Nineteenth Century French Studies 32.3 & 4 (2004) 412-413
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Largely influenced by Michael Riffaterre's theories of intertextuality, Ippolito's study examines the role of the reader's narrative memory of Flaubert's work in a non-linear reading. He proposes the notion of the "dessous" (the implicit, or more precisely, what lies underneath the surface) in order to address the contrast between a linear (lectio) plot-oriented reading of the text and the more desired non-linear (meditatio) reading which requries a consideration of echoes within the text, those between various Flaubertian works and finally those between Flaubert's narratives and others. This approach permits the reader to perceive irony as an "awareness of the significance that lies beyond 'superficial' meaning" (4).
Ippolito's first chapter clearly defines his term narrative memory. First, the text presupposes previous intertext(s). Second, linear reading is not central to the reading process. Third, a reading involving narrative memory is necessarily a retrospective reading seeking the significance of the text. Thus, such a reading must deal with implicit elements of the work. Once Ippolito has defined reading, he turns to misreading and, more interestingly, to the fact that most of Flaubert's characters are represented as poor readers. While intriguing, his notion of (mis)reading "en duo" remains less convincing, in part because Ippolito's establishment of the specific pairs of readers seems arbitrary at times. Too many other misreaders (e.g., Charles or Homais) interfere with the initial pairs he establishes. This second chapter, none-theless, helps us to better understand Flaubert's representation of stereotypes and commonplaces as well as some fascinating intertextual links. Although Ippolito states that the "real subject" of Bouvard et Pécuchet is misreading, other critical work has better shown the subtleties of Bouvard's and Pécuchet's misreading and this study would benefit from consulting them.
The following section of Ippolito considers how the "preconstructed" (those commonplaces around which many of Flaubert's later works center) effect the reader's memory of the text. Chapter 5 examines extended images such as the bonnet and that of "women as flower" in Madame Bovary, L'Education sentimentale and Bouvard et Pécuchet. The specific images and 'subtexts' he chooses lead to a more semiotic reading according to Ippolito and should thus encourage the reader to focus more on the implicit elements of Flaubert's texts, thus enhancing narrative memory. [End Page 412] Certainly Ippolito's emphasis on the implied "dessous" of every text and the notion of narrative memory prove fruitful in further elucidating a more nuanced reading of Flaubert. His close readings provide support for the importance of intertextual connections throughout Flaubert's writings. Nonetheless, Ippolito is preaching to the converted - that is, his audience already fully accepts the importance of a not simply linear reading of Flaubert's works but rather one that is more richly layered. Such readings must consider the implicit in order to elucidate Flaubert's extensive irony and many critics have productively mined this territory. Ippolito's study would benefit from a greater inclusion of these critical studies.
E. Nicole Meyer