An insightful look at two masters of French classic tragedy
In a charming collection of elegant essays, one of the twentieth century's leading men of letters turns his vast knowledge and worldly authority to the texts of two seventeenth-century French dramatists. Louis Auchincloss considers fourteen plays by Pierre Corneille (1606–84) and his younger theatrical rival, Jean Racine (1639–99). Musing on the ideas that informed the court of the Sun King and on what classical allusions meant to them, Auchincloss offers thoughtful readings, new translations, and a wealth of shrewd observations about French classic tragedy, passion, self-sacrifice, self-aggrandizement, and civic and military glory.
Auchincloss lets the grand voices of Corneille's and Racine's heroes and heroines speak, while calling attention to details and discoveries that illumine aspects of both seventeenth-century and twentieth-century culture. He specifically considers the theme of gloire—the lofty destiny or mission that the hero (and more rarely the heroine) has set for himself and for which he would willingly sacrifice the most passionate romance, closest friendship, or dearest family ties. While gloire is more commonly associated with Corneille than with Racine, Auchincloss demonstrates that these French masters were capable of swapping predilections when it came to the Roman plays.
Louis Auchincloss was born in 1917, brought up in New York City, and educated at the Groton School, Yale University, and the University of Virginia Law School. A distinguished attorney and eminent author, he has written more than fifty books, including the highly praised novels The House of Five Talents, Portrait in Brownstone, The Embezzler, and The Rector of Justin.
"One can hardly wait to go and reread the plays, or, even better, to read them for the first time." —David Slavitt