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Reviewed by:
  • La Fabrique du vers
  • Clive Scott
La Fabrique du vers. By Guillaume Peureux. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2009. 676 pp. Pb €30.00.

What is attractive about Guillaume Peureux's approach to verse analysis is its historical relativism: what might constitute the metricity of verse is a changing perception. In the opening chapter, having taken the reader crisply through the tangled early history of French versification (from Latin quantity to vernacular syllabism, from word accent to word-group accent), Peureux moves on to consider the name and nature of syllabism, and in particular the potential objections to contextual (periodic) isosyllabism: feminine lines (n + 1 syllables), heterosyllabic verse, fixed forms. One might perhaps argue that too much work here is done by the assumption of the 'connivence' between the writer and a 'lecteur lettré', or by the formulation of arbitrary principles to explain away anomalies. Chapter 2 explores those idiosyncrasies of verse language — e atone, hiatus, diaeresis/synaeresis — which attracted or compelled more creative ingenuity and more argumentative heat than they perhaps deserved. In Chapter 3 Peureux brings the same balanced and patient judgement to bear on stanza forms, providing a sequence of compelling analyses of a sample of complex stanza structures, and of their expressive resources. Chapter 4 is a study of verse lines, 'vers complexes et vers simples', which ponders perennial problems, several of which were addressed in the first instance by Benoît de Cornulier: limits of numerical apprehension, powers of numerical discrimination, caesural function. An examination of the theory and practice of convergences/divergences of syntactical juncture and metrical boundary is the subject of Chapter 5, where Peureux provides a timely warning against confusing decisions about good practice based on taste with those based on verse structure. But in his treatment of rhyme in the following chapter he shows how easy it is to confuse a historicist account of verse with a platonic one: he defends Cornulier's proposal that rhyme 'n'est pas une marque de fin de vers' (p. 233), and yet explains why, historically, rhyme was assimilated into the metrical being of the line (p. 227). And although he is able to explain anomalies in the platonic account by invoking the tolerances of the 'lecteur lettré', he supposes that readers are naive (illiterate) enough not to identify the first element in a rhyme partnership ('l'appel de rime') as a rhyme (p. 233); a similar sacrifice of the historical to the platonic occurs in his later treatment of accent (pp. 446-71). One might think, given the liberal amount of historical material referred to in Part I ('Fonctions poétiques de la versification'), that Part II ('Éléments de versification historique') would be flirting with the otiose. But these latter chapters take us, [End Page 514] century by century, through an absorbing sequence of treatises in which are acted out the dramas of linguistic self-definition, of competing systems and terminologies, of the politics and sociology of verse making. Peureux's journey ends with a critical survey of principal contemporary approaches to metrical analysis. All in all, this book is a magnificent achievement, comprehensive, thoughtful, judicious, giving documents room to speak, and vividly conveying what a wide range of historically embedded issues are at stake in the description of a line of verse.

Clive Scott
University of East Anglia


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pp. 514-515
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