Gerd Bayer : « Nothing to be Frightened of: The Literary Correspondence of Two Senior Writers, Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee »

This presentation will discuss how Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee cultivate their public personae as senior literary figures through a volume of their epistolary exchanges, published in 2013 as Here and Now: Letters 2008-2011. While scholarly readers might hope to find in this volume some traces of the actual literary oeuvre, both writers cautiously avoid revealing anything of substance about the process of literary creation. It is only through their discussions of related subjects that readers can deduce something about the motivation that drives their writing. It is through their comments on competitive sports, on the relationship between athletic and aesthetic desires, on linguistic theories, and on literary works by other authors that something about their own literary ambitions can be gleaned. For the most part, though, both authors present themselves as professionals: as writers who partake in the system of literature, as artists who promote aesthetic ideals, and as thinkers who investigate the deeper meanings and hidden pasts of particular social institutions or cultural practices. They avoid, almost religiously, discussion of work in progress and seem more interested in sharing the experience of being public figures within the literary elite. As a result of these editorial decisions, the epistolary exchanges between Auster and Coetzee are marked by a seriousmindedness that even extends to the painstaking repetition of humorous encounters. Probably written for publication (or even its commercial potential), the letters first and foremost contribute to the public persona of each author. They nurture the public image they would like to broadcast and as such seem more committed to the genre of the memoir than the letter. Here and Now allows its readers to participate, almost voyeuristically, in how major writers go about their professional life, but not to enter into the sanctorium of the actual production of pages, the development of plots, and the struggles with form. What the volume presents is the writerly life after success has provided comfort and respect.

Myriam Bellehigue: "The Bishop-Swenson Correspondence : from letter to poem, from poem to letter"

The two American poets, Elizabeth Bishop and May Swenson, corresponded for almost thirty years (1950-1979) and their letters often deal with their poetic practice. However, both of them are so cautious in their critical comments that the letters do not disclose much about their perspective on each other’s work. Paradoxically, May Swenson seems to express herself more openly about Elizabeth Bishop’s art in her own poems. In this presentation, I will focus on the poem entitled “Dear Elizabeth- A Reply to Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil”, inspired from a series of letters exchanged between 1963 and 1965. While paying homage to Bishop’s poetic style, Swenson develops a more critical stance, and the traditional relationship between correspondence and literary texts seems to be reversed since it is the poem that throws light on the letters.

Corinne Blanchaud : « The Letters of Jean-Michel Reynard and André du Bouchet: The Articulation of an Ars Poetica or the Affirmation of a Art of Living Poetically? » 

The hitherto unpublished epistolary exchanges between Jean-Michel Reynard and André du Bouchet disclose twenty years of great intimacy between two people at work: two people who, equally stunned by each other, mutually and alternately accompany each other as they move “forward into the matter of our world” (André du Bouchet). The correspondence includes warm words of acknowledgement upon the delivery of texts, rich comments on operative thoughts confirmed by the work itself, minute observations on language or syntax, or even mere pieces of advice on typography from the older to the younger writer, but also reflections on the world and daily life events which have made it possible. As the years go by, the pens of the two men, swift and intense, do work together and delineate an ars poetica, but maybe even more significantly, they position the poet in the world, and articulate it as an art of living poetically. The presentation will therefore discuss how this correspondence builds up a familiar intellectual space, a place where may also be shared a way of being in the world.

Pierre-Marc de Biasi : « The Gustave Flaubert-George Sand correspondance »

Abstract soon to be posted

Stéphanie Dord-Crouslé : « The Bouilhet Compass: Foundation and Significance of a Metaphor in the Correspondence with Flaubert »

What does showing a direction or staying on course mean in literature when one is a writer oneself and gives advice to another writer? The presentation will discuss this question, concentrating on the last years of Bouilhet’s life, that is the moment when Sentimental Education was being written, but also when Bouvard et Pécuchet was first conceived, as Flaubert had initially thought of developing this plot in lieu of his Parisian novel.

