Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Polyphony and Counterpoint: Mechanisms of Seduction in the Diaries of Helen Hessel and Henri Pierre Roche/Polifonie En Kontrapunt: Meganismes Van Verleiding in Die Dagboeke Van Helen Hessel En Henri Pierre Roche

Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Polyphony and Counterpoint: Mechanisms of Seduction in the Diaries of Helen Hessel and Henri Pierre Roche/Polifonie En Kontrapunt: Meganismes Van Verleiding in Die Dagboeke Van Helen Hessel En Henri Pierre Roche

Article excerpt

[...] je relis tout ce que j'ai ecrit depuis trois semaines. Je trouve pour moi interessant la vie meme, avec ses fluctuations d'amour et de haine, ou de froideur et de volonte de rupture--qui sont l'amour. J'y sens la montee, le crescendo de notre amour. (1) (Roche 1990)

When Henri Pierre Roche and Helen Hessel met in August 1920, several factors converged to transform their resulting affair into a modern myth of love. But neither the novel Jules et Jim nor Francois Truffaut's New Wave masterpiece quite captures the subtleties of the seduction that wove such a twisted tale of love and passion. A juxtaposed reading of their respective diaries generates a fascinating polyphony, plunging the reader, as a vicarious participant in the unfolding of events, into the dynamic core of love.

The dense polyphonic texture of this narrative stems not only from the diaries of Roche and Helen Hessel but also from the various literary and philosophical references that are either explicitly or implicitly present in their writing. Within the diverging and converging movement of these distinct diary fragments, accompanied by allusions and intertextual references, a dynamic image emerges of the birth and death of love. Initial desire and seduction are fuelled by constant regeneration in the act of daily writing, writing that contributes to the transfiguration of the world as it creates a new and palpable reality whilst preserving emotions and passions which would otherwise decay and dissolve. The fragments of a diary are not impartial. They possess their own agency as constituents of an individual life and the way in which this individual chooses to make sense of his life but without the relative certainty awarded by hindsight as is the case with autobiography. Even so, complete transparency remains an illusion that can only feed an illusory desire when the diary is intended to serve as a tool to fan the flames of passion. As Georges Gusdorf (1991) explains in Les Ecritures du moi:

   Entre le moi vecu et l'ecriture du moi selon l'ordre de l'ecriture,
   se realise une transsubstantiation, ou plutot une denaturation si
   le moi veut se dire en forme de discours [...]' (2) (p. 336)

Intertextual references can, to a certain extent, help to fill the disconcerting and deceptive gaps left by the fragmented narrative of the two parallel diaries. By combining various lines of narrative, like melody lines in a contrapuntal composition, we distinguish the contours of love, following its irrepressible eruption and imagining its destruction. For the end of love, le desamour, reveals the force of passion in the energy required for its obliteration. In Jules et Jim, the novel Henri Pierre Roche would eventually write about his relationship with Helen Hessel, this devastating erasure of love could only be projected in the death of their literary alter egos.

Born in 1879, Henri Pierre Roche decides as early as 1902 that his life should be devoted to the study of the relationship between man and woman. 'J'etudierai les relations morales, intellectuelles, sociales et sexuelles de l'Homme et de la Femme' (3) (Journal: 15 August 1902). In this vast programme sexuality rapidly emerges as the linchpin that will define all other relationships. His main reference will be himself, his life and experiences. He accepts that this might entail a sacrifice '[...] renonciation au bonheur--renonciation a une vie pour connaitre beaucoup de vies' (4) (Journal: 04 October 1902). He, therefore, anticipates having to live several lives, parallel lives that would allow him to multiply experiences. This project, initially referred to as 'la polygamie experimentale' would soon become a way of life. The documentation of his experiences starts out in an orderly, pseudo-scientific fashion. After placing a matrimonial advertisement, he carefully selects correspondents and exchanges a few letters before suggesting a meeting. Details of the meetings are then documented on cards, in A6 format. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.