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Pasco on Le Calvez, ed. (2017)


Le Calvez, Éric, editor. Dictionnaire Gustave Flaubert. Classiques Garnier, 2017, pp. 1259, ISBN 978-2-406-06031-4

Allan H. Pasco, University of Kansas

The Dictionnaire Gustave Flaubert is a stunning achievement. It deserves to be in the libraries of every college and university where Flaubert and his work are taught, for it is remarkably complete and accurate. It is also durable. It covers the names of influential people, friends and acquaintances, business contacts, book publishers, newspapers, fictional and real places, characters, themes and motifs that are important to Flaubert’s creations, and, of course, published “notices,” texts, and even important letters. Having detailed the locations of the richest troves of manuscripts, it does not neglect those texts that were still unpublished at the time of the author’s death. The entries make valid distinctions between important terms like “sensibilité,” sensualité,” and “sentiment” and even include now-rare medical tools such as “des sétons.” In addition, the substantial book has entries for several of the more important critical movements of the twentieth century.

Given Le Calvez’s background as a genetic critic, the Dictionnaire is particularly oriented toward the time and methods of creation and the manuscripts that remain. Le Calvez’s many publications in the area make him particularly qualified to oversee such a wide-ranging compilation. While genetic critics are particularly interested in the mass of manuscripts left by Flaubert, and the changes that took place in the progression of drafts, the Le Calvez dictionary includes as well lucid descriptions of appropriate structural terms such as “documentation,” “travail,” “épisode,” “phrase,” “intertextualité,” “suppression,” “rature,” and, of course, “brouillon.” Entries cite Flaubert’s neologisms (resulting, for example, from the epistolary addition of the suffix “-ade”), for recurrent images including “mèche (de cheveux),” gloves, and “pied.” There are even entries for gods like Adonis, animals like “deer,” evocations of serpents, and early characters like the cochon, which disappeared before the definitive edition of La Tentation de saint Antoine. With well-organized entries that provide references to the early scholars, like “Jules de Gaultier,” and those who came later, and are generally summarized to the last paragraphs of the entries, the write-ups give explanations of the way the researchers in question work, and provide bibliographies with their best examples. Elsewhere, the book provides entries of specific, textual terminology that is widely used. There is even an entry for the “second volume” of Bouvard et Pécuchet that never appeared. Accompanied by the entry “Génétique,” by Anne Herschberg Pierrot, which briefly defines this particular brand of criticism, entries dealing with manuscripts [“qui s’occupe des manuscrits” (371)] and with textual history [“construire une théorie des processus de la genèse littéraire” (515)] are in the majority.

Passing from the careful reading and comparison of the multiple manuscripts brings us to major influences like Homer and William Shakespeare and other useful references to Flaubert’s world, whether a novel, like Manette Salomon or Paul et Virginie or another writer like George Sand or Georges Charpentier, or a generous paragraph on Edmond About, or indeed on a ferocious enemy like Guillaume Frœhner. Le Calvez would call this “exogénèse.” Flaubert was a successful writer with many acquaintances. Not surprisingly, many of them brought information that would eventually prove useful in his fiction. Close friends and acquaintances all have their entry. Others, whom Flaubert mentioned in letters and manuscripts are likewise signaled.

In terms of reception history, the dictionary describes Flaubert’s relationship to his disciple, Guy de Maupassant, and such writers as J.-K. Huysmans and Henry James, whose works were deeply marked by the master. Many less-known writers are quite rightly included despite their limited impact on Flaubert and his literary world, Paul Alexis, for example. Nor are cinematographic versions overlooked. Under “adaptation,” the editor mentions Flaubert’s refusal to allow Madame Bovary to be rewritten for the stage, though the opera offered a more tempting possibility, and parodies by the likes of Woody Allen have occurred with some frequency. In addition, there have been at least ten films and seven television programs based on the novel.

Each entry includes a brief, cogent introduction to the term as it applies in Flaubert’s œuvre and, when useful, a more general application. Usually, at the end of each entry, there is a brief bibliography. It is unfortunate, however, that the Dictionary excludes, almost without exception, the enormous body of outstanding Flaubert criticism published in English. Although the entries are arranged in alphabetical order and potential cross references asterisked, an index would also have enriched the volume. Nonetheless, Eric Le Calvez’s Dictionnaire Gustave Flaubert makes a major contribution to nineteenth-century studies. Because of its attention to the period, it will long be useful not merely to Flaubert scholars but to all students of nineteenth-century culture.


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Book_review_page | by Dr. Radut