Format: PMLA Style
I. Discourses in Struggle
In several persuasive treatises on the novel, Mikhail Bakhtin/V.N. Volosinov have insisted on the need for a dialogic understanding of novelistic prose, \1 and this necessity is perhaps nowhere more acute than in studies on the fiction of the nineteenth-century French novelist, Barbey d'Aurevilly. To consider only the six tales of Les Diaboliques (1874), \2 I am interested in examining how their predominant narrative and thematic tensions intersect to produce the dialogical tug-of-war of voices which characterize these texts. Bakhtin calls this the "dialogic interaction with an alien word" which not only is in the object, "afocal point for heteroglot voices among which the writer's own must also sound." This interaction is also "directed toward an answer and cannot escape the profound influence of the answering word that it anticipates" (DI 278-280) and gives rise to an active, "responsive understanding." Such understanding, says Bakhtin, "establishes a series of complex interrelationships, consonances and dissonances with the word and enriches it with new elements" (DI 282). By studying the directions and misdirections prevalent in these tales from the perspective of narrative voice and its dialogization, I wish to respond to two sets of questions raised by these textual dialogues regarding, on one hand, the interplay of narrative levels and modes of focalization with thematic and discursive strategies in Barbey's work, and on the other hand, the relationship that this narrative interplay suggests for developing a "feminist dialogics." \3
The first set of questions concerns the primary focus of Les Diaboliques in terms of the relationship between the "central" histoire and the "marginal" discours: do the multi-tiered framing devices for the conversational "ricochets" in these tales serve, as some critics maintain, to direct the reader's attention primarily to each text's seemingly all-important framed histoire, to the exclusion of the bothersome, even irritating framing dialogues and digressions? \4 Do these tales constitute, as other critics insist, either a synthetic totality or the subversion, even the destruction, of the histoire by "marginal," yet primary, textual effects? \5 These different modes of reading, that we can characterize respectively, following Timothy Unwin, as "linear," "synthetic" and "peripheral" (363), recall what Bakhtin has identified as the centripetal force of language, the constitution of a unitary language which is opposed to "the realities of heteroglossia" (DI 270). Unwin concludes that "dans cette tension, cette contradiction" between opposing readingsto which these tales give rise, "se trouve peut-être la véritable originalité des Diaboliques, car elles renvoient sans cesse à la problématique de l'écriture" (363). From this perspective, certain critics have emphasized the importance of understanding the dialogic unfolding of Barbey's tales in terms of the dynamic relationship between the tales' apparent "peripheries" and "central" histoires. \6 Similarly, Bakhtin develops this very emphasis by noting that the centrifugal forces of language, i.e. of dialogized heteroglossia, carry on their uninterrupted work of "decentralization and disunification" alongside the centripetal forces (DI 272). \7 Furthermore, says Bakhtin, "the framing context, like the sculptor's chisel, hews out the rough outlines of someone else's speech, and carries the image of language out of the raw empirical data of speech life" (DI 358, my emphasis). In this way, the dialogic perspective insists on the text's inherent socio-ideological tension created by the dynamic interplay between narrative border and center.
