Théophile de Viau
|French literary history|
Born at Clairac, near Agen in the Lot-et-Garonne and raised as a Huguenot, Théophile de Viau participated in the Protestant wars in Guyenne from 1615–16 in the service of the Comte de Candale. After the war, he was pardoned and became a brilliant young poet in the royal court. Théophile came into contact with the epicurean ideas of Italian philosopher Lucilio Vanini (who was accused of heresy and of practising magic, and was burned alive in Toulouse in 1619) which questioned the immortality of the soul.
Because of his religion, his libertine lifestyle, de Viau was banished from France in 1619 and traveled in England, though he returned to the court in 1620. In 1622 a collection of licentious poems, Le Parnasse satyrique, was published under his name, although many of the poems were written by others, and de Viau was denounced by the Jesuits in 1623 and sentenced to appear barefoot before Notre Dame in Paris and to be burned alive.
While de Viau was in hiding, the sentence was carried out in effigy, but the poet was eventually caught in flight toward England and put in the Conciergerie prison in Paris for almost two years. The trial lead to debates among scholars and writers, and 55 pamphlets were published both for and against de Viau. His sentence was changed to permanent banishment and de Viau spent the remaining months of his life in Chantilly under the protection of the Duke of Montmorency before dying in Paris in 1626.
He wrote Fragment d'une histoire comique (English: Fragment of a Comic Novel, 1623), in which he expressed his literary tastes. He was not a supporter of "the metaphoric excess and lofty erudition" of his contemporaries. But he also thought "sterile" the constraints proposed by would-be reformers such as François de Malherbe. This disregard for constraints probably added to his reputation as a non-conformist.
De Viau's poetic style refused the logical and classicist constraints of François de Malherbe and remained attached to the emotional and the baroque images of the late Renaissance, such as in his ode Un corbeau devant moi croasse (A crow before me caws), which paints a fantastic scene of thunder, serpents and fire (much like a painting by Salvator Rosa). Two of his poems are melancholy pleas to the king on the subject of his incarceration or exile, and this tone of sadness is also present in his ode On Solitide which mixes classical motifs with an elegy about the poet in the midst of a forest.
Théophile de Viau was "rediscovered" by the French Romantics in the 19th century.
- Stedman (2012), p. 59-61
- Stedman, Allison (2012), Rococo Fiction in France, 1600-1715: Seditious Frivolity, Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 978-1611484366
- Dandrey, Patrick, ed. Dictionnaire des lettres françaises: Le XVIIe siècle. Collection: La Pochothèque. Paris: Fayard, 1996.
- Allem, Maurice, ed. Anthologie poétique française: XVIIe siècle. Paris: Garnier Frères, 1966.
- Oeuvre poétique complete de Théophile de Viau.