Subversions of Verisimilitude focuses on the ways in which a number of French literary narratives written in the realist tradition show a dynamic balance between the desire of the author/narrator to present a verisimilar world and the need for aesthetic balance. While the works studied-narratives by Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, Colette, Proust, and Sartre-range over the course of a century, from 1835 to 1938, they share a perspective on the relations between and the need to engage questions of realist verisimilitude and narrative interest and aesthetics.
The book discusses some of the subversive paths taken in realism and, specifically, in canonical narratives solidly anchored in the tradition. The goal here is to analyze these realist texts, regardless of the narrative mode chosen, in order to see the deviations and detours from realism, mostly for aesthetic ends.The book contributes to our understanding of nineteenth- and twentieth-century narrative and furthers our knowledge of the ways in which critical theory illuminates such canonical works.
Lawrence R Schehr —
Lawrence R. Schehr is Professor of French at the University of Illinois. His most recent books are Figures of Alterity: French Narrative and Its Others, French Gay Modernism, and a translation of The Third Sex.
Schehr, Lawrence R. Subversions of verisimilitude: reading narrative from Balzac to Sartre. Fordham University, 2009. 241p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780823231355. Reviewed in 2009dec CHOICE.
For more than a century, literary narration depended on verisimilitude as the principal rhetorical and representational vehicle for reaching its goals. But whereas realist fiction purports to tell the truth about the world it describes, it was never intended to show just surface phenomena. Looking for depth and meaning, authors from Balzac to Sartre transformed the possible banality of photographic verisimilitude into a rich patchwork that captured in language the seismic shifts of the 19th and 20th centuries. Building on works such as Armine Mortimer's Writing Realism (2000), Schehr (Univ. of Illinois) contends that realism works precisely because of interruptions from realist representation. He argues that the power of the narrative to recount the truth depends, ironically, on derivations and detours from realism, mostly to aesthetic ends. Schehr's original readings of canonical texts by Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, Colette, Proust, and Sartre recast realism as a profoundly subversive mode of representation. He shows how these authors used literary devices to challenge the materialist ideology underlying realism and to defy basic notions of the representability of the real in favor of artifice and aesthetic. Schehr's close analysis of the "perverse paths" taken by writers from 1830 to 1939 makes this readable study insightful and fascinating.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. -- C. B. Kerr, Vassar College