The Image of Renegades in 17th-Century French Literature: From Redemption Narratives to the Baroque Novel

Friday, January 4, 2019: 4:30 PM
Grant Park Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Filippo Screpanti, Duke University
At the peak of the Mediterranean guerre de course, between the end of 16th and throughout the 17th century, many redemption accounts were circulating in Europe, influencing the western perception of the Maghreb region and its inhabitants. These texts, published mainly by the Trinitarians and the Mercedarians, the two Christian redemptive missionary orders who where most active in North Africa at the time, became key in defining the imagery of the renegades in Europe. Accounts such as père Dan’s Histoire de Barbarie et de ses corsaires (1637), which related a mission to free Christian captives in Algiers, offered a stark Manichean representation of Christian-Muslim relationships and a harsh condemnation of turncoats. Many of these missionary accounts reduced the complex phenomenon of Mediterranean conversions to a religious confrontation, ignoring their cultural, social and economic contexts, and in their decrying of apostasy were crucial in establishing a series of enduring stereotypes on converts. The missionary texts influenced, directly or indirectly, several French cultural productions of the time, from captivity narratives to baroque novels and theatre plays. However, while the fictional figure of the renegade often resonates with the topoi set by redemption accounts, it also acquires a more ambiguous dimension. In novels such as Marin Le Roy de Gomberville’s Polexandre, the figure of “le Turc français” seems to frighten but also fascinate the readers by acquiring the persona of a Baroque hero. Focusing on a series of texts that include 17th-century French redemption accounts, captivity narratives, and Baroque literary works, my paper will discuss how the historical exchange and confrontation between the French Monarchy and the Barbary regencies have percolated into French culture, and how such images are rearticulated by the aesthetic and cultural canons in French literary production of the time.
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