[from the Western European Specialists Section Newsletter, vol. 12, nos. 1/2 (Spring 1989, pp. 813]

A Partial Critique of BCL3

I would like to warn my book-selecting colleagues against over-reliance on the third edition of Books for College Libraries (Chicago: A. L. A., 1988), at least for French literature. These comments, I hope, will prompt similar treatments by more qualified hands in other subject areas. A survey of the section from PQ1 to PQ 3999 in volume 2 reveals a number of disturbing anomalies and omissions.

One preliminary caveat: there is no clear indication of the cutoff date for inclusion of titles in BCL3. In the Introduction which is reprinted in each of the first 5 volumes we learn the cutoff dates for BCL1 titles and for BCL2, but not for the edition in hand. Coverage through 1985 is implied on page ix, but with no explicit limit. Hence it is difficult for users to determine at what point to start looking elsewhere for relevant publications to complement the listings in BCL3. Nor is it possible to know exactly what omissions are inadvertent or deliberate. Consequently, I have no compunction about listing here very recent imprints for the information of interested selectors.

Let's start out with talking about the canon, since that's all the rage. The central core of classical texts that is of texts studied in class remains fairly stable, particularly up through World War II. Undergraduate students of French literature will continue to study Racine and Flaubert. Seldom is really contemporary fiction or poetry assigned for required reading.

However, recent trends in critical methodology have seen the introduction of nonliterary texts for advanced courses (and these of course will largely fall outside the PQ subject range). A trendy faculty makes it more difficult for the library selector to predict what will be needed for next year's or next decade's curriculum. Some French departments, then, will not be satisfied, for example, by the three texts in translation by Derrida that BCL3 recommends. But since such circumstances vary from institution to institution, it is not unacceptable for a general list to remain with a fairly conservative selection of primary authors. This BCL3 does, so it is not too surprising to find that for 20thcentury literary authors, BCL3 is innocent of such names as Beck, Brasillach, Cardinal, Chessex, Cingria, Damas, Emmanuel, Guillevic, Juin, Lilar, Mansour, Marie Noël, Ollier, Réage, S. Schwarz-Bart, and Vilmorin.

But what is questionable is that between BCL2 and BCL3, Aucassin et Nicolette, A.R. Lesage, Amiel, Aloïsius Bertrand, Gourmont, M. de Guérin, Labiche, Moréas, Sue, Sully-Prudhomme, Barbusse, Bosco, Boulle, Carco, Chamson, Alain (E. Chartier), Daninos, Fargue, P. Fort, Gary, Hervé-Bazin, Jammes, Jouhandeau, Jouve, La Tour du Pin, Léautaud, Louÿs, Morand, Nimier, the comtesse de Noailles, Oldenbourg, J. Prévost, Ramuz, M. Sachs, Salacrou, Vailland, and the literary works of Fromentin and Romains have been deleted. New authors have been added of course, but usually with only one representative title, and too often only in translation. Naturally, some of the older names deserve, like the fiction of Maurois, to be left aside to make way for newer figures. Yet surely most of them are still of interest. With some obvious exceptions, they will probably not, it is true, be read in courses. But they may well be cited for comparative purposes in lectures or tutorials, and they could very likely be the object of advanced independent study or of faculty interest. Such an accumulation of amputations can only affect the presumed audience adversely.

Other literary figures are present in BCL3 as the subjects of critical studies or in translation, but not in the form of their original texts. A monograph on Barrès is listed, but the literary text by him that managed to make it into BCL2 is dropped; the same is true for Drieu La Rochelle. There is a study on Barbey d'Aurevilly, but not the Pléïade edition of his Œuvres romanesques and a study on, but no texts by Desnos. No French originals of Descartes nor of Sartre's expository writings are given, nor are Diderot's philosophical or esthetic writings (except in the execrable Pléïade volume). These are important figures for stylistic and cultural reasons, hence the need for the French text. BCL2 lists French texts of Nobel-Prize winner Martin du Gard, but BCL3 does not. Nor are there French texts listed for Pinget, Reverdy, Simenon, Tournier, Beti, or Péret (though the last represents, by way of a translation and a TWAS monograph, a welcome addition to BCL2). These absences deprive the interested readers of access to the objects which BCL3 itself indicates are worthy of study.

