LINGUIST List 24.3278

Thu Aug 15 2013

Review: Ling & Literature; French: Bivort (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 07-Jul-2013
From: Elyse Petit <>
Subject: La Littérature symboliste et la Langue
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Olivier BivortTITLE: La Littérature symboliste et la LanguePUBLISHER: Classiques GarnierYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Elyse Barbara Petit, University of Arizona


‘La Littérature symboliste et la Langue’ is a collection of studies written byspecialists in Symbolist literature and language, and presented during acolloquium in Aoste, Italy, in 2009. This book contains 14 articles thatanalyze in detail the close relationship between the Symbolist movement andthe Language Movement of the late 19th century. These analyses are varied andpresent different perspectives on the topic. Some articles are more focused onthe French language from a linguistic point of view, while other studiesanalyze French or Francophone writers and the influence of the Symbolistmovement in their writing.

‘Avant-Propos’, Olivier Bivort.

In this introduction, Bivort defines the Symbolist movement as a change ofliterary language and prosody. According to him, the Symbolist movement isopposed to the constraints of academic and traditional French language, and islooking for a new poetic language. The book brings together studies that raiseissues related to the representation of literary language in the late 19thcentury. Each chapter of the book presents a writer that is directly orindirectly linked with the Symbolist movement and its renewal of literary andprosodic rules.

‘Français vs Langue Française, La langue est-elle symbolique?’,Jacques-Philippe Saint-Gérant.

In this study, the author exposes an overview of the French language in the19th century from a linguistic and grammatical point of view. For the author,the Symbolist movement is placed in opposition to the grammatical andclassical rules of linguistics. He explains that it is in the middle of the19th century that the French language evolved in its forms and its''discursive manifestations'' (14): tone, style, intonation, thematicexpressions, and tropes. He presents the literary movement of the last quarterof the 19th century as a ''revolution of language'' (13) and demonstrates,with specific examples, the attacks made by literary critics, grammarians andlinguists on the texts written by writers of the Symbolist movement. Theobjective of the Symbolist literature that wants to create a new language isfiercely criticized and this new language is presented as subjective andindividual, in opposition to the classical language commonly known ascollective and shared by all. The author’s perspective is essentiallylinguistic and presents the Symbolist movement as a reworking of thelinguistic sign and its referent (15).

‘Baudelairisme , Brutalisme, Symbolisme’, André Guyaux.

In this analysis, the author conducts a study of the adjectives that literaryhistorians of the time used to characterize the work and the writing ofBaudelaire, especially in his celebrated book, ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’. Guyauxpresents Baudelaire as the precursor of the Symbolist movement, but he prefersto put the poet in what he calls the ‘Baudelairisme movement’ rather than intothe Symbolist movement itself. Instead, Guyaux blames the Symbolist writersfor having lost the ''brutality'' of Baudelaire’s texts. For the specialist,the poet anchors the reader in the reality of words and images; on the otherhand, the Symbolists went too far in their renewal of language and imagery bywaiving allegory and hypotyposis (36). This study is a statement of Symbolistwriting that opposes the ''brutality'' of Baudelaire's writing.

‘Autour de quelques aspects de la langue symbolique de Baudelaire dans lesfleurs du mal’, Mario Richter.

In this short article, the author presents two figures of speech used byBaudelaire: symbolic allusion and ambiguity. Through specific examples drawnfrom the collection of poems, ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’, Richter provides a detailedstudy of the linguistic and stylistic contributions of these processes in themessage the poet wanted to convey. In addition, Richter shows the influence ofthese figures of speech in the poetry of Symbolist writers.

‘Enumérations, Antithèses, Oxymores : lecture symboliste de Jean Lahor’, LianaNissim

In this study, the role of Jean Lahor in the history of the Symbolist movementis presented. Considered a Parnassian poet who is not seeking the novelty ofthe French poetic language, Jean Lahor belongs to the traditional literarymovement. At the time, he became a close friend of Mallarme whose influenceanchored the poet in a rhetorical and stylistic originality. The studypresents many examples of figures of speech used by the poet to express ''thespectacle of the matter'' (51), a famous theme of Mallarme. The articlepresents different themes and tropes that allow Jean Lahor to reveal thematter.

‘TROUVER UNE LANGUE. Sur les caractères de la nouvelle langue prophétisée parRimbaud’, Sergio Cigada.

In this analysis, Cigada strives to demonstrate the argument offered byRimbaud on the history of poetry that he exhibited in ''Letter of the seer''in May, 1871. According to the poet, there are three periods of poetry: Greekpoetry, the poetry of Baudelaire, and the poetry of the future. Through athorough study of Greek poetry based on Aristotle's Poetics, of the writing ofBaudelaire, and of Rimbaud's work on a “new” poetic language, Cigada shows thecorrespondence between various embodiments of poetry that connect to the themeof heterogeneity and the infinite world.

