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A mind's eye view: repetition, obsession, and jealousy in Robbe-Grillet's La Jalousie and Claude Chabrol's L'Enfer.

Alain Robbe-Grillet's artistic endeavors have generated a great deal of discussion on the increasingly complex relationship between an image and a text. From his nouveaux romans to his provocative films to his controversial statements, Robbe-Grillet has challenged readers and spectators to see in a new way. Of course, he subsequently condemns these new ways of seeing by refuting their accuracy on the basis of the impossibility of a single vision. My project here is to relate image and text by establishing a system of comparison between La Jalousie and L'Enfer. These two works seem to be far removed from one another chronologically, as La Jalousie was published by Les Editions de Minuit in 1957 and L'Enfer was released in 1994. However, Claude Chabrol inherited the project from Henri-Georges Clouzot who began filming the movie in 1964. Thus, the genesis of both works came at a time when new novelists and New Wave filmmakers were challenging the traditions of their respective outlets for artistic expression. The strikingly similar images evoked in the two works are an important element overlooked heretofore. This visual dimension can be highlighted by focusing on verbal descriptions in La Jalousie as the ekphrastic equivalent of scenes in L'Enfer. Furthermore, through an analysis of the verbal text as a static image as opposed to the moving visual images that make up the film, one can see how perception is influenced by the medium through which the image is transmitted.

Robbe-Grillet most often disapproves of the "images" that are created to represent his texts. During a colloquium in 1979, organized around the topic of generative literature and generative art, Robbe-Grillet commented on his creative endeavors, speaking of the relation between text and image in a way that made the two seem like completely separate entities. He spoke of some of the misconstrued images that have been created from his texts, citing the floor plan printed in La Jalousie specifically. (1) Furthermore, Robbe-Grillet mocks the idea of La Jalousie's being worthy material for a film because the book is, in his words, a three hundred page description of a house. And, at the end of the novel, we still do not know what the house looks like. (2) Robbe-Grillet would never allow a simple solution to the textual labyrinth he has provided his reader, for this would nullify the goal of the "game," which is engaging actively in the reading process and attempting to decipher the text. Robbe-Grillet's oeuvre has challenged readers and spectators in many ways as he has worked in collaboration with artists and has challenged the traditional presentation of images through his films. He launched one of his first challenges to the interpreter of images in the scenario to Alain Resnais's L'Annee derniere a Marienbad and later worked in posthumous "collaboration" with Rene Magritte to publish an illustrated new novel, La belle captive (1975), which, incidentally, was later made into a film. Furthermore, Robbe-Grillet published Instantanes in 1962, a collection of verbal "photographs." Thus, by proposing puzzles to the reader or spectator, Robbe-Grillet destabilizes him or her and opens the text up to many interpretations. He creates a system of codes that is brought to life through the undeniably inseparable text/image dichotomy.

La Jalousie and L'Enfer are two works that require the reader/spectator to go beyond the text and interpret it without the expectation of a unique message. They necessitate an active participant in the reading/viewing of the text, thus enabling him or her to contribute to the production of meaning and not simply consuming it. Roland Barthes comments on the role of the reader: "the goal of a literary work (of literature as work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text" (S/Z 4). These remarks are particularly significant for readers of the new novel, but more importantly, for finding meaning in the text/image relationship, which is an important topic relating to twentieth century thought. In order to fully appreciate the generative power for the visual in our chosen works, one must engage oneself in the text and produce personal meaning. This means going beyond any preconceived or misconstrued image already presented to illustrate a given work.

