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  • The Would-be Author: Molière and the Comedy of Print by Michael Call
  • Noel Peacock
The Would-be Author: Molière and the Comedy of Print. By Michael Call. (Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures, 63.) West Lafayette, VA: Purdue University Press, 2015. viii + 292 pp.

The myth concerning Molière’s lack of interest in the publication of his plays has been subjected to critical scrutiny in the last thirty years, particularly in studies by Roger Chartier (Publishing Drama in Early Modern Europe (London: British Library, 1999)) and Alain Viala (La Naissance de l’écrivain (Paris: Minuit, 1985)), with regard to early modern publishing and notions of authorship, and by C. E. J. Caldicott, who sees Molière’s struggle for independence from a bookseller cartel as evidence of his ‘modernity’ (La Carrière de Molière entre protecteurs et éditeurs (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998)). In this first full-length study of Molière’s authorial strategies and his interaction with the seventeenth-century Parisian publishing industry, Michael Call explores the many paradoxes and contradictions in his subject. The study is framed in a double enigma. The Introduction, entitled ‘The Death of the Author’, sets out the parameters: how Molière as the manager of a polyvocal theatrical enterprise sought to make himself into an author and owner of ‘ce corpus que nous connaissons si bien’ (pp. 8, 21). The Afterword, entitled ‘The Death of the Actor’, examines the 1682 edition of Molière’s Œuvres, with its quasi-hagiographical presentation of Molière as the single and original cause and guarantor of the authenticity of the text, a claim whose fiction is supported by the inclusion of Guillaume Marcoureau de Brécourt’s encomiastic L’Ombre de Molière. The synchronic analysis of writers and writing (Chapter 1) identifies three distinct groups: the pedants and philosophers; amateur writers who lack professional training but who exploit the cultural capital of their literary output; and the professionals who seek to make a career out of writing. Against these created writers, and seventeenth-century dictionary definitions of ‘écrivain’ and ‘auteur’, which give evidence of the dynamic struggle between competing aesthetic ideologies, Call teases out the problematic posed by the authorial image of the Molières on stage and the empirical writer, who himself takes the form of an invented character, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. The remaining chapters trace diachronically the evolution of Molière’s literary career: the publication histories of the first [End Page 595] three published plays, which signal Molière’s increasing attempts at authorial control over his work in the face of piratical libraires (Chapter 2), an ownership that he continued to establish during the Querelle de L’École des femmes (Chapter 3), in which he brought together the two worlds of literature and theatre, and which critics, both then and now, have often kept hermetically sealed. Molière’s split with his former publishers in 1666 (Chapter 4), and the exploitative recourse in the first edition of Le Misanthrope to former adversaries demonstrates a reversal in Molière’s attitude to reception and publication. (The adversaries were Jean Ribou, the libraire who had stolen Molière’s first two published plays and Donneau de Visé, whose sixteen-page laudatory preface contrasted with his adversarial approach to L’École des femmes.) Chapter 5, which focuses largely on Psyché, illustrates the contrapuntal relationship between the collaborative authors and the text, and Molière’s awareness of the ‘contingency and limits of authorship’ (p. 227). Call’s subtle, illuminating study is a stimulating contribution to Molière bibliography and to our knowledge of the French book trade in the mid-seventeenth century.

Noel Peacock
University of Glasgow


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pp. 595-596
Launched on MUSE
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