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American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS)

The Nature of Domestic Intimacy and Sibling Incest in Diderot's "Fils Naturel"
Author(s): Suzanne R. Pucci
Source: Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 30, No. 3, Only Connect: Family Values in the Age
of Sentiment (Spring, 1997), pp. 271-287
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Sponsor: American Society for Eighteenth-
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HE NATURE ATURE OF DOMESTIC INTIMACY AND
SIBLING INCEST IN DIDEROTS FILS
NATUREL
Suzanne R. Pucci
Les mouvements de
sang
sont-ils
donc si semblables a ceux de
lamour
quon puisse sy meprendre?
(Marie-Anne Robert,
La Voix de la
nature,1770).
(The impulses
of blood are
they
so similar to
those of love that one could make a mistake
about
them?)
What kind of mistake is the one
candidly
alluded to in the above
citation,
which confuses the
impulses
of blood with those of love ? Such mistakes
were
certainly
not an
anomaly,
not at least in the texts of the French
eighteenth
cen-
tury; instead, they
constitute rather familiar
aspects
of the
plots,
thematics and lan-
guage
of
Enlightenment
fiction and theater.2 This is the case in
plays,
such as in Diderots
Le Fils naturel or Beaumarchais La Mere
coupable,
not to mention the fiction of
Bernardin de Saint-Pierres Paul et
Virginie or,
for
instance,
the novel cited
above,
Marie-Anne Roberts La Voix de la nature.
Why
did such confusions in the
eighteenth
century
seem not to
provoke
the same kind of
repulsion, dread, secrecy,
or
grave
consequences
that this taboo
generated
a
century
later and that later
still,
Freud would
refer to as the horror of incest?
SUZANNE R. PUCCI is Associate Professor of French at the
University
of
Kentucky, Lexington.
She has written Diderot and a Poetics
of
Science
(1986)
and
essays
on
exoticism,
art
criticism,
and
representation
in
Montesquieu,
Diderot,
and Beaumarchais. She has
just completed
a
book-length study:
Sites
of
the
Spectator: Emerging
Cultural and
Literary
Practice in
Eighteenth-
Century
France.
Eighteenth-Century Studies,
vol.
30,
no. 3
(1997) Pp.
271-287.
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272 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STUDIES 30 / 3
We seem to have lost the thread which would allow us to trace the
filiations
leading
from one
representation
and from one discourse of incest to another.
The
trajectory
of the incest taboo in its formulations and
representations composes
a
story
of its own-one that needs to be understood in relation to the construction of
the social and
psychic history
of Western culture.
What,
for
instance,
does the
appar-
ently conspicuous
flirtation between blood relations and romantic love have to do
with the
emergence
of modern
society
that in the
eighteenth century
seems to be con-
ceived in
large part
around a
newly
valorized social unit of the
bourgeois family?
The
investment in
viewing
incest as sacrosanct interdiction that from its
place
of exclusion
institutes social criteria such as the basic
principle
of
exogamy
has obscured certain
other functions that incest
performs,
in this instance within the
thematics, motifs,
and
language
of
eighteenth-century
texts.
Though
common wisdom
typically
situates
incest from
Oedipus
on down
through
the
ages
in the same
excluded, untouchable,
place
of
prohibition,
outside the Western
polis,
this
taboo,
this
crime,
in effect serves
also in other
capacities-capacities which,
like the mere mistake referred to
above,
transgress
incests sacred
liminality.
Diderots Le
fils
nature!
provides
a
striking example
of how litera-
ture
participates
in
constructing
norms of social
reality
and how in this instance the
text itself fashions new
family
ties in
part through
these
very
mistakes of incest. In
my view,
Diderots
preoccupation
with domestic
intimacy
informs the entire
concep-
tual and textual bias of the
drama;
but for these new sentiments to
acquire strength
and
authenticity,
the near mistake in
question
becomes in effect a
necessary
dra-
matic and textual
strategy.
For
though
this
play
as
ideological
tool
attempts
to cel-
ebrate
kinship
in a new sense of the intimate
family
as a structure
already
in
place,
as
an
established, accomplished reality
of which this
particular story
is
just
one
example
of a
general proven principle,
this drame
bourgeois proves
to be rather a
testing ground,
itself the construction site of domestic
intimacy. My essay
will reconstruct the rather
elaborate
scaffolding supporting
the
complex
interrelated levels of such new
family
cohesion and sentiment.
Furthermore,
it will demonstrate how the criteria of domes-
tic
intimacy
are so
positioned
as to
appear already there, subtending
the cultural edi-
fice that Diderots drama is
inversely
first
attempting
to erect and to stabilize.
Published at
mid-century
in
1757,
Le Fils naturel established the
family subject
in both title and in the name of this new
genre
coined
by
the
philosophe
as
tragedie domestique
or
alternately,
drame or
tragedie bourgeois.4
This
play
does
not focus in the same
way
on
supposedly pathological examples
of
literary, sociologi-
cal,
or historical
family
lack and difference that
Roddey
Reid demonstrates to be so
prevalent
and crucial to
determining
the
paradigm
of the
bourgeois family
at the end
of the
eighteenth century
and
especially
into the next. There are no
examples
here in
Diderots text of what was identified and indeed
repudiated
in the nineteenth
century
as sexual
perversion
in narratives of
supposedly
documented or fictional homosexual-
ity, masturbation,
or
prostitution,
such as those of
Eugene Sue, Balzac,
and Zola. Nor
is the model of
bourgeois family community imposed
in Le Fils naturel
through
an-
titheses of the urban
poor or, specifically,
of the exotic non-Western colonized
other,
such as would later be the case in the
writing
of
Gobineau,
Maxime du
Camp,
or
Flaubert. The institution of
family
as
ideological
construct in the nineteenth
century
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Pucci / Diderots Fils Naturel 273
was thus not communicated
primarily through
idealized
images. Rather,
this realm of
the domestic in fictional and
documentary
narratives was
articulated, according
to
Reid, precisely through
a rhetoric of
lack, danger, pathology:
The model of norma-
tive
family
life was reinscribed in and built around
negative figures
of social
alterity
and
sexual,
familial
pathologies (64-65).7
Though principles
of
alterity
do in fact
produce
the discourse of
family community
in Le Fils
naturel, nevertheless,
these remain in
early
and mid
eigh-
teenth-century
France much closer to home. Diderots
bourgeois
drama
produces
an inside to
family intimacy through
its
dependence
on a series of dramatic and
textual
elements-psychological, genealogical, biological,
and
spatial-that
are in-
deed
strategically positioned
as exterior and
foreign
to it.
Yet,
from the
outset,
the
question
of
intimacy
is formulated in
multiple paradoxes
of exclusion that are
always
coupled with, always
doubled
by, tropes
of
resemblance,
which lead
directly
even
bluntly
to the
very
near mistakes of incest. Such is the
case,
for
example,
of
Dorval,
principal protagonist
of the
play.
Dorval is
repeatedly designated
in relation to the
members of a
family
as the
inconnu,
the
unknown,
or the
stranger.
This
stranger, however,
turns out to be the
long
lost brother of the
young
Rosalie and
son of the
long
absent father
Lysimond,
who returns from distant America to unite his
family. Yet,
such a
discovery
of
kinship
relations does not
operate,
I will
demonstrate,
to cancel out the sentiments nor the near
explicit
avowals of Rosalie and
Dorval,
each
the
object
of the others
passionate
love.
Dorval in effect
occupies
a
position
on all the
margins.
He resides
on the
periphery
of the
family
unit constituted
by
a
young gentleman
Clairville with
his sister Constance and their
long
time ward
Rosalie,
about to be married to Clairville
and thus almost
family
at the time the
play opens. Though
Dorval is Clairvilles close
and cherished friend and
companion,
this self-declared
stranger
from all
society
is
continuously
defined
by
others and defines himself as an
outsider,
a mere
guest
in
their home.
