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Reviewed by:
  • Aux origines du poème en prose français (1750-1850)
  • Catherine Witt
Vincent-Munnia, Nathalie, Simone Bernard-Griffiths, and Robert Pickering, eds. Aux origines du poème en prose français (1750-1850). Paris: Honoré Champion, 2003. Pp. 620. ISBN2-7453-0660-X

Literary scholars view Baudelaire's Petits poèmes en prose (1869) as a seminal work that both crystallizes the generic identity of the modern prose poem and connects the precursory experiments of the Romantic poets with those later undertaken by the Symbolists. [End Page 149] However, it is also widely acknowledged that the prose poem emerged long before Baudelaire's time. Initially coined to designate prose epics in the style of Fénelon's Aventures de Télémaque (1699), the term poème en prose rapidly became associated with a variety of "unorthodox" literary practices such as novels and translations. By the mid-eighteenth century, this association resulted in the pervasive infiltration of the concept into the discursive spheres of poetry and æsthetics: it is notably invoked in Du Bos' Réflexions critiques sur la poésie et la peinture (1719), Jaucourt's article for the Encyclopédie (1765), and Marmontel's Essai sur les romans (1772).

Positing a direct lineage between the classical epic in prose and the modern prose poem, the editors of this collection envision a history of the genre for the period spanning 1750 to 1850. The volume comprises forty contributions (most of which are by specialists in the field), and abounds in stimulating essays on literary works and topics typically ignored by critics. As such, it will surely become a scholarly reference for those interested in the poetic effervescence that followed the breakdown of Classicism. Missing, however, is a critical introduction conceptualizing the relations between the classical and the romantic prose poem in terms other than an impressionistic genealogy. As it stands, the preface gives a cursory and sometimes inaccurate summary of the contributions, foregrounding Fénelon, Chateaubriand, and Bertrand as key figures in the genre's chronological development. The editors' ostensible reluctance to break away from diachronic interpretative models is all the more surprising since many contributors provide them with the critical avenues to do so. Marc-Mathieu Münch, for instance, makes a case for an æsthetic approach to the prose poem, while Adriano Marchetti outlines an ontological hermeneutics based on Aristotelian conceptions of reflexivity and musicality.

Part One, "Poésie et prose," which heeds the poetic investment of prose in the eighteenth century, begins with Jacques-Philippe Saint-Gérand's lexicological analysis of the syntagma poème en prose. In the subsequent survey of the Journal encyclopédique, Jacques Wagner reveals the extent to which, by the 1750s, versified poetry had become anathema to the spirit of Enlightenment. The next grouping of essays identifies instances of new poetic practices distinctive to the prose epic: cadence and harmony in Fénelon's Télémaque (Jean Foyard); the metapoetic value of the burlesque in Cazotte's Ollivier (Christian Leroy); the semantic and cultural modernity of Marmontel's Les Incas (Sylvain Menant); and the biblical intertext of Dugat's La Mort d'Azaël (Max Milner). A second section, devoted to the influence of new translation practices, attends to various adaptations of Ossian's verse both in Italian (Catherine O'Brien) and in French (Michel Bellot-Antony and Dany Hadjadj). The third section theorizes the relation between poetry and the arts. Robert Pickering explores the impact of new conceptions of phenomenal spatiality on the re-thinking of poetic space, while Gérard Loubinoux re-situates the question of poetic lyricism within the Querelle opposing Gluck and Piccinni. The fourth section examines the renewal of descriptive prose in light of a nascent pre-romantic sensibility. Here, case studies include analyses of the literal / corporeal manifestations of peripatetic thought in the Rêveries (Michel Philippon); the interplay between analytic and lyrical discourse in the first Promenade (Roger Barny); Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's ethnographic descriptions (Gabriel-Robert Thibault); the [End Page 150] breakdown of classical mimetic codes in Senancour's Oberman (Barbara Wright); and the function of Chateaubriand's tableaux in operating the shift from poetic prose...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1536-0172
Print ISSN
0146-7891
Pages
pp. 149-152
Launched on MUSE
2005-11-14
Open Access
No
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