Medievalism in the French Renaissance: Literature, History, and Nation in Claude Fauchet's Veilles ou Observations (1555)
This thesis explores the place of medieval French literature in the formation of national identity in sixteenth-century France. It focuses on an unpublished and little-studied manuscript miscellany, the Veilles ou Observations de plusieurs choses dinnes de mémoire en la lecture d’aucuns autheurs françois. The Veilles are a collection of essays inspired primarily by readings in medieval French literature, written in 1555 by Claude Fauchet (1530-1602). I read this text in relation to the socio-cultural currents of its moment, arguing that the Veilles represent a seminal moment in the nascent conceptualisation of the French nation and its medieval heritage. Given that early modern discourses of nationhood have traditionally been characterised by their prominent valorisation of Classical Antiquity, the overtly positive evaluation of the medieval found in the Veilles is unexpected and requires interrogation. In Chapter 1, I introduce the contents, immediate context, and material history of the Veilles, arguing that this text reveals a relation to the native past characterised by the desire to recover lost texts and traditions. Chapter 2 therefore takes a step back, asking how this desire for recovery arose. Using a book-historical approach, this chapter argues that during the 1530s and ’40s a French literary culture characterised by continuity with its medieval inheritance underwent a process of rupture, resulting in turn in a felt need for recovery: a need epitomised in the Veilles. The nature and purpose of recovery as practised in the Veilles is examined in chapter III, which focuses on the importance of native exemplarity – the exemple domestique – to Fauchet’s notion of Frenchness. Chapter IV places Fauchet’s emphasis on the exemple domestique in conversation with Pléiade poetics, exploring Fauchet’s conception of the place of native history in the construction of Frenchness through literature. I conclude that traditional literary-historical periodisation which isolates ‘the Middle Ages’ from ‘the Renaissance’ does not reflect the reality of early modern French culture. Rather, the Veilles testify to the way these period concepts were themselves forged through the recovery of a native past in the early modern period.