Moreover,
Dorval also resides outside the
performance proper,
in the
Preface,
where he introduces his interlocutor Diderot to the drama which follows.
As has
long
been
acknowledged,
Diderots Fils nature! is in fact
problematical
theater
precisely
because the dramatic action as defined within the formal limits of the
plays
five acts seems
intentionally
and
inextricably
linked to the narrative
account,
the
diegesis
of its Avertissement. What is
more,
this
first-person
narrative of the Preface is itself
punctuated by
the direct discourse of dramatic
dialogue
carried on between the two
characters Diderot and Dorval.
And
surrounding
the five act domestic drama is not
only
a Preface
but
also, coming
after the
play,
a series of three Discussions
(Entretiens)
on the
merits and flaws of the dramatic
production
and structure of Le Fils naturel-discus-
sions held between the narrator who identifies himself as Diderot and
Dorval,
both
the
principal
character of the framed drama and its
alleged
writer as well as critic.
Dramatic
dialogue
between characters in the formal
play
is in a sense
expressly pos-
ited as the continuation of the narrator Diderots and Dorvals own
dialogue
recounted
in the
preface. Yet,
that
uninterrupted
continuation is
partially
achieved
by
over-
determining
the narrator as one who does not
belong
himself to the inner circle of the
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274 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STUDIES 30 / 3
family. Precisely
this insistence on a non-distinction between
preface, drama,
and critical
discussion functions
paradoxically
to create the self-enclosed
sphere
of the
family
dwelling
and
history
mentioned above.
Naming
himself as
Diderot,
editor of the
Encyclopedie,
whose
sixth volume had
just appeared (3),
the narrator in the
Preface
takes on a
specific
historical
identity
that
simultaneously
and
by
association confers his own live ex-
perience
on the action about to take
place
on the domestic scene. In his
capacity
as
editor of the controversial
Encyclopedie,
Diderot-narrator recounts
exchanging pub-
lic life in
Paris,
at least for a brief
period,
for the
repose
and the more intimate com-
munity
of a
country
canton
(4)
where this
spectator
of the drama to take
place
will
remain, paradoxically,
silent and
anonymous.
The
country
canton as well as other
spatial
markers denote
intimacy through etymological
ties to the enclosed
space
of a
corner,
which in turn is
suggestive
both of an enclosed interior and of the
private
domestic affairs in this case of one
familys history. Thus,
Diderot
positions
him-
self in the
preface
as a flesh and blood narrator who resides
specifically
outside the
text/play/house
in/on whose
pages/stage/salon
the
particular history
and
genealogy
of
a
family
are soon to be reenacted
by
the
family
members themselves. As a narrator
identified in real time events of the
Encyclopedies publication,
the
figure
Diderot
lends
Dorval,
and
by
association the
family
members soon to be
encountered,
a status
of
supposed
extra-textual
reality.
All the
while, however,
this narrator who lends his-
torical status to the other characters remains excluded
himself,
removed
spatially
and
thematically
from the domestic drama that ensues.
In
effect,
the
preface
stakes out this
stage,
this corner
(canton)
of
intimacy, through
Diderots narrative account of
literally sneaking through
a win-
dow into the
family
abode where his interlocutor Dorval has
granted
him
partial
entry.9 There,
hidden
away
in a recess of the
family salon,
in a
forgotten
corner of
a secluded house in this
country canton,
the narrator Diderot witnesses the inti-
mate
story
of this
family
as
voyeuristic spectator,
as
foreigner, indeed,
as intruder. But
such intruders are
precisely
neither incidental nor
superfluous
to the
family picture
in
eighteenth-century
France. Domestic
intimacy,
as
already suggested,
derives here as a
product
of certain
spatial
and social distinctions and
exclusions,
which constitute the
preconditions necessary
to
formulating
this
intimacy. During
this
period
in
France,
new, sharp complementary
demarcations between
public
and
private space emerged
to
oppose
the aristocratic model of
sociability. According
to critics such as
Jurgen
Habermas, Philippe Aries, Roddey
Reid and
others,
these boundaries resulted in in-
creasing
distinctions between
family
association on the one hand and relations with
servants, friends, peers,
and
especially strangers
on the other.10 And such creation of a
domestic
space
and coherence defined as
separate,
even
exclusive, engenders
new kinds
of
binding sentiment, particularly
that of
sibling
and
parental intimacy,
which be-
comes the avowed basis of
bourgeois family ideology.
From the
outset,
as I have been
intimating,
the relations of
intimacy
are conceived in the
paradoxes
of exclusion and
resemblance.
Repeated emphasis
on elements
foreign
to the nuclear
family
as
per-
ceptible
in
tropes
of
spatial, social,
as well as narrative
separation
and difference are
thus
always accompanied by
another idiom in Le Fils naturel: that of
proximity
and
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Pucci / Diderots Fils Naturel 275
specifically
of resemblance.
Diderot,
in
effect,
resembles Dorval as another intruder
who breaks into the
family space
of
private affairs;
but this narrator
through
stated
resemblance to the
phi/osophe
Diderot also
joins history
with
drama, couples supposed
flesh-and-blood characters with those of fiction.
Indeed,
such
figures
of
literary
re-
semblance are
intimately
related to the construction not
only
of the
genre
of domestic
drama,
but also of the new
family
model. For the criteria of resemblance are
insepa-
rable from an
apparent
antithesis to the domestic ideal:
incest,
in this
case,
incestuous
desire. Both as crime to be
irrevocably
exiled from the domestic
scene,
and as the most
powerful signifier
of
intimacy during
this
period, incest,
I will
argue, textually
em-
bodies, embraces,
and
engenders
here the
very
conditions of the
bourgeois family.
How do these discourses of resemblance and the
foreign
nourish
new
family
formulae? Within the bosom of the
emerging family unit, increasingly
at
odds with the aristocratic model of
sociability,
what did it mean to
signify parental
or
sibling intimacy?
Was it not crucial to
distinguish
this
intimacy
as distinct from the
bonds of
friendship
on the one hand and from romantic
passion
on the other? How to
privilege family
sentiment above
all;
how to endow
family
attachment in this domes-
tic
tragedy
with full
intensity
that is nevertheless
separated
as a discrete
entity
from
the conventions of a
supposedly very
different kind of
emotion,
that of romantic love?
These
questions
are woven into the fabric of the
plays
thematics and
spatial designs
with
seemingly explicit
intent. But the resolution of such
questions
or rather the lack
thereof
necessarily
leads to other levels of
signification.
Even
though
these thematics
of Le Fils naturel
ostensibly appear
to frame neat distinctions between the inside and
outside of the
family nucleus,
between
private
and
public spheres
and
spaces,
between
friendship
and
kinship,
between the sentiments
binding
blood relations and those
binding lovers,
a different textual
strategy
is
being
enacted. In
fact,
each
term,
each kind
of sentiment and
love,
derives
contagiously
from the
other, thereby producing totally
interdependent
discourses which can
only
be defined and
generated reciprocally.
It is
the nature of this
reciprocity,
this
contamination,
that warrants further
study.
Even before the formal commencement of dramatic action in
Diderots
bourgeois
drama Le Fils
naturel,
a domestic interior is contoured as a dis-
tinct
space,
set off
by
a textual
emphasis
on what lies outside and distant from it. The
introductory
Preface
(Avertissement)
of this
play,
situated of course before and exte-
rior to the
action,
lends a
particular
narrative as well as a
spatial
frame to dramatic
dialogue
and events. Such a frame
designs
the
entity
of the intimate
family by securing
the discursive as well as visual boundaries of its
living space.
