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Extravagant Narratives

Extravagant Narratives: Closure and Dynamics in the Epistolary Form

Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Extravagant Narratives
    Book Description:

    Challenging the view of epistolary narrative as a faulty precursor to the nineteenth-century realist novel, Elizabeth MacArthur argues that the openness and flexibility that characterize correspondences, both real and fictional, reflect the preoccupations of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Her readings of the Lettres portugaises, Mme du Deffand's correspondence with Horace Walpole, and Rousseau's La Nouvelle Hlose propose an alternative to closure-oriented theories of narrative as they uncover an interplay between two forces: a tendency towards closure and meaning (metaphor) and a tendency towards openness and desire (metonymy). While such an interplay structures all narrative, the epistolary form differs from the third or first person in the extent to which metonymy predominates. The author shows how critics and editors of correspondences have attempted to control their metonymy, channeling epistolary energy into univocal meaning. By juxtaposing real and fictional epistolary works, MacArthur reveals the similarities between the two, particularly their "extravagance": ambiguity, openness, and forward-moving energy.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6082-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-35)

    According to many twentieth-century discussions of narrative form, closure is one of the defining elements of a narrative. Critics from James, Sartre, and Benjamin up through the structuralists and Frank Kermode have stressed the importance of endings in giving shape and meaning to stories. These closure-oriented models of narrative assume that a story is always told in the past tense, and thus that its ending inhabits all the previous moments of the text and draws them to their inevitable close. Not all narrative forms, however, conform to this assumption. In the epistolary novel, most notably, a series of present moments...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Genesis of Epistolary Narrative in the Seventeenth Century
    (pp. 36-116)

    In seventeenth-century France letters were part of a codified system of social relations. Seventeenth-century men and women wrote letters not only to maintain contact with distant friends but also to carry out their daily social business. All interactions among members of the upper classes, from the declaration of passionate love, to the expression of condolences on the death of a relative, to the offering of thanks for a political favor, were governed by the conventions ofhonnêtetéandmondanité, conventions of polite, well-bred behavior. Letters played a central role in these codified social relations. Sentiments from gratitude to sympathy to...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Plotting a Metonymical Life Story: The Correspondence of Madame du Deffand and Horace Walpole
    (pp. 117-185)

    Real correspondences are almost never read as works of literature. As I pointed out in discussing the history of readings of theLettres portugaises, critics have traditionally believed that to be literary a text must not be authentic, and that authentic texts inevitably display a disorder incompatible with the definition of literature. Even Sévigné’s correspondence, which has become part of the French literary canon, is viewed primarily as an historical or psychological document, or at best as an example of a particularly successful style in recounting events.¹ This treatment of genuine correspondences is based on the assumption, which we have...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Open Dynamic of Narrative: Metaphor and Metonymy in Rousseau’s Julie
    (pp. 186-270)

    One of the most perceptive recent critics of Rousseau, Jean Starobinski, describes Rousseau’s immense epistolary novel as a struggle between passion and virtue, between the ecstatic instant and family honor, which sets in motion a dialectical process and thus engenders temporality. While according to Starobinski Rousseau’s ideal is immediacy, both temporal and spatial, inJuliehe is forced to valorize time as a means of reaching a state that will reconcile the passionate moment with virtue. As Starobinski explains inLa Transparence et l’obstacle:

    Pour concilier les inconciliables, il a fallu donc inventer un progrès dialectique, passer par des états...

  8. Closing
    (pp. 271-276)

    It is difficult and perhaps even inappropriate to write a conclusion for a book on nonclosural dynamics. After valorizing the metonymic energy of epistolary texts, how can I then bring my own argument to a metaphoric close? How can I sum up readings whose very purpose was not to establish definitive interpretations but to generate continuing critical dialogue? If my chapters reach any common conclusion, it is that epistolary narratives can never be closed off. The appropriate closure to my argument would seem then to be a final celebration of openness.

    I have focused on epistolary metonymy, however, not simply...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-290)
  10. Index
    (pp. 291-297)