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  • L'Invention des 'Pensées' de Pascal: les éditions de Port-Royal (1670-1678)
  • Richard Parish
L'Invention des 'Pensées' de Pascal: les éditions de Port-Royal (1670-1678). By Marie Pérouse. (Lumière classique, 82). Paris: Honoré Champion, 2009. 606 pp. Hb €85.00.

Recent readers of the Pensées have mostly worked with the critical editions of Lafuma and/or Sellier; and many scholars of an earlier generation used the now discredited Brunschvicg ordering. But for the century and a half following their discovery, it was the so-called Édition de Port-Royal, prepared in the immediate aftermath of Pascal's death by a group of his family and intimates, that defined the boundaries of interpretation of the Pensées (as recent studies of Pascal's posthumous reception, most famously by Voltaire, have demonstrated). Marie Pérouse, in her detailed and penetrating monograph, takes as her brief to explore the genesis and nature of the editorial undertaking in question, and to make her readers aware, in so doing, of the highly interventionist nature of the exercise that the so-called comité undertook. She begins by charting the earliest stages of the work's evolution, noting in particular the divergent approaches among certain of those involved, contrasting the two major paratexts (the Préface of Étienne Périer and the Discours of Filleau de la Chaise), and emphasizing the regret felt by Gilberte Périer that the magnum opus of her brother only existed in what she saw as an impoverished form. Yet despite an uncertainty that was already prevalent as to the status of the project, the common goal was to achieve, as far as possible, a readable text. The central sections of the book begin by looking at the governing principles discerned behind the structures adopted, with due attention given to the vexed question as to whether a readership of sceptics or believers was primarily intended. Pérouse convincingly shows how the comité downplayed the anthropological and political dimensions of the project, notably by the suppression of the liasse entitled Raison des effets, in favour of its theological emphases. There follows an examination of the relative degrees of continuity and discontinuity tolerated, with an important distinction made in the context between fragment and pensée. Other helpful semantic precisions are then offered in considering the respective functions of marques and preuves; and further enlightenment is derived from the careful analysis of pronominal usage. The final section shows most clearly the specificity of this version of Pascal's text, foregrounding lexical, syntactic, and theological adaptations, and demonstrating in conclusion the tendency of Pierre Nicole, by virtue of his imposition of homogeneity, to make of the three chapters devoted to human corruption a kind of prolegomenon to his own Essais de morale. Pérouse takes full and appropriate account of a wide range of recent Pascal scholarship; and there is a good deal of pertinent documentation appended in an annexe. Inevitably, this is a highly specialist piece of work, with arguably too little concession made to the book format as opposed to the occasionally laborious thesis mode. Nonetheless, it guides the reader patiently and lucidly through the nature and origins — the 'invention' in the knowingly ambiguous term of the book's title — of one of the most remarkable and complicated texts in the French language. [End Page 483]

Richard Parish
St Catherine's College, Oxford


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