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The Complete Plays of Jean Racine

Volume 2: Bajazet

Jean Racine

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.

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The Complete Plays of Jean Racine

Volume 3: Iphigenia

Jean Racine and Translated into English rhymed couplets with critical notes and commentary by Geoffrey Alan Argent

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.

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The Complete Plays of Jean Racine

Volume 4: Athaliah

Jean Racine and Translated into English rhymed couplets with critical notes and commentary by Geoffrey Alan Argent

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.

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The Complete Plays of Jean Racine

Volume 5: Britannicus

Jean Racine

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.

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Confronting Evil

The Psychology of Secularization in Modern French Literature

by Scott M. Powers

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.

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Creole Medievalism

Colonial France and Joseph Bédier’s Middle Ages

Michelle R. Warren

Joseph Bédier (1864-1938) was one of the most famous scholars of his day. He held prestigious posts and lectured throughout Europe and the United States, an activity unusual for an academic of his time. A scholar of the French Middle Ages, he translated Tristan and Isolde as well as France's national epic, The Song of Roland. Bédier was publicly committed to French hegemony, yet he hailed from a culture that belied this ideal-the island of Réunion in the southern Indian Ocean.

In Creole Medievalism, Michelle Warren demonstrates that Bédier's relationship to this multicultural and economically peripheral colony motivates his nationalism in complex ways. Simultaneously proud of his French heritage and nostalgic for the island, Bédier defends French sovereignty based on an ambivalent resistance to his creole culture. Warren shows that in the early twentieth century, influential intellectuals from Réunion helped define the new genre of the "colonial novel," adopting a pro-colonial spirit that shaped both medieval and Francophone studies. Probing the work of a once famous but little understood cultural figure, Creole Medievalism illustrates how postcolonial France and Réunion continue to grapple with histories too varied to meet expectations of national unity.

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Crime and Media in Contemporary France

by Deborah Streifford Reisinger

This book examines contemporary French society's relationship with violence in an era of increased media dominance.

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Critic of Civilization

Georges Duhamel and His Writings

L. Clark Keating

As one of the outstanding minds of France, the career of George Duhamel reflects the universal range of his interests. A physician turned poet, playwright, novelist, publicist, critic, and world traveler, Duhamel for half a century has sought as a liberal humanist to defend the moral and aesthetic values of Western civilization against the encroachment of a dehumanizing machine age.

Duhamel first achieved fame as a writer with two eloquent outcries against war in Vie des Martyrs and Civilisation, written while he was a front-line surgeon during World War I. His later plays and novels continued to deal with the search of the individual for identity in contemporary life, especially in the Salavin series and the ten-volume Chronique des Pasquier, his outstanding works of fiction. Among the commentaries on other cultures arising from his travels, Duhamel's scathing criticism of the United States in Scenes de la vie future aroused particular furor.

It is in Duhamel's feeling for humanity, Mr. Keating believes, that one may discover the consistent pattern in Duhamel's work, essentially the passionate reaction of a surgeon-artist to the cruelties of a war-torn world. In this critical biography of Duhamel as writer and thinker, Mr. Keating therefore relates all of Duhamel's many-sided activities to his underlying purpose -- to find a path for individual happiness in the complexities of contemporary life.

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Crossing the Divide

Representations of Deafness in Biography

Rachel M. Hartig

This remarkable volume examines the process by which three deaf, French biographers from the 19th and 20th centuries attempted to cross the cultural divide between deaf and hearing worlds through their work. The very different approach taken by each writer sheds light on determining at what point an individual’s assimilation into society endangers his or her sense of personal identity. Author Hartig begins by assessing the publications of Jean-Ferdinand Berthier (1803–1886). Berthier wrote about Auguste Bébian, Abbé de l’Epée, and Abbé Sicard, all of whom taught at the National Institute for the Deaf in Paris. Although Berthier presented compelling portraits of their entire lives, he paid special attention to their political and social activism, his main interest. Yvonne Pitrois (1880-1937) pursued her particular interest in the lives of deaf-blind people. Her biography of Helen Keller focused on her subject’s destiny in conjunction with her unique relationship with Anne Sullivan. Corinne Rocheleau-Rouleau (1881-1963) recounted the historical circumstances that led French-Canadian pioneer women to leave France. The true value of her work resides in her portraits of these pioneer women: maternal women, warriors, religious women, with an emphasis on their lives and the choices they made. Crossing the Divide reveals clearly the passion these biographers shared for narrating the lives of those they viewed as heroes of an emerging French deaf community. All three used the genre of biography not only as a means of external exploration but also as a way to plumb their innermost selves and to resolve ambivalence about their own deafness.

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Culinary Comedy in Medieval French Literature

by Sarah Gordon

Long before Rabelaisian tales of gargantuan gluttony regaled early modern audiences, and centuries before pie-in-the-face gags enlivened vaudeville slapstick, medieval French poets employed food as a powerful device of humor and criticism.Food and laughter, essential elements in human existence, can be used to question the meaning of cultural conventions concerning the body and sexuality, religion, class hierarchies, and gender relations. This book unites the cultural and literary study of representations of food and consumption with theoretical approaches to comedy, humor, and parody in late twelfth- through early-fourteenth-century French fictional verse narratives of epic chanson de geste, theater, Arthurian verse romance, fabliau, and the beast epic of the Roman de Renart. From socially inept epic heroes to hungry knights-errant and mischievous fabliau housewives, out of the ordinary food usage embodies humor. Some knights prefer fighting with roast chicken or bread loaves rather than their swords. Specific foods such as sausages, lard, pears, nuts, or chickens provoked laughter by their mere presence in a scene. Culinary comedy serves as both social satire and literary parody, playing with institutional social conduct and alimentary codes. Its power lies in its ability to disrupt and to reinforce the same conventions it ridicules.

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