Maupassant: the Semiotics of Text

Practical Exercises

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Translated by Paul PerronMaupassant's short story, “Two Friends”, is examined in order to test methodological tools and to hone them for their application in the analysis of narrative discourse, starting from the oral tale (Propp) and ending with the written tale instituted as literary genre. Complex procedures of textual production are identified: among which entire sequences as well as the “evenemential” level of narrative fade away in favor of its cognitive dimension. This semiotic investigation is accompanied by a challenge to certain conventions of literary criticism: dialogue, the locus of Realist stereotypes, appears laden with paradoxical truths; the description of nature, inherited from the Romantics, bristles with narrative intent, and entire sections of a valorized figurative universe unfold before us. Thematic readings are linked up with semantic analysis: the figure of Water exerts its profound fascination. A Christian symbolics is uncovered which traverses the text and invites us to read it as a new Gospel Parable. New readings complement older ones and remain as so many suspended possibilities. The tale appears somewhat as a sonnet, that is to say as a “fixed-form” genre, where the closure of the text would be a necessary condition for transcending it.

Subjects: Romance literature & literary studies; Semiotics

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