Incipit: The Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries (Mis)Reading the Nineteenth


For the next installment of this dialogic series, the journal asked Gerald Prince (University of Pennsylvania) and Debarati Sanyal (University of California at Berkeley) to reflect on in what ways the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (mis)read the nineteenth. They composed their initial essays without knowing who their interlocutor would be or what would be the content of the other person's essay; the ensuing exchange took place in the order presented below.



The continuity between nineteenth and twentieth-century literature is undeniable and it is not easy to determine which of the centuries writers like Rachilde and texts like Ludine belong to. The break between the two centuries is undeniable and it is not difficult to situate temporally Daniel Rochat and Le Cœur à gaz or Paul Féval and Pierre Guyotat. This essay argues that these opposite accounts may well be equally valid and even consistent. They do not necessarily arise from ignorance or misconstruals but from differences in the kind of nineteenth and twentieth century considered, the texts in these centuries taken into account, and the contexts in terms of which these texts are explored. (GP)

The notion of a "misreading" between the nineteenth and twentieth century in French literary studies opens a differential temporality, where past, present and future might be seen to emerge in relations of mutual modification. Starting from an account of teaching L'Éducation sentimentale “today”, I reflect on Flaubert's description of 1848 and its ongoing pertinence for how bodies are materialized and which lives matter.  (DS)

Gerald Prince and Debarati Sanyal
Volume 46.3-4