My last post on La Princesse de Clèves was too long. It was shortened by an editor, but the matter of reversible appearances had been removed. It was essential information. I would like the novel to end happily. Both Madame de Clèves and the Duc love one another. But she loves him so much that a betrayal would be devastating.
Ironically, in a digression, the Prince de Clèves says that he would help his wife if she were in love. It is in the Sancerre digression, bridging part one and part two.
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)
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 )
Madame de La Fayette, born Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne, is the author of La Princesse de Clèves, published anonymously in 1678. Madame de La Fayette married an older gentleman, François Motier, Comte de La Fayette and bore him two sons. The Comte de La Fayette preferred to live at one of his country estates in Auvergne and the Bourbonnais, but Madame de La Fayette was born in Paris and remained her native city.
La Princesse de Clèves is Madame de La Fayette’s third novel. In 1662, she published La Princesse de Montpensier, anonymously, and is also believed to be the author of Zaïde which appeared under the name of Academician Jean Regnault de Segrais. Writing was not considered an appropriate occupation for a woman “of quality.” Yet, in Salons of the first half of the 17th century, love was forever discussed and writing was a favourite pastime.
The action of La Princesse de Clèves is set in 16th-century France, during the French Wars of Religion. It is considered a historical novel, a form of ailleurs (elsewhere), hence more fictional. We are at the court of Henri II, the second son of François 1er of France. François is married to Catherine de Médicis, but his mistress is Diane de Poitiers. Henri II died accidentally, jousting in 1559. His three sons would reign. Francis II reigned very briefly. He was King of France for a year and five months. He developed and ear abcess that killed him. He was sixteen and had reigned for about 17 months. Charles IX died of tuberculosis in 1574, and Henri III, King of Poland and King of France, who was assassinated, and had not produced a heir to the throne. The death of Henri II’s male children ended the House of Valois. Henri IV, King of Navarre and a Bourbon king, converted to Catholicism and became Henri IV, King of France and Navarre. He took an interest in New France and inspired Voltaire‘s Henriade. Henri IV is the father of Louis XIII.
A Psychological Novel
Madame de La Fayette’s Princesse de Clèves is also, and mainly, a psychological novel. There may have been a co-author, François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld. He and Madame de La Fayette met daily when she was writing her Princesse de Clèves. But François was writing his Maximesdenouncing human behaviour which, in his opinion, was steeped in self-interest, including virtue. One suspects the influence of Jansenism, which suggests that if one cannot atone for the original sin during one’s life, one may expect a pitiless and eternal afterlife.
La Princesse de Clèves was Madame de La Fayette’s third novel and it is about love, but love impossible. The main notion underlying Madame de La Fayette’s portrayal of love is that love is in no way possible if it is reciprocated. Madame de Clèves’ husband dies of jealousy. He loves her, but she does not love him. One therefore indulges in petits plaisirs.
Once Dom Juan has seduced a woman, he no longer loves her. If a father is killed avenging his daughter, God strikes.
My computer crashed, so I had to put it together again from scratch. It was a matter of passwords. Microsoft’s employees would not help me retrieve my password.
We are returning to Molière, but not immediately. First, we will read one more post on Confederation. It is almost ready to publish. We will read two short plays by Molière, his La Critique de l’École des femmes (1st June 1663), and L’Impromptu de Versailles (the Fall of 1663). These are often considered Molière’s “theoretical” plays, but they are performed and constitute essential reading. After reading these two plays, we will have read all plays written by Molière, but some are not presented with an English translation.
For the last few months, I have been updating my page listing Fables by La Fontaine. France has a new “site officiel” dedicated to La Fontaine, which means that links no longer take a reader to the fable under discussion.
Other than polite and witty conversation, the main activity of salonniers and salonnières was writing. They had been influenced by Giovanni Battista Guarini’s (1538-1612) IlPastor Fido (1590), a pastoral tragicomedy, and Honoré d’Urfé’s L’Astrée (1607-1628), a lengthy novel featuring shepherds and shepherdesses living in bucolic settings resembling Il Pastor Fido’s Arcadia.
Salonniers and salonnières wrote abundantly and love was their favourite topic. Among the books they wrote, we know about La Guirlande de Julie. It was a gift to Julie d’Angennes, Madame de Rambouillet’s daughter, and contained sixty-two madrigals each of which compared Julie to a flower. According to the rules of Préciosité, a movement born in Salons, women looked upon themselves as precious or précieuses. Moreover, Préciosité had banished unrefined behaviour, in general, and unrefined courtship, in particular. So the Duc de Montausier courted Julie d’Angennes for fourteen years before she consented to marry him.
— Carte du Tendre (the map of love)
This map was included in Mademoiselle de Scudéry’s novel: Clélie
Moreover, as we will now see, love was subjected to various rules. For instance, Madeleine de Scudéry (1607-1701) described the towns, villages and rivers of her Arcadia, called Tendre. A map of the pays de Tendre was actually designed. It was engraved by François Chauveau (1613-1676).
Madeleine de Scudéry (1607-1701) had been a member of l’Hôtel deRambouillet, the first famous salon of seventeenth-century France. But as the Marquise de Rambouillet grew older, salonniers and salonnières started to gather every Saturday at the home of Madeleine de Scudéry whose pseudonym was Sappho. Thus was born the Société du samedi (Saturday Society). It flourished during the second half of the seventeenth century, called le Grand Siècle (the Great Century), the age of Louis XIV (1638-1715), the Sun-King.
Clearly outlined on the Carte de Tendre are three forms of love each depicted as towns on the side of three rivers: Inclination, Estime (esteem) and Reconnaissance (gratitude). So, love had three forms: inclination, estime, reconnaissance. Villages on the side of Rivers are allegorical: Jolis-vers (lovely poems), Billet-doux (love letter) and others.
If lovers allowed themselves to enter untamed passion, they sailed on a dangerous sea, called Mer dangeureuse. However, if passions were restrained, love could be a source of happiness. Interestingly, although she had a gentleman-friend, Paul Pelisson, Mademoiselle de Scudéry never married.
As may be expected, Mademoiselle de Scudéry’s Carte de Tendre was satirized. In fact, Molière (1622-1673) wrote his first Parisian play on the Précieuses : Les Précieuses ridicules. By 1659, the Précieuses had a high an opinion of themselves. Molière did not condemn Préciosité, but Cathos and Magdelon are affected women. Although Molière’s comedy may have been a bit of a blow to the movement, it was a great success and Molière went on to bigger and better things, including a friendship with Louis XIV.
Passions were abundantly discussed in seventeenth-century France. Both Descartes and Pascal contributed a treatise on passion. Descartes wrote a treatise on the Passions de l’âme(The Passions of the Soul) and Pascal, a Discourse on the Passion of Love.
However, passionate love was never so dangerous than in Madame de La Fayette’s La Princesse deClèves (1678), a psychological novel in which love is viewed as a source of endless pain. It feeds on jealousy as does Phèdre’s love for Hippolyte. Interestingly, dramatist Jean Racine‘s (1639-1699) Phèdre, a tragedy, was first performed in 1678, the year Madame de La Fayette (1634-1693) published, anonymously, La Princesse de Clèves.
Airs de Cour – French Court Music from the 17th Century