I will argue that it is through a "responsive understanding" of the interplay and tensions within the framing context that the double-voiced relationships in Les Diaboliques can be best examined. At this point, however, another question arises regarding the relationship between text and reader in conceptualizing "dialogics" from a feminist perspective. Using Bakhtin's terms, how does the narrative "object," or story, of Les Diaboliques maintain a constant tension in regards to the multiple "answering word" manifested not only as textualized interlocutors and narrators of each tale, but also as reader? I follow recent feminist and narratological studies in maintaining that the reader's understanding of the dialogical interaction depends both on resisting the author's narrational ploys that draw from the centripetal forces of language to create a primarily unitary reading (be it "linear," "synthetic" or "peripheral"), and on appreciating the narrative and socio-ideological constructions developed through the textual interplay of conflicting forces of voices "on" and "off" in these anecdotal dialogues. \8 In this respect, recent studies that develop "feminist dialogics" aim precisely to enable the reader to find "a space of resistance in interpretive communities" (Bauer 159). \9 However, as Finke argues persuasively, feminist literary criticism must "enable us to create a position from which we can, as a first step, deconstruct subvert the hierarchical center/margin dichotomy," a provisional position "always subject to revision based on the shifting relations between centers and margins of social and critical discourse" (266). As Finke suggests, Bakhtin offers an extremely useful distinction not only for encouraging "creative misreading" (267), but also to enhance our own critical understanding of the dialogical struggle in Barbey's fiction: authoritative discourse and internally persuasive discourse, says Bakhtin, may be conceived as forms by which another's discourse strives "to determine the very bases of our ideological interrelations with the world" (DI 342). On one hand, authoritative discourse is, quite simply, "the word of the fathers. Its authority was already acknowledged in the past" (DI 342-343), remaining "sharply demarcated" from other types of discourse (DI 343). Furthermore, Bakhtin maintains that authoritative discourse's very "inertia," "semantic finiteness and calcification . . . the impermissibility of any free stylistic development in relation to it," all contribute to rendering "the artistic representation of authoritative discourse impossible," its role in the novel being "insignificant" and "incapable of being double-voiced" (DI 344).
Internally persuasive discourse, on the other hand, would presumably be the word of the mothers, and its characteristics seem to support this since it is "denied all privilege, backed by no authority at all, and is frequently not even acknowledged in society" (DI 342). When we acknowledge and assimilate such discourse, Bakhtin argues, it is "tightly interwoven with 'one's own word'," that is, "not so much interpreted by us as it is further, that is, freely, developed, applied to new material, new conditions," entering into "interanimating relationships with newcontexts" (DI 345-346). Furthermore, internally persuasive discourse"enters into an intense interaction, a struggle with other internally persuasive discourses," such as the ongoing and constant "struggle within each of us which constitutes our ideological development" (DI 346). Finally, the inherent resistance to such a discourse is the "soil," says Bakhtin, in which "novelistic images, profoundly double-voiced and double-languaged, are born" in that they "seek to objectivize the struggle with all types of internally persuasive alien discourse that had at one time held sway over the author" (DI 348).
Without wishing to follow this
line of theorizing in the psychologizing direction that it suggests,
I believe that these discursive categories can be usefully deployed
by understanding their definitions in a dynamic rather than static
way as means of emphasizing the constant dialogic interaction
which they entail. Like Barthes's écriture scriptible
and plurielle, which is an ideal category rarely, if ever,
attained in literature, both the authoritative and the internally
persuasive discourses constitute extremes on an ideal polyphonic
spectrum that are actualized in prose in "parcimonious"
form (10). That is, just as "our ideological development,"
says Bakhtin, "is just such an intense struggle within us
for hegemony among various available and verbal points of view"
(DI 346), these discourses are locked in ongoing dialogical struggle,
each yielding some of the absolute traits in the direction of
the other when actualized. \10 Such a productive tension can help
us better to discern the narrative interplay, i.e. the contest
for authority and persuasion, at work in all texts as strategies
of "narrative desire" and especially in the tales of
Les Diaboliques. I wish to argue that neither discursive
category necessarily "wins" or ultimately dominates
these tales, but rather are kept in a state of precarious movement
and of curious ambiguity due to the double-voiced nature of their
dialogic enunciation. I propose therefore to examine the polyphonic
ambiguity and tension in the opening tale of Les Diaboliques,
"Le Rideau Cramoisi," and then to develop in the final
section the discursive variations of sexual and textual difference
that occur in the five other tales as manifestations of their
constitutive, double-voiced oscillation.
