Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Trip to the Country by Henriette-Julie de Castelnau, Comtesse de Murat

I recently received a review copy of A Trip to the Country (Fairy-Tale Studies) by Henriette-Julie de Castelnau, Comtesse de Murat, edited and translated by Perry Gethner and Allison Stedman. This is part of Wayne State University Press's Fairy Tale Series and a more unusual offering.

Description from the publisher:

Popular with the worldly aristocracy, late seventeenth-century experimental novels like the Countess de Murat’s Voyage de campagne (A Trip to the Country) were published in small format, widely circulated, and reprinted more frequently than any other type of fiction both in France and abroad. Murat’s hybrid work, built around a humorous frame narrative, details a trip to a pristine country estate taken by seven Parisian aristocrats and contains interpolated examples of the period’s most popular literary forms—including seven ghost stories, seven autobiographical anecdotes, one literary fairy tale, one rondeau, two gallant poems, two love letters, and eleven proverb comedies.

In this translation of A Trip to the Country, editors Perry Gethner and Allison Stedman present the entire work in the English language for the first time. The editors follow the original 1699 edition as closely as possible to preserve the syntax, word choice, and other lively, readable qualities that were appreciated by the novel’s first readers. Modern readers will value the editors’ extensive footnotes to the text that offer additional definitions, historical referents, and notes on form and structure. An extensive introduction by Allison Stedman also draws connections between the late seventeenth-century experimental novel and the rise of the literary fairy-tale genre in France to provide a valuable context for students and scholars of the field.

Gethner and Stedman offer an accessible and informative translation of A Trip to the Country that will appeal to students and teachers of fairy-tale studies and those interested in the history of French literature.

Intriguing, yes? Stedman's introduction is interesting and to anyone who is fascinated with the French salon and fairy tale movements--as I am--this book provides a charming extra with both the translated text and the intro. Stedman discusses Murat's fairy tale work in general as well as A Trip to the Country. Murat writing about the nobility was somewhat different from her contemporaries. But really, you just need to read Stedman's introduction to understand it all.

As for Murat's book, it is surprisingly charming and easy to read. I haven't read the original French, but the translation is very approachable. I expected a rather dry text, I admit, and didn't find one here. The tone is conversational and at times I forgot the source text was several centuries old. Yes, the signs are there, but it is not so heavy handed as similar volumes. Murat is rather delightful.

Oh, and here are some blurbs for the book, too, courtesy of the publisher:

“In A Trip to the Country the famous writer of fairy tales brings her fascination with other worlds down to earth in a beautiful narrative blending magic and the supernatural with a vision of the perfect country getaway. The translation is true to Murat’s delicate and conversational style; the tale itself is captivating. Gethner and Stedman’s notes and introduction provide readers with an excellent guide to Murat’s work and its place in literary history, philosophy, and politics in the age of Versailles.”

— Elizabeth C. Goldsmith, professor of French in the Department of Romance Studies at Boston University

“The century was about to turn, and no one knew where the novel was going. Murat’s A Trip to the Country reminds us how important the devices of heroic romance remained to generations of ancien régime novelists seeking to modernize them.”

— Nicholas Paige, associate professor and head graduate advisor in the Department of French at University of California–Berkeley

“Gethner and Stedman make available a late seventeenth-century French novel significant for its experimentation with prose, verse, and theatrical forms and its treatment of themes especially prominent in later fiction. This critical translation is a welcome contribution for specialists of ancien régime French literature and history and also to readers of novels and fairy tales.”

— Lewis Seifert, professor of French Studies at Brown University

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