According to the biographical note inserted near the end of the volume, Gabriel-Robert Thibault’s monograph ‘a pour matrice un travail en cours d’achèvement, une thèse d’habilitation à diriger des recherches’ (p. 247). The current study shares many of the strengths and weaknesses of this academic genre. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre scholars will, doubtless, be familiar with many of its chapters, published chiefly in conference proceedings over the past twenty years, and here completed by a few unpublished papers, an original foreword, and an introductory chapter on the early years of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s life. The clever, five-part organization of materials does a sterling job, however, of revealing the over-arching coherence of Thibault’s critical approach and of showcasing those areas where he breaks new ground. The single most valuable contribution Thibault has made to Bernardin de Saint-Pierre scholarship to date is in revealing the extent to which, and the manner in which, the author’s academic and military training shaped his way of thinking and style of writing. Meticulously reconstructed from archival documentation and period syllabi in the second part of the book, Bernardin’s educational and professional pathway is shown to inform both his philosophy (in the third part) and his poetics (in the somewhat eclectic fourth part, ‘Poète de la creation’). This central triptych is framed first by a biographical section, reflecting upon the influence the author’s home town of Le Havre and the many lodgings he subsequently occupied, exerted on his creation, and the fifth part, discussing the legacy of his œuvre, the ramifications of which are shown to extend to present-day French and Mauritian cultures. The ‘philosophie’ in the monograph’s title aptly describes Thibault’s holistic approach to Bernardin’s output, and the intellectual coherence he finds therein. Thibault’s analytical method, which can broadly be described as history of ideas, situates Bernardin’s reflection within the scientific and intellectual landscape of his era, while also charting the gestation and mutation of his own philosophical system: the shift from the Études de la nature to the author’s other magnum opus, the unfinished Harmonies de la nature is, in particular, very perceptively accounted for throughout. Such critical re-evaluation and rehabilitation of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre as a thinker is part of a broader trend in current scholarship, spearheaded by Colas Duflo and Jean-Michel Racault. However, Thibault fails by and large to acknowledge this, relying as he does essentially on primary sources, including ancient and early modern philosophers and the author’s own writings, to construct his argument, and appends only a ‘Bibliographie de l’œuvre’, that is, the editions of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s works used, to his book. Yet, Thibault’s analyses often start where Duflo’s and Racault’s stop, affording novel insights into Bernardin’s debt to and engagement with Rousseau’s Émile, the Pythagorean tradition, or physiocratic thought, to cite a few examples. A sustained critical dialogue with this body of contemporary scholarship would in no manner have diminished the originality of Thibault’s contribution. If anything, it would have signposted and highlighted it more clearly. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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