The Phryné and the Muse: Onanism and Creativity in Chateaubriand's Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe and René

Read through the ironical prism of the Mémoires, René allegorizes the response of the pre-1802 Chateaubriand to the Revolution. Its hero's onanistic activities symbolize Chateaubriand's initial refusal productively to react to changed political circumstances, onanism constituting an ambiguous metaphor suggesting not only self-sufficiency and purity through rejection of a corrupting exterior world, but also (pro-)creative sterility. René traces its hero's progress through masturbation/repudiation/creative silence to the final enunciation of his text, of the narrative that finally pushes him into an active (and literary) response to History. Chateaubriand thus allegorizes the process whereby he, as aristocratic exile, finally broke free from aloof silence to the creation of his first (and uncompromisingly political) work, the Essais sur les révolutions. (DR)
Rollo, David
Volume 1989-1990 Fall-Winter; 18(1-2): 25-41