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Reviewed by:
  • Genèse, censure, autocensure
  • Virginia Ricard
Catherine Viollet and Claire Bustarret, eds. Genèse, censure, autocensure. Paris: CNRS Editions, 2005. 234 pp. ISBN 2-271-06320-5, Euro30.

The first readers of Rousseau's Confessions in 1782 were apparently deprived of what were considered the most sensational passages, about a dozen pages that had been deleted precisely by those entrusted with the manuscript. The story (in three acts) of how this came about is told in this volume (published in the CNRS's "Text and Manuscript" series) by Philippe Lejeune. He denounces the false piety of those who look down their noses at this bowdlerization avant la lettre. Even today, he writes, Rousseau continues to shock not because of the content itself—salacious or otherwise—but simply because of the seriousness and thoroughness with which he carried out his self-assigned task. Today, expurgation simply takes other forms—anthologizing for example.

Nine of the ten essays brought together here examine the role played by censorship—and its corollary self-censorship—in the genesis of the works they analyze. Censorship comes in many varieties, ranging from simple deletion to wholesale destruction. However, rather than study its effects on the reception of a work, the authors of these essays have attempted to look at the ways censorship affects the creative process itself.

The first essay, written by a lawyer, outlines the legal limits of freedom of expression in France. Although both Ulysses and Lolita were published here some time before they found publishers elsewhere, Emmanuel Pierrat says that it is a truism among lawyers to say that if a book can be published in France, it can be published anywhere in the world. However that may be, many works are censored before they are published, and long before they enter the realm of the law. This is often the work of family. The monumental (19,000-page) journal written by Marie Bashkirtseff (1860–1884) was [End Page 759] reduced to two volumes (1887), and both content and form were altered for ideological as well as aesthetic reasons—for the most part by Marie Bashkirtseff 's mother. Another case of family interference with manuscripts—and one that is better known in the United States—is that of Emily Dickinson, analyzed here by Marta Werner and Martha Nell Smith. Emily Dickinson's manuscripts also bear the trace of self-censorship, which Werner sees as a result of pressure from the outside world.

Publishers also censor the works of writers. One essay describes how Jules Verne's publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel convinced him to modify the manuscript of Une Ville flottante, so that the novel would be in keeping with the didactic and progressive aims of his publishing house. Hetzel corrected, in particular, scenes he considered to be overly anti-American. Another interesting essay describes Violette Leduc's difficulties with Gallimard (in the person of Raymond Queneau) and its refusal to publish the first third of her novel Ravages. Along the way, we are given an unflattering portrait of Simone de Beauvoir, who played a decisive if ambiguous role in the partial publication of Violette Leduc's first book.

André Gide and his Retour d'URSS (1936), written after a two-month tour of the Soviet Union, is a case of self-censorship resulting from ideological pressure. Gide deleted a number of passages, including one criticizing the Soviet secret police, and an entire chapter. Examination of the manuscript reveals that the final published version of the book was far less critical of Soviet communism than the earliest versions, and that Gide continued to water down his opinions until just minutes before the book went to press. Gide immediately began to write an addendum, Retouches à mon Retour d'URSS, which, as of 1950, was published with the first book, thus modifying the nature of his presentation of the Soviet Union once again.

Two other instances are discussed in this volume. Antonia Fonyi makes a case for self-censorship in the Freudian sense of the term, i.e., as a form of repression—a rejection from the conscious mind of unacceptable ideas. She discusses the way this psychological mechanism influenced Maupassant's creative process in...


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