UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

l'influence allemande dans les contes de Charles Nodier Schoenfeld, Marie-Luise


Charles Nodier, who was born at Besançon in 1780 and who died in Paris in 1844, was a profuse writer in many fields (e.g. bibliography, linguistics, entomology, criticism, romance). He stood at the crossroads of classicism and romanticism and tried to find a synthesis of the valuable aspects of both movements in their literary and their philosophical significance. He was unjustly forgotten because it was difficult to classify him: although his language and style conformed to the ideals of classic beauty, his ideas were in advance of his time. Thanks to a particularly remarkable ability in languages, Nodier drew upon the store of ideas of European literature as a whole, with particular emphasis on the fantastic literature of Germany. He praised lavishly the freedom of imagination of German thought. German influence has, therefore, been taken for granted by nearly all biographers and never been explored in detail. In chapters I and II of this work, we get to know Nodier from the testimony of his contemporaries and that of the scholarly biographers of the 20th century who rediscovered his "contes", as well as from an analysis of these "contes" and their symbolic significance. We arrived at the conclusion that Nodier did not merely try to escape from reality through writing fairy-tales, but that he relayed a distinct message: illuminism. The hidden didacticism accounts for a certain monotony in theme and dénouement. To explain this fact, we drew on general influences of German thought, demonstrated by comparison with Herder, Tieck, and others, whose attitudes are reflected in Nodier's criticism and style (chapter III). The full extent of German influence, examined in detail in chapter IV, reveals that the influence of Goethe is ultimately to be considered negative, i.e. Nodier's imitations of Goethe's Werther and Faust are deliberately distorted to convey his criticism. Positive influences are at work between Hoffmann and Nodier, and there are numerous examples to prove this fact, the most important one being the comparison of the autobiographical novel Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr intertwined with the Fragmentarische Biographie des Kapellmeisters Johannes Kreisler by E.T.A. Hoffmann, with the largely neglected Histoire du roi de Bohême et de ses sept châteaux by Nodier. The latter work, an intentional conglomeration of pastiches presenting numerous ultra-modern features of style, incorporates two conventional, but likewise fragmented "contes", and thus undoubtedly borrowed its structure and autobiographical form from Hoffmann. The examination of German influence in detail shows that Nodier allowed his thoughts to be moulded only by writers with whom he had an affinity of beliefs and character, as in the case of Hoffmann. Otherwise he remained independent and critical. He did not identify with the then foremost German types Werther and Faust, and the overwhelming praise of Germany seems, therefore, to be addressed to a Utopian country, an image created first by Mme de Staël, and used by her as by Nodier to reinforce their criticism of French literary conservatism. German influence, while considerable in his "contes", is only incidentally German; Nodier, the bibliophile, was able to draw on the literature of all times and all peoples to feed his metaphysical, social and literary theories. His choice of models seems to prove Sainte-Beuve's theory of the cohesion of "families of the spirit" untouched by time and space, rather than the notion of generalized national traits in literature.

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