Metacritic Journal

for Comparative Studies and Theory

Literature between Canon and Archive. New Distant Reading 6.2 (December 2020)
ISSN 2457 – 8827
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The Affective Geography of Paris in the 19th Century Romanian Novel: Between Admiration and Aversion

David Morariu

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The Emotions of London”: Scope, Methodology, Challenges and Results

A “literary geography of emotions”. This is the concept that renders the nucleus of such a research project, as the one proposed in 2016 by Ryan Heuser, Franco Moretti and Erik Steiner at the Stanford Literary Lab, “The Emotions of London” – a project of reference for the way in which, by using new digital methods of analysis, literary representations of real places can be centralised and interpreted precisely from the perspective of the emotions they are associated with in texts. In fact, it is certain that when literary studies started to make use of new digital techniques, the methods of literary geography analysis were improved and the results became increasingly accurate. Nevertheless, beyond the recognition of place-names in a literary work, their centralisation, and the elaboration of maps, there is an aspect that seemingly exceeds the potential of digital methods. This is why a project that involves the mapping of emotions is innovative, therefore not yet benefitting from thorough methodological support. For that very reason, the premise selected by Heuser and his co-authors in their review of the experiment is understandable: “a computer cannot add meaning to place; it can only count place-names” (Mapping 25). This observation reflects an important stage of the experiment, the early one, during which a proper nouns recognition programme is employed to extract London places from a corpus of 4,862 English novels published between 1700 and 1900. This stage in itself generates very interesting results, since the place-names retrieved and the maps created (as the starting point and the research premise of such a quantitative approach) already provide a rich material for analysis. What is interesting in this particular case is the comparative approach to the real London and the fictional one, in light of the fact that, although the time period subjected to analysis corresponds to an unprecedented demographical and geographical development of the city, its fictional representation does not record and comply with these changes. Besides places in the City and in West End, London, as a place, did not draw the attention of the English novel during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

However, the second stage is the one I am particularly interested in here, as it involves a second analysis of the selected places by associating each of them with an emotion. The use of the crowdsourcing method led to the selection of only two antithetical emotions, fear and happiness, because the delineation between them is unambiguous, therefore reducing the risk of misinterpretation. In fact, the anonymous participants were given 200-word passages to read, and the answers they gave were centred around two important aspects: “whether the passage is set in the place and whether a particular emotion is associated with the place” (Heuser et al., Mapping 26). The result was unexpected, as many of the analysed passages were considered “neutral” (none of the two emotions could be associated with them). Therefore, the resulting maps were depictions of the “absence” of emotions, rather than of emotions per se (Heuser et al., Emotions 6).

Nevertheless, the experiment resulted in very interesting observations, such as the fact that the two emotions are linked to “socio-historical” aspects; happiness is correlated to modern places, generally belonging to the upper classes, such as “parks, squares, theatres, churches and the modern buildings of the West”, while fear is associated with “prisons, markets, courts of law and the ancient buildings of the City” (Heuser et al., Mapping 43). Moreover, beyond the equivalence between the “polarity” of emotions (positive and negative) and geographical “polarity” (East/West), an aspect related to the narrative dimension is introduced. This leads to the establishment of a relation between emotions and their “space-time” context and, therefore, to a process of “contextualizing” them (Heuser et al., Mapping 60).

The obvious conclusion of such a project resides in the fact that literary geography is doubled by a literary geography of emotions, which further leads to a doubling of perspective, multiplying the aspects that could be discussed. In other words, the mapping of the London place-names which occur in the selected novels is doubled by the interpretation of the emotions attributed to these places, the meaning that they acquire in the economy of the text. To put it another way, this introduces an entirely distinct research direction which is worth emphasising, a direction that generates a “collaboration” or a “combination” as the authors themselves stress between digital analysis techniques and the well-known methods of direct contact with the text. Such an attempt represents the starting point for a new approach which capitalises on the analysis of spaces, places and emotions in literary texts, an approach that directly interferes with the increasingly discussed dimension of mapping literary geography.

