Cruelle Énigme (French Edition)

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Schneider, J. Retrieved June 14, Austin, Lloyd J. Paul Bourget. Beaufort, M.

1852 - 1935

Pearde Blaze de Bury, Yetta Bowman, Edgar Milton The Early Novels of Paul Bourget. Crawford, Virginia M.

BOURGET : Mensonges -

Dimnet, Ernest New York: Thomas Y. Dworski, Sylvia Fewster, J. France, Anatole Paul Bourget". In: On Life and Letters. Goetz, T. Gosse, Edmund New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, pp. Lynch, Hannah Jones, Edward A.

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Keating, L. Clark Keeler, M. Jerome Klerkx, Henri Evans, "Paul Bourget. London: Daniel O'Connor, , pp. Marsile, M.

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IV, No. Mathias, Yehoshua Revue d'Histoire , No. Maurras, Charles Paul Bourget," Revue Hebdomadaire , Vol. O'Rell, Max Secor, Walter Todd Paul Bourget and the Nouvelle. New York: King's Crown Press.

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The young man does not understand that this is the beginning of the end of his dream, but shortly after, meeting Edel again at a wedding party, he hears his doom — " Je ne vous veri-ai plus? But any story might be unbearable, and some books which are unbearable — Miss Burney's Evelina, for instance — are, however, master- pieces of their kind, and once begun cannot be put aside even if you fret and fume over every page.

What is the key to that riddle? Simply that the author has believed heart and soul in what he was writing. This is no longer commonplace, this is rare and more than rare, this has nothing to say to artistic arrangement and literary power. This is the case with the story of this young man and of this girl who may be for all we know either an angel in awe of her mamma or a deep Northern jilt.

For this poor little poet is so thoroughly infatuated that we cannot find out, and it is one of the inimitable parts of this extraordinary work. Well, the whole book is as fresh and morning-like. Count, if you please, the books in which you will see your lover in the heights of bliss or in the depths of despair without even kissing his love — I 1 Edel, p.

Edel is one of a very few indeed. And the miracle is, that, as I have said, the whole thing is rank romanticism. The poor fellow has a skull and the busts of Balzac and Napoleon on his table, he is an atheist though full of piety, a furious debauchee though almost innocent,, and when he returns to his garret after hearing his sentence he smashes everything and burns all his Balzacs, Stcndhals, Byrons and Heines.

Constantly you come across such purely romanticist's utterances as the following — " Car nous aimous Ics vers si nous nions les Dieux. Nous les voulons malsains, tourmentes, diaboliques, Traitant la vie ainsi que les filles publiques. Partout des omnibus filaient. All this is delightfully artificial, con- ventional and learned, and at the same time juvenile and sincere. Edel must be the easiest thing in the world to parody, but it must have had few models and fewer imitations. Add, that the poet handles a remarkably firm and flowing metre, and that one wonders on thinking of his later work how he never treated himself to a tragedy in verse.

In appeared Les Aveux, Bourget's last published volume of verse, but the same year saw the publication of his 1 Edel, p. Edel awoke me by its very failure. Seeing, in fact, that I was getting on in years and that my literary future was far from clear, I fell into a terrible fit of despair. However, I endeavoured to find out the cause of my disappointment, and I thought I found it in the bookish intoxica- tion which had prevented my living my own life, indulging my own tastes and seeing Avith my owii eyes. Pondering over this I thought that my condition was common to many be- sides me.

Thousands of my contemporaries had like myself gone to books for their sen- timental education, and must have found like myself that this attitude was the cause of a great deal of mischief. It was re- markable that the books which had intiiienced me so deeply were every one of them the works of contemporary writers.

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If these writers had had such a powerful sway it must have been because their books corresponded to intel- lectual or sentimental cravings in me which were there unknown to myself. They had been men of the present age with all the pas- sions, joys and sorrows of the age. Behind their works the spirit of the times was alive. So I fancied I could disengage Life from that heap of literature, and I attempted to paint the portrait of my generation through the books which had affected me the most.

The Essais and Nouveaux essais de psychologie contemporaine were composed in the light of this idea.

Cruelle Énigme by Paul Bourget

It may seem impertinent not to take the word of a man like Bourget for the history of his own life. At any rate the passage we deal with, far from conveying to the reader an adequate impression of Bourget's career in the period intervening between Edel Those four years were of the highest importance in his development and very full, and if we imagined, on the strength of this statement, that they can be summed up in a fit of despair and one illuminating idea, we should be very wide of the mark indeed.