A
bourgeois
home and in
particular
the salon become
family living
room is circumscribed as a unified
surface,
as a
tableau,
as a
stage
of the domestic interior to be
distinguished
from the world
lying beyond
it. In
effect,
this room defines a
space
that
clearly belongs
less to the
ceremony
of
courtly sociability
than to the activities of a different kind of
family
life.
The
play begins
with a rather detailed
description
of the
salon,
where the action will
take
place.
This domestic
space envelops
those who
inhabit,
who
belong there, sepa-
rating
them from all who dwell
beyond
its borders.
The domestic circle in Le Fils
naturel, including
the
young Clairville,
his sister
Constance,
and her close friend and ward Rosalie
engaged
to
Clairville,
along
with their
servants,
is
presented
with the coherence of a close-knit
entity
from
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276 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STUDIES 30 / 3
the
very
first
through particular emphasis
on the outsiders. The inner circle is fash-
ioned both
through
the narrator Diderots own outsider
position
in
prefatorial
com-
ments,
in his detached
physical placement and,
within the
play,
in the remarkable
behavior of that other
outsider,
Dorval. The
very
first scene of act 1
graphically
de-
picts
his
marginal
connection to the household. Dorval has made an
abrupt
decision
to
leave;
and the
play opens
as he readies himself to steal
away, abandoning
the do-
mestic hearth without
even,
as his valet
reproaches him, taking
leave of his hosts. In
the
early morning
hour which is still
night,
Dorval sits alone in a room filled with the
bric-a-brac of the
familys daily living. Emphasis
is
placed
on the
many stage props
which seem almost to crowd the
stage
and which are
unusually
enumerated in the
texts
stage
directions at the outset of the first scene.
Objects
such as
brochures,
a
tapestry loom,
a
couch,
a
game
of tric trac etc.
(12)
accentuate the routine of domes-
tic interaction. These artifacts are an
integral aspect
of the drame
bourgeois
and not
only
because of the
growing importance
of
objects
and
capital
in a more
consciously
acquisitive society. They
also function here as so
many
visual
vestiges
of the
intimacy
of the
family
members
themselves, evoking
a kind of
nostalgia
for what at the
present
late
night
hour is
unavailable; indeed,
the
family
members at this initial moment in
the
play
are absent.
Dorvals tortured
expression,
the
nervous, erratic, desperate ges-
tures of this character introduce a new
emphasis
on mime and on the
body
which
contribute here to
demarcating
his isolation and
strange singularity.12 Muttering
to
himself in broken sentences
interrupted by sighs, by gesticulations,
which are
signaled
textually
also in
copious stage
directions and in the characters
pregnant ellipses,
this
physical display
of emotional inner conflict
places
Dorval at even further remove
from the warmth and
interpersonal exchange
of
family intimacy.
The
spectators
sneak-
ing
into the corner of this
private family
residence and
plot;
Dorvals tortured decision
to
step
back outside and leave it
behind;
the artifacts of the
familys daily
life that the
stage
directions insist as
being indiscriminately
scattered about this
living
room--
vestiges
and reminders of domestic
activity
even and
especially
where the
family
mem-
bers themselves are absent-these
separations
all work to
produce
a
strong
sense of
an established routine and
community
that
preexists,
that comes
before
the actual
stage appearance
and interaction of
family
members.
Indeed,
the
family
unit itself is tucked
away
in the unseen innermost
interior of the house where it remains at this remote hour inaccessible to
Diderot,
to
Dorval,
and to the
spectators eye. Character, spectator,
indeed
reader,
relate to the
concept
of
family
here as an
already
established cohesive
entity separate from,
and
precedent
to, any
desire to
participate in,
to
imitate,
it. Such distance and difference
frame domestic events from an outsiders
point
of view as dramatic
surfaces,
as
tableaux-tableaux,
which are
integral
in Diderots texts to
representations
of the
intimate
bourgeois family.
Of
course,
it is
precisely through
the outsiders
activity
consistently depicted
as a
spectators response
to a
preexisting family unity,
and
shaped
by
the
parameters
of tableau that such
intimacy
is
being
ushered into existence in the
first
place.
Adrift as we have seen him at the outset of the
play
and
poised
to
vacate the
family premises,
Dorval is
throughout
overdetermined as a
disconnected,
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Pucci / Diderots Fils Naturel 277
displaced foreign
element.
Here,
he relates his
personal history
to Constance: Aban-
doned
practically
at
birth, wandering
between the desert and
society
. . . for 30
years
I was
isolated, unknown, neglected,
without ever
having experienced anyones
tender-
ness,
until
your
brother came to me.
Yet,
such
multiple
tendencies to
sharpen
bound-
aries between
family intimacy
and
estrangement
also function in reverse to include
Dorval,
to
incorporate
him into the realm of
friendship, passion, kinship,
and
further,
of incest. For all this distance and difference
collapses
in the course of the drama into
its
opposite.
We learn in the final act that Dorval is Rosalies
brother;
this news breaks
with the arrival of
Lysimond,
their
long-lost
father who reestablishes but in effect
who establishes for the first
time, indeed,
who
scenically engenders
here the nuclear
and extended
family unit,
and who authorizes the
sound, reasonable, marriages
of
Dorval to Constance and Rosalie to Clairville.
Dorvals initial
desperation
in act
1,
scene 1 stems from his secret
feelings
for the
young
woman
Rosalie,
who turns out to be his sister and who at the
beginning
of the
play
is
already engaged
to Dorvals
only
friend Clairville. This
poten-
tial scandal and
ingratitude
to Clairville who has befriended Dorval dictates his im-
mediate
departure.
In
love,
but alert to the ruses of his
passion,
Dorval
recognizes
his
own
tendency
to confuse acts of
friendship
with acts of love at the same time as he
attempts
to follow a moral
imperative
to
separate
them. Should he make his
depar-
ture known to
Rosalie,
will he leave without
seeing
her? And
Rosalie,
should I not
see her at all
[before leaving]
?. . No . . . love and
friendship
do not
impose
the same
obligation; especially
a
crazy
love which is not declared and which must be
squelched.
. . . But what will she
say?
What will she think? . . . Oh
Love, dangerous sophist,
I hear
you.17
Clear distinctions between the sentiments of love and
friendship
are set
up
here as we will see even as their boundaries become
entirely permeable.
This is the
pattern
established
throughout
as the confusion becomes more insidious still in the
ensuing
disorder where both
friendship
and
passion
are
designated
within the
family
precinct.
At stake in the
staging
of incestuous desire is a
language
of
sibling
passion that,
in
fact, supplies
the essential formula for a new
language
of
family
inti-
macy through appropriation
of an old set of well-worn romantic
metaphors.
For the
script
of
family
devotion is itself written in
large part
in the
tropes
of resemblance and
imitation;
these
tropes
are borrowed
specifically
from the
language
of amorous
pas-
sion,
and here take on new sentimental resonance. Before his threatened
departure,
Dorval does
speak
after all to Rosalie but
ostensibly
at the
prompting
of her
fiance,
his friend
Clairville,
who is alarmed at Rosalies sudden lack of affection for him. In a
scene of
scarcely
checked
reciprocal
emotion and
confession,
Rosalie here acknowl-
edges
to Dorval her
passion
for an other than
Clairville, thereby implicitly
and almost
explicitly returning
Dorvals own
nearly
avowed sentiments. In the
following passage,
she
acknowledges
this new attachment: His
features, mind, look,
the sound of his
voice; everything
in this sweet and terrible
object,
seemed to
respond
to a kind of
image
that nature had
engraven
in
my
heart.18 And this
image
of Rosalies love takes
on more distinct
shape
in its resemblance to her own self-reflection: Whatever he
said,
I was
always thinking
the same
thing.