II. "Le Rideau cramoisi"
In the opening tale, the anonymous,
homodiegetic narrator encounters a fellow passenger, the vicomte
de Brassard, in a coach while crossing Normandy, and when the
coach is forced to halt that night for repairs in a Norman village
that the vicomte clearly knows well, the narrator coaxes him to
relate the tale of his earlier stay there. The vicomte's tale
thus forms the embedded narrative, the voice "on," that
constitutes the focus of the diegetic development, i.e. the relations
between the youthful vicomte, then only a lieutenant, and the
daughter of his host family, the silent Mlle Albertine, known
as Alberte, during his stay in their home, culminating in Alberte's
apparent death-from-jouissance followed by the vicomte's
strategic and rapid departure. The ponderous silence of Alberte
is linked both to her audacity in initiating their physical relations
in her parents' house and to her evident sexual enjoyment (at
least as related by the somewhat bewildered vicomte), and these
combined traits signal the supposedly "diabolical" nature
of her demeanor. This is especially emphasized in the final moments
of the vicomte's conversation with the narrator as he notices
"l'ombre svelte d'une taille de femme" (D 84) passing
before the crimson curtain he knew so well. As we shall see, that
fleeting, final "diabolical" image, broken sharply by
the driver's command for departure, "Roulez!," has not
only thematic, but dialogical
resonances for the voices "on" and "off".
What interests me particularly
is the discursive displacement that becomes evident in the dialogic
struggle during the tale. Prior to engaging the vicomte, the narrator
clearly revels in his own ample verbiage, describing at length
his travelling companion, particularly the distinctive characteristics
of the vicomte's
dandyism and military reputation as a willful captain who renounced his commission in 1830 rather than serve under the Orleanist rule. Once engaged in casual conversation with the vicomte, all of whose initial comments are related indirectly, the narrator continues to cherish his authoritative role, explaining that "un des avantages de la causerie en voiture, c'est qu'elle peut cesser quand on n'a plus rien à se dire, et cela sans embarras pour personne" (D 35). By contrast, in a salon, "la politesse vous fait un devoir de parler," with the frequent result of being punished "de cette hypocrisie innocente par le vide et l'ennui de ces conversations" with idiots (D 35). Thus, through his control of narrative discourse, both of its quantity and its mode of focalization, the narrator asserts a decisive authority during the opening segment of the tale. But, once the vicomte echoes the narrator's own fascination with a particular anonymous window, by murmuring "comme s'il se parlait à lui-même, 'On dirait que c'est toujours le même rideau'!" (D 39), the narrator, a self-proclaimed "chasseur d'histoires" (D 40), rises to the occasion in order to elicit the vicomte's anecdote that would explain his apparently distracted remark.
We must ask, however, who is in
fact the hunter and who is the prey, for the prefatory comments
by the vicomte de Brassard are themselves quite enticing. The
narrator's questioning reveals that 1) behind the vicomte's memory
of the curtain dwells the memory of awoman, 2) that rather than
having conquered her, it was the young, inexperienced vicomte
who was conquered, and 3) that he fled at this defeat "'quoique
trop tard et . . . avec une peur à me faire comprendre
la phrase du maréchal Ney . . . "Je voudrais bien
savoir quel est le Jean-f... (il lâcha le mot tout au long)
qui dit n'avoir jamais eu peur!"'" (D 43). This series
of repartees, unbeknownst to the narrator, constitutes a verbal
engagement which he apparently "wins" with his leading
comment, "'Une histoire dans laquelle vous avez eu cette
sensation-là doit être fameusement intéressante,
capitaine!" (D 43). But even as the vicomte assents to relate this event, it becomes clear that he will do so on and in his own terms, a narrative authority first manifested by his dramatic pause before beginning and by his strategic position in the dark corner of the coach, his face invisible, forcing the narrator, now the vicomte's
audience, to focus "à sa voix seule, -- aux moindres nuances de sa voix" (D 44).
