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Lectures croisées

Essays by Alan Raitt


Francesco Manzini

This selection of essays by Alan Raitt provides a series of cross-readings of nineteenth-century French literary authors and texts. The collection revolves around Flaubert and Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, the two authors with whom Raitt is most associated, situating them and their principal works in relation to each other, as well as to Balzac, Nerval, Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Huysmans. In so doing, the collection shows the extent to which nineteenth-century French literary history appears both as a succession and as a simultaneity of literary styles and credos.
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CHAPTER 3: Sylvie and L’Éducation sentimentale


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Sylvie and L’Éducation sentimentale

At first sight, L’Éducation sentimentale seems to have little in common with Sylvie: its sprawling vastness, its frequently cynical tone, its teeming crowds of characters seem to belong to a different world from the taut brevity, the mysterious poetry and the apparently idyllic sentiment of Nerval’s story. Yet on closer inspection, some disturbing resemblances come to light.

The most striking is the basic similarity of situation underpinning the two works. If one leaves aside Mme Dambreuse, who never really engages Frédéric’s deeper feelings, one is in each case dealing with an indecisive protagonist who wavers between an almost religious veneration for a remote and inaccessible idol (Mme Arnoux and Adrienne), a fickle woman notorious for her affairs with other men (Rosanette and Aurélie) and a simple country girl whom he has known since childhood (Louise Roque and Sylvie).1 In each case, thoughts and memories of the inaccessible idol intrude to prevent the protagonist from finding lasting happiness with either of the other women. In each case, when it appears as though the protagonist is likely to settle down with the country girl, he is suddenly made rich by an inheritance from an uncle and leaves her for Paris or more distant parts. In each case, after forgetting the country girl for his Parisian preoccupations, the protagonist eventually decides, after several years away from her, to return to her confident...

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