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  • Le Parcours transatlantique du 'Journal' d'Eugénie de Guérin: un cas de transfert culturel (1850-1950)
  • Valerie Raoul
Le Parcours transatlantique du 'Journal' d'Eugénie de Guérin: un cas de transfert culturel (1850-1950). By Mathilde Kang. (French Studies of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, 25). Bern: Peter Lang, 2009. viii + 203 pp. Pb €34.40; £31.00; $53.95.

Mathilde Kang's account of the publishing history and cross-channel/transatlantic circulation of Eugénie de Guérin's diary (first published privately in 1855) provides a useful complement to existing studies of nineteenth-century women's diaries. Its phenomenal initial success in France was followed by numerous re-editions until 1914. Kang's research confirms the censorship exerted by Barbey d'Aurévilly, a close friend of Eugénie's brother Maurice, in collaboration with Catholic sponsors. While Maurice belonged to the freethinking and libertine coterie of dandy-poets exemplified by Barbey, Eugénie remained cloistered in the family chateau, finding solace in nature and religion when Maurice, her alter ego, died and her hopes of romance, travel, or a literary career of her own were dashed. Thanks to Barbey's expurgations, her diary was printed and widely distributed by Catholic presses and became required reading for young Catholic girls. While the influence of this diary in France has been well documented (by Philippe Lejeune and others), Kang turns her attention to the fortune of its translations into English, in both England and America, and its infiltration via New York into English Canada and Quebec. Her extensive perusal of catalogues, library holdings, and other collections reveals the central role of Catholic institutions, including bookstores, reviews, and scholastic prize-distribution, in disseminating religious propaganda. Surprisingly, this diary written in a specifically Catholic and francophone context also appealed to anglophone Victorian Protestant women who shared similar values. Its success in North America demonstrates the promotion of 'separate spheres' for women and depiction of ideal femininity as chaste, temperate, pietistic, and dying nobly from consumption. In Quebec in particular Eugénie was lauded as a national model to emulate. Several studies demonstrate the connections between her journal and Laure Conan's powerful psychological novel Angéline de Montbrun (1884). Kang has conducted thorough research into the local and international social networks behind the diary's success, and convincingly demonstrates the control the Church exerted in Quebec (without mentioning the role of the Index). While its popularity declined in the twentieth century, right-wing attempts to resist secularization and feminism led to re-editions as late as 1946. The most recent (1977) reprint of the 1934 Barthés edition, sponsored by the Catholic-oriented Association des Amis des Guérin, is still available for those whose interest in Eugénie lies in what is suppressed or conveyed between the lines of her text. Ironically, in North American reactions there is little mention of her brother Maurice, whose works were less orthodox. Whereas Barbey planned to publish Eugénie's journal to draw attention to Maurice's work, hinting at an almost incestuous closeness between them, her journal became a best-seller because of her supposed purity and maternal attitude. It is not quite clear where Kang stands ultimately in terms of judging the merits of the diary or the ethics of its distribution, and her [End Page 492] study is rather uneven in style. It directs our attention, however, to an important new approach to 'cultural transfer', and to the value of Eugénie's diary as an example of the manipulation of markets and questionable translation of values.

Valerie Raoul
University Of British Columbia, Vancouver


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