- Œuvres complètes
Gérard Gouvernet has a charming line in understatement. Of Antoinette de Salvan de Saliès, he remarks, for example, that 'la postérité ne l'a pas retenue parmi les grands auteurs français', and, of her Réflexions chrétiennes, that 'cet opuscule n'a pas fait couler beaucoup d'encre'. So what have we been missing? Born in Albi in 1639, Salvan de Saliès died there over ninety years later, and her long life gave rise to a diverse spread of published literary output, mostly in the Mercure de France — one nouvelle historique, a religious work (the Réflexions chrétiennes), twenty-three letters, and a score of poésies de circonstance, as well as to the foundation in 1704 of the Académie des Ricovrati, based on a Paduan model, which saw itself as a 'projet pour une nouvelle secte de philosophes en faveur des dames'. Most immediately accessible is the short story entitled La Comtesse d'Isembourg (1678), an engaging if rather complicated yarn that invites superficial comparison with La Princesse de Clèves, even if on closer inspection the techniques and tonalities often seem more reminiscent of Marguerite de Navarre. In either case, Gouvernet's claim that it contributes to our understanding of the evolution of seventeenth-century prose fiction (despite the somewhat over-stressed evidence afforded of its basis in historical fact) is undeniable. The Christian writing is predominantly Salesian in its emphases, and shows a good degree of biblical familiarity incorporated into the practice of an orthodox, traditional piety. The poetry is the hardest test for the reader, coming over more often than not as laboriously versified prose, and containing a surprising number of hypermetric lines (or perhaps simply mis-transcriptions); whereas the letters meander entertainingly enough through the faits divers of seventeenth-century Albigensian society, with archiepiscopal entries given pride of place. Finally, Salvan de Saliès's musings on certain issues that even today remain contentious, such as the ordination of women to the priesthood, identify her as a figure whose thinking is radical for its date. The editor sums it all up most efficiently in a résumé of the principal themes of the output of 'la viguière d'Albi', whose salient features he identifies as 'l'amour du pays natal, le culte de Louis XIV, des sentiments religieux profonds et un féminisme souriant', and the appearance of this definitive edition of her works is to be welcomed predominantly insofar as they will feed into these four broader areas of study. By the same token, several of the texts would easily [End Page 272] merit an honourable place in an anthology, and the provision of supportive contemporary documentation is undeniably impressive. In other respects, to revert to understatement, the case for a rehabilitation of the entire corpus by virtue of its intrinsic qualities might be harder to promote.