Sometimes I would
already
be
praising
in
advance what then he would
approve.
In
expressing
a
feeling,
I believed he had
guessed
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278 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STUDIES 30 / 3
mine . . . What can I
say,
I
scarcely recognized myself
in
others; yet,
I
repeatedly
found
myself
in him.
Now this
confession,
which is echoed in Dorvals own behavior and
response
introduces the
figures
of resemblance
through
the
trope
of
reciprocity,
which
conventionally
served to
designate
romantic love. For an
eighteenth-century
French
audience as for this
contemporary one,
to
recognize
oneself in the others
eyes,
ac-
tions,
demeanor was
already
a
commonplace
of romantic love.
Here,
it is
particularly
reminiscent of Marivauxs
early eighteenth-century
romantic
comedies,
which intro-
duced
throughout
a
very subtle,
nuanced
psychology
of love in both
language
and
behavior of characters in the
grip
of
reciprocal
love.
Specifically, figures
of resem-
blance and
reciprocity
constitute in Marivauxs
plays
the
defining language
and
thematics of romantic love. Each characters
attempt
to avoid the
inevitability
of
clearly
reciprocal
sentiment is written for all the audience to see in the mirror and exact
symmetry
of the other
protagonists
identical mirror reaction.20 Even the telltale
phrase,
pronounced by nearly
all Marivauxs
protagonists
in the midst of the inevitable ro-
mantic
crisis,
is
repeated exactly
in Dorvals frustrated
cry:
I dont know where I
am.
[ Je
ne sais ou
jen
suis
(57).]
Indeed, friendship,
which in Dorvals own admission
slips
all too
readily
into amorous
passion,
turns out to
be,
and will
always
remain on the
verge
of
becoming,
an incestuous love between brother and sister. I
disagree
with
Jay Caplan
who
suggests:
The love is not amorous and therefore
incestuous,
but fraternal after
all
(31).
For the love is here and
continually
rebecomes amorous
and,
thus in this
case,
incestuous. We learn from the outset in the narrators
preface that, following
the
father
Lysimonds insistence,
the so-called true
family
events that
supposedly
are be-
ing
reenacted at the
opening
of the
play,
are slated to be rehearsed and renewed
repeatedly: every year,
in this same
house,
in this same salon. The
things
we have
said,
we would
repeat.
Your children would do the same and their descendants as
well. And I would survive
myself;
and thus would I converse from
generation
to
gen-
eration with all
my grandchildren.
Dorvals love and Rosalies own
passion
can
only
be secret once. Forever
after,
their romantic attachment that in effect forms the
plays
central thematics and focus must be
recognized, acknowledged,
must be re-
called
by
the same
family players.
It is as a
consequence
of
repeated
but also each time
newly
resuscitated amorous
feelings
that
every year fraternal,
familial love becomes
the force claimed for it here and that it can have a
subsequent impact.
Each
generation
must
re-present
domestic
intimacy
as in a mirror so as to
recognize itself,
so as to
produce
domestic
intimacy
in the
present.
And each
generation says Lysimond
needs
that mirror so as to be
joined
to the
previous
one. This mirror of
repeat performance
though
a
re-presentation
in effect
supplies
and
resupplies
the foundation for that fa-
milial
intimacy through
sentiments
judged
antithetical to it.
Representation
is not
confined then to rhetorical
figures
which
merely reflect
a social institution but rather
operates repeatedly
instead to
inaugurate
it.
And thus the
point
is that there can be no after
all,
no
closure;
no
possibility
exists of
definitively arresting
the movement which
continually
returns to
its
previous
source. In
effect,
the dual structure of narrative and dramatic forms which
constitute the text of Diderots Fils naturel assures
precisely
such an
impossibility
of
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Pucci / Diderots Fils Naturel 279
closing
off incestuous desire. As is the case with narrative as
opposed
to dramatic
genres,
the future
tense, here,
the
performances
to
come,
are told from the
vantage
point
of the
already past.
The narratives of the Preface and Entretiens which sur-
round Diderots drama seem to
promise
closure in the
temporal
distance these narra-
tives stake out from the near incest that has
already
been both admitted and at one
level
already
converted into familial sentiment. At the same
time, however,
the struc-
ture of drama
brings here, particularly
in this insistence on the
repeat performance
of
annual
repetition,
an eternal
present
of
dialogue
and
exchange
that
persistently
re-
opens
what has
already
been concluded.
Incestuous
feelings
take
place
in the future of
performance
from the
perspective
of the narrative
past
which has domesticated incest into what it neverthe-
less refuses to become
completely
and once and for all.
Thus,
even if this
repeat per-
formance
persistently
converts incest into
acceptable
familial
intimacy,
it also
repro-
duces in the
opposite direction, resuscitating
anew the same
prohibited passion
to be
converted.
Moreover,
like the
players themselves,
all readers have
foreknowledge
of
this
relationship
because the cast of characters is listed before the
beginning
of the
play,
in effect
identifying
Dorval and Rosalie as sister and brother
(10). Though
as
Caplan says,
incest does not lead here as in
Sophocles Oedipus
to
tragedy (30-31),
nevertheless,
it is not so
readily
nor ever
completely
transformed into normative
satisfaction
(Caplan, 32).23
The sentiments of both Dorval and Rosalie to be
staged
annually
as incestuous
by
these same
characters,
allow
retrospectively
for the same
mistaken
passion
to be
transformed,
but also
repeatedly evoked,
with the
frequency
of obsession.
It is
precisely
this
tangle
of
desired, prohibited passion
and
suppos-
edly straightforward
sentiments of
parental
and
sibling
devotion that
provides
the
components
of the new
family portrait. Sibling
relations are
scrupulously
and
vigor-
ously distinguished from,
and
simultaneously
intertwined
with, marital,
amorous and
incestuous association in this domestic interior. Dorvals and Rosalies amorous
pas-
sion,
the
only
relation here between the sexes not to be
joined
in a kind of de-eroti-
cized
marriage,
is based on incestuous inclinations
persistently recycled
into
carefully
delimited fraternal ones. But in
turn,
the
yearly performance staged
to commemorate
the
familys history always signals
as well the
implicit recycling
of domestic
intimacy,
which must be
recharged by being
redirected back
through
its
necessary
constituent
of incestuous desire.
This
very language
of incestuous
desire, particularly
as rehearsed in
Rosalies
confession, adopts
the idiom of amorous
passion,
which is
indistinguishable
here from the discourse of fraternal love. Diderot has borrowed Marivauxs structure
of romantic love and
deployed
it to new
strategic
ends. For the
tropes
of resemblance
here in Le Fils naturel have drawn their
intensity
and
energy
from amorous
passion,
converting, redirecting,
these emotions to an
origin
in
kinship
relations
through
the
contagious figure
of incest. Incest thus lends the substance of
passion
to the
particu-
larizing
bonds of
biological
and
genetic
resemblance
through new, though borrowed,
linguistic,
textual affect. After
all,
the
potential
for incest is discovered and converted
near the dramas end-at least in the first
reading-after
full
deployment
of these
metaphors
of
love,
which
textually lay
the bedrock of the
family
edifice. At
every
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280 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STUDIES 30 / 3
annual
performance, sibling
bonds in Le Fils nature! will borrow romantic
passion
as
the silenced and
explicitly disavowed,
while
always implicit, paradigm
of domestic
intimacy.
Hence,
Rosalies and Dorvals emotional outbursts do turn out to
have
originated
in a likeness inscribed in
biological
resemblance between sister and
brother. But these
kinship
relations as
they develop thematically
can take on
signifi-
cance
textually only
because
they
have
already
been
appropriated,
even near crimi-
nally,
in the
language
of amorous
passion.
Incest infuses the
representation
of
family
here with a new kind of
intimacy,
which had been
lacking.
