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Managing Time

Literature and Devotion in Early Modern France

Series:

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 8: Out of Time? Untimeliness in Corneille’s Pulchérie (1672) (Joseph Harris)

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Joseph Harris 8 Out of Time? Untimeliness in Corneille’s Pulchérie (1672) Abstract Having enjoyed being at the vanguard of modernity with Le Cid, by the mid-century Corneille felt increasingly that his own practices were out of step with modern tastes; he confessed that ‘je deviens trop vieux pour être encore à la mode’. Corneille’s anxieties about modernity are thematized and negotiated in his penultimate play, the ‘heroic comedy’ Pulchérie. In many respects, this play is temporally out of joint. Curiously, its ‘Au lecteur’ focuses heavily on the historical events that followed the dramatic action; Corneille also insists that its characters are defiantly ‘contre le goût du temps’, indeed flouting the ‘entête- ments du siècle’. A similar dismissal of modern tastes is suggested even within the play, when one character bemoans how, now that ‘le siècle a changé’, modern tastes can no longer even respect ‘vieux héros’ like Pylades and Orestes. Yet the trope of ‘untimeliness’ is embodied within the play above all by one surviving ‘old hero’, a hangover from generations past. The stubborn longevity of the aged senator Martian thwarts his deep desire to die before seeing his beloved Pulchérie marry another. Although Pulchérie finally resolves to enter a chaste marriage with him, the play’s true denouement (the passage of the throne to her beloved and successor Léon) will be deferred into the future. Yet, as Corneille’s ‘Au lecteur’ has already reminded his readers, this future will itself be...

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