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Brian Nelson

The Family Idiot: Gustave Flaubert, 1821–1857, an abridged edition by Jean-Paul Sartre, translated by Carol Cosman, edited by Joseph S. Catalano

May 2023, no. 453

The Family Idiot (originally published in French in three volumes in 1971–72) is a study of Gustave Flaubert (1821–80). It was published in a fine translation by Carol Cosman, in five volumes, between 1981 and 1994. The Sartre scholar Joseph S. Catalano has produced a skilful, beautifully edited abridgment of this gargantuan opus. 

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Selected Poems from Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Jan Owen

January-February 2016, no. 378

The Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du mal, 1857) is the most celebrated and most influential collection of verse in the history of modern French poetry. Its author, Charles Baudelaire (1821–67), is seen as the embodiment of a sensibility we regard as 'modern'. T.S. Eliot called him 'the greatest exemplar of modern poetry in any language'.

Ba ...

'It is hard to imagine a more challenging scholarly task than composing, in under three hundred pages, an introduction to a field as vast and variegated as French literature. From the fabliaux, mystery plays and chansons de geste of medieval times to such figures as the present-day Nobel Prize-winning novelists Le Clézio and Modiano, it embraces n ...

For many of his contemporaries, Victor Hugo (1802–85) was the most important literary figure of the nineteenth century. He was considered the greatest French poet; he became the leader of the Romantic movement with the staging of his anti-classical play Hernani (1830); and he wrote monumental, hugely popular novels. He was also an iconic political figure. ...

The Australian Journal of French Studies special number on Jacques Rivette continues the journal’s tradition of ground-breaking scholarship. Rivette has long been acknowledged as both an important and enigmatic film director – in some respects even more challenging than his New Wave colleague, Jean-Luc Godard. Rivette’s work is notoriously difficult of access. Almost all his films are unconventionally long; the longest, Out 1 – Noli me tangere (1970), runs for almost thirteen hours. In all of them, narrative lines are deliberately unresolved and complicated, and made the more disorienting by the director’s improvisational filming methods; only exceptionally, such as with Céline et Julie vont en bateau (1974) or Va savoir (2001), have they attracted sizeable mainstream audiences.

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Charles Baudelaire (1821–67) occupies a pivotal position in the development of modern writing, not just as the poet of Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil, 1857) but as the proponent, in his critical writings, of a modern aesthetic based on the experience of city life. More than any other French poet of his time, he marks the transition from the Romantic to a proto-modernist poetic style and stance. T.S. Eliot recognised the nature of this achievement when he said that for him the significance of Les Fleurs du mal was summed up in the first lines of ‘Les sept vieillards’ (‘The Seven Old Men’), in Baudelaire’s vision of the ‘teeming city, city full of dreams, / where ghosts in broad daylight accost the passer-by’. ‘I knew what that meant,’ Eliot said, ‘because I had lived it before I knew that I wanted to turn it into verse on my own account.’

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'Why read Emile Zola?’ asks one of the contributors to this volume. ‘Because his representation of society’s impact on individuals within it memorably depicts what it means to be a human being in the modern world.’ The publication of The Cambridge Companion to Emile Zola, edited by Brian Nelson, Professor of French Studies at Monash University, will be of great assistance in reading and rereading this realist writer, and will doubtless become an indispensable tool for researchers and students.

What do these essays reveal? The fascination which the naturalist novelist Zola (1840–1902) still exercises on his readers because of the profoundly organic nature of his writing. Despite the meticulous planning and the scientific method and framework underlying his enterprise to describe the social and familial milieux (the subtitle of the twenty novels [1871–93] comprising Les Rougon-Macquart is The Natural and Social History of a Family under the Second Empire), Zola’s art stems from its evocative power, its descriptive force, in a word, its ‘excitement’.

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After Blanchot: Literature, criticism, philosophy edited by Leslie Hall, Brian Nelson and Dimitris Vardoulakis

September 2006, no. 284

When I introduce undergraduates to the work of Maurice Blanchot, I begin with three simple stories. In the first, a philosopher refuses to allow himself to be photographed. Foucault tells of engaging in vig-orous conversation at a May 1968 demonstration with a man he learned only later was the elusive Blanchot. He was the unrecognised colleague, invisible and self-effacing, but also enormously productive (Leslie Hill tells us that his works, if collected, would run to three dozen volumes). The second story is told in Blanchot’s TheWriting of the Disaster (1980), in which a small boy awakens at night, looks out into the blackness and sees no stars, no presence, ‘nothing beyond’. It is a remembered scene, riveting in its clarity, of originary loss and intimations of mortality. The third story is without doubt the most well known. In 1944, Blanchot faced execution by a Nazi firing squad but somehow, mysteriously, ‘escaped his own death’. This bizarre impossibility, the sense of death’s untimeliness and capricious propinquity, marks all Blanchot’s work, his essays, journalism, fiction and philosophy, and infuses it with a pervasively melancholic tone.

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Unlike Flaubert, the ‘hermit of Croisset’, who turned away from his age in an attitude of ironic detachment, Émile Zola (1840–1902) embraced his century in a way no French writer had done since Balzac. Zola’s ambition was to emulate Balzac by writing a comprehensive history of contemporary society. Through the fortunes of his Rougon-Macquart family, he examined methodically the social, sexual, and moral landscape of the late nineteenth century along with its political, financial, and artistic contexts. Zola is the quintessential novelist of modernity, understood in terms of an overwhelming sense of tumultuous change.

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