Back to Garden - Chateaubriand, Senancour, and Constant 0915838680

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PQ 657 . C35 1986



Rack to the Garden Chateaubriand, Senancour and Constant



managing editor KATARINA KIVEL


volume LII






Stanford French and Italian Studies is a collection of scholarly publications devoted to the study of French and Italian literature and language, culture and civilization. Occasionally it will allow itself excursions into related Romance areas.

Stanford French and Italian Studies will publish books, monographs, and collec¬ tions of articles centering around a common theme, and is open also to scholars associated with academic institutions other than Stanford. The collection is published for the Department of French and Italian, Stanford University by Anma Libri.


1988 by ANMA Libri & Co.

F.O. Box 876, Saratoga, Calif. 95071 All rights reserved. LC 87-71798 ISBN 0-915838-68-0 Printed in the United States of America


, (2.35







Sainte-Beuve’s Disease


Rene in the Garden


Oberman and the Search for Eden


Adolphe: Obstruction and the Lost Order


Role Theory and the Mai




ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I wish to express my gratitude to Professor Leo Weinstein of Stanford University for his constant encouragement of this project from its inception and for his insightful comments and suggestions at every stage of its production. I cannot imagine anyone having a more supportive or more patient mentor. I am also deeply indebted to the Brigham Young University College of Humanities and the Humanities Publication Center for the editorial support provided in bringing the manuscript to press. Many people were involved in the process, but I would particularly like to acknowledge the efforts of Linda Hunter Adams, faculty adviser for the Center, and Philip White, graduate editorial intern, who spent many long hours reading and refining the camera-ready copy for the printers. I would also like to thank Melissa Knudsen for her editorial assistance and Barry and Caprice Laga for their meticulous source-checking. Most of all, I want to thank my wife, Connie, for her patience, forbearance and spirit of sacrifice, without which we could never have achieved this goal, and my parents for their unfailing confidence in my abilities.

INTRODUCTION This study was born out of a struggle, the struggle I witnessed one day in a class on French Romanticism as the professor fretted and toiled to explain one of those “givens” of traditional literary history, the Romantic “mal du siecle.” I asked myself then, as I have many times since, “How does an entire generation come to regard itself as ‘sick? And how does a particular ‘disease’ become a widely accepted topos for an artistic movement? Why a ‘mal du siecle’ at all?’*’ ' My initial investigation into those questions left me as dissatisfied as my professor, the traditional answers appearing either too facile or too nebulous to establish a comfortable level of credibility. Sainte-Beuve’s notion of heredity, very popular throughout the nine¬ teenth century and even into our own, seemed a little too farfetched, especially when one started counting all the “sick” souls involved. The idea of “fashionable melancholy” was tempting and has apparently persuaded even some of the most reputable critics in the field, but knowing the French as I did, I felt there had to be more to the problem than simple conformity with the English and the Germans. As a true “enfant” of my own century, I wanted better answers to the question of causation than I had been given and so my search began. The results of that search are presented here, beginning with an analysis of the limitations of previous treatments of the “mal” problem, attributable, I have found, to the choice made by most critics to perpetuate the pseudomedical mode of discourse first employed by Sainte-Beuve in describing the “mal,” a mode which essentially avoids the question of causation. 1



The study then moves on to an analysis of three “mal” texts produced during the first few years of the nineteenth century: Rene, Oberman (the original 1804 edition’s title will be used), and Adolphe. It should be pointed out here that although Constant did not publish Adolphe until 1816, the text was actually written in 1806, according to his private journal. These three texts were chosen because of their importance in introducing the notion of the “mal” into the mainstream of nineteenth-century French letters. The textual analysis reveals three dominant metaphors in the Empire “mal” novels, namely the Cain figure, the forbidden Eve, and the lost and irretrievable order of the Garden. I then show that Chateaubriand, Senancour, and Constant were drawn to these par¬ ticular metaphors because of the parallels they perceived between the Cain myth and their own personal roles in post-Revolutionary France. The origin and peculiar nature of the “mal” is shown to be inextricably connected to the problem of role expectations, role blockage, and role confusion affecting these three exiled and dis¬ enfranchised authors. These concepts, coming to us from modern social psychology, provide then the key to a more complete understanding of causal factors in the Empire “mal.” I have not ventured here into the question of the appropriation (or expropriation) of the “mal” topos by later groups such as the Jeune-France, that being another story in itself. Preliminary evidence suggests that there, too, role theory might prove a useful analytical tool. What I have done, however, is to rescue the Empire authors from a sort of teleological critical framework which imposed retro¬ active terms and jargon of later literary movements onto them, turning them into nothing more than “precursors” for the laier and supposedly much more “significant” Romantic movement. It is my hope that, because of this study, future readings will accord the Empire “mal” texts the place in history which is their due.


