URANIE (hostess). ÉLISE (her cousin). CLIMÈNE (a prude). GALOPIN, laquais. LE MARQUIS. DORANTE ou LE CHEVALIER. LYSIDAS, poète.
In Scene v of La Critique de l’École des femmes, Dorante enters Uranie’s salon. She has been expecting him. Dorante wants everyone to continue discussing L’École des femmes.
… et jamais on n’a rien vu de si plaisant, que la diversité des jugements, qui se font là-dessus. Car enfin, j’ai ouï condamner cette comédie à certaines gens, par les mêmes choses, que j’ai vu d’autres estimer le plus. Dorante à tous (I. v) [You are on a subject which, for four days, has been the common talk of Paris; and never was anything more amusing than to hear the various judgments that are passed upon it.] Dorante to all (I. 6, 162)
So, one wonders just how our characters will walk towards the dining-room laughing and read L’École des femmes after dinner. The change may begin when Dorante says to the Marquis that he is not talking about him. He turns the matter into a miroir public:
Parbleu ! Chevalier Dorante, tu le prends là… Le Marquis à Dorante (I, v) [Egad, sir, you are carrying this . . .] Le Marquis to Dorante (I. 6, p. 164) Mon Dieu, Marquis, ce n’est pas à toi que je parle ; c’est à une douzaine de Messieurs qui déshonorent les gens de cour par leurs manières extravagantes, et font croire parmi le peuple que nous nous ressemblons tous. Dorante au Marquis (I, v) [Why, Marquis, I am not speaking to you. I am addressing a round dozen of those gentries who disgrace courtiers by their nonsensical manners, and make people believe we are all alike.] Dorante to the Marquis (I. 6, p.164)
Dorante says later that prudes use a defence mechanism. They have lost their charm, so their refuge is prudery. They are vain, as are most characters Molière berates. They love the world, and they love attention. They will not sit apart from others. Note, moreover, that the prude Dorante mentions is not Climène. It is la marquise Araminte. The society of the play would not allow Climène to be attacked. In his descriptions, Dorante, lechevalier, uses what will be called miroirs publics (I, vi).
In fact, the society of the play ends up disagreeing with considerable pleasure. No one changes, but all start laughing at themselves. Before they walk to the dining-room, Uranie suggests that they should write a comedy.
Il se passe des choses assez plaisantes dans notre dispute. Je trouve qu’on en pourrait bien faire une petite comédie, et que cela ne serait pas trop mal à la queue de L’École des femmes. Uranie à tous (I. vi) [There are many funny things in our discussion. I fancy a little comedy might be made out of them, and that it would not be a bad wind-up to The School for Wives.] Uranie to everyone (I. vii, p. 177)
To emphasize that Agnès accepts the pleasure that falling in love has brought to her life, I added to La Critique de l’École des femmes:Details, the line where Agnès says:
Le moyen de chasser ce qui fait du plaisir. Agnès à Arnolphe (V, iv). [But do we drive away what gives us pleasure?] Agnès to Arnolphe (V. 4, p. 136)
Ironically by not educating Agnès, Arnolphe has created a character who is not burdened by préventions, and can accept pleasure, as do spectators who have liked the play. She has no use for the Maximesdu mariage and would not be a précieuse ridicule. Magdelon is horrified at the thought of sleeping next to a nude male.
Pour moi, mon oncle, tout ce que je vous puis dire c’est que je trouve le mariage une chose tout à fait choquante. Comment est-ce qu’on peut souffrir la pensée de coucher contre un homme vraiment nu ? Cathos à Gorgibus (I, iv, Les Précieuses ridicules) [As for me uncle, all I can say is that I think marriage is a very shocking business. How can one endure the thought of lying by the side of a man, who is truly naked?] Cathos to Gorgibus (I. 4, p. 148, The Pretentious Young Ladies)
Agnès is a woman and she is a very intelligent woman. She perhaps speaks with the voice of an innocent young girl, but this young girl is a grown woman. She does not even try to spare Arnolphe because she speaks “sans prévention.”1She does not have prejudices (préventions) or idées reçues, but her instinct does not fail her. She speaks d’après nature.
Comedy has rules, one of which is decorum, bienséances, but Dorante would like to know if the rule of all rules isn’t to please:
Je voudrais bien savoir si la grande règle de toutes les règles n’est pas de plaire ; et si une pièce de théâtre qui a attrapé son but n’a pas suivi un bon chemin. Dorante à tous (I, vi) [I should like to know whether the great rule of all rules is not to please; and whether a play which attains this has not followed a good method?] Dorante to all (I. 7, p. 173)
Hence, how do we drive away what gives us pleasure and the rule of all rules: to please … and to be pleased.
A few weeks ago, a PDF article on L’École des femmes appeared on my computer screen. I saw the word “pleasure” in the title. I will have to find the article and read it.
Dorante also says that Molière’s narratives are action, and that this action occurs in the dialogue, which Gabriel Conesa has illustrated convincingly in his Dialogue moliéresque.
