Science and Knowledge in Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's 'Etudes de la nature' (1784)
Luck, Jean Eileen
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre is identified more with his novel Paul et Virginie, than with the Études de la nature. However, the publication of the Études in 1784 established him as a serious student of the natural world. Study of the work reveals a multifaceted personality: a classical scholar; a mathematician; a trained military engineer/geographer; a resolute character, who pursued, and achieved his literary aims despite years of financial insecurity; an obdurate character, who never deviated from his sincerely held, but erroneous, scientific beliefs; one of the most widely travelled men of his age, whose observations and experiences added interest and authority to his descriptions; an avid reader, especially of accounts by other voyagers, evidence of which, is seen frequently in the Études; a philosopher, whose opinions revealed a close study of established, eminent thinkers; an enthusiastic, amateur botanist, who was inspired by Pierre Poivre on the Île de France and by his later friendship with Rousseau. Other studies have addressed diverse aspects of Bernardin’s life and work, but by concentrating mainly on the Études de la nature, and with reference to the manuscripts, I propose in this thesis to examine how an apparently random, disordered text, with fourteen Études of disproportionate lengths, many digressions, and a plethora of stylistic devices, proved such a resounding success and transformed Bernardin’s fortunes. I hope to explain this accomplishment by investigating Bernardin’s method of working, and how far the structure and content of the Études conform to, or diverge from, his stated plan at the beginning of the Étude première: ‘Je formai, il y a quelques années, le project d’écrire une histoire générale de la nature, à l’imitation d’Aristote, de Pline, du chancelier Bacon, et de plusieurs modernes célèbres.’ My analysis will concentrate primarily on the use he made, for various purposes, of contemporaneous sources, and those of the preceding two centuries.
PhD in French