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  • Œuvres complètes, Romans, contes et nouvelles, iv: Le Capitaine Fracasse ed. by Théophile Gautier
  • Michael Tilby
Théophile Gautier, Œuvres complètes, Romans, contes et nouvelles, iv: Le Capitaine Fracasse. Édition critique par Sarah Mombert. (Textes de littérature moderne et contemporaine.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2018. 764 pp.

Notwithstanding the author-narrator’s compulsive name-dropping and word-dropping, at one level Le Capitaine Fracasse does not require extensive annotation. Such is Théophile Gautier’s infectious delight in his medium that readers may rest content with a sense of the general category to which certain examples of his rarefied lexis belong, while its picturesque obscurity may, quite properly, provoke hilarity in younger readers, a reaction denied them by a modern version said to be ‘en français facile’ (Paris: Hachette, 1971). At another level, the encyclopaedic nature of Gautier’s deceptively naïve narrative undoubtedly fosters intellectual curiosity, so scholars will value Sarah Mombert’s magnificent critical edition. It meets superlatively the demands made by Gautier’s personal lexicon and his vast range of literary, historical, mythological, and artistic references. Mombert’s elucidations exploit widespread familiarity with seventeenth-century French theatre, poetry, and narrative prose, although Les Grotesques provides invaluable pointers. Alive to Gautier’s readiness to recall his own writings, she is also at ease with classical authors, medieval French epic, Spanish Golden Age drama, all five books of Rabelais (plus the apocryphal Songes drolatiques), and such earlier nineteenth-century works as Notre-Dame de Paris or descriptions of seventeenth-century Paris by nineteenth-century antiquarians. Painstaking research underpins Mombert’s explanations of the many technical terms relating to medicine (human and veterinary), architecture, costume, jewellery, cosmetics, perfumery, pharmaceuticals, fauna and flora, modes of transport, arms and armour, [End Page 635] cookery, hunting, implements of torture, heraldry, and games. Symptomatic of her attention to detail are the instances given of Gautier’s occasional slips. The comprehensive Introduction is judicious and informative, drawing, for example, on surviving financial documents to trace Gautier’s rhythm of production. It also instigates a suggestive discussion of the composition as both a reflection of the practices of Gautier’s Jeune-France period and a pastiche of seventeenth-century modes of perception and expression. The parodic dimension is addressed, though without acknowledging Gautier’s channelling of a self-parodic strain into the speech of ‘Le Pédant’, Blazius. (We are reminded that the latter’s name features in On ne badine pas avec l’amour, but anagrammatic hints of ‘Balzac’ would likewise seem plausible.) Consideration of Le Pédant joué would have been appropriate, not least because Gautier’s assigning of provincials to the category of ‘Topinambou’ ([sic], p. 172) echoes Cyrano’s play. Reference is made (pp. 60–61) to the celebrated salon scene in Sodome et Gomorrhe, though not to the pages in Proust’s Sur la lecture. The note identifying Virgil’s ‘trahit sua quemque voluptas’ (p. 593) might have indicated that both Bianchon in Le Père Goriot and the pedantic schoolmaster in Balzac’s Le Vicaire des Ardennes spout the phrase. Another note (p. 231) might have incorporated Nodier’s use of ‘suer d’ahan’ in Histoire du roi de Bohême. Chère lie (p. 499, n. 4) invites reference to Rabelais. More could be said about Pactole/pactole (p. 307, n. 31). Errors as such are almost non-existent, although Rossini’s Tancredi (p. 571, n. 14) was premiered in 1813, not 1816. Misprints are notably few. The text is, however, disfigured by superscript references to variants that are ordered by chapter rather than page, thereby leading to multiple sequences of the same alphabetic character that are sometimes illegible.

Michael Tilby
Selwyn College, Cambridge


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