The Intertextuality between "Flaubert's Parrot" by Julian Barnes and "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2013

16 Pages, Grade: 2,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition of Intertextuality

3. Limitation and Usage of Intertextuality

4. Julian Barnes's Intertextuality in Flaubert's Parrot
4.1 Intertextuality between Flaubert's Parrot and Madame Bovary
4.2 References in the Text
4.2.1 Emma Bovary's Eyes
4.2.2 Geoffrey Braithwaite's Search for Ellen
4.2.3 Geoffrey Braithwaite's Escape from Loneliness
4.2.4 Dissatisfying Ending

5. Résumé

6. Bibliography
6.1 Primary Literature
6.2 Secondary Literature
6.3 Online Resources

1. Introduction

Julian Barnes is one of the most experimental writers in the history of British authors. His novel Flaubert's Parrot, which was his third published book in 1984, marks an important milestone in his career and shaped his image as an outstandingly talented writer who is fearless of unconventional writing. In Flaubert's Parrot he merges a postmodern style within a story that is ought to be biographical, which is both confusing and thought provoking. Neil Brooks described the novel in his comparison to The Good Soldier as "part novel and part criticism of both modern and postmodern theories of textuality" (Brooks 1999, 50). Meanwhile, Barnes presents his impressively extensive researches on Gustave Flaubert and incorporates his knowledge into the text in a very entertaining way (Holmes 2009,71).

In particular, the intertextual devices in the novel often were subject for literary studies with the aim to interpret its deeper meaning. As Gustave Flaubert is the main reference of the book's title he consequently is in focus of the intertextual researches. In favor of the flexible intertextual application possibilities, a broad field of hypotheses is attainable for the scholars. The outcomes of this research and their valuation are ought to be the subject of this term paper. To correspond with the requirements of a seminar paper the exposition of the intertextuality in Flaubert's Parrot will be limited to the relations to Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary.

Hence, this term paper aims to show how the integrated intertextuality has an essential impact on the novel's reception and meaning. It discusses how Barnes intertwined intertextual references into his novel and how these influence its interpretation. On this occasion the term Intertextuality, its development, and the theory it designates will be defined before its usage for literary studies will be discussed. Furthermore, the distinction of the theory will justify the application of mainly Ulrich Broich's and Manfred Pfister's perimeter of intertextuality. Thereafter the analysis of the intertextuality between Flaubert's Parrot and Madame Bovary will be examined in detail while the current studies on the topic are included and compared in the investigation. This is done primarily by means of secondary literature like monographs and essays from literary scholars as well as by interviews with Julian Barnes. The paper concludes with verifying the findings according to Broich and Pfister and estimates its exceptional quality. Presupposed is the knowledge of the novels Flaubert's Parrot and Madame Bovary as well as Julian Barnes's and Gustave Flaubert's basic vita.

2. Definition of Intertextuality

The term Intertextuality comprises the relations, references, and influences between written and artificial works and their impact on each other in terms of meaning and interpretation. The officially determined definition of The Oxford Companion to English Literature entitles intertextuality as [...] the sum of relationships between and among writings. This modern critical term usually covers the range of ways in which one "text" may respond to, allude to, derive from, mimic or adapt another. The concept has been used in various ways under the influence of structuralism and post-structuralism, often in reaction against the New Criticism and its assumption that a literary work is a self-contained object. The ideas that poems are made from other poems has been proclaimed by Frye, Barthes, and H. Bloom, among others. (Drabble The Oxford Companion to English Literature 2000)

The theory of intertextuality developed as a part of the poststructuralist studies in the 1960s. It was mainly worked out by psychoanalysist and literary theorist Julia Kristeva who expanded the work of Ferdinand de Saussure and Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin that doubted the existence of fixed meaning and objective methods for interpretation. Reputable exponents of Kristeva's theory are Roland Barthes and Harold Bloom who continued as far as to claim that in respect to the relations between texts no stabilized meaning is possible anymore. The famous essay on their theory "The Death of the Author" still is one of the most referred texts in poststructuralist studies (Allen 2000, 4).

Eventually, the intertextual theories were not only used in combination with literary criticism, but also picked up by almost every artistic field such as painting, music, or architecture. Likewise, almost every other literary critical trend like structuralism, poststructuralism, deconstructivism, or feminism picked up their ideas and incorporated them to their studies (Allen 2000, 6). Its flexibility stimulated the theorists in a variety of movements and still is the subject for miscellaneous interpretations, which makes it indistinct to give a clear definition. Theorists point out the usage and outcomes of intertextuality rather than giving a proper distinction, but all agree on specific characteristics that can be relied on (Allen 2000, 3).

