Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

The Classic Short Story, 1870-1925

 | 
Florence Goyet

Part III: Reader, Character and Author

9. Dialogue and Character Discreditation

Texte intégral

  • 1 Chinua Achebe, Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays (New York: Doubleday 1989), pp. 8-9.

It is clearly not part of Conrad’s purpose to confer language on the ‘rudimentary souls’ of Africa. In place of speech they made ‘a violent babble of uncouth sounds.’ They ‘exchanged short grunting phrases’ even among themselves. At first sight these instances [of quoting the characters] might be mistaken for unexpected acts of generosity from Conrad. In reality they constitute some of his best assaults.1

1So far we have looked at some of the most common techniques that create a sense of distance between reader and character in the short story. There are, however, two devices that are rather more subtle and deserve a longer look. In this chapter we shall analyse the first of these: what happens when the story makes room for the character’s “actual” words. Then, in the next chapter, we will pause to look at the interaction among the various participants in the narrative process: author, narrator, reader and character. The short story is at its most exquisitely subtle and complex in both of these cases. The result, however, is once again the distancing and “discrediting” of a character, even though these techniques are usually thought to have the automatic effect of creating a sense of intimacy with the reader.

2The analysis of speech is of crucial importance to us, because any discussion of it is intimately bound up with the problem of polyphony. By making room for his characters’ words, by retiring from the scene in order to let them speak, the author, in fact, reveals his concept of them; the degree of validity of the speech permitted them will be a touchstone for their status in the story. But before analysing the short stories in our corpus to see how these techniques are used, we shall first take a look at the criticism surrounding them, especially since one of our authors, Giovanni Verga, has been at the centre of a rich and complex discussion in Italy.

  • 2 Even Helmut Bonheim, who is known for questioning the reader’s immediate feelings, argues that “Dir (...)
  • 3 Luigi Russo, Giovanni Verga (Bari: Laterza, 1941); and V. N. Voloshinov, Marxism and the Philosophy (...)

3More often than not critics agree, a priori and without discussion, that the use of direct speech provides proximity to the character.2 This systematic belief, however, is often undermined by the theorists themselves when they take time to analyse the contexts in which direct speech occurs: we shall see that they then often come to reverse their previous assertions. When critics as far apart as Luigi Russo and Valentin Voloshinov approach the issue of direct speech, they do so in a remarkably similar fashion: their first assertions are to say that quoting someone’s own terms, reproducing not only the “what?” of a discourse but also the “how?” is a guarantee of “immediacy” (in the case of Russo), or of “tolerance […] a positive and intuitive understanding of all the individual linguistic nuances of thought” (in the case of Voloshinov).3 To use Chinua Achebe’s words in this chapter’s epigraph, this corresponds, in their mind, to an “act of generosity”, of letting a foreign character express himself in his own words.

  • 4 Verga expresses the theory of “impersonality” in Gramigna’s Mistress; the author must efface himsel (...)

4Reported discourse, on the contrary, for Voloshinov is the sign of a rational, reductive understanding: the character’s thoughts are filtered through the narrator. This, for both Voloshinov and Russo, means that the author refuses to make room for the character’s own idiosyncrasies, that he digests his character’s being and allows it no expression of its own. Reported speech is reduction, where direct speech indicates freedom and respect for the character. The two critics thus adhere to what seems to be the credo of criticism since the nineteenth century, from Verga himself to twentieth-century critics such as Helmut Bonheim and Gérard Genette:4 the use of direct speech would indicate being “with” the character.

  • 5 Voloshinov (1973), p. 134 (emphasis mine).

5What is interesting in Voloshinov and Russo is that, when they submit this abstract statement to textual proof, both end up renouncing it. Voloshinov, for example, very quickly tempers the abstract proclamation that “tolerance” is inherent in direct speech. He recognises at once that quoting the character’s own words is essentially a question of “coloration”, of something “picturesque”: this is very different from the theory of giving the character his own space through “all the linguistic nuances of his thought”. He then states something which is a truism, although generally not recognised: “The authorial context […] is so constructed that the traits the author used to define a character cast heavy shadows on his directly reported speech”.5

  • 6 Ibid, p. 133.

6The image of the character that has already been built conditions our perception of his words, giving us in advance his essential tone. Voloshinov describes it as being of the same order as the make-up and costume of a comic actor — we are prepared to laugh before he even opens his mouth. Direct speech provides the character’s words but “at the same time the author’s own nuances are added: irony, humour, etc”.6 This challenges Voloshinov’s initial idea about the direct relationship between mimesis of conversation and “immediacy”. By the end of his work, Voloshinov swings to a diametrically opposite position from where he began. Talking of Pushkin, he shows that it is only in reported discourse that it is possible to achieve immediacy:

  • 7 Ibid, p. 138 (emphasis Voloshinov’s).

