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Goldoni in Paris. La Gloire et le Malentendu

Jessica Goodman

Jessica Goodman, Goldoni in Paris : La Gloire et le Malentendu, Oxford University Press, 2017, 256 pp.

The thirty years Carlo Goldoni spent in Paris hold an ambiguous place in his career. Whilst the preface to his autobiography draws attention to France as the site of his authorial glory, elsewhere he dismisses his work for the Parisian Comédie-Italienne as a failure, and the latter view has come to dominate modern readings of his French experience. This study sets out to explore this apparent contradiction. By reading Goldoni’s own accounts of the period through the lens of his context as a dramatic author in 1760s Paris, this book sheds new light on both his experience and critical reactions to that experience. Key to this recontextualization is an examination of the archives of the Comédie-Italienne, with the result that this book also provides the most comprehensive existing account of this oft-neglected theatre and its authorial relations in the period.

When material and artistic conditions at the Comédie-Italienne thwarted the self-fashioning strategies Goldoni had developed in Italy, he turned his attention to other areas of French literary life ; notably the court and the Comédie-Française. Yet despite his relative success in these circles, his career as an eclectic homme de lettres was lost in translation to posterity. In his French Mémoires, he constructed the claim of Parisian glory according to an outdated understanding of what it meant to succeed in the French literary field, focusing predominantly on the symbolic weight of the Comédie-Française. Ultimately, this construction was a failure : in modern France, Goldoni is remembered as a famous foreigner, not the consecrated French littérateur he believed he had become.