Academic journal article French Forum

Subject to Dispute: Constructions of the Author in Francois Beroalde De Verville's Palais Des Curieux (1612)

Academic journal article French Forum

Subject to Dispute: Constructions of the Author in Francois Beroalde De Verville's Palais Des Curieux (1612)

Article excerpt

The emergence of the figure of the author has inspired enormous critical interest over recent years. In sixteenth-century French studies, critics have read in Clement Marot's poetry an individualism that demonstrates a decline of the poetic corporatism characteristic of the work of the grands rhetoriquers, and a new attitude towards printing and publishing. At the other end of the sixteenth century, Montaigne's Essais remains a key text in this story, revealing a self-reflecive author at work on his own text. (1) This article explores another miscellany, Le Palais des curieux (1612) by mathematician, alchemist and polymath Francois Beroalde de Verville (1556-1626). This text, like Montaigne's Essais, portrays a strong authorial "je" that directs and sometimes misleads the reader's attention. In less explicit, but no less significant ways, Verville's text assays the self that produces, it, providing an arresting case study in the development of the authorial figure. In what follows, I propose to trace the constructions of the authorial persona that emerge from this palace of curiosities, and to argue that Verville manipulates this persona in a number of ways, producing a relationship between author, text and reader that often appears as a kind of game. (2) Like Montaigne's Essais, Verville's Palais exhibits an authorial identity that is mobile and provisional; I wish to argue that this identity is also deliberately provocative, and that its construction is evident in the methodologies and strategies of the text. In his analysis of Verville's allegorical Voyage des prineces fortuner.Terence Cave explores the deployment of the first person pronoun, concluding that the text "racont[e] les peripeties indefiniment suspendues d'un 'je' singuliere." (3) I hope to show how the "je" that emerges in Le Palais des curieux similarly insists on its own peculiarity and on its own subjectivity, privileging the subjective viewpoint as both a structuring principle and an ethical imperative. (4)

Both Le Palais des curieux and Essais play with the conventions and expectations associated with the miscellany. They early modern miscellany was a vast and varied genre ranging from the collection of commonplaces (such as Jean-Pierre Camus's Diversitez, 1609-1618) to the more peculiar Essais (1580-1595) which nevertheless started life as a commentary on Montaigne's reading. (5) As a permutation of the encyclopedia, the miscellany was explicitly engaged in the problem of order in cataloguing the topics it dealt with, and more specifically, in the relation between general and particular: how did the instances of the particular example relate to, or illustrate, the general category under discussion? The role of the author in the miscellany participated in this problematic, since the authorial "je" could be given a more or less prominent place in the text: providing, in fact, an especially subjective instance of the particular. The more present the "je" became in the ordering of the text, the more particular and subjective it seemed.

The question of order recurs in critical treatments of Verville's work. In his study of alchemical literature in early seventeenth-century France, Frank Greiner considers Verville's fictional and allegorical work, Le Voyage des princes fortunez, and concludes, like Terence Cave, that the predominant structural feature is one of textual order. While Cave's exploration concentrates on the use of the newly popular order artificialis, Greiner emphasizes the role of the allegorical secret in the text, arguing that "he secret beroaldien [es] avant tout le secret d'un order." (6) Verville was, among many other things, a practicing alchemist, and I will argue that the notion of the allegorical or alchemical secret plays a central role in the rhetorical strategies of Le Palais des curieux.

Subjective viewpoint and the authorial persona

The question or problem of order is raised in the preliminary "Advis" to Le palais des curieux. …

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