Such a substitution [of the author ‘speaking for’ the character] presupposes a parallelism of intonation, the intonations of the author’s speech and the substituted speech of the hero (what he might or should have said), both running in the same direction.7

  • 8 Ibid, p. 151.
  • 9 Ibid (emphasis mine).

7In other words, it is the reported discourse that is “with” the character; critical distance or judgement is best obtained by using the character’s actual words. Voloshinov is even clearer on this when he writes about Jean de La Bruyère: “He invested quasi-direct discourse with his animosity toward [the characters] […] He recoils from the creatures he depicts”.8 And later: “All of La Bruyère’s figures come out ironically refracted through the medium of his mock objectivism”.9 We are far from the initial validation of “tolerance”, and much nearer to Achebe’s vision of the character’s language as an “assault” on him. Interestingly, Russo, who also changes his opinion on direct speech, sees this as a matter of genre. As we shall see, this is the case of a rift not so much between two techniques (direct speech and reported speech), but between two ways of using speech: in the best novels, direct speech creates immediacy, while in short stories, it results in distancing the character.

Direct and indirect speech: Verga’s novel versus short stories

  • 10 By “dialect” I mean all speech that reproduces distortions of the language that denote the social o (...)
  • 11 See Guido Baldi, L’Artificio della regressione. Tecnica narrativa e ideologia nel Verga verista (Na (...)
  • 12 Giovanni Verga, The House by the Medlar Tree (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983). (...)

8To get a clearer view, we can turn to Verga, whose work has always been at the heart of Italian discussions of direct speech. For Italians critics, Verga’s stature is almost the equal of Alessandro Manzoni’s because he represented the absolute success of the use of free indirect speech and dialect.10 He portrayed the life of peasants in the then newly-created Kingdom of Italy with a unique warmth using what some critics have called “regression”.11 In many of his works, particularly in his great novel, I Malavoglia (The House by the Medlar Tree), the point of view of the author “regresses” to one of his characters: even the narration is both from the point of view and in the style of the peasants introduced in the scene.12

  • 13 There are three different versions of Russo’s Giovanni Verga: 1919, 1934, 1941; all references here (...)
  • 14 Leo Spitzer also gives proof of this in “L’Originalità della Narrazione nei Malavoglia”, Belfagor, (...)
  • 15 Russo (1976), p. 206. In his 1919 edition, it is only in the collection Vita dei campi (Life in the (...)
  • 16 In his speech in praise of Verga on 2 September 1920, Pirandello also finally recognised that only (...)
  • 17 This, moreover, did not bother Russo who acknowledged the primitivism in Verga, which he saw as a g (...)

9Russo was fundamental in establishing this idea of Verga’s greatness.13 At first Russo claimed that the author, through his constant use of regression and direct speech, always achieves an immediacy with his characters: he enters into their existence and creates an empathy with their world view, both in his short stories and The House by the Medlar Tree.14 However, when Russo begins to examine the style of the texts, only the novel retains its claim to such an affirmation. All the short stories, after close analysis, reveal, to the contrary, a radical distancing, and Verga is even described by Russo as an “artista di ferocia”.15 Russo’s intention was to trace an historical evolution in Verga: The House by the Medlar Tree together with the collection of short stories, Vita dei campi (Life in the Fields), represented the height of his work, after which he was seen as reverting to a more distant and decadent style. In fact, although he does not observe this explicitly, Russo was essentially distinguishing between the form of the novel and the short story.16 It will not then come as a surprise to us, after what we have seen in the last chapter, that Russo finally emphasised the very intimate interrelationship that Verga’s short stories establish between animals and men (particularly in Jeli il Pastore [The Shepherd]). These “primitive” men, once again, are shown as closer to animals than to the rest of society.17 While his novel offers nuanced characterisation, Verga’s “intimate” portrait of peasants in his short stories largely rests on stereotypes.

  • 18 See Romano Luperini, Verga e le strutture narrative del realismo: saggio su “Rosso Malpelo” (Padova (...)
  • 19 “The value system of the Malavoglia, from wisdom to love, is worthy to be considered at a certain n (...)
  • 20 It is striking to see, in all the discussion of The House by the Medlar Tree, to what extent the gr (...)

10After Russo, a series of important Marxist critics further helped to create the colossal stature of “il caso Verga” in Italy. Unlike most critics, they saw Verga as a wonderful example of critical-cognitive realism, and they were the ones to bring to light the distancing of his characters in his short stories.18 Their starting point was diametrically opposed to Russo: they saw this distancing in all of Verga’s texts, both novels and short stories. But Donato Margarito is forced to recognise that in The House by the Medlar Tree the distance does not exist: the heroes are shown to be making disastrous choices, while at the same time holding sympathetic values.19 Their point of view can be challenged, and the novel does indeed show the failure of their endeavours — and that this failure is a result of contradictions in their value system — but it is a discussion that allows them to have a full “voice” of their own. Their values cannot be refuted in totality, as is the case with the characters of his short stories — for example, the miners and mine-owners in Rosso Malpelo, who proclaim that the world of the mine is good. The polyphony of the novel is untenable in the short story.20

  • 21 Because they are skewed by “clashes of style” as described by Wayne C. Booth, A Rhetoric of Irony ( (...)

