Satirical Dialogism in the Paratext of Bonaventure Des Periers' Nouvelles Recreations et Joyeux Devis

Article excerpt

We know very little about Bonaventure Des Periers' life. At a fairly young age he became "valet de chambre" of Marguerite de Navarre. In 1537, he published the Cymbalum mundi, four dialogues that attack Catholicism, which were almost immediately outlawed by the Sorbonne. As a consequence, Des Periers could no longer remain Marguerite's servant. He died in 1544, most likely through suicide. (1) The Nouvelles Recreations et joyeux devis were first published fourteen years after the author's death, in 1558. Although some of the tales were most likely added after Des Periers' death, the vast majority was written in the 1530s, beginning around the time when Rabelais published his Pantagruel. (2)

It has frequently been argued that, due to its prominent position and status, the paratext seems predestined to shed some light on the overall orientation of a literary work. Gerard Genette, for example, refers to the different manifestations of the paratext--prefaces, prologues, dedicatory poems and epistles--as "un des lieux privilegies de la dimension paradigmatique de l'oeuvre, c'est-a-dire de son action sur le lecteur." (3) I will therefore attempt to analyze the relationship between the narrator and his readers in a paratext that comprises three separate texts: (4) a sonnet, a printer's greeting, and a "first tale in the form of a preamble" ("premiere nouvelle en forme de preambule"), a curious mixture that underlines the ambiguous status of an introductory apparatus that cannot be neatly separated from the actual text. As was so often the case in early modern texts, the fiction asserts itself from the very beginning of the book and the development of theoretical concerns is not limited to forewords and introductory poems. Following the example of Rabelais's prologues, the paratext is therefore already part of the fiction instead of merely preceding it. The ambivalence is even heightened in Des Periers as he blends a "preamble," a discourse which usually precedes the actual text, with the first chapter of the text itself. The following pages will focus on three main aspects: I will begin with a few comments on the concept of dialogism, especially as it pertains to satirical texts, a concept that seems central to many early modern texts. These comments will then provide the basis of an analysis of the narrator/reader relationship in the preamble, crucial, in my view, to the orientation of Des Periers' text as a whole. Finally a brief comparison to Rabelais's prologues will put this reading into a larger context. The objective of these observations is twofold. First, Jean Nicot's distinction between "sotise rustique" (translated into Latin as "ineptia" or "rusticitas") and "sotise subtile" (translated as "satyra figurata"), in his Thresor de la langue francoise (1606), probably the most authoritative dictionary of the time, seems the most promising gauge of the category in which Des Periers' collection belongs. Nicot provides a theoretical framework to my analysis that will attempt to show that, as early as the preamble, Des Periers' rhetoric transgresses the boundaries of his obvious and well-documented model, the "facetie," inaugurated by Poggio's Liber Facetiarum and illustrated in the collection's ostensibly exclusive leitmotif, "bene vivere et laetari." (5) Without abandoning the tales' farcical qualities, he adds a more complex layer to his text's comical mixture, thus transforming the rather straightforward, univocal, and facetious "sotise simple" into a subtle and quite provocative satirical work. These observations might then elucidate the hierarchy between narrator and reader, who appear to be equals, judging by the narrator's tone and demeanor. After all, the latter addresses his reader as a "friend" ("amy") at the beginning and the end of the preamble.

The dichotomy monologism/dialogism seems crucial for a better comprehension of early modern satirical texts in general (and Des Periers' collection in particular), from the most explicit farce to extremely subtle, erudite, or allegorical versions, such as Menippean satire. …