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  • La dernière solitaire de Port-Royal: Survivances jansénistes jusqu’au XXe siècle by Véronique Alemany
  • William P. O’Brien
La dernière solitaire de Port-Royal: Survivances jansénistes jusqu’au XXe siècle. By Véronique Alemany. [Histoire.] (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf. 2013. Pp. 688. €50,00 paperback. ISBN 978-2-204-09951-6.)

Profitably exploiting a trove of archival material, Véronique Alemany (former director of the National Museum of Port-Royal-des-Champs) presents Perpétue d’Aurelle de Paladines (1845–1932), née de Marsac, as representative of what Philippe Sellier in his preface calls a troisième jansénisme (p. 11) or “third wave” of Jansenism in France. Following this schema, the first wave begins with the promulgation of the papal bull Cum occasione (1653), which condemned five theological propositions associated with Jansenism. The wave then breaks at the dissolution of the Cistercian monastery of Port-Royal-des-Champs (1709), which scatters the women religious and men solitaires who live on the grounds. The wave finally crashes with the promulgation of the bull Unigenitus (1713) that passed ecclesiastical judgment on the Jansenist movement.

The second wave then begins to form in the wake of Unigenitus and continues to swell during the course of the eighteenth century. If the first wave has a primarily theological current, then this second wave seems driven more by such sociopolitical issues as the primacy of Rome, the authority of the king, and the playing out of scripture in current events. The popular cult of Jansenist deacon François de Pâris (1690–1727)—with its pilgrims, convulsionaires, and underground assemblies and secours—arises during this period, and it expresses the momentum of the second wave. The third wave follows in the nineteenth century with the ebb of Jansenism from the public realm and its flow into smaller churches. Characterized by intense devotion to the cross, third-wave Jansenism swells with certain hopes of the second wave, including the eventual restoration of Port-Royal, conversion of the Jews, and return of the prophet Elijah. The third wave continues to move into the 1900s through communities at Argenteuil, Lyon, Toulouse, and Valence.

Out of these currents in and around Toulouse emerges the figure of Perpétue de Paladines. Widowed in 1871 at age twenty-six, “La Paladines” decides to establish herself in 1895 among the ruins of Port-Royal-des-Champs as the first and last woman solitaire. Much as happens in the seventeenth century between the Port-Royal community and the Sorbonne doctor Antoine Arnauld (1612–94), Perpétue develops a connection with Augustin Gazier (1844–1922), director of the library of Port-Royal (1877–1922) and also a professor at the Sorbonne. Out of their relationship and the network of their Jansenist friends issues the documentation on which Alemany bases her research.

The book itself, a reworking of Alemany’s doctoral thesis, which she defended with distinction at the University Paris XII (Paris-Nord) in 2006, presents the ancestral (part 1), cultural (part 2), and ideological (part 3) contexts in which the life of Madame de Paladines unfolds (part 4). As Alemany convincingly argues, the “neo-Jansenism” (pp. 407–35) that the “last solitaire” embodies finds its own echo (part 5) beyond Port-Royal (pp. 443–502) in the first part of the twentieth century (pp. 503–33). A considerable appendix of previously unpublished texts (pp. 543– [End Page 624] 646), primarily correspondence and manifestoes, rounds out Alemany’s study by offering a glimpse into the lives of Perpétue and her associates.

Any student of the Bible and of eighteenth-century intellectual history certainly will recognize in the progression of the three waves both the story of the Jewish diaspora following the destruction of Solomon’s temple and the dialectical logic operative in Hegel’s historical analyses. Indeed, the Jansenist remnant—the Amis de la Vérité who consider themselves the custodians of the Œuvre or divine plan—expect to play a central role in salvation history as they envision it. In this regard, theologians, cultural historians, and political scientists alike will find Alemany’s monumental work an enlightening contribution...


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