11In passing, we can recognise here one of the criteria necessary for immediacy through direct speech. As Russo and Leo Spitzer have well demonstrated, for immediacy to be possible there has to be a total absence of external intervention. And “total” must be taken literally: this is far from the impersonality of, say, Gustave Flaubert, whose most “objective” passages are shaped by the author’s value judgements. In fact, from the moment we allow the possibility of interpreting the character’s words other than by the meaning and status he himself gives them, then we fall into irony.21 However Russo, like Baldi, shows that this is a necessary but not sufficient condition. Rosso Malpelo employs the same technique as The House by the Medlar Tree; for all that, no one doubts that the worldview presented in it must be rejected. Direct speech is neither an automatic guarantee of immediacy, nor an infallible means of assuring distance, as Margarito would have it. The rhetorical technique in itself is neutral, and its use within a given strategy is what gives it meaning.

Dialect and distancing

  • 22 Guy de Maupassant, The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant, trans. by Artine Artinian (Gard (...)

12The short story uses direct speech in order to energise the poles that it almost always establishes. Maupassant’s Le Réveillon (An Odd Feast) illustrates Voloshinov’s point that the objective characterisation of the protagonist prepares our reception of direct speech. The least one can say is that direct speech in this story is not produced in a void: the protagonists are strongly characterised before we hear their voices.22 The whole narrative centres on the fact that the peasants depicted in the story come from the opposite end of society from the narrator — a country squire from Normandy — and his cousin with whom he goes hunting.

13An Odd Feast is set on a “horribly” freezing Christmas eve, when the hunters come upon a mass and then go visiting the family of a recently deceased shepherd. The peasants “shiver devotedly” as they perform their “naive and silly” rituals. The sight of the people at midnight mass strikes the hunters as unbearably pointless. In the end they prefer to leave the shelter of the church and walk around in the cold night until they decide to visit the grandson of the dead man. While the shepherd’s family will be seen huddling around a “midnight feast” of blood sausage, the hunters reminisce at length on the delights of past Christmas dinners in a friendly expansive mood which suddenly makes them feel very close to each other; they are delighted with the cold weather — even though it transforms the peasants’ house into a “Siberian hut” — because it ensures that there will be ducks on the pond the next day.

  • 23 Artinian, p. 1267 (Pléiade, I, p. 341).

14The peasants’ words are presented within this framework; their speech is only one of the characteristic traits that emerge for the reader out of the entire picture. It both energises and seals the opposition between the “sophisticated” hunters and the “simple” peasants, and establishes the essential fact that the peasants belong to a universe with what are perceived to be strange and inferior values. The first exchange indicates a difference in the class of education between the peasants and the hunters as the peasants sit around a table made of a grain bin: “‘Well, Anthime, so your grandfather is dead?’ ‘Oh Ay sir, he be passed on’”. In response to the narrator’s request to see the body, Anthime answers: “What good would it do ee?”. Then, when the gentlemen insist, the wife explains: “I told ee I put im in the bin till morning coz there b’aint no other place”.23 Reproducing this stilted dialect is a sure way for Maupassant to reinforce the surprise effect of the revelation that the corpse of the old man is in the very grain bin on which they have been eating. But it is more than that. It is a way of associating intimately the behaviour of these characters with their specificity as peasants. The unaffected way in which the woman makes the statement — interrupting her husband, and not seeing any harm in her action — is as important as the dialect itself. Admittedly, the peasants are bothered that they have been forced to admit what they have done, but in fact they see their action as quite natural:

  • 24 Ibid. The text was translated at the beginning of the century in plain English, losing the effect o (...)

…it be like this, sir. There be only one bed and we be only three, we slept together… Since he be poorly, we be sleeping on ground. The floor be awful hard and cold now so when ee passed on, we told us ‘since he be dead, he don’t feel nothing, so ain’t no use leavin’ him in bed. Ee be comfortable in bin and we be gwain sleep in bed tonight, coz it be awful cold’. I b’ain’t gwain sleep with a dead man now, be I?24

15The narrator’s first reaction is to laugh, a laugh very common in such stories, which again plays on the difference between the “civilized” city dwellers and the uneducated peasants. His reaction echoes, perhaps, that of contemporary readers, and the well-to-do readers of Gil Blas, the journal in which the story was first published. We are not shocked: there is an assumption that we will accept quite readily the peasants’ reasons, but we laugh at them because they are so far removed from our world and our behaviours.

