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Reviewed by:
  • Hernani by Victor Hugo
  • Laurence M. Porter
Victor Hugo, Hernani. Édition critique revue et augmentée par John J. Janc. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2014. xxi + 431 pp.

This publication updates John Janc’s 2001 edition of Hernani (1830). Janc finds Jean Massin’s edition for the Club français du livre to be the only acceptable one. There are only a handful of typographical errors in his own edition. Writing entirely in French, he offers an Introduction; a list of thirty-three minor changes introduced into the 1836 edition; Hugo’s original Preface (1830); the text of the 1830 version of Hernani, with footnotes indicating changes in the manuscript before performance; and boldface indicating changes made in response to audience reactions and to government censorship. Longer variants introduced during 1830 are listed and so are those introduced between 1830 and 1836. A concordance of individual words and the verses in which they appear is included. By providing verse as well as page numbers, Janc’s compilation is a more precise finding aid than the ARTFL project (which he overlooks), although his listings, unlike those of ARTFL, provide no context. His selective bibliography misses only two of the eleven pertinent publications cited in A Critical Bibliography of French Literature: The Nineteenth Century (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994). The coverage of recent Hernani scholarship is patchy (for example, Janc misses Peter Brooks’s The Melodramatic Imagination (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976) and my Victor Hugo (New York: Twayne, 1999)); references by Hugo himself to his play in his correspondence and other writings are not provided in the bibliography; and there are no detailed comments on which criticism is most valuable for understanding Hernani and its contexts, or on which other editions of the play are most reliable. Janc misses an important allusion to Corneille’s Le Cid in l. 520, and the influence of Cinna on Act iv. Indeed, Serge Doubrovsky’s Corneille, ou, La dialectique du héros (Paris: Gallimard, 1963) would be a useful starting point for revitalizing Hernani criticism. What, then, might be the utility of this edition for the scholar or critic? The Introduction chooses quotations from contemporaries to bring out the sharp division between admirers who thought Hernani heralded a theatrical renaissance and featured superb lyricism, and detractors who considered the play a crudely written, implausible melodrama. We learn a good deal about the genesis of Hernani, and Hugo’s care in revising it. And Janc usefully recalls Jean Gaudon’s observation that putting plebeian language in the mouths of noble and royal personages serves aggressively to suggest social equality, as well as reminding us that [End Page 400] Hugo insisted that the first letter of ‘roi’ should always be lower-case (pp. xi, xiii). The notes carefully, conscientiously select and summarize comments and evaluations by critics. Janc hardly ever says where he himself stands on contentious issues, but he does provide a thorough overview. Notably, he points to the frequent uses of masking and disguises, enabling multiple coups de théâtre. And he valuably discusses critics’ debates about the apparent dwindling of Hernani’s status and importance throughout the play, which, in Act iv, transforms Carlos Quinto into the centre of interest. In contrast, the dénouement that follows does seem anticlimactic and absurd.

Laurence M. Porter
Oberlin College Affiliate Scholar


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pp. 400-401
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