Why Emotions of Paris? Premises and Objectives

What are the challenges raised by conducting such an analysis on a corpus of Romanian novels? It is worth mentioning that, in recent years, there have been numerous discussions in the Romanian research field regarding digital methods of literary analysis. Therefore, alongside the emergence of ideas, analyses and research projects that validate the extrinsic elements of literary texts (from geographical details to literary sociology ones), highlighting the interdisciplinarity of working with computer-based analysis techniques, there were also articles that focused on the difficulties faced by Romanian literary studies in their adoption of such new approaches. Starting from the lack of digitised archives and up to the reluctance to quantitative approaches, seen as “exterminators” of qualitative approaches, there are many such reasons for the slower emergence of quantitative studies in the Romanian literary field (see Gârdan and Modoc 52-65). However, there are encouraging signs, despite the apparent shortcomings. One of them is the project ASTRA Data Mining. The Digital Museum of the Romanian Novel: the 19th Century, a recent research project that provided a solid archive of the novels published between 1844 and 1900, novels which make up the corpus that I will analyse in this article.

However, until then, some other aspects need to be pointed out. To begin with, the first and most obvious difference between my study and the one conducted by Heuser, Moretti, and Steiner is the place in relation to which emotions are centralised. I am interested neither in the emotions of London, nor in those of Bucharest, as would be expected were I to follow the same pattern; rather, I am interested in the emotions of Paris. The second difference is related to the size of the corpus. Within the aforementioned project organised by the ASTRA National Museum Complex, 157 novels published between 1844 and 1900 have been digitised. Therefore, this is a much smaller corpus compared to that of the Stanford Literary Lab project, containing novels that cover a shorter period of time, a little over half a century. However, I do not find it necessary to compare the two corpora, or even the two literatures involved. Since I started detailing the selection of passages that contain emotions associated to the capital of France, I also have to mention that I am not interested in place-names in Paris, but only in the affective image of Paris on its own. At this point, I find it necessary to clarify a few aspects. 1) Why Paris instead of Bucharest (given that Bucharest is a place with a more “concrete” presence, in the sense that place-names in Bucharest occur more frequently than place-names in Paris)? 2) Why only “Paris”, the city in itself, and not place-names in Paris? 3) What is the hypothesis that I attempt to validate using elements of the geography of emotions of a foreign city?

In order to provide answers for these questions, it is important to mention that the present study is not the first to analyse geographical elements in this corpus of digitised novels. Actually, the launch of the project and the opening of the archive was accompanied by a series of welcoming articles that – following a distant reading approach – emphasise some intriguing points of interest and initiate the first debates around the quantitative study of the Romanian novel of the nineteenth century. One of these articles, “Geografia internă a romanului românesc din secolul al XIX-lea” [The Internal Geography of the Romanian Novel in the 19th Century], by Ștefan Baghiu et al., mostly justifies my choice of thesis for this study. In centralising the metadata (information collected by the team in charge of digitising the corpus) that referred to spatial notions (where the action takes place, the mentioned places and how frequently they occur in text, types of spaces), the authors have enunciated incipient observations on the geography of the novels. The most important information, in regards to the present study, refers to the placement of Paris in the hierarchy of cities where the action takes place or which are mentioned in Romanian novels. It is only in the case of eight novels (out of the total 157) that the action takes place in Paris, a fact that could indicate, at first glance, a lack of interest in the capital of France. However, (to provide an answer to the first question) this city is not only the foreign city where the action takes place most frequently, but also the most mentioned city in the Romanian novel of the nineteenth century. With no less than 43 recurrences, Paris exceeds Bucharest, with only 34 recurrences (Baghiu et al., Geografia internă 33).

Certainly, at first glance, this frequency could be easily explained by using Pascale Casanova’s perspective, as proposed in The World Republic of Letters. When presenting Paris as “The City of Literature”, she brings up its numerous descriptions in the literary production of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, descriptions which, according to her, are a result of the “uniqueness” and “universality” of Paris (Casanova 23-33). Moreover, Casanova draws attention to the fact that the attempt to exploit the literary potential of the city is not exclusive to the French, since, by crossing the French cultural borders, it gained an international character. This is one of the reasons for which Paris is ranked first when it comes to the number of recurrences in Romanian novels. This is an explanation that brings together the literatures of the world and the writers’ intentions to include Paris in their works, without considering the delimitation regarding the specificity of literatures, their position on the international literary stage or the antonymy between centre and periphery, for instance. In other words, Casanova’s remarks are relevant to my analysis only if seen from a certain perspective. Were we to accept what she states, that Paris is the city that evokes “universality”, it is extremely important to highlight the attitude and the perspective from which this characteristic is seen in peripheral literatures such as the Romanian one.

