LOVE, DEATH AND MONEY IN THE PAYS D'OC by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie

LOVE, DEATH AND MONEY IN THE PAYS D'OC

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The title, alas, deceives: this is not the splendid panorama, richly detailed and broadly philosophical, of life in Occitania; and readers expecting a sequel to Montaillou (U.S. 1978) will be sharply disappointed. This highly technical tome, bristling with diagrams and references to obscure studies in folklore, admirably displays Professor Le Roy Ladurie's industriousness, precision, and analytical skill; very seldom however, does it become anything more than the ""merely local monograph"" he originally intended it to be. Le Roy Ladurie spends most of his time retelling and anatomizing a huge mass of forgotten provincial tales (especially 18th-century plays and novellas written in the langue d'oc), ignoring flesh-and-blood history in favor of structural/st literary criticism. He begins with the complete text of a mildly amusing picaresque nouvelle, Jean-l'ont-pris (which he persists in treating as a minor masterpiece), by l'abbÉ Jean-Baptiste Castor Fabre (1727-83). A close reading of this story reveals the presence of a ""love square,"" with the hero in the lower left hand corner, the girl in the lower right, her troublesome father in the upper right, and the hero's major ""opponent"" in the upper left. Underlying the square are the money and other factors that will eventually enable him to marry the girl. Le Roy Ladurie argues that the love square is ubiquitous in Occitan literature--and then proves his claim with numbing thoroughness. He also shows that Jean-l'ont-pris has close affinities with a type of folktale called Godfather Death (the hero makes a pact with Death so as to get the capital he needs to get the girl). Le Roy Ladurie's final conclusion: ""Fabre's novella describes both stages of the infraculture of the Enlightenment: a ground floor, occupied by the dialect writers of the provinces; and a basement, crossed, as if by cables, by the oral networks of folk-tale transmission."" As a work of pure scholarship the book sparkles; as social science in the grand style it fizzles.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Braziller