From my point of view L'Enfer is, in many ways, the cinematic representation of La Jalousie. Through a series of images, the reader or spectator becomes privy to a tormented world where repetition, obsession, and jealousy manipulate one's perception. On a very basic level, there is, in both works, a jealous man who spies on his wife. (3) Clearly, since we are dealing with two different media, the presentation must vary in each case. The film medium allows for more explicit information through images or dialogue, while in the novel, the same information is more implicit, coming from verbal clues. For example, in L'Enfer, the spectator sees more details about the couple. The film opens with shots of the hotel Paul is restoring and the allusion to his future success and happiness. Just after this opening sequence, there are scenes from Paul and Nelly's wedding, and visions of the token "happy couple." They go on to have a child, but the couple's bliss will not last. Paul begins to suspect that Nelly is cheating on him with Martineau, a local mechanic who spends time at the hotel. We learn that Paul's car is being repaired at his family's garage. This is the first element of the film that can be compared to La Jalousie. A. (the identification given throughout to the narrator's wife) is absent from the house because she has gone into town with Franck (their neighbor who becomes the target of suspicion) to run some unspecified errands and Franck's car "supposedly" breaks down. Thus, in both works, the husband's jealous crisis is sparked by a problem with a car, and the "mechanic" becomes the competitor in the eyes of the jealous spouse.

Once the relationship between the wife and the mechanic is established in Paul's mind and in that of the narrator of La Jalousie, the facts presented to the reader/spectator are dubious. The workings of the jealous mind render an objective point of view impossible. Moreover, the vision of each man is impeded, at times, by the shutters of the house or the hotel. (4) Certain scenes from L'Enfer show Paul observing Nelly from a window. He watches her leave the hotel to go into town from a window, and later in the film Paul spies Nelly chatting with one of the male guests at the hotel through the shutters. The shutters of the windows are symbolic, for they are a physical sign to show the reader/spectator that the husband's view is a distorted one.

In order for the husband's jealousy to seem believable, each wife must (apparently) be presented as a desirable woman, as a sort of femme fatale. In La Jalousie, A. is presented as an attractive, seductive woman rather effectively through commentaries or judgments from other characters or from extremely filmic descriptions. There are numerous passages that read like scenes from a film, using light, movement, and position to explain what the narrator is seeing. In one passage, A.'s dress is considered inappropriate by Christiane (Franck's wife): "Elle [A.] est toujours habillee de la robe claire, a col droit, tres collante, qu'elle portait au dejeuner. Christiane, une fois de plus, lui a rappele que des vetements moins ajustes permettent de mieux supporter la chaleur" (10). This "scene," like many others, will be repeated, and the fact that A. is wearing this dress is used as a textual device to validate her husband's jealousy and portray her as a provocative woman. There are many descriptions of A. as she brushes her hair and applies her make-up: "D'ailleurs elle ne vient pas de se reveiller. Il est manifeste qu'elle a deja pris sa douche. Elle a garde son deshabille matinal, mais ses levres sont fardees, de ce rouge identique a leur rouge naturel, a peine plus soutenu, et sa chevelure peignee avec son brille au grand jour de la fenetre..." (42). This description is rather subtle, but it does give the reader the impression that A. is an attractive woman (at least in the eyes of her observer). In L'Enfer, a scene where Nelly applies lipstick using a store window as a mirror is much more explicit and provocative. It is only natural that she would have to reapply her lipstick after an even more provocative scene showing her eating an ice cream cone. Of course, these scenes are actually what Paul is viewing, for he is following Nelly without her knowledge. Thus, these visions of A. and Nelly are distorted and/or exaggerated because they are reported through the mind's eye of a jealous man.

In La Jalousie, A.'s movements and actions are described incessantly. One of her acts which adds to her husband's torment involves writing letters (which are presumably addressed to Franck) to express secret thoughts that cannot be discussed verbally. The gestures of A. as she writes these letters are described on numerous occasions throughout the text (see pages 14-15, 106-07, 121 among others). The narrator's suspicions that the letters are, indeed, addressed to Franck are seemingly confirmed when he spots a pale blue sheet of paper (no doubt the one A. had used to write the letter and folded) in Franck's shirt pocket: "Une feuille de papier d'un bleu tres pale, pliee plusieurs fois sur elle-meme--en huit probablement--deborde a present hors de la pochette droite de sa chemise... qui depasse d'un bon centimetre le bord de toile kaki" (107).

