- Forgetting Differences: Tragedy, Historiography, and the French Wars of Religion by Andrea Frisch
Andrea Frisch’s latest monograph is an exciting and very welcome addition to studies on French historiography and theatrical tragedy. Focused on the period from 1560 to 1630, this book traces the impact of what Frisch calls the ‘rhetoric of amnesia’ (p. 2) to show how historiographers and tragic playwrights upheld, negotiated, or subverted the royal policy of oubliance. Rather than comparing the events of the religious wars with the ways in which writers represented them, Frisch examines the works’ paratexts and forms, and rhetorical strategies that their authors utilized to ‘move’—both emotionally and physically—their readers (and perhaps spectators). Frisch also chooses to approach the topic from the point of view of ‘high’ literary culture of the period, although the distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ are not always clear. The study is divided into five chapters with a conclusion. Chapter 1 serves as the Introduction and teases out the notion and stakes of oubliance—a term that Frisch uses throughout the book—by using André de Nesmond’s 1600 [End Page 641] remonstrance, titled ‘L’Amnestie, ou l’assoupissement des injures passées’, as a guide to the ‘art’ of forgetting, ‘one that requires a new art of memory’ (p. 12). Chapter 2 analyses the legislative discourse of royal edicts of pardon and pacification in the light of the Reformation to demonstrate how the crown re-oriented and reframed the French past and its present, particularly once Henri IV, a former Huguenot, acceded to the throne of a Catholic France. In Chapter 3, Frisch turns to debates on historiographical methodology to elucidate the new ways in which writers such as Henri Lancelot Voisin de La Popelinière and Pierre Matthieu recounted their recent, violent past. The last part of the chapter considers history as tragedy and charts the shift, in mid-seventeenth-century France, between emotion and action in regard to the civil wars. This line of argument continues into Chapter 4, which investigates ‘polemical’ and ‘conciliatory’ tragedies, as well as theoretical writings about tragedy by Pierre Matthieu, Robert Garnier, Jean de La Taille, Jacques Grévin, François de Chantelouve, and others. Chapter 5, titled ‘From Emotion to Affect’, contrasts sixteenth-century tragedy, which tended to be based on an emotional proximity between the historical events and the audience’s reality—emotions that risked spilling into the real world, beyond the space of representation—, with ‘neoclassical’ seventeenth-century tragedy by playwrights such as Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine, which fostered (spatial and/or temporal) distance all the while maintaining an emotional intensity that was contained within the spectacle. This last chapter’s title and overall argument, however, remains a bit vague for, although Frisch provides convincing arguments throughout the book for the important roles that emotions play in the texts under scrutiny, the term ‘affect’, a very charged and complex theoretical concept, is not sufficiently explained. Further, a more complete index and a bibliography would have been helpful. Despite these criticisms, scholars and students of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century French studies, working both within and outside the fields of historiography and tragedy, will certainly find this stimulating and timely book useful and valuable.