  • 25 “…a gloomy and brutish expression on their faces […] [they would] munch in silence”; “Between the t (...)
  • 26 Consider the various and always pejorative mentions of blood sausage, a common peasant food, for ex (...)

16It is hard to maintain, as critics generally do in such cases, that Maupassant is criticising the values of his own circle (and that of his readers); that the implication of these stories is subversive. In An Odd Feast, as usual, the peasants are marked by the seal of animalistic brutishness.25 We certainly find the wealthy cousin’s fury to be ridiculous, and see him as a prisoner of his own values, incapable of recognising that there is no other solution for the peasants. However, this judgement is accompanied by a burst of laughter, because it has been made clear from the beginning of the text, through Maupassant’s vivid descriptions, that the two worlds have nothing in common.26 As a result, these characters are confined to their existence as peasants by their dialect. We are not facing the spectacle of people akin to us, whom misery has driven to strange behaviour. They are peasants, heavily defined as such, surrounded by circumstances that have made them radically different from “us”. Their misery, their piety, their smoke-filled room, tarnished with dirt and their feast of blood sausage, make them and their world finally different in essence from the readers of Gil Blas.

  • 27 Anton Chekhov, The Portable Chekhov, ed. by Avrahm Yarmolinsky (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), pp. (...)
  • 28 In the 1860s, for an important group of intellectuals, the “people” represented the true Holy Russi (...)
  • 29 In order to show that the city was not a panacea for him, Chekhov published, in the same collection (...)

17Built on the same principles, Chekhov’s short story Muzhiki (Peasants) roused very violent opposition.27 In a Russia where the slogan “Khozhdenie k narodu” (“Going to the people”), launched in the 1860s by the Russian Populists (the Narodniki), was still quite popular, Chekhov was thought to be defending urbanites against peasants.28 This was not, however, at all what he intended, and it is interesting to consider how an author of Chekhov’s ability could have been so misunderstood.29 The misunderstanding seems to have resulted from the very characteristics of the short story format. The still important presence of the Narodniks’ idea of “back to the land” acted as a backdrop that, for once, enabled readers to be sensitive to the coldness with which the short story treats its subjects.

18Peasants tells the story of Nikolay, a mujik who at a young age went to Moscow where he became a valet in one of the most elegant hotels in the city. Old, sick, and penniless, he returns to his village where he hopes to find peace and comfort. With this as his starting-point, Chekhov draws a pitiless picture of the life of the peasants. The use of dialect is central: as in Maupassant, it summarises and condenses a vision of the world and firmly anchors the characters’ behaviours in their social class. The beginning of the short story is full of paroxystic descriptions of misery and dirt. The old mujik, softened by his years in the luxurious hotel, is shocked by the poverty of his old house: there are flies, a broken stove, and walls decorated with bottle labels rather than pictures. At the end of the first page, Nikolay’s daughter calls to the cat. A little peasant girl of eight — perched on the stove and totally indifferent to their arrival — alerts her in terms that are roughly equivalent to:

  • 30 Yarmolinsky, p. 311. It is very difficult to translate into English the particular peasant tone, be (...)

‘It can’t hear,’ said the little girl; ‘it’s gone deaf.’
‘Why?’
‘Oh, it was hit.’
Nikolay and Olga realized at first glance what life was like here.30

  • 31 Yarmolinsky, p. 317. The Russian is “A nu ego!”. The surprise which her answer provokes (she does n (...)

19The conclusion is obvious: it is a different world, an atrocious and hopeless place of misery, in which nothing can disturb a young girl’s apathy, neither her cousin’s arrival, nor a maimed cat. Similarly, when the urbanites ask their sister-in-law whether she is suffering from her soldier husband’s absence, she answers by a single exclamation of annoyance: “Deuce take him!”.31 The language locks the character; it is the character. For once, the Russian readers were sensitive to this — like Dubliners in the height of Gaelic Renaissance euphoria may have been — because the idea of superiority of peasant life and values was still vivid in Russia.

Foreign terms

  • 32 Edel, IV, pp. 141-207. Théodolinde had several US and UK variants, and was also published under the (...)

20The use of foreign terms in short stories, although different from dialect, plays a similar role. By evoking regional or social distortions, or by including a word in Italian in a short story set in Italy, the scene being portrayed is given a voice. Henry James often uses this device, especially in his early short stories about Europe. One passage in particular from Théodolinde allows us to see the implications of foreign quotations.32 The story is about an American who has been living for some time in Paris. He is sitting at his window waiting for a fellow expat to arrive:

  • 33 Edel, IV, pp. 119-20.

