Apprivoiser ses livres: Voltaire ‘marginaliste’

Les marginalia sont un phénomène auquel on s’intéresse de plus en plus, comme l’illustre par exemple le répertoire Annotated Books Online. Paradoxalement, à une époque où il est souvent mal vu d’écrire dans ses livres, d’en corner les pages, ou de les déchirer, les historiens du livre étudient les traces de lecture anciennes et montrent que défigurer un livre peut lui donner du prix, comme le reconnaît Andrew D. Scrimgeour, responsable des bibliothèques à Drew University au New Jersey. Les auteurs J. J. Abrams et Doug Dorst, pour leur part, ont trouvé dans la pratique des notes marginales une structure et un thème propices pour un roman.

Jean Racine, Œuvres, t.2, p.423. Bibliothèque nationale de Russie.

Jean Racine, Œuvres, Paris, 1736, t.2, p.423. Bibliothèque nationale de Russie.

‘Je voudrais bien savoir quel est l’imbecille […] qui a défiguré par tant de croix et qui a cru rempli de fautes le plus bel ouvrage de notre langue’: c’est ainsi que Voltaire réagit en marge aux traces qu’un autre a laissé dans son exemplaire des Œuvres de Racine. Mais dès qu’il devient lecteur à son tour, tout est possible. Sur une période de plus de cinquante ans, Voltaire a écrit dans les livres qui passaient entre ses mains: c’est le sujet de ma monographie, Voltaire à l’ouvrage, tout récemment parue. En tant qu’auteur célèbre, il a compris que ces traces avaient de la valeur et il lui arrivait d’offrir des exemplaires annotés à d’illustres connaissances et à des personnes de son entourage. Il a peut-être même pressenti qu’on allait s’intéresser à sa bibliothèque après sa mort, car certains commentaires marginaux semblent attendre un lecteur futur: ‘tout cela est de moy / jecrivis cette lettre’, note-t-il à côté d’un texte que Jean-François, baron de Spon cite comme ayant été présenté aux Etats-Généraux de Hollande en octobre 1745 – une espèce de ‘j’y étais!’ laissé pour la postérité.

Jean François, baron de Spon,Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de l’Europe, depuis 1740 jusqu’à la paix générale signée à Aix-la-Chapelle, t.3, p.51. Bibliothèque nationale de Russie.

Jean François, baron de Spon, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de l’Europe, depuis 1740 jusqu’à la paix générale signée à Aix-la-Chapelle, Amsterdam, 1749, t.3, p.51. Bibliothèque nationale de Russie.

Tous les marginalia de Voltaire contenus dans les livres de sa bibliothèque personnelle sont désormais disponibles: le neuvième tome du Corpus des notes marginales vient de paraître. Cette publication clôt le premier volet du projet commencé pendant les années 1960 à la Bibliothèque nationale de Russie. (Un dixième tome fournira les traces de lecture de Voltaire qu’on connaît en dehors de sa bibliothèque.) Le Corpus, dont la publication a été reprise dans les Œuvres complètes de Voltaire sous la direction de Natalia Elaguina à partir des années 2000, donne à chacun la possibilité de se plonger dans l’univers des lectures de Voltaire, monde à moitié imprimé, à moitié manuscrit, et constitue un outil formidable pour redécouvrir cet auteur pourtant déjà si connu.

Les traces de lecture de Voltaire permettent de traquer les origines de ses propres textes, grâce aux signets, aux soulignements et aux réactions en marge qui marquent des passages qu’il cite, qu’il conteste ou qu’il transforme dans ses écrits. Les notes comprennent des réactions ludiques et polémiques qui désorganisent parfois la lecture de l’imprimé, tels ses ajouts manuscrits à la page de titre des Erreurs de Voltaire de Claude-François Nonnotte, et des corrections qu’il a faites pour des amis (à paraître dans le tome 10 du Corpus).

Claude-François Nonnotte, Les Erreurs de Voltaire. Bibliothèque nationale de Russie.

Claude-François Nonnotte, Les Erreurs de Voltaire. Bibliothèque nationale de Russie.