Je luttai quelque temps contre mon mal... Rene (1802) In his lectures on Chateaubriand et son groupe litteraire, delivered in Liege in 1849, Sainte-Beuve officially announced the end of an epidemic. A strange disease that had survived for approximately 50 years in France, afflicting virtually every living soul during that time—“nous l’avons tous eue plus ou moins et a divers degres”— could at last be declared eradicated or at least no longer endemic. To the young listeners in his audience, Sainte-Beuve proclaimed: “Vous, jeunes gens vous ne l’avez plus.”1 It was perhaps fitting after all that Sainte-Beuve be the one to declare the end of this sickness he called the “mal de Rene” since he had played such a major role in its history. Although the idea of a “maladie morale” was not original to him, he had nevertheless helped greatly in the popularization of the concept, particularly in literary criticism of the day.2 He was in fact considered to be the critic responsible for the creation of the term “mal du siecle,” which he had begun to use with increasing regularity in texts dating from 1833 on in reference to the emerging Romantic school.

1 Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Chateaubriand et son groupe litteraire sous I’Empire (Paris: Gamier, 1948) 1: 314. 2 An excellent summary of early nineteenth-century texts using the “sickness” metaphor can be found in Armand Hoog’s “Who Invented the Mal du Siecle?” Yale French Studies 13 (Spring-Summer 1954): 42-51.



Back to the Garden

The Liege lectures mark an important milestone in the history of the “mal,” however, in that it was here for the first time that Sainte-Beuve equated two terms which had previously been kept separate and distinct. In an intriguing display of linguistic leger¬ demain, Sainte-Beuve substituted “mal de Rene” everywhere one would expect to hear (or read) “mal du siecle.” By so doing, he effectively eliminated the notion that Chateaubriand’s “mal” was to be considered a unique strain of this universal sickness. Chateaubriand’s death a year earlier had no doubt emboldened Sainte-Beuve in this maneuver. While yet alive, Chateaubriand had consistently resisted the attempts of critics to incorporate the “mal” he described in Rene into any sort of “mal du siecle” formula. In 1837, he wrote in the Memoires: [S]i Rene n’existait pas, je ne l’ecrirais plus; s’il m’etait possible de le detruire, je le detruirais: . .. Une famille de Renes-poetes et de Renes-prosateurs a pullule; on n’a plus entendu bourdonner que des phrases lamentables et decousues; il n’a plus ete question que de vents d’orages, de maux inconnus livres aux nuages et a la nuit; il n’y a pas de grimaud sortant du college, qui n’ait reve etre le plus malheureux des hommes, qui, a seize ans, n’ait epuise la vie, qui ne se soit cru tourmente par son genie, qui, dans l’abime de ses pensees, ne se soit livre au “vague de ses passions,” qui n’ait frappe son front pale et echevele, qui n’ait etonne les hommes stupefaits d’un malheur dont il ne savait pas le nom, ni eux non plus. Dans Rene j’avais expose une infirmite de mon siecle; mais c’etait une folie aux autres romanciers d’avoir voulu rendre universelles les afflictions en dehors de tout exprimees dans Rene.. . [U]ne maladie de fame n’est pas un etat permanent et naturel; on ne peut la reproduire, en faire une litterature, en tirer parti comme d’une passion generale incessamment reconstitute au gre des artistes qui la manient et en changent la forme.3

Chateaubriand’s contentions were threefold: first, that the “mal de Rene” was of his own generation-, secondly, that the “afflictions” expressed in the text were not to be considered “universelles”; and thirdly, that such a sickness was transitory and irreproducible, all of which underscores the unique and historical nature of Rene’s “mal.”

