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Review of Eric Turcat, _ La Rochefoucauld par quatre chemins. Les Maximes et leurs ambivalences_

Article Citation: 
17 (2016), 81–83
Author: 
Marie-Alix de Richemont
Article Text: 

 

Turcat, Eric. La Rochefoucauld par quatre chemins. Les Maximes et leurs ambivalences. Tübingen: Narr Verlag, 2013. ISBN 978-3-8233-6803-8. Pp. 220.

L’ambition d’Eric Turcat dans cet ouvrage est de dépasser les que­relles sur les Maximes de La Rochefoucauld en analysant l’œuvre sous quatre angles différents. 1. Approche rhétorique, centrée sur la figure de l’ironie (polycentrique, polyphonique, polysémique) et l’analyse des fi­gures oppositionnelles (antithèse, antiphrase, antanaclase, chiasme). Turcat met en doute l’honnêteté de La Rochefoucauld en montrant com­ment une figure elliptique la rapproche ironiquement de l’habileté. 2. Approche psychologique psycho- vectorielle. Dans le cadre de l’étude de la communication non verbale, la méthode d’analyse psycho-vectorielle est élaborée dans les années 1970–80 par le psychologue américain Shir­ley (Mapping the Mind, Chicago, Nelson-Hall, 1983). Shirley distingue quatre émotions majeures : fierté, désir, affection, curiosité. A chacune correspond une variante anxieuse ou agressive. « Ces douze émotions de base peuvent alors se combiner [...] de telle sorte à former ce que [Shirley] ap­pelle alors des psycho-vecteurs »(72). Turcat identifie les combinaisons possibles dans les Maximes et pose la honte comme pivot de l’amour-propre, plutôt que le mépris ou la fierté. 3. Approche anthropologique, cen­trée sur l’amour : E. Turcat établit un parallèle entre le « triangle culinaire » de Lévi-Strauss et une « cuisine du sentiment amoureux » où le dis­cours « souvent sexiste » privilégierait un amour « libertin », entre « passion » et « amitié » (18). Les représentations triangulaires de John A. Lee et Robert Sternberg sont utilisées pour définir « le discours amou­reux » de La Rochefoucauld. 4. Approche linguistique, centrée sur la fortune, à qui la modalisation des maximes donnerait une forme carrée.

L’ouvrage se veut une remise à plat audacieuse, basée sur un retour au texte analysé aux prismes de différentes disciplines. Les approches choi­sies sont originales, particulièrement l’approche psychologique. Turcat affirme l’importance d’un travail stylistique pour sortir des « querelles idéolo­giques », auxquelles il se dit étranger, et se livre lui-même à de nombreuses études de maximes—ce qui lui permet de dégager les motifs de l’ellipse, du triangle, du carré... La lecture augustinienne de La Rochefou­cauld est tellement dominante qu’elle rend difficile une autre approche ; une recherche d’alternatives telle que celle d’E. Turcat est donc au­dacieuse et appréciable. Mais, d’un côté, la remise à plat l’amène à caricaturer les thèses augustiniennes pour en diminuer l’influence, les présen­tant comme des « préjugés », en faveur d’un « pessimisme gnomique » qui n’aurait existé en réalité « que pour ceux qui préféraient enfermer La Rochefoucauld dans un ordre classique » (19) ; d’un autre côté, Turcat favorise les hypothèses libertines ou épicuriennes, pour les mettre au même niveau que les premières. Il présente de façon expéditive les deux écoles, ce qui lui évite de procéder à une réfutation en règle de la première, pourtant la plus établie. Il la sous-estime et donne parfois l’impression qu’il la méconnaît, déplorant par exemple que le parti augusti­nien ait occulté l’humour de La Rochefoucauld... « Pourquoi [...] ce déni d’ironie ? En un mot : l’augustinisme. En effet, [...] même la cri­tique, certes surtout française, des dix dernières années, de Lafond à Plazenet en passant par Sellier, reste fortement influencée par le travail de Sainte-Beuve, et donc par l’hégémonie culturelle du jansénisme au Grand Siècle. Saint Augustin ne rime apparemment pas avec boute-en-train » (12). C’est ignorer les travaux de J. Lafond (notamment), qui a ana­lysé l’ironie et le trait d’esprit de La Rochefoucauld dans un chapitre entier de son ouvrage de référence (III, « L’ambigüité et la transparence » in : La Rochefoucauld, augustinisme et littérature, Paris, Klincksieck, 1986). Paradoxalement, Turcat prend lui-même au sérieux des affirma­tions évidemment ironiques de La Rochefoucauld. Il tombe dans le travers des travaux de Louis Hippeau (Essai sur la morale de La Rochefoucauld, Paris, Nizet, 1967): ce qui est « une pure constatation de fait » est inter­prété de façon discutable comme « une morale pragmatique du succès » (Lafond, op. cit., p. 99). Turcat expose longuement l’influence de Faret mais ne mentionne pas Castiglione ou Della Casa, écarte d’autres in­fluences possibles, niant carrément celle de Port-Royal : La Rochefoucauld n’est plus que légèrement influencé par un amor sui augusti­nien « culturellement incontournable » (105). C’est prêter bien peu d’esprit au moraliste que de lui refuser la capacité à accueillir diverses in­fluences à différents degrés... Et une duplicité peu commune que de lui supposer un double visage radical, de janséniste et d’épicurien, comme L. Hippeau en son temps. De plus, Turcat ne prend pas en compte l’évolution du texte à travers les éditions successives et s’en justifie légèrement, par une continuité lexicale essentiellement (105). En même temps, il con­voque quelquefois des maximes supprimées en les mettant au même plan que les autres. Ce mélange entretient un certain flou que l’on retrouve dans l’ensemble de l’ouvrage. Ainsi, dans le deuxième chapitre, E. Turcat ne définit pas clairement s’il analyse le point de vue de La Rochefoucauld sur la psychologie humaine, ou s’il prend le texte comme un témoignage permettant l’analyse de la psychologie de l’auteur. Dans la troisième par­tie, le jargon spécifique à l’anthropologie culinaire qu’E. Turcat ré-utilise pour classer les maximes et définir leurs « ambivalences » rend la lecture fastidieuse.

En conclusion, E. Turcat tente courageusement de réhabiliter un point de vue libertin sur La Rochefoucauld, remis en cause depuis longtemps. Il ébranle les certitudes et, à elle seule, cette entreprise fait toute la valeur du livre. Malgré de bonnes idées, toutefois, il échoue dans son projet en rai­son d’une justification insuffisante qui contredit les travaux précédents sans les réfuter. La diversité des approches est intéressante, mais elle finit par être instrumentalisée pour servir à une démonstration forcée. E. Turcat évacue toute dimension spirituelle, théologique, philosophique de l’œuvre, au profit d’un travail de classement considérable mais qui donne à l’ensemble un air parfois scolaire, avec un certain excès dans l’utilisation des étiquettes classique / baroque. Néanmoins, on trouvera dans son ou­vrage une source d’inspiration précieuse pour explorer le texte insaisissable de La Rochefoucauld à travers de nouveaux angles d’interprétation.

Marie-Alix de Richemont, Université Sorbonne Paris III

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Review of Michael Meere, Ed. _French Renaissance and Baroque Drama: Text, Performance, Theory_

Article Citation: 
17 (2006), 77–
Author: 
Christopher Semk
Article Text: 

Meere, Michael, Editor. French Renaissance and Baroque Drama: Text, Performance, Theory. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-61149-548-5. Pp. 336. $90

French Renaissance and Baroque Drama is a collection of fifteen es­says that grew out of two panels at the 2012 Renaissance Society of America conference in Washington, D.C. The essays, by both early-career and senior scholars, are divided in a more or less chronological fashion. The volume’s purpose, as stated in the introduction, is threefold: to intro­duce scholars and students to the diversity of French baroque drama, to emphasize the performative aspect of drama (rather than adopt a narrowly textual approach), and, ultimately, to return neglected drama to the stage. The volume admirably executes the first two. It covers a wide range of dramatic texts, some familiar (e.g., Garnier’s tragedies), others less famil­iar (e.g., Puget de la Serre’s theater) and a wide range of critical approaches, from Victor Turner’s anthropological “social drama” (Meere and Gates) to Lacanian psychoanalysis (Guild). In addition, the term “drama” is broadly construed to mean not only theater, but also rituals, festivals, demonic possession and exorcism, trials, and other social “dra­mas.” In turn, many of the contributions address either the material conditions of baroque performance (Chevallier-Micki), its broader cultural context (Beam, Noirot, Welch, Calhoun, O’Hara), or the interplay between politics and performance (Usher, Hillman, Cavaillé). There is, however, much less about staging renaissance and baroque plays today. Only Sza­bari’s contribution considers (and then only briefly) recent productions of renaissance theater. There is otherwise very little about how one might bring these plays to the contemporary stage or why. Nevertheless, by bring­ing to light an underappreciated dramatic corpus and drawing attention to its performative aspects, the volume does represent an im­portant first step toward the entry of renaissance and baroque drama into the contemporary repertoire. French Renaissance and Baroque Drama would be of interest to students and scholars of theater, theater history, and early modern France more generally.

The first essay, by Andreea Marculescu, examines the representation of demonic possession in mystery plays and prose narratives. The author notes that narratives of demonic possession adopt a vocabulary that was developed in mystery plays, but deny the demoniac the agency that he or she had in the earlier dramatic tradition in order to focus on the Church’s purchase on truth. The essay draws on a wide range of critical approaches, from affect theory (Cvetkovich) to performance studies (Roach). In particu­lar, the novel approach to representation, following Taussig rather than Aristotle, offers a fresh perspective on mimesis in the early modern period.

John Lyons reads Théodore de Bèze’s Abraham sacrifiant against the Bib­lical account and in light of Aristotelian dramatic imperatives, showing the theological consequences of dramatic adaptation. Lyons focuses espe­cially on the introduction of Satan, whose rationalizing was meant to recall Scholastic, which is to say Catholic, philosophy. The playwright made Abra­ham more human by introducing an element of human reason, only to make the human disappear. This is the sense in which Abraham sacrifiant heralds an “end of ethics”: yoked to human reason, ethical deliberation becomes the enemy of God.

Turning toward Rabelais, Carolien Gates and Michael Meere offer a close reading of the Chiquanous episode in the Quart Livre in light of anthro­pologist Victor Tuner’s theory of play as a creative and cohesive force. Taking to task the view that cruelty and farce are destructive, the authors show that violence and laughter together become an organizing principle for social cohesion. This contribution makes the case for the applica­tion of an anthropolgical approach to resolve the problems posed by violence in dramatic texts.

