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  • Novel Translations: The European Novel and the German Book, 1680-1730
  • Malte Wessels (bio)
Bethany Wiggin . Novel Translations: The European Novel and the German Book, 1680-1730. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011. xiii + 248 pages.

In her study Bethany Wiggin examines what she calls the "French chapter" in the history of the novel. This is the period around 1700 marked by France's political and cultural hegemony in Europe. As Wiggins points out, French has to be understood not in national but cultural terms. In early modern, pre-national Europe, "French" referred not to a political or national entity but to the international language of letters that became both the language of "France's champions as well as its most scathing critics" (5).

Second, France's cultural impact has to be understood in terms of its renegotiation and appropriation at the local level (4). "French" was the label not simply for products and practices of cultural export, but also for the results of a work of cultural translation and appropriation governed by a double bind of admiration and rejection. This double bind is evident, for instance, in Opitz's Buch von der deutschen Poetery (1624), which employs the model of the French Pléjades to encourage the cultivation of a German poetics expressly opposed to French fashion. "Fashion" and "novel" figure in Wiggin's study as sibling terms. Both are representatives of a newness that inhabits the work of translation itself as Fremdheit or "the element of resistance in the process of transformation" (9). This nod towards Homi Bhabha's Location of Culture is part of the terminological strategy of Wiggin's study, in which she employs terms that go beyond categorizations within a positively established concept of "literature" and instead focuses on the forces that accompanied the emergence of this concept and made it possible. Bourdieu's notion of the "literary field" as well as Michel de Certeau's concept of "pouching" are Wiggin's two guiding terms that allow her to describe the French chapter in the novel's history as an age of translation, in which the French novel led a truly transnational life within a European network of literary exchange and translation.

Wiggin maps out the space between three key players in this network: Paris, London and Leipzig, with a particular focus on the latter. The focus on Leipzig and the German book market ensures that Wiggin's project contributes to a transnational history of the novel: "The view from Leipzig, the Saxon Klein-Paris, reveals more accurately the scope of the novel's transnationalism" (7). Significantly enough, in focusing on the transnationalism of the novel as it was present in Leipzig, Wiggin reconquers terrain for German literary history, which had been more or less abandoned once Auerbach declared German literature belated. Wiggin's study aims to counteract the "disciplinary effects of narratives that tell the novel's national rise" (10).

The study consists of four chapters and a conclusion, entitled "Robinson Crusoe Sails on the European Market," that tells the reader about the turn from the French romance to the English anti-novel. The first two chapters examine the commodification of letters through the printing press and fashion. "French" spelled fashion and thus determined the currents of the market for [End Page 693] what Wiggin aptly calls "print novelties" (19), i.e., occasional poems, pamphlets and single-page prints that were characteristic for early modern letters in which the printed text made the elitist art of poetry available to a broader audience as well as a broader circle of authors, who spawned new poetic forms in turn. French romances and nouvelles became a crucial part of this poetic fashion. Wiggin's second chapter is dedicated to the pan-European fashion of French gallantry, which was inextricably intertwined with the literary fashions but also the polemics against the novel. Wiggin shows through numerous examples how the fashionable romances and nouvelles were intertwined with the pan-European fashion of French gallantry. Indeed literature became the field in which not only models of, but also polemics against, gallantry were presented, which then shaped the narrative forms of the novel.

The work of the previous two chapters...


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