A very similar scene takes place in L'Enfer. Paul walks in on Nelly as she reads a letter. She explains that it is from her brother in Germany, but refuses to let Paul see the letter or the stamp on the envelope. Later, when Nelly is in town, she shows the letter to a friend as they laugh about it. Or do they? This is another moment during the film when the scene is related favoring Paul's point of view since he has, once again, followed his wife. Paul surprises Nelly in town, catching her in a lie since she is not visiting her mother as she had told him. He drives her back to the hotel, and begins to interrogate her about the letter. Nelly confirms her original story. However, when Paul asks her to read the letter to him, she cannot find it in her handbag. The handbag is yet another symbol of the lies Nelly has told, for she did not reveal the truth about how much money she had paid for it, or where she had gotten the money in question. In this way, the handbag is much like Franck's shirt pocket. Both act as containers for the lies being told, the alleged infidelity of the two wives.

In La Jalousie and L'Enfer, visual generators are the primary source of information. However, other techniques are also used to highlight the monster of jealousy growing in the tormented mind. In La Jalousie, Franck repeats a phrase several times that gives the reader some insight into the problematical nature of the truth since certain "truths" are invented in one's mind: "C'est mental, surtout, ces choses-la" (Robbe-Grillet 26, 54). In Paul's case, visions of his wife, often distorted by his jealousy, are sometimes expressed by the voice in his head telling him his suspicions are valid. This is very similar to the repetition of events in La Jalousie. Each time an event is recounted, it seems more dire and more explicit. This is evident in the description of events such as the appearance of the letters, the behavior of A., and with the manifestation of a centipede. The many passages describing the centipede, or the "intruder" that stains the white wall, have been commented on extensively in other works, but it is important to iterate how this insect symbolizes the augmenting sentiment of jealousy, the sense of having an intruder at the house, etc. for the narrator. The appearance (and reappearance) of the centipede in the narration of La Jalousie is not the only reference to insects that helps explain the narrator's mental state. Very early in the novel the reader is aware of the ear-splitting noise made by "des milliers de criquets peuplant le bas-fond" (Robbe-Grillet 17). Later in the text, light is attracting insects, and they are, again, seen as intruders, as an inconvenience: "La lampe, c'est certain, attire les moustiques; mais elle les attire vers sa propre lumiere. Il suffit donc de la placer a quelques distance pour n'etre pas incommode par eux, ou par d'autres insectes" (147). Indeed, for the husband, it is necessary to keep "intruders" at a distance so that they do not disturb the happenings of the house.

Cinematically, Chabrol provides a similar image. Paul's torment becomes increasingly evident to Nelly and the guests at the hotel. One day Paul realizes that his wife is at the beach with Martineau, and decides to do some more spying. Nelly is shown water skiing, again with very provocative gestures, as if she were seducing the camera. Paul runs to follow the boat and "sees" Nelly and Martineau return from a secluded area. He is now convinced that his suspicions have been confirmed and that his wife has been disloyal. Throughout these scenes, the sound effects are very effective at expressing the gravity of Paul's suspicions as well as how his jealousy is taking on monumental proportions just as we saw textually in La Jalousie. As Paul runs through the woody area, a song is heard that employs the word "jalousie," and as he comes closer to finding out what he believes to be the truth, the sound of insects in the background becomes louder and louder until Paul collapses and the spectator sees the insects circling in the sunlight. The deafening sound made by these insects is much like the voices in Paul's head telling him that his wife is unfaithful. A similar "scene" is represented textually by the narration at the end of La Jalousie: "La nuit noire et le bruit assourdissant des criquets s'etendent de nouveau, maintenant, sur le jardin et la terrasse, tout autour de la maison" (218). The torment of the narrator has not been abated, and the reader can only imagine that the cyclical movement of the intruding insects is symbolic of the vicious circle of reviewing events in the mind's eye, and the downward spiral into a hell where the effects of jealousy are the punishment.

