Théodore de Banville (1823-1891) was a prolific poet, dramatist, critic and prose fiction writer whose significant contribution to poetic and aesthetic debates in nineteenth-century France has long been overlooked. Despite his profound influence on major writers such as Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine and Mallarmé, Banville polarised critical opinion throughout his fifty-year career. While supporters championed him as a virtuoso of French verse, many critics dismissed his formal pyrotechnics, effervescent rhythms and extravagant rhymes as mere clowning.
This book explores how Banville’s remarkably coherent body of verse theory and practice, full of provocative energy and mischievous humour, shaped debates about poetic value and how to identify it during a period of aesthetic uncertainty caused by diverse social, economic, political and artistic factors. It features a detailed new reading of Banville’s most infamous and misunderstood text, the Petit Traité de poésie française, as well as extended analyses of verse collections such as Les Stalactites, Odes funambulesques, Les Exilés, Trente-six Ballades and Rondels, illuminated by wide reference to Banville’s plays, fictional prose and journalistic writings. Evans elucidates not only the aesthetic tensions at the heart of nineteenth-century French verse theory and practice, but also a centuries-old tension between verse mechanisms and an unquantifiable, mysterious and elusive poeticity which emerges as one of the defining narratives of poetic value from the Middle Ages, via the Grands Rhétoriqueurs and Dada, to the experiments of the OuLiPo and beyond.
David Evans is Senior Lecturer in French at the University of St Andrews, UK.
‘Despite the admiration of a number of influential poets — especially Rimbaud, Mallarmé, and Apollinaire, but also Baudelaire and Verlaine — Banville has been neglected until recently. David Evans has written an engaging, richly documented study of the poet that will no doubt arouse interest in his work and provoke discussion.’ — Peter Hambly, French Studies 69.3, July 2015, 403
‘It is part of Evans’s purpose to reintroduce us to the sheer range of Banville’s output and to its abiding preoccupations as well as to its periodic inconsistencies... he is not afraid to give this study, periodically, the feel of an anthology. But make no mistake; this is an extremely important critical venture. It is scholarly, it has a sure-footed control of its materials, it is analytically judicious and insightful, and it draws the reader deep into its own critical zestfulness.’ — Clive Scott, Journal of European Studies 45.2, June 2015, 161-63
‘Challenges the conventional wisdom about Banville's poetry... The strength of the arguments with which Evans demonstrates his thesis can leave no doubt about Banville's commitment to modernity and his significant contributions to the evolution of late nineteenth-century poetics... A truly original reading of Banville and a 'must read' for all those who are working in the field of nineteenth- and twentieth-century poetry.’ — Peter J. Edwards, Modern Language Review 110.4, October 2015, 1138-39 (full text online)
‘In this excellent monograph, David Evans considers with aplomb Théodore de Banville’s voluminous verse output, along with the infamous Petit Traité de poésie française, detailing the ways in which Banville’s virtuosity has been consistently misunderstood over the last century... In rehabilitating Banville’s verse, he highlights the works of other French poets who have fallen either into obscurity or out of critical favor all while blending close readings with rigorous formal analyses. Indeed, few contemporary scholars are as knowledgeable on the technical mechanics of French verse and, at the same time, as able to render in-depth examinations of lines and syllables not merely comprehensible, but readable.’ — Erin E. Edgington, Nineteenth-Century French Studies 44.1-2, 2015
‘Théodore de Banville a longtemps été considéré par la critique comme un funambule de la versification [...]. Pourtant, l’auteur du Petit Traité de poésie française a été vu également comme un législateur du Parnasse inflexible [...]. Le stimulant essai que lui consacre David Evans [...] fait voler en éclats ce paradoxe de la critique en révélant la profondeur que la poésie banvillienne cache sous son apparente frivolité. [...] L’analyse très pertinente de certains poèmes [...] permet à David Evans d’expliquer comment Banville a mêlé, dans ses poèmes à forme fixe, le respect de la tradition et l’esprit d’innovation.’ — Yann Mortelette, Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France 115.4, 2015
‘Banville has frequently been dismissed as a poetic acrobat, a superb manipulator of rhythm and rhyme, who, however, had little of value to say. [...] David Evans has given us a far more comprehensive and subtler assessment of Banville’s achievements. [...] As a specialist of nineteenth-century French poetry and an outstanding metrician, Evans is well placed to pursue such a study, and his work is thoroughly grounded both in critical studies and in primary texts. [...] a brilliant and highly readable exploration of the poet’s techniques [offering] new insights expressed with admirable clarity. [...] Banville’s poetry is set within a rich framework, ranging from the lofty claims of Romanticism through the debunking works of Surrealism and Dadaism to the formal fireworks of Oulipo. [...] Evans writes well, with clarity and nuance, eschewing jargon and revealing that musicality is not just in his subject but in his medium. This is a work that should be in all university libraries and will richly reward anyone wit’ — Rosemary Lloyd, H-France 16:165, August 2016
Evans, David, Théodore de Banville: Constructing Poetic Value in Nineteenth-Century France (Cambridge: Legenda, 2014)
First footnote reference:35 David Evans, Théodore de Banville: Constructing Poetic Value in Nineteenth-Century France (Cambridge: Legenda, 2014), p. 21.