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Looks Can Be Deceiving: The Trompe-l’oeil Poetics of French Rococo Style Sharon Diane Nell F LIGHTINESS, unfaithfulness, diversity, variety, “ inconstance.” On an explicit level, these characteristics are often discussed and appreciated by the rococo poets.1In the words of Chaulieu, “ Que servirait l’art de plaire/Sans le plaisir de changer?” 2 The external metrical structure in much of the French rococo poetry, at first glance chaotic, seems to demonstrate this desire for variety. Patrick Brady, the foremost theorist of the rococo movement, defines rococo metrical dis­ order as “ an impression, an illusion, of haphazard organization (or lack of organization, lack of system), free from order and restraint, from notions of hierarchy” (Rococo Style 45). Convinced that “ [in] much of the work done on period style, too much attention has often been given to aspects of content” (ibid., 31), Brady paved the way for a systematic discussion of rococo poetic form through his rigorous and objective structuralist work on rococo prose, in particular La Vie de Marianne, a novel which exemplifies rococo narrative form.3 In addition, Brady crystallized his work on the rococo through the concept of metonymy, the opposite of metaphor, which along with immanence and euphemization , constitute in his opinion the underlying principles, both thematical­ ly and formally of the rococo period style. Brady briefly describes formal metonymy in rococo poetry as “ a general dilution of the metaphorical dimension” and “ a newly sceptical attitude towards the constitutive metaphorical signifiers of poetry: verse (i.e., meter) and rhyme” (Rococo Style 131). When metrical theorists refer to “ traditional free verse,” the term used to describe the kind of metrical form displayed in many French rococo poems, they characterize it as formless and ametrical. Philippe Martinon, in his rigorous work on French stanza form, Les Stophes, demonstrates hostility to this kind of poetry, despite its wide usage by such poets as La Fontaine, and credits its emergence, around 1650, with “ la mort de la strophe.” 4 Another more recent metrician, Benoît de Cornulier, makes the following evaluation of La Fontaine’s use of “vers libre traditionnel” : “ On peut dire que le fabuliste, qui voulait donner en vers l’impression même de la prose, n’y est pas allé par quatre chemins.” 5 Vol. XXXIII, No. 3 43 L ’E sprit C réateur Further, in his brilliant study on late nineteenth-century poetic form, Cornulier advances the notion that, in order for metrical poetry to exist, within the “ contexts” which are formed by individual poems, the only relationship possible between “ metrical units” is that of numeric equal­ ity. 6Cornulier’s definition of contextual equality is similar to Martinon’s definition of a heterometrical stanza: though several types of metrical units may be present, the order established in the first stanza group must be duplicated in each of the following stanzas. Contextual equality, then, is preserved when the heterometrical poem contains one stanza pattern which is repeated in a linear fashion. Whereas heterometrical rococo poetry, and that of La Fontaine for that matter, rarely corresponds to this definition of linear poetry, the application of the concept of contextual equality to this poetry exposes hidden structures. Moreover, such a systematic study is useful in further broadening Brady’s notion of the metonymic character of rococo period style. This study is organized into three parts. In the first part, I will take a close look at the French poetry in Patrick Brady’s Rococo Poetry o f Europe: An Anthology, and I will adapt Cornulier’s concept of con­ textual equality so that it may be applied to that corpus. In order to give the reader an idea of the systematic nature of this perspective, a step-bystep example will constitute the second part. The final section will be devoted to the study’s results. I. The Corpus and Contextually Equal Metrical Patterns—Cornulier’s concept of contextual equality emerges as the most interesting of his ideas when applied to rococo poetry, for a number of reasons. In his initial study, Cornulier is primarily interested in metrical boundaries, above all caesurae. Of the 7,471 total lines of French poetry in Brady’s anthology, 3,856 are “complex metrical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 43-56
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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