I have no doubt that what Bourget says of the revulsion made in his mind by the failure of a book like Edel — into which he had thrown all that a writer can put into a work — is correct. Until his twenty-sixth year j Bourget had spoken to us of nothing but himself: Let us admit that Bourget on nearing his thirtieth year tried to make a literary examination of conscience, which being sincere resulted in a telling book, this will be the truth, but let us also go back to the facts of his life for a supplement of information.

If we were to take the autobiographical passage as it stands, we ought to believe that just before writing the Essais, Bourget was still as unknown as he was uncertain, and this would help to conceive his mind as the sort of tabula rasa he describes. But it would be a very incorrect view. Long before publishing the Essais, Bourget was becoming much better known than he says.

Giraud tells us that he has collected many proofs of its literary success; certainly, Bourget as a poet had made his mark by when Jules Lemaitre speaks highly of him in the Revue Bleuey and long before that date the editor of the Revue des Deux Mondes had spontaneously asked him to write an article on the young school of poetry. From he seems to have been exceptionally successful. He was on the staff of a paper edited by M.

Meanwhile, he formed a connec- tion with La Nouvelle Revue, and met ' numbers of the best writers in Madame Adam's drawing-room; he became the friend of some of the most influential among them, no longer poor Barbey d'Aurevilly, but Alexandre Dumas the younger, Tainc, Tourgueniev, Leconte de Lisle, etc. Now, let us consider what was the effect on his mind of these altered circumstances. A French poet is a god to his friends but a prey to the critics ;i let the poet turn critic, he becomes a potentate at once. This is what happened to Bourget: It is incredible that much more latitude should be given to the critic than to the poet, but so it is, and it is the same thingwith the art critic compared to the painter.

No matter how unapprecia- tive your criticism may be, it will pass unchallenged; no matter how perfect your creation, it will be disparaged. The rule of the game is that impressions are more sacred than intuitions, and the explanation is because critics as a rule — art critics more than any others — are incapable of discussing from principles and constantly stare at one another in blank uncertainty.

Now Bourget was and still is an excep- tionally well-equipped critic. He is unfair in never speaking kindly of his hard 'prentice years. Providence took care of him. If instead of being a straggler from the teach- ing army he had been a regular, with the degree he had taken he could only have aspired to a provincial chair or to the most elementary teaching in a Parisian lycie.

In the jours — as French cramming establishments are called — which his inde- 38 PAUL BOURGET pendent spirit preferred, he might have a poor audience, but his subject was French literature and philosophy, and it is not indifferent that one should have to teach, that is to say learn thoroughly, the main facts of the history of thought and expres- sion in the years when the memory is most retentive. With the grounding he had had this experience was invaluable.

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It would have given him solidity even if he had been satisfied with secondhand erudition, but he was not: We may say, therefore, that the day Bourget became a regular critic he could marshall a powerful array of accurate knowledge, and that in his case popular submissiveness was well deserved. Many a story lias been built on some theorem in it. The restless poet of Edel perforce became a sober self-possessed organizer of intellectual notions and facts. But it is the experience of most men that this passage is seldom possible without some detriment to our faculties.

Bourget, while trying to make the most of his powers, unfortunately grew systematic. He certainly achieved no inconsiderable results, but it was by becoming so different from himself that many people even in France have no notion of the Bourget I have described so far. That highly intellectual class of readers cared infinitely less for the author than for his production.

But there is singular comprehensiveness, a condensed richness of humanity in his object. It is not so much the mental attitude — what I have heard Bergson call finely the initial and ultimate gesture — of a thinker that attracts his attention as the effect produced on himself, Bourget, by this attitude. But this is not all. Bourget is also aware 43 PAUL BOURGET that his literary preferences have always somehow fixed themselves on modern writers — it is one of the grievances his early critics have against him — and he considers it is a very great advantage, for the egotistical analysis he is indulging in must finally result in nothing less than a portrait of his whole generation.

It cannot be denied that this is a rich and truth-revealing view ; one which ought to be at the basis of every critical work. We should never waste our attention on writers not really representative, and when- ever we engage in a study it should be with the simple curiosity and sincerity which alone give value to any written as well as to a spoken utterance. The ten Essais appeared originally in La Nouvelle jRevue, and were contributed at various intervals between and Bourget left out Balzac, one of his gods, because Taine had dealt vnth him in a manner which would discourage re-estima- tion, and began, very characteristically, with Baudelaire; then came two studies on Renan and Flaubert, and finally the chapters dedicated to Taine and Stendhal.