The subsequent tale can be read,
then, as a dialogical struggle between voices "on" and
"off," i.e. between the raconteur of the framed,
focal tale and the now-displaced narrator, both interlocutors
asserting varying degrees of authoritative and internally persuasive
discourses for mastery of the narrative situation. Since the vicomte
has conquered the word, i.e. literally pris la parole,
wrested it away from the narrator with his direct
speech, he is able to assert throughout the ensuing narrative his own authoritative discourse, of both the soldier and the dandy, that contributes to what Boucher calls Barbey's "esthétique de la dissimulation et de la provocation" (7-12). Yet, this authority remains parcimonious in that it is shot through with the quite evident and insistent traits of the vicomte's internally persuasive discourse. For the reader (if not the listener) is struck by the terms in which the vicomte's own "defeat," quite literally at thehands of Alberte, is expressed since the crucial scene at the host family's dinner table reveals the vicomte's own vulnerability to surprise attack:
"Au moment où je déliais
ma serviette sur mes genoux . . . je sentis une main qui prenait
hardiment la mienne
par-dessous la table... Je n'eus que l'incroyable sensation de cette main jusque sous ma serviette! . . . Tout mon sang, allumé sous cette prise, se précipita de mon coeur dans cette main . . . Je crus que j'allais m'évanouir, que j'allais me dissoudre dans l'indicible volupté causée par la chair tassée de cette main . . . Je fis un mouvement pour retirer ma main de cette folle main qui l'avait saisie, mais qui, me la serrant alors avec l'ascendant du plaisir qu'elle avait conscience de me verser, la garda d'autorité, vaincue comme ma volonté . . . " (D 54-55)
In quoting this at length (and it continues for several more paragraphs, shifting the focus from the hand to the foot that Alberte rubs under the table), I present but a small sample of the obsessive emphasis which this dually discursive voice places both on the corporality and on the concomitant madness, and even monstrosity, of his female aggressor. Thus, juxtaposed to the authoritative discourse so skillfully usurped and maintained from the narrator is the quavering internally persuasive discourse bent on the exposition and justification of the fear occasioned not simply by the increasingly "diabolical" actions of Alberte, but also by the displaced tumescence and attendent loss of authority.
As counterpoint to this interplay
of discourses are the efforts of the voice "off," i.e.
of the narrator's framing context to express itself, and it is
this struggle with the voice "on" that serves, like
the "sculptor's chisel," to establish textual contour
and nuance within the tale. For the narrator pointedly interrupts
the vicomte, the first time "car son histoire me faisait
l'effet de tourner un peu vite à une leste aventure de
garnison" (D 59), and
the narrator's own answering anecdote appears to seek to reassert its authority as voice "on" by transmitting the evidence of his own experience and savoir-vivre. Yet, as he breaks into the vicomte's story, the narrator's persuasive discourse emerges to undermine his own authority by admitting, in implicit apology to the listener/reader, that he has intruded without "[se] dout[er] de ce qui allait suivre" (D 59). Nonetheless, intermittently throughout the tale's second half, the narrator attempts to usurp the parole of the vicomte who, in turn, skillfully parries each verbal assault. For example, to the narrator's initial interruption, the vicomte
responds "froidement," continuing quite smoothely, "'mais laissez-moi vous achever [mon histoire]'" (D 60). To a coarse comment regarding Alberte's apparently easy virtue, the vicomte "reprit comme s'il n'avait pas entendu ma moqueuse observation" (D 68-69). Later, despite the narrator's continuing attempts to establish his own authority by expressing impatience and incredulity with successive joking comments, his persuasive discoure again returns as he remarks to the listener/reader that his interventions are explicitly meant to make himself "ne pas paraître trop pris par son histoire, qui me prenait, car, avec les dandys, on n'a guère que la plaisanterie pour se faire un peu respecter" (D 74). Furthermore, the narrator admits that he is willfully "contrariant" (D 74) in attempting to match the vicomte's portrayal of Alberte's aplomb with a counter-example. But rather than humiliating the vicomte with an adroit comparison, the narrator is himself taken down a peg by the vicomte's intimate knowledge of details of this very counter-example, also allowing him not only to return deftly to his own story, but to introduce its final phase with a reference to the frightening dénouement (D 74-75).
