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Reviewed by:
  • Contes
  • Robin Howells
Claude Crébillon: Contes. Edited by Régine Jomand-Baudry with Véronique Costa and Violaine Géraud. (Bibliothèque des génies et des fées, 17; Sources classiques, 90). Paris: Honoré Champion, 2009. 1095 pp. Hb €160.

The artiste formerly known as Crébillon fils, in deference to his father the great tragedian, is now designated simply as Crébillon. This reflects our general [End Page 348] promotion of eighteenth-century prose fiction, the subaltern genre that he practised. A more substantial mark of distinction was the recent publication of his Œuvres complètes, in an excellent four-volume critical edition directed by Jean Sgard (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 1999–2002). Although Crébillon is probably best known for his unfinished novel Les Égarements du cœur et de l’esprit, his literary and historical significance may lie more in the domain of the tale. With the extraordinary Tanzaï et Néadarné — mock-oriental, preposterous, satirical, and libertine — Crébillon founds a new subgenre. This Champion volume, offering critical editions of his tales, is one of three tomes grouped under the collective rubric Contes parodiques et licencieux (1730–1754). These in turn are part of a Champion series in no less than twenty-one volumes, which takes into its scholarly embrace almost the total published production of marvellous tales from 1690 (the first fairy tale) to 1789. The overall title of this valuable enterprise, ‘Bibliothèque des génies et des fées’, recalls that of the original and still more vast anthology Le Cabinet des fées (1785–89). That late Enlightenment compendium, however, excluded the indecent tales of Crébillon, which are now not only admitted but for the first time gathered as a corpus in a single volume.

Régine Jomand-Baudry’s General Introduction offers a good overview of the literary characteristics of the conte crébillonien (hybridity, reflexivity, free play within a generic narrative structure), although there could have been more on thematics (inexhaustible exhibition and moral analysis of the amorous relation within le monde). She shows too that Crébillon’s originality was quickly recognized, and that his earlier tales were influential not only in France but also, more surprisingly, in England and Germany. The volume contains four works — Le Sylphe, Tanzaï et Néadarné (known also as L’Écumoire), Le Sopha, and Ah quel conte! — with the doubtful attribution Atalzaide added in an Appendix. Each is accompanied by a substantial critical apparatus: editor’s introduction, footnotes, variants, a precise description of early editions; and, finally, summaries of the stories, glossaries of characters, a secondary bibliography, and an index nominorum for the volume. How does this compare with the editions of the contes in Classiques Garnier? Both modernize the spelling. In two cases (Le Sylphe and Tanzaï) different base-texts are used. Garnier includes an early manuscript version of Ah, quel conte! (edited, like the work itself in both series, by Jomand-Baudry). Garnier alone has a chronology, and very usefully a dossier on the contemporary reception of each work. But Champion alone has summaries and indexes (helpful for the more freewheeling works). Champion offers all the tales together, but in a volume that is unwieldy and very expensive. Classiques Garnier has them scattered across several volumes, but the presentation is more elegant, and of course one finds there all Crébillon’s prose fiction. However, rather shockingly, at the time of writing all the Classiques Garnier volumes seem to be already out of print, which makes the new Champion edition of the Contes the more valuable.

Robin Howells
Birkbeck, University of London


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