While we often place Protestantism on the side of antitheatricality, Sara Beam’s contribution recovers the neglected role of the theater in Protestant evangelization. Beam discusses two plays written, published, and performed in Geneva in the 1560s. Neither play says much about theol­ogy, which Beam shows is strategic: by smoothing over the differences between the various Protestant churches, the plays present Protes­tantism as a unified front against Catholicism. Thus the purpose of the plays, Beam concludes, was not to demonstrate the finer points of Protestant theology, but rather to “intensify contempt for the Catholic hierar­chy, strengthen the resolve to combat corruption, or evoke a sense of satisfaction or even joy of belonging to the party of truth” (75).

Corinne Noirot takes on the failure of erudite comedy in the Renais­sance by asking who might have been the audience of Jean de la Taille’s comedic plays. Through close readings of paratexts, Noirot shows that the plays suffered from a tension between pragmatism (thereby reaching a wider audience) and poetic conventions (thereby appealing to an erudite, but restricted, audience). Making the case for a tiered audience comprised of “those who can” (nobles) and “those who know” (humanists), Noirot argues that La Taille’s comedies fell victim to a desire to reach both audi­ences.

The next essay, by Ellen Welch, similarly engages with the question of the audience. Reading court ballet in the context of diplomacy, with a particu­lar focus on the 1573 Ballet des Polonais, Welch convincingly argues that the audience of court ballet (e.g., the presence of foreign observ­ers) necessarily disperses power and thus has consequences for interpretation: multiple interpretations and constant negotiation of mean­ing. Moreover, court artists (e.g., Dorat), Welch argues, anticipated the multiple perspectives of the audience. Ultimately, the negotiation inherent in the performance of the ballet mirrors that of diplomacy itself. This es­say, like Noirot’s, shows how attention to reception bears upon our interpretation of renaissance and baroque performance.

The next essay, by Antonia Szabari, offers a fascinating contextualiza­tion of Garnier’s Greek tragedies with respect to ancient sacrificial practices and contemporary religious violence. Noting “Garnier’s familiar­ity with classical rituals” (117), Szabari examines how ritual practices function in theatrical performance, concluding that “Garnier’s plays look at this ‘barbarous’ ritual of the past in order to allude to the return of vio­lence in France” (134). In this way, Szabari shows how drama might reactivate ritual to give it contemporary religious or political significance.

In the second essay on Garnier, Phillip John Usher examines the associa­tion of the tragedies with the parlement. Considering the dedicatory letters of the tragedies as well as Garnier’s dramatization of the material, Usher argues that Garnier makes the Greek material “appear as public tri­als worthy of the parlement’s attention” (149) and in this way brings his tragedies into a public sphere. Garnier’s tragedies thus become an appeal to negotiate for peace at a time when France was torn apart by religious conflict. Usher’s approach has the great merit of overcoming the pitfalls of contextualization, where a piece of literature becomes the “expression” of contemporary events, by looking at the ways in which an author con­sciously and actively engages with the public sphere.

Fabien Cavaillé also considers the public sphere in an analysis of the repre­sentation of festivals in Montaigne’s Essais. Turning, like Gates and Meere, toward Turner’s definition of play, Cavaillé proposes an anthropologi­cal understanding of early modern festivals as an alternative to a “poetic” paradigm according to which the arts are useful insofar as they convey particular content. The anthropological paradigm, on the other hand, focuses on the collective nature of performance, regardless of “what one performs or not” (162).

Elizabeth Guild’s contribution joins psychoanalysis and skepticism in reading Montaigne’s 1562 encounter with “cannibals” in Rouen. Guild argues that “Montaigne’s representation [of the encounter with the “canni­bals”] dramatizes the significance of waiting until later for understanding, rather than—whether through the illusion of knowing already, or driven by fear of being too late—rushing to have the last word and thereby exclud­ing other possible pasts and futures” (170). This essay is the most heavily theoretical of the volume and assumes some familiarity with psychoan­alytic criticism. It nevertheless offers a compelling interpretation of Montaigne’s dramatization of his encounter with the other.

Christian Biet’s contribution, a translation of an article that some may al­ready be familiar with, reads Jacques de Fonteny’s pastoral play Le beau berger (1587) as a kind of “experiment” (189) with dramatic genre. Biet reads Fonteny’s innovations, particularly the celebration of male homosexual­ity between the shepherds Chrisophile and Chrisalde, as nationalistic: Fonteny thus creates a specifically French pastoral, which returns to an ancient tradition the celebrated male love. The monstrous sa­tyrs, then, become parodic figures of Italian and Spanish pastoral drama, exposing the generic limitations of pastoral drama based on heterosexual love only.

Sybile Chevallier-Micki looks at the material conditions of perfor­mance in Rouen from 1600–1620 and considers the complex relationship between stage design and the reality of public trials, executions, and other forms of spectacle. In addition, it was not only memory of real spectacles (e.g., mystery plays) that informed stage design, but also the collective memory of recent religious conflicts. Chevallier-Micki’s contribution ends on a speculative, but promising, note, asking us to consider the ways in which new dramatic forms recycled or reappropriated preexisting scenic elements and recast them according to new political demands.

Alison Calhoun considers the relationship between dignity, an essen­tially public affect, and emotion, which is private, in burlesque ballets by looking closely at the Bal de la douairière de Billebahaut (1627). Rather than enact power and control, the leaders perform their own weaknesses. Building upon recent work in affect theory, Calhoun argues that in the bal­let, political problems are “felt” before they are addressed in the political, public arena (236), in much the same way that affect is “felt” before it is identified as emotion.

Stephanie O’Hara examines the “dramaturgy of poison” in the develop­ment of tragedy, noting that poison moves toward metaphor in neoclassical tragedy. Although this is not especially surprising, given the dual imperative of verisimilitude and decorum that rendered the neoclassi­cal stage inhospitable to gruesome scenes of violent death, O’Hara also shows that the stylized dramatic representation of poison coexisted with vivid pamphlet literature. O’Hara’s contribution shows how dramatic repre­sentation offers fictional resolution to “intractable political and social problem[s]” (261) like poison crimes.

In the volume’s final essay, Richard Hillman addresses the question of topical allusions in early modern drama by looking closely at two minor plays by Puget de la Serre and André Mareschal. Considering both au­thors’ relationships with Marie de Medici at the time of her exile, Hillman looks at how both plays work with English material (i.e., Sidney). This exceptionally lucid essay demonstrates how we might investigate the “allu­sive operation of theatrical intertextuality” (285) in order to tease out the relationship between theater and its immediate political context.

Christopher Semk, Yale University

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Review of Michael Call _The Would-Be Author. Molière and the Comedy of Print_

Article Citation: 
17 (2016), 75–76
Author: 
Ralph Albanese
Article Text: 

 

Call, Michael, The Would-Be Author. Molière and the Comedy of Print. West Lafayette, IN, Purdue University Press, coll. “Purdue Stud­ies in Romance Literatures,” 2015. ISBN 978-61249-385-5. Pp. 292. $45

In response to René Bray’s provocative question in Molière homme de thé­âtre (1954): “Molière pense-t-il ?,” Michael Call, in this well-documented and perceptively argued study, repudiates the traditional im­age of Molière as the exemplary “philosophe/farceur,” i.e., the actor, author, and thinker seemingly disinterested in the publication process. He draws attention to the ironic interplay of these roles throughout the play­wright’s career. More specifically, he sheds light on the multiple permutations of Molière’s printing career. This results in the construction of his authorship via his continuous interactions with the Parisian publish­ing world, notably the legal implications underlying the workings of the seventeenth-century book trade: for example, the relationship between cul­tural capital and literary property in early modern France. The history of these battles is intimately linked, Call argues, to the emergence of Mo­lière’s authorial persona.

Jean Ribou’s pirated editions of several of the dramatist’s early plays con­stitute the major struggle of the aspiring playwright during the early part of his career (1659–1661). Taking legal action against Ribou, and begin­ning with L’Ecole des maris, Molière crafts a privilege which will protect him more effectively against illegal editions of his work. He thus establishes his play as his exclusive intellectual property guaranteed by royal authority. Having been granted a royal pension in 1663, Molière’s authorship was clearly valorized and his popularity as the première court entertainer was officially acknowledged. The publication of his Oeuvres in 1666 represented the ultimate vindication of Molière vis-à-vis his adver­saries and the triumph of his authorial strategy or, more precisely, his professional legitimacy.

Examining the evolution of the authorial persona in a great number of the comedies, Call highlights the problematic of reading and writing in Molière’s theater. His compelling comparison between Molière the play­wright incapable of exerting complete control over his script and the frustrated, solitary status of his protagonists at the end of several plays (e.g., Arnolphe, Sganarelle, Alceste) evokes the comic defeat of author­ity/authorship. Call thereby illustrates the triumph of the author/craftsman behind the scenes. He clearly delineates in L’Ecole des femmes the textual identity of both Arnolphe and Agnès, including Arnolphe’s ironic refer­ence to the authorship of the maximes and their religious dimension as well. Agnès’ liberation is based not only on her discursive talent vis-à-vis Ar­nolphe but also on her access to authorship, and her italicized letter matches Arnolphe’s italicized maximes. Call rightly underscores the farci­cal dimension of the play, but also points to Donneau de Visé’s contention, during the querelle, that L’Ecole des femmes exemplifies the principal tenets of la grande comédie. Even though Molière thus suc­ceeded in bringing the comic genre to its point of perfection, de Visé sought to create a wedge between the dramatist and the courtly aristocrats by undermining his attempt to satirize members of the Court. Downplay­ing the originality of both Ecoles, he aimed to turn the rieurs into adversaries of the comic playwright. Moreover, although Molière was a superb comic actor, critics such as Montfleury called into question his skills as a writer.

As for the significance of the role of authorship in Le Misanthrope, Call aptly notes the complementarity of reading and writing as intellectual competencies. Given Alceste’s intransigent notion of authorship, Molière no doubt projected upon his comic protagonist his own misgivings concern­ing seventeenth-century publishing practices. Oronte appears as a burlesque poetaster, and his sonnet is pertinently compared to Mascarille’s off-the-cuff poetic reading in Les Précieuses ridicules. Although Alceste’s “vieille Chanson” is, as Call argues, devoid of authorship, it nonetheless offers an ironic commentary on the protagonist’s relationship with Cé­limène and a subtle foreshadowing of the dénouement. Regarding Alceste’s rhetorical artifice during his altercation with Oronte (I, 2), it should be noted that he seriously equivocates (“Je ne dis pas cela”) before revealing his true opinion of Oronte’s sonnet. And although it is beyond debate that Célimène’s choice of the epistolary form leads to her final undo­ing, we should not neglect the fact that her duplicity is perfectly acceptable to Alceste since he is willing to believe—“Efforcez-vous de paraître fidèle” (IV, 3)—her untruthful assertion that she has been faithful to him.