Here, the "diabolical"
elements of Alberte's final visit and death confront the authoritative
discourse of the framed narration, i.e. the vicomte's skillful
control of la parole, and thereby fortify the internally
persuasive diegesis, i.e. the obsessive details of corporality
and monstrosity, even of hallucination, that contribute to the
vicomte's loss of authority in his relations with Alberte. This
weakening is clearly contagious for once the vicomte completes
his tale, "sa forte voix un peu brisée," the
narrator "ne songeai[t] plus à plaisanter," and
instead is forced to break the silence by asking, "'Et après?'"
(D 83). The vicomte's explanation of how he was unable, and eventually
unwilling, to confirm the suspected fate of Alberte after his
rapid departure serves to clarify the ultimately persuasive point
of his own tale, notably to justify the foundation of "'cette
peur que je ne voulais pas sentir une seconde fois'" (D 84).
This scandalous sentiment, as much for the dandy as for the soldier,
echoes the vicomte's earlier admission that this event "'a
marqué à jamais d'une tache noire tous mes
plaisirs de mauvais sujet'" (D 43). The final remarks also function to transform the narrator's own perceptions of "ce dandy," persuasively revealing the vicomte as "un homme plus profond qu'il ne paraissait" (D 84). \11 But, unbeknownst to either voice, these remarks prepare the ultimate coup de grâce, as it were, to the force
of authoritative discourse, dealt initially to the apparent victory of the centripetal voice "on," i.e. its dislocation by the invasion of "reality" into the framed narration: first, the vicomte's attempts to maintain authority are finally disrupted by the haunting movement of a shadow (perhaps of Alberte, perhaps imagined), passing before the crimson curtain. The discursive displacement is revealed by his final bitter remark, "'Le hasard est par trop moqueur ce soir'" (D 84), and then, as the carriage departs, the framing narrator's final comments reveal the strength that this discourse has had in his existence. For he admits, in the present tense, that the same window with its crimson curtain still continues to haunt his every dream, suggesting that the "diabolical" invades the dialogical, the authoritative discourse shifting abruptly in the dialogical struggle with the polyphonic need-to-persuade. Yet this conflict is one that functions in a compensatory manner "between
men," to use strategically the title of Sedgwick's study, i.e. the homosocial bond-in-conflict serving to attempt to palliate the "diabolical" dis-ease occasioned by contact with the forceful, if silent presence of (a) woman.
III. Dialogism and "Diabolism"
In the analytical model that I have developed of the double-voiced struggle of discourses in "Le Rideau cramoisi," I have attempted to provide not only an understanding of the dynamic nature of this struggle, but also a dialogical means to resist the "complicity of author and reader [that] is so essential to production that the reader, like the intinerant listener, must be manipulated in such a way that he desires participation" (Sivert "Narration and Exhibitionism," 149). This discursive conflict unfolds with varying degrees of complexity in each of Les Diaboliques, with lesser or greater dialogical weight vested in the narrator, the voice "off," vis-à-vis the framed tale, or voice "on," and I wish to suggest a brief typology of their progression in terms of the "diabolical" sexual difference implied by the polyphonic discursive development just outlined.
"Le Bonheur dans le Crime"
is quite similar to the opening tale, but the dialogical tension
arises almost entirely in the duelling discoures of the framed
narrator, le docteur Torty, whose authoritative, medical discourse
is vested in his voyeuristic, pseudo-scientific obsession with
observing and thus knowing the
"true" nature of the relationship between the mysterious, "diabolical" Hauteclaire de Stassin and her companion and lover, le comte de Savigny. This authoritative impulse reveals, in fact, that the doctor's obsession is itself part of their incomprehensible "bonheur" by dint of his solitary pleasure of observation,
constituting an ascetic sexual practice from which the doctor must persuade the listener that he has remained immune, but which thereader comes to understand as the dominant movement of internally persuasive discourse.