Les rapports que Voltaire entretient avec ses livres sont fortement ancrés dans la matérialité de l’objet. Ainsi, il introduit des plis, des entailles dans le papier, il exploite adroitement les différents espaces blancs à sa disposition, il démembre des volumes, les refait à sa manière, il utilise encres, crayon de plomb, sanguine, et crayons de couleurs pour laisser ses traces sur la page. Voltaire aurait apprécié les fonctions de recherche et de repérage offertes par le Kindle, les fichiers pdf et autres manifestations du numérique. Ces technologies permettent de joindre des annotations au texte, mais n’accordent pas les mêmes possibilités d’un corps à corps qui caractérise la lecture telle qu’il l’a pratiquée. Dans Voltaire à l’ouvrage, je me penche également sur les lectures faites dans différentes langues, et sur le style et la poétique des annotations marginales. C’était l’occasion aussi de comparer les marginalia de cet auteur à ceux d’autres lecteurs de l’époque, ce qui fournit un contexte et permet de mesurer l’originalité, ou non, des pratiques voltairiennes.

Gillian Pink

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‘Alas, Poor Yorick!’: Sentimental Beginnings and Endings

2018 has already provided a curate’s egg anniversary for scholars of eighteenth-century fiction: 250 years since the first publication of A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (27 February 1768) and, less than a month later, the death of its author, Laurence Sterne (18 March 1768).

Laurence Sterne by Sir Joshua Reynolds, oil on canvas (1760), National Portrait Gallery.

Laurence Sterne by Sir Joshua Reynolds, oil on canvas (1760), National Portrait Gallery.

‘Alas, Poor Yorick!’: A Sterne 250-Year Anniversary Conference marked both sestercentennials by inviting over forty scholars from twelve countries to reflect on the impact of Sterne’s writings in his and our times. The conference took place at Sterne’s Alma Mater Jesus College, Cambridge, providing an opportunity for delegates staying in college accommodation to breakfast beneath a copy of Joshua Reynolds’s famous portrait of Sterne in the dining hall.

Marking both events together proved apt. A Sentimental Journey was, from its earliest conception, tied to the health of its author. Its origins lie in a seven-month tour of France and Italy that Sterne, a sufferer from pulmonary tuberculosis since his days as an undergraduate, undertook to improve his ailing condition. The risks as well as the rewards of venturing abroad in ill health are immediately apparent in the narrative. Having only just arrived in Calais and dining on a ‘fricassee’d chicken’ (ASJ, 3), Yorick, the text’s sentimental traveller, worries that the richness of his meal might lead to death by indigestion and the loss of his goods under the rules of the Droits d’aubaine. It is a mordant first step into cultural tourism: having just crossed the border into France, death by consumption would cement Yorick the consumptive’s status as an outsider under its laws of inheritance.

Many readers in 1768 would have been aware that Sterne had already resurrected Yorick from his death in the first volume of Tristram Shandy (1759-67). Even this most absolute of borders proves porous when Sterne requires it to be, and this sense of strange re-orderings, and the haziness of causal links that bind characters to each other and to their environs, suffuses much of his fiction. After an early chastening encounter with a monk he inadvertently abuses, Yorick promises to ‘learn better manners as I get along’ (ASJ, 11), yet his journey fails to provide any straightforward heuristic narrative. Yorick later muses that ‘I seldom go to the place I set out for’ (ASJ, 103), and it proves difficult to discern what, if anything, he actually learns from his sentimental encounters.

Digressions abound; at one point Yorick winds up in Rennes (200 miles west of his route south from Calais to Lyon) without any explanation for his presence there beyond it being ‘an incident of good fortune which will never happen to any traveller, but a sentimental one’ (ASJ, 108). As James Chandler notes, the capacity to reflect on his feelings appears to open Yorick to a flux of potential encounters, yet it remains unclear whether such reflections ‘can be supposed to occur on a single plane of circulation, where we all reflect each other’, or ‘on an ascending scale of higher-order recognitions’.[1]

Conversely, Yorick values highly the ability to distinguish difference. His distinction between the English and the French national character relies, as if folding the principle of differentiation in on itself, on differing potentials for individuation. The French, he argues, have reached such a heightened degree within the ‘progress of their refinements’ (ASJ, 119) that, like coins ‘jingling and rubbing one against another for seventy years together […] they are become so much alike, you can scarce distinguish one shilling from another’ (ASJ, 119). The English, in contrast, are ‘like antient medals, kept more apart, and passing but few peoples hands’ and it is this propensity to remain separate that preserves ‘the first sharpnesses which the fine hand of nature has given them’ (ASJ, 119). Yorick’s further observation that ‘’tis certain the French conceive better than they combine’ (ASJ, 112) almost certainly refers to Locke’s description of wit and judgement as respectively the combining and separating of ideas, yet the peculiarity of his own narrative lies in its interplay between such atomistic and holistic impulses.

