Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Between Apocalypse and Narrative: Drieu la Rochelle and the Fascist Novel

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Between Apocalypse and Narrative: Drieu la Rochelle and the Fascist Novel

Article excerpt

"Quand la caissiere lui eut rendu la monnaie de sa piece de cent sous, Georges Duroy sortit du restaurant"... With this sortie begins that well-known tale of social arrivisme, Guy de Maupassant's Bel-Ami (1885).(1) The opening sentence almost seems a commentary on the novel's conditions of possibility, as if the story of Georges Duroy could not begin without the passage of money from a woman's hand into that of the protagonist; as if this were the price one paid for entering the domain of narrative. Only after this beginning will the former colonial sous-off be able to engage "son desir d'arriver," working his way up the ladder of an important Paris newspaper - La Vie francaise, run by M. Walter, "un homme d'argent" of jewish origin (54) - and working his way methodically through one woman after another with the help of "his irresistibly seductive moustache." The success of Bel-Ami's apprenticeship is spectacular; indeed, at the suggestion of his first wife, he will consecrate this rise in fortune by changing his name from Duroy to the eminently more aristocratic Du Roy.

The novel ends, in a manner both perfectly logical and entirely arbitrary, with a description of Bel-Ami's second lucrative marriage, to Walter's young daughter Suzanne, whose "hand" the newspaper czar has grudgingly accorded him. Du Roy's secular triumph coincides with the ironic invocation of a divine sacrifice: "sur l'autel le sacrifice divin s'accomplissait; l'Homme-Dieu a l'appel de son pretre, descendait sur la terre pour consacrer le triomphe du baron Georges Du Roy" (411). Two very different versions of closure intersect here: that of a religious sacrifice meant to initiate a truly new life, and another that only marks an arbitrary pause in an on-going story of secular ascent. The sacrifice of the "Homme-Dieu' will not put an end to the story of this arriviste, as the final pages make abundantly clear: the service terminated, Du Roy bumps into his long-time mistress, Mme de Marelle, and insinuatingly squeezes her hand; as he walks down the steps of the church, and toward a promising career in politics, it is her image that floats in front of him, "rajustant en face de la glace les petits cheveux frises de ses tempes, touj ours defaits au sortir du lit" (413). With this ironic echo of its opening sortie, Maupassant's novel draws to a close - an ending that merely prepares the way for more of the same; the story of Du Roy is one that will always be told under the sign of "to be continued."

In the arbitrariness of its ending, Bel - Ami stands as the swan song, and the reductio ad absurdum, of what Franco Moretti has called the form which makes possible the Golden Century of Western narrative": the Bildungsroman.(2) According to Moretti, this symbolic form emerged as a way of responding to the twin revolutions, industrial and political, at the turn of the eighteenth century: it was an attempt at negotiating with a newly-entrenched "modernity' that "perceives the experience piled up in tradition as a useless deadweight, and therefore can no longer feel represented by maturity, and still less by old age" (5). With the dismantling of "the continuity between generations" and the collapse of status society, youth comes to displace middle- or old-age as the most representative time of life: youth, and its story, the story of Bildung, becomes the "sign of a world that seeks its meaning in the future rather than in the past" (5). The dynamic mobility of modernity, its constant "progress" toward a more significant future, finds its embodiment in the modern individual, who is shaped by "great expectations" of which pre-modern "stable communities" could know nothing.

As Moretti points out, however, the Bildungsroman is "intrinsically contradictory": it not only privileges mobility but also places limits on it, positing youth as both a time of instability and of development toward a given end. Ideally, youth matures; it develops into something (else). …

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