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260Rocky Mountain Review associates and to his former mistress; his deep conviction of his own genius and his uncertainty about his ability to exploit it; his passionate attraction to various pleasures of life and his suicidal hatred of his own existence. In short, despite some obvious drawbacks, anyone interested in Baudelaire whose limited command ofFrench precludes access to the original will certainly appreciate and enjoy this new translation of the French author's most significant letters. RICHARD J. CUMMINGS University of Utah CHARLES MUSCATINE. TAe Old French Fabliau* New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986. 219 p. Muscatine's study provides a refreshingly direct approach to the genre ofthe short narrative poems about everyday life written in northern France in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. His comments about the some 150 fabliaux are based on a close textual reading of them. He does not attempt like some earlier commentators, to fit them into a preconceived theory about their significance. He emphasizes the idea that the audience to which this genre appealed embraced members of all social classes. He thus rejects the thesis ofJoseph Bédier that the fabliaux were written by and for the risingbourgeois class and express an exclusively bourgeois ethos. He also disagrees with a more recent scholar on the subject, Per Nykrog, who proposed that the fabliaux were written for the same aristocratic public which enjoyed courtly romances. The fabliaux represent for Nykrog a kind of reverse mirror of the latter genre, a deliberate parody of courtly conventions by the very poets who wrote in that style. Muscatine makes the strong point that the fabliaux should be appreciated in their own right and not simply read in reference to other, supposedly more noble, genres of the period. The fabliaux express a unique ethos which transcends class lines and does not need to be understood by being related to other systems of values contemporary with it. According to Muscatine, these poems are the expression of a distinct subculture which coexisted within the minds ofthe medieval French alongside the more well known Christian and courtly ideals. The ethos which the fabliaux embody is an age-old one which took on new life at the time when a new urban and capitalist civilization was beginning to displace feudalism. Its values are materialistic: success, money, and power, and these are pursued without inhibition by fabliaux characters. The prize goes to those who are most clever at seizing opportunities. By a special kind ofpoeticjustice, the stupid and foolish lose out to those who outwit them. Life is a contest of wits, and the author's sympathy goes to the winner. Thé social texture ofthe fabliaux is thus a realistic expression ofthe society ofthe times, one in which there was a tremendous new instability and mobility, and where old class distinctions were becoming increasingly blurred. Fabliaux characters also pursue pleasure with equal ardor, and this hedonistic attitude is implicitly looked upon as normal and healthy. Pleasure is usually sought in eating, drinking, and, most conspicuously, in sexual activity. Muscatine demonstrates persuasively that sexuality is approached with remarkable naturalness and spontaneity in these works. What appears as obscenity is the depiction of actions which are considered a necessary part oflife. Moreover, such a depiction is not, as some critics have thought, intended Book Reviews261 as a protest against Christian asceticism or courtly idealism. The same naturalness inspires the often vulgar terminology used to designate sexual organs and intercourse. There is no deliberate prurience. It is simply a matter of employing in literature the words commonly used in real life when people talk about such things. When circumlocutions are substituted, they are not intended as euphemisms so much as opportunities for the author to show off his or her versatility at creating ingenious metaphors. In the matter of style, Muscatine also indicates the relative lack of importance accorded to plot in these narrative poems. The author's interest is more often directed to some feature upon which he seeks to focus the reader/listener's attention — for example, an exciting verbal exchange, a vivid image, a significant detail, or an unusual personality trait. The poet is more concerned with evoking the colorful texture of contemporary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 260-261
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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