"A un Dîner d'Athées,"
despite similarities to the opening tale, presents dual dialogic
tensions which interweave in a more complex manner. On one hand,
between Mesnilgrand, the narrator of the embedded tale, and his
interlocutors, the irreverent guests at the dinner in his home,
there ensues a struggle for anticlerical,
more-blasphemous-than-thou authority linked to an intense simultaneous movement to persuade, i.e. to elucidate convincingly the sacralizing events which apparently belie Mesnilgrand's authoritative force. On the other hand, a more marginal, oblique struggle occurs as the moralistic, almost incredulous observations
of the framing narrator attempt to assert his own implicitly religious authority, undermined, nonetheless, by the narrator's evident fascination, despite himself, with the persuasive force as well as with the blasphemous authority of the voices "on," of Mesnilgrand and his companions.
The framing structure of "Le Plus Bel Amour de Don Juan" is more Balzacian since the framing narrator relates a tale in confidence to a marquise, a tale recounted to him by and about the eponymous Don Juan, i.e. le comte Ravila de Ravilès's dinner with twelve adoring noble women who persuade him to reveal the tale of his "plus bel amour." Here, the voice "on" (recounting the tale that he tells to the women) is itself double-voiced as voice "off" since, throughout the tale, there exists not only a confusion of narrative levels, but also a struggle for authority and persuasion concerning which voice "off" is relating these remarks at any given moment, the original, framing narrator to the marquise or Ravila de Ravilès to the framing narrator. This complexity, in turn, provides the structure of a fierce discursive conflict in which "le 'bon' narrateur, celui qui sait, reste toujours insaisissable" (Ropars-Wuilleumier 123), and in which the boundaries between authority and persuasion thus apparently disappear altogether.
"Le Dessous de Cartes d'Une
Partie de Whist" compounds this dialogic complexity and tension
by presenting multiple framed narrators within an embedded tale
of silent fascination, ending in the likely murders of an adolescent
girl and her illegitimate baby. \12The dialogical "reverse
side" of the repressive social scene
is recounted through the voice "on" of an authoritative raconteur who, like Mesnilgrand among the atheists, must contend with the interlocutors' resistance to his tale, but here, as in "Le Plus Bel Amour de Don Juan," by various interlocutrices (attentive women speakers). Moreover, this dialogic interaction is situated within
the truly parcimonious authority of the framing narrator whosepresence both on the margins of the framed tale and at the edge of the site of its enunciation, the -salon- of la baronne de Mascranny, seems designed to mask the discretely silent, yet intense relationship between this nearly hidden voice "off," and another listener/observer, the statuesque comtesse de Damnaglia. Yet, this "dessous," or reverse side, of the scene of narration mirrors the multiple "dessous" within the embedded narrative itself, notably the implicit relationship of the raconteur as a youth with the embedded tale's protagonist, Marmor de Karkoël, the effect of his example on the subsequent attitudes of the raconteur, and the dialogic tension, however parcimonious, existing between the raconteur's voice "on" and the narrator's voice "off," but whose gaze is incessantly
focussed on the back of the comtesse, quivering in silent response to the tale being recounted, and perhaps to circumstances of itspresentation.
