth century, its graphic description antithetical to the Classical rules of bienséance. Chelebourg further points to the lack of metaphors in Mérimée's language and his affinity for the "sens propre" as an indication of his contempt for Classical conventions. Violence is shown brutally – it is neither romanticized nor hidden off-stage. At times, the descriptions of violence serve to reduce the human body to a mere object, to transform "les victimes en simples choses" (55). Indeed, violence is at the center of nearly all Mérimée's narratives, with every plot-twist leading to a culminating violent act.

To explain the abundant violence, Chelebourg suggests that "le sujet mériméen ne fait . . . rien d'autre que de se rassurer sur sa 'tranquillité' d'homme du monde" (39). He continues: "Mérimée, au fond, paraît bien être plus friand de modernité parisienne que son inspiration ne le laisse paraître à première vue: friand, mais inquiet et toujours forcé de se rasséréner" (39). Mériméen violence, then, would be nothing more than a way to reassure the subject, through contrast, that he is safe and isolated from violence in Paris (which in the nineteenth century he hardly is).

But Chelebourg does offer another explanation. In the most developed argument of the first half of his study, he argues that Mérimée depicts violence in order to assert his own virility, offended as it was in 1823 when "Mérimée s'était vu réformer par le conseil de révision pour 'faiblesse de constitution'" (68). As a result, the only way to prove he is a man is to demonstrate "sa virilité . . . par la cruauté de sa plume" (69).

The second half of the book deals with "la chair." Beginning with an outstanding reading of La Double Méprise, Chelebourg looks at various problems of the flesh: sexuality, love, desire, temptation, adultery, defloration, etc. There are persuasive moments in this analysis, particularly the readings of Carmen and Tamango. But ultimately, Chelebourg explains that the reason Mérimée depicts sexuality as he does – as was the case with violence – is to compensate for fears and failings on his part. "Mérimée a peiné à être un homme. Sa conception de l'amour est façonnée par ces vexations, ces atteintes à l'image du moi" (80). Or elsewhere: "Les blessures intimes sont réparées par un déplacement de la relation amoureuse sur le terrain de cet esprit dont les caractéristiques principales sont la littérature, la vie de salon et l'érudition...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1536-0172
Print ISSN
0146-7891
Pages
pp. 192-194
Launched on MUSE
2005-11-14
Open Access
No
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