1 The meaning of the word “prévention” has changed. It is no longer associated with prejudices.
_________________________ Bourbeau-Walker, Micheline. « L’échec d’Arnolphe : loi du genre ou faille intérieure », in Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature, (Seattle-Tübingen, 1984, Vol. XI, No 20), pp. 79-92. ISSN 0343-0758
Oui, mais qui rit d’autrui, Doit craindre, qu’en revanche, on rie aussi de lui. Arnolphe à Chrysalde (I, i) [Yes; but he who laughs at another must beware, lest he inturn be laughed at himself.] Arnolphe to Chrysalde (I. 1, p. 96)
Irony is the literary device underlying L’École des femmes. In Act One, scene one, Arnolphe (see toutmolière.net) describes Agnès to Chrysalde. Agnès is innocent to the point of making him laugh:
La vérité passe encor mon récit./ Dans ses simplicités à tous coups je l’admire,/160 Et parfois elle en dit, dont je pâme de rire./ L’autre jour (pourrait-on se le persuader)/ Elle était fort en peine, et me vint demander,/ Avec une innocence à nulle autre pareille,/ Si les enfants qu’on fait, se faisaient par l’oreille. Arnolphe à Chrysalde (I. i) [What I have told you falls even short of the truth: I admire her simplicity on all occasions; sometimes she says things at which I split my sides with laughing. The other day would you believe it? she was uneasy, and came to ask me, with unexampled innocence, if children came through the ears.] Arnolphe to Chrysalde (I. 1, p. 99)
There can be no doubt that laughing at others will cause others to laugh at Arnolphe when and if he is cuckolded. But, worse, Arnolphe will be cuckolded before he marries.
Climène the prude
Lysidas, the poet
As you know, communication cannot occur when an interlocuteur hears and sees what he expects to hear and see, which is irony. The Marquis, who has not even seen L’École des femmes, cannot say a word about it. Yet he maintains that the play is détestable. When Dorante asks him to say why the play is “détestable,” he cannot substantiate his “détestable.” All he can say is that the play is détestable because it is détestable, which is not an answer. He cannot dislike a play he hasn’t see, but he can dislike having been squeezed and frippé by the crowd at the entrance to the theatre. He has also heard laughter, which in his eyes is proof positive that the play is a flop, when in fact laughter proves that the play is enormously successful.
In other words, the Marquis has been told that the play is a flop, and expects to see a flop. In fact, laughter has caused him not to pay any attention to the play. He is, therefore, undone.
As for the poet Lysidas, he liked the play but says that the connoisseurs have not. So, he claims that L’École des femmes does not respect the rules of classical theatre, which it does. His response and the Marquis’s response have been conditioned by the attacks Molière faces and which he addresses by writing La Critique de l’École des femmes. Truth be told, the prude, the Marquis, and the poet reject The School for Wives because their judgement is flawed by “noise.” They see and hear what they have been told to see and hear. Spectators and readers will laugh honestly, but not a précieuse, a Marquis, or a poet.
In L’École des femmes, however, the main irony resides in Arnolphe’s failure to defeat Horace. Arnolphe has done the utmost to make sure Agnès knows no more than where to put the tarte à la crème, the cream tart. Moreover, young Horace, who does not know that Arnolphe is Monsieur de la Souche, tells Arnolphe, whom he trusts, all the stratagems he will use to take Agnès away from Monsieur de la Souche’s house, a doubling. Yet, although he is armed to the teeth, Arnolphe loses Agnès.
But an unforeseen event, the fortuitous return of a father, may prevent Horace and Agnès from marrying, despite their own stratagems. Oronte, Horace’s father, wants Horace to marry Enrique’s long-lost daughter. So, ironically, Oronte’s son Horace goes to Arnolphe to tell his woes and then asks our jaloux to protect him by keeping Agnès.
Jugez, en prenant part à mon inquiétude,/ S’il pouvait m’arriver un contre-temps plus rude;/ Cet Enrique, dont hier je m’informais à vous,/1635 Cause tout le malheur dont je ressens les coups;/ Il vient avec mon père achever ma ruine,/ Et c’est sa fille unique à qui l’on me destine. Horace à Arnolphe (V, vi) [Feel for my anxiety and judge if a more cruel disappointment could happen to me. That Enrique, whom I asked you about yesterday, is the source of all my trouble. He has come with my father to complete my ruin; it is for his only daughter that I am destined.] Horace to Arnolphe (V. 6. p. 139)
Fate may harm an authoritarian pater familias, but it is kind to young lovers and will not let the trompeur deceive anyone. It so happens, ironically, that Enrique’s daughter is Agnès and that he has returned much enriched. So, we have an anagnorisis. Horace had asked Arnolphe to hide Agnès so he would not lose her, which is the height of irony, Arnolphe being his rival. However, Agnès is Enrique’s daughter and the bride Oronte has chosen for his son. Moreover, Enrique is opposed to forced marriages and if there is a marriage, he will repay Arnolphe the full cost of bringing up Agnès. Agnès will owe nothing. Comedy may at times border on fairy tales. The young couple will marry. But, as mentioned above:
Oui, mais qui rit d’autrui, Doit craindre, qu’en revanche, on rie aussi de lui. Arnolphe à Chrysalde (I, i) [Yes; but he who laughs at another must beware, lest he inturn be laughed at himself.] Arnolphe to Chrysalde (I. 1, p. 96)
The play seems an exemplum (an example that illustrates a moral), as in a sermon or a fable. Comedy favours the marriage of a young couple. In Act Three, scene two of L’École des femmes, Arnolphe has Agnès read: Les Maximes du Mariage ou Les Devoirs de la femme mariée. Act Three, scene two pp. 37-40. Pleasure rules.
Le moyen de chasser ce qui fait du plaisir ? Agnès à Arnolphe (V, iv) [How can we drive away what gives us pleasure?] Agnès to Arnolphe (V. 4. p, 137)
If obscénité there is in L’École des femmes and La Critique, it resides in the mind of prudes and it is the role some women choose to make up for their evanescent youth and beauty. They play a new role, but they are still on stage. The Marquis proves that the play is immensely successful. People were laughing. As noted above, Molière is way ahead of himself. This isthéâtre de l’absurde (the Theatre of the Absurd). Yet, it isn’t. Molière depicts humans “d’après nature,” as they are. But by doing so, he illustrates flaws in information and communication that now constitute a theory (“noise” in Information Theory).