Pierre-Jean Dufief : « Goncourt and the Daudets: A Triangle of Letters and Literary Creation »

The correspondence between Goncourt and the Daudets (Droz, 1996) invites us into the literary workroom of three writers who work closely together. Edmond de Goncourt kindly tutors everyone while Julia Daudet acts as the enthusiastic disciple of the creator of artistic writing and of the novelist of refined sensations. Goncourt displays admiration for his junior but warns him nonetheless against the dangers of going for the easy solution and of writing off the top of the head. Meanwhile, Alphonse Daudet stands as the dynamic element helping his senior to retrieve self-confidence and assists him on his way back to novelistic writing that he had forsaken since Jules’s death. The letters dealing with each new work draw together a picture of this intimate form of criticism, from one creator to another, that has to be relocated within the broader field of journalistic criticism.

Jeremy Elprin : « “I would not say it in print”: Sites of contestation in the letters of John Keats »

This paper examines John Keats’s use of the epistolary medium as a means of testing out, and of contesting, his unsettled place “among the English Poets.” Keats’s vibrantly intertextual letters are crossed with various, at time contradictory, critical strains vis-à-vis his peers and sometime rivals (among them Hunt, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley). Crucially, however, it is in his private correspondence to friends and family, and not in letters directly addressed to the poets whose work he both appropriates and criticizes (except in the case of his notable last letter to Shelley), that Keats carves out a space for himself as a literary critic. One of many such acts of appropriation and resistance occurs in a letter of October 1817 to Benjamin Bailey, in which Keats obliquely inserts himself into a critical debate regarding a poem by Wordsworth (“Gipsies”) which William Hazlitt had vociferously censured: “It is a bold thing to say and I would not say it in print—but it seems to me that if Wordsworth had though[t] a little deeper at that Moment he would not have written the Poem at all [… but] it is with the Critic as with the poet had Hazlitt thought a little deeper and been in a good temper he would never have spied an imaginary fault there.” At stake, here and elsewhere in Keats’s correspondence, is a project of “literary” self-fashioning played out on carefully guarded epistolary grounds: with characteristic ambivalence, the “camelion poet” may be seen to write himself both into and out of a literary tradition, as he suggestively quotes (and misquotes), assimilates and challenges, the writings of his peers.

François Gallix : « Graham Greene’s Correspondence: Literary Transformations and Revisions »


Graham Greene was an exceptional letter-writer. He once calculated that he wrote about two thousand letters each year. Some were personal, others were formal, most of them were connected to the craft of writing, reviewing and editing texts. He thus debated with V.S. Pritchett and Elizabeth Bowen about the writer’s duties, advised and edited Mervyn Peake, R.K. Narayan and promoted the career of Muriel Spark. One typical example of Greene’s doubts about his own writing is when he sent his typescript of The End of the Affair to Edward Sackville West and asked for his advice in a letter : should he publish it or should he put the book into a drawer and forget it ? Sackville West answered him that, frankly he did not care for the novel but that, like the Victorians who never hesitated to publish the bad as well as the good, he should get on with it. Greene followed his friend’s advice and was comforted by words of praise from William Faulkner. Like Charles Dickens, Greene always paid great attention to the readers and the critics’ reactions after the first publication of his novels. When re-editions were made, he did not hesitate to make important changes. Thus in his introduction to The End of the Affair in the Collected edition of 1974, Greene wrote: “I realised too late how I had been cheating—cheating myself, cheating the reader…The incident of the strawberry mark should have no place in the book; every so-called miracle, like the curing of Parkis’s boy, ought to have had a completely natural explanation. So it is that in this edition I have tried to return nearer to my original intention. Smythe’s strawberry mark has given place to a disease of the skin which might have had a nervous origin and be susceptible to faith healing”.

Jean-Marc Hovasse : “The first exchange of letters between Auguste Vacquerie and Victor Hugo (1835-1839)”

Auguste Vacquerie (1819-1895) was undoubtedly Victor Hugo’s (1802-1885) most important correspondent if we consider the number of letters exchanged between them rather than Vacquerie’s own celebrity. The presentation will focus on the literary dimension of the first four years of this relationship through the study of their exchange of letters which was published collectively in 1991 (Victor Hugo, Correspondance familiale et écrits intimes, an edition directed by Jean Gaudon, Sheila Gaudon and Bernard Leuilliot with Evelyn Blewer and Robert Laffont, vol. II). Auguste Vacquerie, who left his native Normandy to be a young boarder in Paris, inundates Victor Hugo with letters and poems, comments upon his work and offers him his services. Despite the age difference, Victor Hugo encourages him and rewards him with some secrets that he does not reveal to other correspondents. The study finishes in 1839 for at least three reasons: it is just before the publication of Auguste Vacquerie’s first volume (L’Enfer de l’esprit) and of Victor Hugo’s last one before his exile (Les Rayons et les ombres) and it is the very year when Léopoldine Hugo meets Charles Vacquerie (Auguste’s brother), an event which will alter the relationship between the two writers. Many years later, in 1872, Auguste Vacquerie will come back on this important period of his life in a volume of poems entitled Mes Premières Années de Paris.

