"L'espace du roman" refers to the space where the writing of the novel, as well as the reading of it, takes place; but it is also a structure of representation--a descriptive device within the text. In Maupassant's six novels, which are still regarded by the public at large and by many scholars as a form of what Roland Barthes called a "sous-ecriture," spatial structures form a stratified narrative in which the reader may discover several levels of discourse, thus risking semantic ambiguity.
A semiotic approach allows the critic to determine the principles of organization, the modes of production, and the narrative articulation of the text as a coherent system of signs. In this perspective, space is a structure of representation as well as a representation of this structure. To understand the dual function of space, one must explore the text in a two-dimensional axis of contiguity and association. Space is first defined as a "system," a paradigmatic account of thematic motifs such as the voyage, the function of particular objects, the figures of elevation and descent, and so on. It can subsequently be considered as a syntagmatic process in the case study of each novel. While following the chronological order of the works as well as that of each narrative, the reader must maintain a circular perspective, since factors of correspondence and correlation between the texts and within each text are very frequent.
In the light of this analysis, the novel appears to be based on a spatial network encompassing three levels which overlap and undermine one another: the textual dimension, which is the referential space of representation, the intratextual dimension, which is the space where the text refers to its own performance (in particular with the motifs of the letter and the mirror), and finally, the intertexual dimension, the space of literary denotation, where the text refers to other writings. From Une Vie to Notre Coeur, there is a noticeable evolution in the intertextual level as the narrative progressively rids itself of literary references. The intertextual space in Notre Coeur has become "reflexive," since it refers to a completely fictitious novel, the exact replica of itself: reality in literature has become a form of invention.
The mirror images, such as the one mentioned above, exist at all three levels of spatial organization, and reveal a metalinguistic instance in Maupassant's novels. In search of its own (re)construction, the text produces in fact a sort of "sur-ecriture" where space is always in "excess." Unmasking the illusions, yet covering up the transparent messages of the naturalist novel, the very function of space is to associate antithetical elements, to maintain unresolved distances. Like Bel-Ami's one-way mirror, space is both a passage and a reflection, and while entertaining the reader with narcissistic images, it gives him clues concerning not only the making but also the critical reading of the novel.