Rosalie
initially
defines her
feelings
for Dorval in
just
such idioms of resemblance and
reciprocity
that she termed
natures
engraven image. Yet,
such
supposedly
natural bonds of
kinship
are ex-
actly
what the text is
attempting
to
generate
so as to institute
family intimacy
as
nature. In other
words,
bonds of
kinship
needed
something
more than
biological
re-
semblance to
grant
them the rhetorical force
necessary
to
proclaim
the natural
engraven image
and
originary significance
of
family identity.
Thus,
I am
adding
a third notion of lack as crucial to the construc-
tion of the
bourgeois family. Roddey
Reid insisted in the texts of the late
eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries on
social, cultural,
lack and
negativity
as the
defining
ele-
ment of the normative
bourgeois family,
and
Jay Caplan
insisted with
respect
to
Diderots
play
on a
psychoanalytical principle
of
paternal
absence as constitutive of
the beholders own
attempt
to
supplement
what the
family
is
always lacking.
I am
suggesting
that
family
bonds are structured in Le Fils nature! on a
linguistic lack,
on
borrowed
discourse,
on incest as the rhetorical
figure
of catachresis. What the lan-
guage,
in this case the
language
of
sentiments,
can not render in terms
specific
and
proper
to
it,
must be
approximated by
another
idiom,
used
im-properly. Sibling/pa-
rental
intimacy
is
produced
then in the links
binding
the
tropes
of romantic
passion
to
figures
of resemblance
by
their
passage through
the
forbidden,
exotic
territory
of
incest. This drama
attempts
to fashion
community through
distinctions between friend-
ship, passion,
and
kinship
attachment
by filtering
out the
impurities
of desire from the
natural
intimacy
that
supposedly
unites blood relations. But this discourse threat-
ens to mutate
into,
because it must borrow
incestuously from,
those
very figures
and
discourses from which it declares itself
independent.
Once in
place,
this discursive
sibling
formula
undergoes
further trans-
formation,
this time to define father and child resemblance. A
possible marriage
be-
tween Constance and Dorval derives value
exclusively
in terms of the
important
ensuing
resemblance to be achieved
morally
as well as
genetically
between father and
child. Natures
bonding through
this resemblance retains
marks, however,
of the ear-
lier model.
Reciprocity
in the love between Rosalie and
Dorval,
between sister and
brother,
is redirected
not, curiously,
into the amorous relation between husband and
wife but into
parental/child
reflection. Passionate love is rechanneled here
precisely
not to define marital relations. Both in the Fils naturel and in the Pere de
famille,
Diderots other
bourgeois drama,
the
spouse
in effect all but
disappears.24
Here,
Constance
imagines
Dorval as
potential pere
de
famille: They [children]
will learn
from
you
to think like
you.
Your
passions, your tastes, your
ideas will
pass
into them.
They
will receive these
just
notions from
you
. . . It will
depend
on
you
alone that
they
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Pucci / Diderots Fils Nature! 281
have a conscience
just exactly
like
yours. Theyll
see
you act; theyll
hear me
speak
sometimes.
Constance
imagines
herself in this new
equation
as Dorvals wife
and as mother of future
progeny.
A dominant model of father-child relation as it is
structured here on
physical,
sentimental likeness
originates
in the filiation
already
manifest, already determined,
between brother and sister. Such a semantics of resem-
blance functions on a horizontal
plane
so as to become in effect
infinitely expandable
to other alliances.
Consistently,
the mistake of incest
rhetorically
lends the
particu-
larizing bonds, formerly lacking,
to the new domestic and intimate attachments of the
immediate and extended
family.
The
family
as a heuristic device is then even further extended to
embrace all individuals of
Enlightenment society through
terms
belonging originally
to the intimate domestic
sphere.
The links
connecting
a notion of
biological
resem-
blance to mutual and
reciprocal
sentiment between father and children
ultimately
produce
members of an
imagined community
construed here
initially through po-
tential
sibling
incest. In this
enlightened century, says
Constance to Dorval: It is
you yourself,
its the men who resemble
you,
that the nation honors and that the
government
must
protect
more than ever
(my emphasis, 77).26
Incest as mirror
image
provides
the basic model in Le Fils naturel for what
only subsequently
evolves into
paternal/filial
reflection. The
sibling
attachment defined
through
its libidinal cast is
precisely
what in this
play
and in several other
literary
texts of the
period
links
family
intimacy
in the
eighteenth century
to the collective construct become in the words of
Benedict Anderson the
imagined community
of nation.27
Dorvals mutations from exotic
stranger/incestuously desiring
lover/
family
member in Le Fils naturel
provides
an
allegory
of and a
paradigm
for the
extended fraternal order. The
trope
of resemblance extends from lovers to
siblings
to
parent-children
and to those individuals who as above constitute a nation. But it also
and
especially
extends to the
vicarious,
that is to the
imitative, participation
of the
family intruder,
of
Spectator,
who resembles his/her model. Like the character Diderot
in the dramas
prologue,
like the
stranger
Dorval who
initially
stands outside the
family precinct,
the
Spectator
is both excluded but
implicated
in the
unfolding
action
and sentiment. At a
quasi-remove (we
shouldnt
forget
that Diderot-narrator-inter-
locutor-voyeur
does
occupy
a
corner,
however
small,
on that
living-room stage,
that
is,
within the narrative
prologue),
the
Spectator
demonstrates how
exclusion,
how
distance itself can articulate a
principle
of
proximity
and resemblance that
incest,
that
family intimacy,
thematizes.
The
Spectator
in this
play
and elsewhere in the
eighteenth century
as the
figure
of a
social, political
as well as theatrical audience remains
by
definition
marginal
and far from cultural center
stage.
The
Spectator
also
belongs
in
particular
to the ancien
regime
as
subject
of and to the
king.
In the horizontal terms of close
sibling relations,
fraternal
bonding
before the
Revolution,
before the formation of a
Republic,
existed in the shadow of a
dominating royal
and
paternal authority.
Al-
though
Dorvals and Rosalies
father, Lysimond,
is absent
throughout
the
play-he
either has not
yet
arrived or is
already
deceased-he nevertheless serves as the
plays
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282 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STUDIES 30 / 3
focus of
legitimating authority.
The transformation from a world of
courtly
conven-
tion to a different kind of
public
and nation is
performed
and
experienced
here
in the resemblance of
sibling
relations. The horizontal fraternal
intimacy represented
here introduces a new or different kind of natural
image,
which accommodates and
yet
at the same time also
suggestively
substitutes for
absolute, paternal authority.
Each individual who
potentially
takes an others
place, though
his role be
relegated
as
Spectator
to the
margins
of
any given activity,
is also sure to encounter after all a
family
member. Dorval will become the father of children who resemble
him;
what is
more,
as a virtuous man he is described
by
Constance as first of all: a brother to all
good people;
for so
many
unfortunate ones a father
they
are
awaiting. [un
frere
tous les
gens
de
bien;
a tant de malheureux un
pere quils
attendent
(75)1
Examples
of
incest, particularly sibling incest,
abound in both nar-
rative and dramatic texts of the
period and,
as I have
suggested,
have a sizable role to
play
in
promoting
the bonds of
family community. Montesquieu (Lettres persanes)
and Beaumarchais
(La
Mere
coupable),
to name writers situated at either end of the
century, provide compelling examples
to examine in this
light.
The near-incest be-
tween half-sister and brother in La Mere
coupable,
for
instance,
effects a transition of
the ancien
regime family
of Count and Countess Almaviva to a
bourgeois
domestic
counterpart.
The line of
descendance,
a kind of
syntax
of aristocratic
lineage,
is inter-
rupted by
a simultaneous
display
in the sentimental tableau of familial
intimacy.
