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Blog Posts by Subject: French Literature

Happy Birthday, Gérard de Nerval!

Gérard de Nerval was born May 22nd, 1808. A perennial literary figure of the vernal and the surreal, the temporal and the infinite, the accessible and the gnostic, he has fascinated poets, writers and artists for generations. 

Nerval’s real name was Gérard Labrunie. Famous for walking his pet lobster (named Thibault) about Paris, Nerval's eccentric 

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Lacan @ the Library!

Many don’t know it, but New York Public Library has a substantial collection of books by influential French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, as well as his multitudinous acolytes. 

Lacan gave yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, and was a major presence among French intellectuals for the remainder of the twentieth century. Lacan greatly influenced the 

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The Eighteenth-Century Oriental Tale and Candide

Habit of a Turkish standardbearer, in 1749 (NYPL Digital Gallery)In sending Candide off to Constantinople to reunite with Cunégonde, Voltaire invokes the contemporary vogue for oriental tales, stories set in the near and far Easts as well as North Africa that first achieved popularity at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

In 1701, the French Orientalist Antoine Galland published his translation of Sinbad the Sailor, a text he had encountered during his travels in Syria. Sinbad’s favorable reception then led to the publication of a group of texts 

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Candide, or Optimism, Dude: The Challenges of Translating Voltaire's Candide

In 2002, I revised Henry Morley's translation of Candide. What, you might ask, does it mean to revise a translation? Does one go back to the original French, or do you work solely from the translation? What, in fact, gets revised? As the editor of Barnes and Noble's Candide explained when he approached me, this would be a project of tightening up some of the translation work itself and updating the language that Morley had chosen for his nineteenth-century translation. And 

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Diamonds are a Diva's Best Friend

In the third installment (see 1, 2) of the series on "Glitter and Be Gay" from Leonard Bernstein's Candide, we turn to a different perspective: Jody Mullen, a self-proclaimed "coloratura geek" who teaches voice in Manhattan and is interested in the history of coloratura as a form.

Barbara Cook as Cunegonde in the original 1957 production"Glitter and Be Gay," Cunegonde's 

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Cunegonde and Coloratura: Harolyn Blackwell on Musical Technique

Harolyn BlackwellCunegonde's aria "Glitter and Be Gay" from Leonard Bernstein's operetta Candide is a performance of a performance, a show-stopping coloratura solo in which the character describes how she has been "forced to bend my soul to a sordid role" of being the caged slave of the Grand Inquisitor and Don Issachar. The character switches back and forth between her disgust at her situation and her temptation at the jewelry, furs, and 

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'You have not known misfortunes such as mine!': Storytelling and Trauma in Candide

Jessica AlpertCandide is a story composed of other stories, as the hero spends much of his world travels listening to others. Few stories are as long and involved as the old woman's in chapters 11 and 12, and she even spurs other characters to tell their stories of misfortune and tragedy at the end of her tale: "I advise you to divert yourself, and prevail upon each passenger to tell his story."

Jessica 

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Pangloss Regained

Dr. Pangloss Surveys the World (NYPL General Research Division)Thanks to Candide, the term "pangloss" has come to mean "overly optimistic fool." The Greek roots in the name, "pan-" and "gloss-" can be read as "all tongue" – an apt characterization of the tutor's speaking-without-thinking style. But I have another sense of the word in mind when I say that Candide was published in the hangover years of a nearly century-long panglossomania binge.

In the 17th century, 

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Terry Southern and Voltaire: The Lost Art of Blasting Smugness

Enter Candy Christian: Candide's Sexpot Alter-Ego 

"The story I have in mind is in the tradition of Candide, with a contemporary setting, the protagonist an attractive American girl, Candy, an only child of a father of whose love she was never quite sure, a sensitive progressive-school humanist who comes from Wisconsin to New York's lower-east side to be an art student, social worker, etc. and to find (unlike her father) 'beauty in mean places.' — Terry Southern, in a 1956 letter to notorious French publisher of 'erotic' novels Maurice Girodias, about his proposed ... Read More ›

Wilbur, the Translator

In Chapter 18 of Candide, our hero and his valet Cacambo arrive in the utopian kingdom of El Dorado, where the streets glitter with precious stones. The people of El Dorado speak Cacambo's mother tongue, a Peruvian dialect indecipherable to Candide, and Cacambo becomes the sole communicator and interpreter. Candide relies on his valet to communicate with the natives of this strange and beguiling country.

