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This review is taken from PN Review 95, Volume 20 Number 3, January - February 1994.

ENTER THE FOX The Fabulists French, Verse Fables of Nine Centuries, translated with a prologue and notes by Norman Shapiro (University of Illinois Press) $49-95

Plus ca change, plus c'est la même chose-Norman Shapiro demonstrates the truth of this adage in his selection from nine centuries of French verse fables, apparently the first of its kind. With its roots in a world-wide tradition of oral literature, and its precedents in the witty and instructive tales of antiquity, the verse fable in France has developed over the ages into a large and impressive body of work, and this anthology selects sixty-nine fabulists from the twelfth century onwards to demonstrate the fact.

Shapiro takes as his starting point the work of Marie de France, who, whilst being the first identifiable female writer in French with her famous Lais, is also the first recorded fabulist of either sex. The six fables of hers included here are followed by numerous anonymous or virtually unheard of practitioners of the form, along with a number of more well-known proponents. Naturally there is a generous selection from the work of Jean de La Fontaine, whose name is as synonymous with the verse fable of today as Aesop's was with that of the past, and his eminence is rightly stressed by Shapiro in the accompanying notes. However, we also meet with several unexpected inclusions, for example Eugéne Deschamps, who is perhaps more Widely recognized as one of the vital links between the French poets of the early Middle Ages and Francois Villon; Charles Perrault, who is to fairy tales what La Fontaine is to fables, but who was also a ...


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