ABOUT THIS BOOK
Designed for the general reader, this splendid introduction to French literature from 842 A.D.—the date of the earliest surviving document in any Romance language—to the present decade is the most compact and imaginative single-volume guide available in English to the French literary tradition. In fact, no comparable work exists in either language. It is not the customary inventory of authors and titles but rather a collection of wide-angled views of historical and cultural phenomena. It sets before us writers, public figures, criminals, saints, and monarchs, as well as religious, cultural, and social revolutions. It gives us books, paintings, public monuments, even TV shows.
Written by 164 American and European specialists, the essays are introduced by date and arranged in chronological order, but here ends the book’s resemblance to the usual history of literature. Each date is followed by a headline evoking an event that indicates the chronological point of departure. Usually the event is literary—the publication of an original work, a journal, a translation, the first performance of a play, the death of an author—but some events are literary only in terms of their repercussions and resonances. Essays devoted to a genre exist alongside essays devoted to one book, institutions are presented side by side with literary movements, and large surveys appear next to detailed discussions of specific landmarks.
No article is limited to the “life and works” of a single author. Proust, for example, appears through various lenses: fleetingly, in 1701, apropos of Antoine Galland’s translation of The Thousand and One Nights; in 1898, in connection with the Dreyfus Affair; in 1905, on the occasion of the law on the separation of church and state; in 1911, in relation to Gide and their different treatments of homosexuality; and at his death in 1922.
Without attempting to cover every author, work, and cultural development since the Serments de Strasbourg in 842, this history succeeds in being both informative and critical about the more than 1,000 years it describes. The contributors offer us a chance to appreciate not only French culture but also the major critical positions in literary studies today. A New History of French Literature will be essential reading for all engaged in the study of French culture and for all who are interested in it. It is an authoritative, lively, and readable volume.
An impressive volume… It is not to be thought of as an exhaustive reference book, nor is it designed to be read right through as a single text. Its mode d’emploi is that of the browser. And as such it is indeed—as the blurbs repeat to us—a triumph… All the articles are pegged to an event—as often as not the publication of a book—but they move in quite different directions: to detailed consideration of an author or a work, to the discussion of a problem in cultural history or literary theory, to an evocation of the social context surrounding the event, or to a survey of a literary movement or the development of a genre… Generally, this history impresses by its grasp of the complex cultural field within which ‘literature’ is produced… Plunge in, almost at random, and you will come up with pearls like Leo Bersani on Proust, Dejean on the salons or the editor on May 1968, discourse and power. I shall come back to it often.
-- Peter France Times Literary Supplement
This remarkable collection of brief essays on topics ranging from the Strasbourg Oaths of 842 to a 1983 broadcast of 'Apostrophes,' France's celebrated television literary interview program, is far more than a survey of 12 centuries of writing in France. It is a fascinating, generally very readable and almost always unpredictable ramble through the thick and varied garden of culture tended for these many centuries by the French people. The volume's editor, Denis Hollier, a professor of French at Yale University, has managed the considerable feat of compiling hundreds of brief essays by 164 mostly American scholars of French literature and to impose on the whole extraordinary unity. The result is a Francophile's delight and a lucid, often entertaining display of erudition...You can drop your cup at random into this deep well of cultural history and almost always come up with something sweet and stimulating to drink.
-- Richard Bernstein New York Times
An original and outstanding overview of French literature from 842 to the present...There is no history of French literature of this nature on the market today, in French or in English. Highly recommended.
-- Anthony Caprio Library Journal
Despite the eclectic nature of the various contributions...they nonetheless form a coherent ensemble thanks to the coordinating skills of a sophisticated editorial board and to Renee Morel's indispensable index...The fact is that this [book] has rendered its predecessors obsolete, making it one of a kind in its field today.
-- Ernest Sturm French Review
Each and every chapter is chock full of illuminating and intriguing facts, and each one, rather than reserve the stage for one main actor, allows anyone who has something to say to take part in the fun. Stendhal, for instance, has two chapters devoted to his work--on his Romantic manifesto Racine et Shakespeare (1823), and another on his novel La charteuse de Parme (1893)--but his elegant shadow falls on dozens of other pages. Each chapter is announced by a date, a headline event and a theme, and is written by one of 165 academics collected by Hollier from both North America and Europe. And here one must marvel at Hollier's achievement: academics who can write both intelligently and with humor. The mind boggles.
-- Alberto Manguel Globe and Mail
This grandly imagined and executed history of French literature is without precedent in any language...Here are many of the best contemporary critics and theorists, writing with vivid originality...This volume is a triumph of editorial and critical intelligence.
-- Richard Poirier Raritan
The fact is that A New History of French Literature has rendered its predecessors obsolete.
-- Ernest Storm French Review
Exciting, riotous, irritating, invigorating, often provocative, always interesting.
-- L 'Humanité-Dimanche
For the first time, Marie de France, Marguerite de Navarre, Germaine de Staël, George Sand, and Colette have come forward as prize-winners.
-- Claire Devarrieux Liberation
After all the lights from the festivities have been extinguished, after all the babble from the colloquia has stilled, and the celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution on both sides of the Atlantic comes to an end, one book will remain--this one.
-- Pierre-Yves Pétillon Critique