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CLASSICAL AND CONTEMPORARY FRENCH LITERATURE' ROBER1' GARAPON The subject I intend to deal with is very simple and, at the same time, very topical; but, before defining it, I should like to explain briefly how I carne to consider it. I have long been attracted by classical French literature-I use the word "classical" in the sense of French literature of the seventeenth century- and it is to this area that I have devoted the better part of my critical writing over the past tweny-five years. At the same time, however, my experience as a teacher has convinced me that seventeenth-century literature is becoming more and more neglected, not only by those whom I would still call les honn~tes gens, who read for their own pleasure, but also, and this is more serious, by students. Among the latter in particular, an almost exclusive infatuation with contemporary literature is flourishing and becoming stronger every day. And the more contemporary the better: yesterday's authors have already been abandoned for this morning's or this evening's, and it is hardly an exaggeration to maintain that, for many people, literature, like adventure , begins tomorrow. But it is not really accurate to say that classical authors are being neglected; they are being forgotten, struck from the list; their works are as if they had never been written, they are of no importance whatsoever. Some names are still useful, but only the names. One turns to them to bestow hyperbolic praise upon such and such a 1966 author. For example, people say of a certain author that he writes like Racine, which only serves to show that they have forgotten RaCine, if indeed they have ever really read him! I consider this state of affairs a regrettable one and a very great loss. It is unnecessary to insist on this point and it is not the intention of this article to plead the case for classical works as a separate entity. More is at stake, for, by losing sight of the great books of the French seventeenth century, people are condemning themselves to not understanding and therefore to not appreciating fully the most beautiful works of our times. Without the irreplaceable vantage-points and perspective that classical literature offers, One runs the risk of making little progress toward an understanding of the authors of one's Own period. It is the indispensable assistance of classical literature in appreciating contemporary works that -Volmne-xxxvr;-Number-2.-rannary , 1%7 102 ROBERT GARAPON I intend to emphasize in this article. I should like first to show, with the help of specific examples, how the comparison of modern works with seventeenth-century works will permit us to grasp more firmly certain structural secrets and certain essential themes. After this, I shall use these findings to define the spirit that, in my opinion, should characterize this new kind of IIcomparativism." Let us begin with the structural secrets. It is a peculiarity of great artists carefully to erase from their works all signs of effort and to present us with a book or a play that seems to have been completely unexacting, that, to all appearances, was improvised in a moment of fruitful high spirits and unchained fantasy. It is all the more interesting, if one has the means, to seek out the conscious effort that is covered by this facility and the devices that are hidden behind this patina of false spontaneity. Such is the case, for example, with Jean Giraudoux. Critics have long drawn attention to Giraudoux's preciosity, and rightly so. They have thus penetrated more effectively the delicate charm, perceived better the changing perspectives, that are its distinctive marks. However, by insisting too much on the preciosity of the author of Juliette au pays des hommes, they risk losing sight of the gaiety of his style, particularly in his plays. If they wish to discover one of the secrets of that amused smile that illuminates his dramatic works, they must remember that this prodigiously cultivated author was extremely fond of pastiche and parody, and they must draw a parallel between his style and the burlesque style that so profoundly marked the seventeenth...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 101-112
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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