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Reviewed by:
  • Barbey d’Aurevilly et l’âge classique by Mathilde Bertrand, Pierre Glaudes, Élise Sorel
  • Karen Humphreys
Barbey d’Aurevilly et l’âge classique. Sous la direction de Mathilde Bertrand, Pierre Glaudes et Élise Sorel. (Rencontres, 288; Études dix-neuviémistes, 34.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2018. 351 pp.

The name Barbey d’Aurevilly conjures conflicting reactions. For some scholars, it is a mixture of admiration for his mastery as a storyteller and disdain for his unyielding contempt for modern literary practices. For others, his work incites approbation for his keen insight into the hypocrisies of French society, yet also disapproval of his support for traditional and conservative approaches to nineteenth-century culture. The sixteen articles in this volume address many of the paradoxes inherent in Barbey’s work, specifically in relation to the neo-classical models of the Ancien Régime. The collection hinges on two areas of enquiry over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The first part opens with an investigation by Pierre Glaudes of Barbey’s engagement with the age of Louis XIV: ‘C’est dans une perspective résolument antimoderne qu’il aborde le Grand Siècle et qu’il en propose une analyse historique d’une grande cohérence’ (p. 21). The subsequent articles tackle Barbey’s attitudes towards religion, politics, and society. In particular, studies on Barbey’s interest in Saint-Simon and their shared rejection of social innovations of the time, Barbey’s shifting opinions on Bossuet’s oratory prose, and the ways in which Barbey transforms classical paradigms according to the Abbé Gaume and La Fontaine, complement analyses of the ‘dangers et séductions’ of the Enlightenment (p. 161). Part Two focuses on Barbey’s deployment of the classical aesthetic in literature and the fine arts. In these essays, the authors explore the complexities of his representation of earlier styles and genres, such as ‘l’histoire tragique’ (p. 191), maxims and the moralist tradition, the Sadean narrative, and ‘l’ethos grand seigneur’ as shaped by Saint-Simon (p. 229). Despite the classical foundations of these art forms, Élise Sorel suggests that Barbey’s role as a writer and artist in the nineteenth century informs his conceptualization of ‘le grand seigneur’, allowing him to accept the contradictions that characterize the man and his work, by way of an assumed independence. Two articles delve into Barbey’s engagement with theatre, from the vantage points of ‘classical spectator’ and critic (p. 277). Mathilde Bertrand traces the impressions of Corneille and Racine, whose tragedies bear influence on Barbey’s fictional production. Her description of Barbey’s œuvre as a modern crucible where the legacy of classical theatre meets with romantic drama (p. 295) illustrates why he is ‘tragique et comique à la fois, comme il est poète et prosateur tout ensemble’ (p. 315). The final essay raises the question of colour in Barbey’s aesthetics and discerns elements of the ‘querelle du coloris’ that stirred the court in the 1670s. In the nineteenth-century version of the debate between those who privileged colour and texture as exemplified by Rubens, and those who valued the integrity of the line, as in the case of Poussin, Barbey emerges as an opponent of the coloristes. This volume is certainly of value to scholars of Barbey as well as to those who [End Page 465] work on the classical tradition. In addition, the collection’s emphasis on Barbey’s consistently paradoxical place in French literary history as anti-moderne is without a doubt of interest to readers of nineteenth-century French culture.

Karen Humphreys
Trinity College, Hartford, CT


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