Despite these interpretive differences, Michael Call’s The Would-Be Au­thor. Molière and the Comedy of Print represents a significant contribution to Molière studies. It offers a systematic and persuasive treat­ment of the authorial strategies underlying the playwright’s remarkable success. All moliéristes stand to benefit from this analysis of the profes­sional side of “le premier farceur de la France.”

Ralph Albanese, University of Memphis

 

 

 

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Emploi d’« objets magiques » et prédiction de phénomènes célestes dans les Relations des jésuites: une stratégie originale de conversion en Nouvelle-France au dix-septième siècle

Article Citation: 
17 (2016), 57–74
Author: 
Vincent Grégoire
Article Text: 

Grégoire, Printable PDF

 

Au professeur Gérald Chaix

 

Lorsque les jésuites reviennent en Nouvelle-France en 1632, après que Québec a été rendu à la France par le traité de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, leur but est d’évangéliser les peuplades amérindiennes, soit d’instruire religieu­sement puis de baptiser les autochtones pour assurer le salut de leur âme, et d’agrandir ainsi le Royaume de Dieu. S’étant vu accorder le monopole de la mission au dépens des récollets chassés comme eux par les an­glais en 1629, ils savent que la tâche sera ardue. Néanmoins cette tâche doit être facilitée par l’absence de sophistication culturelle des Amérin­diens dont les croyances sont, dans l’esprit de ces missionnaires, aux antipodes des croyances orientales et se résument à un amas de supersti­tions[1].

Pour pouvoir évangéliser plus facilement, les jésuites se mettent sur le ter­rain des croyances animistes amérindiennes et acceptent d’être perçus comme des sorciers qui guérissent les maladies, comme des magiciens qui prédisent les éclipses de lune et de soleil, font animer des objets (soit leur donnent littéralement vie : à des horloges, par exemple) et, à l’occasion, font pleuvoir. Ils peuvent atteindre leur but, dans la stratégie de conversion qu’ils poursuivent, s’ils arrivent à impressionner les Amérindiens et à se faire plus puissants que leurs chamans, ce qu’ils ne peuvent faire qu’en mystifiant, pour la « bonne cause » s’entend, les autochtones. Par exemple, le père Le Jeune confronte de la manière suivante le sorcier huron Pigarouich lors d’une mission en 1636 :

ie l’estourdy & ses compagnons, par ce que je vais dire ; ie pris une fueille [sic] de papier, & ie leur fis tenir par les quatre coins, puis ayant mis par dessus quelques ai­guilles, ie passois doucement ma main par dessous, tenant entre mes doigts une petite pierre d’aymant : Ces aiguilles atti­rées par cette pierre, alloient & venoient, avançoient ou reculoient selon le mouvemẽt de ma main : cela les estona voyas courir & tourner ces aiguilles sans qu’on les tou­chast.  Les voyant dans l’estonnemet ie dy au sorcier qu’il en fist autant : il respondit par les yeux me regardant sans dire mot (Thwaites, JR [Jesuit Relations], vol. 11, 258–260)[2].

Le Jeune a non seulement stupéfié Pigarouich et les membres du groupe par ce « tour de magie », même s’il leur explique peu après que c’est un phénomène naturel, mais il a aussi affiché la supériorité de sa culture et de sa religion (les deux étant intimement liées) et finalement humilié le cha­man en exposant à tous les limites des pouvoirs du sorcier.

Les missionnaires sont aidés, dans cette approche pour émerveiller les au­tochtones au moyen de leur « arsenal magique » (Jacquin 336), par une prétendue absence d’esprit d’examen de ces derniers, la manière amérin­dienne d’appréhender le monde étant effectivement très différente parce que reposant sur une compréhension animiste. De ce fait, aussi longtemps que les pères ont la possibilité d’imposer leur interprétation des phéno­mènes surnaturels, physiques ou technologiques, ils peuvent espérer convaincre les Amérindiens de la supériorité de leur culture et, par la même occasion, de leur religion. Prenant pour source les Relations écrites par les jésuites de Nouvelle-France et publiées annuellement à Paris entre 1632 et 1673, nous allons, dans cette étude, analyser en un premier temps la pratique d’évangélisation de ces missionnaires découlant spécifique­ment de leur « puissance magique », de leur pouvoir d’animer des objets, de communiquer à distance, ou de prédire des phénomènes célestes. Dans un deuxième temps, nous allons observer dans quelle mesure cette ap­proche marginale de diffusion de la foi va effectivement provoquer admiration et émerveillement, mais aussi, sans pleinement échouer, être soumise aux aléas du moment et de l’époque, et se retourner à l’occasion contre les pères.

Les missionnaires utilisent traditionnellement la crainte de l’enfer pour frapper l’imagination des Amérindiens, un enfer symbolisé par l’image terrifiante du feu qui brûle les damnés. Or, il s’avère que les autochtones ont une grande peur du feu, le feu qui est l’un des « outils » privilégiés pour torturer les prisonniers victimes des guerres tribales, quand ces der­niers ne sont pas adoptés par les vainqueurs. Jean Delumeau, évoquant la stratégie d’évangélisation par la crainte, l’a qualifiée de « pastorale de la peur » (La Peur en Occident, 45 ; expression reprise pour titre de la troi­sième et dernière partie de Le Péché et la peur), une pratique que les jésuites en Nouvelle-France comme en Bretagne, ou les capucins en Sa­voie, deux ordres qui ont beaucoup œuvré pour le renouveau catholique en cette époque de Contre-Réforme, jugent efficace (cf. Deslandres, Croire et faire croire, 168, notes 517–18 ; 183–85, notes 521 ; 439–41, notes 562). Le père Le Jeune, évoquant par exemple les images terrifiantes dont il se sert pour évangéliser, explique : « la crainte est l’avancouriere de la foy, dans ces esprits barbares » (JR 1637, vol. 11, 88).

Si la « pastorale de la peur » intimide effectivement les Amérindiens et en amène certains à se convertir au christianisme, elle peut aussi en faire fuir d’autres à qui cette représentation de l’« au-delà » répugne. Les jé­suites l’ont vite compris et s’empressent d’allier à la « pastorale de la peur » une  « pastorale de l’émerveillement », comme nous allons la quali­fier, que ce soit par la musique, les chants, le jeu des cloches, les vêtements richement ornés, etc., lors des services religieux, ou par des proces­sions très ritualisées, hautes en couleur et à l’effet impressionnant.

Cette « pastorale de l’émerveillement », « de l’admiration »[3], peut aussi avoir lieu plus informellement dans le cadre de la vie quotidienne :

A propos de leurs admirations [explique le père Le Jeune dans la Relation de 1635] i’en pourrois icy coucher plu­sieurs faites au sujet de la pierre d’aymant ; en laquelle ils regardoient s’il y avoit de la colle, & d’une lunette à onze fa­cettes, qui leur representoit autant de fois un mesme obiet, d’une petite phiole dans laquelle une pulce paroist comme un hanneton, du verre triangulaire, des outils de menui­serie. Mais sur tout l’escriture… (JR 1635, vol. 8, 112–14)

Le Jeune explique ainsi le but atteint par l’utilisation de cette panoplie d’objets usuels aux effets plus intrigants les uns que les autres :

Tout cela sert pour gaigner leurs affections, & les rendre plus dociles, quand il est question des admirables & in­comprehensibles mystères de nostre Foy. Car la croyance qu’ils ont de nostre esprit & de nostre capacité, fait que sans replique ils croyent ce qu’on leur annonce. (JR 1635, vol. 8, 114)

L’admiration rend docile et muet, en ont conclu les missionnaires qui sont de bons psychologues. Or, il faut de la bonne volonté empreinte d’obéissance aux autochtones pour s’efforcer de comprendre les « mys­tères » du christianisme si laborieusement expliqués par les pères, des « mystères » si éloignés des croyances amérindiennes. 

Il est intéressant de noter qu’il n’y a pas de mauvais moyens, aux yeux des missionnaires, pour convertir ces quasi tabula rasa que seul un épais écran de superstitions empêche de découvrir la « vraie » religion. Comme l’explique Claude Sutto, dans « Le Dieu des Français et les divinités amérin­diennes au Canada », les pères n’hésitent pas « à utiliser leurs connaissances scientifiques, ou à jouer habilement du hasard pour impression­ner les Amérindiens, mais toujours en se posant comme les agents de Dieu » (172). Ils ne cherchent cependant pas à tromper ou à manipu­ler sans scrupules ceux qu’ils cherchent à évangéliser. Et ils se veulent « transparents » aux yeux des lecteurs des Relations qui vont parcou­rir ces récits représentant des Amérindiens remplis d’admiration. 

Si le phénomène naturel des « aiguilles aimantées » crée la surprise chez les autochtones, l’effet obtenu par les objets fonctionnels que sont le moulin et l’horloge les sidère. Parallèlement à la fascination provoquée par le moulin, « l’adoration de l’horloge » est peut-être l’un des meilleurs exemples pouvant illustrer cette « pastorale de l’émerveillement » née en fait du hasard:

Comme j’ay dict [explique encore Le Jeune dans la Rela­tion de 1635], on ne laisse pas de nous venir visiter par admiration ; principalement depuis que […] notre moulin [pour faire la farine] & notre horloge ont commencé à jouer. On ne sçauroit dire les estonnemens de ces bonnes gens, & combien ils admirent l’esprit des François. (Mots mis par nous en italique ; JR 1635, vol. 8, 110)

Admirer est un mot fort. Le Dictionnaire de l’Académie française de 1695 (2ème édition) définit ainsi ce verbe : « considérer avec surprise, avec estonne­ment une chose qui est extraordinaire en quelque manière que ce soit. Admirer les œuvres de Dieu, la grandeur du ciel, une beauté par­faite » (vol. 2, 45). « Extraordinaire » est exactement l’impression produite par l’horloge qui s’anime devant les yeux incrédules des autochtones :

Pour ce qui est de l’horloge [écrit Le Jeune], il y auroit mille choses à dire. Ils croyent tous que c’est quelque chose vi­vante ; car ils ne se peuvent imaginer comment elle sonne d’elle mesme, & quand elle vient à sonner, ils regardent si nous sommes tous là, & s’il n’y a pas quelqu’un de caché, pour luy donner le branle. Ils ont pensé qu’il [l’être caché] en­tendoit, principalement quand pour rire quelqu’un de nos François s’escrioit au dernier coup de marteau ; c’est assez sonné, & que tout aussi tost elle se taisoit. (JR 1635, vol. 8, 112)

Les missionnaires s’amusent de la méprise provoquée par cet objet animé et n’expliquent pas immédiatement, cette fois, son mécanisme. Ils se pres­sent d’autant moins, d’ailleurs, que les Amérindiens, incapables de comprendre cette technologie inconnue de leur culture et dont ils n’ont guère besoin parce qu’ils peuvent évaluer le passage du temps au soleil, sont pleinement sous le charme de cette « vie créée ». Pour les jésuites, cet instrument est donc un « jouet » pour faire temporairement illusion (illu­sio, de ludus : jouer), un outil faisant incidemment partie de leur « pastorale de l’émerveillement », un objet moins utile pour donner l’heure que pour fasciner et convaincre les autochtones de la supériorité des chrétiens.

