Valentine’s Day, la Saint-Valentin, is approaching. My best wishes to all of you.
The Feast of Saint Valentine was established by Pope Gelasius I in CE 496 to be celebrated on 14 February in honour of Saint Valentine of Rome who died on that date in CE 269. The day became associated with romantic love in the 14th and 15th centuries when notions of courtly love flourished, apparently by association with the “lovebirds” of early spring.
Candlemas, or Candlemass, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Feast of the Holy Encounter, is a Christian Holy Day commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. It is based upon the account of the presentation of Jesus in Luke2:22–40 and has been celebrated since the 4th century CE. (See Candlemas, Britannica.)
It is reported that Pope Saint Gelasius I (494–96 CE) wanted to replace a “pagan” feast, called Lupercalia (“Lupus” [wolf] and “calida” [warmth]) with a Christian feast. Candlemas would be the new feast, which is celebrated on 2nd February, 40 days after Christmas, and would commemorate three closely related occasions.
the Purification of the Virgin
the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple of Jerusalem
In obedience to Mosaic law, Mary had to be purified 40 days after giving birth, which falls on 2nd February. Moreover, Mary had to present her firstborn to God. Finally, Simeon, who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before his death, recognized the Messiah. It was Jesus. Having seen Jesus, he said “now we dismiss.” These are the words of a canticle entitled Nunc dimittis.
Candlemas, laChandeleur, takes places during Carnival season. Carnival is a Christian festivity that starts on Epiphany (6 January) and ends on Ash Wednesday, or the day after Mardi Gras, a day of revelry and merriment. An image inserted below, a drawing or sanguine, depicts a celebration of the Lupercalia occuring at the end of the 16th century.
Moreover, it has been reported that Pope Gelasius I wanted to suppress the ancient Roman festival of the Lupercalia. The Lupercalia was a festival of fertility and purification which had given its name “dies februatus,” from Februatus, to the month of February. The Lupercalia was not related to the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Candlemas, the new feast. Valentine’s Day used to commemorate a St Valentine, a martyr. The feast took place during the Ides of February.
As a romantic feast, Valentine’s Day was all but invented by Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340s – 25 October 1400) who called the day “seynt” Valentine’s Day.
Chaucer was a prisoner during the Hundred Years’ War. When he was released, he took to England the French Roman de la Rose, a work of literature that epitomizes courtly love. However, it was an exchange. Charles d’Orléans, who was detained in England for 25 years during the Hundred Years’ War, took to France not only poems he had written referring to Valentine, but also the lore of Valentine’s Day as it existed in England. According to Chaucer, birds mated on 14 February.
For this was on seynt Volantynys day Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules
[“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]
Valentine’s day took place near the Ides of February. We have noted that the degree of lightness and darkness has governed the dates of festivities since the beginning of time. Consequently, Christian festivities would take place at the same time as “pagan” festivities, which they usually replaced, but not altogether. Carnival is a Western Christian festive season ending on Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, or on Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday itself.
As noted above, Valentine’s Day’s proper Christian source is the commemoration of a martyr named Valentine. But there is evidence that Lupercalia remains a festivity. (See Beware the Ides of February, Psychology Today.)
You will find below posts on Valentine’s Day. These include information on Candlemas, the Lupercalia, Februus, and Februarius. The month of February has one important Christian feast we have already discussed: Candlemas or laChandeleur. I have updated some of these posts because my sources have been edited or rewritten. New information may have come to light. Charles d’Orléans is discussed in at least two of these posts. Charles d’Orléans is a famous poet, but he was a Prince of the Blood. He was captured at the Battle of Agincourt (25 October 1415) and was a prisoner in England for some 25 years.
Historiated (see above) first letters are quite common in illuminated manuscripts and incunables. Incunables are printed books containing spaces for enluminures. They are also called fifteeners (fifteenth century).
I attempted to copy these posts, but I do not know the Block Editor sufficiently.
In the 16th-century, French differed from current French, but 16th-century French can be read with little effort. For instance, one may use the Latin or other root of a word and a word’s connotations.
I used “classes” as in classification. Classe would correspond to the word type. That last verse was difficult to translate. Bellum means war. So, I turned “champ [field] bellique” into lice, arena, or battlefield. Singulier has many connotations, but it can mean singulier as opposed to pluriel, plural.
Le lion jeune le vieux surmontera/ The young lion the old will overcome En champ bellique par singulier duelle,/ In an arena (lice) in a one on one duel. Dans cage d’or les yeux lui [to him or her] crèvera,/ The eyes of his golden cage (head) he will pierce, Deux classes une [one] puis [then] mourir mort cruelle./ Two types (of wounds), one leading to a cruel death.
The translation above is mostly literal, which is a choice teachers often make. It may not be a perfectly accurate quotation, but Nostradamus predicted that Henri II would have his eye(s) pierced and would then die a painful death.
The events of La Princesse de Clèves are not so foreign. Princess Diana was an ill-wedded wife. She was married to Prince Charles to produce an heir but married him expecting to be loved. Prince Charles was fond of his wife, but he loved another woman. Matters are changing. It is no longer unusual for Royals to marry for love or to find an excellent companion in their spouse, but tragedies may occur. They are human beings and, therefore, not altogether perfect. We make mistakes.
La Princesse de Clèves has been given a page. It is not finished, but will soon be.
However, the Dauphin, the heir to the throne of France, was sixteen-year-old François II who died of otitis at the age of sixteen. Charles IX who succeeded him was ten years old. Members of the Guise family took over and fought Huguenots bitterly until the end of the 16th century. Madame de La Fayette’s Princesse de Clèves takes place in 1559 and she simply alludes to the events that followed the death of Henri II.
The first paragraphs of Part Four of La Princesse de Clèves reveal that members of the Guise family, who were enemies of the Huguenots, took over the government of France and were its absolute masters. The Cardinal the Lorraine is a Guise.
