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Lélia and the Failures of Allegory Naomi Schor Allegories are always ethical . . . (Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading) I N RETREAT FROM THE SEXUAL ARENA which has been for her the site of extreme sensual frustration and affective deprivation, Lélia seeks refuge in the solitude of “un vaste monastère abandonné et à demi renversé par les orages de la révolution.” 1There she attempts to achieve tranquility through an ascetic regime “de résignation et de ponctualité” (179). But, as she watches the obligatory romantic sunset, it becomes apparent that her effort to tame her demons has resulted in failure: Parfois, j’allais regarder le coucher du soleil du haut d’une terrasse à demi écroulée, dont une partie s’élevait encore entourée et comme portée par ces sculptures monstrueuses dont le catholicisme revêtait jadis les lieux consacrés au culte. Au-dessus de moi, ces bizarres allégories allongeaient leurs têtes noircies par le temps et semblaient comme moi se pencher vers la plaine pour regarder silencieusement couler les flots, les siècles, et les générations. Ces guivres couvertes d’écailles, ces lézards au tronc hideux, ces chimères pleines d’angoisses, tous ces emblèmes du péché, de l’illusion et de la souffrance, vivaient avec moi d’une vie fatale, inerte, indestructible... Et, en contemplant leurs corps engagés dans ces immenses masses de pierre que ni la main des hommes, ni celle du temps n’avaient pu ébranler, je m’identifiais avec ces images d’une lutte éternelle entre la douleur et la nécessité, entre la rage et l’impuissance. (181-82; emphasis added) Lélia, a woman torn between rage and a quite literal sexual im­ potence, a passionate woman of stone, looks at the “monstrous sculp­ tures” and sees her own torments reflected in these representations. The word she uses to describe this process is “identifies.” Now, normally when we speak of identification in literary criticism, we refer to a rela­ tionship of perceived similarity between a reader and a character in a novel, play or film; identification is an extreme (and little understood) form of reader response. The identification of Lélia with the monstrous sculptures is, however, of a different order: what we have is a case of intratextual identification, a fictional character who identifies not as we might expect with another fictional protagonist, but with fictive inani­ mate sculptures. The relationship of perceived similarity between Lélia and the gargoyles could be described as metaphorical (as well of course 76 Fa ll 1989 SCHOR as metonymic, since the figures with which she identifies are contiguous to her person). But these figures themselves are caught up in another relationship of metaphoricity, allegory. The figures Lélia identifies with are emblems for the abstract notions, “sin, illusion, and suffering.” Metaphor on metaphor, Lélia by means of her identification with the gargoyles is then also a “bizarre allegory.” What is a bizarre allegory? Are all allegories bizarre? In what sense can we speak of Sand’s scan­ dalous novel Lélia as a bizarre allegory? Is the scandal of Lélia a scandal of genre rather than of gender? Or are the two in some manner that remains to be determined interrelated? On several occasions Sand recognized that her unclassifiable novelpoem was a problematic, if not bizarre piece of writing. Speaking of Lélia in Histoire de ma Vie, Sand writes: “C’est, je crois, un livre qui n’a pas le sens commun au point de vue de l’art.” 2In the “Preface” to the revised 1839 Lélia, Sand spells out the aspects of her work that make her allegorical work so bizarre: Lélia a été et reste dans ma pensée un essai poétique, un roman fantasque, où les per­ sonnages ne sont ni complètement réels, comme l’ont voulu les amateurs exclusifs d’analyse de moeurs, ni complètement allégoriques, comme l’ont jugé quelques esprits syn­ thétiques... (350) Initially what makes of Lélia a bizarre, not to say a failed allegory is that in it Sand fails to respect the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 76-83
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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