The authors of the above-mentioned article share the same perspective, since they provide a few captivating hypotheses in explaining the role of “the presence” of Paris in Romanian texts. One of these explanations refers to Casanova’s analysis of “the unequal structure” of the literary field, of the “small literatures” located at the “periphery of the literary world”, and of the complexes that writers of these cultures face (181-189). The fact that a city like Paris is mentioned very often, while there are only a few novels whose action actually takes place in Paris (even though the model of the French novel is undoubtedly dominant) betrays another practice specific to peripheral literatures, a practice that the authors of “The Internal Geography of the Romanian Novel in the 19th Century” link to a phenomenon that Moretti labels as a “compromise between West European patterns and local reality”. What is notable in how Moretti points out the characteristics of this “compromise” is his description of “the local reality” as “different in the various places” (Conjectures 64). In other words, what is important is not only to reveal the traits of the influences brought by the central literature, but also how these are acquired in the inferior cultures. The diversity of the structure of these cultures actually triggers the particularities of this “compromise”.

In fact, the answer to the second question, related to the decision not to search for place-names in Paris, is clear now: because these are very few. Paris is a city with a rather abstract presence in the consciousness of nineteenth century Romanian novel; this conclusion can be also drawn from the great difference between the number of novels in which Paris is mentioned (43 novels) and those whose action actually takes places there (8 novels). Generally, even in the novels whose action takes place in Paris, the bovarysme that characterises the writers’ intentions is easily sensed. For example, in order to render a mysterious atmosphere, the action of the 1891 detective novel Clotilda sau crimele unei femei [Clotilda or a Woman’s Murders], written by A. I. Alexandrescu, takes place in not easily recognizable environments, such as “in a small tavern on the outskirts of Paris”1 (3-4) or “in one of the darkest places of Paris”2 (42). An exception is constituted by novels such as Batista cea albă [The White Handkerchief] (1875) by G. Dimitropolo, which contains a chapter entitled “Parisul”, in which details related to streets and hotels are presented (Boulevard Saint-Germain is compared to Mogoșoaiei Street in Bucharest, both being seen as centres attended by the aristocrats).

In the field of literary and cultural Romanian studies there have been numerous discussions on the practices and the profile of Romanian culture in this network of European relations. A few of these discussions go as far as using the latest developments in the field of quantitative studies to illustrate these networks, albeit for other types of literary phenomena (Modoc, Traveling Avant-Gardes 45-61; Modoc Internaționala 168-200). Beginning with the nineteenth century, when neither a stable system, nor a culture provided with the necessary means and methods to generate original qualitative forms existed, there were many debates regarding the relation with the great European cultures. Starting with Mihail Kogălniceanu’s article “Introducție la Dacia Literară” [Introduction to Dacia Literară], Titu Maiorescu’s ardent criticism of “forms without substance” and even with the practices imposed by Nicolae Iorga and Garabet Ibrăileanu (promoters of the traditionalist movements at the turn of the twentieth century), the problem of foreign influences generated an entire series of reactions and imposed the adoption of numerous solutions. The discourse of the Romanian criticism during this period could be easily analysed from the perspective of two orientations with procedural character – “Westernisation” and “nationalisation”. In other words, under the influence of these two tendencies, Romanian criticism in the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth – as Andrei Terian approaches it – has the profile of a “directional criticism”. Based on the antonymy between these two tendencies and on the three “strategies” (“compensation”, “cultural dumping” and “détour”) put forward by the same critic in “National Literature, World Literatures, and Universality in Romanian Cultural Criticism 1867-1947” and using a few studies that note the evolution of the translation phenomenon in the Romanian literary field (collected in the volume The Culture of Translation in Romania, edited by Maria Sass et al.), I have previously discussed the profile of Romanian culture and literature from the perspective of the self-colonisation concept. In short, while operating with this concept, as proposed by Alexander Kiossev in “Notes on the Self-Colonizing Cultures” and “The Self-Colonizing Metaphor”, I came to the conclusion that in the second half of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Romanian literary field developed a cause-and-effect relationship between anti-colonisation and self-colonisation, in the sense that the self-colonising tendencies caused by a central culture could be seen as solutions and reactions to the colonisation threat coming from another superior culture (Morariu 4-10).