A Parisian thoroughfare is always an entertaining spectacle, and I had still much of a stranger’s alertness of attention […] There was poetry in the warm, succulent exhalations of the opposite restaurant, where, among the lighted lamps, I could see [...] the waiters in their snowy aprons standing in the various attitudes of immanent empressement, the agreeable dame de comptoir sitting idle [...] there was of course something very agreeable in the faint upward gusts of the establishment in my rez-de-chaussée [...] like a Madonna who should have been coiffée in the Rue de la Paix.33

  • 34 For more on James’s changes in vocabulary to suit an English audience, see Michael Anesko, Friction (...)

21Doubtless austere Boston readers were not familiar with the institution of the Parisian dame de comptoir, enthroned at her cash register in the majesty of officiating over the supreme pleasures of absinthe and roast chicken. However, women went to hairdressers in America in James’s day, and first floors existed in Boston — James even used two different words to indicate them, according to his public, for an American reader first floor and for the English reader ground floor.34

  • 35 In 1885, James replaced the word “empressement” with “eagerness”. However, he did not abandon his p (...)

22The point, of course, is that the French words make it Parisian. They gave the American or English reader the titillation of memory or imagination that made the scene more than an abstract evocation. “Empressement” is purely for the pleasure of recalling Paris, and disorientating his reader.35 It is important once again to note that all of this presupposes not only a linguistic competence in the reader, but also a prior acquaintance with the foreign culture. Someone who does not know the meaning of dame de comptoir will not learn it here. The interest is elsewhere: not in making a foreign country familiar, but in recalling it in its concrete form. These terms create “foreign pockets” within the text, exotic morsels. They add greatly to local colour but nothing to knowledge.

  • 36 Mori Ōgai, Mori Ōgai zenshū, 38 vols (Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten, 1971-1975), VII, pp. 189-97.

23The foreign quotes in Mori Ōgai’s Hanako jump out at us, since they appear at a ninety-degree angle in the Japanese text (see fig. 1).36

Fig. 1. Mori Ōgai, Hanako, in Ōgai zenshū, vol. 7 (Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten, 1973), p. 189. Reproduced by kind permission of Iwanami Shoten Publishers, Tōkyō (all rights reserved).

  • 37 English words could either be totally assimilated, their content translated by means of sino-Japane (...)
  • 38 Ōgai published his story just before the journal Shirakaba released a special issue dedicated entir (...)

24Printing foreign words in Roman script in Japan is the result of a conscious choice, as there are two other ways of transcribing them.37 When Ōgai begins his text with “Auguste Rodin” in Roman script, he is indicating more than anything else, more even than the meaning of the word, its foreign quality. It is a sample of foreign reality, brought back for display. He includes, of course, place names such as “Faubourg Saint-Germain”, any translation of which would be incomprehensible, but he also includes words which one would expect to find in Japanese characters: Prince of “Kambodscha” (of Cambodge), and even “Mademoiselle Hanako”. He even goes so far as to repeat the same sentence twice, first in French (in small caps) and then in translation: “Hence the child goes from physique to metaphysique, from Physics to Metaphysics”. Placing these foreign words in their exotic form calls up a whole universe, where one is familiar with “Beaudelaire” (sic), and with the Physics and Metaphysics of Aristotle. In other words, Ōgai is evoking the fascinating, and so distant world of Rodin’s Paris; indeed, there was a great fascination for Rodin at that time in Japan.38

******

25Short-story authors are great stylists. Each word maintains hidden relationships with the others, achieving the effectiveness of the whole. But this effectiveness tends to be formidable. The classic short story is a trap that imprisons its characters, surrounding them by converging techniques of distancing. Giving characters their own voice within this framework, far from helping the author to efface himself and leave them room to defend their truth, is instead another means of making them typical. Their definition becomes all the clearer and more brilliant to the reader in that all the traits converge, but the vivid image they form is terribly confined.

  • 39 See Consuelo Montes-Granado, “Code-Switching as a Strategy of Brevity in Sandra Woman Hollering Cre (...)
  • 40 See, for example, Ethnicity and the American Short Story, ed. by Julie Brown (London: Garland, 1997 (...)
  • 41 Mary Louise Pratt, “The Short Story: The Long and the Short of It”, Poetics, 10 (1981), 175-94; als (...)

26This is a feature that underwent dramatic change in the twentieth century, when the minorities that had been the object of short stories began to author them. When female Chicano writers include quotes in their native Spanish, the effect on the reader is radically different from the use of foreign terms that we have seen above:39 Postcolonial critics have stressed how minorities have been able to write their own authentic “voice”.40 When minorities become not only the subjects but also the authors of the narrative, we find the short story playing the role described by Mary Louise Pratt: that of allowing for the introduction of new subjects, new social groups.41 But the classic short stories we have been examining were written for the most part by relatively privileged white men, operating within a strict framework of distancing; their use of direct speech does nothing more than make the distance between the reader and minority characters even greater.

