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Hunter Phillips
Hunter Phillips

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114EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION14:1 "self remains elusive, slipping away through the interstices of language, and that "life-writing" can be almost any words on a page, the questions asked remain pertinent and compelling. Elizabeth W. Harries Smith College Stephen Werner. The Comic Diderot: A Reading ofthe Fictions. Birmingham , AL: Summa Publications, 2000. ix + 168 pp. ISBN 1-883479-312 . James Fowler. VoicingDesire: Family and Sexuality in Diderot's Narrative. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2000. viii + 169 pp. 14.50. ISBN 07294 -0735-7. Nicholas Cronk, ed. Eludes sur "Le Fils naturel" et les "Entretiens sur le Fils naturel" de Diderot. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2000. ix + 324 pp. FFr149. ISBN 0-7294-0751-9. Diderot is not usually regarded as primarily a comic author; Stephen Werner has now attempted to change this perception. The texts studied here are allegedly linked by the use of "comic irony," a term which denotes not only what is amusing, but also "critical irony and self-parody" (p. 7) . Hence, in the Bijoux, serious reflections on the soul, on art, and on aesthetics are counterpointed by a prose style "of extraordinary violence and dishevelment" (p. 24), demolishing the pretensions of the libertine novel and replacing it with a mocking irreverence. The horrors of the convent recounted in La Religieuse are similarly offset by the high comedy of the Préface annexe, producing "Gothic comedy," far removed from the philosophical tract which La Religieuse is usually taken to be. Comparable claims are made for the Neveu, the Supplément, the Rêve, and Jacques. Werner contends that Diderot ultimately abolishes the distinction between the comic and the tragic, resulting in works characterized by "ironic suspension or indeterminacy" (p. 142). In his treatment of the Supplément and the Rêve in particular, this approach pays dividends by enabling us to understand the apparent disjunctions in style. Yet the evidence that these are comic texts is often thin, and Werner is hampered by his insistence that they must be seen in this way, rather than as examples of a distinctively ironic tone which is not always funny. Again, comedy in Werner's sense is not always central to these works: REVIEWS115 the Neveu or the Rêve, for instance, raises issues which go far beyond stylistic considerations. Finally, there are numerous errors of fact: Les Bijoux indiscrets was published in "Monomotapa" not "Monopotoma" (p. 9); Diderot was involved in composing L'Oiseau blanc, conte bleu, not l'Oiseau bleu (p. 26) Jacques Rivette's film of La Religieuse dates from 1966, not "the late 1950s" (p. 43); Diderot's birthplace, Langres, is in Champagne, not Burgundy (p. 52), and so forth. Hence, while this study has its merits, it is sometimes poorly focused, and should have been carefully revised before publication. WithJames Fowler's study of sexuality in Diderot's major prose narratives and Le Fils naturel, we move from Werner's commonsensical intuitive criticism to an avowedly psychoanalytical reading. Fowler makes only muted attempts to defend his approach, taking Freud and Lacan, in particular, to be axiomatically right. Some startling conclusions ensue. In Le Fils naturel, Lysimond's rôle in preventing the possible incest of Rosalie and Dorval can clearly be interpreted on classical psychoanalytical lines. Fowler is surely correct also in seeing the annual re-enactment of the play as a ritual reassertion of the (now sublimated) incestuous impulse (p. 58). With Suzanne Simonin in La Religieuse, one can readily accept that the inconsistencies and half-truths she offers are attributable to "the moral anxiety generated by the idea of her sexuality" (p. 88). With Jacques le Fataliste, the essentially Oedipal model of triangular relationships is invoked, so that they are read as predominantly "homosocial," that is, they follow a pattern in which "as men designate objects of desire to each other, they perpetuate a structure of power" (p. 95). Many of the relationships inJacques involve the rivalry of two men for a woman, and the classification of women as either mothers or whores; that Mme de La Pommeraye cannot get beyond this male perspective explains the failure of her attempt to revenge herselfon the Marquis des Arcis (p. 110). In Le Neveu, Moi's fascination...


Ruth B. Bottigheimer has contended that a specific literary man invented the fairy-tale genre less than five centuries ago. This article is a critical examination of her claim. It interrogates the axioms underlying Bottigheimer's proposition, probes the logical consistency of her account, and surveys Bottigheimer's use of empirical evidence. It concludes that while Bottigheimer's proposition is a healthy challenge to folklorists who would disregard literary texts as a matter of principle, her assumptions, reasoning, and conclusions leave much to be desired.


Ruth B. Bottigheimer recently devised an imaginary biography--or, in her own words, "a biography of surmise" grounded in "historical record"--of the sixteenth-century Italian author known as Giovanni Francesco Straparola (2002:3). In Fairy Godfather: Straparola, Venice, and the Fairy Tale Tradition, Bottigheimer endeavored to identify contextual "hints" in Straparola's primary work, Le piacevoli notti (Pleasant nights), and to associate them with the history of Renaissance Venice in order to "create a possible, probable, perhaps even a plausible biography for a man about whose life little is known" (2002:3). Of course, a biography of surmise that professes no greater standard of accuracy than being perhaps even plausible is one that grants to its compiler a considerable scope of creative freedom. The following discussion examines one central issue that underlies Bottigheimer's biographical endeavor: her claim that Straparola is the inventor of the fairy tale. 041b061a72


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