Le Jeune poursuit, évoquant l’anthropomorphisation de la pendule par les autochtones :

Ils l’appellent le Capitaine du jour. Quand elle sonne, ils disent qu’elle parle, & demandent quand ils nous vien­nent veoir, combien de fois le Capitaine a deja parlé. Ils nous interrogent de son manger. Ils demeurent les heures en­tières, & quelquefois plusieurs, afin de la pouvoir ouyr parler. Ils demandoient au commencement ce qu’elle di­soit ; on leur respondit deux choses, qu’ils ont fort bien retenües ; l’une que quand elle sonnoit à quatre heures du soir pendant l’hyver, elle disoit, Sortez, allez vous en, afin que nous fermions la porte ; car aussi tost ils lèvent le siège, & s’en vont : l’autre qu’à midy, elle disoit yo eiouakaoua, c’est à dire, sus dressons la chaudière [la mar­mite], & ils ont encore mieux retenu ce langage. (JR 1635, vol. 8, 112)

Les Amérindiens fréquentant la maison des pères sont devenus des « su­jets » réguliers de ce « Capitaine » qui sonne l’heure de la sagamité[4] à midi, puis le moment du départ à quatre heures, quand, en hiver, la nuit commence à tomber. Grâce à cette fascination pour  « l’horloge animée », les jésuites ont ainsi réussi à inscrire un certain nombre d’Amérindiens « dans leur temps », à les faire passer dans le monde strictement ordonné et rythmé des colonisateurs français. Un pas, même modeste, a été effectué dans le processus d’acculturation des autochtones.

Plus extraordinaire encore que « l’horloge vivante » est, aux yeux des Amérindiens, le phénomène de l’écriture. Le Jeune concluait, dans l’histoire mentionnée au début de cette étude, après avoir évoqué une série d’objets magiques : aimant, prisme à onze facettes, fiole à verre grossis­sant et outils de menuiserie qui suscitaient l’admiration des autochtones :

Mais [c’est] sur tout […] l’escriture ; car ils ne pou­voient concevoir comme ce qu’un de nous, estãt au village leur avoit dit & couché en mesme temps par escrit ; un autre qui cependant estoit dans la maison esloignée, le di­soit incontinent en voyant l’escriture. Je crois qu’ils en ont fait cent experiences. (JR 1635, vol. 8, 114)

La communication par l’écrit, un thème minutieusement étudié par James Axtell dans After Columbus (chap 6), fascine les Amérindiens pour qui cela est nouveau, incroyable, magique. « Marquer avec une raquette » est la description que donne un Huron pour expliquer à quoi ressemblent les signes laissés par l’encre sur le papier (cf. Trigger, Les Enfants d’Aataentsic, 426). Plus tard dans le siècle, d’autres hurons emploieront le terme d’« écorce parlante » (JR 1677–80, vol. 61, 248). Le procédé relève clairement, pour les autochtones, du surnaturel et s’inscrit en fait bien dans leur manière de concevoir un monde où les esprits sont partout.

Ainsi, une convertie à l’agonie va chercher à enfermer sa voix dans une peau de castor, imitant les missionnaires qui enferment la leur par l’écrit dans leurs lettres et messages. Des gens de sa famille remettent cette peau à un père jésuite en l’accompagnant de ce discours :

Robe Noire, […] c’est une defunte qui a enfermé sa voix dans ce paquet avant que de mourir : elle luy a donné charge de déclarer tous ses péchez, puisqu’elle ne l’a pû faire de bouche ; vostre escriture vous fait parler aux ab­sens ; elle pretend faire par ces Castors, ce que vous faites par vos papiers. (JR 1659-60, vol. 45, 50)

L’écrit est perçu comme un « concentré d’oral » que la page en papier, à l’image d’une boîte, contient avant qu’il ne soit « relâché » au destinataire. 

Lorsqu’un autochtone lui demande d’écrire sur son « livre », devant un parterre de membres de plusieurs peuplades amérindiennes, la liste d’une douzaine de tribus du nord puis d’en prononcer tout haut le nom, le père Buteux s’exécute :

Quãd ces Estrangers entendirent nommer ces Nations, ils s’estonnoient de voir tant de Peuples renfermez dans un pe­tit morceau d’écorce, c’est ainsi qu’ils appeloient les feuillets des Tablettes. (JR 1636, vol. 9, 194)

La manière par laquelle le papier et l’écrit peuvent « renfermer » l’expression d’un monde réduit, mais pas moins réel pour ces peuples, pro­voque l’émerveillement des autochtones, les laisse bouche bée, les « étonne »au sens fort qu’à ce mot au dix-septième siècle.

L’écrit est ainsi, pour les « Néophytes »amérindiens (soit les nou­veaux convertis), quasiment un objet de vénération, aussi bien pour son contenu que pour son contenant. Si le contenu recèle un pouvoir magique de conservation des paroles permettant de communiquer à distance, le conte­nant peut, lui, prendre une valeur de fétiche et se voir accorder un pouvoir semblable à celui des reliques chrétiennes.

Un Algonquin, rapporte la Relation de 1639, ayant ainsi appris prières et litanies « les demanda par escrit; ce que luy estant accordé, il faisoit grand estat du papier qui les contenoit. »(JR 1639, vol. 16, 42) Peu après, retournant en son pays, cet autochtone fait naufrage et croit avoir perdu le précieux papier. Par chance, il le retrouve en parfait état : « il fut bien es­tonné quand il vit ce papier tout sain & entier […] [I]l admiroit cela comme un prodige, & le racontoit comme un miracle. »(Ibid.) De retour dans sa communauté frappée par une maladie, il va le faire vénérer dans un rituel semblable à une pittoresque « cérémonie du drapeau »: « il assem­bloit tous les iours ses voisins dans une grande cabane, pendoit ce papier à une perche, & tous se mettant à l’entour, chantoient ce qu’ils sçavoient de ces Litanies »(44). Cette anecdote édifiante, exposant la fer­veur religieuse de ces Algonquins pour un texte qu’ils ne savent pas lire mais peuvent réciter, finit d’une façon prévisible. Dieu les entend et « la maladie qui les affligeait cessa entièrement. »(Ibid.)

La valeur de fétiche est encore plus prononcée dans l’exemple suivant oùun chef algonquin explique qu’il va venir à Québec rencontrer le « Capi­taine des Français », le gouverneur de Montmagny, qui est, paraît-il, « un grand amy du Soleil »et qui « donne des lettres qui empeschent de mourir, du moins si tost [soit, pas dans un proche avenir] »(JR 1637, vol. 12, 180). Cet exemple est symptomatique d’un malaise chez les Amérin­diens décimés par les maladies apportées par les Français. Certains convertis veulent croire que les lettres et écrits du gouverneur et des jé­suites peuvent faire office de talismans contre les épidémies. Ils vont vite se rendre compte que ces papiers, s’ils s’en voient donner, n’ont pas le pou­voir magique, à but prophylactique, qu’ils leur accordent. Très rapidement, les Amérindiens sceptiques ou ouvertement hostiles aux Fran­çais, parce qu’ils ne comprennent pas que les colons ne meurent pas de ces maladies, vont associer à l’écrit un pouvoir magique destructeur, dévasta­teur, mortel.

En 1637, le père Le Jeune évoque, dans la Relation annuelle, l’anecdote selon laquelle un Amérindien a accusé un colon basque d’avoir écrit les « noms [d’un groupe d’autochtones] sur un papier, & peut estre par ce moyen […] [les] a-il ensorcelé et fait mourir »(JR 1637, vol. 11, 194). Un an plus tôt, le même père rapportait le témoignage d’un Amérin­dien qui expliquait que l’alcool n’était pas à l’origine de la grande mortalité frappant sa communauté :

Non, dit-il, ce ne sont pas ces boissons qui nous ostent la vie, mais vos écritures : car depuis que vous avez décry notre païs, nos fleuves, nos terres, & nos bois, nous mou­rons tous, ce qui n’arrivoit pas devant que vous vinssiez icy. (JR 1636, vol. 9, 206)

Comme pour l’histoire précédente racontée au gouverneur de Montmagny, la première réaction des Français est d’en rire et de se moquer de la naïveté des Amérindiens. Il y a clairement, en l’occurrence, un malen­tendu culturel dans la mesure où, pour les autochtones, l’écrit ne se réduit pas à ce qui est écrit mais comprend son support, le papier, papier et écrit chargés d’un fort pouvoir magique dont les effets sont clairement néfastes si les Amérindiens croient qu’ils sont à l’origine des épidémies qui les déci­ment.

Cependant, pour les pères, « l’écrit absolu », en matière d’évangélisation, réside dans les Ecritures saintes qu’ils présentent comme l’inaltérable vérité (cf. Bressani, JR 1653, vol. 39, 149), une vérité écrite indépassable qui ne peut que l’emporter sur la tradition amérindienne orale vé­hiculant de « sottes superstitions ». Certains autochtones ont compris que cet ouvrage était différent des autres écrits, lettres, notes et messages, comme l’atteste le témoignage suivant rapporté par Le Jeune :

Comme ie leur disois que nous avions un livre qui conte­noit la parole & les enseignemens de Dieu, ils estoient bien en peine comme nous pouvions avoir eu ce livre, quelques uns d’entre eux croioient qu’il estoit descendu du Ciel, pendu à une corde, & que nous l’avions ainsi trouvé sus­pendu en l’air, cette simplicité me fit rire. (JR 1637, vol. 11, 208)

À nouveau, le rire de supériorité du missionnaire français fuse, comme si l’adulte s’amusait du propos naïf d’ un enfant, un rire de supériorité qui se­rait quasiment inimaginable dans le cadre des missions jésuites en Inde, au Japon, ou en Chine[5].

