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Le style de Vincent Voiture : une esthétique galante.

Rollin, S. (2006) 'Le style de Vincent Voiture : une esthétique galante.', France: Publications de l'Université de Saint-Etienne.


Vincent Voiture was regarded as a model by those seventeenth-century writers whom we consider now as “classics”, but he was later underrated by the critics and is hardly mentioned in today’s literary textbooks. How can we account for the decline of his fame? Voiture’s first private letters brought him fame and opened up the door of the hotel de Rambouillet to him, but he did not bother to have them published. His private correspondence and his poems, collected by his nephew, were published posthumously: the first edition, dated from 1650, was rapidly sold out and eleven editions came out in the next ten years. Was Voiture careless? Actually, a socio-analysis of his career reveals that in gaining the scholars and aristocrats’ esteem, he indirectly promoted his writings while securing himself pensions by means of ppatronage. In the eighteenth-century, he was the victim of a reaction against a society literature that was deemed frivolous and was later presented by critics as a “precious” author. Yet, a close analysis of preciosity shows that it was a social phenomenon concerning only a few personalities over some ten years. In fact, precious tendencies can be found in sixteenth-century Italian and French followers of Petrarch, and not in the seventeenth-century salons. What looks “precious” in Voiture is merely an imitation of Petrarchan poetry, but his pleasant irony subverts the topics and the rhetoric that he assimilates. Therefore, the label that has long been stuck on him proves wrong. Prompted by a desire to please, Voiture introduces diversity in his writing, combining various genres, registers, tones and styles, but moderates the variations by his cheerfulness. He thus introduced numerous poetical inventions by creating a poetry close to prose. In his correspondence, making use of a tone of feigned irreverence to address the “Grands” and ladies, he initiated a courtly form of burlesque not degrading language. Finally, he gave new life to the art of setting out requests and thanks through a courtly irony based on an oblique discourse: his speech takes the form of a mocking courtesy when it comes to criticizing, and plays on “asteism” when it aims at being laudatory, giving marks of respect the appearance of feigned insolence. Voiture’s style thus develops an aesthetics of play and a new art to please inviting us to refer to it as “gallantry”. Voiture has shown a whole generation of poets how to bypass the codes established by tradition while conforming to what society politeness required so as to introduce cheerfulness in every type of speech. The liberties that he takes with literary models have offered a true creative impulse to his successors, but have also led critics to ignore him.

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Record Created:26 Jul 2007
Last Modified:08 Apr 2009 16:35

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