What Les Diaboliques all
share is the final result: these tales of dialogic interaction
and tension result in silence, but at the cost of the suffering,
even death, of one, if not several, female bodies. That is, as
I suggested briefly for "Le Rideau cramoisi," the dialogical
duels emphasize the homosocial bond which dominatesthese confrontations,
even when occurring in the presence and at the request of women,
silenced in their role of interlocutrices. Likewise, the
cost of the reader's "desire for narration" is the passive,
"readerly" consumption of the focal tale in the role
of witness implicitly positioned in relation to the texts' dialogical
struggles. But the further cost, of course, is not merely the
exclusion, but even the destruction, if not of the reader, then
certainly of women. \13 For the Docteur Torty in "Le Bonheur
dans le Crime," this silence is situated in the mystery of
happiness in relation to, and even because of, the shared crime
of Hauteclaire de
Stassin and the count de Savigny, i.e. the murder of the latter's wife. For Mesnilgrand in "A un Dîner d'Athées" the violent and hideously lethal confrontation between the seductive La Pudica and her lover inspires the heretofore silent motives that eventually cause Mesnilgrand's incongruously reverent act of entrusting to a priest a dead baby's shrunken heart. In "Le Plus Bel Amour de Don Juan," the simultaneously impossible, yet disturbingly elliptical events leading to a young girl's impregnation and death are related by the eponymous framed narrator as "le plus bel amour que j'aie inspiré de ma vie" (D 109). This perplexing admission not only produces silence, first, among his twelve noble interlocutrices, then entirely in the framing conversation of the voices "off," but also results in the usurpation of authority through the duchess's
mysterious final words, "'Sans cela...'," an elliptical remark suggesting the implicit authority of a whole counter-tale. In "Le Dessous de Cartes d'une Partie de Whist," after the departure of the framed tale's protagonist, "ce diable de Marmor de Karkoël," the revelation of the triple death of a mother, daughter and smothered infant, is the diegetic counter-part both of the framed male raconteur's relation to the resistance of the attentive, female listeners, and of the silent, scopophilic presence of the anonymous male narrator's gaze focussing on the back of the "statuesque" comtesse de Damnaglia.
However, it is in "La Vengeance
d'une Femme" that the voice "on" itself succumbs
to this diabolical force of silence, for it is only in this tale
that the narratological situations are doubly exceptional, on
one hand, with the framing narrator as a conventionally anonymous,
heterodiegetic observor, and on the other hand, the framed narrator
as raconteuse, i.e. the eponymous vengeful woman. \14 It
would appear that this voice "on" truly imposes both
its authoritative and persuasive forces since, like the almost
disembodied hand of Alberte in "Le Rideau cramoisi,"
the noblewoman's voice renders the interlocutor, the apparent
protagonist Robert de Tressignies, physically and vocally impotent.
Yet, the dialogical interaction is completed in the final pages
the anonymous narrator via the focalization of de Tressignies as he (and the reader) discover from a gambler that the vengeful and authoritative female voice and body, that dared to speak persuasively while enacting an authoritative carnal vengeance, was buried that very morning after suffering, like Zola's heroine in Nana, a hideously disfiguring malady. Yet, as Charles Bernheimer points out, the putrefaction of this body constitutes the final chapter of "the story of her shameful debasement . . . of her prostitution" which will undoubtedly be recounted to her husband, the duke of Sierra Leone. That is, the duchess's plot (her prostitution and eventual death in scandalous circumstances) is a calculated expression of the internally persuasive discourse aimed
at "turning the possessive privilege inherent in the father's name against the patriarchal order that name sustains" (Figures 78).
The dialogical interaction itself,
the struggle between authoritative and internally persuasive discourses,
thus wreaks a cruel vengeance in Barbey d'Aurevilly's tales on
those who presume to usurp the authoritative discourse and to
persuade too effectively. The conditions for polite attendance
to these words, for example, in "Don Juan," are stunned
silence, except by one final voice, suggesting what Angela Moger
calls the possible "accession of the female to verbal power"
("Don Juanism"). Once the lines of politesse
are transgressed, as in "Le Rideau cramoisi" as well
as for the Doctor Torty, Mesnilgrand, and both narrators in "Le
de Cartes," the silence is accompanied by a contagious obsession which cannot be relieved, even through the most extreme acts of self-redemption. Like the traveler in "Le Rideau cramoisi" who seeks the advantage of silence "quand on n'a plus rien à se dire" (D 35), the effective authoritative speech of the voice "off" finally gains this advantage over the characters of the framed tale, and more importantly, over the framed narrator's voice "on," all the more brutally silenced when the same voice is manifested as a woman's enunciation (cf. Wall 226-227). For the actions of Alberte as well as for other female characters such as Hauteclaire de Stassin ("Le Bonheur dans le Crime"), La Pudica ("A un Dîner d'Athées"), and the mothers and daughters of "Le Plus Bel Amour" and "Le Dessous de Cartes," however subtle, are all the more passionate, thus "speak"
more loudly than words, in a persuasive mode which seems to call for suppression by an authoritative voice. The effect of such direct dialogical interaction is most clearly seen through the portrayal of the vengeful duchess's usurpation of la parole. The "diabolical" vengeance which she seeks and appears to achieve in the final putrefaction of her body is itself countered by the dialogical and diegetic retaliation enacted, respectively, upon her discourse and upon her body, as evidence of a vengeance "which is really that of a man" (Bernheimer, Figures 81), i.e. the authoritative violence perpetrated in Les Diaboliques, but not merely toward the persuasive accession to (verbal) power of females. This violence is directed toward the reading subject, positioned in a dialogue "between men," but required, as I have argued, to resist such positioning so that the reading act might remain "alive," that is, active and productive. I have attempted to provide an example of such productive resistance that would enable the reading subject to counter the diverse effects of "narrative desire" through a strategy of re-reading, attentive not only to the textual, but the sexual and
dialogical means constitutive of the writer's narrative authority and force of duplicity.