I presented this overview of the main debates in Romanian literary criticism during this period of time, since what I actually aim is to find out (in answering the third question) how these ideas occur in literature, by trying to develop the affective image of Paris in Romanian novels during the nineteenth century. For it is obvious that the dynamism of the text has to reflect, to a certain extent and in a certain moment, the dynamism outside the text. A spatial analysis such as the present one could foreground – considering the attitude towards Paris in the nineteenth century novels – essential observations concerning the relation between centre and periphery and the attitude of a minor literature such as the Romanian one towards the fascination for the French model.

Working Methods and Results

Given that I operated with two opposite directions, namely “Westernisation” and “nationalisation” and, therefore, the anti-colonial and self-colonial tendencies, I considered it relevant to work with a primary classification of the emotions associated to Paris. Therefore, I established the same two main general categories and “initial cardinal points” (Heuser et al., Mapping 32) – positive and negative emotions or attitudes (I prefer the term “attitude” instead of “emotion”, since it expresses the affective image of a foreign city) – more specifically, admiration and aversion, corresponding to the self-colonial and anti-colonial paradigms.

Concerning the working method, given that I worked with a restricted corpus of only 157 novels, all I did comes down to searching in the archive and selecting passages that contain the proper noun “Paris” (and, obviously, the genitive/dative form “Parisului” [of Paris]). Initially, I also searched for “capitala (capitalei) Franței” [the capital of France], but I gave up searching for this syntagm, since I noticed it mainly occurred in the same passages as the proper noun “Paris”, therefore having a rather stylistic value, that of avoiding repetition. This process resulted in approximately 500 occurrences of Paris in around 45% (70 novels) of the novels published between 1844 and 1900. In addition to the 43 novels that mention Paris and the 8 novels where the action takes place in Paris – a total of 51 novels (according to the data in the welcoming article) – there are 19 more novels in which the number of mentions is limited, therefore the city was not listed among the cities mentioned according to the frequency of their occurrence.

A less pleasant aspect, but not a surprising one, is that among the approximately 500 passages that contain “Paris”, only around 70 passages include mentions to which a certain emotion could be assigned – be it positive or negative. This means that only less than 15% (a percentage similar to that of the Stanford Literary Lab experiment) of the selected fragments can be taken into account when developing the affective image of Paris. Clearly, there is a great amount of subjectivity in distinguishing between passages that correspond to an emotion and neutral passages. I believe the result would have been different if I had not limited myself to the selected passages (that contain “Paris”) and had I tried to deduct the emotions based on a larger context. Nevertheless, even that small percentage provides important information regarding how the Romanian novel illustrates foreign cultures. The good news is that the 70 passages where I identified an affective dimension could be classified according to the two attitudes that I have already mentioned. On the one hand, there is the admiration for everything that means luxury in Paris, the fascination with its civilisation and suitable space for career development, and, on the other hand, aversion, disgust at the bad habits that corrupted those who wanted to pursue their studies in Paris. In rendering these two attitudes by means of numerical values, it can be observed that there are around 40 passages containing aversion and approximately 30 of admiration, which means over 50% for aversion and less than 45% for admiration. Starting right from this data, it can be seen that these attitudes seem to annihilate each other. More specifically, there is a balance between these two attitudes, with aversion tending to prevail over admiration. This could be even more clearly observed when the two occur in the same passage. Approximately 25% of the passages contain both attitudes. It is mainly the passages that discuss the characters’ professional development in Paris, passages that I have initially associated to admiration. When a character goes to study in Paris, this image full of admiration for the city is counteracted by that of the fall into depravity and spending their parents’ fortune. In fact, the way these two attitudes complete each other draws our attention, because – as if imitating the “law of action and reaction” – admiration is cancelled by aversion. When I discuss the affective image of Paris in the Romanian novel of the nineteenth century, I assume that this attempt to cancel the attitude of admiration with disgust represents an interesting achievement of this study, since it is a clear proof of the presence, in literary texts, of the antonymy between the tendencies of “Westernisation” and “nationalisation”, between the self-colonising tendencies and their anti-colonial counterparts.

