The Censorship Effect: Baudelaire, Flaubert, and the Formation of French Modernism

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The book argues that the stylistic features that prompted the criminal indictment of Madame Bovary and Les Fleurs du Mal were the products of an intense struggle and negotiation with a culture of censorship. It maintains that the stylistic features celebrated as hallmarks of modernism—Flaubert’s free indirect discourse, Baudelaire’s multiple poetic personae—are in fact the products of this struggle with censorship. The narrative of modernism that begins with the autonomous writer and extends forward to the autonomous, depersonalized, and autoreferential artwork tends to detach writing from interaction with its socioeconomic context. But censorship not only shaped the very composition of Madame Bovary and Les Fleurs du Mal but affected their reception and continues to operate in the field of literary criticism. Far from manifesting the autonomy proclaimed by modernism’s defenders, both works show (and retain) signs of self-censorship or, more bluntly, collaboration with a regime of ethical and political censorship. French modernism begins and remains deeply embedded in a culture of censorship whose proprieties, both literary and social, Baudelaire and Flaubert nevertheless challenged and transgressed.