I will leave you to read whatever information I have had to leave out.
Let him [Valère], without more sighing, hasten a marriage which is all I desire, and accept the assurance which I give him, never to listen to the vows of another. (She pretends to embrace Sganarelle, and gives her hand to Valère to kiss.) Isabelle to Valère (II. 14, p. 32)
The image above shows Valère after he has learned that Isabelle loves him as much as he loves her. Sganarelle, her guardian, is holding her, but Valère kisses her hand.
L’École des maris
Just before the beginning of Act Two, Ergaste, Valère’s valet, is surprised to hear that Valère has yet to tell Isabelle that he loves him. He has been looking at Isabelle for four months. Love may not have made him “inventif,” but he has not found, in Sganarelle’s house, servants who could help him. Traditionally, servants help the young couple. Léonor, Ariste’s ward, has a suivante, but Isabelle doesn’t and she is confined to her room.
Mais qu’aurais-tu pu faire? Puisque sans ce brutal on ne la voit jamais, Et qu’il n’est là dedans servantes ni valets, Dont par l’appas flatteur de quelque récompense, Je puisse pour mes feux ménager l’assistance. Valère à Ergaste (I. iv, p. 16)
[Why, what could you have done? For one never sees her without that brute ; in the house there are neither maids nor men-servants whom I might influence to assist me by the alluring temptation of some reward. Valère to Ergaste (I. 6, p. 19)
Knowing she will be forced to marry Sganarelle, her gardian, Isabelle, on the other hand, is very inventive, even if it means lying to Sganarelle and manipulating him.
Ô ciel, sois-moi propice, et seconde en ce jour,
Le stratagème adroit, d’une innocente amour. Isabelle, à part (II. i, p. 17)
[Heaven, be propitious, and favour today
the artful contrivance of an innocent love.] Isabelle, alone (II. 2, p. 20)
Je fais pour une fille, un projet bien hardi;
Mais l’injuste rigueur, dont envers moi l’on use,
Dans tout esprit bien fait, me servira d’excuse. Isabelle, seule (II. i, p. 17)
[(As she goes in). For a girl, I am planning a pretty
bold scheme. But the unreasonable severity with which
I am treated will be my excuse to every right mind.] Isabelle, alone (II. 2, p. 20)
The First Ruse: a Message to Valère
In Scene Two, Sganarelle goes to Valère’s house to tell him that he is Isabelle’s guardian and that he will marry her.
Savez-vous, dites-moi, que je suis le tuteur, D’une fille assez jeune, et passablement belle, Qui loge en ce quartier, et qu’on nomme Isabelle? Sganarelle à Valère (II. ii, p. 20)
[Tell me: do you know that I am guardian to a
tolerably young and passably handsome girl who lives in
this neighbourhood, and whose name is Isabella?] Sganarelle to Valère (II. 3, p. 21)
Valère says he does. He may not, but he has been admiring her.
Si vous le savez, je ne vous l’apprends pas. Mais savez-vous aussi, lui trouvant des appas; Qu’autrement qu’en tuteur sa personne me touche, Et qu’elle est destinée à l’honneur de ma couche? Sganarelle à Valère (II. ii, p. 20)
[As you know it, I need not tell it to you. But do you know, likewise, that as I find her charming, I care for her otherwise than as a guardian, and that she is destined for the honour of being my wife?] Sganarelle to Valère (II. 3, p. 21)
He tells Valère, that he is speaking to him on her behalf. She has noticed Valère, but Sganarelle states that only he has access to her heart.
Oui, vous venir donner cet avis franc, et net, Et qu’ayant vu l’ardeur dont votre âme est blessée, Elle vous eût plus tôt fait savoir sa pensée; Si son cœur avait eu dans son émotion, À qui pouvoir donner cette commission; Mais qu’enfin les douleurs d’une contrainte extrême, L’ont réduite à vouloir se servir de moi-même Pour vous rendre averti, comme je vous ai dit, Qu’à tout autre que moi son cœur est interdit;
Que vous avez assez joué de la prunelle,
Et que si vous avez tant soit peu de cervelle,
Vous prendrez d’autres soins, adieu jusqu’au revoir,
Voilà ce que j’avais, à vous faire savoir. (I. ii, p. 21) [Yes, makes me come to you and give you this frank and plain message; also, that, having observed the violent love wherewith your soul is smitten, she would earlier have let you know what she thinks about you if, perplexed as she was, she could have found anyone to send this message by; but that at length she was painfully compelled to make use of me, in order to assure you, as I have told you that her affection is denied to all save me; that you have been ogling her long enough; and that, if you have ever so little brains, you will carry your passion somewhere else. Farewell, till our next meeting. That is what I had to tell you.] (II. 4, p. 22)
In Scene Three, when Sganarelle comes home after speaking with Valère, Isabelle tells him that she fears he hasn’t understood. He has thrown a gilded box containing a letter into her room. Sganarelle would like to read the letter, but if the letter is read it be returned unsealed, Valère might think that she has read the letter. Therefore, as he carries the letter back to Valère’s house, Sganarelle does not know that it is a billet-doux, a love letter, Isabelle is sending to Valère.
