Reading L'Education sentimentale: Belief and Disbelief

The notion of Flaubert as a precursor, launched in 1965, appropriately enough, by the author of the Age of Suspicion, has become a critical truism, a received idea familiar to specialist and non-specialist alike. But of what, exactly? Of certain aspects of modernism, no doubt; and of at least some of the preoccupations of postmodernism. Above all, of a certain self-consciousness in the reader, corresponding to a radical playfulness in the text, noted by critics as diverse as Sartre, Barthes and Genette and in 1974 worked into a full-scale grammar of self-conscious reading by Jonathan Culler. However, various centennial colloquia made it clear that things were more complicated than this new orthodoxy would have us believe; and that the claims of plot, character, structural unity, above all of a certain belief in the fictional world that surrounds Frédéric need to be taken into account. The present article endeavors to show how Flaubert creates belief and suspicion simultaneously, thus provoking a unique brand of tension between the reader and the text. (GF)

Falconer, Graham
Volume 1984 Spring; 13(3): 329-43.