Richard, Jean-Pierre 1922-
Richard, Jean-Pierre 1922-
Office—Université Paris 7-Denis-Diderot, 2 place Jussieu, 75251 Paris, Cedex 05, France.
Writer, literary critic, and educator. University of Paris, Vincennes branch, professor of literature; also taught in London, England, and Madrid, Spain.
Littérature et sensation, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1954.
L'univers imaginaire de Mallarmé (title means "Mallarme's Imaginary Universe"), Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1961.
Onze études sur la poésie moderne (title means "Eleven Studies on Modern Poetry"), Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1964.
Paysage de Chateaubriand, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1967.
Stendhal-Flaubert: litterature et sensation, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1970.
Etudes sur la Romantisme, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1970.
Nausee de Celine, Fata Morgana (Montpellier, France), 1972.
Proust et le monde sensible, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1974.
Cristaux, volcans, sorciere, Presses Université (Grenoble, France), 1975.
Poésie et profondeur, (title means "Poetry and Profundity,"), Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1976.
"Anabase": un imaginaire de l'esprit, Baconniere (Neuchatel, France), 1978.
Microlectures, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1979. Pages paysages: microlecture II, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1984.
Les complaints: petite note sur les titres, Corti (Paris, France), 1988.
L'état de choses: études sur huit écrivains d'aujourd'hui, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1990.
(Editor) François Rouan, Épouser la notion, Bibliothèque Artistique et Littéraire (Fontfroide, France), 1992.
Terrains de lecture, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1996.
Essais de critique buissonnière, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1999.
One of France's most prominent literary critics, Jean-Pierre Richard has long been recognized as a leading proponent of "thematics," in which a reader can identify the particular themes that obsess a given author by carefully noting the images and particular word combinations that repeatedly crop up. He first gained attention in 1954 with Littérature et sensation, a study of Stendahl, Flaubert, and other major figures in French literature. From there he has gone onto produce monographs on many of the most important figures in the French literary canon, poets such as Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and prose writers such as Chateaubriand. "Any study by J.-P. Richard is likely both to rejoice the reader by richly suggestive insights into certain widely significant attitudes, obsessions, and modes of expressions, and uncompromisingly to provoke him to strenuous mental gymnastics in the effort to follow the stringent and subtle patterns of abstraction through which these insights are linked," wrote Modern Language Review contributor Alison Fairlie in her critique of Paysage de Chateaubriand.
Both the insights and the mental gymnastics were evident in Proust et le monde sensible, Richard's study of the complex, monumental works of Marcel Proust, who in fact has sometimes been called the father of thematic criticism. While at times "the special pleading is far too strained to carry conviction," wrote a Times Literary Supplement contributor, "M. Richard savours his texts, acutely senses the imaginary world the text creates, and is impressively and subtly articulate about his impressions. He is as much a connoisseur as he ever was." For Sewanee Review contributor Wallace Fowlie, the book "is an inquest carried on by Richard on the world of matter in the novel as perceived by Proust's vision, smell, taste, and touch."
With Microlectures and Pages paysages: microlecture II, there was a "change of critical tactic," noted Times Literary Supplement contributor Christopher Prendergast, adding, "The tactic is what he calls ‘microlecture,’ where the focus of attention has shifted from the oeuvre to the extract or fragment, from the over-view to the close-up, the large world to the small." This time, Richard looks at a few pages and other samples, rather than analyzing an author's life's work, for patterns and revelations. Still, Prendergast noted that, "if the tactics have changed, the strategy hasn't, and although marked in places by the vocabularies of ‘poststructuralism,’ Pages paysages remains in all essential respects faithful to a critical enterprise that goes back thirty years."
Richard once again changed his focus somewhat in L'état de choses: études sur huit écrivains d'aujourd'hui, and Essais de critique buissonnière. Having analyzed the giants of nineteenth-century literature, he turns his method on some contemporary writers, with his usual care and insight. Some critics felt a certain unease about this change of focus. "These essays … are dissecting bodies of work still capable of growth, or change of direction," wrote Times Literary Supplement contributor Robin Buss about L'état de choses. Others were somewhat more sanguine about the results. French Studies contributor Malcolm Bowie, reviewing Essais de critique buissonnière, commented: "This new collection of occasional pieces finds him moving with debonair adaptability from such monumental figures as Hugo, Michelet, Proust and Ponge to relative newcomers."
In his book Terrains de lecture, the author provides various essays on a wide variety of more recent French writers, including Pierre Michon, Jacques Serena, and Jean Rouaud. Writing in World Literature Today, Steven Jaron commented: "It is evident … that he examines all the writer's published works and then chooses the significant mechanisms at work and themes developed in the writings." Jaron also noted: "With Jean-Pierre Richard we are in the presence of a master of diverse functions expedient to the literary scholar: as philologist, historian, and critic."
Despite his shift of focus to more recent works, many observers might still agree with World Literature Today contributor Mortimer Guiney when he wrote in 1985: "Richard is both consistent with himself and outside the popular, contemporary critical schools. In spite of this, he occupies what I believe to be a central position in literary criticism today." Guiney added: "In a hundred or more years, he will be read as a representative critic of our age and a writer of rare talent."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Solars, Werner, editor, The Return of Thematic Criticism, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1992, pp. 161-169.
French Studies, April, 1994, Bertrand Marchal, review of Épouser la notion, p. 221; October, 2000, Malcolm Bowie, review of Essais de critique buissonnière, p. 548.
Modern Language Review, October, 1970, Alison Fairlie, review of Paysage de Chateaubriand, pp. 907- 908.
Sewanee Review, spring, 1976, Wallace Fowlie, "New Studies on Proust," pp. 334-341.
Times Literary Supplement, May 17, 1974, "The Procedures of Proust," p. 513; September 28, 1984, Christopher Prendergast, review of Pages paysages: microlecture II, p. 1096; August 17, 1990, Robin Buss, "Premature Dissections," p. 870.
World Literature Today, spring, 1985, Mortimer Guiney, review of Pages paysages, pp. 240-241; spring, 1997, Steven Jaron, review of Terrains de lecture, p. 345.