French Rococo poetry and metrical convention
Nell-Boelsche, Sharon Diane
Doctor of Philosophy
Basic to the literature and art of the rococo period style is the concept of metonymy. Whereas Patrick Brady, the leading theorist of this style, has analyzed in detail its ramifications in a variety of areas, the formal aspects of rococo poetry have been neglected. This study seeks out metonymy in the metrical organization, or lack of it, in French rococo poetry through the use of Benoit de Cornulier's theory of verse. The vehicle for this search is Brady's own thematically arranged anthology of European rococo poetry. In order to demonstrate rococo metrical innovation, Boileau's Art poetique and a selection of poetry by La Fontaine were also analyzed. An overview of the French poetry in the Rococo Anthology reveals that the isometrical form remains dominant; however, the preferred line length shifts from the alexandrine to the octosyllable. In the area of heterometrical poetry, the classical standard form combined for the most part alexandrine and octosyllabic lines. Rococo poetry typically adds decasyllables to that combination. Rococo miniaturization is expressed in the brevity of the poetry of the period. This study's discussion of the internal organization of the rococo and classical poetic line focuses on caesurae in alexandrines and decasyllables as well as the question of rhythm. Despite the claims of previous critics, an abundance of misleading commas, periods and exclamation marks camouflages the underlying regularity of internal caesurae. In rococo poetry, as well as in some of La Fontaine's poetic works, rhythm imitates meter, constituting a kind of formal immanence. The external structure of many heterometrical rococo poems appears chaotic. While traditional stanza structure is all but eliminated, the existence of highly sophisticated organizations can be discerned, consisting of mirror image structures, interlocking and contiguous subcontexts, whose metonymic extra metrical units undercut unity and wholeness. The presence of prose and the dependence on musical meter further add to the ametricality of the rococo poem. This study postulates that while classical convention was not discarded, the metonymic tendencies of the rococo poets undermine convention rhythmically and structurally.