The Colonial Comedy: Imperialism in the French Realist Novel

The Colonial Comedy: Imperialism in the French Realist Novel

by Jennifer Yee


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The Colonial Comedy: Imperialism in the French Realist Novel by Jennifer Yee

Nineteenth-century French realism focuses on metropolitan France, with Paris as its undisputed heart. Through Jennifer Yee's close reading of the great novelists of the French realist and naturalist canon--Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant--The Colonial Comedy reveals that the colonies play a role at a distance even in the most apparently metropolitan texts. In what Edward Said called "geographical notations" of race and imperialism, the presence of the colonies off-stage is apparent as imported objects, colonial merchandise, and individuals whose colonial experience is transformative. Indeed, the realist novel registers the presence of the emerging global world-system through networks of importation, financial speculation, and immigration as well as direct colonial violence and power structures. The literature of the century responds to the last decades of French slavery, and direct colonialism (notably in Algeria), but also economic imperialism and the extension of French influence elsewhere. Far from imperialist triumphalism, in the realist novel exotic objects are portrayed as fake or mass-produced for the growing bourgeois market, while economic imperialism is associated with fraud and manipulation. The deliberate contrast of colonialism and exoticism within the metropolitan novel, and ironic distancing of colonial narratives, reveal the realist mode to be capable of questioning its own epistemological basis. The Colonial Comedy argues for the existence in the nineteenth century of a critical orientalism characterized by critique of its own discursive foundations. Using the tools of literary analysis within a materialist approach, The Colonial Comedy opens up the domestic Paris-Provinces axis to signifying chains pointing towards the colonial space.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780198722632
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 08/23/2016
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 9.30(w) x 6.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Jennifer Yee is an academic with an international background and a passion for literature. After reading English and French at the University of Sydney, she completed a postgraduate degree and doctorate at the University of Paris VII. She has published widely on French colonial fiction, exoticism, and nineteenth-century fiction more generally, with particular interests in Flaubert, Indochina, colonialism, and gender studies. After teaching in Paris, Toulouse and Newcastle, she came to Oxford where she has been a fellow (or Official Student) of Christ Church, and a member of the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, since 2005.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

French Colonialism and the Nineteenth Century 1

Colonialism and the Rise of the Novel 5

What do We Mean by 'Realism'? 8

Romantic Exoticism and Realist Colonialism? 11

Reading the Colonies into the Metropolis: Some Conceptual Tools 13

'Offstage' Spaces in the Novel 14

Colonial Metaphor and Colonial Metonymy 17

Internal Strain in Realist Verisimilitude: the effet d'exotisme 19

A Literature of Doubt: Hesitations over Colonialism 21

Balzac, Flaubert, Zola: Colonial Projects 25

1 Imported Objects 30

The Dualism of the Imported Object 30

Polemical Uses of the Exotic and Fantastic within Realism 31

Capitalism: the Object within a System of Exchange 35

The Object in Colonial Context 38

Consumer Objects, Fragmentary Vision, and the Quest for the Oriental Absolute 48

2 The Real Cost of Sugar: Ethics, the Slave Trade, and the Colonies 56

Eugénie Grandet, Sugar, and the Slave Trade 60

Women as Slaves and the 'commerce d'hommes 64

Crime at a Distance 70

Slavery and Autocratic Pastoral 75

Colonial Guilt and the Tainted Fortune 78

Zola's Colonial Experiments and the Ethics of Distance 82

3 The Great Imperial Scam 86

Oriental Luxury, Metropolitan Fraud 86

The Debunking of Magical Money 91

Balzac and (Failed) Colonial Fraud 94

Daudet, Tunisian Debt, and the Ambivalent Stockbroker Hero 97

Zola's L'Argent, the Stockbroker Hero, and the Middle East 100

Maupassant's Bel-Ami: an Anticolonial Novel? 106

Colonial Fraud and Critical Orientalism 110

4 Critical Orientalism: Misreading and Miswriting the Colonies 113

Misreading: Exotic Bovarysm in Flaubert and Daudet 115

Miswriting: Orientalism and the Invention of the Colonies 124

Narrative Embedding and Geographical Disjunction 129

Framed Narratives: Balzac's Anti-Travel Tale, the Voyage de Paris à Java 133

Framed Narratives: the Penal Colony and Zola's Ventre de Paris 137

Critical Orientalism and Self-Consciousness 141

5 The Black Maid and Her Mistress 144

Manet's Olympian Interpreting the Black Maidservant 147

Manet and Zola 151

Zola: the Black Maid and Abject Femininity 153

Flaubert: the Black Maidservant as Red Herring 158

Blackness between Myth and History 165

6 The Primitive Within 167

Balzac: La Cousine Bette and the New Urban Proletariat 171

The Colonial Origins of Metropolitan Violence: Embedded Narratives in Balzac, Maupassant, and Zola 176

Thérêse Raquin: Colonial Inheritance before Heredity 181

The Racial Other goes Underground: La Bête humaine and the Born Criminal 185

Dualism: Zola's Feral Victor and his Bourgeois Father 191

Zola, the Experimental Novel, and Epistemological Doubt 196

Conclusion: Colonialism, Post colonialism, and the Realist Mode 200

The 'Unknowable Other', or the Problem with(in) Realism 201

Anxiety and the Dissolution of the Self 206

From Colonial Naturalism to Modernism 208

The Realist/Modernist Debate and Postcolonial Fiction 210

Bibliography 219

Index 243

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