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Managing Time

Literature and Devotion in Early Modern France


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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Introduction (Michael Moriarty)


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The hands of the clock go round in a circle and return to their starting-point yet each revolution takes us further in an irreversible movement in one definite direction. The following chapters explore the depiction of time in early modern French writing through a variety of approaches, and with reference to a variety of fields of activity. Some chapters concentrate on the cyclical aspect of time, others on its linearity. The collection covers an impressive range of genres: tragedy, comedy, prose fiction, poetry, and devotional manuals. It is particularly welcome to see poetry coming again into focus, since in recent decades it has been relatively neglected by scholarship in the early modern period. Alongside literature in the broad sense, the volume also features – another welcome development – historical research in the archives.

The chapters here certainly bear traces of the oft-cited ‘religious turn’ in early modern studies. Religion is a particularly rich field for the exploration of questions of time, since it requires the faithful to engage with both its cyclical and its linear aspects. To each of us God has allotted a certain sum of days, an unknowable quantity of time our use of which will determine our fate in eternity. Moreover, the world itself is moving towards an end predetermined by God, the Last Judgement.1

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