Knjižnica Filozofskog fakulteta
Sveučilišta u Zagrebu
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Institutional Repository

Reception of Paul Bourget's literary-critical and novelistic oeuvre in France from 1881 to 1914


Downloads per month over past year

Šoštarić, Sanja. (2016). Reception of Paul Bourget's literary-critical and novelistic oeuvre in France from 1881 to 1914. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Comparative Literature.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij književnosti, izvedbenih umjetnosti, filma i kulture) [mentor Pavlović, Cvijeta].

PDF (Croatian)
Download (1MB) | Preview


The dissertation analyzes the reception of Paul Bourget’s literary-critical and novelistic oeuvre in the period between 1881 and 1914, that is, since the publication of his first critical essays in the magazine La Nouvelle Revue to the publication of his novel Le Demon de midi. Since this theme has not been the subject of a comprehensive literary-scientific research until now, the goal of the dissertation was to systematize the existing superficial and incidental literary observations about the reception of Bourget’s works and thoroughly investigate the textual and extratextual factors that had influenced it. After the introductory part, which outlines the structure and objectives of the dissertation, follows a chapter which determines the theoretical and methodological foundations of the research, which are: the aesthetics of reception of the Constance School led by Hans Robert Jauss, and the theory of literary field formulated by Pierre Bourdieu following the ideas of French sociology of literature. In his critical approach Jauss puts the reader and the dialogic character of the literary work in the foreground as well as its openness to different readings determined by the horizon of expectations. As the reader had somehow remained abstract in the aesthetics of reception, Jauss emphasized the need to expand and complement his approach with historical and economic elements. Therefore, in this dissertation Jauss’s ideas are complemented with elements of Bourdieu's theory of literary field which emphasizes the social, political, ideological, and other factors that influence the reception of literary works. Bourdieu’s literary field is defined as independent - possessing its own laws and rules of social consecration, and as dynamic - changing under the influence of other fields and its own inner conflicts. The third chapter of the dissertation, which represents a link between the two introductory chapters and the central chapter of the dissertation which explores the reception of Bourget’s literary-critical and novelistic works, is dedicated to the analysis of Bourget’s initial and acquired social and cultural capital in the period from his childhood to the moment when he published his first collection of poems in 1875 and entered the literary field. The analysis has shown that Bourget had succeeded to use well his initial capital (his highly-educated bourgeois origin, good education, friendships made during his education) and enriched it thanks to the cooperation with reputable journals and to the support of religious and political institutions and salons. The fourth chapter analyzes the reception of two Bourget’s collections of literary criticism: Essais de psychologie contemporaine (1883) and Nouveaux essais de psychologie contemporaine (1885). Following Jauss’s theses that genre is a basis for determining the novelty of a literary work and the reception pattern which will guide its reading, in genre terms Bourget’s Essais are characterized as "psychological literary criticism", and their novelty is pointed out as compared to Sainte-Beuve’s and Taine’s criticism. The study of the reception of Essais focuses on the following elements: analysis of paratexts, selecting the elements which characterize Essais as novelty in the field of literature in the 1880s, establishing quantitative and qualitative factors of their success, and determining characteristics of a representative reader. The research is based on the materials collected from newspapers, magazines and books which are chronologically classified. In accordance with the ideas of aesthetics of reception, most attention was paid to texts written by literary critics and journalists immediately after the publication of Essais and from which, in the absence of the so-called personal testimonies of the ordinary readers, the reception of his works with the first audience had to be discerned. The fifth chapter of the dissertation is devoted to the study of the reception of Bourget’s novelistic works. It analyzes two successive synchronic fragments, or literary fields, whose border is 1902, the year of publication of Bourget’s first thesis novel, and the death of Emile Zola, his main literary rival. The research focuses on the reception of two genre-wise different groups of Bourget’s novels: the first, the psychological novels with the themes of fashionable Parisian society (Cruelle énigme, 1885; Un Crime d'amour, 1886; Mensonges, 1887), and the second, the thesis novels (L'Étape, 1902; Un divorce, 1904; L'Émigré, 1907; Le Demon de midi, 1914). Special attention has been paid to the novel Le Disciple (1889) because it is the most successful Bourget’s work which combines elements of a psychological novel and thesis novel and links them together. While the analysis of the reception of Bourget’s first novels has shown that these works had represented a novelty compared to the naturalistic novels, Le Disciple and the thesis novels had represented a novelty compared to Bourget’s previous works. The novel Le Disciple, in fact, with the thesis about the moral responsibility of the writer put into the foreground the idea of the important social function of literature, and changed the widely spread image of Bourget as the author of psychological novels about idly fashionable society indifferent to the real world. In addition to the problems of literary genre and novelty, the research of the reception of Bourget’s novels has also included the analysis of paratextual elements, the reaction of the first audience, quantitative and qualitative factors of success and the characteristics of their representative readers. Furthermore, the analysis of Bourget’s development and progress in the literary field has revealed the factors which had favorably influenced the reception of Bourget’s works and placed him on the dominant pole of the literary field at the beginning of the 20th century. After the First World War the readers’ attitude to Bourget’s work had greatly changed, so the end of the fifth chapter of the dissertation discusses the factors that induced the process of weakening of Bourget’s position in the literary field and led to a decline of popular interest in his literary work. The sixth chapter of the dissertation analyzes the place Bourget has had in textbooks and histories of French literature. The study has shown that in each of the thirty analyzed works there is at least a fragment and often a whole chapter on Bourget. Since literature textbooks have a task to evaluate literary production and pass on literary heritage, and since histories of literature are an essential part of teaching literature and, moreover, an instance of consecration, it can be concluded that Bourget undoubtedly constitutes part of the French literary canon and national heritage. Besides, the research of the reception of Bourget’s works in Europe, particularly in Croatia, which is discussed in the seventh chapter of the dissertation, indicates that Bourget is a writer who also constitutes part of the European literary heritage. The final section of the dissertation summarizes the results of the research and points to elements that speak about its relevance: thanks to Bourget’s solid symbolic and economic capital he is highly positioned both in the literary field in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and in the French literary canon; his great contribution lies in his initiating the renewal of the tradition of the French psychological novel, he was among the first who critically contemplated positivism, scientism and naturalism; he showed great interest in the theme of literary reception, or the influence of literary work on the reader; the publication of his works had always been accompanied by numerous reviews and articles, and very often with lively polemics. Furthermore, the dissertation points out the superficiality and incompleteness of certain views about Bourget which have become deeply inveterated in literary criticism and historiography during the second half of the 20th century. The claims and arguments that Bourget was a bad novelist and a rigid reactionary, and the writer in whose work there are two opposite phases, are conclusively refuted in this dissertation by pointing to the complexity and a certain continuity of Bourget poetics and worldview. The dissertation also stresses Bourget’s contemporariness: his oeuvre represents stimulating material for literary and scholarly research based on contemporary anti-modernist ideas and new considerations of engaged literature, and because of its documentary value his oeuvre could be particularly interesting to those who study the history of ideas and mentalities, and thus the dissertation has indeed opened the possibility of some kind of rehabilitation of this almost forgotten writer.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: Paul Bourget, aesthetics of reception, theory of literary field, psychological literary criticism, psychological novel, thesis novel, literary canon
Subjects: Comparative literature
Departments: Department of Comparative Literature
Supervisor: Pavlović, Cvijeta
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij književnosti, izvedbenih umjetnosti, filma i kulture
Date Deposited: 27 Feb 2017 13:37
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2017 13:37

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item