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  • Romans à l’encan: de l’art du boniment dans la littérature au XVIesiècle
  • John Parkin
Romans à l’encan: de l’art du boniment dans la littérature au XVIesiècle. By Ariane Bayle. (Travaux d’Humanisme et Renaissance, 457). Geneva: Droz, 2009. 465 pp. Hb €99.00.

In four long and highly detailed chapters focused particularly on Folengo, Rabelais, Nashe, and Lazarillo de Tormes, Bayle analyses how the bonimenteur figure is exploited by authors of her period. Variously embodied by the narrators of her chosen works, this character marks in his captivating polyvalence a move beyond medieval strictures whereby trickery must needs be denounced, even though his true-life counterparts, such as the town crier, could be officially relegated to an ‘infra-humanité’. Many advantages are seen to derive from the theatricality and orality of the spieler technique, in particular through the interpretative opportunities it opens up for a reader who is made aware, particularly via prefaces, narratorial interventions, and such frankly arbitrary compositions as Rabelais’s Fanfreluches antidotées, how performative and therefore provisional are the books confronting him (Jeanneret and Cave are avowed and fruitful guides). Insolent as he is, the I of these texts forces one to adopt an attitude, and while Bayle may occasionally confuse and conflate reader with narratee, she is most illuminating as she examines how moral certainties are shaken by a rascal figure who seeks justification via the pleasure rather than instruction that he affords, even if no author will exempt himself at this time from the obligation to speak in some way truly: what results, as she rightly claims, is an esthétique de l’énigme evident in a whole span of writers. Hence — and fortunately, in view of her 465 pages — the investigation is in no way limited to four specific authors: among an ever widening range of material we encounter Boccaccio’s stories and storytellers, Michel Menot’s sermons, Ariosto’s Erbolato (compared illuminatingly with Rabelais’s Tiers livre), Des Périers’s contes, and the Satyre ménippée, all examined in relation to Bayle’s prime thesis whereby writer and author, transposed into speaker and audience, connive to undermine straightforward allegory and exemplarity while still retaining an awareness of serious norms, found, for example, in respect for the Bible, the importance of good humour, and the value of our own fascinated relationship with a self-consciously and openly misleading storyteller. She may at times allow her admiration for the latter’s improvised prose to infect her own compositional technique, as when some passages revert almost to note form, with sentences that run into one another and are vitiated by uneven grammar, accentuation, and spelling; and although actual misquotation (for example, Nashe on p. 394) is extremely rare, academicians might still jib when they find lumière and légèreté switching gender (pp. 167, 352), compatriots of Nashe be affronted to have Kitchener confused with Uncle Sam (p. 116), and anyone at all surprised to encounter an ‘idéolologie religieuse corrompue’ (p. 346) alongside ‘des dissimimulateurs aussi obscurs que les ténèbres’ (p. 329). Still, however frequent, such flaws need not destroy the value of a highly rich, deeply researched, and stimulating contribution. [End Page 341]

John Parkin
University of Bristol


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