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Masculin/Féminin Daniel Stern’s Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 Mary Rice IT HAS BEEN OVER TWENTY YEARS since Roland Barthes denied the essential distinction between history and fiction, signaling in “Le Discours de l’histoire,” 1the referential illusion of all texts, including history, a genre which had long been privileged as more objec­ tive or scientific than other, fictional narratives.2He thus opened history to the same sort of criticism to which other literary texts are subject. Yet even if we proceed from the standpoint that historical texts produce meaning through the same kind of discursive processes found in fictions, for example, realist narratives in which realistic effects (“effet du réel” 3) mask the text’s purely linguistic nature, we must still appreciate history as a separate genre, for there are important associations attached to this difference, not least among them the coupling of gender with genre that the split between history and fiction implies. This is particularly evident in the case of Marie d’Agoult’s Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 where the opposition between history and fiction subtends the entire project of a woman writing history and ultimately marks her work as a revolution­ ary act in its own right. In Histoire de la Révolution de 1848, Agoult, writing under the pen name Daniel Stern, claims a complete impartiality that enables her to dis­ appear from her history, and so ostensibly prefigures the stylistic efforts of Flaubert.4As befits an historian of the positivist era, she maintains that in her history the facts speak for themselves: “Fauteur disparaît complètement pour laisser parler les faits eux-mêmes” (II, 551). Stern’s objectivity, in contrast to Flaubert’s, is, however, at least in part cul­ turally imposed. According to her 1862 preface—the work was originally written in 1848 as events unfolded—the author’s impartial stance is pre­ determined by two conditions. First, as a noble connected to the elder branch of the Bourbons, she has no personal tie either to those deposed from power by the revolution nor to those who accede to it, since her family’s influence has long been eclipsed.5Second, and more important in the present context, Marie d’Agoult is excluded from political involve­ ment because she is a woman. She has little choice but to observe rather than participate, forced to assume a spectator’s distance from events. 84 Fa ll 1989 R ice This of course sets her apart from other contemporary historians such as Lamartine and Tocqueville who each played an active role in government during the Second Republic6; even a minor figure like Maxime Du Camp, who served in the National Guard, would have a greater personal stake in such a history.7Stern’s gender thus has substantial and appar­ ently salutary effects on her work. In electing history over fiction, Stern differs patently from her most obvious literary counterpart, George Sand, who, as Naomi Schor has noted, turns to the representation of an ideal world in response to the passive role accorded “women and poets.” 8Stern thereby enters what Nancy Armstrong, in her studies of the genre of women’s history, con­ siders the male domain (fiction being that of the female).9Crossing the boundaries of genre also means blurring the distinction between genders, which is a conscious choice on Stern’s part, as we shall see. Stern recognizes George Sand as an exceptional and importantfemi­ nine talent (“talent féminin,” II, 34, emphasis added), but reproaches the other writer her limited political activity, characterizing Sand as a mere agitator (“une influence purement agitatrice,” II, 35). While this charge could certainly be disputed,10Stern’s surprising lack of identifica­ tion with this personal and professional double is essential to her own self-definition. Ironically, her sketch of Aurore Dupin, the baronne Dudevant—and Stern does not neglect to mention the title—might apply equally as well to the comtesse d’Agoult herself: Une union ouvertement brisée, une existence pleine de fantaisie, une beauté singulière, un art accompli dans ses créations les plus spontanées donnèrent à la personne et aux oeuvres de George Sand...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 84-91
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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