The French Review 67.2 (1993): 362-363.
LEHMAN, TUULA. Transitions savantes et dissimulées.
Une étude structurelle des contes et nouvelles de Guy de
Maupassant. Vol. 92. Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum.
Helsinki: The Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, 1990. ISBN
951-653-217-9. Pp. 246.
[Reprinted with the permission of The French Review]
A study as ambitious as Tuula Lehman's -- seeking to provide both a structural and thematic analysis encompassing Guy de Maupassant's three hundred contes et nouvelles -- immediately risks disappointing the reader in failing to accomplish the goals that the author sets for herself. In this limited sense, Lehman successfully develops an overarching view of Maupassant's short form. In the first part, a study of "La Structure syntagmatique des récits," Lehman examines three key structural facets in these tales: their numerous "procédés d'ouverture" (subdivided as openings with or without "cadre"); four modes of the tales' "déroulement"; and four major "procédés de clôture." Having devoted three-fourths of her work to examining details of the "syntagmatic" construction of Maupassant's short fiction (supported by an array of classificatory charts and lists in annexes), Lehman turns to the tales' "relations paradigmatiques," i.e. the principal "thèmes" that emphasize the relations between "le moi et le monde" (la solitude, la femme, l'argent, l'objet) and dominant "images" that preoccupy "le moi" (l'animal, l'eau, le miroir, le double, le Horla).
As rich in structural and thematic details as Lehman's study
is, it is nonetheless severely flawed in terms of its critical
premises and its scholarship. On one hand, at no point does Lehman
question the uninflected "structuralist" methodology
that she employs, as if the multi-faceted, "post-structuralist"
critique of this approach never occurred. Moreover, in establishing
the "syntagmatic" (linear) and "paradigmatic"
(thematic) distinctions, Lehman cites Todorov's Qu'est-ce que
le structuralisme? (1973) without indicating any awareness
that these "relations in praesentia" and "in absentia"
are themselves derived from Saussurean linguistics (and with no
mention of the difficulties and limitations that this derivation might imply). Even were one to accept the "structuralist" premises and the syntagmatic-paradigmatic analytical model, it is surprising that Lehman does not refer to Roman Jakobson, and particularly to his famous essay "Linguistics and Poetics" (Style in Language, Thomas A. Sebeok, ed. [Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960] 350-377). For, by connecting her analysis of Maupassant's tales to the "poetic function" of language that "projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection [paradigmatic] into the axis of combination [syntagmatic]" (Jakobson 358), Lehman might have at least provided an effective explanation of how the two sets of relations create distinctive, literary intersections.
On the other hand, the potential contribution of Lehman's study
is drastically curtailed by her failure to refer to a single North
American publication in Maupassant criticism besides Edward D.
Sullivan's Maupassant the Novelist (Princeton U Press, 1954). I refer only to the most obvious and available of Lehman's critical omissions, all of the extensive work on Maupassant's novels and tales by Mary Donaldson-Evans, culminating in her masterful thematic and stylistic study, A Woman's Revenge: The Chronology ofDispossession in Maupassant's Fiction (Lexington: French Forum, 1986), and to essays by Brewster Fitz on mirrors (The French Review
45.5  954-963) and Katherine Kurk on the divided self (Nineteenth-Century French Studies 14.3-4  284-294). Although I may well be accused of chauvinism for taking exception to Lehman's critical Eurocentrism, I maintain that to attain the primary goal of
the doctoral thesis, i.e. of making an original contribution to a scholarly domain, it is incumbent upon a candidate and her/his advisors to develop as inclusive a critical view as possible, if
only to avoid re-inventing the scholarly wheel. While I must admit, in all fairness, that Lehman's access to European sources is substantial, she still does not avail herself of some quite
pertinent criticism, omitting most notably the collection of Cerisy essays edited by Jacques Lecarme and Bruno Vercier, Maupassant. Miroir de la nouvelle (Saint-Denis: Presses universitaires de Vincennes, 1988), as well as a path-breaking structural analysis by
Claudine Giacchetti (Neophilologus 65.1  15-20). Thus, given the increasing restraints on libraries' financial resources, I can recommend Lehman's study on no substantive grounds other than the author's attention to structural details, and only to those readers or institutions that pride themselves in the comprehensive coverage of critical holdings.
Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University