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.
Chapter 10: Time: For Amendment of Life, or Gathering Rosebuds? A Jesuit Moralist and the Paradoxes of Mortality (Richard Maber)
Richard Maber 10 Time: For Amendment of Life, or Gathering Rosebuds? A Jesuit Moralist and the Paradoxes of Mortality Abstract The rich early modern literature of death, in poetry and prose, has been extensively stud- ied. Religious moralists in particular sought to cultivate, and exploit, the vulnerability brought about by the full realization of the fact of personal mortality. The effects of such a realization were predictably diverse, and not always as the moralists intended. This chapter focuses on the outstanding Jesuit poet, Pierre Le Moyne, who frequented worldly circles and specialized in writing for his mondain audience in emotive prose and powerful poetry. He developed a two-pronged approach to convert his worldling readers: a relent- less insistence on transience and mortality, balanced by the undemanding accommodation of a dévotion aisée. A detailed consideration of some of his specific targets illustrates the successes, and conspicuous failures, of his technique. My starting-point is La Rochefoucauld: Le soleil ni la mort ne se peuvent regarder fixement.1 The transience of human life is the most universal of commonplaces, and has always formed one of the most powerful themes of poetry. However, the awareness of one’s own inevitable death – the moment of Larkin’s ‘Most things may never happen: this one will’2 – is likely to prompt the most diverse reactions. This chapter studies a moment of intersection between the two most common, but dramatically contrasting, attitudes: of making the most of our time on earth, or of renunciation in favour of things eternal....
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