From the Ephemeral to the Enduring: French literature: an exhibition from the Monash Rare Book Collection, 10 August - 11 October 1993


From the Ephemeral to the Enduring: French literature: an exhibition from the Monash Rare Book Collection, 10 August - 11 October 1993



The exhibition was held in the Rare Books Exhibition space, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University from 10 August - 11 October 1993. French literature has been part of the programme at Monash University since the beginning of teaching in 1961. Under five professors and various interim heads of department there has been a consistent commitment to research activity as the natural and necessary complement of work in the classroom. This has been reflected in acquisitions for the University Library and notably in the material that has found its way into the Rare Books Collection. Various aspects of what has been gathered to support the investigations of staff and senior students have been incorporated into the Library's Exhibitions since 1970. On this occasion the emphasis is on the diversity of French studies as a discipline or field of inquiry. September 1993 is a special month for the French Section of what is now the Department of Romance Languages at Monash University. Not only shall we be hosting a conference that is designed to lead to the creation of an Australian Society for French Studies, but we shall also be celebrating the completion of the thirtieth volume of the Australian Journal of French Studies, which has been edited from Monash since its inception in 1964. These events have dictated to a large degree the contents and orientation of the present exhibition. On the one hand we set out to include some of the ephemeral periodical publications that were the vehicles - from the first half of the seventeenth century on - of French thought, creative literature and revolutionary fervour. On the other, we were concerned to display a representative sample of the major works and authors whose role in France's long cultural hegemony in Europe and beyond was universally recognized as enduring. Monash University Library, like most state-supported institutions founded since the Second World War, has not been able in its bookbuying to emulate the spectacular achievements of some of the richly endowed private institutions of the Northern Hemisphere. Nonetheless, the determination of successive professors combined with the sympathetic support of the Library staff, and a little luck, made it possible to build up a more than respectable collection over three decades. Despite the uncertainties of a future that offers electronic promises and a diminishing capacity to buy hard-copy monographs, the harvest of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s provides a secure basis for continuing research in the directions already set. The fact that there is an engaging mixture of periods, trends and authors is an inevitable concomitant of a library acquisitions policy dictated by the needs of individual users in one highly idiosyncratic department. Anyone familiar with Monash French will have no difficulty in identifying the particular interests and enthusiasms of several former and present members of the Section: Corneille, Moliere, Racine, Rotrou, Scarron, Foigny, Lesage, Diderot, Zola. However, this is a mere selection from a corpus that has the depth conferred by the inclusion of minor and - in some cases - quite unknown and neglected texts. Collections take generations to build, and the prime movers here had a grand plan in view. Whether it can be realized in full remains an open question at a time of reduced resources and redefined priorities. In the meantime we can be grateful for the attempt to construct a coherent research resource centred on the eighteenth century and on the Enlightenment. The choice of items for exhibition and the writing of the present catalogue have been a joint effort. Once again I am grateful to the Rare Books Librarian, Richard Overell, for his enthusiasm, his patience and his knowledge of the collection in his care. It was, for example, he who insisted on the inclusion of the influential English translations of several canonical French texts. We are both beholden to Lorraine David and to David Farrer for their help, especially in the hectic final stages of preparation for the event.

Some items kindly loaned by private collectors








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Overell, Richard et al., “From the Ephemeral to the Enduring: French literature: an exhibition from the Monash Rare Book Collection, 10 August - 11 October 1993,” Monash Collections Online, accessed July 20, 2024,

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