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French Fiction: Post-Revolutionary Poetics


In the France of the 19th century, there were almost as many credos concerning the nature and function of literature as there were changes of government. In this course, we will examine some of the prominent works of narrative art produced in the course of that century to probe the question of the relationship between the two issues: the idea of literature and the idea of the state. Accordingly, we will examine fictional expressions of Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, and Symbolism, stopping to consider some secondary impulses sheltered by these primary categories such as Decadence and Dandyism. In our inquiry into these disparate forms of postrevolutionary poetics, we will also consult theoretical writings that illuminate the preoccupations underlying these works and the ideological stances that ground them. Thus novels and stories by Constant, Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, Huysmans, Barbey d’Aurévilly, and Laforgue will be supplemented (after a detour through Rousseau for a grasp of the shift of sensibility out of which Romanticism grew) by critical commentary from Auerbach and Henry James to Todorov, Jameson, and D.A. Miller, and statements from voices “indigenous” to these phenomena—Baudelaire's “Eloge du maquillage” and Barbey’s “Du Dandysme et de Georges Brummel” merit scrutiny. Throughout, we will test Lucáks’s notion—inherited from Lenin—that literature functions to make sense of periods of profound social transition (“sign becomes an arena of the class struggle”), just as we will interrogate the thematizing of the predicament of fiction and its problematic relation to reality as harbinger of the Modernism to come.