- Figures of the Pre-Freudian Unconscious from Flaubert to Proust by Michael Finn
In November 1913, Proust described his ongoing work on À la recherche du temps perdu as 'un essai d'une suite de "Romans de l'Inconscient"' (Contre Sainte-Beuve (Paris: Gallimard, 1971), p. 558). In his overview of attempts to conceptualize the unconscious in the half century before the publication of Proust's first volume, Michael Finn acknowledges a debt to earlier critics and theorists who have explored the role of the unconscious in Proust's work, among them Julia Kristeva and Malcolm Bowie. His own examination focuses on the denigration of the term 'intellectual' in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair, and the resulting privileging of creativity; on the connections between nature and the unconscious in the unfinished novel Jean Santeuil; and on the inspiration provided for Proust by Maurice Maeterlinck: the chapter 'La Chance', in Maeterlinck's Le Temple enseveli ((Paris: Fasquelle, 1903), pp. 255–56), with its argument about the need to be more aware of the 'existence plus profonde' that lies beneath our conscious activities, looks forward to Contre Sainte-Beuve, and the contrast between the deep self and the social self. The figure of neurologist Pierre Janet looms large in this historical summary of the development of psychology as a subject in its own right; Janet's objections to Freudian psychoanalysis characterize and inhibit French acceptance of Freud. Finn charts the quarrels that took place in the second half of the nineteenth century over the very existence of the [End Page 445] unconscious, and, later, the debates over the creative potential of the unconscious, all in anticipation of Freudian contributions and discoveries, and of Proustian thought. He tracks the impact of such discussions on the literature of the period, from Flaubert and Maupassant to women's writing and the popular novel. The dualities at work in Flaubert's fiction—lyric versus material; Romanticism versus Realism—are connected with his self-designation as a hysteric, and Paul Bourget's comments on Flaubert's style as 'involontaire' are seen as persuasive (Essais de psychologie contemporaine, ed. by André Guyaux (Paris: Gallimard, 1993), p. 117). A reading of Maupassant that focuses primarily on Le Horla plays down the impact of Jean-Martin Charcot's hysteria research and constructs a more complex medico-cultural context for Maupassant's fiction, emphasizing the influence of contemporary studies of hypnosis. At times, the summaries of secondary literature take precedence over primary textual analysis informed by Finn's knowledge of the nineteenth-century climate of developing psychological insight. The scope of the study is illuminating, though, and the historical summary in the opening chapter is instrumental in highlighting contrasting forces surrounding sexuality, hysteria, and the unconscious in French fin-de-siècle culture.