Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

The Elliptical Adultery of Ulysses: A Flaubertian Recipe for Succès De Scandale

Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

The Elliptical Adultery of Ulysses: A Flaubertian Recipe for Succès De Scandale

Article excerpt

When studying the writing process that gave birth to Flaubert's and Joyce's masterpieces, genetic critics tend to be struck by radically opposite tendencies: whilst Joyce's writing, especially in the last stages, is always marked by accretion, long developments unravelling in the growing margins of his manuscripts, additions and ever-increasing variations appended at the last minute to the printer's proofs, Flaubert's original inclination towards expansion is most often concluded by a reverse movement towards contraction. Whereas his first drafts may be Balzacian in their love of particulars and explanations, they systematically get pruned and purged by a writer keen on removing superfluous detail and eventually reaching the most concise expression. In other words, genetic criticism confirms what nanatological examination had already observed: the characteristic ambiguity and uncertain vision of Flaubert's final versions are in no way signs of incompleteness, but on the contrary entirely intentional effects, the last working stage on long-matured material.1 Questions may arise, however, concerning the complex relationship between such removal of specific descriptions and the censorship that was prevalent in Flaubert's time. In the final version of Madame Bovary, Emma's first consummation of her adultery with Rodolphe is an entirely elliptic moment contained in the break between two paragraphs:

hiding her face, she sunendered.

The evening shadows were falling.2

Before reaching this monument of understatement, references to physical proximity have been kept to a minimum. Although the characteristically Flaubertian use of the French imparfait conveys the ineluctability of Emma's surrender, the nanative mentions in fact but few body parts and little bodily interaction: "[e]t il allongeait son bras et lui en entourait la taille. Elle tâchait de se dégager mollement. Il la soutenait ainsi, en marchant" / "[a]nd he stretched his arm about her. She tried feebly to disengage herself. He was half-supporting her as they went along."3 Then she leans on his shoulder and abandons herself with a sigh, a shudder and a few tears. In typical cynical tones, Flaubert's instructions to himself in his original scenario had been far more graphic: "show clearly the gesture by which Rodolphe grabs her by the ass with one hand and by the waist with the other."4 It is probably impossible to decide whether delight in nanative ambiguity or fear of censors played the larger part in keeping the novelist from following his own directions. But we do know, from the scenarios of L'Education sentimentale for instance, how much Flaubert enjoyed playing with his readers' expectations, and had fully realised that frustrating them over sexual matters was an efficient manner of reaching this goal.5

Censors are readers, and playing with their expectations, especially over the question of sexual explicitness, might have been a tempting-albeit risky - way to épater le bourgeois. This may be overstating the point of Flaubert's control, but when one reads what happened at the Madame Bovary trial, the manner in which the text defeats censorship does appear like a good joke played by an all-controlling artist. Although the text suggests much, it never presents any truly explicit material, thus seemingly putting the responsibility for obscene interpretation entirely on the readercensor's gaze. Whilst Ernest Pinard, the Avocat Impérial who prosecuted the case, dwelt at length upon the "lascivious colours," "voluptuous images," and "energetic brushstrokes" of Flaubert's book, it was child's play for his lawyer, Maître Sénard, to counter the charge by pointing to the absence of any precise visual representation, let alone obscenity, and to the morally satisfying end of the heroine, whose painful agony was read out at the trial.6 Another scene that featured prominently in the defence speech was the celebrated coach ride across Rouen. The first consummation of Emma's second adulterous affair, with Léon, takes place in a hackney coach that jerks and jingles endlessly around the streets of Rouen, while the lovers remain hidden and tossed around ("ballott? …

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