Under-represented in BCL3 are such major figures as Butor (e. g., L'Emploi du temps, which figured in BCL2), Robbe-Grillet, Sagan, Nobel-Prize winner Cl. Simon (e. g., L'Herbe), Le Clézio, Modiano, Sollers, Césaire, et j'en passe. Conversely, such super-annuated figures as A. Daudet, A. France, Loti, and Colette are over-represented. Because of these choices and the over-reliance on translations, certain columns of BCL3 look like the shelf-list of a small public library with a monolingual readership rather than a collection designed to support an undergraduate French major.

BCL3 makes a commendable effort at covering Francophone literature from Africa and the Caribbean, though it omits L.G. Damas, as noted above. It also ignores Senghor's historic Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française (PUF), with the famous preface by Sartre, "Orphée noir." And Senghor's own Poèmes have gone into a further, longer edition than that indicated in BCL3. Césaire's crucial Cahier d'un retour au pays natal is ignored both in the original (Présence Africaine) and in translation (Penguin).

In the realm of criticism, BCL3 lacks entries by Bénichou, Le Gentil, M. Robert, Paulhan, Rousset, and, except as editors, Etiemble and Mauron. Ch. Du Bos, J. Rivière, and Bataille were not retained from BCL2. Many of Genette's seminal works, including those in English translation, are not mentioned in BCL3.

Because BCL3 prefers English-language studies (p. viii), key French monographs are omitted, e. g.: Nadal's Le Sentiment de l'amour dans l'œuvre de Pierre Corneille; Doubrovsky's Corneille et la dialectique du héros; Starobinski's JeanJacques Rousseau: la transparence et l'obstacle (just translated). Several good studies in French on Balzac are overlooked, including Hoffmann's Répertoire géographique de La comédie humaine (Corti). But despite this general policy, BCL3 fails to mention the 1964 English translation of Goldmann's Le Dieu caché (whose call number is misprinted, casting it into the middle of the 12th century). The critical studies referred to in this and the previous paragraphs are, again, titles that a faculty member might very well want to refer an advanced student to or use in preparing class lectures or discussion.

BCL3 seems to have a problem with multi-volume sets, listing odd volumes, but not their mates, even when the latter were cited in BCL2. For example, the volumes for the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries in the Literary History of France edited by Charvet are left out, but not the ones for the previous periods. Volume 2 of the Garnier-Flammarion Anthologie poétique française, XVIIe siècle is entered, but not volume 1, nor the volumes for the Middle Ages or the 16th century. Similarly, the title by Payen on the Middle Ages in the Arthaud Littérature française series receives mention, but none of the others does.

Two multi-volume literary histories that are useful at the undergraduate level are missing: Manuel d'histoire littéraire de la France, edited by Abraham, and French Literature and its background, edited by Cruickshank. Neither Gide's nor Pompidou's Anthologie de la poésie française is included, though the former's was in BCL2. The informative titles by A. A. Tilley on the Renaissance and the 17th century are regrettably dropped from BCL2. Old war-horses such as Lytton Strachey's Landmarks in French Literature are left in, but not Peyre's French Novelists of Today, still a storehouse of information and judgment unmatched by the other studies listed.

BCL3, like BCL2, suggests concordances for major English language authors and works, but not for their foreign counterparts. Yet many students -- and their teachers -- might like to find quickly particular words and phrases in such texts as La Chanson de Roland, Montaigne, La Fontaine, Racine, Rousseau, Baudelaire or Rimbaud. In another categorical omission which is unstated in the Introduction, BCL3 eschews personal author bibliographies: they are not listed in the PQ's, and the Z section stops at 7999. Consequently the users of this college library collection will be cut off from resources available through interlibrary loan. Conversely, it is questionable if the serial budgets of very many college libraries will be able to afford the cost of Klapp's Bibliographie der französischen Literaturwissenschaft (BCL3 vol. 5, #8003), now over $150.00.

