Finnigan on Paraschas (2018)

Paraschas, Sotirios. Reappearing Characters in Nineteenth-Century French Literature: Authorship, Originality, and Intellectual Property. Palgrave, 2018, pp. 300, ISBN 9783319692890 

Opening with two quotations, the first from a letter to Honoré de Balzac from his sister Laure Saurville, the second from the famed critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Sotirios Paraschas immediately establishes the subject of this study, namely, an exploration of opposing views on the phenomenon of reappearing characters in French fiction. Yet, rather than reducing the abundance of “imitations, stage adaptions, sequels, and cycles of novels” (3) to a simple catalogue, Paraschas offers a complex and nuanced evaluation of the history of aesthetic originality and the legal concept of literary property. Commenting on the premise of this study, Paraschas writes “that the reappearance of characters in the nineteenth century is a privileged locus for the exploration of questions of authorial originality and property” (17). Beginning with a substantial “Introduction: ‘La litérature ruminante’” that lays much of the groundwork for this study, Paraschas confidently remarks:

[t]he proliferation of reappearing characters in the nineteenth century is a symptom of a broader transformation of the very notion of the fictional character, owing to the uncertain proprietary status of characters after the emergence of two parallel but often conflicting discourses (17).

As characters were viewed as “ideas” and objects they were not protected by literary property laws. Therefore, Paraschas asserts, characters taken from Samuel Richardson, among others, were easily usurped by authors in imitations, sequels and stage adaptions. By drawing on the works of Edward Young, Charles Nodier, and Austin-Charles Renouard in his examination of the vagueness of genius and originality, and literary property, Paraschas boldly stresses the ambiguous status of fictional characters in terms of nineteenth-century aesthetics and law.  

Moving on from his introduction, chapters gathered together in part one examine the reappearance of characters concerning novelty, plagiarism and repetition, and places such notions in the context of characters recurring in unauthorised appropriations. For example, “Le revenant littéraire” begins with Paraschas questioning Balzac’s conceptualization of “Retour de personnages” by challenging the convention of analysing it with the context of Balzac’s efforts to create a unified fictional world. Instead, Paraschas argues that it is, in fact, Balzac’s response to a specific kind of unauthorised appropriation, a growing concern and threat to authorial property. Notably, discussing the works of Arsène Ancelot and Paul Dupport, Emmauel Théaulon, Ernest Jaime and Alexis Decberousse, Paraschas demonstrates with ease that Balzac considered their appropriations of Le Père Goriot (1834) as intellectual “theft.” As a result of such “thefts,” Paraschas contends that Balzac’s reuse of characters was his attempt to reclaim ownership through repetition, thereby marking them as his property by continuous use. 

Next, in “Le revenant héréditaire,” Paraschas turns his attention to the reappearance of characters drawn from Émile Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart series (1871–1893). Discussing the problem of originality, Paraschas shows these issues are two-fold. Firstly, as Zola himself  often rewrote his characters, determining their intellectual origins is fraught with difficulty;      secondly, due to the notion of heredity, or the laws of imitation and invention, Zola’s works challenge the artistic connotations of reappearing characters. Moreover, Paraschas boldly demonstrates that the role played by the biological originality of family characters in Les Rougon-Macquart, “mirrors his concerns about the aesthetic originality of his characters and his work in general” (22). 

In part two, Paraschas moves to an analysis of reappearing characters that often feature in derivative yet authorised works by two writers, one of whom is conventionally the original author. For example, in “The Poetics of Forgery in Charles Rabou’s Continuation of Balzac’s Le Député d’Arcis,” he examines the work of Charles Rabou, who, commissioned by Balzac’s wife to complete the unfinished novel Le Député d’Arcis, produced a continuing series that resurrected and recycled numerous Balzacian characters that obscured his “involvement in the continuation” (142). Most strikingly, throughout his analysis, Paraschas shows that Rabou’s sequels were self-conscious forgeries. By demonstrating that Rabou resurrected characters from Le Comédie Humanie (1828–1849) and setting the narrative around the notions of false attribution, Paraschas highlights the thematic conditions of the production of the novel and foregrounds a meta-narrative concern relating to authorship.  

Continuing this thematic exploration, “‘Tous pour, un pour tous’: Alexandre Dumas Auguste Maquet, and the Musketeers Trilogy,” Paraschas turns his attention to The d'Artagnan Romances. Through a series of metaphors used in the nineteenth century to describe literary collaboration, Paraschas confidently demonstrates the relations between Maquet and Dumas: Maquet’s status as a co-author is echoed in both the friendships between d’Artagnan, the three musketeersm and in the relations between d’Artagnan and his masters. Striking is Paraschas’s refreshing exploration of a frequently analyzed series, particularly his consideration of how the collaborations prove a success with regards to the reappearances of the characters in the trilogy. 

Finally, in “‘Le collaborateur fantomatique’; Zola, William Rusnach and the Stage Adaptions of Les Rougon-Macquart,” Paraschas focuses on Zola and his efforts to conceal his “involvement in the creation of derivative works based on his own novels” (192). Considering Zola’s attitude towards the introduction of naturalism to the theatre and his collaborations with William Busnach, Paraschas questions his often-contradictory views. Paraschas notes that while Zola repeatedly denied his involvement in their creation, stating that adaptations were by definition inferior and unoriginal, his collaboration with Busnach, coupled with the reappearance of characters from Les Rougon-Macquart and Germinal (1885) dramatizes these questions of originality versus derivative works. 

Much of the pleasure of this study comes from the thorough research conducted by Paraschas; the examples taken from a varied array of sources provide thought-provoking discussions. Numerous translations are welcome inclusions and are rendered with a sensitivity to the original material. However, the level of academic jargon and terminology is at times jarring, and will limit the readability to those with specialized knowledge. Nevertheless students and scholars with an interest in French culture, history and literature, and the notions of authorship, originality, and the concept of literary property will find this study a worthy read.

Robert Finnigan
Nottingham Trent University