Politics, realism and literature

  • Philip Thody


As far as Barthes himself was concerned, there was no doubt about the political nature either of Picard’s attack or of the support which it received from certain sections of the French press. Critique et Vérité opens with a plethora of quotations from journalists who had given Nouvelle Critique ou Nouvelle Imposture what Barthes calls ‘unreflecting, unconditional and unhesitating support’, and the trouble Barthes had obviously taken to collect and quote so many of them is another indication of the almost perverse delight which he derives from the feeling that he is being persecuted. The fact that most of these articles had appeared in fairly conservative journals nevertheless did offer some evidence for his allegation that the desire to put the ‘New Critics’ in their place reflected a nostalgia for the Second Empire. It was then, as all French left-wing intellectuals would agree, that dissident opinions had had the most difficulty in making themselves heard, and the decision of Napoleon III’s government to prosecute both Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary when they were first published in 1857 had certainly had strong political motivation. The Second Empire is, however, regarded by left-wing intellectuals as only a runner-up in repressive conformity to the Vichy regime of 1940–4, and it was perhaps predictable that Philippe Sollers and Lucette Finas, Barthes’s two closest supporters on Tel Quel, should equate Picard’s attitude both with that of the Inquisition and with that of the supporters of Marshal Pétain.1


Realist Literature Vichy Regime Structuralist Poetics Conservative Journal Solemn Announcement 
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Copyright information

© Philip Thody 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip Thody
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LeedsUK

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