Furetière’s ‘Roman bourgeois’ and the Problem of Exchange: Titular Economies by Craig Moyes (review)
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Furetière’s ‘Roman bourgeois’ and the Problem of Exchange: Titular Economies. By Craig Moyes. (Research Monographs in French Studies, 34.) Oxford: Legenda, 2013. x + 157 pp.

Antoine Furetière’s Roman bourgeois (1666) has always puzzled its readers. The lack of a coherent structure, the absence of a hero or heroine, the large part played by various heterogeneous lists and compilations have caused confusion as to its place in the history of the novel and have generally led to its being pigeonholed — inappropriately — as either a satire on the heroic novel that dominated the thirty years preceding its publication, or an adumbration of nineteenth-century realism. Although it has benefited in recent years from analysis much less obsessed with ‘classicism’ and ‘realism’, Antoine Adam’s famous judgement, in volume iv of his Histoire de la littérature française au xviie siècle (Paris: Del Luca, 1958), that it did not even bear witness to a moment in literary history still casts a long shadow. In earlier work Craig Moyes has suggested that the essential point of focus in any consideration of Le Roman bourgeois had to be the fall of Nicolas Fouquet and the fundamental change in the nature of artistic exchange that followed. In the present study he expands and develops his thesis in many directions. Having been struck by a ‘sustained lexical riff on title’ (p. 2) and an unusual focus on literary and social economies, he sets out to investigate the significance of this antanaclasis and is drawn towards Furetière’s Dictionnaire universel (1690) — inevitably perhaps, since Furetière was primarily a lexicographer rather than a novelist. The dictionary contains fourteen definitions of titre, drawn from fields as diverse as typography, legal and social rights, and hunting: all but three of these, together with other headwords prompted by the text of the novel — mécénas, monnoye, nom — provide the points de départ for an exercise in sociocritical and literary triangulation. Although this highlighting of the connection between Le Roman bourgeois and the Dictionnaire universel is not new, it provides a stream of stimulating insights, taking the argument far beyond the intertextuality that is usually the limit of critical concern in this area. A chapter on ‘Numismatics’, for instance, moves easily from Furetière’s satire of bourgeois marriage as a model of social and financial exchange, encapsulated in the ‘Tariffe des partis sortables’, by way of the décri of monetary (but also [End Page 394] literary) value, to the linguistic ‘gold standard’ that the Académie intended to establish with its dictionary, so alien to Furetière’s own aims. Another, headed ‘Gifts’, dealing primarily with Mythophilacte’s catalogue of books in which ‘the titles have literally taken over the text’ (p. 129), scrutinizes the complexities of the relationships embedded in patronage, that most vital element in seventeenth-century literary exchange — commercial value, ceremonial gift exchange, disinterested gesture, the currency of glory. Not all will agree with Moyes’s methods or with some of his conclusions, but his argument that the fall of Fouquet, though not directly addressed in Le Roman bourgeois, is the stimulus for Furetière’s multiple treatments of the literary, social, and financial economies of his day, is persuasive and has thrown a welcome new light on many of the puzzling aspects of the novel.

Mark Bannister
Oxford Brookes University