Seeing through the Mother Goose Tales: Visual Turns in the Writings of Charles Perrault

Seeing through the Mother Goose Tales: Visual Turns in the Writings of Charles Perrault

Seeing through the Mother Goose Tales: Visual Turns in the Writings of Charles Perrault

Seeing through the Mother Goose Tales: Visual Turns in the Writings of Charles Perrault

Synopsis

During the first half of the reign of Louis XIV, Charles Perrault enjoyed the status of a prominent public intellectual. A key player in the development of the arts, he has commonly been situated in French literary and cultural history as the spokesman for the Moderns in the Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns, the seventeenth century's protracted aesthetic controversy. During the 1690s, after falling from political favour, Perrault took up the writing of fiction and achieved lasting fame as the author of the Mother Goose Tales. Seeing Through the Mother Goose Tales proposes a framework for relating these two distinct facets of his career. The author shows how the intellectual and conceptual compromises that the fairy tales rearticulate derive their force and coherence from the priority that Perrault's characters, faithful to the dominant values of the century, accord to visual representation.

Excerpt

This book attempts to ferret out some connections between the two roles for which Charles Perrault (1628-1703) has come to be known in the cultural and literary history of France: that of an influential player in the development of the arts under Louis XIV, and that of a celebrated author of short stories. The three essays of Part I deal with work in which Perrault offers interesting and capacious perceptions of the "splendid century"-- work on the basis of which one can make a case for regarding him as the veritable founder of modern French literary history. In studying the stance he adopts and the discourse he forges in commenting on the arts and letters, I have made use of significant writings that deserve more attention than scholars have given them heretofore: his unfinished memoirs, the four-volume Parallèle des anciens et des modernes en ce qui regarde les arts et les sciences (1688-96), the two- volume Les Hommes illustres qui ont paru en France pendant ce siècle (1697, 1700), and the slim but intriguing Pensées chrétiennes (written during the last decade of the author's life). The distinctive feature or leitmotif I have drawn from these works is an intellectual bent, a turn of mind, a conceptual pattern that manifests itself in a practice of compromise formation. Through this practice, Perrault domesticates--mutes, recuperates, reappropriates--the original, radical, rigorous concepts he encounters in other writers of his century. My fundamental hypothesis is that a rearticulation of this characteristic mind-set recurs with striking insistency in his Histoires ou contes du temps passé (1691-96). In each chapter of Part I, I attempt to flesh out the formulation of this hypothesis enough to convey a precise . . .

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