Notes

1 Chinua Achebe, Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays (New York: Doubleday 1989), pp. 8-9.

2 Even Helmut Bonheim, who is known for questioning the reader’s immediate feelings, argues that “Direct speech suggests the closest possible nexus between character and reader, as the term direct suggests. Indirect and reported speech by contrast blur the impression and distance us from the character”. Helmut Bonheim, The Narrative Modes: Techniques of the Short Story (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1986), p. 52. We all know, however, that repeating someone’s words and intonations is a classic device of satire. According to Bakhtin, this is even the essence of parody, which can “expose to destroy”. Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, trans. by Michael Holquist and Caryl Emerson (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1981), p. 364.

3 Luigi Russo, Giovanni Verga (Bari: Laterza, 1941); and V. N. Voloshinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, trans. by Ladislav Matejka and I. R. Titunik (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973). Marxism and the Philosophy of Language has been attributed to Mikhail Bakhtin, although I am going to follow Emerson and Morson’s belief that it is indeed by Voloshinov. See Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990).

4 Verga expresses the theory of “impersonality” in Gramigna’s Mistress; the author must efface himself, and leave the reader face to face with the “bare fact”, with the characters who express themselves in their own terms. Giovanni Verga, The She-Wolf and Other Stories, trans. by Giovanni Cecchetti (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), pp. 86-88. See also Bonheim (1986) and Gérard Genette, Figures III (Paris: Le Seuil, 1972), pp. 189-93.

5 Voloshinov (1973), p. 134 (emphasis mine).

6 Ibid, p. 133.

7 Ibid, p. 138 (emphasis Voloshinov’s).

8 Ibid, p. 151.

9 Ibid (emphasis mine).

10 By “dialect” I mean all speech that reproduces distortions of the language that denote the social or geographic origin of the character. Verga’s work on dialect represents an original contribution, in tune with the work of the folklorists of his time, always stressed by critics. See for example Giuseppe Lo Castro, Giovanni Verga: una lettura critica, Saggi brevi di letteratura antica e moderna, 5 (Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino, 2001), p. 5, pp. 45-56 and 49-70.

11 See Guido Baldi, L’Artificio della regressione. Tecnica narrativa e ideologia nel Verga verista (Naples: Liguori, 1980).

12 Giovanni Verga, The House by the Medlar Tree (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983). The novel describes the efforts of the Malavoglias, an essentially honest and poor family, to raise themselves above their social station as very unimportant sailors in the Sicilian town of Aci Trezza. Verga reproduced the point of view of peasants in not only his style but also his focus. The classic example is that, in the novel, the Battle of Licodia has no more importance than the appearance of rats in the garden of one of the “busybodies”.

13 There are three different versions of Russo’s Giovanni Verga: 1919, 1934, 1941; all references here are to Luigi Russo, Giovanni Verga (Bari: Laterza, 1976), unless otherwise stated.

14 Leo Spitzer also gives proof of this in “L’Originalità della Narrazione nei Malavoglia”, Belfagor, 11 (1956), 37-53.

15 Russo (1976), p. 206. In his 1919 edition, it is only in the collection Vita dei campi (Life in the Fields) that Russo identifies as having this “miracle” of entering in the characters’ logic. In the course of this analysis he eliminated the Milanese stories (Per le vie) and those belonging to Little Novels of Sicily, which reveal an author “more distant from his characters” (p. 180, translation ours). In 1941, Russo added eighty pages of truly stylistic analyses on the problem of this “regression”. These analyses, which are much more precise than in the earlier edition, agree on everything except one point: the few stories he had cited as the very example of immediacy no longer withstand such an examination — they are seen now as revealing an irreducible distance from the characters. We find the same dynamics at work in criticism on Luigi Pirandello. Renato Barilli argues that Pirandello’s perspective is one of compassion. But, when analysing them, he finally establishes a hierarchy among his various short stories, from satires that cultivate distance to the few texts that, in the course of his analyses, are still considered to have a true attitude of compassion and of immediacy. Several of these texts are not “classic” short stories to my mind, but already what I would classify as “modern” stories. See Renato Barilli, La Barriera del Naturalismo (Milan: Mursia, 1964).

16 In his speech in praise of Verga on 2 September 1920, Pirandello also finally recognised that only in The House by the Medlar Tree does Verga achieve the goal of immediacy which he had set for himself in Gramigna’s Mistress. Luigi Pirandello, Opere di Luigi Pirandello (Milan: Mondadori, 1956-60), available at http://lafrusta.homestead.com/riv_pirandello.html (accessed 22/10/13).