« Cette lettre vous surprendra, sans doute, et l’on peut trouver bien hardi pour moi, et le dessein de vous l’écrire, et la manière de vous la faire tenir; mais je me vois dans un état à ne plus garder de mesures; la juste horreur d’un mariage, dont je suis menacée dans six jours, me fait hasarder toutes choses, et dans la résolution de m’en affranchir par quelque voie que ce soit, j’ai cru que je devais plutôt vous choisir que le désespoir. Ne croyez pas pourtant que vous soyez redevable de tout à ma mauvaise destinée; ce n’est pas la contrainte où je me trouve qui a fait naître les sentiments que j’ai pour vous; mais c’est elle qui en précipite le témoignage, et qui me fait passer sur des formalités où la bienséance du sexe oblige. Il ne tiendra qu’à vous que je sois à vous bientôt, et j’attends seulement que vous m’ayez marqué les intentions de votre amour, pour vous faire savoir la résolution que j’ai prise; mais surtout songez que le temps presse, et que deux cœurs qui s’aiment doivent s’entendre à demi-mot. »
Isabelle (II. V, p. 25-26)
“This letter will no doubt surprise you; both the resolution to write to you and the means of conveying it to your hands may be thought very bold in me; but I am in such a condition, that I can no longer restrain myself. Well-founded repugnance to a marriage with which I am threatened in six days, makes me risk everything; and in the determination to free myself from it by whatever means, I thought I had rather choose you than despair. Yet do not think that you owe all to my evil fate; it is not the constraint in which I find myself that has given rise to the sentiments entertain for you; but it hastens the avowal of them, and makes me transgress the decorum which the proprieties of my sex require. It depends on you alone to make me shortly your own; I wait only until you have declared your intentions to me before acquainting you with the resolution I have taken; but, above all, remember that time presses, and that two hearts, which love each other, ought to understand even the slightest hint.” Isabelle (II. 8, pp. 25-26)
The Third Ruse: Abduction
Having delivered the unsealed love letter (billet-doux), Sganarelle returns to Isabelle’s room. He tells his ward that Valère, a honnête homme, is very much in love with her:
Tous ses désirs étaient de t’obtenir pour femme, Si les destins en moi, qui captive ton cœur, N’opposaient un obstacle à cette juste ardeur;
Je le trouve honnête homme, et le plains de t’aimer[.] Sganarelle à Isabelle (II. vii, pp. 32-33)
[… his only desire was to obtain you for a wife, if destiny had not opposed an obstacle to his pure flame, through me, who captivated your heart; that, whatever happens, you must not think that your charms can ever be forgotten by him; that, to whatever decrees of Heaven he must submit, his fate is to love you to his last breath; …] Sganarelle to Isabelle (II. 11. p. 28)
Mais il ne savait pas tes inclinations, Et par l’honnêteté de ses intentions Son amour ne mérite… Sganarelle à Isabelle (II. vii, pp. 29-30)
[But he did not know your inclinations; and,
from the uprightness of his intentions, his love does not
deserve . . .] Sganarelle to Isabelle (II. 11, p. 28)
Est-ce les avoir bonnes, Dites-moi de vouloir enlever les personnes, Est-ce être homme d’honneur de former des desseins Pour m’épouser de force en m’ôtant de vos mains? Comme si j’étais fille à supporter la vie, Après qu’on m’aurait fait une telle infamie. Isabelle à Sganarelle (II. vii, p. 30)
[Is it good intentions, I ask, to try and carry people
off? Is it like a man of honour to form designs for marrying me by force, and taking me out of your hands? As if I were a girl to live after such a disgrace!]
N’avez-vous point de honte, étant ce que vous êtes, De faire en votre esprit les projets que vous faites, De prétendre enlever une fille d’honneur Et troubler un hymen [marriage] fait tout son bonheur? Sganarelle à Valère (II. viii, pp. 22-23)
[Are you not ashamed, considering who you are, to form such designs as you do? To intend to carry off a respectable girl, and interrupt a marriage on which her whole happiness depends?] Sganarelle to Valère (II. 8, p. 30)
Valère is unconvinced. Sganarelle decides to take Valère to his home so Isabelle can speak to him.
Voulez-vous qu’elle-même elle explique son cœur? J’y consens volontiers pour vous tirer d’erreur, Suivez-moi, vous verrez s’il est rien que j’avance, Et si son jeune cœur entre nous deux balance. (Il va frapper à sa porte.)
Sganarelle à Valère (II. viii, p. 33)
[To set you right, I willingly consent to it. Follow me; you shall hear if I have added anything, and if her young heart hesitates between us two. (Goes and knocks at his own door).] Sganarelle to Valère (II. 14, p. 30)
Et voulez-vous charmé de ses rares mérites, M’obliger à l’aimer, et souffrir ses visites? Isabelle à Sganarelle (II. ix, p. 33)
[And do you wish, charmed by his rare merits, to compel me to love him, and endure his visits?] Isabelle to Sganarelle (II. 14, p. 31)
Quoi mon âme à vos yeux ne se montre pas toute,
Et de mes vœux encor vous pouvez être en doute? Isabelle à Valère (II. ix, p. 33) [What! Is not my soul completely bared to your eyes, and can you still doubt whom I love?] Isabelle to Valère (II. 14, p. 31)
Oui tout ce que Monsieur, de votre part m’a dit, Madame, a bien pouvoir de surprendre un esprit, J’ai douté, je l’avoue, et cet arrêt suprême, Qui décide du sort de mon amour extrême, Doit m’être assez touchant pour ne pas s’offenser, Que mon cœur par deux fois le fasse prononcer. Valère à Isabelle (II. ix, p. 34)
[Yes, all that this gentleman has told me on your behalf, Madam, might well surprise a man ; I confess I doubted it. This final sentence, which decides the fate of my great love, moves my feelings so much that it can be no offence if I wish to have it repeated.] Valère to Isabelle (II. 14, p. 31)
The following quotation is central to a discussion of the play.
