La Gloire: The Roman Empire of Corneille and Racine

Louis Auchincloss, Author University of South Carolina Press $19.95 (0p) ISBN 978-1-57003-122-9
Auchincloss, who will be 80 next year, is well known as a Park Avenue lawyer who turned to fiction writing and also produced sympathetic appreciations of his favorite writers, like Jane Austen and Edith Wharton. Here, on more ambitious ground, he offers capsule summaries of 14 plays by Corneille and Racine, all dealing with the Roman Empire and points to certain themes involving glory. The resulting very brief but thorny book is best taken as what a reader's bookish grandfather might have come up with after mulling over French playwrights. Auchincloss's statements aren't on a par with the intellectual daring or originality of such previous critics as Roland Barthes, author of On Racine. They often lean more toward straightforward musings that occasionally read like Cliff Notes. When Auchincloss tries to make Racine and Corneille seem less dusty and more contemporary, the most recent historical references he mentions are Hitler and T.S. Eliot's play The Cocktail Party, in its own way as much a period piece now as anything by Corneille. The helter-skelter organization of the book jumps from Corneille to Racine and back again, and Auchincloss's own supposedly literal translations of the verses are often wide of the mark: He translates ""extreme douceur"" as just plain ""sweet"" and when Corneille speaks of death having ""certain charms"" (""des charmes"") Auchincloss renders this as: ""such an end has only delight."" The author's desire to read the French classics might have been better packaged as a personal journal, without the pseudoscholarly trappings. As it is, expert stylistic analysts like Leo Steinberg and Jean Starobinski are vastly better at understanding C. and R.(Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/04/1996
Release date: 11/01/1996
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 89 pages - 978-0-585-33407-3
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