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498 BOOK REVIEWS Pascal, .Adversary and .Advocate. By ROBERT J. NELSON. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard, 1981. Pp. 286. $22.50. No one would wish to hold an author responsible for his publisher's dust-jacket claims, but it must be said that the contents of this book are at variance with the label. This is not "the first rounded portrayal of Pascal", if indeed it is a rounded portrayal at all, and the suggestion that it "restores Pascal to the general reader after twenty years of scholarship that has embroiled this historic thinker in academic quarrels " is too ridiculous to be worth refuting. In fact this is a book for those' familiar with modern linguistics, and with sufficient knowledge of past theological and present psychological doctrines to assess the interpretations offered under these three heads. At the same time such readers are apparently assumed to understand French too little to justify giving anything but an English version (sometimes a little odd) of Pascal's original. Moreover, even for those who want to know something new about Pascal, this book is not quite what it seems; only 33 out of some 270 pages are devoted to the Pensees, and several of them to purely editorial problems. It may in short be said that this is an attempt to present Pascal, the man and his work, in terms of the dialectic presented in the title; not Pascal as he is for the vast majority of modern readers, who know him as author of the Pensees, nor Pascal as he was known to his contemporaries, the brilliant scientist and religious controversialist, author above all of the Provincial Letters, but in some sense a new, or hitherto unrecognized, Pascal, thrown into relief by applying the techniques of psychology, theology, and linguistics to selected aspects of his life and work. Such a presentation, and the methods employed, leads to some very mixed results. We read (p. 9) that,. since little is known of Pascal's personal life, particularly the life of the flesh, " one is obliged to an unusual amount of what is, in my case I hope, informed and fair speculation," but whether or not the author's hope is justified, speculation it remains. Some very odd Aunt Sallies are set up only to be knocked down; thus Professor Nelson writes of Pascal's two masterpieces (Provincial Letters and Pensees) "an almost exclusively esthetic appreciation has isolated [Pascal] for too many readers ... from the question ... 'How then shall we live''" A lifetime of teaching Pascal (admittedly in Britain) suggests , at least to this reader, exactly the opposite conclusion. Much of what Professor Nelson says is worth saying, even if it is not necessarily new. Thus his analysis of Pascal's first religious controversy, with Saint-Ange, and of his more protracted scientific dispute with the Jesuits is valuable and well done, but then an interesting discussion of BOOK REVIEWS 499 the important Writings on Grace is marred by the surprising observation (p. 63) "the Molinists do come off rather well here~they are not called ' heretics' like the Calvinists." Naturally not; Calvinists were condemned by the Church as heretics, Molinists never. On the same page capital is made of the fact that the "banal metaphor 'Mother Church' " nowhere occurs in the Pensees but is used to effect in the first Writing on Grace, and while this is true, and even consistent with a Freudian interpretation (if such an approach seems appropriate), it hardly justifies the long speculative excursus into family relationships which follows. " One can imagine Pascal's irritation at having to address the despicable adversaries [Jesuits] by that name [fathers]"-can one? What about " Monsieur l'aboe" from " abba, father"? And banal as the metaphor " Mother Church" may be, its rarity, like that of other womanly metaphors noted by Professor Nelson, is not a peculiarity of Pascal's style, and can be parallelled in other religious writers of the age. Nowhere does speculation play a more prominent, and less plausible, part than in Professor Nelson's treatment of the relations between Pascal and his sister Jacqueline. After we are told (p. 90) that "most Pascalians " have seen in Pascal's condemnation of the " sins...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 498-501
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-15
Open Access
No
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