Le cardinal de Lorraine s’était rendu maître absolu de l’esprit de la reine mère : le vidame de Chartres n’avait plus aucune part dans ses bonnes grâces (…) Enfin, la cour changea entièrement de face. Le duc de Guise prit le même rang que les princes du sang à porter le manteau du roi aux cérémonies des funérailles. (ebooksgratuits.com, p. 63). [The Queen-mother (Catherine de’ Medici) was now wholly governed by the cardinal of Loraine; the viscount de Chartres had no interest with her (…) In a word, the complexion of the court was entirely changed; the duke of Guise took the same rank as the princes of the blood, in carrying the king’s mantle at the funeral ceremonies…] (Wikisource ).
As for our Princess, she has told her husband that she is in love with another man, an episode known as l’aveu. L’aveu follows the letter episode, or the episode in which the Princess learns the pain betrayal can inflict. Moreover, the Duc de Nemours has foolishly told the Vidame de Chartres about her confession. Could the Vidame be trusted? The Queen, Catherine de Médicis, wanted a confident and would choose the Vidame de Chartres, if after two days he could swear he had no galanteries, affairs. He lied to the Queen:
C’est parce que je vous parle sincèrement, Madame, lui répondis−je, que je n’ai rien à vous dire ; et je jure à Votre Majesté, avec tout le respect que je lui dois, que je n’ai d’attachement pour aucune femme de la cour. (le Vidame de Chartres à Catherine de’ Medici, ebooksgratuits, p. 41). [It is, madam, answered I, because I deal sincerely, that I have nothing more to say; and I swear to your majesty, with all the respect I owe you, that I have no engagement with any woman of the court.] (the Vidame de Chartres to Catherine de’ Medici Wikisource .) (Part Two)
The letter the Princess reads was addressed to him, the Vidame, not to the Duc de Nemours. The letter and l’aveu, the confession, are central to the plot of the Princesse de Clèves. Not that there is much of a plot, but 1) the Prince meets and marries the Princess, 2) she falls in love with the Duc de Nemours, 3) she reads a letter that awakens what she calls jalousie, and 4) she tells her husband that she is in love. But the letter (3) and, above all, l’aveu 4) (ebooksgratuits.com, p. 49) constitute La Princesse de Clèves‘s dominant episodes as a psychological novel.
The letter episode had taught Mme de Clèves the pain betrayal could provoke, which she had not experienced before:
Elle avait ignoré jusqu’alors les inquiétudes mortelles de la défiance et de la jalousie,” (ebooksgratuits, p. 47). [Never till then was she acquainted with the dreadful inquietudes that flow from jealousy and distrust…] (Wikisource ).
Madame de Clèves has not engaged in a galanterie. She has in fact avoided the Duc de Nemours. However, telling her husband that she loves another man burdens him with the inquiétudes mortelles, the letter episode inflicted on her. Monsieur de Clèves knows he has a rival and he wants to know who is the man his wife loves:
Et qui est−il, Madame, cet homme heureux qui vous donne cette crainte ? Depuis quand vous plaît−il ? Qu’a−t−il fait pour vous plaire ? Quel chemin a−t−il trouvé pour aller à votre coeur ? Je m’étais consolé en quelque sorte de ne l’avoir pas touché par la pensée qu’il était incapable de l’être. Cependant un autre fait ce que je n’ai pu faire.J’ai tout ensemble la jalousie d’un mari et celle d’un amant ; mais il est impossible d’avoir celle d’un mari après un procédé comme le vôtre. (ebooksgratuits, pp. 49-50). [… and who is he, madam, this happy man that gives you such apprehensions? How long has he charmed you? What has he done to charm you? What has he done to charm you? What method has he taken to get into your heart? When I could not gain your affections myself, it was some comfort to me to think, that no other could; in the mean time, another has effected what I could not; and I have, at once the jealousy of a husband and lover. But it is impossible for me to retain that of a husband after such a proceeding on your part… (Wikisource ).
Looking back on her confesson, the Princess is of two minds. She has been sincere, but she also believes that she has taken away from herself the love and esteem of her husband:
Elle trouva qu’elle s’était ôté elle−même le cœur et l’estime de son mari, et qu’elle s’était creusé un abîme dont elle ne sortirait jamais. Elle se demandait pourquoi elle avait fait une chose si hasardeuse, et elle trouvait qu’elle s’y était engagée sans en avoir presque eu le dessein. (ebooksgratuits, p. 51). [She found she had deprived herself of the heart and esteem of her husband, and was involved in a labyrinth she should never get out of; she asked herself why she had ventured on so dangerous a step, and perceived she was engaged in it almost without having designed it…] (Wikisource, ).
At first, Monsieur de Clèves admires his wife’s sincerity:
Je n’ai nulle inquiétude de votre conduite, lui dit-il ; vous avez plus de forces et plus de vertu que vous ne pensez. Ce n’est point aussi la crainte de l’avenir qui m’afflige. Je ne suis affligé que de vous voir pour un autre des sentiments que je n’ai pu vous donner. (Le Prince de Clèves à la Princesse de Clèves, ebooksgratuits.com, p. 53). [I am not alarmed as to your conduct, said he, you have more strength and virtue than you imagine; I am not alarmed with fears of what may happen hereafter; what troubles me is that I see you have those sentiments for another which you want for me.] (The Prince to the Princess, Wikisource ).
However, he will be alarmed. Having learned that the Duc de Nemours was seen in the garden at Colomiers, the Prince refuses to hear the gentleman’s report in its entirety. The Duc de Nemours was seen, which, in the Prince’s eyes, is proof his wife has committed adultery. L’aveu has affinities with “noise” in the information theory. It conditions information and behaviour and may thwart the truth. Yet, the Prince presses his wife to reveal the name of the person she loves.
Yet, Monsieur de Clèves has no proof that his wife was unfaithful. The gentleman who followed the Duke has nothing to report. L’aveu suffices.