Non non, un tel arrêt ne doit pas vous surprendre, Ce sont mes sentiments qu’il vous a fait entendre, Et je les tiens fondés sur assez d’équité, Pour en faire éclater toute la vérité; Oui je veux bien qu’on sache, et j’en dois être crue, Que le sort offre ici deux objets à ma vue, Qui m’inspirant pour eux différents sentiments, De mon cœur agité font tous les mouvements. L’un par un juste choix où l’honneur m’intéresse, A toute mon estime et toute ma tendresse; Et l’autre pour le prix de son affection, A toute ma colère et mon aversion: La présence de l’un m’est agréable et chère, J’en reçois dans mon âme une allégresse entière, Et l’autre par sa vue inspire dans mon cœur De secrets mouvements, et de haine et d’horreur. Me voir femme de l’un est toute mon envie, Et plutôt qu’être à l’autre, on m’ôterait la vie; Mais c’est assez montrer mes justes sentiments, Et trop longtemps languir dans ces rudes tourments: Il faut que ce que j’aime usant de diligence, Fasse à ce que je hais perdre toute espérance, Et qu’un heureux hymen affranchisse mon sort, D’un supplice pour moi plus affreux que la mort. Isabelle à Valère(II. ix, p. 34) [No, no, such a sentence should not surprise you. Sganarelle told you my very sentiments ; I consider them to be sufficiently founded on justice, to make their full truth clear. Yes, I desire it to be known, and I ought to be believed, that fate here presents two objects to my eyes, who, inspiring me with different sentiments, agitate my heart. One by a just choice, in which my honour is involved, has all my esteem and love; and the other, in return for his affection, has all my anger and aversion. The presence of the one is pleasing and dear to me, and fills me with joy; but the sight of the other inspires me with secret emotions of hatred and horror. To see myself the wife of the one is all my desire; and rather than belong to the other, I would lose my life. But I have sufficiently declared my real very sentiments; I consider them to be sufficiently founded on justice, to make their full truth clear. Yes, I desire it to be known, and I ought to be believed, that fate here presents two objects to my eyes, who, inspiring sentiments ; and languished too long under this severe torture. He whom I love must use diligence to make him whom I hate lose all hope, and deliver me by a happy marriage, from a suffering more terrible than death.] Isabelle to Valère (II. 14, p. 31)
At this point, it becomes clear in Valère’s mind that Isabelle wants Valère to take her away from Sganarelle. There is one more ruse, in Act Three.
Que sans plus de soupirs, Il conclue un hymen qui fait tous mes désirs, Et reçoive en ce lieu, la foi que je lui donne, De n’écouter jamais les vœux d’autre personne. Isabelle à Valère (II. ix, p. 35)
[Let him, without more sighing, hasten a marriage which is all I desire, and accept the assurance which I give him, never to listen to the vows of another. (She pretends to embrace Sganarelle, and gives her hand to Valère to kiss.)] Isabelle to Valère (II. 14, p. 32)
I need to stop, because I have run out of space. Note the double entendre used by Isabelle. Isabelle is as clever as zanni and, ironically, she uses Sganarelle as go-between. This is the height of irony. She says the opposite of what she means, but the proof of her love is her constant presence in Valère’s home. Sganarelle goes back and forth between his house and Valère’s. Why would Isabelle/Sganarelle forever visit Valère if she did not love him? These are artful stratagems. There is considerable irony in Sagnarelle’s respect for Valère. It should be noted that Sganarelle has taught Isabelle law. This play is difficult to read. A mere performance does not allow one to see Molière’s artfulness.
Arnolphe, or Monsieur de la Souche Agnès,une ingénue, raised by Arnolphe Horace, the jeune premier whose father is Oronte Oronte, Horace’s father and a friend of Arnolphe Chrysalde, the raisonneur and Arnolphe’s friend Enrique, Chrysalde’s brother-in-law
The dramatis personæ also includes a notary, a maid (Georgette), and a valet (Alain).
Arnolphe & Monsieur de la Souche
a fortuitous victory
In L’École des femmes (1662), the victory of the young couple, Horace and Agnès, is mostly fortuitous and irony is the main literary device used by Molière. Ironically, Horace tells Arnolphe, the blocking character, or senex iratus, everything he and Agnès have done and everything they plan to do.
Molière has made this possible by creating a barbon who has just changed his name. Young Horace, our jeune premier, thinks his rival is Monsieur de la Souche, not Arnolphe. Our pedant, Arnolphe, is a friend of his father as well as Chrysalde’s friend. Horace does not hesitate to ask him for money no more than Arnolphe hesitates to loan him the amount he needs. He also gives him the wallet. Arnolphe knows he will be repaid. Ironically, Horace has no reason to think that Arnolphe is not supportive of him in every way. On the contrary.
In fact, after he and Agnès have fled the house in which she was kept by Monsieur de la Souche, a jealous man, Horace asks Arnolphe, his rival, to look after Agnès while he makes preparations for what we suspect is a wedding. Horace wishes to protect Agnès’ reputation and he must speak to his father’s regarding his marriage. He therefore asks Arnolphe to be Agnès’ temporary guardian. Irony suffuses the comedy and, at this point, reaches its climax.
C’est à vous seul [Arnolphe] aussi, comme ami généreux, Que je puis confier ce dépôt amoureux. (Horace, V. ii, 1430-5.)