3 Chateaubriand, Memoires d’outre-tombe, ed. Maurice Levaillant, 2nd ed. (Paris: Flammarion, 1949) vol. 2, pt. 2, 43-44.

Sainte-Beuve’s Disease


Sainte-Beuve would have the last word in the debate, however, simply because he outlived Chateaubriand. For reasons we do not have time to explore adequately in this study, he was determined to find a way to deny to this artistocrat any legitimate claim to originality. The substitution of the “mal de Rene” for the “mal du siecle” that we find in the Liege lectures was a major advance in Sainte-Beuve’s strategy to dehistoricize Chateaubriand. In addition, Sainte-Beuve would labor with renewed vigor after the death of Chateaubriand to find some sort of precursor for Rene: “Evidemment Rene ne voulait pas avoir d’enfants, et, s’il avait pu, il aurait voulu (en litterature) ne pas avoir de pere.”4 But SainteBeuve would find a literary “pere” for Chateaubriand, suited perfectly to Sainte-Beuve’s own political palate: the bourgeois Rousseau, whom he would declare “le plus original et le plus sincere” of the two, “dans ses elans chimeriques, dans ses regrets, dans ses peintures d’un ideal de felicite permise et perdue” (211). It was to the bourgeois Rousseau, not to the aristocrat Rene, that Sainte-Beuve traced the origins of his own “mal du siecle”: “Aussi nous tous, en ce siecle, qui avons ete malades plus ou moins du mal de reverie, ne faisOns pas comme ces anoblis qui renient leur aieul, et sachons qu’avant d’etre les fils tres indignes du noble Rene, nous sommes, plus surement, les petits-fils du bourgeois Rousseau” (212). Sainte-Beuve’s idea of a “mal du siecle” continuum has been repeated so often in literary studies from his day to this that many (who should know better) believe it as historical fact. And yet, the problem with it is, as Chateaubriand originally pointed out, its almost total disregard of causation. In fact, Sainte-Beuve would explicitly maintain that it was a phenomenon “sans cause.”5 By brushing aside the problem of causation as essentially inexpli¬ cable and by concentrating instead on the directly perceivable symptoms of the “mal,” he could construct his critical schema with relative ease. All definitions of his disease rely on the recog¬ nition of a certain behavior or a group of symptoms. When he speaks of the “mal de Rene,” for instance, he defines it as “le degout de la vie,” “1’inaction et l’abus du reve,” or “un sentiment

4 Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Les grands ecrivains frangais (Paris: Gamier, 1932) 23: 70. 5 Chateaubriand 1: 82.

6 Back to the Garden

orgueilleux d’isolement,” all of which are only behavioral patterns revealed by simple observation.6 To extrapolate one step further in the Sainte-Beuvian model, anyone found to be manifesting such symptoms would be diagnosed as a victim of the “mal du siecle.” This step in the logical process, however, must be approached with extreme caution. Fever, for example, is a symptom of many diseases, some minor, some fatal. Modern pathology would insist on determining the virus or other causative agent producing the fever. But the medicine of Sainte-Beuve’s day made no such insistence. Until the acceptance of germ theory, a concept which evolved from the work of Touis Pasteur and other pioneers in the field but which was resisted until late in the nineteenth century, causation in illness, physiological or psychological, was largely ignored. Lester S. King explains: “Certainty attached only to what was immediately sensible. What was ‘hidden,’ that is, inferential, was not certain and therefore not very valuable. A cause was never given in the senses. Causes were hidden, remote, or inferential, valid only as they furnished some characteristic or distinguishing mark immediately perceptible. When arranging diseases, we should use these directly perceivable marks, not the inferred or hidden or ‘hypothetical’ causes.”7 The great medical minds of the early nineteenth century were principally concerned with nosology, the classification of disease by its symptoms or, as King calls them, its “directly perceivable marks.” In his Sainte-Beuve et la medecine, Georges Morin remarks: “Nous sommes enclins a nous imaginer que les doctrines et les methodes, qu’employaient nos predecesseurs, procedaient du