As
suggested
earlier in this
essay,
fraternal incest as a thematic and rhetorical
practice
is
resolved in
eighteenth-century
texts without the
dread, fear,
or
tragedy
that
conspicu-
ously
haunt texts of later
generations.
At some level
though,
and for reasons which
need further
analysis,
there must have been in the
eighteenth century
a
realization,
an
intuition,
of another kind of secret which needed to be
repressed.
And the secret could
be that incest as more than a criminal act and desire is also an idiom which had to be
borrowed,
as in a
catachresis,
from another
discourse,
that of romantic love. Like a
secret
sharer,
incest was needed to enable and to
engender
the intimate domestic scene.
Eighteenth-century recognition
scenes based
on,
if not
acceptable
then at least resolv-
able,
incestuous tension between
siblings
are
ultimately
assimilated into an
ostensibly
unthreatening
domestic
intimacy.
But
they give way
in the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries to much darker scenarios in which such
feelings
had
always
to be silenced in
order to make their inevitable return.32
(How)
does the nuclear
family entity
hold or
gain ground
in later
periods by covering
its traces?
At the threshold of the
twenty-first century, however,
incest seems to
be
coming
into the
bright lights
of
plain
view and
public discussion, yet
in a different
capacity
still-as the
antagonist
in the
multiple
cases and accusations
taking place
in
and out of the courts. No
longer
a
silent,
secret
sharer,
incest can no
longer play
simul-
taneously
a
prohibited
and an
implicit
role in
constituting
domestic
intimacy.
Is it not in
order to make an absolute and
unequivocal separation
between domestic
intimacy
and
incest that this frenetic
legal
and social
activity
has been
taking place?
Or is there an-
other side to this
question?
Incest no
longer
contributes in
texts,
in
theory,
in
secret,
in
horror,
to the formulation and to the
representation
of
family intimacy.
Could this be in
part
because
family intimacy
itself has been
disappearing?
In
effect,
the correlation be-
tween incest and
intimacy
does indeed continue even
though
not in the sense of their
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Pucci / Diderots Fils Naturel
283
entangled
relation to
romantic,
erotic love. The focus of
contemporary societys
en-
deavor to
expose
and to eliminate incest
along
with other crimes
placed
under the
aegis
of
sexual,
or in
particular,
child
abuse,
seems
directly
related to the current
precarious
status of domestic
intimacy
itself. In
fact,
the
general public
makes the connection be-
tween crimes of incest and the status of domestic
intimacy.
A recent
article,
The Eros
of
Parenthood,
identifies
devastating consequences
in the
growing
distrust and fear of
parental/filial intimacy
that stem
according
to the author
precisely
from our
society
obsessively search[ing]
for hints of trouble on the domestic scene. Parent-child inti-
macy
itself has
begun
to
appear suspect:
mothers and fathers feel
troubled,
ashamed or
fearful about the
physical
closeness between themselves and their children
(48).
In
these
days,
she
continues,
to feel the
erotically charged
nature of the
parent-child
rela-
tionship-the
thousand small intimacies that weave
parent
and child
together-is
to
feel that one is
breaking
a taboo
(49).
From the
perspective
advanced
throughout my
essay,
it follows that this new
seeming
taboo
against
domestic
intimacy might
come not
necessarily
or
exclusively
from the fear
of,
or taboo
against,
incest but
perhaps
the other
way
around? This
seeming
taboo
against intimacy
that on the one level
appears
to
derive from the
proliferating
crimes of
incest, might
itself
actually
be at least one of the
motors
driving
the
rediscovery
of this now
ubiquitous
crime. Is the ever
increasing pros-
ecution of incest the other side of a
rejected,
even
persecuted
domestic
intimacy?
Does
the act of
identifying
incest arise from the
discovery
of a
seemingly ubiquitous
series of
social crimes or do these
crimes,
whether
actually committed,
acted
out,
or
fantasized,
begin
to come under
investigation
in
part
because domestic
intimacy
for
many
com-
plex
reasons is on the
wane,
no
longer
needed
or, perhaps now,
not even tolerated?
Viewing
incest from this
perspective
is like
looking
at certain
pic-
tures which from a different
vantage point yield
an
entirely
new
image.
All of a sud-
den,
the former construction of lines and
angles generates
a new
configuration
so that
the viewer now sees what
previously
didnt
(seem to)
exist. Is it
possible
that in some
ways,
this new
perspective
on incest arises
alongside
what are indeed real crimes but
which nevertheless derive at the
very
end of the twentieth
century
as a
symptom
of a
now
increasingly necessary
lack of intimate resemblance and
mirroring
between
par-
ents and children? And this lack is not
supplemented by
another
metaphor,
another
idiom as the
eighteenth-century paradigm
would seem to
indicate;
on the
contrary,
this lack has become a denial to be subsumed under the label of taboo. In other
words,
is it
just
a coincidence that the
bourgeois
nuclear
family
seems to be
waning
as an
ideological
and
representational
construct
just
at the moment that incest as an
empiri-
cal act has
everywhere
been
reemerging
into the
light
of condemnation? But the term
incest has itself been disowned and in its
place
surfaces the far more
abstract, juridi-
cal,
and
general term,
child
abuse,
untouched even
semantically by
the contamina-
tion of
intimacy.
Incest has been
transformed, becoming
an
isolated, foreign, entity
through unequivocal
and insistent disassociation from an ever
diminishing
domestic
intimacy.
At the
least,
incest as it
signified
in the
eighteenth century
has in our own
age
become affiliated with
markedly
different even
opposite
kinds of social and cul-
tural
strategies,
which
demand, certainly,
further
inquiry
and elaboration. Incest as
an anachronism from
early
modern culture has become a
truly
unfamiliar
entity,
inau-
gurating perhaps
the taboo of
intimacy itself,
and
ubiquitously emerging
on the
current domestic scene as an exotic
stranger
in a new world.
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284 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STUDIES 30 / 3
NOTES
1. Cited
by Joan
H.
Stewart, Gynographs:
French Novels
by
Women
of
the Late
Eighteenth Century
(Lincoln
and London: Univ. of Nebraska
Press, 1993),
92.
2.
Joan
Stewart refers in her
study Gynographs
to the fact that in these novels: Passion is never more
than a heartbeat
away
from incest
(91). However,
she
suggests
that this is due to: a
repeated repressed
abhorrence of
marriage along
with an
attempt
to
mitigate
that horror
by assimilating
sexual attraction to
sisterly
or
daughterly
love
(92). My
own
perspective
which does not
yet
deal with novels written
by
women of the late
eighteenth century
but in this instance with Diderots
mid-century
drame
bourgeois
will
follow
quite
another tack.
3. Freud
began
Totem and Taboo with a section termed The Horror of
Incest,
in The
Complete
Psychological
Works
of Sigmund Freud,
trans.
by James Strachey. (London: Hogarth Press, 1955, repr.
1958),
vol.
13,
.1-17. The taboo of incest was
presented by
Freud first as a
principal organizing
factor of
tribal life in the Australian
aborigines
as well as in other tribes Freud considered to be
savages
or half-
savages;
And their mental life must have a
peculiar
interest for us if we are
right
in
seeing
in it a well-
preserved picture
of an
early stage
of our own
development (1).
Freud seems to be
constructing
the
horror of incest as a kind of natural cornerstone or bedrock of
psychic
and social
organization by
locating
it in the
primitive
Australian
aboriginal
exclusion of incest.
4. Denis
Diderot,
Le Fils nature! and Entretiens sur le Fils
nature!,
in Oeuvres de Denis
Diderot,
publies
sur les manuscrits de
lauteur, par Jacques-Andre Naigeon (Paris: Deterville,
an 8
[1800]),
t. 4.
