Reading, loving, rewriting

Valerie Marneffe ENThe author has also allowed himself to be seduced by resolutely contemporary women. Beginning with Marie, the muse of Jean-Philippe Toussaint and who criss-crosses three of his works: Faire l’amour (2002), Fuir (2005) and La vérité sur Marie (2009). Without forgetting Christine, the literary reflection of Christine Angot, pulled hither and thither by her love life in Le Marché des amants (2008).

Finally, as if to prove that enamoured rewriting definitively has no gender boundary, Jacques Dubois concludes with a chapter devoted to a homosexual duo, Baron de Charlus and Marquis Robert de Saint-Loup, who appear in Le Temps retrouvé (1927), in order to come full circle in the company of Proust.

So many characters whom the Emeritus Professor does not hesitate to reappropriate, looking between the lines of different personalities, pushing some to the front stage, even going so far as offering new outcomes. As for Valérie Marneffe, for example. ‘Balzac presents her as a dangerous women, who with no soul searching cynically and simultaneously maintains relationships with five men. For me she represents quite the opposite: the very example of social revenge. Balzac has her die in an atrocious manner, almost shot through with corruption. There we see his reactionary side: any antisocial behaviour has to be reprimanded and punished. I couldn’t stand this ending.’ And he imagines Valérie, as a rich widow, opening a literary salon, in which she meets the young Victorin Hulot, whom she initiates into politics and with whom she prepares the 1848 revolution. ‘That is the ending I would have wanted to read.’

The Professor’s imagination is never without foundation. It leans on certain textual elements, to which he clings as pathways towards another interpretation. ‘To go back to the example of Valérie Marneffe, Balzac sympathises with her in a circumscribed passage for having married a poor ministerial clerk who is so badly paid by the French state. And it’s as if he is making excuses for Valérie having chosen to turn herself into a depraved courtesan with the aim of making ends meet at the end of the month. The novel thus contains a justification for her behaviour. It is typically Balzac: the novelist thinks one thing and then thinks another.’

A history of flaws

Nor does the ‘rewriter’ hesitate to point out to certain authors that they have taken the wrong path, that they haven’t properly understood their own character. One comment amongst others launched at Jean-Philippe Toussaint a propos Marie. ‘For me she is not an earthly being, but a nymph,’ he suggests. This is to what the Belgian writer responded by saying in a lecture, after having read the text: ‘Let not Jacques Dubois forget that this Marie is mine. It’s me who invented her.’

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