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  • Poétique romanesque de la mémoire avant Proust, I: Éros réminiscent (XVIIe–XVIIIe siècles) by Jean-François Perrin
  • Patrick Pollard
Poétique romanesque de la mémoire avant Proust, I: Éros réminiscent (XVIIe–XVIIIe siècles). Par Jean-François Perrin. (Bibliothèque proustienne, 19). Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2017. 333 pp.

In linking memory and love in the title of this first volume of his study, Jean-François Perrin focuses on some of Proust's forerunners in the field of early French fiction. Among the 'racines' of this narrative phenomenon he cites Homer's Odyssey and the late Greek novel by Heliodorus, but not the influence of Ariosto and Tasso. He concentrates his analysis on La Calprenède's Cléopâtre, Honoré d'Urfé's L'Astrée, and Madeleine de Scudéry's Clélie, leading forward to Mme de La Fayette, Marivaux, Crébillon, the abbé Prévost (Cleveland), and Rousseau (paying special attention to La Nouvelle Héloïse). Memory is seen sometimes as a key structural element, and sometimes as a manifestation of involuntary remembering by which the hero or heroine revisits past love. He discusses whether this commonplace is a presentation of psychological truth and/or an attempt by the author to play on the reader's sensibilité. At the outset, Perrin says that he is writing with the positivist theories of Théodule Ribot's La Psychologie des sentiments in mind (Paris: Alcan, 1896), but his analyses do not always show the relevance of these ideas. His hypothesis, however, is that the art of memory, as practised in the rhetorical schools of the classical period and later by the Jesuits, can be called upon to account for its systematic use in narrative. In the novels under discussion, he avers, these 'signes mémoratifs' come to function as spheres of reference in themselves. Nevertheless, Perrin recognizes that different analytical approaches have to be used, according to the type of narration under review (first- or third-person, or polyphonic as in the case of epistolary novels), and to the erotic category to which they belong (sentimental or libertine). An important series of observations is made on the 'intermittences de la mémoire', which allow an author to play on the emotions of the reader. It is in this context that Perrin sees a progression from earlier to later fiction. Simple amorous memory in L'Astrée becomes 'ressouvenir' linked to grateful recognition in La Vie de Marianne, where the narrative is complicated, and any peripeteia is guaranteed by fainting and recovery from (temporary) amnesia. Cleveland invites the reader's complicity. Crébillon's libertine naturalism assumes capriciousness in love affairs, and in Les Égarements du cœur et de l'esprit the author exploits 'les oscillations incessantes du héros entre mémoire et oubli' (p. 129). In La Nouvelle Héloïse the poetics of 'ressouvenir' and forgetting, and the mirroring of memory with narrative structure, are reinforced by the use of narrative assonance which owes much to musical theory. The first great modern novelists to present 'la mémoire affective', we are told, are Marivaux, Prévost, and Crébillon. Rousseau is the most influential. The theme of nostalgia continues later, Perrin adds, in the novels of Mme Cottin, Mme de Krüdener, and their contemporaries. He promises a second volume that will take us into the nineteenth century with Nerval, Huysmans, and, presumably, Baudelaire. This first part provides a substantial analysis of memory as used in a selected corpus of pre-nineteenth-century French novels.

Patrick Pollard
Birkbeck, University of London


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