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The Papin Sisters.

The Papin Sisters. By RACHEL EDWARDS and KEITH READER. (Oxford Studies in Modern European Culture) Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2001. viii+ 134 pp. 45 [pounds sterling]; $83.50 (pbk 14.99 [pounds sterling]; $24.50). ISBN 0-19-816011-9.

On 4 October 1933, in an article on the Papin trial for the magazine Vu, Louis Martin-Chauffier complained: 'Toutes les questions essentielles sont demeurees sans reponse, non peut-etre parce qu'elles etaient insolubles, mais parce qu'elles n'ont pas ete posees.' Rachel Edwards and Keith Reader quote (the wrong bit of) Martin-Chauffier, at second hand, via the study of Dr Louis Guillant, who in turn offered an interpretation of the sisters' actions that relegated Lacan to a footnoted afterthought. But since Lacan himself derived from Dr Logre, the insightful psychoanalyst brought in as a witness for the defence and largely ignored, notably an authorization to carry out a diagnosis 'sans avoir examine nous-meme les malades', the crux of the matter turns out, in the end, to be largely a question of what one might call lacunary intertextuality. And it is true that the Papin case, an event that notoriously punctured social and psychological narratives, calls out for continual reinscription: the ensuing process is what this book admirably traces.

It begins by setting out 'the facts of the case'--but disappointingly takes at face value a proces-verbal attributed to Christine Papin, whereas the unreliability of this form of primary inscription should be seriously questioned, as it is by Gilles Perrault in connection with the Ranucci case, for example, in Le Pullover rouge. Thereafter, in a chapter headed 'Mirrors, fusings and splittings', the focus shifts first to the diversity of journalistic rereadings and then to successive psychoanalytical treatments by Lacan, Dupre, Lessana, and Louis Le Guillant. While highlighting the shortcomings of each approach, and warning of the dangers of 'delire d'interpretation' (p. 45), the authors knit a fascinating text out of the key strands: mirroring, paranoia, maternal transference, the 'savoir insu' that the act expressed. In the section on 'Cinematic Reproductions' films by Nico Papatakis, Nancy Meckler, and Claude Chabrol are analysed with brio and assuredness, and a sensitivity both to psychoanalytical themes and to that visual dimension that has its source in the famous photographs of the sisters. Given the imaginative flair with which all this is realized, the 'Literary reproductions' as such receive comparatively perfunctory treatment. The retelling of the plot of Genet's Les Bonnes omits to show how subtly this play dramatizes what the psychoanalysts tease out elsewhere, though My Sister in this House (the source of Meckler's film) is convincingly shown to present a '"going beyond" in terms of class, sexuality, and gender' (p. 77). The novels by Paulette Houdyer and Robert Le Texier, interesting instances of popular culture, might have been illuminated by narrative theory. But these are small reservations compared with the achievement of this book in compiling a series of cross-textual readings that interact in very fertile ways. And in an unsettling afterword, the authors reveal that while so many were busy rewriting the Papin story, Lea continued to live it out in our midst, so to speak; a documentary broadcast in 2000 showed her alive though not well in a hospice in La France profonde.

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Author:Walker, David H.
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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