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Reviewed by:
  • Journal personnel et correspondance (1785-1939) ou les affinités électives
  • Sam Ferguson
Journal personnel et correspondance (1785-1939) ou les affinités électives. By Françoise Simonet-Tenant. (Au cœur des textes, 18). Louvain-la-Neuve: Academia-Bruylant, 2009. 244 pp. Pb €29.00.

Françoise Simonet-Tenant's claim that diaries and letters possess the affinités électivesof the title does not seem particularly contentious at a time when there is active critical interest in both forms, as demonstrated by the recent work on diaries by Philippe Lejeune, Michel Braud, and Simonet-Tenant herself, among others, and the publication of the Gide-Valéry and Renan correspondence (reviewed, respectively, in FS, 64 (2010), 101-02; and 63 (2009), 220-22). Yet it does seem to be a relatively untried line of enquiry, and proves to be a very effective one in this case. The timescale of the book is set by the limits of the publication of Voltaire's Œuvres complètes (including correspondence) from 1785 and by the publication of Gide's Journal in 1939, but these act as rather arbitrary markers for a period defined by a certain approach to the intime that emerged in the second half of the eighteenth century and underwent another fundamental change after the Second World War, which is attributed to the telephone and the popularization of Freudian psychology. The first half of the book is devoted to the 'histoire d'imbrication' (p. 221) of letters and diaries in this period. Although the salient points of this history are by now familiar (the gradual publication in the nineteenth century of, first, letters, then diaries; the critical recognition of diaries in the 1880s following the publication of Amiel, Bashkirtseff, and the Goncourts; the anthumous publication of écrits intimes in the interwar years), Simonet-Tenant nuances the [End Page 519] established history with readings from a broad range of texts, and pays particular attention to some areas that have so far been neglected. She gives considerable weight to Eugénie de Guérin's Journal et lettres (1862) and Mme Craven's Récit d'une soeur (1866), both of which enjoyed great commercial success, and to the fictional models for the diary writing of young women (drawing on Lejeune's 1993 study on this subject, Le Moi des demoiselles). The second half of the book is a study of the convergences poétiques of the diary and the letter. This includes interesting reflections on their materiality, the problems of reading and publishing texts that originally served a private purpose, the permutations of le moi et l'autre, and the propensity of both forms to metadiscourse. However, a clearer theoretical framework would have been useful for developing some of these issues further (the 'Théorie littéraire' section of the bibliography is a small group of works mentioned only in passing), and some of the discussion seems to belong more to literary history than to poetics. Nonetheless, the analysis in this section of hybrid works that share features of diaries and letters (including texts written by George Sand, Clara and Robert Schumann, Catherine Pozzi, and Madeleine Rondeaux) is perhaps the strongest part of the book and clearly demonstrates the advantage of considering the two forms alongside each other. A final, if minor, point worth mentioning: given the large number of texts and authors cited, an index would be helpful for finding them.

Sam Ferguson
New College, Oxford


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pp. 519-520
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