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Kelsey Rubin-Detlev, "Voltaire and the Affair of the Bottle Conjuror"

samedi 23 juin 2012

Revue Voltaire, 12 (2012), p. 285-292.
Kelsey Rubin-Detlev, "Voltaire and the Affair of the Bottle Conjuror : the authorship of the review of Tristram Shandy in the Gazette littéraire de l’Europe (20 March 1765)".


Although a few editors and commentators have suspected Voltaire of having authored a review of volumes 7 and 8 of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which appeared anonymously in the Gazette littéraire de l’Europe in March 1765, the text has hitherto been excluded from Voltaire’s corpus and even attributed to another writer, J.-B.-A. Suard. The review itself displays an odd split between views consistent with Voltaire’s comments on Sterne elsewhere, most notably in a 1777 review of Frénais’s translation of Tristram Shandy, and excessively sentimental anecdotes about Sterne which Voltaire likely could not have known. However, the textual evidence for Voltaire’s authorship of the first part of the review is overwhelming. When he cites, in 1777, the article of 1765, self-plagiarising and self-praising in his typical manner, Voltaire’s choice of passages to quote is highly significant : he uses an anecdote about London’s Bottle Conjuror of 1749, which he had deployed previously in the Histoire d’Elisabeth Canning et de Jean Calas and which reveals the connections between Voltaire’s attitude toward Sterne and his other polemical preoccupations. Attributing the first part of the review to Voltaire, but the second part to the Gazette’s editor Suard, thus provides new insights into both Voltaire’s ongoing engagement with Sterne and the problems of textual attribution when dealing with a journalistic culture of anonymity and co-authorship