Jean Racine - Dramatist
Nonfiction by Martin Turnell
“This is a book about dramatic experience,” declares Martin Turnell in his introduction to this, the latest in his distinguished series of studies in French literature. The author of The Art of French Fiction, Baudelaire: A Stusy of his Poetry, The Classical Moment, and The Novel in France now turns to the work of Jean Racine, insisting that the true test of France’s greatest tragic playwright remains the continuing effectiveness of the theatre itself. For above all, “the plays must be studied as dramatic and not literary works. Racine’s tragedies are pure drama in the sense in which we are accustomed to speaking of ’pure poetry.’” Beginning with a general “Approach to Racine,” Turnell next considers each of the eleven plays, emphasizing their distinctive features, analyzing their structures, and pointing up the relevance of subject matter—the preoccupation with despotism, for example—for our time. Special attention is given as well to the great tirades, the poetry and imagery, while a final chapter discusses versification and language. Thus, if as Francois Mauriac has suggested, of all French authors Racine has become one of the least accessible, then Turnell’s book surely helps bridge the gap between modern sensibility and the classic world of 17th-century France.