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Reviewed by:
  • Œuvres complètespar François Villon
  • Helen J. Swift
F rançoisV illon, Œuvres complètes. Édition établie par J acquelineC erquigliniT oulet, avec la collaboration de L aëtitiaT abard. Édition bilingue. ( Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 598.) Paris: Gallimard, 2014. 992 pp., ill.

A new Pléiade edition is an event; new French critical editions of François Villon’s poetry have been, on average, one-per-decade occurrences over the past thirty years or so. The first Pléiade edition of the fifteenth-century poet’s works is a landmark in Villon scholarship and a significant event for medieval literary studies: the first Pléiade dedicated to a named late-medieval French author, and the first since 2009’s third volume of Le Livre du Graalto be devoted to European literature of the Middle Ages. It is an unusually slim Pléiade production on account of Villon’s ‘œuvre courte et dense’ (p. ix): his poetic output, including its facing-page modern French translation, fills only 279 of the 992 pages. The spare capacity has been most enterprisingly used to provide contextual material that furnishes tools for unpicking the work’s density and gives unprecedented exposure to primary texts that manifest the long echo of ‘le mythe Villon’ (p. xl) throughout literary history. The volume opens with a perspicacious prefatory essay by Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet. A useful chronology of the fifteenth century precedes a note on the edition offering an overview of the poetry’s tricky textual tradition: ‘les textes de Villon ne se rencontrent jamais seuls, et ils ne sont jamais tous là’ (p. liii). Like most previous editors Cerquiglini-Toulet opts for manuscript C as a base, but also gives [End Page 234]variants in the notes. The modern French translation is limpid, and largely achieves the espoused aim of freshness: ‘le texte de Villon est un texte jeune et qui doit rester jeune’ (p. lxvii). Thereafter comes the contextual material: a set of archival documents put together by Cerquiglini-Toulet’s collaborator, Laëtitia Tabard (pp. 284–355), and an array of readings of Villon assembled by the editor (pp. 358–733). The archival matter covers extracts from court documents relating to criminal activity evoked in the poetry and/or in which the author (under various names) is held to have been involved, such as the murder of a priest and the theft of the infamous ‘Pet au Diable’ stone. As Tabard notes, this slim collection draws attention to the paucity of documentary evidence that we possess of Villon’s life, contrasting considerably with the ‘ampleur des biographies’ (p. 832) about him. The readings section takes ‘lectures’ in a profitably broad sense, presenting samples of both textual and visual material that quotes, names, illustrates, or is even potentially attributable to Villon: from an anonymous sermon joyeuxof 1464, to a 2002 autobiographical prose reflection by Pierre Michon (the only twenty-first-century item to be featured), via, for example, incunable woodcuts, the paratexts to the first critical edition by Clément Marot, Rabelais’s Quart Livre, an essay by Théophile Gautier, Rimbaud’s Bal des pendus, Francis Carco’s biographical Roman de François Villon, Albert Dubout’s watercolour drawings, the transcript of an interview with Céline, and Michel Butor’s analysis of Villon’s prosody. A brief general bibliography concludes the volume. In sum, the Pléiade edition captures magnificently both the pungency and the slippery malleability of a writer whose endlessly fascinating identity we can never definitively grasp.

Helen J. Swift
St Hilda’s College, Oxford


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