Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Alphonse de Lamartine’s attempts at drama are poor, often embarrassing, imitations of the works of Jean Racine, Pierre Corneille, and Voltaire, as well as William Shakespeare. Lamartine was somewhat more successful in the realm of prose fiction. He wrote two semiautobiographical novels, Graziella (1849; English translation, 1871) and Raphaël (1849; English translation, 1849); the former was the more popular, while the latter is the better of the two. Raphaël, which is based on the poet’s love affair with Julie Charles, has been criticized as a novel that was outmoded even in its time, as well as being excessively sentimental. Certainly, Raphaël bears the imprint of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761; Julia, or the New Eloisa, 1773) but it is nevertheless an impressive treatment of Lamartine’s favorite themes: religion, love, politics, and nature.

In the course of a long political career, Lamartine delivered some exceptionally eloquent and often politically perspicacious speeches before the French Chamber of Deputies. On the eve of the February Revolution of 1848, he published in eight volumes a fearless glorification of the French Revolution, Histoire des Girondins (1847; History of the Girondists, 1847-1848). While not a historian’s history, it offers such a colorful and sweeping vision of a period that in many ways it is really a historical novel in the guise of nonfiction. Among many other works, Lamartine also wrote popular histories of the 1848 Revolution in France, the Restoration, Turkey, and Russia.