‘Obscurité de la langue, clarté de la poésie’, Olivier Bivort.

In this article, Bivort discusses the definition of ‘clarity’ bydistinguishing between the clarity of language and the clarity of speech, withthe former belonging to the linguistic field, and the latter representingcultural and ideological phenomenon rooted in the 17th century. In thistradition of seeking clarity of language and of speech, the Symbolist writerswere severely criticized in their search for the novelty of French poeticlanguage. Thus, Bivort shows that Symbolists in search of a new literarylanguage, placed poetic clarity and the darkness of language in opposition.

‘Sur le nom de Paphos : Mallarmé et le mystère d’un nom’, Jean-Nicolas Illouz.

This article presents a study of Mallarmé, especially of the last sonnet of‘Poesies’, which illustrates the intellectual and spiritual work of the poetand his poetic journey. Illouz’s analysis is divided into three parts. In thefirst part, he recalls the initiative of Mallarmé, in 1860, to write a thesison language and presents the content of his thesis, which was never completed.In the second part, Illouz refers to Mallarmé’s interest in mythologies andancient religions and to how he studied them with the aim of expandinglinguistic theory with an emphasis on divinity. Illouz supports his point ofview through the work of George Cox and Max Müller. Finally, Illouz presentsthe last part of the ''initiative thesis'' (105) of Mallarmé: poetry. In thispart, the author explains, in detail, the last sonnet of ‘Poesies’.

‘Cet idiome […] qu’un contemporain doit connaitre’. A travers Les Mots anglaisde Stephane Mallarmé, Marco Modenesi.

Modenesi present the book ‘English Words’ written by Mallarmé, who wrote it inorder to earn money. However, the author proves that it is a work that is partof the aesthetic writing of Mallarmé. Based on linguistic and semantic fields,this study reveals the basics of poetic and aesthetic writing of the poet.

‘Le rêve d’une langue bornée mais infinie’ Laforgue poète langagier’,Jean-Pierre Bertrand et Henri Scepi.

Presented in different parts, this paper shows how Laforgue does not attemptto theorize the French language, but rather to understand and possess it inorder to reinvent it. In a thorough study, the two authors draw on theorigins, history and the writings of the poet in order to better understandtheir reflection in language. According to them, Laforgue plays with languagethrough the use of humor and wordplay in order to confuse the clarity ofliterary and conventional French, and to achieve a new language correspondingwith erotic desires.

‘La prose symboliste fut-elle l’aboutissement de l’écriture artiste ?’, GillesPhilippe.

In this article, Philippe studies the stylistic evolution of prose in the 19thcentury, especially in the 1880s. To prove his point, he studies thetransition from Impressionist writing to Symbolist prose according to twocriteria: lexical and grammatical. Neologism in the Impressionist style ismorphological in nature, whereas in the Symbolist style, it is metaphorical.He explains that the transition is not radical, but rather moderate,coinciding with the rise of the Symbolist movement. In the second part,Philippe offers many examples of grammatical changes that took place betweenImpressionist and Symbolist prose, such as nominalization, or the use of theimperfect and the narrative present. He argues that syntactic and lexicalchoices illustrate the lyrical sensitivity sought by the Symbolist movement,and that the comparison made at the end of the 19th century between theImpressionist and Symbolist schools should be viewed as moderate, even if itshows radical morphological and syntactic changes.

‘Max Elskamp et les langues’, Christian Berg.

Berg delves into the world of Max Elskamp, a Belgian symbolist poet, andreveals his contribution to the Symbolist movement. With varied examples takenfrom the poet’s works, Berg presents the literary project of the poet and hispoetic space. In the second part, Berg examines, from a linguistic point ofview, the specificity of Elskamp’s writing. He examines the languages of thepoet: his native language (Flemish), as well as his adopted language (French),but because he did not master these languages, Elskamp strived to manipulatemorphosyntax in order to create his own poetic language and overcome thisfailure. Finally, Berg offers a detailed study of the enunciative framepresent in the poet’s different collections. This use of enunciation createsone of the specificities of Elskamp’s writings and creative space.

‘De la langue de la Tribu aux mythes personnels. Le sang des crépuscules deCharles Guerin’, Ida Merello.

Merello, in her article, talks about the writing of Charles Guerin and hisvision of Symbolist poetry. In presenting the poet and his work on the borderof Parnassus and the Symbolist movement, Merello shows the importance ofassonance in the creative space of the young poet who imagines ''assonance asa keyboard of sounds and colors'' (my translation, 165). Merello shows a closeconnection between Guerin's reflection on the impact of assonance and theresearch conducted by Louis Becq Fouquières on the correspondence betweensound and meaning in theatrical works. In a comprehensive study of ‘Blood ofTwilight’, especially of the sonnet ‘The Dreams Picker’, the author revealsthe richness of Guerin’s poetic space, while anchoring his work in the''search for a perfect game between sounds, language and speech” (mytranslation, 173).