[(…) and as I have trusted the whole secret of my passion to you, being assured of your prudence, so to you only, as a generous friend, can I confide this beloved treasure.] The School for Wives, p. 24.
Octave Uzanne, Le Livre, Paris, A. Quantin, 1880 [1719 edition]. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Irony also stems from Agnès’ ignorance. Arnolphe has Agnès raised in a convent, asking that she learn as little as possible about the ways of the world. That, he believes, is his very best precaution. He doesn’t want to cuckolded.
As you know, before leaving for about ten days, Arnolphe directs Georgette, Agnès’ maid, and Alain, her manservant, not to let anyone into Agnès’ house. He also directs Agnès not to see anyone. However, Arnolphe has learned from Horace that he has seen a lovely woman and that he is in love, which is why he needs the money he has just borrowed. Arnolphe is afraid and decides to speak with Agnès. He tells her that he has he has been told than an unknown young man came to her house. These people, he says, are méchantes langues, slandering tongues. He claims he is ready to bet they are not telling the truth.
Mon Dieu, ne gagez pas : vous perdriez vraiment. (Agnès, II. v, 473.)
[Oh, Heaven, do not bet; you would assuredly lose.] The School for Wives, p. 10.
Quoi! c’est la vérité qu’un homme… (Arnolphe II. v, 474.)
[What! It is true that a man… ]
(…) Chose sûre.
Il n’a presque bougé de chez nous, je vous jure. (Agnès II. v, 475-6.)
[Quite true. I declare to you that he was scarcely ever out of the house.] The School for Wives, p. 10-11.
She has given him a ribbon, and he has kissed her arms, Arnolphe wants to know more.
Passe pour le ruban. Mais je voudrais apprendre,
S’il ne vous a rien fait que vous baiser les bras. (Arnolphe, II. v, 580-1.)
[Oh! let the ribbon go. But I want to know if he did nothing to you but kiss your arms.] The School for Wives, p. 12.
Comment. Est-ce qu’on fait d’autres choses ? (Agnès, II. v, 582.)
[Why! do people do other things?] The School for Wives, p. 12.
(…) Non pas. Mais pour guérir du mal qu’il dit qui le possède, N’a-t-il point exigé de vous d’autre remède ? (Arnolphe, II. v, 583-4.)
[Not at all. But, to cure the disorder which he said had seized him, did he not ask you for any other remedy?] The School for Wives, p. 12.
Non. Vous pouvez juger, s’il en eût demandé, Que pour le secourir j’aurais tout accordé. (Agnès, II. v, 585-6.)
[No. You may judge that I would have granted him anything to do him good, if he had asked for it.] The School for Wives, p. 12.
Chrysalde was right. Virtue is not enough:
(…) L’honnêteté suffit. (Arnolphe, I. i, 106.) Mais comment voulez-vous, après tout, qu’une bête Puisse jamais savoir ce que c’est qu’être honnête. (Chrysalde, I. i, 107-8.)
(…) Virtue is quite enough.
But how can you expect, after, all, that a mere simpleton can ever know what it is to be virtuous?] The School for Wives, p. 4.
The School for Wives combines several comic texts: the farce, the comedy of manners, and the comedy of intrigue. It is also rooted in the commedia dell’arte. Arnolphe resembles Il Dottore, an inflatedcharacter who ends up deflated.
Arnolphe has the audacity to think he can fool destiny and destiny undoes him. In LÉcole des femmes, destiny reigns supreme and Arnophe will be the trompeur trompé of farces:
(…) Oui ; mais qui rit d’autrui Doit craindre qu’en revanche on rie aussi de lui. (Chrysalde, I. i, 45-6.)
[Yes; but he who laughs at another must beware, lest he in turn be laughed at himself.] The School for Wives, p. 3.
He, Chrysalde, believes he cannot control destiny. He therefore refrains from mocking others so others do not mock him. According to the laws of comedy, lashing out leads to a backlash. The deceiver is deceived.
In Act I, scene 4, Arnolphe tells Horace that watching cocus is like watching a comedy. But he is now on the same stage, as the cocus he ridiculed, thinking he could shape destiny and boasting about it.
C’est un plaisir de prince, et des tours que je voi Je me donne souvent la comédie à moi. (Arnolphe, I. iv, 295-6.)
[It is a pleasure fit for a King; to me it is a mere comedy to
see the pranks I do.] The School for Wives, p. 7.
In this scene, we see to what extent Arnolphe himself has caused his demise. Agnès is so innocent she “would have granted him [Horace] anything to do him good, if he had asked.” Would that she had known more! Chrysalde was right. Virtue is not enough.
(…) L’honnêteté suffit. (Arnolphe, I. i, 104.) [Mais comment voulez-vous, après tout, qu’une bête Puisse jamais savoir ce que c’est qu’être honnête.] (Chrysalde, I. ii, 105-6.)
(…) Virtue is quite enough.
[But how can you expect, after, all, that a mere simpleton can ever know what it is.] The School for Wives, p. 4.
Arnolphe is fully undone. However, he is included in the final society, imperfect as it may be.
Allons dans la maison débrouiller ces mystères, Payer à notre ami ces soins officieux, Et rendre grâce au Ciel qui fait tout pour le mieux. (Chrysalde, V. scène dernière, 1775-7.)
[Let us go inside, and clear up these mysteries. Let us shew our friend some return for his great pains, and thank Heaven, which orders all for the best.] The School for Wives, p. 29.
Molière as Arnolphe (detail)
Les Farceurs français et italiens depuis soixante ans et plus, 1670
When Horace first meets Arnolphe, in Act one, he is carrying two letters addressed to Arnolphe. These indicate that Oronte, Horace’s father, will be visiting with a person Horace does not know.
