The latest number of the Edgar Allan Poe Review (www2.lv.psu.edu/PSA/EAPRspring2011.pdf), Vol. XII No. 1 (Spring 2011) is now off the presses, and includes (pp. 110-113) my review of Henri Justin’s book Avec Poe jusqu’au bout de la prose (Paris: Gallimard, 2009).
The review is on-line at: http://yatrarollason.info/files/Justin.pdf
Review of: Henri Justin, Avec Poe jusqu’au bout de la prose, Paris: Gallimard, 2009. 414 pp.
Surprising as it may be to some, it has to be said that France’s contribution to the Poe 2009 bicentennial was visibly less than that of neighbouring Spain. France managed one conference (in Nice) to Spain’s four, and offered relatively little to match the flurry of press publicity, media events and new editions of the master’s works offered over the year by its Iberian neighbour. Nonetheless, 2009 did see the appearance of the major study by Henri Justin, Professeur honoraire des universités and long one of France’s best-regarded Poe scholars, which will be the subject of this review.
The looming presence of Poe’s shadow in the French literature of the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries is known to all, via the route that leads from Baudelaire to Mallarmé, Valéry, Jules Verne and beyond. French psychoanalysis has appropriated the American master through Marie Bonaparte and Jacques Lacan, and his writing has been dissected by French critics, philosophers and creative writers of the eminence of Roland Barthes, Michel Butor, Hélène Cixous, Jacques Derrida, Georges Poulet, Raymond Queneau and more. Henri Justin himself has for several decades now been responsible for a steady stream of books, lectures and conference papers, and articles both scholarly and popular on Poe: we may particularly note his earlier book Poe dans le champ du vertige (1991) and some very useful material in English, published in organs like Poe Studies and the Edgar Allan Poe Review, on Poe’s fortunes in France.
In such a context, it is a shade disconcerting to discover, in Justin’s introduction to the new book, the affirmation that in today’s France Poe has become “un écrivain réputé facile” (“a writer reputed to be ‘easy,’”), that “pour beaucoup, ce n’est pas un grand écrivain” (“for many, he isn’t a great writer”) (7). If this is the case, it is surely a relatively new phenomenon, given Poe’s massive footprint in French literature and criticism of the fairly recent past. Justin’s book thus presents itself as an attempt to reclaim Poe in France for in-depth critical and conceptual study – a task which, on the 2009 evidence, would not be necessary in present conditions in Spain, or, indeed, Mexico or Brazil. This aim presupposed, Avec Poe jusqu’au bout de la prose does not take the form of a conventional or blow-by-blow introduction. Nor does it propose a systematic narrative of “Poe in France,” though aspects of that story are examined (ánd Justin has done that elsewhere). Assuming a prior knowledge of Poe’s life and work in the reader, it appears, rather, as a personal meditation arising from years of reading, teaching and writing on the great Bostonian, teasing out themes and motifs, placing them in fruitful, if at times conflictive dialogue, and thus generating new perspectives for future study and debate. (…)