Campus & Community

Donald Adelbert Stone Jr., 80

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Memorial Minute — Faculty of Arts and Sciences

At a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on March 5, 2024, the following tribute to the life and service of the late Donald Adelbert Stone, Jr., was spread upon the permanent records of the Faculty.

Raised in Saranac Lake, New York, Donald Stone obtained his undergraduate degree with Highest Honors at Haverford College in 1959.  Majoring in French, he entered the program of doctoral study in French at Yale University, which was then the leading institution in his chosen field.  Granted a prestigious fellowship to study overseas, he spent a year in Paris, where, consulting primary materials on the life and poetry of the great Renaissance poet Pierre de Ronsard (1524–1585) at the Bibliothèque Nationale and other research libraries, he wrote much of the dissertation he completed and defended in 1965.  “L’Évolution du sonnet amoureux chez Ronsard” [The Evolution of the Love Sonnet in the Work of Ronsard] — a study of the poet’s brilliant appropriation and transformation of the genre that had known untold success in Italy — was soon revised and published in English as “Ronsard’s Sonnet Cycles: A Study in Tone and Vision” (1966).

Even before completing his dissertation, Stone became an instructor in French at Harvard in 1963.  He became Assistant Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures in 1965 and was awarded tenure in 1969, remaining at Harvard until his retirement.

Stone’s contributions to the field of Renaissance studies are models of scholarship in that important field.  Informing an Anglophone public of Ronsard’s continued experimentations with and mastery of poetic form, Stone’s first book was instrumental in releasing the poet from the confines of biographical criticism, which, in France, had been in the grip of Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve and Gustave Lanson.  In strong contrast to historical models of French scholarship, with a nod to phenomenological and existential methodologies, Professor Stone discerned Ronsard’s creative process in “Les Amours” (1552/1553), a collection of decasyllabic sonnets of Petrarchan stamp that gave way to a self-conscious style, Stone argued, in three subsequent sonnet cycles.  After noting how Ronsard employed heroic verse to describe platonic love in the “late” style of the “Sonnets pour Hélène” (1578), which were set in the rustic Vendômois, the poet’s native region, Stone showed definitively how and why Ronsard was, in the words of his contemporaries, “the prince of poets.”  “Ronsard’s Sonnet Cycles” (1966) is now known as a felicitous turning point in 16th-century French studies.  Published in the same year, Stone’s next book, “Four Renaissance Tragedies,” drew attention to a genre that had remained largely overlooked in Renaissance studies.  Transcribing and annotating plays by Étienne Jodelle, George Buchanan, Théodore de Bèze, and Jean de La Taille (authors of both Catholic and Protestant persuasions), Stone demonstrated that the seeds of the highly dramatic theater of the 17th century were sown in the context of the devastating Wars of Religion, in the years 1562–1598.  His edition of the four plays resulted in “French Humanist Tragedy: A Reassessment” (1974), a book that is still a point of reference for historians of French theater.

By 1969, Stone had become a beacon in his field of inquiry.  In a monograph of broad reach and sustained circulation, students and colleagues found in “France in the Sixteenth Century: A Medieval Society Transformed” a terse and telling overview of turmoil in the shift from Humanism and Reformation in the early years of the century to the Baroque period that extended into the first half of le Grand Siècle, as scholars now call the 17th century.  A few years later, in “From Tales to Truths: Essays on French Fiction in the Sixteenth Century” (1973), Stone invited readers to appreciate the novel and shorter pieces of fiction from the standpoints of verisimilitude and historiography.  Taking up authors ranging from Herberay des Essarts (“Amadis de Gaule”) to Marguerite de Navarre (“L’Heptaméron”) and others, he called into question a legacy that distinguished the conte and nouvelle from fiction at large.  By virtue of his research, a major reconsideration of the origins of the French novel was — and continues to be — enabled.

For much of his career of thirty years, Stone promised a study of Mellin de Saint-Gelais, poet of the French court in the 1540s, who anticipated the innovations that Ronsard and the other poets of the Pléiade would later bring to the French canon.  This promise came to fruition in 1983 with “Mellin de Saint-Gelais and Literary History,” a study that was bookended 10 years later when Stone published “Œuvres poétiques françaises,” a meticulous critical edition in the authoritative series of the Société des Textes Français Modernes.

In 1991, Stone was the recipient of “Lapidary Inscriptions: Renaissance Essays for Donald A. Stone, Jr.,” a Festschrift to which fifteen leading seiziémistes in France, the United Kingdom, and North America contributed.  After retiring from teaching in 1992, working with the Harvard Libraries, procuring original editions and critical writings on the Renaissance, Professor Stone continued to assure the University of its unparalleled wealth of material in early modern studies.

Admired for the high standards of scholarship he demanded relentlessly of himself and his students, for the precision and clarity of his teaching, and for the breadth and vision of his writing, Stone will be remembered for developing and sustaining an area of study vital to the humanities and the liberal arts.

Respectfully submitted,
Josiah Blackmore
Mary Gaylord
Susan Suleiman
Tom Conley, Chair