17 This, moreover, did not bother Russo who acknowledged the primitivism in Verga, which he saw as a good antidote to the modern world. However, this is only true in the short stories. Russo plays with the two scenarios: on the one hand, he praises the absence of distance in Verga, providing examples, in fact, only from The House by the Medlar Tree. On the other hand, taking his examples from the short stories, he salutes the return to the primitive. A cursory reading of his book could ignore that this “primitivism” is, in fact, accompanied by a distance.

18 See Romano Luperini, Verga e le strutture narrative del realismo: saggio su “Rosso Malpelo” (Padova: Liviana, 1976); and Donato Margarito, “Verga nella critica marxista: dal ‘caso’ critico al metodo critico-negativo”, in Verga: l’ideologia, le strutture narrative, il “caso” critico, ed. by Carlo Augieri and R. Luperini (Lecce: Millela, 1982), pp. 235-89. Baldi (1980) gives a superb example in Rosso Malpelo, where he shows the clash between “reality” and how it is actually represented. Rosso is a poor miner, crushed by his work and hated because he is red-haired and “therefore bad”. The author denounces the social and economic order of this inhuman society by having the narrator and characters justify it, and then distancing us from their views.

19 “The value system of the Malavoglia, from wisdom to love, is worthy to be considered at a certain narrative level, and acquires a tangible materiality, something noted by both peasant and intellectual commentators, sometimes very sympathetically”; Margarito (1982), p. 273, translation ours. See also Vittorio Lugli, “Lo stile indiretto libero in Flaubert e in Verga”, in Dante e Balzac con altri italiani e francesi (Naples: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 1952), p. 221-238. For a more complete presentation of this discussion, see Florence Goyet, La Nouvelle au tournant du siècle en France, Italie, Japon, Russie, pays anglo-saxons. Maupassant, Verga, Mori Ōgai, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, Tchekhov et James (doctoral thesis, Université Paris 4-Sorbonne, 1990), pp. 438-45.

20 It is striking to see, in all the discussion of The House by the Medlar Tree, to what extent the greatest critics are in opposition over actual linguistic analysis. This begins with Spitzer (1956), who critiques the grammatical analysis of Giacomo Devoto in Itinerario stilistico (Florence: Le Monnier, 1975). Then Baldi (1980) refutes Spitzer, and Luperini (1976) is of yet another opinion. It seems to me that the error is in wanting at all cost to oppose diametrically what reverts to such and such a character or group of characters. In this novel, the different voices and values match, merge, and encroach on each other. This marks the difference between it and the short stories in which, to the contrary, things are very clear.

21 Because they are skewed by “clashes of style” as described by Wayne C. Booth, A Rhetoric of Irony (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), pp. 67-72.

22 Guy de Maupassant, The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant, trans. by Artine Artinian (Garden City, NY: Hanover House, 1955), pp. 1265-68 (hereafter Artinian). The French text can be found in Guy de Maupassant, Contes et nouvelles, ed. by Louis Forestier, 2 vols (Paris: Gallimard, collection La Pléiade, 1974), II, pp. 336-41 (hereafter Pléiade).

23 Artinian, p. 1267 (Pléiade, I, p. 341).

24 Ibid. The text was translated at the beginning of the century in plain English, losing the effect of dialect in the French original: “You see, my good gentlemen, it’s just this way. We have but one bed, and being only three we slept together; but since he’s been so sick we slept on the floor. The floor is awful hard and cold these days, my good gentlemen, so when he died this afternoon we said to ourselves: ‘As long as he is dead he doesn’t feel anything and what’s the use of leaving him in bed? He’ll be just as comfortable in the bin’. We can’t sleep with a dead man, my good gentlemen! — now can we?”. Guy de Maupassant, The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant: Ten Volumes in One, trans. by Howard Dunne (New York: P. F. Collier, 1903), p. 972. This 1903 edition by Dunne is generally thought of as very questionable; see Richard Fusco, Maupassant and the American Short Story: The Influence of Form at the Turn of the Century (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), p. 119.

25 “…a gloomy and brutish expression on their faces […] [they would] munch in silence”; “Between the two was a single plate of the pudding”; “a suffocating odor of roasted blood pudding pervaded every corner of the room”. Artinian, p. 1267.

26 Consider the various and always pejorative mentions of blood sausage, a common peasant food, for example, when they lift the lid to reveal the corpse (“And, removing the dish of blood sausage, she lifted the table top”). The blood sausage is a symbol of their existence as peasants to the socialites: their feast stinks.

27 Anton Chekhov, The Portable Chekhov, ed. by Avrahm Yarmolinsky (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), pp. 312-53 (hereafter Yarmolinsky). The Russian text can be found in Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem, 30 vols (Moscow: Nauka, 1974-1983), IX, pp. 281-312 (hereafter Nauka).

28 In the 1860s, for an important group of intellectuals, the “people” represented the true Holy Russia. Chekhov and his generation (those of the 1880s) had a conscious reaction against this mythical vision of the profound Russia.