The core of any collection of literature is the array of editions of the primary texts. For French literary texts at least, BCL3 adopts a method of bargain-hunting in choosing editions. It betrays a fetish for the Intégrale collection from Seuil. This inexpensive series offers less in the way of critical apparatus than do its competitors; its type is small and hard to read, and it is printed on very acid paper. While suitable for a personal library, editions in this series would not be the first choice for an academic collection. A list of recommended editions should start with the top of the line or reasonably near it; if a particular institution wishes to make economies on its initial investment (thus ignoring the long-term costs of preservation), it can decide to do so by not selecting the recommended edition. The converse is less practicable: once the authoritative list by-passes the best editions, it is unlikely that a library aspiring to a first-class collection will look to second-guess the bargain-basement recommendations made by BCL3.

BCL3 displays an almost complete phobia for the Classiques Garnier, while with the Bibiothèque de la Pléïade, there appears to be a love-hate relationship. BCL3 recommends inferior or outdated Pléïade editions of Ronsard, La Bruyère, La Rochefoucauld, Beaumarchais (though a new one is just now appearing), Diderot, Marivaux, Mallarmé, and Rimbaud, and omits the superior Classiques Garnier editions of Tristan, La Bruyère, La Rochefoucauld, Beaumarchais, Diderot (the preferable but expensive Hermann edition is still in progress), Marivaux, Manon Lescaut, Restif de La Bretonne, Flaubert, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, and Alain-Fournier. While as a very broad rule of thumb the Gallimard series may be preferable to the Garnier, it is regrettable that such a detailed list of recommended editions did not distinguish particular cases more adequately. For Pascal, the exclusive choice of the Pléïade deprives the collection of those editions of the Pensées that furnish either the traditional though corrupt Brunschvicg ordering of the Garnier edition or the new, more authentic ordering offered by Lafuma (Seuil -- here the choice of the Intégrale edition would have been justifiable).

But perversely, BCL3 goes out of its way in certain cases to avoid perfectly adequate Pléïade editions: it oddly omits those of Montaigne (dropped from BCL2), Lautréamont, Fromentin, Dumas' Le Comte de MonteCristo (while citing the much older Pléïade edition of Les Trois Mousquetaires), Maupassant, Musset, Vigny, Villiers de L'IsleAdam, Claudel's Œuvre poétique and Œuvres en prose, Gide's Journal, Giraudoux, J. Green (also dropped from BCL2), Saint-John Perse, Martin du Gard (again, dropped from BCL2), Proust's Jean Santeuil and Contre Sainte-Beuve. The only cited Pléïade edition of Hugo is his Théâtre complet, thus leaving out his Œuvres poétiques, NotreDame de Paris, La Légende des siècles, and Les Misérables (also omitted is the recent Bouquins edition of Hugo from Laffont).

Further and more importantly, BCL3 fails to register new, more accurate editions that have supplanted previous ones in the Bibliothèque de la Pléïade; thus Mme de Sévigné and Laclos were replaced a decade ago. New Pléïade editions of Gérard de Nerval and Céline are similarly missed (the Pléïade edition of Céline listed in BCL3 is stripped of the series statement that it bore in BCL2, so that it is possible to identify it only from the collation). As a consequence, BCL3's references to the Bibliothèque de la Pléïade are very misleading, offering as it does both false positives (wrongly recommending inferior editions in the series) and false negatives (omitting acceptable or preferable editions).

Critical editions are given short shrift in BCL3. Droz's Textes Littéraires Français are mentioned with reluctance if at all: the Droz editions of Villon, Labé, Du Bellay, Ronsard, Rabelais, and La Rochefoucuald are missed. The STFM editions from Nizet of Du Bellay and Ronsard are left out, as is Silver's Chicago edition of the latter. The Textes Français editions from Belles Lettres are ignored in the cases of Leconte de Lisle and Heredia.

