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This review is taken from PN Review 77, Volume 17 Number 3, January - February 1991.

French Poetry 1820-1950
with prose translations
Selected, translated and introduced by
William Rees (Penguin Books) £10.99

It is difficult to know for whom this fat anthology is intended. The indications given in the editor's introduction are singularly unilluminating. 'France in the 19th and 20th centuries offers an unusually rich and rewarding field for students and lovers of poetry.' What is meant by those vague categories? Undergraduates on a French course would hardly need the prose translations with which the reader of this volume is supplied; pupils at school would not be ready for the historical sweep suggested by the defining dates and the information about literary movements with which it is interlarded. 'Lovers of poetry' - ah, who are they? - would be unlikely to read the book 'in chronological order', as is apparently intended, and would not be primarily concerned with the 'pattern of development' which in some sense is illustrated by the collection.

One can believe the editor's claim that an 'immense reading assignment' preceded the compilation of the book, and for this the editor, now a house-master at Eton, where he has taught since 1975, is clearly qualified by his studies in modern French literature and theatre at University College, Aberystwyth, and at the universities of Exeter and Oxford. These academies have perhaps left their marks on his attitudes to the changes registered at appropriate points in the volume in his brief characterizations of 'Romanticism in France,' 'The Parnassian Movement,' 'The ...

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