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Reviewed by:
  • Journal personnel et correspondance (1785–1939) ou les affinités electives
  • Mary Poteau-Tralie (bio)
Françoise Simonet-Tenant. Journal personnel et correspondance (1785–1939) ou les affinités electives. Louvain-La-Neuve: Academia Bruylant, 2009. 244 pp. ISBN: 978-2872099559, Euro29.

Many studies dedicated to personal journals and letters focus on the importance of these texts as legitimate forms of literary self-expression deserving of generic classification, or as important peripheral sources of historical and biographical information on established writers whose fame derives from their work within other accepted genres. Françoise Simonet-Tenant examines these two forms of textual self-expression within a chronologically defined interval: from the eighteenth century, specifically the 1785–1789 publication of Voltaire's correspondence—a date which coincides, as she argues, with the establishment of the culture of the intime (11)—and 1939, the date of the publication of a still-living author's journal, that of André Gide. As for the culture of the intime, Simonet-Tenant points out that before the eighteenth century most confessional acts were limited to spoken ones within the confines of the confessional box, but they begin to be laicized in the 1700s with the rise of confessional literature, such as Rousseau's Confessions. Likewise, the reconfiguration of physical spaces outside of a religious context in the eighteenth century, specifically the boudoir, and the invention and/or rise in use of objects—locks, keys, lockets, shutters, mirrors, hand-held watches—are [End Page 567] designed to privilege intimate private space and time. As for her choice of the ending date to her study, Simonet-Tenant argues that with the publication of Gide's journal, the intime becomes institutionalized. Gide edited his journal for public consumption and played an active role in how it was published. Furthermore, there is an interval between when an author writes his/her journal or letters and when they are edited and published, and thus we are still in the process of coming to terms with journals and letters from the World War II era on. Finally, Simonet-Tenant chooses this end point because a heightened self-awareness and use of psychological terminology become evident in the acts of letter and journal writing in the era of psychoanalysis, causing a profound shift in the relationship of the self to the writing of self in journal or letter form. Simonet-Tenant's main argument, however, centers on the idea that journals and letters, rather than existing as parallel forms of writing, can be seen as having many important points of convergence, a convergence that becomes more pronounced over this temporal interval.

Simonet-Tenant's study is divided into two parts: the first section presents an historical analysis of letters and journals, and the second section the poetics of these writing forms. Within these two sections, one finds numerous headings and subheadings, along with many excerpted examples from journals and letters to support each idea, some well known (e.g., letters from Balzac to Madame Hanska, correspondence between, and journals of, Catherine Pozzi and Valéry), and some from lesser known sources (e.g., letters between World War I soldiers and their families). In addition to the study of the rise of the culture de l'intime mentioned above, the first section's historical focus includes an examination of journal and letter publication, with numerous examples to support the many facets under consideration. This study is so rich in examples that one senses a difficulty in forming general conclusions based on the analysis of so many specific and unique texts. One also notices that the main thesis—that journals and letters have much in common—does not come into sharp focus in this first section. For example, Simonet-Tenant covers considerable historical ground using abundant textual references, including, to name a few items, a study of the liberty with which nineteenth-century editors altered manuscripts before publication, the rise in the acceptance of a dichotomy between the social "inauthentic" self and the "true" self manifested in journals and letters, the notion of journal and letter writing as a predominantly feminine pursuit, the surge in publication of both journals and correspondence at the turn...


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