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Bongie, Laurence L. 1929–

Bongie, Laurence L. 1929–

(Laurence Louis Bongie)

PERSONAL:

Born December 15, 1929, in Turtleford, Saskatchewan, Canada; son of Louis Basil and Madalena Bongie; married Elizabeth Bryson (a professor of classical literature), July 14, 1958; children: Christopher. Education: University of British Columbia, B.A., 1950; University of Paris, D.Phil., 1952.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Office—Department of French, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1C2, Canada.

CAREER:

University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, lecturer, 1953-54, instructor, 1954-56, assistant professor, 1956-62, associate professor, 1962-66, professor of eighteenth-century French literature, 1966-92, professor emeritus, 1992—, head of department of French, 1966-92.

MEMBER:

Royal Society of Canada (fellow), Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (honorary member), Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society, Société Diderot, French Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, British Columbia Society of Translators and Interpreters (founding member).

AWARDS, HONORS:

Medal, Government of France, 1950; fellowships from Humanities Research Council of Canada, 1955-56, Canada Council, 1963-64, 1975-76, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, 1982-83; Killam senior fellowships, 1982-83, 1987; decorated officier de l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques.

WRITINGS:

David Hume: Prophet of the Counter-Revolution, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1965, Liberty Fund (Indianapolis, IN), 2000.

Diderot's Femme Savante, Voltaire Foundation (Oxford, England), 1977.

(Editor and author of introduction and notes) Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, Les Monades, Voltaire Foundation (Oxford, England), 1980.

The Love of a Prince: Bonnie Prince Charlie in France, 1744-1748, University of British Columbia Press (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1986.

Sade: A Biographical Essay, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1998.

From Rogue to Everyman: A Foundling's Journey to the Bastille, McGill-Queen's University Press (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2005.

Contributor to language and literature journals.

SIDELIGHTS:

Laurence L. Bongie is best known for his studies of Scottish philosopher David Hume and the French writer and libertine the Marquis de Sade. In Sade: A Biographical Essay, Bongie focuses in detail on certain aspects of Sade's life. During his lifetime the Marquis de Sade was reviled for the extreme sexual aberrations portrayed in his novels. He was also imprisoned, including in the Bastille, for nearly thirty years, for acting out those aberrations. Yet since his death in 1814, certain avant-garde literary movements and some literary historians have rehabilitated—and according to Bongie "romanticized"—Sade, praising his writings and portraying him as a champion of individual freedom rebelling against a restrictive bourgeois society. Bongie's assessment of the infamous Marquis, both as a writer and a man, is less generous.

According to Thomas L. Cooksey of Library Journal: "Bongie offers a valuable correction to the perception of Sade as a profound thinker, a great writer, and a martyr to liberty." Without commenting on the validity of Bongie's thesis, a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted: "Bongie strips Sade of … honorable labels. Using letters, Sade's own writings and newly found police records, he goes about his work like a detective or an investigative reporter to expose what he believes was the true Sade." Bongie ultimately concludes that the Marquis was not an original thinker, that his best work was in his letters rather than his fiction, and that the prison sentences he received, decried as unjust by some biographers, were not entirely undeserved.

Bongie's Sade was released shortly after another biography of Sade, Francis du Plessis Gray's At Home with the Marquis De Sade. Comparing the two books in the Times Literary Supplement, Cristina Monet felt that Sade "cannot be so easily disposed of" as Bongie's analysis would have it. Henry Hitchings, for New Statesman, also reviewed the two biographies together. Hitchings described Bongie's work as "the more scholarly enterprise … attractive." He also mentioned that Bongie is "more skeptical about de Sade's magical allure."

Bongie responded to the criticism thusly: "Robert Darnton in the New York Review of Books is not wrong when he identifies as a basic premise of my critical writing the less than fashionable view that there is a person behind the literary text and that it is both legitimate and useful to look for linkages between an author's life and writings. Indeed, that assumption has always gone hand in hand with the personal hope that my best research endeavors have conformed primarily to the scientific-historical model, rather than to what I sometimes uncharitably think of as the esoteric ‘high-priestcraft’ paradigm, a persistently trendy mode of postmodern academic discourse that under various ill-defined banners always seems to be solemnly chewing away on the conference circuit at more than it has bitten off, and, as the decades pass, taking more and more pride in saying things we all know but in a language that no one understands, the whole periodically recycled on the scrap heap of stale-dated hermeneutics and worn-out critical liturgies. I confess to an emotional bias in favor of literary scholarship that is more than a kind of linguistic scrabble. (I believe the end came for me one day when I read a French critic's comment to the effect that we must all be grateful that we know so little about the life of the great dramatist Pierre Corneille!) I rebel against the notion that our texts should be studied in isolation from the author's life and times, from the writer's presumed intentions, and even from any supposed authorial need for self-expression or for communication to an implied reader-listener.

"My bias extends also to a preference for hard facts, verifiable data, derived from primary sources—not just archival material, but from fresh and unintimidated readings of the canon and what surrounds it. I like to think of academic research as discovery-driven, problem-solving, better still as an exercise in ferreting out pretentious cant and claptrap. There is joy in playing the skeptic and contrarian while scraping away pious layers of obfuscation.

"In short, I believe that literary scholarship, as much as any other worthy area of human endeavor, requires a certain amount of plain and passionate insubordination along with periodic salutary warnings about the emperor's new clothes. To illustrate all this, what better empirical example to cite than a presumptive life-and-works linkage so fervently decried by the marquis's many admirers, whose standard Sadean exegeses tell us everything about their own individual poetics, constructs, and problematics, and so little about Sade himself, about that much worshipped archetypal exemplar of bad faith, hollow opportunism, gut-wrenching and boring pornography, derivative, banal, windy, and often incoherent thinking, so reverently mislabeled by an awestruck bevy of devotees as a messiah of great literature and brilliant philosophy?"

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Choice, July-August, 1966, review of David Hume: Prophet of the Counter-Revolution.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), January 24, 1987, Ronald Sutherland, review of The Love of a Prince: Bonnie Prince Charlie in France, 1744-1748.

History, October, 1967, W.H. Barber, review of David Hume, p. 349.

Library Journal, November 1, 1998, Thomas L. Cooksey, review of Sade: A Biographical Essay.

Literary Review, February, 1999, David Nokes, review of Sade.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 15, 1998, Roger Shattuck, review of Sade.

New Statesman, May 17, 1999, Henry Hitchings, review of Sade.

New York Review of Books, January 1, 1999, Robert Darnton, review of Sade, pp. 19-24.

New York Times, December 11, 1998, Richard Bernstein, review of Sade.

Publishers Weekly, November 16, 1998, review of Sade, p. 62.

Rain Taxi, winter, 1999-2000, Rod Smith, review of Sade.

Times (London, England), March 11, 1999, Malcolm Bradbury, review of Sade.

Times Literary Supplement, July 7, 1966, review of David Hume; January 9, 1987, Caroline Bingham, review of The Love of a Prince; May 21, 1999, Cristina Monet, review of Sade, pp. 9-10.

University of Toronto Quarterly, winter, 1999-2000, Christine Roulston, review of Sade.

Women's Review of Books, June, 1999, Gillian Gill, review of Sade.

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