Literature and Nation in the Sixteenth Century: Inventing Renaissance France

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9780801437748: Literature and Nation in the Sixteenth Century: Inventing Renaissance France
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Assessing the relationship between the emergence of modern French literary culture and the ideological debates that marked Renaissance France, Timothy Hampton explores the role of literary form in shaping national identity.The foundational texts of modern French literature were produced during a period of unprecedented struggle over the meaning of community. In the face of religious heresy, political threats from abroad, and new forms of cultural diversity, Renaissance French culture confronted, in new and urgent ways, the question of what it means to be "French." Hampton shows how conflicts between different concepts of community were mediated symbolically through the genesis of new literary forms. Hampton's analysis of works by Rabelais, Montaigne, Du Bellay, and Marguerite de Navarre, as well as writings by lesser-known poets, pamphleteers, and political philosophers, shows that the vulnerability of France and the instability of French identity were pervasive cultural themes during this period.Contemporary scholarship on nation-building in early modern Europe has emphasized the importance of centralized power and the rise of absolute monarchy. Hampton offers a counterargument, demonstrating that both community and national identity in Renaissance France were defined through a dialogic relationship to that which was not French―to the foreigner, the stranger, the intruder from abroad. He provides both a methodological challenge to traditional cultural history and a new consideration of the role of literature in the definition of the nation.

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About the Author:

Timothy Hampton is Professor of French and holds the Bernie H. Williams Chair of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Writing from History: The Rhetoric of Exemplarity in Renaissance Literature, Literature and Nation in the Sixteenth Century: Inventing Renaissance France, and Fictions of Embassy: Literature and Diplomacy in Early Modern Europe, all from Cornell.

Review:

"Here is a historian scrutinizing literature, drawing out linguistic transformations and distortions and explicating them via politics. It is a remarkable achievement, offering many excellent analyses of which perhaps the most compelling is Montaigne's retelling of the first encounter of Spaniards and Americans. . . This quality of reading and writing is found everywhere in Hampton's book."―Margaret M. McGowan. Times Literary Supplement, December 28, 2001

"Hampton's new book unearths a whole series of complicated problems that lie buried in what are admittedly much studied, if non canonical literary texts of the French Renaissance. . . This is a very interesting study that should appeal broadly to specialists in any number of fields."―Michael Wolf, Pennsylvania State University. Sixteenth Century Journal, XXXII/1 (2002)

"Displaying exceptional clarity and originality, Timothy Hampton's book is a superb addition not only to the expanding field of nation-building in early modern Europe, but also the fields of ethics and literature concerned with the question of alterity."―Zahi Zalloua, Princeton University. French Review, Vol. 75, No. 4, October 2001

"Through avid research, close reading and fine writing he gives us a wonderful book on the emergence of French nationhood in The Renaissance: Literature and Nation in the Sixteenth Century: Inventing Renaissance France. . . . For once modern concerns about politics and empire, etc., do not produce anachronistic or skewed readings of the past but underline continuities and comparisons. There is also in this complex but readable text an excellent discussion of that old standby of authors and critics, the difference between appearance and reality."―Bibliotheque d'Humanisme et Renaissance, Tome LXIV, 2002 n.1

"Timothy Hampton's book makes an outstandingly useful contribution to the growing number of studies of nationhood by literary historians. Through his high level of textual analysis, Hampton has much to teach readers about literary interpretation."―Constance Jordan, Claremont Graduate University

"Literature and Nation in the Sixteenth Century may be the finest book on early modern French literature and nationhood to be written in the last two or three decades. It blends new and intensely close readings of canonical texts with the vision of an accomplished historian. Rich in detail, this book is a godsend."―Tom Conley, Harvard University

"Recent contributions to cultural studies have often been maligned for their intellectual shallowness and lack of textual grounding. Timothy Hampton's Literature and Nation in the Sixteenth Century offers a masterful counter-example to this unfortunate trend. Here the complex ideological construction of nationhood is presented in a fascinating cross-disciplinary perspective, which will undoubtedly invigorate future research by, and debates between historians and political scientists as well as literary critics."―François Rigolot, Princeton University

"With theoretical sophistication and deep erudition, Timothy Hampton's timely exploration of community in early modern France demonstrates that modern critical approaches need not be anachronistic and that they may uncover―in a thoroughly provocative way―the origins of our current political and social malaise."―Lawrence D. Kritzman, Dartmouth College

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