These are a few examples that confirm this observation, examples that offer interesting details about those who fell in the depravity trap offered by Paris – in the majority of cases it is about characters in their prime and with no life experience. This proves that there is a typology of the character who wastes their parents’ fortune in the capital of France, with very few exceptions. What is extremely relevant in this context is one passage of the novel Lume nouă și lume veche [New World and Old World] written by Duiliu Zamfirescu and published in 1895. When describing one of his characters who was a student in Paris, Zamfirescu notes an important detail concerning the aspect that makes him stand out: “He had gone abroad as an old student, after being a teacher at the Lazăr Gymnasium for a few years, and therefore was safe from the villainy of Paris”3 (30). The example is relevant since it sets a new, interesting perspective on the causes that lead to the young Romanian students’ failure in Paris. In other words, in order to benefit from the successful career that Paris promises, there is a need for a certain experience and a solid moral basis that Nicolae Filimon also discusses in the Prologue of his well-known novel Ciocoii vechi și noi [The Old and the New Boyars], published in 1863:

Poor kids, devoid of moral education and deprived of virtues and examples of honour picked up from their parents, as soon as they get at the gates of Paris, they fall in the hands of women and deprived young men, who corrupt them even more; and when they come back to their homeland, instead of bringing the light of the civilised Europe with them, they only bring the vice and depravation or, if one of them succeeds to learn a few things, this intellectual culture, without having a moral education, does more harm than good to this poor country that feeds such vipers4 (Filimon 8-9).

Moreover, in the same category there is Istoria unui român în America [The History of a Romanian in America], a novel written by Zamfir Arbore who – in order to highlight the unusual morality of one of his characters – relies on the comparison with the activities of the young boyars who travel to Paris: “He is not like our young boyars who waste their parents’ fortune in Paris (…)”5 (406). This example could easily start a new discussion on the social origin of the characters who had the chance to go to Paris in the nineteenth century. Applied on the entire archive, such an analysis could capitalise the role of spaces and places in relation to the social origin and class stratification of the characters.

There are even more examples of aversion towards Paris and of the (pseudo)education that rich young people pretend to achieve there. Some of them are truly delectable due to their ironic nuance. We find out about Grigore, one of the characters in Mistere din București, [Mysteries in Bucharest], Ioan M. Bujoreanu’s novel published in 1862, that although he spent all his money and was not concerned with studying at all, he was welcomed with open arms by his father when he came back to Bucharest. Even more, his father paid his debt on the grounds that “all noble and intelligent young people” act this way, and “Grigore comes back to his family totally changed, compared to how he left for Paris, where, because of the darkness, he lost his sight, given that he used to wear a lorgnette that was proof of his studies and the morality he had acquired in the brothels there”6 (Bujoreanu 89).

Essentially, this negative image of Paris could be caused by a wrong approach of the characters in the Romanian novels of the nineteenth century. After all, the “universality” and “uniqueness” that Casanova discusses seem to fascinate the characters as well, although they could almost never benefit from them. I think it is obvious that the incapability to take advantage of the time spent studying abroad reveals the complex of an inferior culture, whose representatives settle for the liberty and mundanity of living in Paris, despite the purpose of their travel. The opportunity to travel to Paris, seen as the centre of the European civilization, is enough to obtain at least an apparent erudition. The conclusion is that the anti-colonial tendency that stands against the appropriation of form, instead of substance (two concepts that were well-known during those times), is rendered by this image of (pseudo)erudition that almost every character longs for and for which they settle.

All in all, given that there are a few passages to which emotions/attitudes could be associated and that they seem to cancel each other, I consider that the image of Paris is not presented clearly enough. It remains an abstract image, difficult to grasp. The capital of France is a city that the characters admire, but that causes disgust, especially because they cannot resist the temptations offered by it. This can be a consequence of the fact that most Romanians in the nineteenth century did not know the “real” Paris very well, that they actually transformed it in a place of extreme characteristics: from a place of elegance and education into one of depravation and decadence. I believe that this is how the balance between the two attitudes could be interpreted, with admiration being counteracted by aversion (the latter emerging right from the lacking knowledge of the “real” Paris). Therefore, it is not facile to draw a clear conclusion regarding the emotions associated to Paris. A few analytical perspectives could be, however, identified and applied to Romanian novels from the beginning of the twentieth century.

