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  • Reviviscences romaines: la latinité au miroir de l'esprit fin-de-siècle
  • Fiona Cox
Reviviscences romaines: la latinité au miroir de l'esprit fin-de-siècle. By Marie-France David-de Palacio: Bern: Peter Lang, 2005. x + 422 pp. Hb €63.60; £47.70; $93.95.

George Steiner argues that a persuasive history of Western civilization could be penned simply on the basis of the way in which different periods and different nationalities have responded to Homer and Virgil. Recently, Christopher Prendergast has looked at nineteenth-century France, demonstrating how Sainte-Beuve's response to Virgil not only shaped his notion of the 'classic', but also dictated his presentation of Napoleon III's political regime, which he was attempting to legitimate. David-de Palacio's study focuses on a slightly later period, the fin de siècle. One of the legacies of Sainte-Beuve's endorsement of Virgil was an intensely negative reaction that apparently resulted in a widespread rejection not just of Virgil but of the Roman world in general. Among the many achievements of David-de Palacio's book is her reminder of the crudeness of such generalizations. Her study is astonishingly detailed and wide-ranging and uncovers a host of minor authors, such as Auguste Angellier, Aimé Giron, and Albert Tozza, while also offering new insights into Hugo, Janin, and Heredia through her examination of their allusions to Roman writers other than Cicero and Virgil. She demonstrates how the decadence characterizing the fin de siècle was spiced by multiple and highly suggestive allusions to the works of Juvenal, Suetonius, Catullus, and Lucan, thus offering us an alternative set of Roman receptions and a different version of the way in which France responded to the past. She also shows, persuasively, how Horace gained new popularity towards the end of the century, as he was able to present the solid, conservative virtues of Augustus's regime without having been contaminated by close association with the Second Empire. David-de Palacio engages in a series of sensitive and close readings that cast fascinating new light on the original Latin texts. I particularly enjoyed her discussion of Armand Silvestre's reworking of Catullus, who presents Lesbia, Catullus's mistress, in such a way that it becomes possible to see her as a pouting ancestor of Emma Bovary. Having detailed meticulously the allusions to Latin literature and the Roman world in an abundance of overlooked texts, David-de Palacio offers studies of common themes and mythological or historical figures. Of particular interest is her study of the reception of the cultures of both Pompei and Byzantium at the turn of the century when writers [End Page 497] Maupassant, Giron, Tozza, and Lombard attempted to establish Paris as the new centre of decadence. At this point, however, I would have welcomed some mention of how these writers helped to set the scene for Proust's depiction of a decadent Paris, especially since À la recherche draws so heavily and explicitly on these cultures. This absence is particularly tantalizing because David-de Palacio deals so suggestively with the ways in which other cultures were responding to the same heritage, as she contrasts the French response with the way in which this literature of decadence was filtered through the works of Tennyson, Swinburne, Lang, and Pater. But this is an immensely rich and elegantly written book overall, offering an abundance of facts and insights into authors who have tended to be overlooked. Ultimately, David-de Palacio demonstrates that France's relationship with Latin letters is far more playful, nuanced, and multiple than has hitherto been recognized.

Fiona Cox
National University of Ireland, Cork


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pp. 497-498
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