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Area and Ethnic Studies > French Studies
Told in an elegant style, Jean de la Fontaines (1621-95) charming animal fables depict sly foxes and scheming cats, vain birds and greedy wolves, all of which subtly express his penetrating insights into French society and the beasts found in all of us. Norman R. Shapiro has been translating La Fontaines fables for over twenty years, capturing the original works lively mix of plain and archaic language. This newly complete translation is destined to set the English standard for this work
Volume 2: Bajazet
This is the second volume of a projected translation into English of all twelve of Jean Racine’s plays—only the third time such a project has been undertaken in the three hundred years since Racine’s death. For this new translation, Geoffrey Alan Argent has taken a fresh approach: he has rendered these plays in rhymed “heroic” couplets. While Argent’s translation is faithful to Racine’s text and tone, his overriding intent has been to translate a work of French literature into a work of English literature, substituting for Racine’s rhymed alexandrines (hexameters) the English mode of rhymed iambic pentameters, a verse form particularly well suited to the highly charged urgency of Racine’s drama and the coiled strength of his verse.
Complementing the translation are the illuminating Discussion, intended as much to provoke discussion as to provide it, and the extensive Notes and Commentary, which clarify obscure references, explicate the occasional gnarled conceit, and offer their own fresh and thought-provoking insights.
Bajazet, Racine’s seventh play, first given in 1672, is based on events that had taken place in the Sultan’s palace in Istanbul a mere thirty years earlier. But the twilit, twisting passageways of the Seraglio merely serve as a counterpart to the dim and errant moral sense of the play’s four protagonists: Bajazet, the Sultan’s brother; Atalide, Bajazet’s secret lover; Roxane, the Sultaness, who is madly in love with Bajazet and dangles over his head the death sentence the Sultan has ordered her to implement in his absence; and Akhmet, the wily, well-intentioned Vizier, who involves them all in an imbroglio in the Seraglio, with disastrous consequences. Unique among Racine’s plays, Bajazet provides no moral framework for either protagonists or audience. We watch as these benighted characters, cut adrift from any moral moorings, with no upright character at hand to serve as an ethical anchor and no religious or societal guidelines to serve as a lifeline, flail, flounder, and finally drag one another down. Here, Racine has presented us with his four most mercilessly observed, most subtly delineated, and most ambiguously fascinating characters. Indeed, Bajazet is certainly Racine’s most undeservedly neglected tragedy.
Volume 3: Iphigenia
This is the third volume of a projected translation into English of all twelve of Jean Racine’s plays—only the third time such a project has been undertaken. For this new translation, Geoffrey Alan Argent has rendered these plays in the verse form that Racine might well have used had he been English: namely, the “heroic” couplet. Argent has exploited the couplet’s compressed power and flexibility to produce a work of English literature, a verse drama as gripping in English as Racine’s is in French. Complementing the translation are the illuminating Discussion, intended as much to provoke discussion as to provide it, and the extensive Notes and Commentary, which offer their own fresh and thought-provoking insights. In Iphigenia, his ninth play, Racine returns to Greek myth for the first time since Andromache. To Euripides’s version of the tale he adds a love interest between Iphigenia and Achilles. And dissatisfied with the earlier resolutions of the Iphigenia myth (her actual death or her eleventh-hour rescue by a dea ex machina), Racine creates a wholly original character, Eriphyle, who, in addition to providing an intriguing new denouement, serves the dual dramatic purpose of triangulating the love interest and galvanizing the wholesome “family values” of this play by a jolt of supercharged passion.
Volume 4: Athaliah
As Voltaire famously opined, Athaliah, Racine’s last play, is “perhaps the greatest masterwork of the human spirit.” Its formidable antagonists, Athaliah, queen of Judah, and Jehoiada, high priest of the temple of Jerusalem, are engaged in a deadly struggle for dominion: she, fiercely determined to maintain her throne and exterminate the detested race of David; he, no less fiercely determined to overthrow this heathen queen and enthrone the orphan Joash, the scion of the house of David, whom Athaliah believes she slew as an infant ten years earlier. This boy represents the sole hope for the survival of the royal race from which is to spring the Christ. But in this play, even God is more about hate and retribution than about love and mercy. This is the fourth volume of a projected translation into English of all twelve of Jean Racine’s plays—only the third time such a project has been undertaken. For this new translation, Geoffrey Alan Argent has rendered these plays in the verse form that Racine might well have used had he been English: namely, the “heroic” couplet. Argent has exploited the couplet’s compressed power and flexibility to produce a work of English literature, a verse drama as gripping in English as Racine’s is in French. Complementing the translation are the illuminating Discussion, intended as much to provoke discussion as to provide it, and the extensive Notes and Commentary, which offer their own fresh and thought-provoking insights.
