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Reviewed by:
  • Le Chevalier Des Touches by Barbey D’Aurevilly
  • John West-Sooby
Barbey D’Aurevilly, Le Chevalier Des Touches. Édité par Philippe Berthier. Œuvres romanesques complètes, sous la direction de Pascale Auraix-Jonchière. (Textes de littérature moderne et contemporaine, 166.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2014. 184 pp.

In 2014 Champion inaugurated a new collection of Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Œuvres romanesques complètes under the general editorship of Pascale Auraix-Jonchière. The first three novels in the projected series appeared in quick succession: Une vieille maîtresse, edited by Gisèle Séginger; L’Ensorcelée, edited by Barbara Dimopoulou; and Le Chevalier Des Touches, edited by the current doyen of Barbey studies, Philippe Berthier. First published in serial form in Le Nain jaune from 18 July to 2 September 1863, this novel is in many respects one of Barbey’s more accessible texts. Inspired by a true historical event — the daring liberation by a group of Chouans of one of their leaders, the eponymous Des Touches, who had been captured in 1798 and imprisoned in Avranches, then in Coutances — the story has adventure at its heart. It was not well received, however, by contemporary critics, who considered its preoccupations to be of little relevance to French readers in the second half of the nineteenth century (a charge often levelled at Barbey). Even his modern editor, Jacques Petit, considered this novel to be atypical of Barbey’s work, labelling it ‘une erreur du romancier’ (in Barbey, Œuvres romanesques complètes (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), i, 1396). But as Berthier argues in his Présentation of this new edition of the text, that judgement has been substantially revised in recent times. On the formal level, the novel is in every respect an aurevillien text, with its atmospheric mise en scène, its oblique narration, and its continual deferment of the story itself. The sheer verbal energy of the writing is also typical of Barbey’s style — a style that is in stark contrast to the sclerotic immobility of the aristocratic society he depicts. The themes, too, resonate strongly with those of Barbey’s other novels and short stories, as Berthier points out in his excellent introductory essay, which also provides an account of the difficult and protracted genesis of the work. In contrast to Petit, who reproduced in his Pléiade edition the first published version of the novel, Berthier gives in this new edition the 1886 text published by the Librairie du Bibliophile, this being the last version Barbey himself corrected. There is at the end a list of varia, showing the differences (few in number) with respect to the text published in serial form in Le Nain jaune and to the manuscript fragment held in the Archives départementales de la Manche. Some other related manuscript material first published by Petit is also included in the Appendices. A Bibliography and an Index complete the critical apparatus. This new edition will thus be of great value to Barbey scholars. Indeed, given the amount of work devoted to Barbey since the publication of the Pléiade volumes, the decision by Champion to republish these novels in individual scholarly editions is to be welcomed. [End Page 402]

John West-Sooby
University of Adelaide


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