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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Answer to Lord Chandos

Pascal Quignard

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To purchase The Answer to Lord Chandos

Title: The Answer to Lord Chandos
Author: Pascal Quignard
Genre: (Fiction)
Written: 2020 (Eng. 2024)
Length: 53 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Answer to Lord Chandos - US
The Answer to Lord Chandos - UK
The Answer to Lord Chandos - Canada
La réponse à Lord Chandos - Canada
La réponse à Lord Chandos - France
La respuesta a lord Chandos - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Wakefield Press
  • French title: La réponse à Lord Chandos
  • Translated by Stéphanie Boulard and Timothy Lavenz
  • With an Introduction by Jean-Luc Nancy

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Our Assessment:

A- : very personal counter-volume to Hofmannsthal's classic piece

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Imparcial A+ 13/9/2020 Francisco Estévez
Le Monde . 5/3/2020 Camille Laurens
Le Nouvel Obs . 4/5/2020 Jérôme Garcin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Pascal Quignard viene a sumarse junto al Claudio Magris de La herrumbre de los signos, como uno de los grandes comentadores de una pieza vertebral de la modernidad. Desde un lado más creativo e introspectivo (sin renunciar al profundo calado del pensamiento y la erudición), más literatura si cabe, pura escritura ya, La respuesta a Lord Chandos se erige como texto de referencia desde su nacimiento. En su maestría, Pascal Quignard representa hoy por hoy una de las cimas de la escritura occidental actual." - Francisco Estévez, El Imparcial

  • "Pour peu qu’on ait déjà lu quelques livres de Pascal Quignard, on ne s’étonnera pas que cette question de la langue dans son rapport au réel et au silence suscite son intérêt passionné." - Camille Laurens, Le Monde

  • "Un siècle plus tard, Quignard, escorté par Haendel et Emily Brontë, lui donne la réplique, dans un texte fulgurant" - Jérôme Garcin, Le Nouvel Obs

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Answer to Lord Chandos is a slim, four-part response to Hugo von Hofmannsthal's 1902 'Chandos-Letter' (German; English (tr. Tania and James Stern)) -- a text presented as a letter from Lord Chandos to Francis Bacon from 1603 in which Chandos explains that he is abandoning any further efforts at writing because he finds any and all language inadequate to express himself.
       In The Answer to Lord Chandos, Pascal Quignard writes that he: "started drafting a response to the letter from 1603" -- the date Hofmannsthal ascribes to Chandos' own response to Bacon -- in 1978. Despite how brief the resulting work is, Quignard took his time with it: it was only published in 2020; language may not have failed Quignard but he certainly seems to have deliberated carefully just how he wanted to express himself. As such, also, the text, and the concerns addressed in it, can be seen as having accompanied Quignard throughout almost the entirety of his prolific writing-life; it can presumably be seen as both a companion work to his œuvre over these four decades as well as a (pared-to-its-essence) summation of his views on art and the creative life. (Quignard did publish several works before 1978, but the vast majority of his large output dates after that.)
       There are four parts to The Answer to Lord Chandos. Only the third is the epistolary answer-proper -- the letter Quignard suggests Bacon might have written in response to Chandos' -- but, with the surrounding sections, it's all of a piece, the three other bits complementary rather than merely supporting material.
       The first section, 'Emily in the Shadow of the St. Gudula Bell Tower', features another kind of withdrawal, Quignard noting how Emily Brontë tried to and ultimately insisted on avoiding interaction and even contact with other people as much as possible -- insisting: "I want to be left alone". Regardless, as Quignard notes, she had a rich life of the mind and imagination: he closes with sister Charlotte's mention of how Emily loved nature -- and that: "She named her bird of prey Fusely after the painter Füssli, who spent his life dreaming" -- and he also describes her piano-playing, including how, before she played, she would: "hear it in her head" and play it out silently: "on an imaginary keyboard".
       Emily's piano-playing is also a bridge to the next section, as: "Sometimes she arranged old songs by Handel, thinning them out and adding a bit of white gouache", and the second section features 'George Handel in Hanover Square'. Handel, too, is presented as someone caring little for much social interaction and spending most of his time at home ("Aside from his long stays with Lord Chandos and Lord Shaftesbury when it came time to write operas"), working in bed. Here, Quignard enters the picture, with some personal observations -- for example, that: "I have often accompanied the Neue Deutsche Arien on Baroque cello", as well as then explaining the origins of The Answer to Lord Chandos. There's also Handel's connection to the relevant Lord Chandos -- not the one he knew, but the one Hofmannsthal's original letter is ascribed to, as Handel has a harpsichord that: "dates back to the Chandos who was Lord Bacon's friend".
       The letter, 'Bacon to Chandos', is dated 23 April 1605, and begins with Bacon apologizing for the delay in responding to Chandos' letter -- though the nearly two-year wait seems appropriate enough, as Chandos' own letter began with his apology for his own two-year silence. Bacon emphasizes that: "I am in head-on disagreement with the letter you wrote back then"; nevertheless it took him time to set down his objections.
       Bacon acknowledges:

What sticks with me are all your digressions: they are marvelous -- though they are only so marvelous, truth be told, because they are marvelously said. But it is an illusion as to the substance. Your reflection builds on sand.
       He is a firm believer in expression and language -- though acknowledging of the latter:
      It is only a medium, a meditation, a third, a fabric, a textum, an artifice, the two leaves of a door, the small boat and the long fishing pole, the feather, the wing, the transport.
       And he insists:
     Lord, one must never choose.
     You are neither silence nor language.
     One must always want everything and remain in that torn state.
       Bacon -- standing in for Quignard -- certainly, completely, embraces the possibilities of language ("We are dealing with the ecstasies of language"); whether he convinces Chandos remains, of course, an open question; there is no further response. (Bacon's two-year delay in responding to Chandos' letter can, of course, also be seen as intentional, to avoid even the appearance of dialogue, of a back and forth of argument; both of these letters can readily be seen as personal manifestos rather than an attempt at a meaningful exchange of ideas and opinions.)
       A final section, 'There is a key that never dries', relies on some literary examples as well -- La Rochefoucauld; Charles Perrault -- but is more fiction that straightforward exposition in treating the absolute basics (love, passion, death), here also with: "How very far from silence, this cry so much older than every language !"
       It all makes for a lovely little book -- physically as well, in the pocket-sized Wakefield Press edition --, with Quignard's passion certainly shining through. If less a carefully reasoned argument contra Chandos than a very personal response -- and a cri de cœur at that -- that also makes it an essential gloss on Quignard's own remarkable body of work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 April 2024

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The Answer to Lord Chandos: Reviews: Other books by Pascal Quignard under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French author Pascal Quignard was born 23 April 1948.

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© 2024 the complete review

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