Imitations of Christ in 17th-century France: Some attendant difficulties

by Richard Parish

14 Apr 2016
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Full text of article by Richard Parish posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 1, pp. 213-251.

Abstract: The most important verse paraphrase of the Imitation of Christ in 17th-century France was written by the dramatist Pierre Corneille. In his paratexts he discusses the difficulties he has encountered in the project, which expands on the original by including engravings, many of which illustrate episodes from the lives of saints. One such is Theodora, who is the subject of his closely contemporary martyr tragedy, Théodore. But here too he encountered difficulties, in the context of bienséance, from objections expressed to the prostitution with which the eponym is threatened. In a different idiom, the Jesuit priest Jean-Joseph Surin, seeing his role as exorcist as another kind of imitation of Christ, records his ordeal in two autobiographical works, one of which moves progressively into stylistic incoherence. Finally Bossuet engages in the polemic surrounding a further possible implication of the term, in the form of the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence.

Key words: Pierre Corneille, Jean-Joseph Surin, Bossuet, Imitation of Christ, verse paraphrase, martyr tragedy, exorcism, autobiography, polemic, Real Presence.

Lecture in Modern Languages, read on 22 May 2013 (video recording).

Text printed 2014 in British Academy Lectures 2012-13

Version of article available in British Academy Scholarship Online (HTML)

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