- Thomas-Simon Gueullette: Contes
Thomas-Simon Gueullette (1683-1766) is not a household name in the twenty-first century, but during his long life he was well known among his contemporaries. Born into a family long connected to government bureaucracy (9), he was educated by Jesuits (10) and later studied law. Gueullette loved the theater, was on an intimate footing with many of its actors and directors, and translated theatrical pieces for the Comedie italienne. During his fifty-six-year tenure as Procureur du Roi au Châtelet, as characterized by Jean-François Perrin, the general editor of this three-volume critical edition, Gueullette read widely, edited carefully, translated and wrote, acted, inspirited spectacles, composed successful tale collections, was friendly with authors and the publisher Prault, while maintaining a deep interest in history and capably carrying out the duties of a respected magistrate (19).
Gueullette's five volumes of contes incorporate the results of his prodigious reading in biography, history, geography, ethnography, philosophy, theology, criminal jurisprudence, memoirs, tales, novellas, and romances, which provided the material for this eighteenth-century hybridist extraordinaire. Since his tales also incorporated so much material from the 1697 Bibliothèque Orientale of Barthélemi d'Herbelot (completed after his death, it should be noted, by Antoine Galland), Gueullette's oeuvre is often considered a fictionalized popular abridgement of that massive compendium.
Gueullette adopted Mlle Lhéritier's conviction that contes de fées came from medieval troubadours. But he went one better in his first tale collection, Les Soirées Bretonnes (1712), by setting its frame tale half a millennium earlier, even though the tales themselves were based on two early modern works, the 1557 Peregrinaggio di tre giovani, figlioli del re di Serendippo (a framed collection of seven novellas, itself with a lengthy history in Middle Eastern narrative) and Beroalde de Verville's 1610 Histoire veritable. Truly hybrid, the tales as Gueullette [End Page 374] rewrote them express not ancient or even century-old attitudes, but the sensibilities, values, and even characters' names from late seventeenth-century contes de fees, while taking place (despite their Breton title), not in familiar France, but in exotic Arabie.
The second of Gueullette's tale collections, Les Mille et Un Quarts d'Heure:Contes Tartares (1715, expanded 1723) achieved the greatest immediate success of all his works, perhaps because it spoke to readers in immediately comprehensible language and images. The beauty of his women, for instance, exemplifies the rococo sensibilities of Antoine Watteau's contemporary paintings ("les charmes d'une des deux jeunes dames lui revinrent mille fois dans l'esprit. Deux grands yeux bleus"; 1: 232), and the fears of their men often resemble those of eighteenth-century employers vis-à-vis their servants ("Sunqui répéta ces mots tant de fois et les prononça d'une voix si élevée que son mari craignait que les domestiques ne l'entendissent"; 3: 1965).
Les Milles et Un Quarts d'heure: Contes Tartares formed part of the crowd of the "Thousand and One" titles unleashed by the success of Galland's Thousand and One Nights. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Les Mille et Un Quarts d'Heure was translated into Spanish, Italian, Rus sian, German, En glish, Dutch, Portuguese, and Danish. Whether these translations made their way into the popular press of those languages and thence into oral tradition would be worth investigating. Gueullette's subsequent tale collections, also translated into some of those languages, were never as popular as Les Mille et Un Quarts d'Heure, either at home or abroad.
Before Jean-François Perrin focused his attention on these tales, Gueullette scholarship was scant. There was, for instance, a 1934 Montpellier doctoral dissertation on L'Oeuvre Romanesque by Armand-Daniel Coderre and a 1938 biography by J. E. Gueullette. Perrin treated Gueullette within larger conceptual frameworks in "Recueillir et transmettre: l'effet anthologique dans le conte merveilleux XVIIe-XVIIIe siècle" (Féeries 1 : 145-71) and "L'invention d'un genre litt...