Every one of these characteristics can be traced back to the fact that to understand the meaning of a text an interpretation is necessary. Within that the theory of intertextuality provides a new level of interpreting a text as it puts it in relation to other texts. The meaning is no longer extracted only from the text itself, but also stands in relation to every other text ever written and gains further meaning out of it. Michael Worton and Judith Still explain that this occurs because every writer is inevitably influenced by everything he or she has read before and automatically processes this in his or her creations. On the other hand every reader brings his or her experience to the read text and each reader views it a new relation and therefore an individual meaning (Worton, Still 1990, 1f).

Also relations to every other art form, culture, or real life occurrences play a role for intertextual references. Consequently, there are no independent texts anymore so that every written and artificial work is evaluated in context of all the other existing ones forming a network of textual relations. Therefore, meaning cannot only be extracted from a single text, but has to be interpreted in correlation to all the other texts. Graham Allen claims "interpretation becomes tracing down those relations" (2000, 1) (Allen 2000, 1).

With this approach intertextuality supports postmodern accusations of a loss of originality and uniqueness. Even if it is valued more of an advantageous development than a regression, no text is dealt with as an independent unit anymore, but rather in correlation to other texts (Allen 2000, 5f). Nevertheless, the theory is in a permanent danger to be misused as a universal and boundless resource to undermine even weak or unwarranted statements (Allen 2000, 2).

3. Limitation and Usage of Intertextuality

To avoid the misusage of intertextual functions literary theorists compiled guidelines to determine and narrow down intertextuality in texts. Ulrich Broich and Manfred Pfister expanded Kristeva's findings and elaborated specific features to identify intertextual relations in a determined concept of a narrow intertextuality term. According to their concept intertextuality requires that on the one hand the author is aware of him using other texts as references and on the other hand expects the reader to notice this influence. Moreover, the reader is supposed to recognize the intention of the author to create this intertextual relation as an important factor to understand the meaning of the text. This anticipation triggers a nondescript communication process in which the author and the reader are not only conscious of the intertextuality of the text, but also expect the other's awareness of the intertextuality. The consciousness of the interdependence on both sides is therefore the crucial characteristic to call a text intertextual (Broich 1985, 31).

The referred object does not have to be mentioned directly to be accessible for the reader. It rather can be expressed in various ways as well as it can differ in obviousness. Depending on the intended audience basis the intertextual relation appears in diverse possibilities (Broich 1985, 33). For instance, the signals to generate a purposed intertextuality can be placed in the title or subtitle of a book, in a preface, or in a direct comparison in the text. Also marking intertextuality in the internal communication system is possible like the occurrence of an other book that is read, discussed, or dealt with in a story. Beneath that, the outer and more obvious communication system including naming, quotations, and parables signal an interconnectedness (Broich 1985, 36-42). With this approach Broich follows the structuralist also called hermeneutic model of defining intertextuality in literature with the specification on conscious, intended, and highlighted relations between one or more texts. In contrast to the broader global model of the poststructuralism that considers every text as a part of an universal intertext this one gives more consolidated results because it can be transferred more easily to analyzing categories and procedures (Pfister 1985, 25).

Due to its accessibility the following examination of Flaubert's Parrot on intertextual references to Flaubert's Madame Bovary was written in respect to Broich's and Pfister's structuralist approach on intertextuality.

4. Julian Barnes's Intertextuality in Flaubert's Parrot

The novel Flaubert's Parrot marks a major step in Julian Barnes's career. While it caused a debate about its classification and categorization as novel on account of its literary criticism episodes and experimental style, its originality convinced critics, scholars, and readers likewise (Guignery 2006, 37). Amongst other things, the highly intertextual plot provides the novel with an outstanding position in the postmodern literature.

Hence, the story and style of Flaubert's Parrot were compared to literary important works, such as Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, or Francois Mauriac's Memoires. Next to Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, whose relationality is figured out swiftly and will be discussed in detail, also Flaubert's other works are seen in relation with Flaubert's Parrot (Guignery 2006, 37ff. Childs 2011, 96. Holmes 2009, 79). Peter Childs points out how Barnes reuses Flaubert's three-folded storyline of his novel Trois Contes in which the story is divided into three parts. He imitates the division: "Three stories contend within me. One about Flaubert, one about Ellen, one about myself." (Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot, 85f). Having already worked with Flaubert's L'Èducation Sentimentale as precedent for Metroland, Childs attributes Barnes to likely utilize connections with Flaubert's works (Childs 2011, 49). Barnes substantiates this statement with the approval that he enjoys parallels between his and Flaubert's books (Barnes 2009, 17). He also spoke openly about his intention to draw parallels to Madame Bovary, when he was asked in an interview about his purpose he answered clearly "Yes, I wanted a parallel with Charles and Emma Bovary." (Barnes 2009, 17)


Excerpt out of 16 pages


The Intertextuality between "Flaubert's Parrot" by Julian Barnes and "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert
LMU Munich
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Flaubert, Julian Barnes, Parrot, Intertextuality, Madame Bovary
Quote paper
Lisa Hyna (Author), 2013, The Intertextuality between "Flaubert's Parrot" by Julian Barnes and "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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