, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 139–153

How to do things with mottoes: recipes from the romantic era (with special reference to Stendhal)


DOI: 10.1007/s11059-010-0042-0

Cite this article as:
Grutman, R. Neohelicon (2010) 37: 139. doi:10.1007/s11059-010-0042-0


This article investigates the textual embedding of epigraphs in the first decades of the nineteenth century. While it had long been customary to use a Latin or Greek quote on title pages, many British and French Romantics went further, placing one or several mottoes at the beginning of each chapter or poem. From an intertextual perspective, these quotes are indexical traces of absent texts. The paratextual dialogue, this article’s main focus, rather involves equally present elements (motto and title, motto and chapter, motto and motto). As a form of commentary, epigraphs shed light on the text they accompany, thus operating in a convergent manner, but their divergent potential should not be underestimated: instead of helping us plod through the plot, mottoes can lead us astray, much like unreliable narrators. Taken as a whole, they form a parallel text, an alternative narrative, where writers sometimes allow themselves to develop a different, paradoxical, poetics. The above-mentioned issues are illustrated with examples from Stendhal, whose Red and Black, arguably the most playful and ironic example of “motto-mania” in French Romantic literature, is reread in light of Roland Barthes’ S/Z.


Motto Quotation Paratext Sign Stendhal Barthes Peirce 

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département de françaisUniversité d’OttawaOttawaCanada

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