Even defining what we should search for order proves a vexed point. Yorick’s Journey begins with his reader arriving at the end of a conversation: ‘––THEY order, said I, this matter better in France––’ (ASJ, 3). Precisely what ‘matter’ is ordered ‘better’ in France remains undisclosed. Some critics, such as Martin C. Battestin, take the term to allude to Sterne’s complicated friendship as an Anglican clergyman with materialist philosophes such as Baron d’Holbach, who was instrumental in obtaining Sterne’s passport to travel through France.[2] Another solution lies in the careful arrangement of the text itself into titled scenes, or vignettes. In driving action from discourse at the Journey’s outset, Sterne, Michael Seidel argues, ‘makes the linguistic properties of utterance spatial’, but more importantly, by inscribing ‘the space for narrative projection’ in these terms, he threads the ‘matter’ of what is, or should be, well ‘order[ed]’ into the fiction’s textual weave.[3] In a prime example of Sternean slippage between text and scene, it is the order of narrative ‘matters’ – i.e. the material arrangement and divisions of the book itself – that Yorick most strongly evokes by asking that his reader interpret the end of a conversation as the beginning of his journey.

If it begins with an ending, the Journey ends with an aposiopesis, or breaking off, that again conflates text and scene. Somewhat uncomfortably for readers in the age of #metoo, the interruption provides also a pun on a grope, with Yorick’s outstretched hand catching ‘hold of the Fille de Chambre’s… END OF VOL. II.’ (ASJ, 165). As Paul Goring noted in a paper at Cambridge, the Journey’s abrupt conclusion also left Sterne’s final debt to his readers unrepaid. Its subscribers had been promised four volumes for their investment, but Sterne’s untimely death left them with only two.

Laurence Sterne, alias Tristram Shandy: ‘And When Death Himself Knocked at My Door’, by Thomas Patch, etching (1769), Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Laurence Sterne, alias Tristram Shandy: ‘And When Death Himself Knocked at My Door’, by Thomas Patch, etching (1769), Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The scene, ‘The Case of Delicacy’ (ASJ, 160), with which the Journey’s second and final volume ends, proves fascinating in light of the events that took place shortly after its publication. We leave Yorick supine and almost entombed in a bedchamber, ‘it being totally dark’ (ASJ, 165). Yorick’s hand extends ‘by way of asseveration’ (ASJ, 165) in one final reach outwards that manages to be both deathly and bawdy – in other words, Sternean. In a first-hand account of Sterne’s death in London, John MacDonald, a footman to one of Sterne’s friends, reports that when the moment came ‘He put up his hand as if to stop a blow, and died in a minute.

Our conference at Cambridge welcomed a number of distinguished speakers, including author Martin Rowson, who discussed his graphic novel adaptations of Sterne’s fictions, and Peter de Voogd, who shared his insights from amassing arguably the largest collection of Sterne’s works on the continent.

Martin Rowson delivers a guest speech at ‘Alas, Poor Yorick!’: A Sterne 250-Year Anniversary Conference’.

Martin Rowson delivers a guest speech at ‘Alas, Poor Yorick!’: A Sterne 250-Year Anniversary Conference.

My own highlight was an incisive keynote from Freya Johnston, who addressed the subject of characterisation and determinism in Sterne’s fictions. Sterne’s characters, Johnston argued, do not develop or change in his narratives so much as undergo ordeals that evince their engrained hobby-horsical inconsistencies time and again. The claustrophobia that permeates his works – in which, even when we follow Yorick on the open road, we find ourselves enclosed within discreet, archly constructed sentimental scenes – begins with Tristram’s conception of the homunculus as an already complete character-in-miniature, and culminates at the end of the Journey’s first volume with Yorick reflecting on Walter Shandy’s theory that ‘children, like other animals, might be increased almost to any size, provided they came right into the world’ (ASJ, 80). According to Walter, only the rooms in which children are confined limit the extent of their growth, a theory that Yorick considers, but equivocates in passing judgement on, in his observations of a Parisian dwarf. It is an oddly death-like vision of the human potential for growth: one in which characters come pre-formed, encased in – and stunted by – their environment. Like being born into a coffin.

– Alexander Hardie-Forsyth (Wolfson College, Oxford)

[1] James Chandler, An Archaeology of Sympathy: The Sentimental Mode in Literature and Cinema (Chicago, 2013), p.205.

[2] Martin C. Battestin, ‘Sterne among the Philosophes: Body and Soul in A Sentimental Journey’, Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 7:1 (October 1994), p.19.