‘La réflexion métalinguistique de Camille Mauclair et ses retombéesstylistiques’, Simonetta Valenti.

By analyzing the work and writings of the poet and literary critic CamilleMauclair, Valenti presents ''The reflection of Mauclair on language'' (mytranslation, 178). Valenti states that the poet's language is the instrumentthat allows access to the main function of poetry, namely ''the pursuit ofmystery that founded the universe'' (my translation, 178). In order to achievethis, it is important to control language, not as a tool of communication, butas a method to suggest universal harmony. The linguistic processes used byMauclair are symbols and free verses, which Valenti examines in detail in thetexts of the poet and in the history of the Symbolist movement. Finally, basedon the work of Mallarmé that Mauclair has studied, in which she foundinspiration, Valenti demonstrates the importance of morphosyntax and itsrenewal in Symbolist poetry in order to achieve the ultimate goal: to reflectthe Absolute.

‘Pour une langue sensible. L’héritage symboliste dans l’écriture proustienne’,Marisa Verna.

In this study, Verna discusses the rhetorical process of thematic associationused in the writing of Proust to emphasize ''the complex relation ofinheritance, of denial, of surpassing that characterizes the relationshipbetween Proust and Symbolist language” (my translation, 201). The authorrelies on a passage of ‘In Search of Lost Time’, especially on the descriptionof the painting ‘The Port of Carquethuit of Elstirs’. Before starting theanalysis of the passage from Proust, Verna exposes the position of the writerin relation to Symbolist writing and presents various texts (especially inBaudelaire) in which Proust found inspiration and from which he created anaesthetic view of new writing. Through a detailed description of the excerpt,and by drawing on many artistic and literary references (e.g. Ovid, Rimbaud,Chateaubriand), Verna shows the pervasiveness of the thematic associationprocess in Proust’s work and its role in the aesthetics of his writing.


This book gives an overview of the Symbolist and linguistic movements from the19th century. Divided into 14 articles, it offers various perspectives on thetopic. Every article analyzes the evolution of language in different literarytexts. The analyses encompass the role of writers and/or the influence oftheir writings in their respective literary domain. The authors providestudies that look deep for linguistic aspects in the Symbolist poetic field.Even if the articles are connected to each other in terms of topic, readerscan easily browse through the book without following its chronological order.The book allows readers to acquire a better understanding and greaterknowledge of the Symbolist movement. The detailed analyses of differentwriters provided in each article enrich readers’ grasp of linguistic,stylistic as well as poetic issues. The richness of figures of speech andSymbolist themes that characterize poetry of the time is provided in variousexamples of texts. This book offers a great understanding of the separationbetween the traditional and conventional poetry of Parnasse and the search fora new language proposed by Symbolist poets. Every author exposes, in apersonal manner, the transition that took place at the time, but agrees withthe theory that the Symbolist poets created, through their view of the world:a new poetic language.

Two articles in this collection that are particularly compelling are: ‘Français vs Langue Française, La langue est-elle symbolique?’, written bySaint-Gérant ; and ‘La prose symboliste fut-elle l’aboutissement de l’écritureartiste ?’, by Philippe. These two chapters present the Symbolist movement inits progression, yet also in contrast with the traditional writing of thetime. Both authors emphasize different aspects of French language: linguistic,morphological, rhetorical and poetic. These articles allow readers to embracethe evolution of the French language during the 19th century through thepresentation of different literary movements, such as the Impressionist or theParnasse schools, in order to get a better overview of the necessity of theSymbolist movement, as seen by many authors. Finally, these two articles givereaders a better understanding of other articles in the collection that offera more detailed discussion of specific poets’ writing.

Overall, this collection is particularly intended for graduate studentsstudying French literature, and professors who want to provide detailedarticles on the Symbolist movement and/or its writers in their courses. Thereaders will appreciate the accessibility of the writing style of thechapters, as well as the wide range of texts, authors and ideas featured inthe book, all of which will allow future researchers passionate about theSymbolist movement to find material to deepen their knowledge.


Elyse Petit just graduated with an MA in French from the University ofArizona and will attend the doctoral program in Second LanguageAcquisition and Teaching at the same university, beginning in Fall 2013. Her researchinterests center around SLA in the development of intercultural competence,multiliteracy approaches to culture and language teaching, teaching Frenchas a foreign language, and language use in cultural representations providedin multimedia and literature.

Page Updated: 15-Aug-2013