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Reviewed by:
  • Urban Poetics in the French Renaissance
  • David Cowling
Urban Poetics in the French Renaissance. By Elisabeth Hodges. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008. viii + 154 pp. Hb £50.00.

Elisabeth Hodges's Urban Poetics in the French Renaissance sets out to explore the genesis of the modern individual in relation to 'place, territory, land, and nation' at a moment when French cities such as Paris and Lyon were becoming privileged locations for the development of 'a new cosmopolitan identity' and, with it, a 'nascent national consciousness'. Rather than study the representation of specific buildings or locations in such cities in literary texts, Hodges prefers to consider the theoretical significance of the city, and of place more generally, in the formation of the individual autonomous subject. Aligning her work with the 'spatial turn' in recent literary criticism (a term coined in 2001 by David Harvey), Hodges draws on a range of modern theorists who have engaged with the role of space as a signifying practice that participates in the creation and location of the subject while laudably attempting to avoid the temptation of 'conscripting the early modern subject into a teleological narrative that privileges modern notions of subjectivity'. Such a broad and stimulating prospectus calls for something of a tour de force of methodological rigour and sustained focus that Urban [End Page 81] Poetics in the French Renaissance does not, however, manage to deliver. On the most basic level, the book is peppered with typographical, bibliographical, syntactical and, indeed, morphological inaccuracies that suggest, despite the claim in the acknowledgements that the manuscript has been 'painstakingly proofed', that the text has received no attention whatsoever prior to publication. It is particularly baffling to note that, in the chapter devoted to Gilles Corrozet, parts of which appeared in French Studies in 2008 (LXII, 135 – 49), errors that had evidently been corrected for the journal piece appear in uncorrected form in the book. Of the four substantive chapters, that on Corrozet, which studies the Fleur des antiquitez de Paris and the Cathalogue des villes et citez assises es troys Gaulles as a form of portable 'lieu de mémoire' designed to inspire municipal and national pride among an – initially – exclusively Parisian public, is the strongest, despite its unsuccessful attempt to read significance into stock woodcut images of city views and its bizarre claim, in the context of a discussion of the later dissemination of Corrozet's work, that an owner named Jan Van Reck was a Spaniard. Other chapters (Hodges provides no explanation of the criteria used to select her corpus) are devoted to François Villon and the journal-writing bourgeois de Paris, both of whom, Hodges argues, present Paris as a domain of individual experience that produces distinctively 'urbane' subjects, to Maurice Scéve's Saulsaye, which Hodges sees as a critique of the pastoral genre with its (false?) dichotomy between city and country, and to Montaigne's engagement with the urban spaces of Paris and Rome. While this volume contains much that is potentially of value to those interested in the relationship between subjectivity and urban space in the Renaissance period and beyond, its numerous deficiencies will unfortunately try the patience of all but the most determined readers.

David Cowling
Durham University