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Vigny et l'Angleterre: Shakespeare, Milton et Byron Jardine, Judith

Abstract

The subject of the relations of Vigny with England includes the consideration of such matters as his knowledge of the language, his travels in England, his marriage with Lydia Bunbury, his many English friends and the number of English characters in his work. These are dealt with in the introduction. Shakespeare's influence is the topic of the first chapter. The nature of this influence on Vigny emerges from the study of his aims in translating Shakespeare and his qualifications for this work. A discussion of the translations themselves— le More de Venise, the fragments of Roméo et Juliette, and Shylock—purposes to show their excellence, especially in comparison with preceding translations and in consideration of the difficulties facing the producer of Shakespeare on the French stage of the time. Vigny's original work written under the Shakesperean influence is mainly confined to la Maréchale d'Ancre, but Vigny's admiration for the great English dramatist should not be underestimated. The second chapter deals with Milton and Vigny. The fact that elsewhere this subject has been much less thoroughly treated than the influence of Shakespeare or of Byron accounts for the comparative length of this part of the study. Opening with a discussion of Milton's role in French romanticism it seeks to establish that it was through Chateaubriand that Vigny came to know Milton. A reason for Vigny's admiration for the English poet is suggested: Milton exemplifies Vigny's favourite paradox of the mission and the suffering of the poet as revealed, for instance, in the characterization in Cinq-Mars. The influence of Milton's work (mainly Paradise Lost) on Vigny's is treated in great detail, distinction being made between the passages of Paradise Lost which are to be found in le Génie or les Martyrs and the much smaller number which Vigny must have found elsewhere. Eloa, the fragments of Satan sauvé and of le Jugement Dernier are by far the most important works of Vigny in this regard and are considered first, after a short digression upon the meaning of Eloa. A more general comparison between the characters and atmosphere of the work of Milton and of Vigny necessitates mention of Moore and ends with a brief analysis of French Satanism and its culmination in Baudelaire. After tracing Milton through the rest of Vigny's work (notably in la Colère de Samson, le Déluge, and Moĭse) the chapter ends with a contrast and comparison of the philosophical and religious views of the two writers, showing Vigny to be not a pessimist, but an idealist; not a fatalist, but a believer in a partial predestination in which free-will remains important. Byron is treated in the third chapter, which studies first in general terms his influence on Vigny, passing on to a discussion of Byronism in France and its great importance in the romantic movement. The poems written before 1826 are the first to be treated, since they show the most evident traces of Byron. The approach is quite different from that adopted in the chapter on Milton; no attempt at a complete analysis is made. A few examples taken from Vigny’s later works are followed by a series of contrasts between Byron and Vigny, with the aim of disproving the popular contention that Vigny*s philosophy owes much to Byron. The conclusion, mentioning other influences upon Vigny, stresses his originality, his greatness, his influence, and his significance today.

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