About Explications de texte:
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.
Here on the blog, 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.
This blog is an homage to romance novels and formalist critique, but it’s also something I hope people will read. Which means that I’m not going to stick to the form of the explication de texte TOO closely. It will provide inspiration and a point of departure, but I’ll also loosen things up a bit. There might even be the occasional GIF, with apologies to my former French lit professors.
One thing an explication de texte is not? A discussion of an author’s intention. Close reading is not about figuring out what an author “really meant” or what they were “trying to do.” It’s all about how the text works on the reader. Explication de texte is one way to get at what a novel has meant to me, and how it worked on me personally, and open up the possibility of the other, different ways it might work on other readers.
About book selection:
This one’s pretty simple: I’m going to pick passages from books I love, that I think are particularly well-written.
The guidelines of Fair Use (Fair Dealing in the UK) allow for the reproduction of a small amount of copyrighted material with the purpose of criticism and scholarship, both of which describe the aims of this blog. That being said, I also want to remain respectful of authors and their work. With that in mind, the passages I use will generally be quite short (under 400 words): any longer passages will either be taken from available pages on Google Book previews, or after requesting permission from the copyright holder. I will generally avoid passages that give away major plot points, and will carefully flag potential spoilers.
As a kid, I used to read so much it got me in trouble: my parents had to stop by my room every 15 minutes after bedtime to feel the lightbulb in my bedside lamp, making sure I hadn’t been sneaking it back on to read. I lost this feeling about books for a long time (thanks, grad school), and rediscovered it when someone recommended a Tessa Dare novel. I haven’t looked back since. I like lots of angst, difficult heroines, and think a good grovel speech is worth a thousand grand gestures.