L’évangélisation est clairement en marche quand ce sont les Amérin­diens eux-mêmes qui se font les promoteurs de la Bible et des Ecritures saintes dans leur communauté. Dans un passage extrait de la Relation de 1645, un vieillard converti en vient à critiquer sa propre culture parce qu’elle n’a pas de livres qui prouveraient la validité des croyances autoch­tones. Aux yeux de ce dernier, le livre dans sa matérialité même donne une crédibilité certaine au message religieux contenu dans la Bible. À un « Capitaine » traditionnaliste huron, ce vieillard rétorque :

Où sont les escritures qui nous fassent foy de ce que tu dis [récit de la création du monde : que les terres sont sor­ties des eaux sous la poussée d’une Tortue d’une prodigieuse grandeur]? […] Mais les Français ne parlent point par cœur, ils conservent de toute antiquité les livres Saints, où la parole de Dieu mesme est escrite ; sans qu’il soit permis à aucun d’y altérer le moins du monde. (JR 1645–46, vol. 30, 62)

Les convertis sincères sont en cela les meilleurs représentants du message religieux et le répandent avec zèle une fois qu’ils ont pleinement rompu avec leurs genre de vie et croyances antérieurs, une épreuve néanmoins des plus compliquées dans la mesure où cette décision individuelle va avoir un impact sur toute leur famille et, à l’occasion, sur la communauté. 

L’écrit, par son pouvoir de communication à distance, de même que l’horloge, par sa capacité anthropomorphique à rythmer le temps par la frappe régulière de son bras, sont des produits de l’ingéniosité humaine, des outils que les missionnaires récupèrent dans leur effort de tous les ins­tants pour évangéliser. Un autre moyen, d’origine naturelle celui-là mais lui aussi utilisé pour provoquer l’admiration des Amérindiens, est la prédic­tion des éclipses qui va littéralement stupéfier les autochtones.

Si les éclipses relèvent de phénomènes célestes, leur apparition, pour les missionnaires, est cependant tout aussi facile à prévoir que les batte­ments d’une horloge ou la capacité d’un père à lire un message qu’il vient de recevoir, mais leur effet est autrement plus impressionnant sur les autoch­tones dont la vie est fortement influencée par ces phénomènes célestes terrifiants. Pourquoi les missionnaires en sont-ils venus à prédire les éclipses en Nouvelle-France quand le travail d’évangélisation est im­mense et pourrait solliciter tous leurs instants ? S’il est vrai que les pères, de par leur éducation, ont l’esprit curieux et des intérêts intellectuels sou­vent éclectiques, la prédiction des éclipses de soleil et de lune n’est pas, pour eux, une distraction, mais une nécessité parce qu’elle leur permet d’établir les longitudes des nouveaux pays qu’ils explorent ou dans les­quels ils sont établis. De fait, ils y font très régulièrement allusion dans leurs écrits. Il est dès lors logique à leurs yeux d’utiliser les prédictions de ces phénomènes célestes dans le cadre de leur mission d’évangélisation. Pour la « bonne cause », soit l’agrandissement du Royaume de Dieu, au­cun moyen n’est à négliger.

Les éclipses, dans nombre de cultures, sont perçues comme de mau­vais présages qui annoncent de grands maux : épidémies ou défaites militaires. Au Moyen Age, en 1350, la Faculté de Médecine de Paris dé­clare que les effets de la peste sont en grande partie dus aux éclipses (cf. Homet, « Astronomie et superstition. Chroniques des éclipses de soleil », 64–65). La France et l’Europe du dix-septième siècle ne sont guère diffé­rentes de celles du quatorzième siècle, et tout aussi effrayées par ces « signes du ciel ». Ainsi, l’éclipse du 12 août 1654 va-t-elle, selon l’historienne Elizabeth Labrousse, susciter une « anxiété exceptionnelle dans un large public » (L’Entrée de Saturne au Lion. L’éclipse de soleil du 12 août 1654, 4), une « sorte de panique populaire » (23) qui n’est pas seule­ment due aux exagérations de quelques prédicateurs millénaristes[6]. C’est pourquoi l’évêque de Coutances demande à Gassendi d’écrire un opuscule sur l’éclipse à venir pour rassurer l’opinion. De là naîtront les Sentimens sur l’Eclipse qui doit arriver le 12 du mois d’Aoust prochain. Pour servir de réfutation aux faussetez qui ont esté publiées sous le nom du Docteur Andreas (livret daté du 20 juillet 1654).

Il n’empêche : comme Honoré Bouché l’écrit dans sa Description de Pro­vence, toute l’Europe tremble et nombre de gens renouent avec l’Eglise et ses pratiques :

A l’occasion d’une Eclipse qui arriva sur les neuf ou dix heures du matin, le 12. du mois d’Aoust, il se fit de plus grandes sottises, non seulement en Provence, mais encore par toute la France, l’Espagne, l’Italie et l’Allemagne, qu’on ait jamais entendu raconter. […] [S]ur le bruit qui cou­roit qu’en ce jour-là tout le monde devoit perir, on ne vit jamais tant de conversions, tant de confessions gene­rales et tant d’actes de pénitence : les Confesseurs eurent grand employ durant plusieurs jours auparavant, et dans cette fiction et peur imaginaire, la seule Eglise profita dans les folies du peuple. (Cité par Labrousse, 25–26)

Et, de la même manière que l’Eglise tire le plus grand profit de cette « pa­nique divine » en France, de même, les missionnaires de Nouvelle-France vont exploiter au maximum la peur des Amérindiens à l’égard de ces manifes­tations célestes.

 En 1650, il y a déjà longtemps que l’Eglise ne voit plus dans les éclipses et autres phénomènes naturels (comme les tremblements de terre), même impressionnants, des signes d’une prochaine fin du monde. Cette croyance a essentiellement disparu dans les milieux catholiques. Cela n’empêche pas les missionnaires jésuites de jouir des effets de cette « saine peur » si elle arrive à faire abandonner aux Amérindiens leurs croyances animistes et à les conduire à la « vraie religion ». Dieu utilise des moyens variés et parfois détournés (comme par exemple l’intervention du Diable) si cela permet de mieux assurer le salut du « troupeau ».

Les autochtones ont, eux, une explication des éclipses très différente de celle des Français. Elle n’est en rien scientifique mais allie, au con­traire, imagination et anthropomorphisation dans la mesure où ils voient dans le soleil et la lune des astres humanisés (cf. Demers, 226)[7]. La discus­sion suivante, rapportée par Le Jeune dans la Relation de 1634, quoiqu’elle se veuille insidieusement moqueuse et cherche à montrer la naïveté des Amérindiens aux lecteurs, est un exemple intéressant de la représentation autochtone du monde dans laquelle s’inscrit le phénomène des éclipses (même si certaines croyances et explications diffèrent selon les peuples indigènes) :

Ie leur ay demanday d’où venoit l’Eclypse de Lune & de Soleil ; ils m’ont respondu que la Lune s’eclypsoit ou pa­roissoit noire, à cause qu’elle tenoit son fils entre ses bras, qui empeschoit que l’on ne vist sa clarté. Si la Lune a un fils, elle est mariée, ou l’a été, leur dis-je, ouÿ dea, me di­rent ils, le Soleil est son mary qui marche tout le jour, & elle toute la nuict : & s’il s’eclypse, ou s’il s’obscurcit, c’est qu’il prend aussi par fois le fils qu’il a eu de la Lune entre ses bras : ouÿ, mais ny la Lune ny le Soleil n’ont point de bras, leur disois-je, tu n’as point d’esprit : ils tiẽnent touiours leurs arcs bandés devant eux, voila pour­quoy leurs bras ne paroissent point ; & sur qui veulent ils tirer ? hé qu’en sçavons nous.  Ie leur demanday que vou­loient dire ces taches qui se font voir en la Lune : tu ne sçay rien du tout, me disoient ils ; c’est un bonet qui luy couvre la teste, & non pas des taches. (JR 1634, vol. 6, 222)

Le Jeune s’apitoie sur ces « superstitiõs », des « sottises » (222) qu’il est cependant possible, selon lui, d’éradiquer pour peu que le barrage des langues soit franchi. 

Prédire les éclipses et les expliquer, comme le font les missionnaires, provoque ainsi l’admiration sans borne des autochtones et les pères savent en tirer le meilleur parti. La prédication à but de conversion suit souvent de près une prédiction réussie :

Une eclipse de Lune [qui arriva le 31 décembre 1637] […] nous donna icy un grand credit pour faire approuver ce que nous croyons. Car (leur disions nous) vous avez veu comme la Lune est eclypsée le mesme jour au mesme mo­ment que nous avions predit. Au reste, nous n’eussiõs pas voulu mourir pour vous maintenir cette verité, cõme nous sommes prests de faire, pour vous maintenir que Dieu vous brûlera eternellement, si vous ne croyez en luy. (JR 1638, vol. 15, 138)

La prédiction des éclipses donne aux pères une crédibilité à laquelle seuls peuvent prétendre les chamans. L’admiration qu’engendre cette pratique de divination provoque aussi, de la part des autochtones, des attentes, comme de se faire prédire l’avenir dans le quotidien : que ce soit au sujet des récoltes et des cultures, des événements sociaux ayant trait à la vie de la communauté, ou de la guerre :

Sur ce que nous leur predisons les Ecclypses de la Lune et du Soleil, dont ils ont beaucoup de peur, ils se sont imagi­nez que nous en estions les maistres ; que nous sçavions toutes les choses à advenir ; & que c’est nous qui en disposons. Et en ceste cõsideration, ils s’adressent à nous pour sçavoir si leurs bleds reüssiront ; où sont leurs enne­mis ; & en quelle quantité ils viennent. (JR 1639, vol. 17, 118)

Les missionnaires prennent un double risque en s’engageant dans le jeu des prédictions. Certes, les éclipses sont prévisibles et le résultat de ces prédictions impressionne car elles stupéfient les Amérindiens et les amè­nent plus facilement à la foi par l’admiration qu’ils portent aux pères et à leur culture. Mais les jésuites risquent de se faire prendre pour des sor­ciers, une possibilité dont ils sont conscients et qu’ils accueillent avec une grande sérénité si cela peut favoriser leur effort de conversion (par la neutrali­sation des chamans incapables de rivaliser avec eux, par exemple), mais qui devient très problématique lorsqu’ils sont accusés d’être à l’origine des épidémies qui déciment les tribus qu’ils évangélisent. Ironique­ment, une raison pour laquelle ils ne vont pas être massacrés est que les Amérindiens craignent les pouvoirs magiques de ces « sorciers chré­tiens ».

Le deuxième danger engendré par la pratique des prédictions réside dans le fait que les missionnaires pourraient, à l’extrême, se prendre au jeu, soit jouer aux apprentis sorciers en cherchant à rendre l’imprévisible prévi­sible : faire pleuvoir ou guérir des cas désespérés, par exemple. Lire l’avenir est l’apanage de Dieu, déclare formellement le pape Sixte V dans une bulle du 5 janvier 1586, dénonçant par là même toute pratique de divina­tion. Tout le reste n’est que diablerie. La seule exception retenue l’est en cas de prédictions de phénomènes naturels, comme les éclipses, que l’on peut annoncer à l’avance. 

