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A Taste for the Foreign

Worldly Knowledge and Literary Pleasure in Early Modern French Fiction

Ellen R. Welch

A Taste for the Foreign examines foreignness as a crucial aesthetic category for the development of prose fiction from Jacques Amyot's 1547 translation of The Ethiopian Story to Antoine Galland's early eighteenth-century version of The Thousand and One Nights. While fantastic storylines and elements of magic were increasingly shunned by a neo-classicist literary culture that valued verisimilitude above all else, writers and critics surmised that the depiction of exotic lands could offer a superior source for the novelty, variety, and marvelousness that constituted fiction's appeal. In this sense, early modern fiction presents itself as privileged site for thinking through the literary and cultural stakes of exoticism, or the taste for the foreign. Long before the term "exoticism" came into common parlance in France, fiction writers thus demonstrated their understanding of the special kinds of aesthetic pleasure produced by evocations of foreignness, developing techniques to simulate those delights through imitations of the exotic. As early modern readers eagerly consumed travel narratives, maps, and international newsletters, novelists discovered ways to blur the distinction between true and imaginary representations of the foreign, tantalizing readers with an illusion of learning about the faraway lands that captured their imaginations.
This book analyzes the creative appropriations of those scientific or documentary forms of writing that claimed to inform the French public about exotic places. Concentrating on the most successful examples of some of the most important sub-genres of prose fiction in the long seventeenth century—heroic romances, shorter urban novels, fictional memoirs, and extraordinary voyages—the book examines how these types of fiction creatively appropriate the scientific or documentary forms of writing that claimed to inform the French public about exotic places.
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University Press Copublishing Division / University of Delaware Press
Pages: 248Size: 6 3/8 x 9 1/2
978-1-61149-062-6 • Hardback • March 2011 • $80.00 • (£52.95)
978-1-61149-063-3 • eBook • March 2011 • $76.00 • (£49.95)
Ellen R. Welch is assistant professor of French and Francophone studies in the Romance Languages Department of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Chapter 1 Introduction: Manufacturing Foreignness: Exoticism, Commodities, and the Novel
Chapter 2 Chapter 1: Fiction and the Aesthetics of Foreignness
Chapter 3 Chapter 2: Armchair Conquests: Heroic Romance and the Cartographies of Desire
Chapter 4 Chapter 3: Cosmopolitan Seductions: City Guides and Parisian Novels
Chapter 5 Chapter 4: Secret Agents, Foreign Courts: International Voyeurism in Memoir Fictions
Chapter 6 Chapter 5: Consuming Curiosities in Extraordinary Voyage Novels
Chapter 7 Epilogue: L'utile et l'agréable in the Age of Orientalism
In the Medamothi episode of Rabelais's Quart Livre can be found the first use of the word "exotique." Although based on the Greek word for foreign, this word took on more connotations than merely étrange. As she writes in her introduction, Welch (Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) "examines how the fashion for (artificial) foreignness manifested itself in the production of prose fiction ... and how it inspired formal innovations as well as new settings for fictional content." She gives equal attention to the aesthetic dimension of literary and historical conditions of the production of this fiction, dealing with the roman héroïque, city guides and Parisian novels, secret memoirs, and voyage novels. She concludes by looking at the idea of Orientalism, for which, according to her, "The Thousand and One Nights [tr., Antoine Galland, 1704-1715] stands, in some sense, as a literary index of European Orientalism." Although the book is interesting, the audience for this volume will probably be somewhat limited because it assumes an extensive knowledge of (primarily) 17th-century literature.

Welsh has written a highly rewarding book that constitutes a major contribution to seventeenth-century French studies
H-France Review

This book is a pleasurable and readable contribution to the growing critical literature on orientalism and exoticism in early modern French studies….It concentrates on seventeenth-century prose fiction, covering heroic romances, urban novels, fictional memoirs, and extraordinary voyages….What this book gains in concentrating on the more emblematic and less familiar examples of ‘exotic’ fiction is a coherence and conviction in its argument for the particular pleasures of the form.
Oxford Journals

Welch offers unique, thought-provoking, and original close readings of seventeenth-century French fiction

Eighteenth-Century Fiction