A Theoretical Intermezzo. From Reality to Fiction and From Space to Place

With this in mind, before stating the conclusions, it is necessary to summarise the theoretical perspectives that serve as basis for my analysis and to give an insight into the approach methods that validate my research.

To begin with, it is already well known that among the humanities and the social sciences which embraced the new approach imposed by the spatial turn, literature stands out. The dissemination of the new roles and meanings of space and place involved the valorisation of interdisciplinarity (see Warf and Arias), and therefore the literary field enjoyed the advantage of having previously given importance to space in literary analysis. There is a reason why Bertrand Westphal acknowledges that attempting to emphasise the interdisciplinary character of the study of literature and space “amounts to a truism” (Geocriticism 32). Essentially, the French theorist’s argument is based precisely on the intrinsic coordinates of geography and literature: “if it is in the nature of geography to probe the potential of human spaces, it is also in the nature of literature to touch on space, because all literature is in space” (Westphal, Geocriticism 33-34). In this respect, it is worth mentioning the remark Barbara Piatti et al. make in Mapping Literature: Towards a Geography of Fiction, a study that defines the concept of literary geography and discusses its tradition and new approaches, as well as the methodology used in the process of mapping literature. On the one hand, they note that the relation between literature and space is considered commonplace, since “the experience of reading” implies the connection between a narration and a space while, on the other hand, they point out the impossibility of treating literary works and “the spatial context” separately (Piatti et al. 178).

Nevertheless, although such a topic might seem arid at first glance, various other points of debate emerge when approaching the relation of literature and space. These topics refer to the “infinite options” (Piatti et al. 178) that literature has in representing place and in depicting how a geographical approach reveals certain interesting aspects related to the interpersonal and intercultural relations in literary texts. These various possibilities actually stem right from the dichotomy that Franco Moretti foregrounds when he analyses the concept of literary geography, which he defines and discusses based on the binomial of “fictional space” and “real historical space”. In fact, the author of the Atlas of the European Novel: 1800-1900, one of the baseline interdisciplinary studies, starts by differentiating between “the space in literature” and “the literature in space”, two syntagms that not only refer to the anchorage of literature in space, but also outline two senses of space in connection with literature. The fact that the two types of space can only “occasionally (and interestingly) overlap” (Moretti, Atlas 3) requires an explanation. This actually takes into account the connection between real space and fictional space, or real space and imagined space (according to Edward Soja’s delimitation), because, eventually, if their overlap is possible, the most interesting way to approach the relations between cultures is to overlap the real space with its representation in literary texts. This is why Westphal states that geocriticism operates with “the geography of real” on the one hand, and with the “geography of the imaginary”, on the other hand, because “it operates somewhere between” (Geocriticism 170) these two spatial structures. This is a crucial condition, given that there is a variety of combinations emerging from the idea of spatial ambivalence, which is the primary taxonomy that implies a clear separation between reality and fiction. Piatti et al. provide only a short list of examples, such as creating a space that combines the two dimensions, real and imaginary, or merging certain real spaces, or even inventing names of “likely places” (178). Clearly, in all these cases the relation between reality and fiction remains a point of reference.

Indeed, this approach reveals one of the advantages of geocriticism, since the geocritically oriented analysis benefits from this comparative approach, in that the geography of the fictional space can be associated with the referenced space. This comparison can also be found in studies such as Moretti’s, who, when analysing Balzac’s Paris or Jane Austen’s London, takes into account the real model. This statement can be verified even by presenting the examples offered by the theorist in order to clearly distinguish between the fictional space and the real, historical one. He discusses “Balzac’s version of Paris” and “Austen’s redrawing of Britain” (Moretti, Atlas 3), which proves that there is a standard (the real version of the two spaces) to which the fictional representations can be compared. Taking into consideration that the real spaces acquire a plurality of versions in literary texts, the core of the analysis is represented by – besides the geographical details, the spaces that the narrator relies on in his novels, the characters’ itinerary, the extent to which a certain city presented in the literary works develops during a specific period of time – the features that ensure the specific nature of these versions.