Sans se prendre au jeu, nombre de missionnaires jésuites à l’époque, en Nouvelle-France comme en Bretagne où ils opèrent aussi, se voient « comme des agents personnels de Dieu, appelés et mandatés par lui pour accomplir de grandes choses, voire des miracles », ainsi que l’explique Dominique Deslandres (« Des ouvriers formidables à l’enfer » 258–59)[8].Le père de Brébeuf est un bon exemple de jésuite qui ne doute pas d’avoir reçu, après que ses vœux ont été exaucés, des faveurs très particulières pour le plus grand bien de l’Eglise missionnaire.

Lors de la grande sécheresse du printemps 1635, après avoir expliqué aux membres de la communauté huronne d’Ihonatiria au sein de laquelle il s’est installé, qu’ils devraient s’adresser au Dieu des chrétiens plutôt qu’aux sorciers qui les trompent pour obtenir ce qu’ils désirent, et que lui-même ne contrôle en rien la pluie et le beau temps, Brébeuf offre une neu­vaine de messes à St-Joseph et organise une procession pour obtenir l’aide divine :

Or il avint iustement [rapporte le père] que la neufvaine étãt accomplie, qui fut le treiziesme Iuin, nous ne peusmes pa­rachever la Procession sans pluye, qui suivit fort abondante, & dura à diverses reprises l’espace de plus d’un mois avec un grand amandement & accroissement des fruicts de la terre (JR 1636, vol. 10, 40).

Lors d’une nouvelle sécheresse, en juillet, une seconde neuvaine, en l’honneur de saint Ignace cette fois, est récompensée par une grande abon­dance de pluies qui permet aux Amérindiens d’obtenir une très bonne récolte de blé. Brébeuf conclut ainsi le récit de ses deux neuvaines couron­nées de succès dont les résultats profitent à tous sauf aux chamans :

Or ces pluyes ont fait deux biens ; l’un en ce qu’elles ont accreu les fruicts de la terre, & l’autre en ce qu’elles ont étouffé toutes les mauvaises opinions & volontez conçeuës contre Dieu, contre la Croix, & contre nous ; car tous les Sau­vages de notre cognoissance, & notamment de notre village, sont venus expressément nous trouver pour nous dire qu’en effet Dieu estoit bon, & que nous estions aussi bons, & qu’à l’avenir ils vouloient servir Dieu, adioustant mille poüilles [insultes] à l’encontre de leurs ArrendioVane [Arendicouane], ou devins. A Dieu soit pour jamais la gloire de tout ; il permet la secheresse des terres, pour arrou­ser les cœurs de ses benedictions. (42)

En fait, Brébeuf l’a peut-être évité belle dans la mesure où plusieurs Amérin­diens, mais aussi le sorcier du village ridiculisé pour son incapacité à faire tomber la pluie, lui en voulaient d’être à l’origine de la sécheresse et d’œuvrer à la destruction de la communauté.

Le père de Brébeuf s’est ainsi imposé comme plus puissant sorcier que le sorcier indigène, temporairement du moins. Il explique que certains cha­mans

font estat de commander aux pluyes & aux vents ; d’autres de predire les choses à venir ; d’autres […] de rendre la santé aux malades, & ce, avec des remedes, qui n’ont aucun rapport aux maladies (JR 1636, vol. 10, 192–94),

et parfois y arrivent parce que le « Diable leur tient la main » (194). Si les missionnaires ne prétendent pas avoir ces pouvoirs, ils espèrent néanmoins que Dieu les entendra et qu’ils pourront obtenir les mêmes résultats, le mo­ment venu, que ceux que revendiquent les chamans. Comme l’écrit très justement Bruce Trigger :

même si les jésuites ne croyaient pas, dans le véritable sens du mot, au pouvoir magique des rites catholiques de maî­triser automatiquement les lois de la nature, ils étaient néanmoins convaincus que leur Dieu répondrait à leurs prières réclamant la pluie ou de bonnes récoltes, si cela pou­vait convaincre les Amérindiens de sa gloire et aider à miner le respect que les Amérindiens avaient pour leurs propres chamans. (Les Enfants d’Aataentsic, 481)

Missionnaires et sorciers, malgré une croyance commune en des forces surnaturelles qui régissent l’ordre du monde et son fonctionnement, une croyance commune qui les rapproche en fait beaucoup, diffèrent en ceci que les jésuites, dans leur pratique d’évangélisation, espèrent une interven­tion divine le moment venu mais ne l’attendent pas nécessairement, alors que les chamans risquent de perdre gains matériels et réputation si leurs dons de devins ou de guérisseurs ne sont pas confirmés. Mais comme l’écrit Dominique Deslandres, « les jésuites finissent par jouer avec le feu, et paraissent alors plus puissants qu’ils ne le sont—plus puissants donc plus dangereux » (Croire et faire croire, 323) aux yeux des sorciers dont ils cherchent à miner la crédibilité, et plus généralement aux yeux des Amérin­diens.

Les jésuites ont rapidement compris qu’il leur fallait rivaliser avec les sor­ciers et les battre sur leur propre terrain des pratiques magiques pour pouvoir espérer amener les autochtones au christianisme. Mais miner la crédibilité des chamans, des chefs religieux, revient à déstabiliser les commu­nautés qui, en périodes d’épidémies ou de défaites militaires, peuvent se retourner contre ces « nouveaux sorciers ». Les pères doivent donc toujours s’efforcer de démontrer la supériorité que leur confèrent leurs croyances et leur culture, pour pouvoir poursuivre avec un certain succès l’effort de conversion[9].

***

L’effet de surprise obtenu par un procédé perçu comme magique par les Amérindiens est, en résumé, l’un des moyens les plus sûrs d’amener ces derniers à la religion. Le père jésuite Jouvency, dans un ouvrage publié en 1710, rapporte l’un des cas les plus révélateurs de l’ingéniosité des mission­naires français en Nouvelle-France au début du dix-septième siècle, un cas dans lequel l’effet de surprise suscitant stupeur, crainte et admiration aura favorisé le processus d’évangélisation. L’épisode porte sur un groupe d’Amérindiens qui refuse de croire les discours d’un mission­naire cherchant à les convaincre de la réalité des feux d’un enfer éternel. Les autochtones expliquent qu’un feu si intense et sans fin consomme­rait trop de bois et que c’est donc concrètement impossible. Le père, n’arrivant pas à les persuader de la vérité de ses propos, déclare que dans le monde de l’enfer brûle un feu qui ne consomme pas de bois. Lors­que fusent les rires des autochtones, il les invite à venir voir, quelques jours plus tard, se consumer un morceau de cette terre infernale qui brûle toute seule.

Au jour convenu, ce missionnaire, devant un parterre de douze membres prééminents de la tribu, sort un morceau de souffre qu’il fait pas­ser dans l’assistance. Tous admettent qu’il provient du sol. Puis, le prêtre effrite la pierre de souffre sur des charbons ardents et provoque une odeur suffocante. Après qu’il a réitéré par trois fois l’expérience, les Amérin­diens se lèvent, ébahis et désormais convaincus des dires ce qui concerne du père en l’existence d’un monde infernal (cf. JR 1610–13, vol. 1, 289). Les autoch­tones sont subjugués et remplis d’admiration devant la démonstration très spectaculaire de la supériorité du Français. L’ingéniosité du missionnaire a porté ses fruits, comme elle en portera bien d’autres tout au long du dix-septième siècle. L’« agrandissement du Royaume de Dieu » en Nouvelle-France s’accommode en effet de tous les moyens, même des plus origi­naux et surprenants.

Berry College

Bibliographie 

Axtell, James. After Columbus. Essays in the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America. New York-Oxford : Oxford UP, 1988.

Comminges, Elie de. « Les récits de voyage des Jésuites en Nouvelle-France : la mission du Père Biard (1611–1613). » The French Review 49.6 (May 1976) : 840–855.

Delumeau, Jean. La Peur en Occident, Paris, Fayard, 1978.

———. Le Péché et la peur : la culpabilisation en Occident(XIIIème–XVIIIème siècle), Paris, Fayard, 1983.

Demers, Serge. « Les connaissances astronomiques des Indiens de Nou­velle-France. » Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 60.5 : 225–229.

Deslandres, Dominique. Croire et faire croire. Les missions françaises au dix-septième siècle, Paris, Fayard, 2003.

———. « “Des ouvriers formidables à l’enfer”. Epistémè et missions jé­suites au dix-septième siècle. » Mélanges de l’Ecole Française de Rome. Italie et Méditerranée, 1999, vol. 111, n. 1, 251–276.

Dictionnaire de l’Académie française(2 vol.). 2ème édition. Paris, 1695.

Dompnier, Bernard. « Pastorale de la peur et pastorale de la séduction : la méthode des missionnaires capucins. » La Conversion au XVIIème siècle, actes du 12ème colloque de Marseille (janvier 1982), C.M.R. 17, 1983, 257–281.

Grégoire, Vincent. « L’interprétation du tremblement de terre de 1663 en Nouvelle-France d’après les écrits des missionnaires. » Seventeenth-Century French Studies 30 (2008) : 64–76.

———. « “Pensez-vous venir à bout de renverser le pays?”: la pratique d'évangélisation en Nouvelle-France d'après les Relations des jé­suites. »Dix-septième siècle, 1998, vol. 201, n. 4, 681–707.

———. « Les “réductions” de Nouvelle-France : une illustration de la pra­tique missionnaire jésuite. » Dix-septième siècle, 1997, vol. 196, n. 3, 519–529.

Homet, Jean-Marie. « Astronomie et superstition. Chroniques des éclipses de Soleil. » L’Histoire, juin 1999, vol. 233, 62–66.

Jacquin, Philippe. « Le Combat des Esprits. Le Missionnaire et le Shaman chez les Iroquois au dix-septième siècle. »Publiédans Populations et cul­tures. Etudes réunies en l’honneur de François Lebrun, Rennes, Universitéde Rennes 2–Haute Bretagne et Institut culturel de Bre­tagne, 1989, 335–339.

Labrousse, Elizabeth. L’Entrée de Saturne au Lion. L’éclipse de soleil du 12 août 1654. La Haye, Martinus Nijhoff, 1974.

Sutto, Claude. « Le Dieu des Français et les divinités amérindiennes au Canada (milieu seizième-milieu dix-septième siècles) ». Publié dans Les Signes de Dieu aux seizième et dix-septième siècles. Actes du col­loque de Clermont-Ferrand réunis et présentés par Geneviève Demerson et Bernard Dompnier, Clermont-Ferrand, Association des Publi­cations de la Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines de l’Université Blaise Pascal, 1993, 161–173.

Thwaites, Reuben Gold. The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents (73 vols). Cleveland : The Burrows Brothers Company, 1896–1901.

Trigger, Bruce. Les Enfants d’Aataentsic. Traduit par Jean-Paul Sainte-Marie et Brigitte Chabert Hacikyan. Montréal, Editions Libre Expres­sion, 1991.


