Between Political Activism and ‘l’Art pour l’Art’: André Chénier (1762-1794) and Hellenistic Poetry
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Department of Romance Languages
Promotor: Prof. dr. Alicia C. Montoya
Aanstelling: Vanaf februari 2016
This project proposes an in-depth evaluation of the Hellenistic poetry of André Chénier, the most paradoxical French poet of his time. His life and death made him a cult figure: A supporter of the French Revolution, but a critic of Robespierre, Chénier was executed at the guillotine three days before Robespierre himself was executed. While Chénier was known as a political satirist, in private he wrote lyric poetry in the Hellenistic tradition, which rejects any political engagement. This Hellenistic poetry typically favours a strong intellectualism with a preference for wordplay, literary allusions, metapoetical self-reflexivity, stylistic density and brevitas. By reworking these poetical ideas into his own poetry and poetics, Chénier acted as a conduit for later poets, and was a key figure in the transition from Romanticism to the ‘l’art pour l’art’ ideals of the late 19th century.
Research on Chénier is complex, because his lyric poetry was not published during his lifetime, and all editions of his work, even the most recent, are more or less defective. To get to grips with Chénier’s work, in this research project we will examine the manuscripts on the basis of génétique textuelle. In order to investigate how Chénier incorporated Hellenistic poetry into his own poetry and poetics, we will make use of the concept of imitation inventrice, as defined in Chénier’s metapoetical poem L’invention. The dissertation consists of three parts: 1) examination of the public–private and political–“l’art pour l’art” paradox of his work, the place and value of Hellenistic themes in his poetry; 2) theoretical discussion of his poetical principles and of the impact of Hellenism on Chénier’s poetry and poetics; 3) case studies of Chénier’s Hellenistic poetry.