Chabrol's project provides the spectator with more closure than was given to readers of La Jalousie. As the signs of Paul's crisis become more and more involved, Nelly's concern augments, and she seeks psychological help for him. The film ends with the deafening noise of sirens coming from the vehicles of the doctors arriving to collect their patient. Despite the apparent affirmation that Paul is mad, the spectator is left with many questions. Has Nelly actually been unfaithful? Did she really lie about the letter and her handbag? These questions can only be answered on an individual basis, for the spectator must have some agency in perceiving the events of the film. The reader/spectator of La Jalousie and L'Enfer must read/see between the lines in order to create meaning by finding clues that go beyond what is observed when looking through the shutter of a movie camera or the shutters of the house.

In their introduction to Reading Images and Seeing Words, Alan English and Rosalind Silvester speak of the tautological nature of word/ image relations in stating that:
   In the twentieth century, it becomes clear that the question is
   very much twodimensional, at least in the sense that the text is
   not seen as being the imitator, or the 'poor relation', of the
   image. With the generalization of photography and the creation of
   ever more impressive forms of moving image--cinema, video, computer
   graphics--the opportunities for text/image comparison increase
   dramatically. (8)

The terms "word" and "image" themselves have become more inclusive with "word" now counting all forms of prose including autobiography, prose poetry, etc., and "image" now including moving images and remembered perception (8). If we refer to Robbe-Grillet's book as "word" and Chabrol's film as "image," we can further comment on their relation by defining one as still (the word) and the other as moving (the image). In La Jalousie, there are verbal descriptions of a photograph that may be attributed to the growing torment inside the jealous husband's mind. These still images within a text are given movement in Chabrol's picture with the mise en abyme of an amateur film. There is a guest at the hotel, Duhamel, who films Nelly and some of the other guests during their activities. These films, as we will see later, are used in juxtaposition with (and to incite) Paul's mental films. Thus, still images within a text and moving images within a film are used as devices to incite the narration, or perhaps more aptly, the imagination of the narrator.

In La Jalousie, there are several descriptions of a photograph, or rather, the way in which A. allows herself to be photographed. At first, "Elle [A.] s'est un peu tournee pour sourire au photographe, comme afin de l'autoriser a prendre ce cliche impromptu. Son bras nu, en meme temps, n'a pas modifie le geste qu'il amorcait pour reposer le verre sur la table, a cote d'elle" (77). Later in the text A. is not authorizing the photographer to take the picture, but encouraging him to do so: "comme afin de l'encourager a prendre ce cliche impromptu" (133). She does this with her grace, and by offering herself to the camera: "A. doit lever le visage pour l'offrir a l'objectif...L'opulent chevelure noire est libre sur les epaules" (133). The term "objectif" is interesting here, for it not only refers to the lens of the camera, but also reminds the reader of the apparent objectivity of the narration. Robbe-Grillet's narrative style in La Jalousie has been described as the "camera-eye" technique highlighting objectivity in the descriptions recounted by the narrator. Anne Minor sees the seemingly objective nature of the narration as a way for the narrator to convince himself that his perceptions are, indeed, objective and that he is not mad (qtd. in Howard 30-31). However, the statement that "the camera never lies" must be challenged since there is always someone behind the "camera" dictating what is being described verbally, photographed, or filmed.

Photographs, this time moving, cause Paul's suspicions to grow as well. Paul first questions Nelly's fidelity when he catches her alone in a dark room with Martineau as he shows her slides of his photographs. As Paul watches the light flash when the slides change from outside the room, his mind also flashes to images of his wife with another man. Films, both real and mental, will subsequently be used to tell the story of life at the hotel and what is going on in Paul's mind. Duhamel's film project progresses much like Paul's torment. During one scene, Duhamel is filming and the flash of light reminds Paul of the moment when he had caught Nelly alone with Martineau viewing photographs. Finally, Duhamel presents his final project to the guests, and it is about half-way through his film that there is a collision with Paul's mental film. The original camera, from behind which Chabrol is filming, presents a close-up of Paul (serving to show the switch in point of view) just before his total confusion sets in. The spectator sees bits of Paul's film that do not match the audience's reaction, or what is actually showing on the screen at the hotel. Paul surrenders to his distorted view and bursts into a fit of rage because he has been made to look foolish in the eyes of his guests since he cannot control his wife. After this incident, Paul's unstable behavior becomes increasingly problematical as he threatens Nelly and locks her in the bedroom so that she cannot act out her sexual fantasies with other guests at the hotel. It is after this scene that the film becomes less interesting since we are no longer dealing with doubt, suspicion, and inconsistencies; but with a man who is mentally unstable. Without challenging this image, the spectator, thus, returns to the role of a consumer and ceases to produce personal meaning.