Detailed Comments Seriatim:

The Dent Everyman translations of Chrétien's Arthurian Romances, are wanting, either in the version by Comfort or the more recent one by Owen, even though the former was included in BCL2.

Kinnell's idiomatic translations of Villon are ignored.

Also absent are any edition of La Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse (included, however, in BCL2) and Sisson's translation of the Regrets.

The Classiques Garnier edition of Mme de La Fayette is dropped from BCL2, with the reader having access to only La Princesse de Clèves in the unanalysed Romanciers du XVIIe siècle, edited by Adam in the Pléiade, and no access at all to her other fiction. A similar situation obtains for Paul et Virginie, where neither the Garnier-Flammarion edition that made it into BCL2 nor the critical edition from Nizet is cited; the knowledgeable reader will have to find the text in the unanalysed Romanciers du XVIIIe siècle, edited by Etiemble, also in the Pléiade. Nor is there any translation given for Paul et Virginie.

There is too little on Molière; for example, Guicharnaud's anthology of Molière criticism is left out, even though other titles in the Prentice-Hall 20thCentury Views series are included. And the studies on Molière cited in BCL2 could well have been retained.

The listings omit the translations of Racine by Wilbur and Sisson, and R. C. Knight's translations other than Phaedra.

Frame's translation of Manon Lescaut would be better than the Everyman version offered by BCL3 -- but then one would also have to procure a translation of Mérimée's Carmen, which is included in the Dent volume.

A very obscure collected edition of the Marquis de Sade is given where one would rightly expect one from Le Cercle du Livre Précieux or from Pauvert, either the one from the 1960's or the current one.

While Crépet and Blin's critical edition of Baudelaire's Journaux intimes (Corti) is cited, inexplicably omitted is the more important edition they did of Les Fleurs du mal (also Corti); nor is Kopp's critical edition of Petits poèmes en prose (also Corti) mentioned. BCL3 recognizes only one translation of Madame Bovary. In what is perhaps the worst choice of edition in the section, for Leconte de Lisle the Nouveaux Classiques Larousse is preferred by BCL3 over the critical edition in the Textes Français (Belles Lettres), noted above. The critical edition of Mallarmé published by Flammarion is ignored.

In listing Anouilh's theatre, BCL3 omits the four volumes of his Pièces grinçantes, ...baroques, ...secrètes, and farçeuses, including the one that contains La Valse des Toréadors, for which a translation is however listed.

There is nothing in Spanish by Arrabal, which makes one tremble for the Spanish literature section, where only a monographic study on him is to be found at PQ6601.

The club edition of Camus' Œuvres complètes is an unnecessary luxury in a collection of the size envisaged -- the resources can be better used elsewhere. The club edition of Pagnol is also an unneeded extravagance.

BCL3 overlooks the handsome Lettres françaises edition from L'Imprimerie nationale of Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac that came out five years ago.

Some omissions are, however, fortunate: at least the unique copy of an 1814 edition of La Fontaine was deleted from BCL2. Also, the execrable mistranslation of Cheikh Hamidou Kane's exquisite L'Aventure ambigüe is left out.

In conclusion we must observe that for French letters at least, BCL3 represents a terrible waste of an opportunity to establish an authoritative list of recommended textual editions and studies. So what is to be done in choosing a core collection of French literature: throw up our hands and flip a coin? Hardly. But rather than using BCL3, it would be better to follow the listings at the end of the entries in the Bordas Dictionnaire des littératures de langue française (BCL3 #2.3819, now into a 2nd edition in 4 vols.) Here, at least, when the Pléïade editions, as of Marivaux and Diderot, are omitted, the silence is significant.

Jeffry Larson

ex-Humanities Bibliographer
Yale University Library
P. O. Box 1603A Yale Station
New Haven, CT 06520-7429

now Librarian for Western European Romance Languages & Literatures,
Linguistics, & Classics
Yale University Library
P. O. Box 208240
New Haven, CT 06520-8240
E-mail: jeffry.larson@yale.edu