- A Singular Duality: Literary Relations Between France and England in the Eighteenth Century
It is increasingly acknowledged that the literatures of France and England developed side by side in the long eighteenth century. Indeed, recent research has moved beyond an examination of responses to the [End Page 127] work of canonical writers such as Richardson in France and Rousseau in England to painting a more complex picture of cross-channel exchange and interchange, in which foreign authors long forgotten are shown to have played an important role in the development of national literatures. The importance of translation as one step in the process of dissemination of foreign texts has proved to be a rich field of enquiry, as literary historians and feminist critics attend to the work of now forgotten women translators, or indeed examine the translations of authors now best known for their non-translated works. Alongside these concerns in literary studies, an extensive body of work has developed on the history of the book in the eighteenth century, in which the material culture of the text has been explored by historians. Here, too, the story is rarely a national one: as James Raven points out on the second page of his recent The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade, 'the history of books should not be constrained by false national perspectives, and especially not by domestic book production rates. The book was, and is, an international commodity.' It is against the background of these developments in scholarship, and acknowledging his debt to them, that Robert J. Frail contributes his own work on this crucial period for both French and English literature.
His book consists of nine separate chapters or essays, the diversity of which calls for their individual enumeration. The first, 'Chez les Bouquinistes: Dutch Publishers and English Novels', explores the importance of the Dutch publishing houses in the dissemination of English texts via French translation. Chapter 2 gives a survey of English memoir fiction in French translation between 1740 and 1790, focusing on its influence on native French writers. Chapter 3 is on the teaching of Les Liaisons dangereuses, and in particular on the use of translations, film versions, and adaptations in the American classroom. The fourth chapter, on France and the American Revolution, is organized into subdivisions which mirror the seventeen articles of La Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen (1789). It includes several useful timelines mapping the events leading up to the Revolution, and emphasizes contemporary relevance to American politics through the inclusion of 'Article Sixteen: The 2000 Presidential Election'. Chapter 5 concentrates on the presentation of Paris in La Religieuse, pointing out Diderot's debt to Richardson's Clarissa and the French translation Clarissa Harlowe, and highlighting the controversial subject matter of Diderot's text, a film version of which was banned under Charles de Gaulle's administration in 1965. Chapter 6 uses feminist readings of conduct literature and the female-authored memoir novel in a discussion of Frances Sheridan's Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph. [End Page 128] Chapter 7 gives a useful overview of the reception of Shakespeare in eighteenth-century France, pointing out that his fate at the hands of French translators and adaptors is not dissimilar to the eighteenth-century 'aberrations' that appeared in England, thus raising interesting questions about the nature of eighteenth-century taste. The final chapters are readings of two canonical texts, Rousseau's Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse, given its rightful place as the eighteenth-century bestseller, and Montesquieu's Lettres persanes, characterized as having striking relevance in the current political climate in the USA.
It will be apparent from the above summary that not all of the essays explore literary relations between France and England in the eighteenth century, and indeed in pointing to this topic Frail's subtitle may lead the reader to expect quite a different book from what we have. Frail's foreword stresses that the collection is...