Ferdinand Brunetière: The Evolution of a Critic

Ferdinand Brunetière: The Evolution of a Critic

Ferdinand Brunetière: The Evolution of a Critic

Ferdinand Brunetière: The Evolution of a Critic

Excerpt

This study was begun as a doctoral thesis at the University of Wisconsin. Revised and augmented, it now attempts to offer a comprehensive presentation of Brunetière, the man and his work. Both are known in America, though perhaps, less well than is commonly assumed. The defender of Hervieu, the young Anatole France and the Symbolists; the reputed successor of Taine and Renan; the avowed agnostic whom the Abbé Delfour termed, as late as 1894, "the most redoubtable of all enemies for us believers, because he is the most influential"; the "Cardinal vert" welcomed by Leo XIII and spurned by Pius X; the defender of the Abbé Loisy, and finally the exile of both Church and State--these features of the man Brunetière scarcely agree with the usual portrait of him as the stern, ascetic dictator of Parnassus and contemporary of Bossuet.

His works, likewise, show surprising variety. Despite their claim to objectivity, they reflect the changing interests and passions of their author. Brunetière is best known in this country as the critic who tried to apply the theory of evolution to literary history; such a view represents, if not the whole truth, at least a very significant part of it. Though his opinions and even his beliefs changed sometimes in startling fashion, he clung tenaciously to evolution, and it may well be that this theory provides the best approach to a study of its champion, and his work.

Such an undertaking requires the chronological method. Chapter I is largely biographical, and the remaining chapters give a detailed study of the critic's writings, following the three main periods of his career. Jules Lemaître and M. Victor Giraud are frequently quoted, as best representing the divergent opinions of Brunetière by his contemporaries. Quotations are regularly turned into English. These translations are my own, except those from the Balzac and the Manuel, already translated.

It is a pleasure to thank those who have helped me in preparing this study: first, Professor W. F. Giese, of the University of Wisconsin, who suggested the subject, and encouraged me to write for publication; my colleagues at Northwestern, Professor T. R. Palfrey and Dr. J.-M. Carrière, who read the manuscript and offered many valuable suggestions; Dr. N. A. Bennetton, especially, who with unfailing patience gave countless hours to many matters, great and small; Professors A. H. Nethercot and E. L. Highbarger for bibliographical items. Finally, and most of all, I would thank my wife, who has cheerfully been all things to one man--from inspiration to amanuensis!

ELTON HOCKING.

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