Ecritures du moi et idéologies chez les romancières francophones
This second volume of LINCOM Studies in Language and Literature focuses on four female Francophone novelists who base their works on the personal and are inspired by real-life events to make a difference through their writing. Delphine examines the autobiographical dimensions in eight ideological novels by Claire Etcherelli (from France), Gabrielle Roy (from Canada), and Were Were Liking and Delphine Zanga Tsogo (both from Cameroon). Her study "des témoignages de la vie, de l'expérience [des] auteures" (105) is nonetheless superficial. Because it lacks critical substance, the reader who is serious about biographical research will likely find it of limited use.
To her credit, Delphine convincingly demonstrates in the first four chapters that parallels do exist between the lives of the authors she studies and their various narrators. Elise ou la vraie vie, "la paraphrase d'une vie" (15), [End Page 661] is Etcherelli's thinly veiled firsthand exposé of conditions of Renault factory workers; the novel also foregrounds a love affair that is marred by interracial conflict. Ces enfants de ma vie is the pseudo-fictional account by Roy, "un être flou qui se constitue à travers l'écriture" (53), of her experiences teaching in an all-boys school. The works Elle sera de jaspe et de corail, L'Amour-Cent-Vies, and Orphée DAFRIC nicely showcase Liking's hallmark use of the first-person plural "we" to exemplify shared life experiences and political engagement in Liking's native Cameroon. And in her text, Vies de femmes, former Cameroonian Minister of Social Affairs Tsogo exposes the myriad problems she and other African women typically face in a society run by men.
Having discussed each author individually, Delphine turns her attention in the remaining three chapters, "Le combat contre la marginalisation," "L'appel à la tolerance," and "Une vision idéaliste et optimiste de l'homme," to consider how each novelist grapples in her writing with the social and natural inequalities deriving from the struggle to survive of every individual, group, class, and society: "elles veulent attirer l'attention du monde contemporaine [sic] sur ce problème qui tend à prendre de l'ampleur sur la race humaine. Elles montrent à quel point la discrimination inter groupes [sic] à des niveaux très variés sont inévitables et constituent l'expression même de l'existence" (123).
Each novelist admittedly downplays the personal out of autobiographical "discretion" (173), couching her so-called "écriture du moi" and respective ideological stance—whether against sexism, ageism, or racism—in the fictional: "Le texte biographique, lorsqu'il intègre la fiction, peut voiler l'écriture de l'intimité. Les romans choisis . . . ne sont pas déclarés par l'auteure, ou même par l'éditeur comme étant des biographies" (105). But this is already well rehearsed, if not belabored, by Delphine.
Readers surely want to know what about these works makes them distinctive. Can these novels that Delphine deems both autobiographical and ideological, "[qui] apparaissent plus ou moins comme des récits autobiographiques de leur auteur, des témoignages au service d'une idéologie humaniste" (9), "ne se limit[ant] pas au seul rôle de témoignage" (105), somehow be differentiated from other prose works with similar characteristics? And what light, if any, might the corpus Delphine has chosen to examine shed on (auto)biographical studies?
Delphine comes closest to addressing critically substantive questions such as these in her second chapter, "Gabrielle Roy et le métier d'enseignant." Yet she wastes the opportunity. Relying on a reductive 2002 Magazine littéraire article, she suggests—and, it should be noted, only in passing—that Roy's work is more autofictional than autobiographical. In the process, Delphine [End Page 662] also reveals in an embarrassing typographical error just how unfamiliar she is with the key (auto)biographical theorists that should have grounded her study: "Mais ici, nous ne sommes plus à l'époque de Saint-Augustin, de Montaigne, de Pascal ou de Rousseau, où l'écrivain ose reveler dans son intimité et ses secrets. L'écrivain moderne 'Brouille les cartes, pratique un subtil dosage de mensonge et de vérité, et remanie le matériau de sa propre vie. L'ultime avatar de cette pratique est l'auto fiction [sic], cette mise en fiction de la vie personnelle, telle que Serge Dobrovsky [sic] l'inaugura à la fin des années 70'" (50).
That she misspells Doubrovsky's name and never mentions the work of Philippe Lejeune—which is essential to understanding the autobiographical "pact" underpinning what it would seem Delphine really wants to show—is telling. Yet Delphine's work not only lacks depth. It is marred by additional typographical errors and several troubling inconsistencies. Why vacillate, as she does for example, between the use of "auteure" (78) and "auteur" (9), "écrivaine" (138) and "écrivain" (12)? While an occasional error of agreement can certainly be forgiven, Delphine's inconsistent capitalization of Liking's middle name—"Were Were Liking" (170), "Were were Liking" (78), for instance—is distracting and hard to overlook.
Delphine's copy editors apparently did not seriously reread the manuscript before publishing it. Do the few redeeming features of her simplistic work warrant even a first read by others? Probably not.
Brian Gordon Kennelly is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.