Site de Benoît Melançon / Thèses canadiennes en littérature française du XVIIIe siècle

Millner, Jacqueline Martine, «Creating Order : The French Revolution in Selected Texts of André Chénier, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Novalis», Toronto, Université de Toronto, thèse de doctorat, 2001, 282 p. Dir. : Roland J. Le Huenen et J. R. J. Jackson.

An interdisciplinary study of work by three European poets at the time of the French Revolution, this thesis reads literary texts in the context of history and politics. Based on selected published writings by André Chénier, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Novalis, it establishes features of the public poetic response to the Revolution. Cycles of publication are investigated for each poet, in each case covering the period when his reaction to the Revolution would be most available to a wider public. The thesis studies the way history is “configured” (the “configuration” of history is a term employed by Paul Ricoeur, whose Time and Narrative supplies the theoretical impetus for the project). It concludes that although there is no single overriding concept linking Revolution and revolutionary poetic narrative, each text borrows from Revolutionary rhetoric in its own way. The thesis suggests that too narrow a view of “Romantic” ideology has obscured a plausible reading of the work of the poets as members of the historical communities of the 1790’s. The interpretation of the poetry is different when situated in this context. Further, the “ordering” of Revolution within national and political context is a concern in all the texts. André Chénier projects a pre-Romantic heroic personality into the future to escape the chaos of Revolution, in which he is implicated mainly by his extensive adoption of Revolutionary discourse. Coleridge first attempts to reconcile a divine plan with the chaos of contemporary social inequities, but then chooses to use nature, not politics, as an ordering mechanism in his poetry. Novalis recreates history to reconcile older and newer orders, blotting out the impact of anarchic Revolution by placing it in a pattern of evolutionary cycles. These conclusions question a commonly held notion of literary history, that contemporary poets reacted to the Revolution with disgust, disowning earlier enthusiasms, and turned “back” to poetry. The poets designed their worlds continually; the Revolution was one of the elements that needed to be organised to create poetic order, and it was to this order, separately achieved and conceived within historical context, that the poets remained constant.

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