[3] Michael Seidel, ‘Narrative Crossings: Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey’, Genre, 18 (1985), p.2.

Maria Theresa: the Habsburg empress revisited

Maria Theresa, by Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1762.

Maria Theresa, by Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1762.

On 26 February 2018, Tobias Heinrich (Kent) and Avi Lifschitz (Oxford) convened a study day at Queen’s College (Oxford) to mark the tercentenary of the birth of Maria Theresa, empress of the Habsburg Empire from 1740 to 1780. Leading scholars came together from across Europe for a day of interdisciplinary talks and discussion about the enduring ‘myth’ of Maria Theresa. These talks provided a fascinating window into the life and rule of this formidable empress, covering a range of topics including the representation of Maria Theresa from her own time into the present day, her correspondence with her daughter Marie Antoinette, her succession to the throne as a woman, her social and political networks, and the Catholic Enlightenment.

In the first session, Werner Telesko (Austrian Academy of Sciences) presented a paper entitled ‘Maria Theresa: the making of a myth. Old questions and new insights’. Telesko highlighted the way in which the proliferation of idealized portraits, etchings and symbols, standardized the idealized representations of the empress in the eighteenth century as empress, mother, and widow. Telesko demonstrated how the myth of the empress continued thereafter to be adapted to suit contemporary needs, Maria Theresa becoming the ultimate embodiment of ‘being Austrian’ in the national memory. Catriona Seth (All Souls College, Oxford) presented her work, ‘A well-tempered correspondence? The letters of Marie Antoinette and Maria Theresa’. Seth revealed the way in which Maria Theresa deployed her daughters in her imperial ambitions through marriages abroad, managing these royal alliances through correspondence. She kept careful tabs on the one who made the most prestigious marriage, treating Marie Antoinette as a dependent in need of counsel even after she was crowned queen of France. Maria Theresa dictated with whom her daughter was allowed to maintain correspondences, implored her above all to produce an heir to the throne (demanding constant updates of her daughter’s reproductive status), and urged her to heed the advice of the Austrian ambassador Mercy, Maria Theresa’s eyes and ears in France.

Letter by Marie-Antoinette to her mother Maria Theresa, 9 July 1770.

Letter by Marie-Antoinette to her mother Maria Theresa, 9 July 1770.

In the second session, William O’Reilly (Trinity Hall, Cambridge) gave his paper, ‘“All the king’s men”: Maria Theresa and the Holy Crown of St Stephan’, a fascinating reflection on the problem of female succession and the history of the legal gymnastics involved in answering the question: is the heir a child, or a woman? O’Reilly underscored how Maria Theresa came to be seen as a man in the person of a woman in order to rationalize her succession to the throne, forming her royal image in imitation of Queen Mary I. Thomas Wallnig (University of Vienna) concluded the second session with a provocative paper entitled ‘After 2017: is new research on Maria Theresa possible?’. Wallnig answered his own question, at least in the beginning, in the negative, paying homage to the substantial scholarship on Maria Theresa that has been completed to date. Proposing to move beyond biography, correspondence, and her family, Wallnig ultimately turned to the promise of digital humanities and network analysis for reframing the questions, opening up new avenues for historical inquiry and making room for future innovative studies of the empress.

The study day concluded with a keynote lecture by leading eighteenth-century historian Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger (University of Münster), ‘Maria Theresa and the Catholic Enlightenment’. Stollberg-Rilinger began her talk highlighting Maria Theresa’s vexed relationship with the Enlightenment. Maria Theresa viewed the philosophes as having ‘ni foi, ni lois, ni honnêteté’. She was in favour of upholding the authority of tradition and disliked the philosophes’ entitlement to think on their own. Yet what emerged through Stollberg-Rilinger’s analysis of Maria Theresa’s policies regarding the Church was in fact a woman fully confident in her capacity to think for herself. Stollberg-Rilinger demonstrated how Maria Theresa cracked down on the Church when the problem of exorcists became a major issue in the public sphere, asserting her sovereign rule over the Church as she claimed the authority to settle religious matters. In claiming the power of decision-making and the power to define what was faith versus charlatanism, Maria Theresa asserted her divine right to rule as sovereign, even over the Church.

Kaiserin Maria Theresia im Kreise ihrer Kinder, by Heinrich Füger, 1776.

Kaiserin Maria Theresia im Kreise ihrer Kinder, by Heinrich Füger, 1776.

