- La Fontaine en séries par Paul Pelckmans
The prime purpose of this short but consistently excellent collection of essays by seasoned scholars and up-and-coming researchers is to reconsider La Fontaine’s written output through the grouping, patterning, or juxtaposition of fables and contes. The volume launches with Patrick Dandrey’s elegant appraisal of the 1668 Book 1 of the Fables, in which he equates the structure of the book to the art of the French garden as epitomized by Le Nôtre’s designs. It is perhaps surprising that Dandrey does not mention La Fontaine’s enthusiastic description, in his letter to Maucroix, of the famous entertainment given by Nicolas Fouquet for Louis XIV in August 1661 in the Le Nôtre gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte; but his analysis of the diptychs and parterres of the fables, with the eleventh fable, ‘L’Homme et son image’, acting as a pivot, is compelling. Tiphaine Rolland’s argument in the following chapter — that certain ludic fables in Book 3 act as a tonal and thematic counterpoint to those fables from a more ancient tradition and permeate those pieces placed in close proximity to them — is persuasively made. Paul J. Smith’s chapter on the ordering of fables by some of La Fontaine’s immediate precursors puts the later fabulist’s organizational decisions into fascinating context. The editor’s own chapter focuses on La Fontaine’s juxtaposition of two seemingly disparate pieces that come from the Indian fable tradition, ‘L’Ours et l’amateur des jardins’ and ‘Les Deux amis’, where it is suggested that their proximity can lead us to read the second fable in a more ironic light than it is usually interpreted. Yves Le Pestipon then offers a refreshing re-evaluation of the seemingly diffuse structure of Book 9, delineating unexpected series of fables within the diversity of the different texts. In the following chapter, Julien Bardot assesses what he sees as a particularly interesting diptych in Book 12 of two fables that do not come from the Aesopian tradition, ‘Daphnis et Alcimadure’ and ‘Philémon et Baucis’. Marc Escola, in his chapter on fables without animals, puts forward the intriguing argument that the distinction between such fables and La Fontaine’s contes is less clear-cut than it might seem. Sjef Houppermans takes up this theme in the final chapter and concentrates on what he sees as stories of initiation that open the third and fourth Recueils of the Contes et nouvelles. By examining the microstructures of the fables and contes, all the contributors succeed in throwing new light upon La Fontaine’s extraordinary craft.