Je n’ai rien à vous apprendre, répondit le gentilhomme, sur quoi on puisse faire de jugement assuré. Il est vrai que monsieur de Nemours a entré deux nuits de suite dans le jardin de la forêt, et qu’il a été le jour d’après à Coulommiers avec madame de Mercœur. (ebooksgratuits.com), p. 70). [I can acquaint you with nothing, said the gentleman, upon which one can form any certain judgment; it is true, the duke de Nemours went two nights successively into the garden in the forest; and the day after, he was at Colomiers with the duchess of Mercœur.] (Wikisource ).
Later, the Prince will even wish the Princess had never told him that she loved another man. Would that he had been treated like other husbands. Appearances are deceptive.
Que ne me laissiez−vous dans cet aveuglement tranquille dont jouissent tant de maris ? J’eusse, peut−être, ignoré toute ma vie que vous aimiez monsieur de Nemours. Je mourrai, ajouta−t−il ; mais sachez que vous me rendez la mort agréable, et qu’après m’avoir ôté l’estime et la tendresse que j’avais pour vous, la vie me ferait horreur. (Le Prince de Clèves à la Princesse de Clèves, ebooksgratuits.com, p. 71) [Why did not you leave me in that blind tranquillity which so many husbands enjoy? I should perhaps, have been ignorant all my life that you [were] in love with monsieur de Nemours; I shall die, added he, but know, that you make death pleasing to me, and that, after you have taken from me the esteem and affection I had for you, life would be odious to me. What should I live for?] (The Prince of Cleves to the Princess of Cleves, Wikisource ). (Part Four)
Appearances are deceptive, but Madame de Lafayette seems to upend what the Princesse’s mother taught her. The Duke has told about a woman who confessed to her husband that she loved another man, but a fable can be used to correct matters. All appearances are deceptive.
Il [le Prince] alla trouver madame de Clèves, et lui dit qu’il ne s’agissait pas de démêler entre eux qui avait manqué au secret ; mais qu’il s’agissait de faire voir que l’histoire que l’on avait contée était une fable où elle n’avait aucune part… (ebooksgratuits, p. 58). [He went to his wife, and told her, that what they had to do was not to debate between themselves who had discovered the secret; but to make it appear, that the story which was got abroad, was a business in which she had no concern…] (Wikisource ).
The Princess denies having spent two nights with the Duke de Nemours at Coulommiers (Colomiers). She has proof that she has not committed the “crime” her husband believes she has committed, but it is too late. He will not live. Her only “crime,” is to have fallen in love with a man other than her husband, before marrying. Why did she not love the Prince de Clèves, instead of the Duke of Nemours?
Destiny willed that she marry before knowing love. But she did not reap the happiness love should have brought her.
After her husband’s death, Madame de Clèves is free to marry, except that her behaviour is consistent with her mother’s teaching. L’aveu was nearly pried out of her, but the Duc de Nemours himself is sorry she told Monsieur de Clèves that she loved another man. He also bemoans her letting him know she loved him.
Tout ce que je puis vous apprendre, Madame, c’est que j’ai souhaité ardemment que vous n’eussiez pas avoué à monsieur de Clèves ce que vous me cachiez, et que vous lui eussiez caché ce que vous m’eussiez laissé voir. (ebooksgratuits, p. 76). [… all I can tell you, madam, is, that I heartily wished you had not acknowledged to monsieur de Clèves what you concealed from me, and that you had concealed from him what you made appear to me.](Wikisource ).
But to what extent is she guilty? The Duke overheard l’aveu and he tried to see the Princess. La Princesse de Clèves resembles Jean Racine‘s Phèdre. Destiny rules and never did the princess’s love bring her happiness. Besides, she cannot marry the Duc de Nemours. Monsieur de Clèves has died, but the letter episode has taught her that if love is reciprocated love dies. She thought the Duke loved her, which was not true.
An unkind destiny willed that the Princess marry before knowing love and a similar destiny also willed that the Prince of Clèves refuse to hear a full account of the two nights the Duke of Nemours was in the garden. He will not allow the gentleman who followed the Duke de Nemours to provide a full account of the two nights the Duke of Nemours was in the garden. For her part, the Princess, who is now “free,” will not marry the Duke. She will tell him once, just once, that she loves him.
Je crois devoir à votre attachement la faible récompense de ne vous cacher aucun de mes sentiments, et de vous les laisser voir tels qu’il sont. Ce sera apparemment la seule fois de ma vie que je donnerai la crois devoir à votre attachement la faible récompense de ne vous cacher aucun de mes sentiments, et de vous les laisser voir tels qu’ils sont. Ce sera apparemment la seule fois de ma vie que je me donnerai la liberté de vous les faire paraître ; néanmoins je ne saurais vous avouer, sans honte, que la certitude de n’être plus aimée de vous, comme je le suis, me paraît un si horrible malheur, que, quand je n’aurais point des raisons de devoir insurmontables, je doute si je pourrais me résoudre à m’exposer à ce malheur. (ebooksgratuits, p. 78). [I think I owe the affection you have for me, the poor recompence not to hide from you any of my thoughts, and to let you see them such as they really are; this, in all probability will be the only time I shall allow myself the freedom to discover them to you; and I cannot confess without a blush, that the certainty of not being loved by you, as I am, appears to me so dreadful a misfortune, that if I had not invincible reasons grounded on my duty, I could not resolve to subject myself to it… ] (Wikisource ).
She couldn’t tell: l’aveu. Love dies if is reciprocated.
Above is a portrait of Élisabeth de Valois, or Élisabeth de France (1545-1568). She was the first daughter born to Henri II of France and Catherine de’ Medici. It had been arranged for her to marry the King of Spain’s son: Carlos. However, the Prince’s father, Philip II, would not sign the long-awaited Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis unless he could marry Élisabeth. She was 14 and died during pregnancy at the age of 23. She had shared a bedroom with Mary Queen of Scots, Marie Stuart, since childhood. Marie Stuart, who married Francis II of France, was brought up in France and is referred to as the Queen-Dauphin. She would be Queen of France after Henri II sustained a serious injury in a tournament. He died on 10 July 1559. Ambroise Paré could not save him.