In this context, it would be interesting to discuss the analysis that the promoter of geocriticism conducts while pointing out the “three views of Paris”. By revealing the three possible ways of relating to the real Paris, that of Italo Calvino and those of George Perec and Umberto Eco, Westphal builds two different models of the relation between the referential space and its representation in the text. It is clear from the very beginning that the approaches of these three writers serve the same purpose, namely to offer – based on the real model – fictional options for this referenced space. The difference between the three ways of shaping a literary image of Paris lies in how they relate to the real variant. In Calvino’s case, the relation between the real place and the in-text place can be rendered as a mediated contact, since – as Westphal remarks – for the Italian writer, “a place is first of all an intertextual construction” (Geocriticism 150). For Calvino, the literary image of Paris comes first and he pertains to this already-transfigured image resulted from his readings. This cannot be said in Perec’s case, who aims – in Tentative d’épuisement d’un lieu parisien [An Attempt of Exhausting a Place in Paris] – to document all the happenings in Place Saint-Sulpice and to “translate two days of a Parisian place into sixty pages” (Westphal, Geocriticism 153). The experience is as unmediated as it could be. All Perec does is transfer and transform the details from a certain real place into his text. The third perspective that Westphal analyses comes as an addition to the first two. This happens due to the fact that Umberto Eco considers both the mediated image of Paris, which results from all the fictional representations of this city, and the image of Paris that emerges from his direct experience of the real space. The interesting aspect about these three case studies is the process by which a real space is transferred in a literary text and how its versions reveal the amount of subjectivity of the final product. These versions are nothing more than “mapping machines”, resulted from different “interpretative frameworks” that have a role in the contextualizing process (Tally Jr. 3). Whether the description of the place is based on the direct experience of the author with the referential space or on its renderings in literary texts, the result is different every time. This is exactly why the discussion focuses mainly on the procedures of individualising these variants, procedures that require a review of the connection between the concepts of space and place, or – using Westphal’s delimitation – between space and its version “emptied of spatiality” (Plausible 126).

The difference between these two has already been discussed repeatedly. Starting from Yi-Fu Tuan and Michel de Certeau and up to the work authored by Edward S. Casey who, in The Fate of Place. A Philosophical History, rebuilds the entire evolution of the concept of place and its relation to space (starting from mythological and religious perspectives, Plato and Aristotle’s philosophies, discourses specific to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and up to approaches specific to modernity). The perspectives presented in these three studies overlap in their approach to the difference between space and place. While Tuan mentioned in Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience that the process of turning a space into a place happens only if the former has a “definition” or a “meaning” (136), Michel de Certeau evokes the “indication of stability” when it comes to place. In contrast, space can be recognised through signs “of direction, velocities, and time variables” (Certeau 124). Clearly, the two perspectives – to which Casey’s is added – indicate that the main difference can be portrayed as the relation between general and particular, extrinsic and intrinsic, abstract and concrete, since, while Tuan argues that space needs to be “endowed with value” in order to become place (6), Casey associates space with antithetical terms such as “undelimited”, “open-ended” and “indefinitely extended” (77) and links place to notions of “identity, character, nuance, history” (XIII).

Therefore, space becomes place when it has a meaning and represents an individual element in someone’s consciousness. A clear conclusion drawn from this statement is that an undefined space can acquire various meanings over the process of individualisation, through which it becomes a place. In truth, clarifying the meaning of the basic terms further increases the number of perspectives involved in discussing the impact of the spatial turn on the literary field and the number of possible analyses highlighted by this approach. Here I do not exclusively refer to the model of literary geography imposed by projects such as Moretti’s, but also to experiments such as the “The Emotions of London”. In other words, such an analysis becomes even more thrilling if it is based on one of Yi-Fu Tuan’s remarks, that feelings are linked to certain images in art (148). The same thing happens in the case of representing places, because readers do not get in touch with a plain representation of a city, but with the image charged with experience, which proposes a subjective perspective (understood strictly in the sense of individuality) on the geographical elements.

