- Le Rococo d'Oc: Une anthologie poétique (1690-1789) ed. by Jean-François Courouau
This anthology of eighteenth-century Occitan poetry is the logical and necessary accompanying volume to Jean-François Courouau's recent La Langue partagée. In the earlier work, Courouau and his colleagues demonstrated the vitality and breadth of Occitan literature between circa 1700 and the start of the French Revolution. This anthology offers concrete evidence of the vivacity of Occitan creative culture during the period.
Courouau opens the anthology with a discussion of the concept of rococo, particularly as the term applies to literature, reminding readers that the concept came late to the French-speaking literary world (15-16) and that rococo is an aesthetic that is not adopted by all eighteenth-century authors (28). He points to several salient elements of rococo, notably that it is a world of sociability (16-17), seeking immediate pleasures (19) and happy to use parody (22) or satire (24). Authors put a new emphasis on the spoken word, on orality (30), which would lead, in the nineteenth century, to what Philippe Gardy has dubbed "oraliture" (31, referring to Gardy's "Montpellier-Chapas" passim). Courouau adds that realities of the Occitan world-Occitan as a secondary language, "la langue du lieu, basse par rapport au français supérieur (25)-made it a locus for certain genres appreciated by local audiences. Moreover, the rococo aesthetic offered an escape from the cult of Reason promoted by Enlightenment authors (33). Courouau concludes that further study is needed of all Occitan authors of the eighteenth century, not only rococo, but also Enlightenment writers, so that we can better understand the world of pre-Revolutionary Occitania.
Courouau organizes the anthology thematically, with sections devoted to "national emotion," "ups and downs of communal life," "frivolities," "the tale," "humours du siècle," "burlesques," "acerbic works," "criticism of the clergy" "fables," "reflections on nature," "love poetry," and "poetic games," concluding with "from the Baroque to the Enlightenment." Major authors are well [End Page 83] represented: Jean-Baptiste Fabre, Claude Peyrot, and Jean de Cabanes, to name three, as well as much less well-known figures such as a certain Hillet, of whom we know next to nothing other than that he was from Toulouse and that he composed a 4138-line poem entitled Le Miral moundi (383). Hillet surely deserves additional attention. In this as for all the entries, Courouau provides a brief biography of the author and equally brief discussion of the work excerpted, though for Hillet there is little to report. There are a total of eighty works represented, many of them excerpts, a necessary concession to the wealth of available material and the limits of book length.
Courouau found his texts in original eighteenth-century publications or more recent editions. He made no changes to orthography, other than to add capital letters according to modern conventions (34); he is responsible for the vast majority of line-by-line translations. His work as a translator is solid, and the translations read well. I might dispute one or two of his choices, such as his translation of a line by Jean-Baptiste Germain, "Pluton… menet sa frisado / per aluma lou fuech" which Courtouau renders as "Pluton… apporta sa grosse cuillère / pour allumer le feu." In this context, I wonder if frisado would have been better translated as pilon 'pestle,' an item slightly more useful for starting a fire than a large spoon. But this is a quibble.
In La Langue partagée, we learned of eighteenth-century Occitan authors across a variety of genres and disciplines; this anthology demonstrates the creativity of those who composed in verse and brings to the fore a number of little-known poets. I applaud Courouau for having undertaken this project and would encourage him to compile anthologies to accompany the other chapters of his magisterial earlier work. By so doing, he might succeed in putting eighteenth-century Occitan literature on...