After constant entreaties, the Princess confesses that she is in love with another man. This scene is called l’aveu, the confession. But she will not say whom she loves. The Prince of Clèves is a bit of a villain. He is increasingly jealous. Madame de Clèves is an aristocrat but she was brought up by a virtuous mother away from the court, or the world.She will not enter into a liaison. Her only defence is to avoid seeing the Duc de Nemours. The Prince de Clèves opposes her wish. He will not accept absences, unless they are short.
La Princesse de Clèves is a realistic novel. In no way can it be associated with lengthy romances such as Honoré d’Urfée‘s L’Astrée, a pastoral, or other anciens romans. Her novel is a petit roman. She was influenced by Marguerite de Navarre’s L’Heptaméron,but her novel is otherwise a roman fondateur, a foundind novel. (See La Princesse de Clèves, Wikipedia). The novel is currently read as a series. It is preceded by La Princesse de Montpensier and followed by La Comtesse de Tende. For the last few years, La Princesse de Montpensier has attracted considerable attention. It is a Franco-German film by Bertrand Tavernier, released in 2010.
I apologize for publishing these posts slowly. I reread the novel three times. I am also older and life is teaching me new lessons. As well, my memory is now rather poor. So, I must convert to short posts or end my career as a blogger. The above is not my complete post, but nearly so.
_________________________  Ellen J. Hunter-Chapco, Theory and Practice of the Petit Roman in France(1656-1683): Segrais, Du Plaisir, Madame de La Fayette, A Bibliographical Guide (Regina: University of Regina, 1977), p. 14 and elsewhere.
the Duke of Nemours, the man who falls in love with the Princess, illicit love.
the Vidame de Chartres who lies to Catherine de Médicis, the Queen.
Marie Stuart, the Princess’s friend and the future Queen of France.
Before her death, Madame de Chartres warns her daughter. Appearances are deceptive. This could be looked upon as a lieu commun, a common assumption. In his Pensées, Blaise Pascal also warns that we may be the victims of a deceitful environment. In other words, court is not as it appears. Diane de Poitiers, Duchesse de Valentinois, Henri II’s mistress had been his father’s mistress. For the Princesse de Clèves, these dramas are very real. She and the Duc de Nemours have fallen in love. She knows therefore what kind of sentiments the Prince of Clèves expected of his wife.
Elle vit alors que les sentiments qu’elle avait pour lui étaient ceux que monsieur de Clèves lui avait tant demandés ; elle trouva combien il était honteux de les avoir pour un autre que pour un mari qui les méritait. (ebooks, p 20) […she then found, that the sentiments she had for him were such as the Prince of Cleves had required of her; she perceived how shameful it was to entertain them for another man, and not for a husband that deserved them …] Wikisource [32-33])
As we enter Part Two, the Prince of Clèves tells his wife about his friend Sancerre who fell in love with a widowed woman, whose feelings started to change. She had fallen in love with another man, Etouteville (Estouteville). This tale is a long digression on the topic of disloyalty and the pain that ensues. However, we must skip the details and return to La Princesse de Clèves’ main narrative. Madame de Clèves has returned to court, only to learn from the Queen Dauphin that the Duke of Nemours is in love, that he has not told anyone the name of the person he loves, but that his love is so powerful that he has lost interest in marrying Elizabeth of England.
Mais ce que j’ai le plus d’envie de vous apprendre, ajouta−t−elle, c’est qu’il est certain que monsieur de Nemours est passionnément amoureux, et que ses amis les plus intimes, non seulement ne sont point dans sa confidence, mais qu’ils ne peuvent deviner qui est la personne qu’il aime. Cependant cet amour est assez fort pour lui faire négliger ou abandonner, pour mieux dire, les espérances d’une couronne. (eBooksgratuits, p.28) [she related to her a great many extraordinary things; but what I have the greatest desire to inform you of, added she, is that it is certain the duke de Nemours is passionately in love; and that his most intimate friends are not only not entrusted in it, but can’t so much as guess who the person is he is in love with; nevertheless this passion of his is so strong as to make him neglect, or to speak more properly, abandon the hopes of a crown. (Wikisource )
Her husband has spoken, so Madame de Clèves remains at Court, a prey to dangers. Court is hell because she is the woman the Duke loves to the point of losing interest in Elizabeth I of England. By the Duke’s standards, Madame de Clèves may be at fault. But what would life be if she gave in? Allow me to quote my former classmate and colleague, Dr Ellen Hunter-Chapco.
Madame de La Fayette invite son publiclecteur à une remise en question du rôle de la femme mariée tel tel qu’élaboré dans la littérature prescriptive des années 1630 et 1640, et, aussi, à une réflexion sur le décalage entrele statut officiel du mariage et les attentes des femmes de son époque. [Madame de La Fayette invites her readers to reassess the role of the ill-wedded woman as it develops in the prescriptive literature of the 1630s and 1640s, and, also, to reflect on the discrepancybetween the official status of marriage and the expectations of the women of her time.] 
See footnote 
I must end this post. I will discuss l’aveu (the confession) in another post. Moreover, I have left out the tale of Ann Boylen, Elizabeth I of England’s mother. It is a digression and it is not. The letter episode is central. The Queen-Dauphin gives the Princess a letter which, reportedly, fell out of the Duke’s pocket after un jeu de paume, tennis. The letter has been written by a woman who has been betrayed. The grief that arises in the Princess’ mind is the worst of torment.
