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Reviews French Frye LIONEL GOSSMAN Harold C. Knutson. Moliere: An Archetypal Approach ,Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press 1976. x, 208. $15.00 The impulse behind Harold C. Knutson's study of Moliere was, he tells us, his discovery of a lacuna in the critical literature. Nobody had yet applied Northrop Frye's 'fruitful methodology' to the c9medies, though they 'would seem a wellstocked hunting ground for this sort of approach.' Knutson has now filled this lacuna, and Moliere has been subjected to the most thorough 'archetypal scrutiny' imaginable. The outcome is a book that follows a rather predictable course. There are outstandingly good moments - notably the chapter on the romantic comedies, which Knutson is justifiably proud of rehabilitating after decades of neglect and misunderstanding, and for which, for reasons that will become apparent, he has a special affinity; the brief but illumina.ting analysis of the Critique de l'ecole·des femmes; and the final chapter in which he argues that Le Misanthrope and Don Juan should be read as 'a devastating parody of romance' (p 169). Moreover, although there is more paraphrase than one would like (at such points the writing becomes encumbered by over-rich adjectives and dead metaphors, signs of the writer's desperate attempts to reproduce in his 'translation' the effect of the text on him), there is very little impressionistic or psychologizing criticism. The conceptual scheme that underpins the study gives it rigour, unity, and coherence , but also ensures that it will hold few surprises. While he refers respectfully to such diverse critics as Charles Mauron, Paul Benichou, and Suzanne Langer, Knutson's gospel is An Anatomy of Criticism, and he is faithful to it, to the letter, from beginning to end. Reservations concerning Knutson's study must therefore, in the long run, be reservations concerning Frye'S critical categories. To be sure, Knutson's writing style - adequate if not distinguished - is his own. The form of the book, though not the ugly cover design inflicted on it by the UniversityofToronto Press, is also his responsibility. Instead of undertaking an exhaustive study of the entire Moliere corpus and bravely laying all his critical cards on the table, he might have UTQ, VOLUME XLVII, NUMBER 2, WINTER 1977/8 FRENCH FRYE 173 elected to present his ideas more tentatively and possibly with greater finesse in the fonn of a long essay, as Mauron did in the Psychocritique. This might have resulted in a more persuasive as well as a more elegant volume; for though Knutson presents the most consistent and well·argued thesis that I have come across lately in Moliere studies (one that has, moreover, the considerable virtue of inviting counter-argument), the reienti. ess processing of the plays, one after another, through his critical machine proves, in the end, more than slightly tedious: it raises doubts about the value of a method that proceeds so mechanically and produces such predictable results. The whole book resembles what was called in the classical age a developpement - an unfolding or elaboration of what is given in the initial premises. This is both its achievement and its limitation. Moliere's work is reassuringly contained here within an orderly classification system that leaves no loose ends. It consists of four major classes. The first celebrates, in the buffoon, the force of life itself, seen generally as socially productive and beneficent. [n the middle two ('Comedies of Exorcism' and 'Romance') various antithetical categories (real/ideal, order/freedom, etc) are held in equilibrium, though the accent falls in the comedies of exorcism on one term, and in the romantic comedies on the other. In the fourth class energies again break loose, but here they are presented as negative, destructive both of social order and of the order of comedy, which is held to be closely associated with it. The system is not dynamic, and no serious attempt is made to account for the movements that occur within it. Some kind of internal sequential logic typically , a cyclical pattern of birth, maturity, and decay, or a seasonal movement from spring to winter - does seem to be implied by the very order in which the four classes are discussed in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 172-177
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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