Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux Analysis

Other literary forms

(European Poets and Poetry)

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (bwaw-LOH day-pray-OH) published an extensive selection of his letters to both friends and antagonists, as well as Dialogue des héros de roman (1688; The Heroes of Romances, 1713), a highly critical assessment of the novel form, of which Boileau disapproved. Boileau also translated the ancient critic Longinus’s treatise on the sublime into French as Traité du sublime, bringing it back into the mainstream of European literary tradition. His letters, composed in a highly literary style and envisioned as published documents, are an important part of his oeuvre. Most interesting to the student of literature and criticism is his correspondence with Charles Perrault, who stood for the “modern” side, as Boileau did for the “ancient,” in the famous Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns that preoccupied the French cultural scene in the latter half of the seventeenth century.


(European Poets and Poetry)

Though Pierre Corneille produced greater imaginative work, Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux was the most commanding of the seventeenth century French neoclassical critics. His prescriptions on art were connected with the perceived good of the state, for he was a favorite of King Louis XIV, probably the most powerful and authoritarian monarch Christian Europe had yet seen. Boileau, indeed, epitomized the base of the king’s support, which was not the aristocracy, whose privileges the king curtailed, but the solid middle class, who saw a career at court as a way to rise in society.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Colton, Robert E. Studies of Classical Influence on Boileau and La Fontaine. New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1996. Analyzes the works of Boileau and Jean de La Fontaine.

Corum, Robert T., Jr. Reading Boileau: An Integrative Study of the Early Satires. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1998. A volume in the series Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures.

Davidson, Hugh M. “French Literary Criticism in the Seventeenth Century: Its Nature and Status.” In Twenty Years of French Literary Criticism, edited by Freeman C. Henry. Birmingham, Ala.: Summa, 1994. An objective evaluation of Boileau’s critical theory.

Moriarty, Michael. “Boileau: Taste and the Institution of Literature.” In Taste and Ideology in Seventeenth-Century France. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. The ideological basis for Boileau’s literary views is examined.

Tiefenbrun, Susan W. “Boileau and His Friendly Enemy: A Poetics of Satiric Criticism.” In Signs of the Hidden: Semiotic Studies. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1980. Examines Boileau’s skill as a satirist.

White, Julian, Jr. Nicolas Boileau. New York: Twayne, 1969. The best general introduction in English. Also contains an annotated bibliography of important critical studies.