Jamais affliction n’a été si piquante et si vive : il lui semblait que ce qui faisait l’aigreur de cette affliction était ce qui s’était passé dans cette journée, et que, si monsieur de Nemours n’eût point eu lieu de croire qu’elle l’aimait, elle ne se fût pas souciée qu’il en eût aimé une autre. Mais elle se trompait elle−même ; et ce mal qu’elle trouvait si insupportable était la jalousie avec toutes les horreurs dont elle peut être accompagnée. Elle voyait par cette lettre que monsieur de Nemours avait une galanterie depuis longtemps. (eBooksgratuits, p.38) [Never was affliction so cutting as hers; she imputed the piercingness of it to what had happened that day; and believed that if the duke de Nemours had not had ground to believe she loved him, she should not have cared whether he loved another or not: but she deceived herself; and this evil which she found so insupportable was jealousy, with all the horrors it can be accompanied with. This letter discovered to her a piece of gallantry the duke de Nemours had been long engaged in.] (Wikisource )
The following morning, the Duke goes to see the Princess. The letter did not fall out of his pocket. The letter was written to the Vidame de Chartres who has come to him because the Queen, Catherine de’ Medici, would like him to be her confidant if he is not engaged in a galanterie, an affair. Earlier, he has lied to the Queen.
C’est parce que je vous parle sincèrement, Madame, lui répondis−je, que je n’ai rien à vous dire ; et je jure à Votre Majesté, avec tout le respect que je lui dois, que je n’ai d’attachement pour aucune femme de la cour. (eBooksgratuits, p. 41) [It is, madam, answered I, because I deal sincerely, that I have nothing more to say; and I swear to your majesty, with all the respect I owe you, that I have no engagement with any woman of the court.] (Wikisource )
Madame de Clèves will not speak with the Duke. She thinks that she has been betrayed. Consequently, the Duke of Nemours asks the Prince de Clèves to lead him to Madame de Clèves’ room. The Princess is so broken that she can barely believe the Duke is not the recipient of this letter. She has experienced jealousy and, by the same token, she has discovered that she loved. She and the Duke must rewrite the letter, so no one recognizes the handwriting. These are happy moments, but they cannot last.
_____________________________ Homo narrativus – La cour et le cabinet : l’espace-femme dans La Princesse de Montpensier, La Princesse de Clèves et La Comtesse de Tende de Madame de La Fayette – Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée (openedition.org)
We know the immediate historical background of the Princesse de Clèves, and I have suggested intertextuality. Marguerite de Navarre’s L’Heptaméron features intrigues and disloyalty at court. But the discourse on love takes us back to the ancient Roman poet Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, and it may have antecedents such as extremely distant fairytales. These will be refined in seventeenth-century French salons. Charles Perrault’s Tales of Mother Goose are “re-told” tales.
LE COUP DE FOUDRE
However, let us return to our narrative. The Princess of Cleves and the Duc de Nemours have fallen in love. It is the coup defoudre, or love at first sight, à première vue. In Jansenist France, this is l’amour fatal, as fatal as Tristan’s love for Iseult and Iseult’s love for Tristan, but without recourse to a magical potion. They have seen one another and fallen in love. But the Princess of Clèves has married and she has been taught loyalty to one’s husband. A liaison with the Duc de Nemours would be illicit. Therefore, she must suppress and hide her feelings, which is not possible.
The Mareschal de St. André’s Second Ball
The mareschal de St. André’s will host a second ball which the Princess is expected to attend. However, after hearing that the Duc de Nemours would not want his mistress to attend a ball he is not hosting, she feigns illness not to attend the ball. She has betrayed herself.
Vous voilà si belle, lui dit madame la dauphine, que je ne saurais croire que vous ayez été malade. Je pense que monsieur le prince de Condé, en vous contant l’avis de Nemours sur le bal, vous a persuadée que vous feriez une faveur au maréchal de Saint-André d’aller chez lui que vous feriez une faveur au maréchal de Saint-André d’aller chez lui, et que c’est ce qui vous a empêchée d’y venir. Madame de Clèves rougit de ce que madame la dauphine devinait si juste, et de ce qu’elle disait devant monsieur de Nemours ce qu’elle avait deviné. (ebooks, p. 19) [You look so pretty, says the Queen-Dauphin to her, that I can’t believe you have been ill; I think the Prince of Conde when he told us the duke de Nemours’s opinion of the ball, persuaded you, that to go there would be doing a favour to the mareschal de St. André, and that that’s the reason which hindered you from going, Madam de Cleves blushed, both because the [Q]ueen-[D]auphin (Marie Stuart), had conjectured right, and because she spoke her conjecture in the presence of the Duke de Nemours.] (Wikisource )
Madame de Chartres has accompanied her daughter and vows that the Princess was genuinely ill, but le Duc de Nemours is not convinced. Madame de Clèves has behaved the way he wants his mistress to behave. Besides, Madame de Clèves blushes in the presence of the Duc. As she is dying, Madame de Chartres tells the Princess of Clèves that she is “sur le bord du précipice” (ebooks, p. 21), “on the brink of a precipice.” (Wikisource [35-36])
Mademoiselle de Chartres is so beautiful that when she arrives at court she appears as in the word “apparition.”
Il parut alors une beauté à la cour, qui attira les yeux de tout le monde, et l’on doit croire que c’était un beauté parfaite, puisqu’elle donna de l’admiration dans un lieu où l’on était si accoutumé à voir de belles personnes. Elle était de la même maison que le vidame de Chartres, et une des plus grandes héritières de France. (ebooksgratuits, p. 7) [There appeared at this time a lady at Court, who drew the eyes of the whole world; and one may imagine she was a perfect beauty, to gain admiration in a place where there were so many fine women; she was of the same family with the Viscount of Chartres, and one of the greatest heiresses of France, (…)] (Wikisource )
As for the Duc de Nemours, he is described as “perfection” itself. Therefore, a worried Madame de Chartres tells her daughter that he Duke of Nemours is incapable of falling in love.