References to Diderots text will follow the above edition. The
English
translations of Diderots texts are
my
own. Also consulted is the edition of the Fils nature! and Entretiens in Oeuvres
completes,
eds. A.-M.
Chouillet,
H. Dieckmann
(Paris: Hermann, 1980),
t. 4.
5.
Roddey Reid,
Families in
Jeopardy: Regulating
the Social
Body
in
France,
1750-1910
(Stanford:
Stanford Univ.
Press, 1993).
6.
Says
Reid: The discursive elaboration and circulation of the domestic household and its sexual-
familial norms involved the simultaneous construction of the
city
and the colonies as
spaces
of human and
social
pathology (89). And, Predictably,
colonized
lands,
like households of the
poor,
served as a vast
repertoire
of familial
alterity, particularly
of sexual
promiscuity,
male and female
prostitution,
and homo-
sexual
practices (92).
Reid also
speaks very convincingly
about the domestic
importance
of incest in the
late
eighteenth-century
novel Paul and
Virginie (Reid, 101-36);
its nature
however,
will
carry
some crucial
differences from the earlier model offered
by
Diderot. Reids work has been an
important contributing
factor to
my
own
thinking
and
analysis.
7. Reid uses the term
family teratology
as a
principal heading
of his
study (52).
8. The Avertissement
begins
with these lines: The sixth volume of the
Encyclopedia
had
just ap-
peared;
and I had
gone
to the
country
to find some rest and
well-being,
when an
event, interesting
for its
circumstances as well as for
people themselves,
became the
subject
of astonishment and the talk of the
whole canton.
[Le
sixieme volume de
lEncyclopedie
venoit de
paraitre;
et
jetois
alle
chercher,
a la
campagne,
du
repos
et de la
sante, lorsquun evenement,
non moins interessant
par
les circonstances
que
par
les
personnes,
devint letonnement et lentretien du canton.
(3)]
9. Diderot recounts his
experience
in the
first-person
as overall narrator who also
engages
in
dialogue
with the character Dorval. This direct discourse within the narrative links the
preface
to the
stage play
that follows
through
the
similarity
of
linguistic
form and
through
the chain of association which leads
contagiously
from the
historically
identified narrator-interlocutor Diderot to writer-character-actor
Dorval,
to the other members of the
family/cast, relaying
across the boundaries of narrative and
drama,
of narra-
tion and direct
discourse,
the extra-textual real. Both mimesis and
diegesis,
both the narrative and
dramatic forms are
deployed
in this
representation
of theater and life. See Gerard Genettes discus-
sion of these two forms and their interaction
(Gerard Genette,
Frontieres du
recit,
in
LAnalyse
struc-
tural du
recit, [Communications, 8]
Paris:
Seuil, 1981, 158-69).
The above
example
demonstrates how
Diderot uses dramatic discourse and narrative as
necessary components
each to the success of the other.
10. These ideas structure
Jurgen
Habermas notion of the
public sphere,
The Structural
Transforma-
tion
of
the Public
Sphere:
An
Inquiry
into a
Category of Bourgeois Society,
trans. Thomas
Burger
and
Frederick Lawrence.
(Cambridge
Mass.: MIT
Press, 1989).
See Reids discussion
(8-17)
of Habermas
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Pucci / Diderots Fils Nature! 285
on the
growing phenomenon
in the
eighteenth century
of the
bourgeois family.
See Reid also on the dis-
tinction of
public
and
private
with
respect
to
sociability (50).
For the
progressive
differences to be dis-
cerned between the
space, behavior,
sentiments and conventions of
sociability
and that of the
bourgeois
intimate
family
see
Philippe
Aries
(292).
See also Peter
France,
Politeness and its Discontents
(Cambridge
Univ.
Press, 1992), particularly Enlightened Sociability (51-129).
11. See
Philippe
Aries
LEnfant
et la vie
familiale
sous lAncien
Regime (Paris: Seuil, 1973)
on the
notion of
changing
domestic
space
that
accompanied
the
emergence
of the nuclear intimate
family, espe-
cially
where he
speaks
of rooms that become more dedicated to
specific
needs of the individual and the
family
and less
given
over to the rules and
ceremony
of courtoisie or bienseance
(288-307).
12. With
regard
to the novel
emphasis
on
body
and
gesture
in Diderots
theater,
see
Jay Caplan,
Framed
Narratives: Diderots
Genealogy of
the Beholder
(Minneapolis:
Univ. of Minnesota
Press, 1985)
and Herb
Josephs,
Diderots
Dialogue of Language
and Gesture: Le neveu de Rameau
(Columbus:
Ohio State Univ.
Press, 1969).
Both critics discuss Diderots
tendency
to
replace spoken language
with a
language
of
bodily
gestures.
In
Diderot,
no
longer
does
speech
define the real because truth is viewed as
essentially unspo-
ken,
inaccessible to the conventions of
speech (Caplan, 37). Caplan
discusses this new
emphasis
on the
body
in reference to the
dialogical quality
of Diderots
writing
which
always engages
an
interlocutor,
a
spectator
in some kind of
reciprocal exchange
even if not verbal
(38).
Though
a
language
of
gesture
relates to
any
beholder able to witness
it,
the
body language
in this
case of Dorval can also stand in the
way
of communication. The
very intensity
of the
display
in Dorvals
case
emphasizes
his
depth
of emotion and conflict that here takes the
place
of social or familial
exchange.
13. See
J. Caplan
Framed Narratives whose
study
of Diderot
posits
the tableau as an
organizing
principle
of the beholders relation to the
dialogic.
Much criticism has
highlighted
the
importance
of the
tableau as
providing
a set of criteria and a
symbolics
of the
spectator figures
in the
philosophes
work. See
especially
Peter
Szondi,
Tableau et
coup
de theitre: On the Social
Psychology
of Diderots
Bourgeois
Tragedy,
trans. in New
Literary History 11:1980;
Michael Fried
Absorption
and
Theatricality: Painting
and the Beholder in the
Age of
Diderot
(Berkeley:
Univ. of California
Press, 1980,1992); Jacques Chouillet,
La Formation des idees
esthetiques
de Diderot 1745-1763
(Paris: Colin, 1973);
Suzanne
Pucci,
The
Art,
Nature and Fiction of Diderots
Beholder, Stanford
French Review
(1984):
273-94. The notion of tab-
leau is crucial as
well,
in
my opinion,
to several other writers and
genres
of
writing
in
early
and mid
eighteenth-century
France. As a site of the
spectator,
the tableau as framed surface
organizes
and intro-
duces new social
principles
and ushers in new cultural and
literary activity.
These notions constitute
my
book-length study
in
progress:
Sites
of
the
Spectator: Emerging Literary
and Cultural Practices in
Eigh-
teenth-Century
France.
14. The relation between the Avertissement and the Entretiens sur le Fils naturel to the
play
itself
is indeed
analogous
to that between the
spectator
or
foreigner
and the
family
unit. In both
cases,
the
very
exteriority
of one seems to assure its continuous dramatic and discursive link to the other.
15. Abandonne
presquen naissant,
entre le desert et la
societe,
it
y
avait 30
ans, madame, que jerrois
parmi eux, isole, inconnu, neglige,
sans avoir
eprouve
la tendresse de
personne lorsque
votre frere vint a
moi
(70).
16. The dramatic revelation that Rosalie and Dorval are sister and
brother,
that
Lysimond
is their
father,
is also the occasion for the
(re)configuration
of the
family
around the father. This
scene,
reminis-
cent of a Greuze
painting,
also links the two
couples, Rosalie/Clairville,
Constance/Dorval under the
paternal sign
of intimate
family
sentiment and emotion as
opposed
to romantic love. See
Caplan
on the
importance
of the father as an absent
origin
of
family
and
tableau,
an absence that
always
must be
supplemented by
another beholder
(36-44).