Wallnig is right to point out that a figure as prominent as Maria Theresa has been studied exhaustively, with countless studies dedicated to her alone. The eighteenth century is full of such figures – rulers, philosophes, political theorists, artists, writers, and countless others – that continue to captivate us dix-huitiémistes and inspire our work. Yet while Wallnig asked what more we can possibly do on Maria Theresa in the twenty-first century, I found myself leaving Queen’s College thinking about what Maria Theresa can teach us about why eighteenth-century studies matter today. One might ask, how could an afternoon of talks dedicated to a single person answer that question?

Yet in that afternoon, we thought about how we can leverage twenty-first-century technology to find openings in well-trodden fields, and make new discoveries and contributions to eighteenth-century scholarship. We considered the role of media in the construction of glorified images of political figures, and the appropriation of historical figures to serve contemporary purposes. We thought about the problem of women and power through the lens of the letters between a mother and a daughter: not only how a woman acquires and holds onto power, but more strikingly the negotiation of identity as a woman in power, negotiating the political and the personal, the identity of empress versus mother. We grappled with how to justify the right of a woman to rule, and what to do when a title is intended for a man: Rex versus Regina. And lastly, in what proved particularly prescient, we wrestled with the question of where power lies – with the Church or with the State – and who has the power to define faith versus charlatanism, what we could transpose to our current political moment as fact versus fiction.

– Chloe Edmondson (Stanford)

Classic and modern clash in Italy

Giambattista Vico

Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), by Giuseppe Fusitani (1836).

In recent years, groups of Italian students protesting against governmental cuts to education funding and the rise of university fees have gained some popularity in the international media due to their highly original form of opposition. They made padded shields shaped as book covers, and used them as a symbol of literary and cultural resistance to the draconian cuts imposed by Italy’s successive governments.

The canon of works chosen for this very unique form of public protest – ranging from Plato’s Republic to Machiavelli’s The Prince to Marquez’s One hundred years of solitude – has raised immediate attention. With only a couple of exceptions, all the selected ‘book shields’ can be considered canonic books, ancient and modern classics, works whose value has matured over time. Professor Luca Serianni from La Sapienza University in Rome commented that it looked like a second-hand canon, closer to the reading matter of students rioting in the late sixties and seventies. In other words, a canon inherited from today’s students’ parents.

The image of protesters resisting undesired changes in public education policies by raising classical books as shields is a powerful image of Italy’s approach to tradition, change and permanence in culture and education. Italian culture is characterized by a perceived continuity of tradition, both the Greco-Roman classical and that of the so-called modern classics. The metaphor of these book shields further confirms that there is a complex connection between literary canon, tradition and resistance.

Giacomo Leopardi

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837). Drawing by Luigi Lolli, engraving by Gaetano Guadagnini (1830).

Other European philosophical traditions were born instead out of a rupture with the past. Descartes’ ideas can be viewed as an example of modern thought grounded in a fracture with tradition – as Hegel said, Descartes is one of those who ‘restarted philosophy from zero’. Descartes’ thought is grounded in doubting the philosophical foundation of various fields of knowledge, particularly the humanities. Additionally, Descartes doubted that the study of classical sources, rhetoric and history adds anything to human knowledge. Giambattista Vico’s enquiry started from a critique of Descartes’ viewpoint: Vico’s speculation claims that there is a modern, ‘scientific’ method of studying the humanities. Vico’s legacy consists in a new way (a New science) to look at the ancient world and classical authorities, which, in Vico’s view, should preserve their legacy and guarantee their survival in an increasingly scientific world.

A century later, Italy’s continuity with classicism is again endangered in the field of literature with the so-called classic-romantic quarrel, which is also in some respects a quarrel between tradition and modernity. In this context, Giacomo Leopardi, with his 1818 Discourse on Romantic poetry, embodies an attempt to resist the rise of modernity and to preserve continuity with the innocence of origins, guaranteed by the traditional forms of poetry.

I start from this position in my book Rebuilding post-Revolutionary Italy: Leopardi and Vico’s ‘New science’, in which I identify continuity between these two moments and figures. Vico and Leopardi, almost a century apart, renegotiated Italy’s role, identity, and tradition in a modern world and raised the authority of established classics as a shield in an attempt to resist or to negotiate change. In a time that had witnessed large-scale historical transformation with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, within a community that had ‘grown old in Revolutions’, as Pietro Colletta, a reader of Vico, put it in 1815, Italy cultivated its own, distinctive approach to modernity.

– Martina Piperno