Elle se mit un jour à parler de lui ; elle lui en dit du bien, et y mêla beaucoup de louanges empoisonnées sur la sagesse qu’il avait d’être incapable de devenir amoureux, et sur ce qu’il ne se faisait qu’un plaisir, et non pas un attachement sérieux du commerce des femmes. (ebooksgratuits, p. 20) [One day she set herself to talk about him, and a great deal of good she said of him, but mixed with it abundance of sham praises, as the prudence he showed in never falling in love, and how wise he was to make the affair of women and love an amusement instead of a serious business.] (Wikisource )
The Death of Madame de Chartres
After her mother dies, the princess of Clèves leaves court. Given that she is mourning her mother, her absence is motivated. The Prince of Clèves returns to “faire sa cour,” but should his wife delay her return to Paris, suspicion would arise. Many of the denizens of Henri II’s court may discover why the Duc de Nemours no longer behaves as he did. The Duke is expected to marry Elizabeth Ist of England, and the time has come for him to meet Elizabeth in person or face her scorn. The Court speculates that he is in love, but no one can tell whom he so loves that he would lose interest in marriage to Elizabeth. Marie Stuart, the Queen-Dauphin, cannot wait to tell her friend, the princesse de Clèves.
No, the Queen-Dauphin cannot wait:
Dès le même soir qu’elle fut arrivée, madame la dauphine la vint voir, et après lui avoir témoigné la part qu’elle avait prise à son affliction, elle lui dit que, pour la détourner de ces tristes pensées, elle voulait l’instruire de tout ce qui s’était passé à la cour en son absence ; elle lui conta ensuite plusieurs choses particulières. — Mais ce que j’ai le plus d’envie de vous apprendre, ajouta−t−elle, c’est qu’il est certain que monsieur de Nemours est passionnément amoureux, et que ses amis les plus intimes, non seulement ne sont point dans sa confidence, mais qu’ils ne peuvent deviner qui est la personne qu’il aime. Cependant cet amour est assez fort pour lui faire négliger ou abandonner, pour mieux dire, les espérances d’une couronne. (ebooks, p. 29) [The evening of her arrival the queen-dauphin made her a visit, and after having condoled with her, told her that in order to divert her from melancholy thoughts, she would let her know all that had passed at court in her absence; upon which she related to her a great many extraordinary things; but what I have the greatest desire to inform you of, added she, is that it is certain the duke de Nemours is passionately in love; and that his most intimate friends are not only not entrusted in it, but can’t so much as guess who the person is he is in love with; nevertheless this passion of his is so strong as to make him neglect, or to speak more properly, abandon the hopes of a crown.] (Wikisource )
L’Amour fatal: Two Moral Compasses
Madame de Clèves is perturbed. Who is this woman who would make the Duke de Nemours abandon his marriage with Elizabeth 1st of England? If she, the Princess of Cleves, is the cause of such changes in the Duc de Nemours, he is “in love,” l’amour fatal. But although she is powerless, she feels guilty. She has been raised by a virtuous mother, but at court liaisons are acceptable. Princes and princesses marry to perpetuate a lineage. Therefore, they may have liaisons. However, Madame de Clèves has been taught virtue. When she hears that the Duc de Nemours is no longer interested in marrying Elizabeth 1st of England, which is a huge sacrifice, the Princess feels extremely distressed. The Duc de Nemours has fallen in love and it is l’amour fatal, Tendre-sur-Inclination. The seventeenth century in France was largely Jansenist. One cannot choose; one is chosen: predestination. The Princess and the Prince are powerless.
I taught La Princesse de Clèves (The Princess of Cleves) year after year for several decades and told my students who the characters were, including their ancestry. It was easy then, but eighteen years later, it is no longer so easy. I remember the main names, but a few names confused me. Some characters have several titles and some characters have the same title. These are hereditary, so it is a matter of lineage.
The Prince of Cleves’ father is the Duke of Nevers, but he remains a Clèves (See List of Counts of Dukes of Vendôme, Wikipedia.) Clèves/Kleve is a comté (county) in Germany. Le Chevalier de Guise, the Prince de Clèves’ rival, has abrother who is Cardinal of Lorraine, but Cardinal de Lorraine is a title. He remains a Guise. Individuals, mostly aristocrats, can have several titles. Moreover, a Marguerite de Navarre may follow a Marguerite de Navarre. Each generation may have a Marguerite who is born a Valois, but marries a King of Navarre. Our Margarets are an aunt, a sister and a daughter to Henri II. By birth, they are Valois princesses, but two married the King of Navarre.
Were it not for our first Marguerite, finding a legitimate heir to the throne of France after the death of Henri III of France would be difficult. Henri II, King of France, and Catherine de’ Medici had three sons who reigned, but no heir was born to these three Kings. However, because Marguerite de Valois-Angoulême was a Queen consort of Navarre, Henri III of Navarre had Bourbon ancestry. He was the son of Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme and Jeanne d’Albret, the Queen of Navarre.
This Marguerite de Navarre is the author of an collection of 72 novellas (unfinished) entitled the Heptaméron. She found her inspiration in Giovanni Boccaccio‘s Decameron (1313–1375), a compendium of novellas told by young people who have fled the plague. L’Heptaméron exerted influence on Madame de La Fayette. Both l’Heptaméron and La Princesse de Clèves describe intrigues at the Court of France.
Marguerite de Valois, duchesse de Berry (1523-1574)
So, there are two Marguerite de Navarre, both of whom were initially Marguerite de France, of the House of Valois. “France” is the name given to the children of the King of France. Marguerite de Valois, the second Marguerite de Navarre, could not have children, so her marriage to Henri IV was annulled in 1599. She then lived in Paris and befriended Henri IV and his wife, Marie de’ Medici. She lived comfortably and had a castle built. Marguerite loved literature and enjoyed entertaining artists and writers.
In short, there are three Marguerites de Valois, an aunt, a sister and a daughter of Henri II King of France. They belong to three generations. However, only two of our Marguerites were Queens consort of Navarre. Marguerite de Valois, Sœur du Roi, and Marguerite de Valois who married Henri III of Navarre, the future Henri IV, King of France and Navarre. All three are featured or mentioned in La Princesse de Clèves.
