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  • La Renaissance des mots: de Jean Lemaire de Belges à Agrippa d'Aubigné
  • Pollie Bromilow
La Renaissance des mots: de Jean Lemaire de Belges à Agrippa d'Aubigné. By Floyd Gray. (É tudes et essais sur la Renaissance, 78). Paris: Honoré Champion. 2008. 433 pp. Hb €76.00.

Floyd Gray arrives at this project uniquely well equipped to provide for the reader an analytical account of the inexorable rise of the 'word' (which for him is dominated in this period by the flourishing of the vernacular language) across the sixteenth century. As both a literary scholar and an authority on print culture, he is able to engage with the historical, theoretical, material, linguistic, and literary aspects of vernacular words and their usage to illuminate central and large-scale questions pertaining to 'literariness'. What is literature? How and when did it come into being? What are the linguistic markers that signal its emergence at the beginning of the modern era? Gray first examines the historical conditions that allowed the vernacular language to flourish, tracing the development of a new self-consciousness in writing. This part of the work has been specially written to introduce much of the historical framework necessary for understanding the literary studies that follow. The rest of the volume allows Gray to revisit articles and book contributions that have previously appeared elsewhere over the course of the last thirty-five years. These have been extensively rewritten and are grouped together under four main headings. The first section explores multiple aspects of the status of words in the works of Rabelais: a vast and rich laboratory of language. The second examines the self in Du Bellay (expressed anonymously only through synonyms) and Ronsard (through the commentaries of Marc-Antoine de Muret and Rémy Belleau) as literary predecessors to the focus of the third section, the works of Montaigne. Here Montaigne the reader, his treatment of animals, his literary monument to the memory of La Boétie, love, and La Bruyère's portrait of Montaigne provide points of entry into the author's all-encompassing fascination with words. Finally, Gray hints at the potential circularity of the language of sixteenth-century representations of the female body in a series of chapters on this theme in Jean Lemaire de Belges, Jeanne Flore, and Agrippa d'Aubigné. There is much here to engage the reader. The work is admirable in its ambition, and the literary analysis of the later part of the volume is undoubtedly enriched by the addition of the historical perspective to the analytical horizon. Gray succeeds in making accessible to the reader an area that is complex because it is fundamental to the composition and reception of texts and our understanding of them. The diversity of the complementary approaches included here means that while much is illuminated, nothing is obscured, as would be the risk with a volume that sought to map out this difficult terrain in terms of a smaller number of global and coherent narratives. Some questions, however, particularly those concerning the material presentation of texts, would have benefited from more sustained comparison across the chronological period in order for the reader to understand more fully the nature and extent of the changes that took place. [End Page 477]

Pollie Bromilow
University of Liverpool


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