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Reviewed by:
  • “Hugo et la chimère.”
  • Kathryn M. Grossman
Viegnes, Michel, ed. “Hugo et la chimère.” Recherches & Travaux 62. Revue de l’UFR de Lettres Classiques et Modernes. Grenoble: ELLUG (Éditions littéraires et linguistiques de l’université de Grenoble), 2003. Pp. 188. ISBN2951825412

One of the many volumes associated with l'année Hugo – the bicentenary celebration of Victor Hugo's birth in 1802 – this collection of essays from the 2002 colloquium at the Université Stendhal on "Construire une chimère" explores "la figure de la chimère, figure mythologique de l'hybride et matrice féconde de l'imaginaire, de l'Antiquité à nos jours" (5), both in the writer's own work and in the works of other nineteenth- and twentieth-century French authors. The volume also includes an article on biological chimeras, as well as an illustrated overview of the exhibit held at the Médiathèque publique & universitaire de Valence in conjunction with the colloquium. In this way, Hugo's rich meditations in Promontorium Somnii (1863) on "le chimérisme," that is, on our capacity for fabrication, give rise to a mosaic of reflections on his "actualité toujours plus évidente" (5). This topic is potentially a fertile area for interdisciplinary investigation.

In her liminal presentation of the core notion of chimérisme, Françoise Chenet-Faugeras deftly orients the reader with regard to Hugo's focus on "la construction du réel" (12) through dreams and imagination alike. Next comes an overview of the related drawings and works displayed in the médiathèque (Johann Berti and Vincent Chaballier), followed by eleven essays that return primarily to literary subjects in a loosely organized manner: a reading of the prisoner's dream in Le Dernier Jour d'un condamné (Anne Ubersfeld); a study of Nerval's "femmes-monstres" in Les Chimères (Chiwaki Shinoda); four articles (out of chronological order) on Les Travailleurs de la mer (Pierre Laforgue), L'Homme qui rit (Judith Wulf, Dominique Massonnaud), and Les Misérables (Véronique Dufief-Sanchez); three (again embracing a mixed chronology) on Hugo's theatre in exile (Christian Chelebourg), his problematics of thought (Jean Maurel), and his voyages (Philippe Antoine); and two on Hugo's contemporaneity (Reynald André Chalard) and on his intertextual relations with Queneau (Jean-Marie Pochet). The volume concludes with an essay on natural, theoretical, and genetically engineered chimeras (Philippe Descamps). [End Page 187]

The organizational meanderings of the collection – not particularly surprising in conference proceedings – are emblematic, however, of a more serious weakness: the unevenness of the proceedings themselves. Thus, whereas Chelebourg's provocative study of "La Femme" in Le Théâtre en liberté, takes into account a considerable range of criticism, the reader might well be disappointed by the generally low level of engagement in the volume not only with current Hugo scholarship, but also with the wider critical field. Though perhaps occasioned by the pressure of publication deadlines, one can only regret that this set of highly stimulating conference papers has not been uniformly converted into a collection of scholarly articles. For example, Ubersfeld's brilliant interpretation of the condemned man's dream contains not a single footnote, although she mentions several other critics in passing; Laforgue cites only himself, in addition to the primary sources, in his otherwise stimulating account of Hugo's attempts in Les Travailleurs to "percer l'énigme de l'être" (49), and Wulf likewise fails to engage with other Hugo scholars; Maurel refers only to a 1970 essay by Pierre Albouy in his treatment of Hugo's transgression of limits within the context of Kant's aesthetics of the sublime; and Dufief-Sanchez notes one colleague's 1985 article on Les Travailleurs de la mer in her analysis of Hugo's "pédagogie poétique de l'imagination" (85) in Les Misérables, but no works from the cornucopia of recent studies on the novel (or on anything else, for that matter). It is a shame that so many opportunities for intellectual dialogue outside the frame of the colloquium were missed in the process of publishing the proceedings. Naomi Schor's George Sand and Idealism (1993), for instance, might have served as a perfect...


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