We are at the court of Henri II (1519-1559) of France, a Valois king. He and Catherine de’ Medici have three sons, which should have ensured the House of Valois’s survival. The video I showed in an earlier post mentions a second François. This second François is François de France (1555-1584). He was the last child born to Henri II and Catherine de’ Medici. He died of tuberculosis in 1584, five years before Henri III’s assassination, King of Poland and France, the last of Henri II’s three heirs. As you know, French King Henri III’s death ended the rule of the House of Valois, a cadet branch of the House of Bourbon. Henri and Catherine de’ Medici had daughters. One of their daughters is Marguerite de Valois. She marries Henri III of Navarre, whose father is a Bourbon. Henri III de Navarre is the future Henri IV of France. However, the Salic Law prevented a woman from ascending the throne of France. Marguerite de Valois is Alexandre Dumas père‘s Reine Margot. Her marriage to Henri IV was annulled. She could not have children. Henri II’s mistress is Diane de Poitiers also called Madame de Valentinois or Duchesse de Valentinois.
La Magnificence et la Galanterie
The novel begins with a praise of Henri II’s court. It is described as magnificent and is also characterized by galanterie. This is where Madame de Chartres has taken her 16-year old daughter who has reached an age when, in 17th-century France, a young woman looked for a husband.
La magnificence et la galanterie n’ont jamais paru en France avec tant d’éclat que dans les dernières années du règne de Henri second. Ce prince était galant, bien fait et amoureux ; quoique sa passion pour Diane de Poitiers, duchesse de Valentinois, eût commencé il y avait plus de vingt ans, elle n’en était pas moins violente, et il n’en donnait pas des témoignages moins éclatants. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797) [Grandeur and gallantry never appeared with more lustre in France, than in the last years of Henry the Second’s reign. This Prince was amorous and handsome, and though his passion for Diana of Poictiers [sic], duchess of Valentinois, was of above twenty years standing, it was not the less violent, nor did he give less distinguishing proofs of it.] (Wikisource, first line)
La Princesse de Clèves
le Prince de Clèves falls in love with Mademoiselle de Chartres
le Chevalier or Duc de Guise is his rival
The Prince of Cleves first meets Mademoiselle de Chartres at an Italian jeweller’s. He has never seen her. However, the King’s sister, Madame sœur du roi, guesses that he has met Mlle de Chartres and invites him to return in the morning. Mademoiselle de Chartres is a young woman he has met. He is delighted to realize that her beauty matches her rank.
Meeting her was le coup de foudre, love at first sight. Le Prince de Clèves wishes to marry Mlle de Chartres, but his father will not agree to this union. He is not the first-born son, which constitutes a disadvantage. As well, the Prince has a rival. The Duc de Guise has also fallen in love with Mademoiselle de Chartres, but his brother, le Cardinal de Lorraine, will not let him marry Mlle de Chartres. Once again, not being the firstborn is an obstacle. Therefore, it occurs to Madame de Chartres that her daughter should marry a prince of the blood. She would be above the Prince de Clèves and the chevalier de Guise. The Prince de Montpensier shows interest in such an alliance, but Diane de Poitiers, the King’s mistress, tells the King to forbid a marriage between Mlle de Chartres and the Prince de Montpensier.
The court may scintillate, but ambition and galanterie undermine all relationships. Rank is often put into the service of ambition and not so noble galanterie. Diane de Poitiers is very ambitious.
L’ambition et la galanterie étaient l’âme de cette cour, et occupaient également les hommes et les femmes. Il y avait tant d’intérêts et tant de cabales différentes, et les dames y avaient tant de part, que l’amour était toujours mêlé aux affaires, et les affaires à l’amour. Personne n’était tranquille, ni indifférent; on songeait à s’élever, à plaire, à servir ou à nuire; on ne connaissait ni l’ennui, ni l’oisiveté, et on était toujours occupé des plaisirs ou des intrigues. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797) [Ambition and gallantry were the soul of the court, and employed both sexes equally; there were so many different interests and so many cabals, and the ladies had so great a share in them, that love was always mixed with business, and business with love.] (Wikisource )
Although the Prince of Cleves is very much in love with Mlle de Chartres, having a private conversation with her is difficult. Mlle de Chartres has entered a court teeming with courtiers. But the Prince de Clèves is so enamoured that he succeeds in speaking with her. He tells her not to marry him simply to obey her mother.
Il ne la voyait que chez les reines, ou aux assemblées; il était difficile d’avoir une conversation particulière. Il en trouva pourtant les moyens, et il lui parla de son dessein et de sa passion avec tout le respect imaginable; il la pressa de lui faire connaître quels étaient les sentiments qu’elle avait pour lui, et il lui dit que ceux qu’il avait pour elle étaient d’une nature qui le rendrait éternellement malheureux, si elle n’obéissait que par devoir aux volontés de madame sa mère. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797) ([…) he had no opportunity of seeing her but at court or public assemblies, so that it was very difficult for him to get a private conversation with her; at last he found means to do it, and informed her of his intention and of his love, with all the respect imaginable.] (Wikisource )
Mlle de Chartres is grateful for the manner in which he has spoken to her and he dares to hope that she loves him.
Comme mademoiselle de Chartres avait le cœur très noble et très bien fait, elle fut véritablement touchée de reconnaissance du procédé du prince de Clèves. Cette reconnaissance donna à ses réponses et à ses paroles un certain air de douceur qui suffisait pour donner de l’espérance à un homme aussi éperdument amoureux que l’était ce prince: de sorte qu’il se flatta d’une partie de ce qu’il souhaitait. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797) [As Mademoiselle de Chartres had a noble and generous heart, she was sincerely touched with gratitude for the prince of Cleves’s behaviour; this gratitude gave a certain sweetness to her words and answers, sufficient to furnish hopes to a man so desperately enamoured as the prince was so that he flattered himself in some measure that he should succeed in what he so much wished for.] (Wikisource )
La Princesse reports the Prince de Clèves’ words to her mother. Madame de Chartres tells her daughter that if she is inclined to marry the Prince of Cleves, she would consent to this marriage. However, in no way does she press her daughter to marry the prince.
