Maurice Aristide Chapelan (1906-1992) was a French journalist, literary critic, grammarian, poet, aphorist and novelist, who devoted his life and work to expounding the beauty he saw in the French language, all the while passionately upholding its correct usage in both speech and writing. While he is best remembered for the weekly chroniques de langue he wrote for Le Figaro, Chapelan left behind a rich and varied œuvre encompassing poetry, literary criticism, biography and even erotic novels.
His love of brevity and simplicity of style is a common thread throughout his work, and it was this emphasis on economy and elegance in his chroniques, as well as their wit, that first drew the attention of scholar and life-long Francophile Mary Munro-Hill, who has devoted much of her recent career to disseminating knowledge of Chapelan’s writing and raising awareness of his work beyond the French-speaking world.
Maurice Aristide Chapelan, Man of Three Parts is Mary’s third book with Cambridge Scholars – after Aristide of Le Figaro (2017) and Claude Duneton, Chroniqueur at Le Figaro (2018) – and is the first work to portray Chapelan the writer in his entirety, within the framework of his three personae, Chapelan, Aristide and Aymé Dubois-Jolly. The work is a one-volume trilogy, each book treating one persona.
Book One focuses on the works published under Maurice Chapelan’s own name, from his first literary love (poetry) to the autobiographical and critical work that won him such renown among French academics.
Book Two centres on Aristide, the grammarian of Le Figaro and famous proponent of le bon usage, whose love and mastery of the French language would be employed to deliver razor-sharp polemic on the linguistic topics of the day.
Book Three, the final and most extensive section, concentrates on the four published works of Aymé Dubois-Jolly, the name under which Chapelan wrote a series of romans galants inspired by his grandfather’s vast library of eighteenth-century literature. Munro-Hill closely and humorously examines this aspect of Chapelan’s writing in great depth, offering important insights and revelations into his life and work.
With her expert knowledge of the French language, combined with her skilful analysis and genuine admiration and affection for her subject, Mary Munro-Hill has successfully captured the multifarious facets of Chapelan as both man and writer, from the scholarly and serious to the irreverent and droll. Her research is presented with such care and clarity that Chapelan seems an almost tangible presence to the reader.
Written with wit, candour and an unwavering authority, strengthened by her close friendship with Chapelan in his latter years, Dr Munro-Hill has created a work that will surely come to be regarded as the definitive critical text on Chapelan’s œuvre, and will find a valued place on the bookshelves of all lovers of French language and literature.
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