29 In order to show that the city was not a panacea for him, Chekhov published, in the same collection as Peasants, Tri goda (Three Years), a portrayal of urban misery. He also planned a sequel to the story, in which the heroines when they arrive in Moscow, would experience the misery in the capital; but this sequel remained only an outline and was never published (see outline in Nauka, IX, p. 344; there is no English translation that I know of).

30 Yarmolinsky, p. 311. It is very difficult to translate into English the particular peasant tone, because it does not consist, as in Maupassant, of incorrect phrases and phonetic distortions. It is completely characteristic, but comes about essentially through the use of parataxis and a singsong rhythm, a sort of chant which goes naturally with proverbs: “Ona u nas ne slishit, —skazala devochka. — Oglokhla. / Otchego? Tak. Pobili” (Nauka, IX, p. 281).

31 Yarmolinsky, p. 317. The Russian is “A nu ego!”. The surprise which her answer provokes (she does not miss her husband, she is quite happy that he is away) is intimately associated with the actual expression, and solidifies the idea that “these people neither speak nor think like we do”.

32 Edel, IV, pp. 141-207. Théodolinde had several US and UK variants, and was also published under the title Rose-Agathe. These textual variants can be found in Henry James, The Tales of Henry James: Volume 3, 1875-1879, ed. by Maqbool Aziz (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), pp. 396-97.

33 Edel, IV, pp. 119-20.

34 For more on James’s changes in vocabulary to suit an English audience, see Michael Anesko, Friction with the Market: Henry James and the Profession of Authorship (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 59-60. These amendments were a necessary condition for publication in London.

35 In 1885, James replaced the word “empressement” with “eagerness”. However, he did not abandon his practice of using French words: he also replaced the English “modest” with “pudique. Similarly, he kept “coiffée” while changing the ending “by M. Anatole”. In all, more than a dozen French words remained.

36 Mori Ōgai, Mori Ōgai zenshū, 38 vols (Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten, 1971-1975), VII, pp. 189-97.

37 English words could either be totally assimilated, their content translated by means of sino-Japanese ideograms, or the sounds could be transcribed (without translation) by means of syllabaries. Roman type was very rare and incomprehensible except to intellectuals.

38 Ōgai published his story just before the journal Shirakaba released a special issue dedicated entirely to the sculptor.

39 See Consuelo Montes-Granado, “Code-Switching as a Strategy of Brevity in Sandra Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories”, in Short Story Theories: A Twenty-First-Century Perspective, ed. by Viorica Patea (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012), pp. 125-36. We are, of course, reminded that this effect is not automatic by authors like Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 2004); and Albert Wendt in his Introduction to Nuanua: Pacific Writing in English Since 1980, ed. by Albert Wendt (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995), pp. ii-iii.

40 See, for example, Ethnicity and the American Short Story, ed. by Julie Brown (London: Garland, 1997). See especially Brown’s Editor’s Note (pp. xvii-xx), Bill Mullen’s “Marking Race/Marketing Race: African American Short Fiction and the Politics of Genre, 1933-1946” (pp. 25-46) and Madelyn Jablon’s “Womanist Storytelling: The Voice of the Vernacular” (pp. 47-62). Mullen shows that the creation of Negro Story, a black literary magazine dedicated to the short story, was part of an attempt to alter the “markings and marketings of race in the short story genre” (pp. 34-40). But, as Rebecca Hernández points out, even in these new circumstances, an author like the Mozambican Luis Bernardo Honwana would generally prefer writing in Portuguese “in order to preserve their psychological profile and their full expressive capacity”. Rebecca Hernández, “Short Narrations in a Letter Frame: Cases of Genre Hybridity in Postcolonial Literature in Portuguese”, in Short Story Theories: A Twenty-First-Century Perspective, ed. by Viorica Patea (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012), pp. 155-72 (p. 159).

41 Mary Louise Pratt, “The Short Story: The Long and the Short of It”, Poetics, 10 (1981), 175-94; also in The New Short Story Theories, ed. by Charles E. May (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1994), pp. 91-113 (p. 108). On the role of creative writing workshops in this new outlook of the short story, see Andrew Levy, The Culture and Commerce of the American Short Story (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 4-7. See also James Nagel, who insists on the story published in “little magazines” (of this workshops network) as being the ideal tool for minorities to appropriate the telling of their dramas; the next step being the publishing of cycles of these stories. James Nagel, The Contemporary American Short-Story Cycle: The Ethnic Resonance of Genre (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2004), pp. 255-57.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1. Mori Ōgai, Hanako, in Ōgai zenshū, vol. 7 (Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten, 1973), p. 189. Reproduced by kind permission of Iwanami Shoten Publishers, Tōkyō (all rights reserved).
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1482/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 821k

Acheter