1/ References to Bakhtin's The
Dialogical Imagination are abbreviated DI in the text. On
the relationship between dialogics and narrative, cf. Belleau,
Emerson, and Park-Fuller.
2/ All references to Les Diaboliques are abbreviated D in the text.
3/ On "feminist dialogics," cf. Bauer, Diaz-Diocaretz, Finke, and Anne Hermann.
4/ Cf., for example, Berthier, and Giard who, despite her mise en question of the narrator's authority, still emphasizes the importance of the histoire through the "blancs" that characterize it.
5/ Cf. Boucher, Cardonne-Arlyck, Debray-Genette, Moger "Gödel's," Petit, Ropars-Wuilleumier, Tranouez, and Verrier.
6/ Notably Brooks and Sivert. To these essays, one might add the psycho-textual analyses proposed by Marini, Gaillard and Mugnier-Manfredi "Mécanismes."
7/ Although Tranouez develops the centripetal-centrifugal distinction in "'L'éfficacité,'" in "Récit révocatoire," and in the extension of these essays in Fascination et narration (433-452; 531-557), his focus is on the framing narrator (which he calls "L'Auditeur") as the locus of "les deux flux inverses qui polarisent
le récit" ("L'éfficacité" 57; -Fascination- 445-446), and not on the dialogic event itself as manifestation of this conflicting narrative movement.
8/ From the wide field of feminist and narratological criticism, my study is guided most notably by Chambers, Fetterley, Genette, Lanser, and Schweickart.
9/ For a review essay on these questions, cf. Thompson.
10/ Similarly, Wall notes that "the opposition between internallypersuasive and authoritarian [sic] discourse is an abstract opposition built on ideal extremes and that even the most authoritarian of texts is in reality forced to take into itself atleast part of the view represented by the voices it seeks to repress" (212).
11/ As Boucher notes, "le dandy tend donc vers l'être le plus parfait possible, qui a la force de maintenir et de vivre sescontradictions, réalisant ainsi en lui la coincidence des principes contraires" (11). For Barbey's own conception of the dandy, cf. his Du Dandysme et de George Brummell (1844).
12/ On the tale's structural and thematic complexity, cf.Verrier's "Les dessous" and Tranouez "Ricochets," developed in Fascination et narration, 219-249.
13/ On the fate of Barbey's heroines in Les Diaboliques, cf. Claudine Herrmann 99-120. On the place of women in Barbey's texts, cf. also Berthier, "Oser oser," Sivert, "Text, Body and Reader," Mugnier-Manfredi, "L'effacement," Peylet, and Werly.
14/ On "La Vengeance d'une femme," cf. Tranouez, Fascination et narration 559-590, and Bernheimer "Female Sexuality" as well as his chapter, "Barbey's Dandy Narratives," Figures of Ill Repute 69-88.
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