[1]Consulter, au sujet du travail de conversion des jésuites en Nouvelle-France mais aussi de la différence d’approche qu’ils adoptent selon les cultures à évangéliser, notre article intitulé : « “Pensez-vous venir à bout de renverser le pays? ”: la pratique d'évangélisation en Nouvelle-France d'après les Relations des jésuites » (cf. 691, 696).

[2]Nous allons, dans cette étude, essentiellement parler de l’effort missionnaire entrepris par le père Le Jeune.

[3]Bernard Dompnier a, lui, parlé d’une « pastorale de la séduction » pour évoquer la pratique d’évangélisation des capucins (voir son excellent article intitulé « Pastorale de la peur et pastorale de la séduction : la méthode des missionnaires capucins »).

[4]La sagamité est un mets amérindien consistant en une bouillie à base de maïs bouilli et de viande.

[5]Tandis que les Amérindiens sont régulièrement perçus comme des mineurs par les missionnaires de Nouvelle-France (jésuites, ursulines, etc.), ce n’est pas le cas en Orient et en Extrême Orient (voir notre étude intitulée : « Les “réductions” de Nouvelle-France : une illustration de la pratique missionnaire jésuite », 523–525). 

[6]Jean Delumeau écrit, dans La Peur en Occident, que cette panique s’explique principalement par l’importance accordée à la date de 1656 par les théologiens et pronostiqueurs protestants. Étant le résultat de savants calculs, cette date annoncerait la fin des temps. La peur développée dans les pays et milieux réformés, une peur renforcée par l’éclipse de 1652, en vient ainsi à influencer les milieux catholiques français (cf. 298).

[7]Les références aux explications des éclipses par les Amérindiens sont nombreuses dans les Relations : JR 1634, vol. 6, 222–23 ; JR 1636, vol. 10, 58 ; JR 1637, vol. 12, 72 et 142 ; JR 1643, vol. 22, 294 ; JR 1672–74, vol. 58, 160–62. Pour ce qui est de la position de l’Eglise, et plus précisement des missionnaires jésuites au Canada, à l’égard des tremblements de terre, consulter notre article intitulé : « L’interprétation du tremblement de terre de 1663 en Nouvelle-France d’après les écrits des missionnaires. »

[8]Dominique Deslandres, parlant des missionnaires jésuites en Bretagne et en Nouvelle-France, écrit encore qu’« Ils jouent le jeu, pour sûr, et ils ne sont pas loin de se croire eux-mêmes des guérisseurs guidés par Dieu »(« Des ouvriers formidables à l’enfer », 260).

[9]Déjà, au début du dix-septième siècle, dans la colonie de Port-Royal, en Acadie, le père Biard raillait les sorciers amérindiens pour leurs connaissances médicales primaires (JR, vol.3, 116). Elie de Comminges, auteur de l’étude intitulée : « Les récits de voyage des Jésuites en Nouvelle-France : la mission du Père Biard (1611–1613) », commente avec ironie la moquerie de ce jésuite : « M. Diafoirus lui, en connaissait donc plus ? » (853), la médecine en France n’étant, à l’époque, guère plus avancée que celle des Amérindiens.

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Le Mercure Galant and its Student Body: Donneau de Visé’s Inclusive Pedagogy

Article Citation: 
17 (2016), 41–56
Author: 
Deborah Steinberger
Article Text: 

Steinberger, Printable PDF

Twenty-first-century scholars have characterized Le Mercure Galant in many different ways: they have described it, for instance, as a forerunner of the modern newspaper, a propaganda vehicle in the service of Louis XIV, a literary journal promoting the esthetic of galanterie, and a compendium of scientific and social information.[1] No single description does justice to the publication, founded in 1672 by Jean Donneau de Visé, who served as editor in chief until his death in 1710.[2] The essence of the Mercure Galant, indeed its founding principle, is its appealing diversity. The preface to the inaugural edition announces, “Ce livre doit avoir de quoi plaire à tout le monde à cause de la diversité des matières dont il est rempli” (“Le libraire au lecteur,” Mercure Galant 1672, 1: n.pag.).[3] De­spite this stated ideal of universality, some scholars, notably Monique Vincent, have claimed that the knowledge the periodical seeks to impart is gender-specific. Vincent pronounced Le Mercure Galant “la première re­vue féminine d’information et de culture” in the subtitle of her important 2005 study of the publication. She cites as evidence the Mercure’s fic­tional female destinataire, an inquisitive and well-read Parisian lady living in the provinces, referred to throughout as “Madame”; she also empha­sizes the prevalence of literary forms thought to be popular with women, such as love stories, poems, and songs (Vincent, Le Mercure Galant 10–11).[4] But Jennifer Perlmutter has remarked, and even Vincent has noted, that after its initial “période d’essai” of 1672–1677, a span of years during which the periodical experimented with different formats, genres, and publica­tion frequencies, the Mercure seems less “feminine,” and more “unisex”: in Perlmutter’s words, it becomes “an exemplary text for both women and men” (58).[5] The present study argues that this change is linked to Donneau de Visé’s evolving resistance to classification of his reader­ship by gender, and to his ultimate rejection of divisive gender stereotypes, in favor of a more inclusive editorial approach. Analysis of a number of nouvelles and other texts from the Mercure leads to the conclu­sion that the publication’s founder came to regard his magnum opus as neither “feminine” nor “masculine,” but rather as an all-embracing “coeduca­tional” project, providing information and instruction for the benefit of both sexes.

In fact, in December 1677, the editor refers to the characterization of the Mercure as a women’s magazine as an error, and signals that the periodi­cal hasnow found another audience:

Je sais que le titre a fait croire d’abord que le Mercure était simplement Galant et qu'il ne devait tenir place que dans la bibliothèque des femmes, mais on est sorti de cette er­reur . . . il est devenu le livre des savants et des braves après avoir été le divertissement du beau sexe. (Nouveau Mer­cure Galant Dec. 1677, 10: n.pag.)

It is not immediately clear whether the editor is implying that the publica­tion has evolved and become something new, leaving behind le beau sexe and its predilection for divertissement, or simply that its audience has ex­panded. But in view of the publication’s trend away from classification of subject matter according to reader gender, the latter scenario seems more plausible. The Mercure becomes increasingly gender-neutral: editorial catego­rizations and assumptions about the preferences of male and female readers voiced during the periodical’s first years (early to mid-1670s) seem to fade as the Mercure finds its footing and its public. At first, the editor had assumed that women would want to read nouvelles and fashion news, while men would favor war reports. In 1673, for example, the editor feels the need to apologize to some of his female readers for the paper’s extensive war coverage (4: 263–266). By 1684, however, “Madame” is clamoring for war news. Speaking of the paper’s reports on the taking of Luxembourg and Genoa, the editor tells her, “J’ai beaucoup de joie de ce que vous me temoignez estre satisfaite du soin que j’ay eu de n’oublier aucune circonstance essentielle dans les deux relations dont je viens de vous parler” (July 1684, 4–5). “Madame” is an insatiable consumer of all sorts of information and current events. This ideal reader wants to know about politics as well as arts and culture: the editor tells her, after reporting on new plays by the Corneille brothers, “Je voudrois bien ne vous parler que de divertissemens; mais il faut, puis que vous voulez tout sçavoir, que je reprenne le Chapitre de la guerre” (1673, 4: 227–228; emphasis added). The following year, the editor makes a point of distinguishing “Madame” from the ladies with whom she socializes in the provinces:

Je vous entretiendray des affaires de la guerre, mais j’en laisseray les raisonnemens aux politiques, et ne parleray de sieges et des combats, que pour loüer toutes les belles ac­tions de nos braves, dont je ne pretends laisser échaper aucune. Le récit n’en sera toutefois pas si long, qu’il puisse en­nuyer celles de vos belles provinciales qui n'aiment que les histoires. (1674, 5: 2)

The worldly, inquisitive Madame has more diverse interests than the provin­cial ladies among whom she lives: a Paris transplant who is unlike her neighbors, a woman who appreciates military accounts, in her pursuit of knowledge she bridges and transcends social and gender categories, thereby embodying the spirit of Le Mercure Galant.

The description of the Mercure as a “coeducational” project aligns gener­ally with Joan DeJean’s assertion that Donneau de Visé, a proponent of the Modern movement, sought to create a “gender blind” public (An­cients 66) as part of his program; it also confirms Allison Stedman’s recent characterization of Le Mercure Galant as “a liberal and inclusive socio-literary enterprise” (Stedman 97). While DeJean states that “[n]o Modern spokesperson ever bothered to compose a work of educational theory” (Ancients 138), it is nonetheless true that the Mercure’s pioneering promotion of the education of men and women together was a defining element of its journalism and in its way, a contribution to the theory of educa­tion.

Although the entire Mercure is ostensibly addressed to a lady, Don­neau de Visé goes to great lengths to appeal to readers of both sexes, sometimes sequentially, but most often simultaneously. The point of view varies: the male authorial voice is balanced by intermittent contributions from celebrated women writers such as Antoinette Deshoulières and Made­leine de Scudéry, as well as from numerous lesser-known female authors. Furthermore, the editor displays evenhandedness, even egalitarian­ism, by occasionally printing “his and hers” versions of matching articles. A piece by a Monsieur Taisand, a lawyer from Dijon, which examines the advisability of marriage, is divided into two sections, “Si une femme doit se marier”  and “Si un homme doit se marier”  (Extraordi­naire April 1679, 6:10-23).[6] The text, which takes for granted women’s subaltern status, could certainly not be called feminist, but it is remarkable that the author assumes a mixed readership as he presents ad­vice for both sexes. The author of this article had proposed the previous year another piece geared to a mixed public, which asked the question, “La condition des femmes est-elle plus commode et plus avantageuse que celle des hommes?”[7] Both of Taisand’s pieces seem intended to encourage men and women to enter into dialogue with each other on these questions. A comparable structure exists in two complementary stories from January and February 1681, “Histoire de mon cœur” and “Histoire de mes con­quêtes,” both written by Fontenelle, where a man and a woman exchange accounts of their sentimental history.[8] Although these are fictional pieces written entirely by a man, the idea of balance, of dialogue between equals, is noteworthy. According to the same principle of equal time, or balanced reporting, right after an article about a male child prodigy, there follows an ac­count of the exploits of a “jeune fille philosophe” from Lyon who amazed the university professors who examined her in Latin on erudite topics (Sept. 1684, 161–164). This young woman, excluded from participat­ing in a public thesis defense because of her sex, is in effect given a voice in the Mercure.

