Philippe de Commynes: Memory, Betrayal, Text
Philippe de Commynes, a diplomat who specialized in clandestine operations, served King Louis XI during his campaign to undermine aristocratic resistance and consolidate the sovereignty of the French throne. He is credited with inventing the political memoir, but his reminiscence has also been described as ‘the confessions of a traitor’: Commynes had abandoned Louis’ rival, the Burgundian duke Charles the Bold, before joining forces with the king.
This study provides a literary re-evaluation of Commynes’ text – a perennial subject of scandal and fascination – while questioning what the terms ‘traitor’ or ‘betrayed’ meant in the context of fifteenth-century France. Drawing on diplomatic letters and court transcripts, Irit Kleiman examines the mutual connections between writing and betrayal in Commynes’ representation of Louis’ reign, the relationship between the author and the king, and the emergence of the memoir as an autobiographical genre. This study significantly deepens our understanding of how historical narrative and diplomatic activities are intertwined in the work of this iconic, iconoclastic figure.
- World Rights
- Page Count: 304 pages
- Dimensions: 6.4in x 0.9in x 9.3in
Reviews‘The stories that Kleiman tells are fascinating, aided by copious quotations from the Mémoires, deftly translated and analyzed.’
Modern Language Review, vol 109:03:2014
‘Philippe de Commynes is a beautiful demonstration of how literary analysis can shed new light on nonfictional texts… Extremely readable, and always engaging, this book will no doubt succeed in bringing the Memoires to the wider audience they deserve.’
Renaissance Quarterly vol 67:04:2014
‘This is a smart, theoretically informed, confidently argued book…. An important contribution to the scholarship on Commynes, and on the history of writing and the intellectual history of politics in the fifteenth century more broadly.’
University of Toronto Quarterly vol 84:03:2015
‘It is both a pleasure and a valuable intellectual experience to read Philippe de Commynes, a very well-written, erudite, and insightful work. Exploring important and far-reaching questions, this book constitutes a significant advance to scholarly research on late medieval and early modern political philosophy, the history of autobiography and the memoir, and the relevance of textual production to the transformation of social, cultural, and political structures.’
Daisy Delogu, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago
“Under Irit Ruth Kleiman’s sharp pen, Philippe de Commynes comes to life as one of the first modern European writers, and betrayal is proven critical to the formation of Western subjectivity. This is an important book for historians, literary critics, and anyone who cares about divided loyalties. It is also a joy to read.”
Virginie Greene, Chair and Professor of French, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University
“Kleiman intriguingly unravels Commynes’ Mémoires, showing how much they both hide and reveal the reality of Commynes's shift of allegiance from the Burgundian duke Charles the Bold to the French king Louis XI in 1472. By underlining the literary quality of the Mémoires, Kleiman helps us better understand modern reactions to what has often been interpreted as one of the greatest acts of political betrayal in western history.”
Michael Randall, Professor of French and Comparative Literature, Brandeis University
Author InformationIrit Ruth Kleiman is an assistant professor in the Department of Romance Studies at Boston University.
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