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Endings in Autobiography: The Example of Enfance Sheila M. Bell BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS are crucial elements of structure in any form of narrative. In the autobiographical genre especially, they draw attention to narrative as construct. By definition, birth and death belong to the field of autobiography. By definition equally, they lie beyond the reach of the autobiographer. For existential events which are inaccessible, he has therefore to invent literary equivalents.1 Where birth and beginning are concerned, Stendhal gets over the ground with an allusion to Tristam Shandy: "après tant de considérations générales je vais naître." During the discussions, it is implied, a longdrawn -out birth process has been taking place. In the next sentence, he jumps straight to "Mon premier souvenir est d'avoir mordu à la joue ou au front Madame Pison du Galland, ma cousine." HB, when he is born, is born as fully-fledged monster: "Je me révoltai, je pouvais avoir quatre ans."2 Where death and ending are concerned, the autobiographer is equally dependent on sleight-of-hand. Graham Greene chooses the title of A Sort of Life on the grounds that "if one cannot close a book of memories on the deathbed, any conclusion must be arbitrary." He then finds a way of doing what he says he cannot do: he chooses, as an ending for that first volume, an experience which is the equivalent of death. The publication of his first novel was followed by years of failure of which he says, "Failure too is a kind of death."3 Enfance, its author assures us, is not an autobiography: "Je n'ai pas essayé d'écrire l'histoire de ma vie, parce que elle n'avait pas d'intérêt d'un point de vue littéraire."4 But it belongs—the opening phrases of the text itself make this explicit—to that sub-genre of autobiography, sometimes called the récit d'enfance (Jacques Lecarme5), the childhood (Richard Coe6—an abbreviation for what he refers to as "the clumsy Reminiscences of childhood and adolescence") or simply souvenirs d'enfance as the text itself has it. Where beginnings are concerned, genre and sub-genre join forces: Bruno Vercier's study of the "premier souvenir" refers us to Leiris and Loti; Lejeune's piece on the "récit de naissance" makes no generic distinctions.7 What of endings? Jacques Lecarme, in his attempt to define the genre, points to the difficulty of VOL. XXXVI, NO. 2 21 L'Esprit Créateur being at all precise as to where childhood—and therefore the récit d'enfance—may be said to end: "La répartition des âges, et les valeurs qui leur sont attachées, apparaissent comme infiniment muables et aléatoires."8 Where the childhood/récit d'enfance—on the model of its parent genre—presents the reader with "l'histoire d'une personnalité," the ending will be crucial, no matter what event is chosen as marker. According to Coe: "The Childhood ends with the full realization of the Self as an autonomous identity—the identity which will be that of the future writer or poet." We can leave HB in Milan, where his particular form of "la chasse au bonheur" has been revealed; we may even leave Poulou at the age of eleven launched on his "imposture nouvelle." For Coe, then, "The point at which the narrative ends... is essential to the formal structure of the Childhood."9 My intention is to consider the ending or endings of Enfance and the ways in which the ending or endings may be read in relation to the text as a whole. Much has already been written on Enfance and I should like at the outset to acknowledge my debt to many earlier commentators.10 By way of excuse for taking up the theme again, I would offer the comment of Philippe Lejeune: "Enfance provoque l'exégèse" (Récits 31). It is difficult to resist the lures of this particular text. Where do we say that Enfance ends? Suddenly, with the last paragraphs ? That answer is both self-evident and unsatisfactory. Its arbitrariness is made explicit in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 21-36
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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