- Études littéraires: Ronsard, Molière, Bossuet, Racine, Rousseau, Chateaubriand, Apollinaire
It is hard to know what to make of this book. The beguiling title leads one to expect a rather old-fashioned series of essays by a generalist ready to show his prowess along a wide swathe of French literature. This expectation is only strengthened by the subtitle, which lists seven authors from Ronsard to Apollinaire. But the illusion does not survive the opening pages. While promising ‘l’explication attentive des textes’, René Pommier adds that he will also undertake ‘la réfutation des interprétations qui [. . .] trahissent’ their author; indeed, that refutation will take a virulent form, since he confesses to ‘l’impérieux besoin de pourfendre ces imposteurs’ (p. 8). In brief, this will be a polemical work, inspired by ‘une grande colère’ (p. 8). This intention becomes clearer when one realizes that the book is unevenly divided: twelve articles in Section I are on diverse matters, whereas the single one in Section II is devoted to one author — an all-out offensive on Roland Barthes and his Sur Racine. For our author, Barthes and ‘la nouvelle critique’ have laid waste all that they have touched, in a monumental set of misinterpretations, whether on Ronsard, Bossuet, La Fontaine, Apollinaire, or, above all, Racine. This assault is conducted in lacerating terms: ‘Jacques Truchet raisonne comme une citrouille’ (p. 66), while Lucien Goldmann is denounced for his ‘imbécillité phénoménale’ (p. 38) and Barthes for his ‘continuelle incohérence’ (p. 167). This warfare ‘sans merci’ (p. 163) even fringes the libel laws when he declares that one of these enemies ‘s’[est] employé [. . .] avec succès, à nuire à ma carrière’ (p. 67). A reader standing on these shores must look on with wonder at the degree of bitterness in this intra-French wrangle. But that aside, have these critical pieces anything positive to offer? Regrettably, precious little. The author picks out phrases for calumny, and occasionally he brings some common sense to bear. But the issues are generally so limited, and not all his arguments are persuasive. He wishes not to be ‘accusé de trop tirer sur la ficelle’ (p. 142); yet one suspects that his readers will often be unwilling to acquit him. Besides, the whole polemic is itself puzzling. Why now return to the Picard–Barthes quarrel, when his own views had been fully ventilated in a study of 1988? Nor has he anything new to add to a debate that seems to have long since died down (to judge by the Actes of the important Colloque du Tricentenaire, published by Presses universitaires de France in 2003). This book — alas! — has to be seen as a bilious attack, with the commonly negative consequences of that condition.