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Reviewed by:
  • Nouvelles françaises du dix-neuvième siècle
  • ÉMile J. Talbot
Allan H. Pasco , ed. Nouvelles françaises du dix-neuvième siècle. Charlottesville, VA: Rookwood Press, 2006. Pp. 487.

Allan H. Pasco, a seasoned and informed critic of short fiction, has generously assembled an anthology of twenty-six nineteenth-century short stories, each preceded by a solid introduction and a selective bibliography. Moreover, Professor Pasco introduces the volume with a substantial, self-standing theoretical essay, "Qu'est-ce que la nouvelle?," that is both accessible to students and informative for instructors. The essay's strength devolves from Pasco's conjoining of a broad knowledge of the history and form of the genre, not only in France, but also elsewhere in Europe, with genre theory, with which he is totally familiar and which he amply references. Fully aware of the pitfalls that accompany attempts at defining genres, especially the dangers of reductivity, he provides a balanced assessment of the definitional difficulties attendant to the short story and carefully analyses some of its key components, such as literarity, fictionality, language, and brevity. Additionally, he is attentive to questions of reader expectations, and how these effect how one reads a short story.

The selections necessarily contain some familiar pieces by Chateaubriand, Balzac, Stendhal, Mérimée, Hugo, Flaubert, Maupassant, Barbey d'Aurevilly, and Zola, stories that are incontournables because they are truly accomplishments in the genre and continue to delight. Some of these authors are represented by multiple texts. Yet the volume is original in its generous offering of stories that are less familiar and less readily available. Among these are Madame de Staël's "Mizra," a touching tale of competing generosities set in Senegal; Vivant Denon's portrayal of libertine games of deception that carry the flavor of the time of its initial writing in 1777; Marceline Desbordes-Valmore's "L'Inconnue," an interesting narrative of love and death that is at once stylistically lean and poetic; and Sand's remarkable account of Mouny-Robin, a gentle miller and reputed sorcerer, that is an excellent example of the fantastic genre. Most of the less familiar pieces, however, date from the second half of the century: Huysmans's relation of the non-adventures of the dysphoric bachelor, Folantin; Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's very brief "L'Enjeu," more focused on character than on narration, and his "La Torture par l'espérance," a quirky tale of the Spanish Inquisition; Rachilde's "La Dent," a whimsical depiction of a pious woman who panics at the loss of a tooth, and her "La Panthère," a grim story of a female panther who is mistreated and left to die in a cage for having refused to devour a Christian in the arena, but who subsequently devours the very person who has come to rescue her; and Marcel Schwob's "Le Roi au masque d'or," an engaging tale of appearances and realities, deception and human need, that illustrates well the symbolist esthetics of the end of the century. The inclusion of these lesser-known pieces allows the reader a representative and accurate sense of short story production during its golden age in France. As such, it serves the genre very well.

ÉMile J. Talbot
University of Illinois, Urbana


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