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  • Latin et latinité dans l’œuvre de Léon Bloy
  • M. Martin Guiney
Guyot, Gaëlle. Latin et latinité dans l’œuvre de Léon Bloy. Paris: Champion, 2003. Pp. 546. ISBN2-7453-0716-9

This volume in the series Romantisme et Modernités edited by Alain Montaudon lives up to the high standards characteristic of the Honoré Champion catalog, and is a boon to Bloy scholars. More difficult to assess is its value for those who are not interested in Bloy primarily, but rather in the broader question of the influence of Latin and of Classical and Christian Latinity on French literature. The deep yet narrow focus on one author supports the broader theme, given Bloy's particularly strong and conflicted relationship to Latin in all its manifestations, but also undermines it by failing adequately to address important nineteenth- and twentieth-century debates such as the role of Latin in education, as a sign of literary value, as the disputed province of the Church or of secular institutions.

Parts i and ii concentrate on biographical, linguistic, and stylistic questions, iii and iv on historical and theological themes. Guyot excels at showing that Bloy's distorted [End Page 402] syntax, neologisms, recondite vocabulary, and taste for the grotesque are not simply inventions and quirks of style, but a conscious and systematic defamiliarization of contemporary literary French by exposing its hidden Latinity, the linguistic "other" at its core. The painstaking demonstration of the paradoxical claim that Bloy viewed Latin as incompatible with the pure, "classical" French that nineteenth-century pedagogy glorified as the legitimate heir to Greek and Roman antiquity, is the single most original aspect of Guyot's book. Unfortunately, she concentrates more on presenting detailed evidence in support of her case than doing justice to its implications. While the exhaustiveness of her treatment is admirable, the trees in this case tend to obscure the forest.

The questions Guyot raises are indisputably of great interest, beginning with the ambivalence toward Latin instilled by French schools in their most gifted students. As for many of his contemporaries, Bloy's early exposure to Latin was a disaster. Rhetorical pedagogy in the Jesuit tradition taught students to mimic fragments of Classical authors taken out of context, ostensibly to allow them to think, write, and speak by themselves, but rarely attaining that lofty goal. Bloy's failure to learn or even appreciate Latin set the stage for a "second" classical education, personal rather than institutional. Guyot's meticulous reconstruction of Bloy's early Latin lessons, in-cluding the programmes of primary and secondary education during his childhood and adolescence, followed by his simultaneous rediscovery of Catholic faith and "authentic" Latin culture, constitutes a model study of linguistic and literary apprenticeship.

Though Bloy never could write or even read Latin with ease, it exerted enormous power over his stylistic development and his conception of Christian theology emerging from the soil of a dead and putrefying Classical culture. Guyot shows that Bloy created a highly personal Latin that is neither the Classical archetype of Republican virtue, nor the hieratic sign of God's presence on earth, but rather a varied and flexible medium that, combined with French, more easily expresses a radical esthetic and apocalyptic theology. Her approach is typified by the many lists she has compiled, such as inventories of Bloy's library to establish which Latin texts influenced him most; inventories of his Latin citations, whether from Roman texts, the Vulgate, or from Catholic theology or liturgy; uses of Latinate syntax; and Latinate neologisms from his polemical essays and novels. "Latinisant" is the word used to describe Bloy's style, but its meaning in this context is surprising: far from giving form, clarity, and authority to his prose, Bloy's Latin is "monstrous," another recurring motif. Latin is largely responsible for the strangeness, dislocation, violence, and even deliberate ugliness of his style. Such stylistic qualities raise the difficult question of Bloy's modernity, another interesting avenue that Guyot unfortunately does not adequately explore. For example, similar questions about archaic and modernist esthetics arise concerning the painting of Georges Rouault, itself influenced by Bloy, and Guyot makes a tantalizingly brief mention of...


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