Ke Lingxiang: « The Style of “central transparency”: Virginia Woolf’s Theory and Practice of Prose Writing »

This article will focus on Woolf’s conception of “central transparency” – the style of prose writing, in her three letters, Letter 1622, Letter 1687 and Letter 1718, to Vita Sackville-West. By using both her essays and her letters to Vita, it will develop the author’s theory of this style; while in analysing her letters to the same addressee, it will show how the author practices this style of fictional writing in her epistolary writing. First of all, in quoting the author’s statements about “central transparency”, the article will argue that there are three kinds of “central transparency”: “central transparency” in human communication, in reading, and in writing. By emphasising “central transparency” in fictional writing, which will be understood as related to reflection, vision or the description of the natural world, it will take examples both from her letters and novels to show how Woolf practices and employs it. By using her essays, the article will then try to decipher Woolf’s term, “central transparency”: What does the author mean in using the adjective, “central”? And why does she define these words or paragraphs as “transparency”? In dealing with her expressions, such as “a mould” and “the wave rising solitary” in Letter 1718, the article will also indicate the functions of the style. That is, “central transparency” could both play as “a dash of white fire” conveying the significance of the novel and its author’s purpose in writing and “the wave” being connected with the climax of the rhythm in the novel as a whole. Finally, the article aims to discuss Woolf’s purpose in resorting to “central transparency” – the possible connection between the suggestive feature of “central transparency” and her “impersonal” style. It will also point out the fact that the style of “central transparency” could stimulate readers’ creative powers – leaving us to analyse them for ourselves. This characteristic could hence endow the writer’s novel with the power of changing as readers change.

Hubert Malfray : « Burning for author-ity ? The Mystery of the Dickens-Collins correspondence »

More than giving us the guilty privilege of peeping into two Victorian literary celebrities’ intimacy, the Dickens-Collins correspondence allows to question the battle that mentor/disciple fought through the years. It is in terms of a battle of words that these two friends’ letters can be perceived. This battle seems to have been initiated by Dickens when he decided to burn most of Collins’s letters, leaving us with his own letters as the only prism through which their exchanges could be envisaged. Burning the letters was a real tour de force, proving that Dickens was probably “burning” for authority. Thus, letters are not only the voice of the intimate: they are also the topos of a “rapport de places” (Siess and Hutin), a medium (or mask?) through which Dickens was trying to affirm his own position, his posture, in the literary world. From one letter to another, we discover him, changing identities, hiding affectation behind affection, becoming the actor of his own writing. The letter becomes the place of im-posture, of artificial quest for supremacy, but also the place where the author’s anxiety is palpable, be it the anxiety over power, singularity, or the desire to seize the telos of creation.

Jean-Pierre Naugrette : « On the delicate art of blunder : about a sentence of R.L. Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae in the Stevenson/Schwob letters »

In spite of Henry James’s praise of R.L. Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae (1889) and definition, in a letter to the author (21 March 1890) as “a pure hard crystal, my boy, a work of ineffable and exquisite art”, the novel met with a mixed reception. This had to do with the genre itself, which most critics found difficult to define: even Stevenson himself called it “a tale which extends over many years and travels into many countries” (Dedication to Sir Percy Florence and Lady Shelley, May 1889), but also, while writing the novel, “a tragedy” (Letter to Henry James, March 1888). Even if W.E. Henley, in his review for the Scots Observer (12 October 1889), wrote that “the whole thing is a triumph of imagination and literary art”, he found the characters unattractive and the plot “ugly”. He also found fault with what he called “a blunder, strange, indeed, in a Scotsman”: according to him, Stevenson made a mistake in the very title he chose — a remark which Adrian Poole aptly challenges in his Penguin Classics Introduction (1996). Stevenson was also aware of a more serious “blunder”, this time bearing on a sentence he first wrote in the original Scribner’s edition of the novel. After the famous fratricidal duel between the two Duries brothers, when Mackellar and Mrs Henry arrive on the scene and find a sword lying on the frozen ground, the latter’s reaction is described in the following terms: “And then, with an instant courage, [she] handled it the second time, and thrust it to the hilt into the frozen ground”. This clear impossibility or mistake, Stevenson corrected for the 1894 Edinburgh edition. When the French critic, translator and novelist Marcel Schwob voiced his wish to translate the novel, Stevenson mentioned it (Letter to Schwob, 3 January 1891) as “one of my inconceivable blunders”. In his essay “My First Book” (1893), this time about Treasure Island, he also argues that the novelist should try and avoid blatant “croppers”. Our purpose here is to argue that Stevenson’s second thoughts and correction of the sentence were wrong: he should have kept the original, erroneous version of the sentence. Drawing on the Stevenson/Schwob letters on the art of fiction, we will try and show that fiction — what Stevenson called “romance” — should not worry about the laws of physical nature and be more concerned with the “power of impression” that Schwob himself praised in Stevenson’s fiction.