The travelers are invited to dine at the King's palace. The dinner proceeds merrily, led by their affable royal 

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Candide on Broadway: An Interview with Maureen Brennan

Maureen Brennan as Cunegonde, 1974 (click to go to online gallery)Maureen Brennan was nominated for a Tony Award and won a Theatre World Award for her professional debut as Cunegonde in the 1974 revival of Leonard Bernstein's Candide (IBDB), directed by Harold Prince. She has since appeared on Broadway as Madeleine Manners in Going Up, Tina in Knickerbocker Holiday, Goldie Gates in Little Johnny Jones, and Stardust. I 

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Forced to bend my soul to a sordid role: women and violence in Candide

Mahlon Blaine illustration for 'Candide', 1930 (click for larger view)Our interactive reading of Candide continues with chapters 7-12. Here's a roundup of recent discussions...

"The diligence with which these gentlemen strip people!" American illustrator Mahlon Blaine chose the old woman's story as one of the full-page drawings for his 1930 edition of Candide. The exotic nude woman

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Candide in New York (or the Problem of Evil)

In 2003 I began work on an edition of Candide for Broadview Press that was published in 2009. For the cover image, I suggested a photograph of the twin towers in flames. I also had an idea for an image to balance it on the back cover: the famous snap from Abu Ghraib of a hooded man standing on a box, arms outstretched and apparently in mortal fear of electrocution. If you find that poor taste, or cannot conceive of why I would choose those images, please read on.

Though it is a comedy, Candide is also about what 

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Noting Candide at 250

Frontispiece of the 2006 Project Gutenberg copy of 'Candide,' taken from 1918 Modern Library editionType "Candide Gutenberg" into Google and you will swiftly find your way to a delightful English translation of Voltaire's wonderful work. It would cost you a whole $1.50 to get the same text on paper, in the remarkably inexpensive Dover Thrift Editions series. Spend $500 on a new iPad and you can get the Gutenberg version practically for free! Why bother going anywhere else?

Well, first, compare 

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Novelist as Contrarian: James Morrow Reads Voltaire

Note: for those of you just joining us, the following is a digest of the latest round of comments on Candide 2.0, an interactive edition of Voltaire's book mounted in conjunction with the Library's exhibition Candide at 250: Scandal and Success.

James Morrow names his 10th-grade World Literature teacher, James Giordano, as his literary hero. In the reader’s guide notes to his novel, The Last 

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Voltaire's 'Candide' as Media Event

The title page of the [Geneva] 1759 true first edition (NYPL Digital Gallery)To say that Candide enjoyed an immediate success is an understatement. Candide was a phenomenon. The novel was published through the medium of print, a fact which we too easily take for granted. The print world of the eighteenth century was unlike our own and posed two particular challenges.

The first was censorship. England enjoyed a fairly free press, but most European countries had various systems for controlling the 

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Candide 2.0: A Reading Experiment Begins

For the next ten weeks, the New York Public Library will host a public, interactive reading of Candide, in connection to its ongoing exhibition at 42nd St.. This edition will look familiar to readers who remember the story, or even just its famous lines about “the best of all possible worlds” and “we must cultivate our garden.” But the innovative format, which facilitates reader annotations and discussions in the digital margins, will also 

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Words or Music, Part 2: Carmen

Intellectually, I have nothing against modern opera, and I can usually steel myself to try it again, even if the result inevitably turns out to be another tepid stew of tedious language and monotonous music. Emotionally, however, it is the standard repertoire which draws me again and again. These so-called “warhorses” of the operatic repertoire have endured for so long because they speak directly to our adult passions. (Melodrama is, after all, only real life ratcheted up a notch.)

How many of us, like Rigoletto the court jester, have felt humiliated by our employers 

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New Year's Readings

If the New Year is to mean anything more than the difference between Wednesday and Thursday, it should contain a bit of reflection on the past, a glance over the shoulder to see where we’ve been and what we’ve done. Since this is a blog about books, reading, and libraries, I thought an examination of my personal reading list during this past year might be interesting. I’m always intrigued by the lists of others--even if, as with the New York Times’s 10 Best Books of 2008, I’ve only 

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Words or Music

Words or music? Which is more important to opera? This is a question which intrigues opera lovers, such as me, as it is endlessly arguable without being finally answerable. Richard Strauss devoted an entire opera, Capriccio, to the debate. The opera culminates in a lengthy scene of ecstatic, mesmerizing musical intensity* which might seem to give the nod to music, if not for what the soprano is actually singing: that words and music are both indispensible, take one away and whatever is left will not be opera.

This season, the

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