It would be futile to try to prove — as some over-conscientious critics strive to do — that Bourget stuck throughout to his text and followed his own self through ten very different personalities. The two volumes of Essais are not after all a book, they are Avhat nine in ten volumes now-a- days published are, with the exception of novels— articles strung together — and it would be puzzling work to endeavour to discover in them more than a certain unity of purpose.

It is evident, for instance, that Taine had far more influence on Bourget's mind than Flaubert — whose apparent heartlessness was extremely uncongenial to him — or even Renan; and Stendhal being Taine's master as well as his own ought not to occuj: This arrangement, no doubt, is a mere accident in the process of article reprinting Again, in the second volume Dumas alone seems to have been very near 45 PAUL BOURGET liourget, and the other writers dealt with — inckiding even Tourguenief — are the creators of Hterary formulas rather than of mental attitudes with which the critic was in sympathy.

Some few pages also are mere writing and confuse in proportion as one is more attentive. There is some fine galimatias in the passage devoted to Flaubert's nihilism, and in the same chapter one is startled to find that Bourget after mentioning Flaubert as a man of action tells us that he means action not through but on or against words, the dogged pursuit of final expression.

Evidently the young professor with a taste for logic at all costs was not dead in him yet. However, in spite of these flaws the Essais de psychologie can be said to present a satisfactory picture of the French mind under the Second Empire, with a funda- mental unity which really lay in the subject. The ten writers Avhom Bourget examined were all happy through one side of their mental activity, and all unhappy in their final view of life and the world: For instance, Baudelaire was happy in his 46 PAUL BOURGET Decadentism, Renan in liis Dilettantism, and Taine in his reverent belief in Science ; Flaubert in his art pour Vart, and Stendhal in his analyses and cosmopolitism ; Dumas no doubt found keen enjoyment in deducing morals from immoral situations, Leconte de Lisle in turning nihilism into lyricism, the poor Goncourts in writing as if they drew, and the poorer Amiel in analyzing himself until he vanished from under his own eyes as we see a familiar word turn into a per- plexing object when we look at it for a length of time.

This happiness was merely the exercising of the prominent faculty in them with its peculiar tinge. This Bourget showed very well, or at any rate made you realize very well, so well that on their first interview Melchior de Vogiie told him that it was really too well, and most readers began to look upon Bourget as a decadent, a dilettante, a cosmopolitan and a pessimist himself. It took the public years to see that the differ- ence between him and his models lay in a longing after certitude, which was a sort of creed in itself. From the mere literary point of view, which matters considerably here as we follow Bourget's intellectual development, the book strikes at present and probably struck in , by its underlying sympathy with most of the men analyzed, but at the same time by a certain aloofness from them which henceforward will be characteristic of the nuthor.

From that time Bourget begins to speak of himself as an anatomist, and that is in fact what he is: His gravity and knowledge give him authori- tativeness, but not exactly persuasion ; he is rather intimidating ; he has become a totally different person from the restless, eager, appealing youth who only four years before wrote Edel less for our admiration than for our sympathy.

He is evidently in possession of a method. I would dare the ablest critic to find out through mere internal signs that these stories did not belong to his most mature period. The world he describes is the " world " with its vices, conventionalities and indulgences, its women often charm- ing and sometimes pure, but all yearning after love and most of them weak ; above all with its sadness, the infrequency of its sentimental success and the bitterness of its many failures.

The painter is not un- sympathetic, but he is so clear-sighted, cool and collected that even when he convinces us we see him in the background of his tale as calm and unmoved as a physician de- scribing a fine specimen of some rare illness. From the technical standpoint Bourget is also in these stories what he will remain.

After the introductory part, which outlines the structure and objectives of the dissertation, follows a chapter which determines the theoretical and methodological foundations of the research, which are: the aesthetics of reception of the Constance School led by Hans Robert Jauss, and the theory of literary field formulated by Pierre Bourdieu following the ideas of French sociology of literature. In his critical approach Jauss puts the reader and the dialogic character of the literary work in the foreground as well as its openness to different readings determined by the horizon of expectations.

As the reader had somehow remained abstract in the aesthetics of reception, Jauss emphasized the need to expand and complement his approach with historical and economic elements. The analysis has shown that Bourget had succeeded to use well his initial capital his highly-educated bourgeois origin, good education, friendships made during his education and enriched it thanks to the cooperation with reputable journals and to the support of religious and political institutions and salons.

The study of the reception of Essais focuses on the following elements: analysis of paratexts, selecting the elements which characterize Essais as novelty in the field of literature in the s, establishing quantitative and qualitative factors of their success, and determining characteristics of a representative reader. The research is based on the materials collected from newspapers, magazines and books which are chronologically classified.