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  • La Prose poétique du roman baroque (1571–1670) par Suzanne Duval
  • Richard Maber
La Prose poétique du roman baroque (1571–1670). Par Suzanne Duval. (Lire le xviie siècle, 50; Romans, contes et nouvelles, 7.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2017. 709 pp.

For more than two hundred years, a conspicuous failure of critical discussion of early modern French literary culture was an apparent inability to engage sympathetically with one of its most remarkable and successful products, the multi-volume romans baroques, and to consider seriously their appeal to such a wide and often sophisticated reading public. While there have been a number of important studies in recent years of individual authors and discrete aspects of the genre, Suzanne Duval’s monumental volume marks a major advance in scholarship on the whole field. The book has its origins in a Sorbonne thesis, and it must be said that, at times, it does not wear its background lightly. It is organized in three sections. In the first part, ‘À la recherche de la prose poétique’, more than two hundred pages are devoted to debates about what exactly constitutes ‘la prose poétique’, with a primary focus on such well-trodden ground as Fénelon, Rousseau, and nineteenth- and twentieth-century stylists and critical theory; in the excellent discussion of early modern ‘poetic’ style a considerable debt is acknowledged to the work of Camille Esmein. The conclusion to this section — that there is no clear pattern to these ‘contradictions théoriques’ (p. 238) — does clear the decks and provides an effective starting-point for the real focus of the book. When in the second part, ‘Les Constellations de la prose poétique’, we at last get to the seventeenth-century roman baroque, the analysis is rigorously organized, extremely detailed, and meticulously thorough. The author sets out to be analytical rather than impressionistic: she illustrates her categories with generous quotation from an exceptionally wide range of primary sources (there are no fewer than 289 entries in the bibliography of ‘Sources’, including a ‘corpus’ of eighty-four novels), with consistently sensitive and perceptive analysis. The third section, ‘De la prose poétique à l’esthétique romanesque’, maintains this high standard of analysis, with two principal sub-sections of ‘Une poétique de l’imperfection’ and ‘Prose poétique et mythologie mondaine’. A Conclusion offers a concise tabulation of the arguments and looks ahead to later developments, ending, predictably enough, with Télémaque and La Nouvelle Héloise. There are inevitably a few quibbles and slips in a work of this length and complexity — for example, Scottish readers might be dismayed to see John Barclay described as an ‘auteur anglais’ (p. 178). More seriously, the two principal indices, of authors and works, are selective rather than complete, and some early modern authors and works which feature in the text do not appear. This is a real shame in a study of such importance. The fifty-nine-page bibliography is divided into thirteen sub-sections which inevitably overlap, making it tiresome to locate any individual item. But none of this detracts from the value of Duval’s work, her sensitive mastery of such a vast corpus of material, and her tracing of the diversity and evolution of this genre which, when approached appropriately, can still give genuine pleasure to the reader. [End Page 626]

Richard Maber
Durham University


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