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Philippe Dufour (University of Tours)


Philippe Dufour, holding a degree from the École Normale Sup¨¦rieure in Paris, is currently professor of French language and literature at the University of Tours. His main research themes are realism, aesthetics of fiction, writing of emotions, etc. He is a member of the Institute of Modern Texts and Manuscripts (Institut des Textes et Manuscrits Modernes, CNRS, Paris), a member of the International Balzacian Research Group (Groupe international de recherches balzaciennes) and editor-in-chief of the online journal Flaubert. Revue critique et g¨¦n¨¦tique. He has taught at the English University of Johannesburg in South Africa, at the University of Paraiba in Brazil, at Columbia University in the United States, at the École Normale Sup¨¦rieure de Meknes in Morocco, etc. His published works include Flaubert and the Pignouf (Flaubert et le pignouf, 1993), Flaubert or the Prose of the Silence (Flaubert ou la prose du silence, 1997), Realism. From Balzac to Proust (Le R¨¦alisme. De Balzac ¨¤ Proust, 1998), The Romantic Thought of Language (La Pens¨¦e romanesque du langage, 2004), The Novel Is a Dream (Le Roman est un songe, 2010), The Literature of Images (La litt¨¦rature des images, 2016).


Le railleur r¨¦aliste/On the Realist Mockers

The French realism of the 19th century could be defined by one tone: mockery. According to Balzac, it was determined by history. The realist writer did not see himself as a romantic mage destined to enlighten his readers or chart the paths of the future. Instead, he pointed out the dead ends of the present, while the bourgeois liberal democracy sought to impose its model after the revolution of 1830: ¡°Today we can only mock. Mockery is all the literature in dying societies...¡± This was stated in the preface to The Magic Skin (La Peau de chagrin) in 1831. This mockery differs greatly from Voltaire¡¯s irony during the Enlightenment, which was combative, exercised in the name of certainties, with a clear distinction between truth and lies, and militant for progress. Realist mockery is paired with radical skepticism. Realist authors were sometimes engaged in their time, but their works exceeded their personal convictions (Balzac is the canonical example). The novel carries an anxious historiography.

Literature no longer speaks of an ideal, nor does it bring consolation: the French realistic novel is essentially critical. Hence the strangely unanimous rejection reactions among 19th-century critics, be they royalists, liberals, or republicans. The very dialogism of the novel is not to be understood as a celebration of democratic spirit (acknowledging plurality through diverse points of view), nor as a substitution of relativism for the desire for the absolute (¡°everything goes¡± or ¡°everything is equal¡±), but as a global satire of social discourse, a vast cacophony among which the realistic novel stands (one only needs to think of Flaubert¡¯s Sentimental Education (L¡¯Éducation sentimentale)). This aesthetic of disengagement is what we seek to characterize.