1st Edition

Chance, Literature, and Culture in Early Modern France

By John D. Lyons, Kathleen Wine Copyright 2009

    In the Renaissance and early modern periods, there were lively controversies over why things happen. Central to these debates was the troubling idea that things could simply happen by chance. In France, a major terrain of this intellectual debate, the chance hypothesis engaged writers coming from many different horizons: the ancient philosophies of Epicurus, the Stoa, and Aristotle, the renewed reading of the Bible in the wake of the Reformation, a fresh emphasis on direct, empirical observation of nature and society, the revival of dramatic tragedy with its paradoxical theme of the misfortunes that befall relatively good people, and growing introspective awareness of the somewhat arbitrary quality of consciousness itself. This volume is the first in English to offer a broad cultural and literary view of the field of chance in this period. The essays, by a distinguished team of scholars from the U.S., Britain, and France, cluster around four problems: Providence in Question, Aesthetics and Poetics of Chance, Law and Ethics, and Chance and its Remedies. Convincing and authoritative, this collection articulates a new and rich perspective on the culture of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France.

    Introduction Early-Modern Chaos and the Chance Hypothesis; Part 1 Providence in Question; Chapter 1 Montaigne Between Fortune and Providence, Alain Legros; Chapter 2 Providence and Imago Mundi, Frank Lestringant; Chapter 3 Chance and Errors of Nature: A Literature of Demystification, François Rigolot; Part 2 Poetics and Aesthetics of Chance; Chapter 4 Toward a Poetics of Adventure: Amadis de Gaule, Virginia Krause; Chapter 5 Random Trials: Chance and Chronotope in Gomberville’s Polexandre, Kathleen Wine; Chapter 6 Sublime Accidents, John D. Lyons; Chapter 7 Chance in the Tragedies of Racine, John Campbell; Part 3 The Law and the Ethics of Chance; Chapter 8 Prudence and the Ethics of Contingency in Montaigne’s Essais, Richard Regosin; Chapter 9 Malebranche and the Laws of Grace, Michael Moriarty; Part 4 Chance and its Remedies; Chapter 10 The Language of Fortune in Descartes, Emma Gilby; Chapter 11 Fortune, Long Life, Montaigne, Amy Wygant; Chapter 12 Cardinal de Retz’s Memoirs: Encountering Fortune and Taking Timely Steps, Malina Stefanovska;


    John D. Lyons is Commonwealth Professor of French at the University of Virginia, USA. Kathleen Wine is Associate Professor of French at Dartmouth College, USA.

    'Books as good as this one always leave you wanting more... It is to be hoped that others will now seize the opportunities offered by this rich and fascinating volume.' French Studies 'The book offers intriguing explorations of chance...' Sixteenth Century Journal '... this collection richly deserves a place in college and university libraries not just because it spans theology, æsthetics and poetics, ethics, politics and the law, but also because it is about how and why the early moderns told stories of shipwrecks, of being struck by lightning, of geographical higgledy-pigglediness, of tiles falling off roofs killing passers-by, and of love at first sight.' French History 'Ce volume met au jour des liens conceptuels (sublime et hasard, moment opportun et phénomène objectif, grâce et providence). Il éclaire à nouveaux frais des auteurs ou des textes dont les réflexions forment un enseignement pour un mieux vivre, car les questions du hasard et de l’instabilité du monde n’ont rien perdu de leur actualité. Enfin, ce volume stimule la curiosité de son lecteur.' Revue du Dix-Septième Siècle