17. Et Rosalie?
Je
ne la verrai
point?
. . . Non . . . lamour et lamitie
nimposent point
ici les memes
devoirs; surtout,
un amour insense
quon ignore
et
quil
faut etouffer. Mais
que
dira-t-elle?
Que pensera-
t-elle? . . .
Amour, sophiste dangereux, je
tentends
(15).
18. Les
traits, lesprit,
le
regard,
le son de la
voix; tout,
dans cet
objet
doux et
terrible,
sembloit
repondre
a
je
ne sais
quelle image que
la nature avait
gravee
dans mon coeur
(31).
19. Ce
quil disait, je
le
pensais toujours.
. . .
je
louais
parfois
davance ce
quil
alloit
approuver.
Sil
exprimait
un
sentiment, je croyais quil
avait devine le mien . . .
Que
vous
dirai-je
enfin?
Je
me
voyais
a
peine
dans les
autres;
et
je
me retrouvais sans cesse en lui
(my emphasis, 31).
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286 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STUDIES 30 / 3
20.
Perhaps
the most notable of these
plays
which stress the
reciprocal
refusal of love that mirrors the
lovers identical amorous sentiments are Marivauxs Le
Jeu
de lamour et du
hasard,
La
Surprise
de
lamour,
and La Deuxieme
surprise
de !amour. This
pattern
becomes
important
because of the
necessity
in each of
Marivauxs other
plays
and this from the
very early Arlequin poll par
lamour to
portray
love as
sym-
metrical reflection of
reciprocal
and identical sentiment and vision.
Though
this refusal to
recognize
a love
which nevertheless
persists
is not
present
in
every
Marivaux
play; nevertheless,
the
reciprocal
mirror
imaging
of one lover in the other
is,
in
my opinion,
crucial to the structure of Marivauxs comedies.
21. Tous les
ans,
dans cette meme
maison,
dans ce salon. Les choses
que
nous avons
dites,
nous les
redirions. Tes enfans en feroient
autant,
et leurs descendans. Et
je
me stirvivrois a
moi-meme;
et
jirois
converser
ainsi, dige
en
age
avec tous mes neveux
(7).
22. See Peter
Brooks, Reading for
the Plot:
Design
and Intention in Narrative
(New
York: Alfred
Knopf, 1984).
23. For
Caplan:
This drame has a curious
way
of
playing upon
the contrast between the
incestuous,
violent horror of what
might
have been and the normative satisfaction of what is
(32).
But it is
precisely
the
slippage
from one to the
other,
from the incestuous to the normative
family,
and to
founding
the
normative
family
that needs to be underscored not overlooked. Another
important
factor here is that the
tragedy
of incest
(Caplan
mentions
[31]
the model of
Sophocles Oedipus
with which the Fils nature!
does
contrast) depends
on
paternal
incest: In one
case,
incestual desire is a reason for
horror;
in the other
[the
scene in which Rosalie and Dorval
recognize
each other as sister and
brother]
it causes
rejoicing
(31).
Does the difference between
paternal
and
sibling
incest have no
bearing
here? Rosalie and Dorval are
represented
as
committing
the near mistake in the
transparent language
of
young
romantic
protagonists.
24. In Le Pere de
famille,
the mother/wife has
already died, just
like the mother of Rosalie and
Dorval,
Lysimonds
wife in Le Fils nature!.
Constance, though
Dorvals bride to
be,
never seems to come
any
closer
to
being
Dorvals
spouse. Instead,
she
appears
both in the
present
of the
performance
and in the Preface
and Entretiens as
constantly
remanded to a future which is
always already past.
In
fact,
Dorval does not
speak
of his
present family
in the Preface or
Entretiens,
which would be the fruit of his
past
union with
Constance.
25. Ils
apprendront
de vous a
penser
comme vous. Vos
passions,
vos
goats,
vos idees
passeront
en
eux. Ils tiendront de vous ces notions si
justes
. . . Il ne
dependra que
de
vous, quils ayent
une conscience
toute semblable a la vOtre. Ils vous verront
agir;
ils mentendront
parler quelquefois (75).
26. Cest vous
meme,
ce sont les hommes
qui
vous
ressemblent, que
la nation
honore,
et
que
le
gouvernement
doit
proteger plus que jamais.
27. Andersons
study Imagined
Communities
(London: Verso, 1983, 91)
mentions the fraternal model
as crucial to the horizontal
rapport
which binds
countrymen
to each other in
community:
It is
imag-
ined as a
community, because, regardless
of the actual
inequality
and
exploitation
that
may prevail
in
each,
the nation is
always
conceived as a
deep,
horizontal
comradeship. Ultimately,
it is this
fraternity
that
makes it
possible,
over the
past
two
centuries,
for so
many
millions of
people,
not so much to
kill,
as
willingly
to die for such limited
imaginings (Andersons emphasis, 7).
28. See
Jay Caplans
discussion of the father
figure
as
precisely
the lack that the
play
is
continually
attempting
to
supplement (30-43).
29. David Marshalls
study
of
principally
French
eighteenth-century fiction,
The
Surprising Effects of
Sympathy:
Marivaux, Diderot,
Rousseau and
Mary Shelley (Chicago:
Univ. of
Chicago Press, 1988)
in-
deed centers an
analysis
of these writers works on the dual
problems,
on the
interplay
of theater and
sympathy (2).
Like the
novel,
theater is a
place
where new
emphasis
is laid on the emotion of
sympathy
and what Marshall terms fellow
feeling (introd.). According
to
Marshall,
these acts of
sympathy
can
also be understood indeed as a function of theatrical relations themselves. The
representation
of indi-
vidual sentiments finds in the theater a
particularly
convenient
model,
I
believe,
because of the
prime
importance
of the
spectator
as a
figure
of
response.
From the
perspective
of
my just completed study,
Sites
of
the
Spectator: Emerging Literary
and Cultural Practices in
Eighteenth-Century France, spectator
figures
indeed
organize
not
just theater; they
articulate several diverse new
genres
which come into
promi-
nence in the
early
and
mid-eighteenth century.
30. I have raised the
question
of
sibling
incest with
respect
to both these texts in Orientalism and
Representations
of
Exteriority
in
Montesquieus
Lettres
persanes,
The
Eighteenth Century: Theory
and
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Pucci / Diderots Fils Nature! 287
Interpretation
26
(1985):
270-72 and in The
Currency
of
Exchange
in Beaumarchais
Mariage
de
Figaro:
From the Master
Trope Synecdoche
to
Fetish, Eighteenth-Century
Studies 25
(1991):
67-69. In these
instances,
whether for
purposes
of a new kind of
community
that
Montesquieus
Lettres
persanes appears
to be
suggesting
in contradistinction to feudal
community;
or in the case of Beaumarchais La Mere
coupable,
where the new
community
is built on
family
values articulated as a new
bourgeois capitalistic economy-
in both
cases,
the
question
of incest becomes a
principal
thematic and economic issue.
31. See R. Reids discussion of another late
eighteenth-century text,
Bernardin de Saint-Pierres Paul et
Virginie (1787).
Reid
speaks
of the unabashed
unapologetic
familialization of sex and
desire(119)
with
respect
to the near consummated
passion
of the
protagonists
raised as sister and brother. But where is the
guilty
secret?
Right
there in
plain
view
(119).
32. Reids Families in
Jeopardy
addresses this
question
not from a
psychoanalytical perspective
of the
return of the
repressed.
For
Reid,
this darker side of incest
provides
a
way
of
constructing
the
family
and
endowing
it
only
then with more idealized and
positive representations.
33. Noelle
Oxenhandler,
The Eros of
Parenthood,
The New Yorker
(Feb. 19, 1996),
47-49.
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