- Narrative Worlds: Essays on the Nouvelle in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century France, and: Conversation and Storytelling in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century French Nouvelles
Both books under review contribute to our understanding of nouvelles from fifteenth- and sixteenth-century France, highlighting the complex relation of this relatively new genre to realism, dialogism, and the search for truth in texts that insist on their veracity while often simultaneously pointing to their artificiality as literary constructs.
The collection of essays titled Narrative Worlds: Essays on the Nouvelle in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century France, edited by Gary Ferguson and David La Guardia, explores and problematizes definitions of the nouvelle genre by examining various issues related to realism, verisimilitude, and truth in these texts of short fiction. In their introduction, the editors offer an excellent overview of the critical reception of the genre, including its early neglect by scholars, as well as attempts at definitions and searches for origins when the nouvelle finally began to be taken seriously. The central concern is the genre's relation to realism, which has been the main focus of scholarship, and which contributions to this volume seek to complicate by introducing terms that question the genre's "ready association with the 'real'" and that reveal "the extent to which the 'truth' of the nouvelle is bound up with the fantastic, the phantasmic, the fictional" (8). Contributors use a range of approaches (historical, psychoanalytic, narratological, poststructuralist, sociocritical, feminist, and queer) on a number of different stories.
The first essay, by Emily Thomson, problematizes the relationship between verisimilitude and the nouvelle by exploring the use of animal tales in Bonaventure des Périers's Nouvelles récréations et joyeux devis. Tom Conley then juxtaposes the Nouvelles récréations and the Discours non plus melancoliques que divers (also attributed to Bonaventure des Périers), examining the graphic, grammatical, and geographical landscape of these texts in order to plot the construction of a French national and linguistic space in these "book-maps." Richard L. Regosin focuses on questions of imitation in Noël du Fail's Propos rustiques, showing the way in which this text mimics and parodies the generation and circulation of discourse in the novella. Floyd Gray's essay examines the way the author's (unknown) identity and gender affects our readings of the problematic presentation of women and sexuality in the Comptes amoureux par Madame Jeanne Flore. Three articles focus on the complexities of gender relations in Marguerite de Navarre's Heptaméron: Gary Ferguson analyzes issues of power and gender inversion in Marguerite de Navarre's rewriting of the story of the murder of Alessandro de' Medici in nouvelle 12, while John O'Brien examines discourses concerning widowhood and Marguerite de Navarre's contribution to a more feminine historiography through witnessing and [End Page 535] fiction, and David La Guardia examines Marguerite's feminist revision of stories of the one-eyed cuckold, which he sees as the result of a collective male fear fantasy designed to dominate women. In the last essay, Deborah N. Losse examines the thematics of change and constancy, (self-)knowledge and illusion, particularly in relation to the role of gender in the "phantasmic reflections" on the opposite sex by male and female storytellers in Le Printemps d'Yver.
Kathleen Loysen's book, Conversation and Storytelling in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century French Nouvelles, provides a useful study of orality, literacy, and the representation of speech in four collections of framed tales from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that explore questions of truth, representation, and referentiality. She uses a theoretical framework taken mostly from narratology and discourse analysis to look at the alternating structures of storytelling and conversation in these texts and to consider...