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  • James Joyce and the Nineteenth-Century French Novel
  • Brian Cosgrove
Fordham, Finn, and Rita Sakr, eds. James Joyce and the Nineteenth-Century French Novel. European Joyce Studies 19. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 2011. Pp. 190. ISBN: 978-90-420-3290-3

Given Joyce's admiration for Flaubert, it comes as no surprise that more attention here is devoted to the influence of Flaubert on Joyce than to that of any other nineteenth-century French novelist. Half of the ten essays deal with Flaubert; Balzac makes a welcome appearance in two; and one each is given over to Dumas père, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola.

Ezra Pound lost no time in casting Joyce in a Flaubertian mould, in his comments on what became Joyce's first published work of fiction, the short stories in Dubliners. Paul Jones, then, is fully justified seeking to establish intertextual affinities between Joyce's "The Dead" and Flaubert's short story, "La Légende de saint Julien l'Hospitalier". He further enriches his argument by throwing George Moore's novel, Vain Fortune, into the mix. The theme of "hospitality", traditionally associated with Joyce's short story, is here neatly extended to include Joyce's "intellectual hospitality" to "influences such as the nineteenth-century French novel" (158). Valérie Bénéjam, taking her cue from the oblique presentation Emma's adultery in Madame Bovary, argues persuasively that in dealing with Molly's adulterous liaison in Ulysses, Joyce likewise maintains the reader's interest "because—in true Flaubertian fashion—nothing is ever clearly told" (83). Robert Baines casts his net even wider in undertaking a consideration of how St. Anthony in Flaubert's La Tentation de Saint Antoine relates to the St. Patrick of the final chapter of Finnegans Wake; while Matthew Creasy, pursuing the comparisons between Joyce's "Ithaca" episode in Ulysses the gardening projects of Flaubert's eponymous characters in Bouvard et Pécuchet, perhaps runs the risk of succumbing [End Page 190] to the same obsession with detail that appears in parodic guise in his chosen texts. He is at his most insightful in highlighting "the futility of knowledge" (121), the way in which both texts reveal "the extent to which attempts at knowing are bound by the limits of what Finnegans Wake calls 'intermisunderstanding minds' . . . " (127).

The most important of the essays on Flaubert is that by Scarlett Baron, not least because it provides a foretaste of her book "Strandentwining Cable": Joyce, Flaubert and Intertextuality (due out in late 2011). The last book-length study of Flaubert's influence on Joyce appeared some forty years ago: Richard K. Cross's Flaubert and Joyce: The Rite of Fiction (1971). The emphasis on intertextuality in the titles both of Baron's essay and her book suggests a consistent orientation; and Paul Jones in his essay in this collection commends Baron for re-introducing the notion of "close textual attention" (148). Much depends, however, on how far Baron wishes to carry the implications of her contention that both Joyce and Flaubert saw language as "a public domain from which all authors both knowingly and unknowingly draw" (136). It is a little alarming to read that in preparatory notebooks for what became Finnegans Wake the aim "seems to have consisted entirely [italics added] of the accumulation of a stockpile of words and phrases for redistribution across Work in Progress" (139). In Joseph Heller's Good as Gold, Gold's stepmother is knitting "an endless strip of something bulky", but nobody can guess the telos of all this activity. Eventually Gold realizes that she is simply "knitting knitting" (and "knitting it endlessly"—an interminable "work in progress"). Among writers and critics, there are those who are more willing than others to accept that the energy of writers is rightly expended in a similarly plenitudinous act of "writing writing".

Of the remaining essays, the most welcome are those on Joyce and Balzac. As Benoit Tadié suggests, Balzac's influence on anglophone literature has been "largely obscured" by that of Flaubert and others (31). Tadié's essay is alert and informed, but suffers from the discrepancy in scale between Balzac's Le Père Goriot and Joyce...


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