Holm, Helge Vidar. Moeurs de province: Essai d'analyse bakhtinienne de Madame Bovary. Bern: Peter Lang, 2011. Pp. 266. ISBN: 978-3-0343-0453-5
Helge Vidar Holm's new study on Moeurs de province, the subtitle of what is likely to be considered Gustave Flaubert's best-known novel, Madame Bovary, is a refreshing addition to critical debate in the field of Flaubert Studies. Referencing numerous editions of the novel, Holm demonstrates that even though Flaubert insisted on using a subtitle for his work (he added it to the publisher's copy in his own hand), later editions of the novel continued mysteriously to omit it. Further, Holm affirms this absence in an informative section at the end of the text in which he reproduces the covers of several editions of Flaubert's novel, with and without the subtitle. To this end, it turns out that "Moeurs de Province" is much more than a Balzacien allusion to the local color of rural life, or an attempt to highlight the juxtaposition between Emma's desire to be a "grande dame" and her social station as wife of a poor country doctor. For Holm, this subtitle has a direct correlation with the language of the provinces and its impact on the novel.
Drawing from Claude Duchet's observations on the signification of the subtitle in two different articles ("Discours social et texte italique dans Madame Bovary" in Langages de Flaubert (1976) and "Etranges moeurs de province" in Le magazine litteraire (2006)), Holm adds his own interpretive twist to the importance of Flaubert's choice of subtitle by approaching it through the work of Mikhail Bakhtine. Specifically, Holm utilizes Bakhtine's notion of dialogisme as a critical lens that highlights the metatextual dialog between Madame Bovary and Moeurs de Province, a unique perspective discernible from the very title of Holm's text that promotes for the first time the subtitle to a position similar to that of the title of the novel itself. For Holm, this change is paramount to his argument on the importance of the subtitle, which describes, as he states: "[...] l'importance cruciale des moeurs langagieres sur lesquelles le romancier normand fonde sa critique de la societe de l'epoque" (3). In this case, it is not just Emma's penchant for transposing the fictive onto the real that impedes her progress in society, but also the language she uses that is an integral part of her character, as well as of the novel itself.
Dividing his study into three distinct parts: "Le texte dialogique," "Les dimensions axiologique et temporelle," and "Le destinataire," Holm guides his readers logically into what would otherwise present a labyrinth of nebulous critical perspectives from notable scholars, past and present, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Paul Ricceur, Ferdinand de Saussure, Tzvetan Todorov, and many others. …