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Du Bellay : idealisme et sens pratique Cates, Mary Ellan

Abstract

This thesis is a study of two basic qualities of the poet Joachim du Bellay, which combined to produce a satirist of the first rank, as well as a poet of dazzling variety. These two qualities, his idealism and his practical common sense, existed throughout his life, and served to counterbalance each other. Orphaned at an early age, with a guardian who took little interest in him, his childhood was a lonely one. A love for the beautiful Loire valley where he was born remained with him all his, life. He read widely and gained a thorough knowledge of French literature. His formal studies began at the University of Poitiers where he soon gave up his interest in the law, to pursue a literary career. He then came to Paris as a student at the College de Coqueret, under the guidance of Jean Dorat. Here, he immersed himself in the study of Greek, Latin, and Italian and rejoiced in the friendships and discussions of student life. In 1549 appeared two major works. His Deffence et Illustration de la langue francoyse is probably the work of several hands. Nevertheless, we notice the fortuitous combination of his idealism and his practicality. Only an idealist could hope to change the course of French language and literature by a manifesto urging his colleagues to write in their own tongue, to study and to learn from other sources, but always to strive to enrich their own language and literature. He then gives very practical suggestions for achieving this goal. L'Olive, a collection of sonnets, appeared in 1549 as well. Petrarch is his model, and it is a work borrowed almost completely from Italian literatures. He portrays an idealized woman in vague, ethereal terms, with no evidence of any living counterpart. Obviously he has not experienced the love of which he writes. In his poetry written in Rome, where he observes the Italian courtisans, he takes a more practical interest in women. He falls in love with Faustine, only to lose her. His love poetry becomes more satiric and more sensual. His youthful idealism fades as he describes the women encountered in Rome. Du Bellay believes completely in the Platonic view of the poet - that he is a being set apart and given a special destiny in the world. His mission is to sing the praises of the king and of his family, God's earthly representatives. Consequently we find much court poetry celebrating events and people. Combined with this idealistic viewpoint, we see again the practical side of his nature. Du Bellay is aware of the system of royal patronage, and covets as post at the court. Just before he leaves Rome to return to Paris, we notice an unusually large number of sonnets praising various influential people in Paris. In 1553, he accompanied his relative, Cardinal du Bellay, to Rome where he served as his secretary - a position which involved handling the finances for a household of more than one hundred people, and much negotiation with Italian bankers and money-lenders. A measure of his practical ability is the success with which he managed this. Rome had been the centre of civilization and was the focal point of his studies. His first impressions at seeing the ruins of the great Roman empire are described in his Antiquites de Rome. The sense of nostalgia and dismay at the fragility of what had seemed eternal is the work of a disappointed and disillusioned idealist. His common sense soon establishes itself as he observes the Italians and their way of life. He is interested in the details and the mechanics of Roman society and politics, which he expresses vividly in his Regrets. His idealistic nature measures how far removed is the reality from his ideal of life in Rome. His practical nature realizes the futility of lamentation, and turns reality into a matter for satire. The irony of the Regrets is often cynical and bitter. His natural wit and vivacity eventually produce a more mellow and refined satire. He suffers from deafness and from an illness which incapacitates him, and finally kills him at the age of 37. He is embroiled in family law suits concerning various estates. Yet he is able to lead a more or less contented life. Being a practical man, he makes the most of what he has, often to the point of idealizing his consolations. His friends, especially Ronsard, play a dominant role in his life and in his poetry. His love of nature is evident in his harming pastoral poetry and his national pride is intensified by his visit to Rome. The writing of poetry is his greatest pleasure and at the same time acts as a catharsis for the tragedy and disappointments he encounters. He returns to Paris in 1558 and a survey of his poetry at this time, reveals a return to the influence of Petrarch and of neoplatonism, seen in his Amours. He continues to write for the royal family. The Poete-Courtisan is written, which satirizes the advice he gave as a youthful poet in his Deffence. After visiting Geneva, he makes fun of the pretensions of Calvinism. Then he writes a final manifesto which reveals the brilliance and depth of his thought and observation. In l’Ample discours au Roi, he analyses lucidly the society and the government of France. We see his idealism and his hope that the evils of the country can be remedied. Again his practical nature shows exactly where the evils lie, and what specific steps must be taken to better the lot of the great mass of the people. Tracing his poetry through youthful idealism, cynical disillusion, and finally to a coming to terms with life, this thesis is concerned with the influence on du Bellay's poetry of two dominant traits of his character - his idealism and his practical common sense.

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