We know, therefore, that there may be unexpected changes, a discovery: anagnorisis.
It so happens that the guest who will accompany Oronte, Horace’s father is Enrique, Chrysalde’s brother-in-law. It was a private marriage and a daughter was born to Henrique and Angélique. Enrique had to leave France unexpectedly, so the child was left in the custody of a woman who grew too poor to look after Agnès. This woman had to entrust her charge to a person who could afford to raise Agnès. Agnès was 4 years old. These are the circumstances under which Arnolphe became Agnès’ ward. She is now 17.
In Act V, when Enrique arrives, Agnès ceases to be Arnolphe’s ward. Suddenly, after 13 years, Arnolphe no longer has any authority over Agnès. In fact, Agnès can talk. She is not “bête.” Arnolphe therefore leaves devastated and unable to speak: “tout transporté et ne pouvant parler.”
Scholar Bernard Magné has noted that in the final discovery scene (reconnaissance) scene, Arnolphe loses the ability to speak:
(…) Dans la scène de reconnaissance finale, Arnolphe perd réellement l’usage de la parole.
Earlier, when he was pulling a reluctant Agnès away, Arnolphe called her causeuse (a talker):
Allons, causeuse, allons. (Arnolphe, V. ix, 1726.)
[Come along, chatterbox.] L’École des femmes, p. 29.
Agnès has indeed gained the ability to speak :
Oui : mais pour femme, moi, je prétendais vous prendre, Et je vous l’avais fait, me semble, assez entendre. (Arnolphe, V. iv, 1510-11.)
[Yes; but I meant to take you to wife myself; I think I gave you to understand it clearly enough.] The School for Wives, p. 26.
Oui : mais à vous parler franchement entre nous, Il est plus pour cela selon mon goût que vous. (Agnès, V. ix, 1512-13.) [You did. But, to be frank with you, he is more to my taste for a husband than you. With you, marriage is a trouble and a pain, and your descriptions give a terrible picture of it; but there—he makes it seem so full of joy that I long to marry.] The School for Wives, p. 26.
Vraiment, il en sait donc là-dessus plus que vous ; Car à se faire aimer il n’a point eu de peine. (Agnès, V. iv, 1539-40.) [Of a truth then he knows more about it than you; for he had no difficulty in making himself loved.] The School for Wives, p. 26.
Le moyen de chasser ce qui fait du plaisir (Agnès, V. iv, 1527.)
[How can we drive away what gives us pleasure?] The School for Wives, p. 26.
According to the laws of comedy, lashing out at someone leads to a backlash: trompeur trompé, deceiver deceived.
Honour is fragile
In Act I, Arnolphe expresses a view of marriage according to which a wife is dependent on her husband. He is glad that Agnès will owe him everything.
Je me vois riche assez, pour pouvoir, que je croi, Choisir une moitié, qui tienne tout de moi, Et de qui la soumise, et pleine dépendance, N’ait à me reprocher aucun bien, ni naissance. (Arnolphe, I. i, 123-6.)
[I think I am rich enough to take a partner who shall owe all to me, and whose humble station and complete dependence cannot reproach me either with her poverty or her birth.] The School for Wives, p. 4.
However, after realizing that he nearly lost Agnès, Arnolphe tells Agnès that he has difficulty making himself loved and that his honour is fragile. Horace knows how to make himself love:
Que ne vous êtes-vous comme lui fait aimer ? (Agnès, V. iv, 1535.)
[Why did you not make yourself loved, as he has done?] The School for Wives, p. 26.
Car à se faire aimer il n’a point eu de peine. Agnès. (Agnès, V. iv, 1540.) [For he had no difficulty in making himself loved.] The School for Wives, p. 26.
In Act III, Arnolphe says:
Songez qu’en vous faisant moitié de ma personne ;
C’est mon honneur, Agnès, que je vous abandonne :
Que cet honneur est tendre, et se blesse de peu ;
Et qu’il est aux enfers des chaudières bouillantes,
On l’on plonge à jamais les femmes mal vivantes.
Ce que je vous dis là ne sont pas des chansons :
Et vous devez du cœur ces leçons. (Arnolphe III. i, v, 721-28.)
[Remember, Agnès, that, in making you part of myself, I give my honour into your hands, which honour is fragile, and easily damaged; that it will not do to trifle in such a matter, and that there are boiling cauldrons in hell, into which wives who live wickedly are thrown for evermore.] The School for Wives, p. 14.
In short, Arnolphe is like Orgon who needs Tartuffe to be a tyrant. He also resembles Alceste who preaches truthfulness so he can believe those who praise him. If Arnolphe’s honour depends on marital fidelity, it is best he remain unmarried in a world that is at the complete mercy of destiny.
The problem with this play is the overwhelming power of destiny. The reconnaissance scene he is recourse no one should have to use. But Arnolphe’s précaution was useless. In fact, knowing everything Agnès and Horace were doing, Arnolphe loses Agnès. However, he does not lose her because he asks Arnolphe to look after her, he loses her because a real father arrives after a very long absence. Enrique suddenly replaces Arnolphe and does so fortuitously. Arnolphe loses his ability to speak, which, in the eyes of most people, is a privilege given human beings only.
Molière borrowed his École des femmesfrom Paul Scarron (c. 1 July 1610 in Paris – 6 October 1660 in Paris), the author of the Roman comique (1651-1657) who also translated Spanish stories, one of which was La Précaution inutile.
