The Would-Be Author: Molière and the Comedy of Print
Michael Call’s The Would-Be Author is the first full-length study to examine Molière’s evolving—and at times contradictory—authorial strategies as evidenced both by his portrayal of authors and publication within the plays and by his own interactions with the seventeenth-century Parisian publishing industry. Historians of the book have described the time period that coincides with Molière’s theatrical activity as centrally important to the development of authors’ rights and to the professionalization of the literary field. A seventeenth-century author, however, was not so much born as negotiated through often-acrimonious relations in a world of new and dizzying possibilities.
The learning curve was at times steep and unpleasant, as Molière discovered when his first Parisian play was stolen by a rogue publisher. Nevertheless, the dramatist proved to be a quick learner: from his first published play in 1660 until his death in 1673, Molière changed from a reluctant and victimized author to an innovator (or, according to his enemies, even a swindler) who aggressively secured the rights to his plays—stealing them back when necessary—and acquired for himself publication privileges and conditions relatively unknown in an era before copyright.
As Molière himself wrote, making people laugh was “une étrange entreprise” (La Critique de L’École des femmes, 1663). To an even greater degree, comedic authorship for the playwright was a constant work in progress, and in this sense, “Molière”—the stage name that became a pen name—represents the most carefully elaborated of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin’s invented characters.
"This study is carefully and perceptively written, well researched, and extremely up-to-date in its bibliographical apparatus. It presents diverse points of view fairly and offers extremely sensitive readings of some scholars who have been a bit overlooked." —James Gaines, University of Mary Washington
“Michael Call, in this well-documented and perceptively argued study, repudiates the traditional image of Molière as the exemplary ‘philosophe/farceur,’ i.e., the actor, author, and thinker seemingly disinterested in the publication process. … The Would-Be Author: Molière and the Comedy of Print represents a significant contribution to Molière studies. It offers a systematic and persuasive treatment of the authorial strategies underlying the playwright’s remarkable success. All molièristes stand to benefit from this analysis of the professional side of ‘le premier farceur de la France.’” — Ralph Albanese, XVIIe Siècle 17 (2016): 75–76.
“In this first full-length study of Molière’s authorial strategies and his interaction with the seventeenth-century Parisian publishing industry, Michael Call explores the many paradoxes and contradictions in his subject. … Call’s subtle, illuminating study is a stimulating contribution to Molière’s bibliography and to our knowledge of the French book trade in the mid-seventeenth century.” — Noel Peacock, French Studies: A Quarterly Review 70.4 (October 2016): 595–96.
“In his well-written and carefully researched study, Michael Call proposes a more nuanced assessment that, while retaining certain elements from earlier approaches, relies primarily on factual evidence … While the convoluted publication history of Molière’s plays cannot be fully summarized here, Call presents a number of little-known aspects of the saga that shed light on the great man’s self-esteem, tenacity and business acumen. … This book makes a significant contribution to both Molière studies and to the history of the book in early modern France.” — Perry Gethner, French Forum 41.3 (Winter 2016): 303–06.
“In the introduction to his remarkably subtle and learned study, Michael Call states that his goal is to find an answer to a single question: What did Molière think about publication? … Overall, this is a beautifully illumination study of how the image of the author was constructed, in a dialogue with the public.” — Pierre Force, Romanic Review 105.3–4 (May–Nov 2014): 397–98.
Michael Call received his PhD in French from Yale University and joined the faculty of Brigham Young University in 2006. His research focuses on the theater of seventeenth-century France.
PSRL 63. 2015. vii, 292 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1-55753-708-9, Paper $45.00; ebook available, $38.99.
Display case in Stanley Coulter Hall, the week of April 29-May 6, 2015. Thanks to Allen Wood for the framed pictures and the small figures of seventeenth-century gentlemen.
Information last updated August 17, 2018.
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