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Reviewed by:
  • Genèses flaubertiennes
  • Anne Green
Genèses flaubertiennes. By Éric Le Calvez. (Faux Titre, 328). Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009. 314 pp., facs. Pb €63.00.

Flaubert’s painstaking process of composition is evident from the vast number of plans and drafts that survive for each of his novels. Their transcription and analysis has become something of a minor industry, and one that shows no signs of abating, as Eric Le Calvez shows in the état présent of Flaubertian manuscript studies with which he ends this book. His own contribution to that industry has been substantial, and most of the studies in Genèses flaubertiennes have already appeared elsewhere, sometimes in a slightly different form. Here his analyses of Flaubert’s manuscripts are organized into three sections: ‘Essais de microgénétique’, which concentrate on the various stages of a small fragment of text; ‘Pour une macrogénétique’, which follows a more narratalogical or stylistic line of enquiry; and ‘Entre micro et macrogénétique’, which combines both approaches. One of the more intriguing studies, ‘Genèse de la disparition’, examines the evolution of a short episode of L’Éducation sentimentale that was [End Page 357] omitted from the final version. An antiques dealer comes to the Dambreuse household offering to sell Madame Dambreuse what he asserts is a fine piece of imperial Chinese porcelain. She is sceptical, but Frédéric, displaying an unexpected expertise in the history of oriental ceramics, identifies the plate as having been made for the Imperial Palace in the early fifteenth century. Le Calvez shows that this little incident follows Flaubert’s usual pattern of composition: after a brief mention in a scenario, it was inserted into the narrative, expanded with the help of intertextual borrowings, then rewritten and given a final polish to remove repetitions and assonances. All the more surprising, then, that Flaubert jettisoned it. As Le Calvez points out, it would have posed problems of psychological consistency, since elsewhere Frédéric is represented as finding ceramics distinctly boring. Yet it portrays Madame Dambreuse as a collector of curiosités, and would have explained why Frédéric tries to dissuade her from buying Madame Arnoux’s casket (at a price that far exceeds that of the Ming plate she had deemed too expensive) with the words: ‘Mais ce n’est pas curieux.’ This seems to be the novel’s only trace of the forgotten fragment. In other chapters on passages from the manuscripts of Madame Bovary, Salammbô, Bouvard et Pécuchet, and Un cœur simple, Le Calvez repeatedly and meticulously demonstrates Flaubert’s principles of composition: the ordering of what were initially isolated elements; the proliferation and pruning of comparisons and metaphors; the attention paid to images, rhythm, and sequencing; the removal of redundant detail; the transposition of characteristics from one subject to another; and the elimination of assonance and repetition. Much of the interest of this book comes from diplomatic transcriptions of the manuscripts, and so it is a pity that the quality and size of their print varies so much. Some text is less than a millimetre high and, in the case of the manuscripts reproduced in Chapter 1, is printed against a grey background, making it almost as challenging to decipher as the greatly reduced facsimiles of Flaubert’s handwriting.

Anne Green
King’s College London


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pp. 357-358
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