Nineteenth Century French Studies 32.3 & 4 (2004) 382-386
[Access article in PDF]
In setting the boundaries of her study, Laure Lévêque focuses on the novel in the period one might define as the French Revolution from its initial moment in 1789 to the culminating revolution of 1848 leading to the Second Empire. Her title plays on two definitions of "Histoire/histoire."Histoire with a capital letter ("désignant les événements dans leur déroulement chronologique") is a background against which the lower case histoire ("référant aux particularisations dont l'Histoire fait l'objet") of the roman plays. Lévêque's goal is "analyser la mise en texte de l'Histoire et de [End Page 382] l'idéologie au moyen d'une pragmatique de discours, dans un univers Romanesque" from 1789-1848. By her own account her work derives from two theoretical meth-odologies, structuralism and sociological criticism. Expressing an awareness of the dangers of a purely structural or sociological analysis, Ms. Lévêque wishes to incorporate in her study the perspective of literary history. In analyzing the body of novels in the early Romantic period, she notes that "l'Histoire" in these texts becomes "consubstantielle du héros." Not that the novel becomes a doubling of history or a narrative through which one might see historical reality as if through the novelist's perspective, rather the novel becomes the "production d'un nouveau rapport à ce réel," a new relationship which the Revolution had made necessary. In the numerous first-name titles Lévêque sees "d'emblée la nouveauté du rapport au sujet, du moi au monde...." To understand these novels one must evaluate the moi in this revolutionary world in gestation, disappointed in the promises of the old continent and enticed by the dream of a new world. The major structure of these novels is based on "un héros dans un tragique de l'Histoire," a hero dispossessed and deprived of his normal functions in life, incapable of acting in his new environment. This hero must find a tie to the old history and live among the new bourgeois world of merchants or die. In these foreign surroundings literature becomes the only possible language and means of action among these aristocratic heroes. In the novels of the 1830s and 1840s, which seek to hold up a mirror to society, one sees portrayed the miserable failure of the aristocracy in leaving its own values and in espousing those of the bourgeoisie. And where there was success, it had no progeny (the aristocratic world thinking of lineage and succession) for, as Ms. Lévêque remarks, it took time for "la bâtardise" to gain its hold and triumph as she sees it in present-day society. Ms. Lévêque expresses her desire to find a "grammaire" and a "sémantique" of these novels that would not tie her to the limiting view of the author's own ideology. To do this she will begin by establishing "structures narratives globales" (this is her sociological and structural model) which she will "test" in the light of "microstructures du texte."
Ms. Lévêque divides her study into three parts of roughly sixty, one hundred twenty, and one hundred eighty pages. In part one "Formes romanesques et écritures du social," she analyzes the emerging moi or "la culture du moi" among aristocratic writers faced with a new world both materially and physically in which they find themselves isolated and alienated. None of the structures and qualities of the new world relate to anything on which life was once based. Here one sees a certain ambivalence that runs through this study. She attacks critics of the past who would reduce these romantic types to one reading (biographical or psychoanalytical, for example, as often done with Chateaubriand and others) because she reserves the right as reader to play an active role in...