A Word From the Editor
In this issue, Lisa Graham examines Diderot’s posthumous novel La Religieuse and its movie adaptations, first by Jacques Rivette in 1966, in a version that heralded the 1968 student protests against a stultifying society, and last year by Guillaume Nicloux, who meticulously recreates the eighteenth-century setting, if not its social conventions. Ultimately, Graham argues, it is the choice of ending that counts most. For Diderot it was open-ended; Rivette took a pessimistic view of Suzanne’s prospects, while Nicloux introduces a happy ending. Graham explains why this subverts Diderot’s message about the condition of women and the nature of freedom. She also asks us to reflect on what we mean by faithfulness to an original fiction when we are confronted with updated film versions.
With Edward Rutherfurd and Maurice Druon we move to the realm of popular fiction. Rutherfurd appears at first glance as a modern-day James Michener, situating his novels in different cities over the longue durée. Michener’s characters were often subsumed within the larger story of their homelands. As Charles Rearick explains, Rutherfurd is more interested in his characters –and most especially in the ways particular family traits reappear over time–than in history itself. This determinist Naturalist scheme conflicts with the changing social conditions that form Paris: the Novel’s backdrop. Nevertheless Rearick concludes that Rutherfurd offers some interesting vignettes that might be profitably discussed in class.
Sarah Hanley reviews Maurice Druon’s 7-novel series The Accursed Kings, reissued this past year with George R. R. Martin’s endorsement as a major inspiration for his Game of Thrones. I am personally delighted. Les rois maudits was my first encounter with the French Middle Ages and shaped my understanding of that time for years. I recommend to undergraduates working on Philip IV and the Templars that they read the first novel, keeping in mind that it is fiction. The novels were adapted twice for French television (in 1972 and 2005, available subtitled on YouTube). Sarah Hanley recognizes the appeal of the novels but, above and beyond factual mistakes, she is concerned about the depiction of women and of the causes of the Hundred Years War. Like Graham, she raises questions about historical accuracy in works of fiction, especially when the inaccurate version is so engaging, and the author claims to have consulted archives and scholarly publications.
Given the debates in Canada on Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda which, unlike Brian Moore’s The Robe, gives the Hurons their own voices, we are offering a preview of Allan Greer’s review in this month’s issue, at this link. It will appear with the usual bells and whistles in the April bulletin.
University at Buffalo, SUNY