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Managing Time

Literature and Devotion in Early Modern France

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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 9: Anticipation, the Future and La Fontaine’s Fables (Allen Wood)

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Allen Wood 9 Anticipation, the Future and La Fontaine’s Fables Abstract The text of La Fontaine’s Fables provides an interesting source to examine the manifesta- tions of time, in particular the use of the future tense, which may represent willingness, expectation, doubt, promise or even threat. Examples from various fables help to demon- strate the moral significance of seeing into the future. The representation of time in narrative fiction has received much atten- tion in the last half-century of literary criticism, in terms of general theory as well as in studies of specific literatures, including that of early modern France. In order to examine more closely the various manifestations of time, as well as the strategies involved in its deployment, it is useful to analyse time in one of the formes brèves of the period, which provides a narrative microcosm. That text is La Fontaine’s Fables. With regard to the fables, in the beginning was, and is, and probably will always be, ‘La Cigale et la fourmi’. While it is not perhaps a typical fable (if there is one), the little insects have long cast a giant shadow on La Fontaine studies, as well as on our collective memory. The opening lines have been memorized by generations of French school children: La Cigale, ayant chanté Tout l’été, Se trouva fort dépourvue Quand la bise fut venue. […] (I, 1; ll. 1–4) The opening verses contain the temporal convention of the past tenses of narration, especially the pass...

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