Elle rendit compte à sa mère de cette conversation, et madame de Chartres lui dit qu’il y avait tant de grandeur et de bonnes qualités dans monsieur de Clèves, et qu’il faisait paraître tant de sagesse pour son âge, que, si elle sentait son inclination portée à l’épouser, elle y consentirait avec joie. Mademoiselle de Chartres répondit qu’elle lui remarquait les mêmes bonnes qualités, qu’elle l’épouserait même avec moins de répugnance qu’un autre, mais qu’elle n’avait aucune inclination particulière pour sa personne. [She gave her mother an account of this conversation; and Madam de Chartres told her, that the prince of Cleves had so many good qualities, and discovered a discretion so much above his years, that if her inclination led her to marry him, she would consent to it with pleasure. (Wikisource )
Mlle de Chartres response is baffling. She decides to marry the prince “with less reluctance” than another man and having “no particular affection to his person.”
Mademoiselle de Chartres répondit qu’elle lui remarquait les mêmes bonnes qualités, qu’elle l’épouserait même avec moins de répugnance qu’un autre, mais qu’elle n’avait aucune inclination particulière pour sa personne. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797) [Mademoiselle de Chartres made answer, that she observed in him the same good qualities; that she should have less reluctance in marrying him than any other man, but that she had no particular affection to his person.] (Wikisource )
So Mlle de Chartres marries the prince willingly, but she remains as she was before the wedding: cold. Madame de La Fayette writes that the Prince the Clèves will continue to love the Princesse because he has something to wish for.
Cela fit aussi que pour être son mari, il ne laissa pas d’être son amant, parce qu’il avait toujours quelque chose à souhaiter au-delà de sa possession; et, quoiqu’elle vécût parfaitement bien avec lui, il n’était pas entièrement heureux. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797) [(…) hence it was, that though he was her husband, he did not cease to be her lover, because he had always something to wish beyond what he possessed; and though she lived perfectly easy with him, yet he was not perfectly happy.] Wikisource 
Mlle de Chartres, who has been taken to court by her widowed mother so she can find a husband. She is sixteen and has not discovered passion. She will marry le prince de Clèves, but he will find no change in her after they marry. In the following quotation, she is still unmarried, but she does not know life, let alone love. Mlle de Chartres is sixteen. She marries the Prince of Cleves who is less repulsive (avec moins de répugnance) than other men.
The Prince of Cleves senses that she does not love him:
Est-il possible, lui [le prince de Clèves] disait-il, que je puisse n’être pas heureux en vous épousant? Cependant il est vrai que je ne le suis pas. Vous n’avez pour moi qu’une sorte de bonté qui ne peut me satisfaire; vous n’avez ni impatience, ni inquiétude, ni chagrin; vous n’êtes pas plus touchée de ma passion que vous le seriez d’un attachement qui ne serait fondé que sur les avantages de votre fortune, et non pas sur les charmes de votre personne. (Le Prince de Clèves) (Gutenberg’s eBook # 18797) [Is it possible, says he, that I should not be happy in marrying you? and yet it is certain, I am not. You only show me a sort of civility which is far from giving me satisfaction; you express none of those pretty inquietudes, the concern, and impatience, which are the soul of love; you are no further affected with my passion, than you would be with one which flowed only from the advantage of your fortune, and not from the beauty of your person. (Wikisource )
Mademoiselle de Chartres ne savait que répondre, et ces distinctions étaient au-dessus de ses connaissances. Monsieur de Clèves ne voyait que trop combien elle était éloignée d’avoir pour lui des sentiments qui le pouvaient satisfaire, puisqu’il lui paraissait même qu’elle ne les entendait pas. (Gutenberg’s eBook # 18797) [Mademoiselle de Chartres did not know what to answer; these distinctions were above her comprehension. The prince of Cleves plainly saw she was far from having that tenderness of affection for him, which was requisite to his happiness; it was manifest she could not feel a passion which she did not understand.] (Wikisource )
Mlle de Chartres will discover passion after she marries the Prince de Clèves. She will be invited to a ball, le bal du Maréchal de Saint-André. She has been told about the Duc de Nemours:
Mais ce prince était un chef−d’œuvre de la nature ; ce qu’il avait de moins admirable était d’être l’homme du monde le mieux fait et le plus beau. [The duke de Nemours was a masterpiece of nature; the beauty of his person, inimitable as it was, was his least perfection; what placed him above other men, was a certain agreeableness in his discourse, his actions, his looks, which was observable in none beside himself: he had in his behaviour a gaiety that was equally pleasing to men and women; in his exercises he was very expert; and in dress he had a peculiar manner, which was followed by all the world, but could never be imitated: in fine, such was the air of his whole person, that it was impossible to fix one’s eye on anything else, wherever he was.] (Wikisource 
She knows who he is when she sees him at the ball. It will be the coup de foudre.
Madame de Clèves acheva de danser et pendant qu’elle cherchait des yeux quelqu’un qu’elle avait dessein de prendre, le roi lui cria de prendre celui qui arrivait. Elle se tourna, et vit un homme qu’elle crut d’abord ne pouvoir être que monsieur de Nemours, qui passait par-dessus quelques sièges pour arriver où l’on dansait. Ce prince était fait d’une sorte, qu’il était difficile de n’être pas surprise de le voir quand on ne l’avait jamais vu, surtout ce soir-là, où le soin qu’il avait pris de se parer augmentait encore l’air brillant qui était dans sa personne; mais il était difficile aussi de voir madame de Clèves pour la première fois, sans avoir un grand étonnement. (Gutenberg’s eBook # 18797) [She had finished her dance, and as she was casting her eyes round to single out some other person, the king desired her to take him who came in last; she turned about, and viewing him as he was passing over the seats to come to the place where they danced, she immediately concluded he was the duke of Nemours. The duke’s person was turned in so delicate a manner, that it was impossible not to express surprise at the first sight of him, particularly that evening, when the care he had taken to adorn himself added much to the fine air of his carriage. It was as impossible to behold the princess of Cleves without equal admiration.] (Wikisource )