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Book Reviews243 Nicholas White. The Familyin Crisis inLate Nineteenth-CenturyFrench Fiction. Cambridge University Press, 1999 (Cambridge Studies in French 57), 214 p. This study investigates how legal, medical and academic discourses on the family influenced its literary representation and how they contributed to the (de)construction of literary genres such as the novel of adultery. The study focuses on novels by Zola, Maupassant, Huysmans, Hennique, Bourget and Charpentier and sets forth two important dates crucial for the novels analyzed in this book, Flaubert's death in 1 880 and the Loi Naquet passed in 1 884. Madame Bovary and L ' Education sentimentale remained in many ways apoint de repère for the generation ofNaturalists who treated the topics of marital unhappiness and adultery. The Loi Naquet put an end to the indestructibility of marriage and marked a paradigmatic shift in the conceptualization ofthe family. Its impact was not merely social as White points out; for Zola and other Naturalists were aware ofits literary ramifications. For example, Zola's satirical article "Ie divorce et la littérature" (Le Figaro, 1881) reveals concern that the impending divorce law might cause the disappearance of fashionable subjects such as adultery and crimes passionnels. Despite Zola's concerns these subject matters persisted well into the twentieth century. Indeed the family novels or "narratives ofdomestic disorder," as White labels them, continue to thematize adultery, illegitimacy, consanguinity, and incest , and include the most conspicuous sign of crisis in French/w de siècle family lives, divorce. In the first chapters ofhis book, White aptly analyzes the motifofadultery, so frequently chosen by Naturalists to illustrate the shortcomings of the bourgeois family and the hypocritical values of the bourgeois class. While most novels of adultery focus on the adulteress, White considers novels ofadultery featuring the seducer as the hero of the story: Octave Mouret in Pot-Bouille and Georges Duroy in Bel-Ami. According to White, such novels are not about women leaving the domestic realm but about men invading it (51). He convincingly reveals the parallels between the entrepreneur and the Don Juan type. The promiscuous male hero, unlike his female counterpart, can escape the exclusively sexual plot by dominating the circulation ofcultural, sexual and ultimately also financial capital. In Chapter 4 of his book White presents the closing text in the RougonMacquart series, Le Docteur Pascal, focusing on incest, which he reads as a way to control the genetic pool. White suggests that "7_,e Docteur Pascal is both a provisional termination as a principle ofa narrative structure and biological regeneration at odds with these aesthetic imperatives of closure" (98). In Le Docteur Pascal incest is pairedwith a cult offertility, mirroring the pronatalistic politics of the Third Republic, yet this positive representation of incest is not unbroken in Zola's oeuvre, where it also functions as a means to illustrate degeneration (La Curée, Paris) and brutality (La Terre). Another text featuring incest and decadence— analyzed in the fifth chapter — is Huysmans' A Rebours, a novel which bids 'farewell to the family and its fiction' (128). The incestuous, consanguineous practices of the Des Esseintes lead to sterility and appear to announce thefin de lafamille as a biological and 244Women in French Studies social construct (128). Still, White develops how this novel also functions as a response to Zola, the Patriarch ofFrench Naturalism. In Chapter 6, White exposes the sexual and the political anologies in two Naturalist novels: Hennique's Un accident de M. Hebert and Zola's Paris. Hennique's text illustrates the corrosive forces ofadultery amongst the bourgeoisie , with its self-indulgent behavior and its insensitivity to the conditions and concerns of the lower classes, while Zola's text couples the implosion of the decadent aristocracy through incest and the explosions of the anarchist movement infin de siècle Paris. The book ends with two diametrically opposed texts, Bourget's Un Divorce and Charpentier's Une Honnête Femme. Un Divorce rejects the motifof adultery as trivial and underscores the dilapidating consequences of divorce on each family member while simultaneously reasserting traditional values. Une Honnête Femme focuses on female desire and "sex for pleasure rather than for reproduction " (186). This is an important literary and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-5486
Print ISSN
1077-825x
Pages
pp. 243-244
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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