Sarga Moussa: "To travel, to read, to write: literature in gestation in Flaubert’s Egyptian letters"

When Flaubert left for the Orient with Maxime du Camp at the end of 1849, after having laid aside the first draft of The Temptation of Saint Antony with a heavy heart, he did not give up writing for all that. In that respect, one might say that his Egyptian correspondence, which he kept up mainly with his mother – in a beautiful letter telling the story of his encounter with the Coptic patriarch he wrote: « all my old erudition from Saint Antony came flowing back », January 5, 1850 – and with his friend Louis Bouilhet – with whom he did not only share his sexual exploits – was a roundabout way to revive his interrupted dream. In 1850 Gustave Flaubert was not « Flaubert » yet – he had not published anything yet, but he already knew that he would devote his life to literature. Bouilhet had not yet published his first poems either, but he was already writing Melænis, a « Roman tale » that he would publish in 1853 in the Revue de Paris and that recalled Musset’s « Oriental tale », Namouna (1836), if only because of the form chosen – alexandrine six-line stanzas. Although the letters Bouilhet sent to Flaubert in Egypt are not available, we may read the latter’s answers to his friend who had remained in Rouen, and they are filled with comments regarding the progress of Melænis. When reading through these comments, which are sometimes quite severe, aesthetic choices stand out, for instance the desire to find the mot juste. But Bouilhet did not always listen to Flaubert, as one might realize when comparing the published version of his poem with the passages Flaubert criticized in his correspondence. Moreover, though the latter never published any poems, we know that he himself contemplated writing orientalist poetry (see his letter to Louise Colet dated March 27, 1853). The Egyptian letters sent to Bouilhet were therefore also a way for Flaubert to talk about himself, and, through the agency of the one he sometimes regarded as a sort of alter ego, to express what preoccupied him as far as aesthetics were concerned without, for that matter, the reading of Bouilhet’s poetic outlines being a screen or an obstacle to the experiential nature of the journey, on the contrary (« this line adds to the pleasure of my bath » – January 15, 1850). Therefore, for Flaubert, to travel meant at the same time to distance himself somewhat from a first literary failure and not to abandon writing. For us, the readers of this traveling correspondence, it also means understanding that the oriental parenthesis, especially the Egyptian one, which produced the largest epistolary volume of that journey, represented an exceptional moment in terms of the literary possibilities that emerged. To write from somewhere else does not only mean making the addressee of one’s letters feel the thrill of difference and exoticism. In Flaubert’s case it also meant taking a new step in the development of his aesthetics, taking a journey in two voices – or more – towards what he already called « Art ».

Christine Planté :

"I have no literary advice to give you. The Flaubert-Sand Correspondence"

It seems that everything has been said about this famous, early published correspondence, which is often mentioned as one of the most beautiful correspondences of the French XIXth century. People have underlined the paradoxical nature of a friendship between two writers who had nothing in common, the asymmetrical nature of their (epistolary) relationship, their aesthetic and ideological oppositions, which are easily presented in contrasting pairs – realism/idealism, work/inspiration, impersonality/commitment, etc., or still, to use Sand’s own words, desolation/consolation. On the one hand, the presentation will attempt to show how difficult it is to isolate a specifically aesthetic and literary debate in their exchanges – an issue that says something of literature and of the idea the two letter writers had of literature. On the other hand, thanks to a few examples, the presentation will attempt to explain the way each writer read the other’s works – and told him or her about them.