The delicate portrayal in Agnès of an awakening temperament, all the stronger for its absence of convention, is a marvel of comedy, as are Arnolphe’s clumsy attempts at lover’s talk. Meanwhile, a young man, Horace, falls in love with Agnès at first sight.
Bonheur d’occasion (1945) is one of the finest novels written in Canada. Its author, Gabrielle Roy, is often referred to as “la grande dame” of Canadian Literature in French. In 1947, Bonheur d’occasion was first translated into English by Hanna Josephson. Josephson’s The Tin Flute is a slightly abridged version of Bonheur d’occasion. In 1980, Roy’s novel was re-translated by Alan Brown, again in a slightly abridged version. It was then made into a film in 1983, the year Roy died.
Gabrielle Roy CC [Companion of the Order of Canada], FRSC [Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada] (22 March 1909 – 13 July 1983) was born in Saint-Boniface, a French-Canadian community that is now part of Winnipeg. First, she worked as a school teacher and has written fine short stories about her teaching days.
Bonheur d’occasion(FR), literally second-hand happiness was published in 1945, but it takes the reader back to the last days of Great Depression and the beginning of World War II. By 1945, Roy had moved from Manitoba to Montreal and worked as a journalist. Moreover, the last roman du terroir, regionalism, Ringuet’s Trente Arpents, had been published.
The Tin Flute (EN), a novel, is about a family living in Saint-Henri, in slums, on the wrong side of the track. On the other side of the track, one goes up a hill to Westmount. Given its nearness to the very centre of Montreal, Saint-Henri is now being gentrified. It was a very poor area of Montreal.
Rose-Anna is the main figure. She is married to Azarius Lacasse and is the mother of several children one of whom, Daniel, she carries in a little sleigh all the way up to a clinic. He is dying of leukemia and is sent to a hospital.
Ironically, Daniel spends the last days of his vanishing life in a comfortable bed and a warm room, cared for by doctors and nurses who speak very little French but whom he just loves. In fact, that episode, or those episodes, Daniel’s last days, epitomize the novel in that they constitute a fine example of Roy’s chief tool as the author of Bonheur d’occasion: irony. One is happy when one is about to die. Death is the solution.
But let us walk back down the hill to Saint-Henri. Rose-Anna has an adult daughter, Florentine, who works as a waitress at the restaurant counter of a dime store: leQuinze-Cents or the Fifteen Cents. Florentine is a little thin, but she is very attractive. The money she earns helps the impoverished Lacasse family and her father has a job. When Rose-Anna walks into the Quinze-Cents, Florentine is surprised to see her but treats her to a meal. Before leaving the store, Rose-Anne buys a tin flute for Daniel. So now we know why the novel was translated as The Tin Flute.
The Trip to the cabane à sucre (maple syrup)
However, everything goes wrong when, one day, Azarius tells Rose-Anna that they may borrow his employer’s truck and go visit her family who live in the country. It’s maple sugar season. Azarius had not been allowed to use the truck, so he loses his job.
Florentine and Jean Lévesque
In the meantime, Florentine has fallen in love with Jean Lévesque who has a profession and is employed. She starts to dream. During a visit to the Quinze-Cents, Jean tells Florentine to join him at the movie house, which she does, but he stands her up. Later he comes to visit her at the family’s home and seduces her.
Ironically, Florentine gets pregnant not long after telling her pregnant mother that this must end. They can’t afford more babies. Rose-Anna says: “What do you want, in life one does not do as one wants, one does as one can.”
Qu’est-ce que tu veux, Florentine, on ne fait comme on veut dans la vie; on fait comme on peut.[i]
As for Azarius, he now spends the day with the “boys,” in a restaurant. It’s their meeting-place and, together, they talk as though they could save the world, so they think.
La belle maison du coin triangulaire by Miyuki Tanobe
Florentine and Emmanuel Létourneau
Florentine is being courted by another man: Emmanuel Létourneau. He comes from an upper middle-class family and wants to marry Florentine. She loves Jean Lévesque, but Emmanuel is now her only salvation. Although he is about to leave for Europe, as are his friends, they marry. She will get money every month and will live in a nice apartment.
One day, after they have moved into a humbler home—the Lacasse move every year to avoid the raise in rent or possible eviction—Azarius comes home wearing a military uniform. Like his son Eugène, Azarius has enlisted. The family now lives next to the railway tracks. When she sees her husband, Rose-Anna screams, but the deafening din of a train that seems headed for their house muffles her voice.
War kills. It is perdition. But it ‘saves’ Azarius and some of the boys. Rose-Anna will receive a pension cheque every month. Let me quote Michèle Lacombe who writes that “[t]he inhabitants greet the war as a source of salvation, rescuing them from unemployment.”
Lorne Pierce Medal
Bonheur d’occasion is an extremely compelling novel. Roy has managed to convey to the reader the degree of despair, and sometimes hope, of her characters. Roy has also managed to reveal to her readers the compassion she feels for her characters. I have seldom read so masterfully, yet subtly ironic a novel. However, Rose-Anna is not a mater dolorosa. On the contrary, few characters in Canadian Literature in French are as lucid and combative as she is. But what can she do?
Bonheur d’occasion, The Tin Flute earned Gabrielle Roy a major French literary prize, the Femina (France). It also earned her the 1947 Governor General’s Award for fiction as well as the Royal Society of Canada’s Lorne Pierce Medal. It sold more than three-quarters of a million copies. In 1947, the Literary Guild of America made The Tin Flute its book of the month. Madame Roy could barely believe the reception given the novel. She had to leave for Manitoba to avoid the attention.
In short, if Canada is still looking for its great novel, it may have been written 1945.