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Managing Time

Literature and Devotion in Early Modern France


Edited By Richard Maber and Joanna Barker

This volume offers a multidimensional exploration of the theme of time in early modern France: of time past, time present and time future, in literature and in life.

In poetry, the importance of past and future perspectives was studied by Maynard and La Fontaine. The dynamics of tragic drama were haunted by the past, driven by the urgency of the present and pervasively aware of the alternative futures that could be created, while in imaginative fiction there was a perennial fascination with possible future societies, Utopian or otherwise.

The awareness of transience and mortality gave urgency to the right ordering of life. The Church offered guidance to the pious for their days to be passed in disciplined devotion, while the moralists urged their worldly readers to redeem their misspent time and look to things eternal. At the end, the right ordering of death was both a social and a religious preoccupation.

The essays gathered here aim to stimulate an imaginative engagement with this important theme and open up avenues for future research.


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Chapter 7: Tragedy and the Weight of Time (John D. Lyons)


John D. Lyons 7 Tragedy and the Weight of Time Abstract With examples from dramatic texts by Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine, Molière, and Michel- Jean Sedaine, this chapter argues that one of the signal characteristics of tragedy is that the protagonists find their actions determined and controlled by a prior generation. This influence from the past can become so strong that the generations, rather than succeeding one another in an orderly fashion, become disastrously entangled. In comedy, to the con- trary, the protagonists act independently of the influence of previous generations. Finally, in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century drame the temporal and generational characteristics of both tragic and comic models can be discerned. ‘Tout est dit, et l’on vient trop tard …’1 La Bruyère’s words bring with them the melancholy sense of the past weighing on the present and emptying it of all positive possibility.2 Tragedy, I think that we would be inclined to agree, represents life in the frightening grip of a terrible past, beyond the state of melancholy, a state in which the past assails and enslaves the present. In what follows, I would like to make a few general observations – simplifying radically for the purposes of discussion – about the differences between a ‘comic’ view of time and a ‘tragic’ view of time, differences that seem to me to be broadly real even though in most major dramatic works they often co-exist in a tense conflict embodied in an almost allegorical fashion within the dramatic characters; and then...

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