Lacy Rumsey : « ‘Unless you want a very bumpy rhythm’: prosody in twentieth-century American poets’ correspondence.  »

If poets have always used their letters as a medium for the exploration of new or idiosyncratic conceptions of rhythm, and of prosody more generally, this is frequently done in a pedagogical spirit; among twentieth-century American poets, the outstanding example is that of Ezra Pound, lecturing William Carlos Williams and others on their various lacunae or errors. Rarer, perhaps, are those who enter into a genuine “crossed correspondence” on the subject with their peers, sharing ideas, or submitting passages or lines, from a position of equality rather than authority. This paper will explore the dialogues on prosody engaged in or attempted by a variety of poets, including Williams and Louis Zukofsky, Charles Olson and Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, and Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell; it will describe the ideas or resources they wished to share, and analyse the risks which they were willing to take.

Laetitia Sansonetti : « The Harvey-Spenser correspondence: redefining poetry in Early Modern England »

Gabriel Harvey and Edmund Spenser were both born in 1552 and met at Cambridge, where the former became the latter’s mentor. When they published selected excerpts from their learned correspondence under the title Three Proper and Wittie Familiar Letters, in 1580, Spenser was a budding poet trying to anglicise the pastoral tradition (The Shepheardes Calender had been published the year before) and Harvey had written rhetorical works and verses for specific occasions in Latin. While being part of a common strategy of mutual promotion, this book of letters (complete with commendatory poems from friends) testifies to key differences between Harvey’s literary theory and Spenser’s poetic practice. The main issue at stake is how to create and define an English poetic identity within the complex dialectics of imitation and invention that is so crucial to all Renaissance writing. In this paper, I will focus on three main points: the advantages of writing a collaborative epistolary ars poetica; the hierarchy of literary genres; the possibility to create a typically English poetic language. The epistolary form allows the two authors to refer to contemporary events and people and therefore to use the topicality of their endeavour as a marketing device. In the discussion on genres, Spenser appears as an unruly apprentice to an inefficient mentor: Harvey’s criticism of an early version of The Faerie Queene would not be taken into account at all for the final version by “Immeritô,” as Spenser calls himself in his letters. The choice of a Latin pseudonym leads us to the second topic of their correspondence, namely the role of Latin in shaping poetic language. While Harvey promotes Latin practices such as quantitative poetry, Spenser’s own poetry relies mainly on alliteration, a “Saxon” device; likewise, Spenser’s revival of English archaisms contrasts with Harvey’s Latinate coinages.

Catherine Thomas-Ripault : « A writer at the crossroads of critical paths: Ernest Feydeau as the correspondent of Sand, Sainte-Beuve, and Flaubert »

Ernest Feydeau wrote, among others, Fanny and Daniel, which found favour with the reading public. However, these books were harshly condemned by the critics. Yet, some famous writers, like Sainte-Beuve, George Sand, and Flaubert enthusiastically praised those works which were judged scandalous. Feydeau carries a lasting correspondence with them and, in a lot of letters, these authors devote many lines to comment upon Feydeau’s works and give him advice on the sketches of the novels he sends them. It is striking to note that this exchange of letters focuses primarily on the image of the artist – each writer trying to work out his/her own image, that of the one to whom the letter is addressed who is imposed a role to play in the epistolary relationship but also within the literary landscape of the time, as well as the image of an ideal artist that both attempt to get closer to. I will endeavour to show how the letters from the renowned writers, who position themselves as masters towards Feydeau, are actual “ars poetica” where they assert their aesthetic criteria and claim their own creative originality, while the letters also disclose their own doubts as to the actuality of the difference they are trying to underline and to the legitimacy of their critical discourse. As for Ernest Feydeau’s letters – most of which are unpublished – they reveal his attempts at occupying some literary space within which he thinks he is not valued as much as he thinks he should be. Between his praises and his argued resistance to the pieces of advice that are given to him or to the labels that are imposed upon him, between the strategic use of the renown of his addressees and the creation of a self-portrait pervaded by the topos of the upright writer, both suffering and misunderstood, the author makes use of the different poses that his time provides him to be recognised as a great writer. From this emerges a four-voiced conversation, made of echoes and dissonances, in which everyone is looking for his/her position when dealing with the others.

Benedetta Zaccarello : « Aurobindo Ghose’s Letters on Yoga »

Abstract soon to be posted


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