Recent studies on the text/image relation have redefined readership taking into account that the act of reading often involves making images seen. This is exactly the type of redefinition that allows readers and spectators to transcend the barriers of vision set forth by the type of medium used to transmit a message. W.J.T. Mitchell has written extensively on pictures and their role in our society, and he informs us that defining pictures demands "extended reflection on texts, particularly on the ways in which texts act like pictures or 'incorporate' pictorial practices and vice versa" (Mitchell 4). Every text is capable of producing images, and in order to give meaning to these images, each reader must make the images visible. As active readers/spectators, we must not accept an impeded vision provided through the jealous mind or the shutters of a camera (or even a house), nor should we allow our own vision to be impeded. We must, instead, look for the whole picture all the while acknowledging that there is no one unique representation of that picture.






Barthes, Roland. "Litterature objective." Essais critiques. Paris: Seuil, 1954.

--. S/Z: An Essay. New York: Hill, 1974.

--. Le texte et l'image. Paris: Pavillon des Arts, 1986.

Cohen, Keith, ed. Writing in a Film Age: Essays by Contemporary Novelists. Niwot: Colorado UP, 1991.

Delahoyd, Michael. Robbe-Grillet, Jealousy. (06/01/06).

L'Enfer. Dir. Claude Chabrol. Perf. Emmanuelle Beart, Francois Cluzet, Marc Lavoine, Mario David. Fox Lorber 1998.

English, Alan, and Rosalind Silvester, eds. Reading Images and Seeing Words. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004.

Grojnowski, Daniel. Photographie et langage. Paris: Corti, 2002.

Joly, Martine. L'image et son interpretation. Paris: Nathan/VEUF, 2002.

Kline, T. Jefferson. Screening the Text : Intertextuality in New Wave French Cinema. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992.

Leach, David, ed. Generative Literature and Generative Art. Fredericton, N.B.: York, 1983.

Mitchell, W.J.T. Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1994.

Morrissette, Bruce. The Novels of Robbe-Grillet. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1975.

Robbe-Grillet, Alain. L'annee derniere aMarienbad, Cine-roman, Paris: Minuit, 1961.

--. La belle captive. Paris: Bibliotheque des Arts, 1975.

--. Instantanes. Paris: Minuit, 1962.

--. La Jalousie. Paris: Minuit, 1957.

--. Jealousy. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Grove, 1965.


(1) "This fallacy concerning the resemblance between image and text in the case of La Jalousie has materialized, besides, in certain editions and translations in many countries--even in the French edition by Macmillan and Germaine Bree in which we see the floor plan of the house. And on seeing this plan I realize to what extent I am shocked by the idea that all of a sudden an image has been placed in this text. All the more shocked because this floor plan is wrong and can only be wrong since in the house of La Jalousie there is no specific number of rooms" (Robbe-Grillet qtd. in Leach 39).

(2) A floor plan is also included in the edition published by Grove Press translated by Richard Howard. Bruce Morrissette, for one, has attempted to diagram Robbe-Grillet's works. He has proposed several drawings and symbolic representations for diverse texts.

(3) It should be noted that the identification of the narrator as A.'s husband is an assumption that has become an accepted convention among scholars. The relationship of the narrator to A. is never explicitly stated.

(4) The cover to one edition of La Jalousie shows a man peeping through shutters. This image would, no doubt, be just as problematical for Robbe-Grillet as the floor plan we discussed earlier. This image provides information that the author did not necessarily wish to provide his readers.
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Author:Polk, Randi
Publication:West Virginia University Philological Papers
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:May 1, 2011
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