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Reading and French Masculinity at the Fin de Siecle
Francois Proulx, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

Grant details:

Reading the Improper in Jean Santeuil (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Reading the Improper in Jean Santeuil
Author: Proulx, François
Abstract: The unfinished and untitled text now known as Jean Santeuil was begun by Proust in 1895 and largely abandoned by the end of 1899. Proust had misgivings about the text’s generic status: ‘Puis-je appeler ce livre un roman ?,’ he writes in an unlabeled, incomplete manuscript page that stops mid-sentence. Bernard de Fallois, the editor of the first published version (1952), tidied up Proust’s disorderly manuscript into a narrative that followed the conventions of a novel of formation. A later version edited by Pierre Clarac (1971) attempted to restitute some the fragmentary nature of the text, but largely maintained Fallois’s reorderings. As noted by Jean-Yves Tadié in his update of Clarac’s version (2001), a complete critical edition of Jean Santeuil remains to be done. Proust’s strikethroughs and revisions, most notably, are not fully transcribed in any published version; the recent digitization of the manuscript (2014) makes them visible for the first time. The manuscript reveals the young Proust’s hesitations in matters of gender as well as genre, particularly around questions of reading and desire. Love scenes are rewritten to erase hints of gender ambiguity. Scenes of shared reading – precursors to the solitary reading scenes in À la recherche du temps perdu – can be dated to 1895, when Proust was enamored with the composer Reynaldo Hahn, since these sections of the manuscript are written on the same paper used by Proust and Hahn to write letters in the fall of that year. Considering Jean Santeuil less as a novel than as a composite text, alongside Proust and Hahn’s letters, allows for unexpected insight into the Proustian theory of reading, through its links to Proust’s experiences and conceptions of queerness. By undoing earlier editorial efforts toward generic purity and returning to the manuscript, we uncover a different text, and a different way of reading Proust.
Date: 11/7/16
Primary URL:
Conference Name: Nineteenth-Century French Studies Colloquium

Victims of the Book: Reading and Masculinity in Fin-de-Siècle France (Book) [show prizes]
Title: Victims of the Book: Reading and Masculinity in Fin-de-Siècle France
Author: Proulx, François
Abstract: Victims of the Book uncovers a long-neglected but once widespread subgenre: the fin-de-siècle novel of formation in France. In the final decades of the nineteenth century, social commentators insistently characterized excessive reading as an emasculating illness that afflicted French youth. Novels about and geared toward adolescent male readers were imbued with a deep worry over young Frenchmen’s masculinity, as evidenced by titles like Crise de jeunesse (Youth in Crisis, 1897), La Crise virile (Crisis of Virility, 1898), La Vie stérile (A Sterile Life, 1892), and La Mortelle Impuissance (Deadly Impotence, 1903). In this book, François Proulx examines a wide panorama of these novels, as well as polemical essays, pedagogical articles, and medical treatises on the perceived threats posed by young Frenchmen’s reading habits. Fin-de-siècle writers responded to this pathologization of reading with a profusion of novels addressed to young male readers, paradoxically proposing their own novels as potential cures. In the early twentieth century, this corpus was critically revisited by a new generation of writers. Victims of the Book shows how André Gide and Marcel Proust in particular reworked the fin-de-siècle paradox to subvert cultural norms about literature and masculinity, proposing instead a queer pact between writer and reader.
Year: 2019
Primary URL:
Publisher: University of Toronto Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9781487505479
Copy sent to NEH?: No