Volume 5: Britannicus
This is the fifth volume of a projected translation into English of all twelve of Jean Racine’s plays. Geoffrey Alan Argent’s translations faithfully convey all the urgency and keen psychological insight of Racine’s dramas, and the coiled strength of his verse, while breathing new vigor into the time-honored form of the “heroic” couplet. Complementing this translation are the Discussion and the Notes and Commentary—particularly detailed and extensive for this volume, Britannicus being by far Racine’s most historically informed play. Also noteworthy is Argent’s reinstatement of an eighty-two-line scene, originally intended to open Act III, that has never before appeared in an English translation of this play. Racine’s Britannicus dramatizes a day in the life of Emperor Nero that would eventually change the course of Roman history. Agrippina, the widow of the recently deceased emperor Claudius, has manipulated subsequent events so that her son, Nero, would succeed to the throne ahead of his stepbrother, and Rome’s true heir, Britannicus. In Nero, Racine has created a character who embodies, but also engenders, the infamous qualities of the Roman Empire: its cruelty, its depravity, its refined barbarity. Overcoming his mother, his wife, Octavia, his tutors, and his vaunted “three virtuous years,” Nero makes his move to demonstrate his omnipotence, destroying his innocent stepbrother.
The Cold War between the United States and the Communists in France and Italy
Fierce and cunning in their Cold War anti-American propaganda, the French and Italian Communists identified capitalist oppression with American domination. Pressed by this resilient internal opposition from within two core Western allies, the United States did not limit itself to tactical countermeasures. It also constantly reassessed the very meaning of American liberal capitalist culture and ideology. CONFRONTING AMERICA looks not only at Italian and French Communist resistance to Americanization, but also at an America that confronted itself, its own foreign policy, social structure, and overall culture. This psychological impact was particularly intense because the French and Italian Communist parties (PCF and PCI) were deeply rooted in Western culture, and, given their strength, they could not be dismissed simply as anomalies. At crucial junctures, America’s struggle with Western European Communism took on the same universal and sometimes apocalyptic connotations as its conflict with the Soviet Union. Using new archival evidence from Communist archives in France and Italy, as well as repositories in the US, this study emphasizes the interconnection of political, economic, and diplomatic aspects with cultural and ideological constructs.
The Psychology of Secularization in Modern French Literature
Confronting Evil: The Psychology of Secularization in Modern French Literature holds that the concept of evil is central to the psychology of secularism. Drawing on notions of secularization as a phenomenon of ambivalence or dualism in which religion continues to exist alongside secularity in exerting influence on modern French thought, author Scott M. Powers enlists psychoanalytic theory on mourning and sublimation, the philosophical concept of the sublime, Charles Taylor’s theory of religious and secular “cross-pressures,” and William James’s psychology of conversion to account for the survival of religious themes in Baudelaire, Zola, Huysmans, and Céline. For Powers, Baudelaire’s prose poems, Zola’s experimental novels, and Huysmans’s and Céline’s early narratives attempt to account for evil by redefining the traditionally religious concept along secular lines. However, when unmitigated by the mechanisms of irony and sublimation, secular confrontation with the dark and seemingly absurd dimension of man leads modern writers such as Huysmans and Céline, paradoxically, to embrace a religious or quasi-religious understanding of good and evil. In the end, Powers finds that how authors cope with the reality of suffering and human wickedness has a direct bearing on the ability to sustain a secular vision.
Emotions, Publicity, and Legal Culture in Marseille, 1264–1423
In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the ideas and practices of justice in Europe underwent significant change as procedures were transformed and criminal and civil caseloads grew apace. Drawing on the rich judicial records of Marseille from the years 1264 to 1423, especially records of civil litigation, this book approaches the courts of law from the perspective of the users of the courts (the consumers of justice) and explains why men and women chose to invest resources in the law.
Daniel Lord Smail shows that the courts were quickly adopted as a public stage on which litigants could take revenge on their enemies. Even as the new legal system served the interest of royal or communal authority, it also provided the consumers of justice with a way to broadcast their hatreds and social sanctions to a wider audience and negotiate their own community standing in the process. The emotions that had driven bloodfeuds and other forms of customary vengeance thus never went away, and instead were fully incorporated into the new procedures.
Constructing Families in Modern France
This groundbreaking study examines complex notions of paternity and fatherhood in modern France through the lens of contested paternity. Drawing from archival judicial records on paternity suits, paternity denials, deprivation of paternity, and adoption, from the end of the eighteenth century through the twentieth, Rachel G. Fuchs reveals how paternity was defined and how it functioned in the culture and experiences of individual men and women. She addresses the competing definitions of paternity and of families, how public policy toward paternity and the family shifted, and what individuals did to facilitate their personal and familial ideals and goals. Issues of paternity and the family have broad implications for an understanding of how private acts were governed by laws of the state. Focusing on paternity as a category of family history, Contested Paternity emphasizes the importance of fatherhood, the family, and the law within the greater context of changing attitudes toward parental responsibility.