'Explications de texte'

Photo by Mat Reding on Unsplash

L’explication de texte is the French version of “close reading” : a formalist analysis of a literary passage. Like much of French academia, it has specific, highly-codified steps: situate the passage within the larger work, cut it up into sequential and thematically coherent bits, explain how the prose works in each of them. It also has to have a problématique, the big idea you’re trying to demonstrate about the text as a whole, through the lens of this one passage.

Often applied to dead white French men from Apollinaire to Zola, I want to apply this approach to romance novels. 

Why? Well, for starters, as a graduate student, explications de texte were my absolute favorite assignments to do. Writing one means linking each aspect of a text’s form – the way the sentences are written and the words that are chosen – to its content – the themes and ideas. Constructing a good explication de texte feels like solving a puzzle, and done well it can be immensely satisfying. In the case of this blog, I hope it’s one way to illuminate the tiny, sentence-level steps taken along the path to the capital-f FEELINGS we’re looking for in romance. 

I also hope to highlight the incredible, detailed writing that makes our favorite romance novels what they are. Romance is often maligned as formulaic, never getting enough credit for the best examples of its prose. Even those of us who love the genre often discuss it with “wide lenses” like angst level and subgenre and favorite tropes (mine, for the record, is enemies to lovers). But it also matters, a lot, to pay attention to the words. The way sentences and passages are built, the shapes emotions take to become legible to us. 

You don’t get to feelings without the form.