What makes such an approach difficult is the contradiction between mapping the places in a literary text and capturing emotions. In this context, it is worth mentioning the strong conclusion that David Fairbairn draws after analysing the “transformations” implied by mapping and art, namely that “art is the antithesis of the data-driven transformations of mapping: it involves emotion-driven transformation” (28). Given that the two processes are irreconcilable, the attempt to map the emotions to which certain place-names are associated in the literary texts seems to be, at first glance, paradoxical.

Therefore, the experiment proposed by Heuser, Moretti and Steiner is challenging. This is the main reason why I have decided to work with this analysis method and to propose a discussion on the (macro)geography of emotions. Despite the impossibility of drawing some clear conclusions concerning the characters’ attitudes towards Paris in the nineteenth century Romanian novel, I believe that this approach of mapping emotions deserves supplementary attention, since there are aspects that could be improved in such studies.

Conclusions, Improvements and Continuity

In spite of the fact that I have not mentioned here the passages that exclusively render admiration, they could be the focus of an entirely separate study on the self-colonising side of the Romanian novel. Many things could be said about the way Paris becomes the “ideal” of some characters, “a paradise” for others and even a place whose name causes “dizziness”. For now, I decided to limit myself to the previously discussed situations, which prove that self-colonising tendencies are countered by anti-colonial ones. The conclusion of such a research, which combines the distant reading method of analysis (favoured by the existence of an archive of texts in digital format) with traditional methods of close reading, is that the cultural debates of the nineteenth century can be broadly identified in the literary texts of the same period.

Starting from this study, many other possibilities of in-depth analysis can be considered. Some of them could even imply, as already mentioned, a correlation between these attitudes and the social origin of the characters, concerning the different ways in which they relate to Paris, and a comparative approach of the images of Paris and Bucharest. Also, it would be interesting to find out how the affective image of Paris changes at the beginning of the twentieth century. This statement undoubtedly requires further details, since I believe that such a study could have much more satisfying results. The project Digital Museum of the Romanian Novel: the 19th Century enjoys continuity, in the sense that approximately 370 novels published between 1901 and 1932 have been recently digitised. Therefore, the present study can also enjoy continuity. There are two main additional reasons why this should happen. Firstly, as Baghiu et al. prove in the recent article on literary geography entitled “Geografia romanului românesc (1901-1932): străinătatea” [The Geography of the Romanian Novel (1901-1932): Spaces from Abroad], Paris remains the most frequently occurring external nucleus. A major difference that becomes increasingly obvious at the beginning of the twentieth century is that the image of Paris “materialises”, overcoming the abstract representation favoured by the nineteenth century novel. Secondly, the tendency to filter places through personal and subjective perspectives (Baghiu et al., Geografia romanului 8) encourages the process of mapping emotions, because it determines the emergence of individualised and “emotional” representations of places.


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1 “într-o cârciumă mică dintr-o fundătură a Parisului” (My translation).

2 “într-unul dintre cele mai întunecate colțuri ale Parisului” (My translation).

3 “Pornise în străinătate student bătrân, după ce fusese câțiva ani profesor la gimnaziul Lazăr, și ca atare fu la adăpost de mișeliile Parisului” (My translation).

4 “Nenorociții copii, lipsiți de educațiune morală și neîntăriți prin virtuți și exemple de onoare învățate din casa părinților, cum ajung la porțile Parisului, cad în mâinile femeilor și junilor celor stricați, care îi depravează și mai rău; iar când se întorc în patrie, în loc să aducă cu dânșii luminile Europei civilizate, nu aduc decât vițiul și depravarea sau, dacă vreunul dintr-înșii reușește a învăța câte ceva, această cultură intelectuală, nefiind susținută de o educație morală, produce mai mult rău decât bine nenorocitei țări ce hrănește în sânu-i asemenea vipere” (My translation).

5 “El nu seamănă cu tinerii noștri boieri, care cheltuiesc averea părintească pe la Paris (...)” (My translation).

6 “Grigore se întoarce în sânul familiei cu totul schimbat decât la plecarea-i în Paris, unde, neapărat fiind întuneric, își pierduse vederea, căci purta o lornetă pe care erau scrise studiile și moralitatea ce dobândise în bordeiele de acolo” (My translation).