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  • L'Univers de la création littéraire. Dans la chambre noire de l'écriture: 'Hérodias' de Flaubert by Philippe Willemart
  • Mary Orr
L'Univers de la création littéraire. Dans la chambre noire de l'écriture: 'Hérodias' de Flaubert. Par Philippe Willemart. (Modern French Identities, 126.) Oxford: Peter Lang, 2017. ix + 133 pp., ill.

The appearance of a book-length study on the lesser-worked texts of a canonical author such as Flaubert always marks a high point of critical reflection and expectation. Hérodias is a particular case in point since it has failed to generate dedicated and extensive scholarly attention despite holding unquestionably key positions in Flaubert's œuvre; this third and final text of the Trois contes is also the last work he completed for publication. In consequence, the lack of dedicated monographs on Hérodias highlights major critical oversights, even disfavour. In confronting both, Philippe Willemart therefore provides a major milestone in Flaubert studies, principally because he singles Hérodias out for itself. Such [End Page 443] deliberate separation from the Trois contes as parts of a greater whole, and from Flaubert's finished œuvre, makes it an exemplum of what his subtitle calls—in indirect homage to Roland Barthes and to Proust—'la chambre noire de l'écriture'. Who better than Willemart, a distinguished and longstanding genetic critic of Proust, to tackle the complex questions of 'la rature' (p. 49) and 'l'inconscient du texte' (p. 80; in italics in the original) as powerhouses for understanding the manuscripts of the mature Flaubert's Hérodias? Willemart's fine-grained close genetic reading of the 'unseeable' and the 'unsayable' in the opening folios of Flaubert's conte therefore provides masterclass material for reading later folios of Hérodias (beyond the scope of this monograph), and for piloting genetic criticism itself to new levels of psycho-textual sophistication. By framing the final published version supremely as what a mature work is not—in this case its some fourteen avant-textual iterations—Willemart addresses how these already unwritten earlier forms exemplify a more properly Lacanian 'inconscient génétique' (p. 97). The intermeshing of Lacanian psychoanalysis with genetic approaches makes this pivotal study of Hérodias important precisely by returning psycho-criticism to the avant-texte(s), not their author, and to what marks its erasure processes as Flaubertian. For specialist genetic and non-genetic critics of Flaubert alike, Willemart's study therefore calls us to attend even more assiduously to Hérodias as a 'text' quintessentially about unmaking, including its own. Critics of all stripes must now look seriously again at the final published version for the unseeable, unspeakable, and unsayable in its literal and figurative chambres noires (such as Iaokanann's prison or the darkness of the morning after the night before of Antipas's feast) that overtly discomfit the reader's gaze and understanding of the scandalous final line/word ('Comme elle [la tête] était très lourde, ils la portaient alternativement'). After reading Willemart it becomes impossible for the Flaubert specialist not to remake their own further reading of Hérodias, particularly if s/he ultimately rejects his approach in favour of the intertextual Flaubert and consummate producer of encyclopaedic published works. This study therefore importantly paves the way, yet still leaves much room, for alternative monographs entirely devoted to Hérodias. Most pressing of all remains the need for an accessible guide to the very final Hérodias to enlighten new and longstanding readers on how to read Flaubert's most impossible, and meaning-defying, work.

Mary Orr
University of St Andrews


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pp. 443-444
Launched on MUSE
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