Donneau de Visé’s efforts to remain gender-neutral, or at least (to bor­row the Fox News slogan) to appear “fair and balanced,” extend to other genres featured in the periodical, nouvelles and questions d’amour. The Mercure’s numerous stories about women disguised as men prove that women can do everything that men do, both good and bad. Disguise may facilitate daring or violent deeds, but the capacity to perform them is not determined by a person’s sex. For example, in one nouvelle a young woman disguised as a man serves ably in the army in place of her fiancé, whom she had wanted to protect from the dangers of war (April 1692, 103–116). On the other hand, extreme emotions such as jealousy, the nouvelles show us, can drive either sex to senseless acts of violence. Simi­larly, traits like inconstancy and fidelity are never portrayed as gender-specific: for every nouvelle about a fickle female, there is one about a faith­less man. One month after the publication of the “Histoire tragique arrivée à Arles” (March 1680, 251–274), which recounts a man’s crime of passion—he murders his mistress for her infidelity—the Mercure pub­lishes “L’Infidèle puni,” the story of a woman who disguises herself as a man, ambushes her ex-lover, and commits a revenge murder. The narrator reminds readers that women, too, are capable of such bloody actions:

Vous avez blamé avec beaucoup de justice l’emportement fu­rieux du Cavalier d’Arles, qui s’est vangé si cruellement de la prétendüe infidélité de sa Maîtresse.Les belles ne sont pas exemtes (sic) de ces sortes de fureurs. En voicy la preuve. (April 1680, 276)

The Mercure seems to suggest that the passions of men and women are indistinguishable. An article in the Extraordinaire of July 1679 asks the question “Si les femmes aiment plus fortement que les hommes,” but after a brief, perfunctory discussion of the beliefs of the Ancients and the theory of the humors, the author dismisses the question as fruitless, leading to “travaux inutiles” (294–297)—a decidedly pro-Modern conclusion.

In sum, there seems to be a conscious effort on the part of the Mercure’s editor to discredit gender stereotypes. Instead, the periodical purports to portray life as it is—as befits a news publication.[9] In the Mer­cure, Donneau de Visé claims to strive to tell the whole story. For instance, when recounting a battle, he boasts that unlike other contempo­rary chroniclers, he assembles accounts from multiple viewpoints.[10] Another way he endeavors to hold a mirror up to life, as we have seen, is by providing both male and female perspectives on the same question. It stands to reason that women readers would seek out a publication that treated their sex with respect, fairness, and objectivity. This evenhanded approach is of course strategic as well as ethical: it is in large part a ques­tion of marketing, a calculation aimed at selling subscriptions and maximizing the Mercure’s readership. The journalist’s interest in entrepreneur­ship and his prowess as a businessman led Victor Fournel in the nineteenth century to call Donneau de Visé “un industriel littéraire” (Les Contemporains de Molière 445, qtd. in Vincent, Donneau de Visé 2). Jean Sgard attests to the editor’s financial success: “Il passe pour avoir été le plus riche des écrivains du temps”  (Dictionnaire des journalistes).

To ensure his publication’s universal, “coeducational” appeal—and thereby to reach the largest audience possible—Donneau de Visé carefully controls tone and content. A preface to both the September and October 1684 issues states, “On mettra tous [les mémoires] qui ne desobligeront personne, et ne blesseront point la modestie des dames” (n.pag). Often, the pa­per appears to take the side of the wife in domestic issues. A 1684 verse piece called “La Bourse du bon sens,” by a certain Monsieur de la Barre, from Tours, celebrates the stratagem used by a clever and virtuous wife “Pour tirer son Epoux des bras d’une coquette,/ Et pour le rappeler au gi­ron de l’Hymen” (October 1684, 44–59). A question for debate proposed in the July 1685 Extraordinaire asks why so many men take ugly mis­tresses when they have attractive wives. Can one show support for wronged wives without seeming anti-male (or at least anti-husband)? De­spite the periodical’s overarching goal of inclusiveness, the publication of tendentious questions such as this one sometimes make the world of the Mercure’s readership appear more polarized than integrated. However, this apparent contradiction can be resolved when we consider that marital harmony was seen as beneficial for all of society, and that the reigning patriar­chy had a vested interest in preserving marriage’s strength and sanctity.[11] Good husbandly conduct is a recurring theme, a value that Le Mercure Galant tirelessly promotes. Donneau de Visé brings in celebrity instructors to teach by example: in July 1683, we hear about the admirable af­fection of M le Dauphin for Mme la Dauphine: “Il est bien doux et bien agréable, de trouver dans un Mary la galanterie d’un amant” (282). Simi­larly, a year later, the Mercure approvingly notes that this model husband refused to retire to his chambers when the Dauphine was ill, and passed the entire night at her bedside (August 1684, 306). But we also hear about wayward husbands, and there are numerous stories about praiseworthy or model wives who tolerate and sometimes even reform their unfaithful spouses: for instance, the September 1683 account of a young woman who pa­tiently bears her husband’s infidelity and resists her family’s attempts to separate her from her unworthy spouse. She dies of grief, but her unfailing virtue and devotion ultimately inspire her widower to change his life and enter a monastic order.[12] The story’s moral, “L’amour le plus violent n’est pas celui qui dure le plus,” announces an important lesson for men and women alike.

A school for both husbands and wives, Le Mercure Galant is at heart a mass-educational enterprise, one that aims to instruct as it informs and enter­tains. The publication may be seen as a precursor of the correspondence course, and even as a distant ancestor of the MOOC (mas­sive open online course), for Donneau de Visé places emphasis on accessibility: thanks to the Mercure, one need not leave one’s home to be­come well-informed about a wide range of subjects. While we take it for granted today that newspapers perform this function, nationwide circula­tion of a periodical to readers from varying social backgrounds, from the middle classes to the upper echelons, was something quite new in the seven­teenth century, as DeJean and Stedman have shown in their respective studies. The editor speaks of his goal of providing readers with convenient and inexpensive routes to learning, helping them to “s’instruire à peu de frais de tout ce qui arrive de jour en jour touchant [les] arts,” and to “apprendre ce qui se passe dans toute la terre parmi le monde politique et galant” (“Avis,” Jan. and Feb. 1686, n.pag.).[13]

What can one learn in the Mercure? Its highly diversified “course con­tent” distinguishes the publication from its precursors and competitors (La Gazette, most notably);[14] it extends beyond news from the court and battle­field to include such topics as Chinese characters, literary news, algebra, geometry, numismatics, and architecture, just to name a few.[15] Science writing becomes more prevalent in the Mercure around 1681, the year the passage of Kirch’s comet stimulated scientific speculation and spurred popular interest in astronomy: numerous articles and stories in the paper were inspired by this event. This was also the year when the philoso­pher and mathematician Claude Comiers started writing for the publication, contributing pieces on optics, astronomy, health, and medi­cine, including a letter “Sur l’art de se conserver en santé et de prolonger sa vie” (March 1687, 227–236). The Mercure also provides advice for read­ers suffering from maladies such as gout (Nov. 1685, 239–242), hernias (Feb.1686, 1: 69–82), and the vapors (Nov. 1691, 85–116).

Cultural anthropology is another frequent topic: a treatise on burial and tombs appears in the July 1685 Extraordinaire (24–93), and in December 1691, Comiers contributes a “Lettre sur les cérémonies à la synagogue” (244–261). Starting in March 1685, the Mercure publishes what may be the first “multicultural course,” a series of nine “dialogues des choses dif­ficiles à croire” by the abbé Laurent Bordelon.[16] The dialogue, the editor tells us, is a teaching method especially suited to readers who are pressed for time (he refers to “les curieux, qui sont bien-aises d’apprendre beaucoup, et de s’épargner la peine de longues lectures,” April 1685, 49). The purpose of Bordelon’s dialogues is to introduce readers to a range of unusual social practices from all over the world. Readers also learn to bat­tle prejudice and superstition in similar pieces, like the “Discours contre la superstition populaire des jours heureux et malheureux” by a contributor from Marseille named Malaval (June 1688, 1: 32–119). As one might ex­pect in a publication that calls itself “galant,” there are many articles dealing with savoir-vivre and civility, for example, “De la manière dont on doit avertir ses amis de leurs défauts” (Dec. 1696, 39–57). The Mercure places special emphasis on discoveries and stories that transcend barriers, be they national, linguistic, psychological, social, or gender-related. For instance, one finds articles on “l’écriture universelle,” a number-based writ­ing system for use by people of different nations, as well as this praise of the visual arts as a universal means of communication:

[Les estampes] parlent également par tout aux yeux, et tous les yeux voyent également ce qu’elles représentent. Ainsi rien n’est plus agréable, rien n’est plus utile, et rien n’instruit en moins de temps, sans qu’il soit besoin d’aucune étude pour apprendre à voir ce qu’elles contien­nent. (Feb. 1686, 1: n.pag.)

For those whom we would call today visual learners, the Mercure supplies countless diagrams and illustrations. In 1686, the editor announces a plan to make instructive images even more readily available by including in each month’s issue a list of all newly printed engravings, with notes on where they can be purchased. All in all, the periodical presents itself as an educational treasure chest: “On y ramasse mille choses curieuses qu’on n’auroit pû trouver ensemble, si le Mercure n’avoit jamais esté fait… ” (“Au lecteur,” Nouveau Mercure Galant Dec. 1677, 10: n.pag.; qtd. in Vin­cent, Donneau de Visé 187).

Whether in the form of treatises or nouvelles, Le Mercure Galant de­votes many pages to moral teaching.[17] Often the stories have moralizing titles, maxims such as “Les amants qui ont le plus de traverses ne sont pas toujours les plus malheureux” (May 1680), or “L’amour sincère est sou­vent récompensé” (Jan. 1689).[18] Notably, the titles of the nouvelles are almost always gender-neutral: they seem to reflect a studied effort on the editors’ part to avoid characterizing the sexes in any particular way. For example, use of the neutral “on” is frequent: “On ne perd souvent rien pour attendre” (June 1680), or “De quoi n’est-on point capable quand on aime véritablement?” (Jan. 1697). This principle took shape early on in the publication’s history, when the Mercure published its very first nouvelle featuring a moralizing title, “Les Femmes sont souvent cause de la perte des Hommes” (1674, 6: 207–248). The narrator is an old woman who tells the story of Clitandre, a man suffering from venereal disease. The sick man makes a deal with a mysterious stranger: he exchanges a cure for his malady for a promise, on pain of death, never again to lie with a woman. Clitandre eventually falls in love and breaks his promise; shortly thereaf­ter, the man who had cured him reappears and tells him he must choose to die by the sword or by poison. Clitandre takes the poison, goes mad, and jumps from an attic window into a well. His body is never found. The wa­ter in the well becomes subsequently so clear and fresh that the site attracts visitors from miles around.

The old woman reveals at the end of her tale that this is not actually a nouvelle, but rather a centuries-old story. As such, the editor points out, it is an anomaly that really had no place among the news stories (“histoires nouvelles”) he had promised to “Madame”:

[Cette aventure] ne devoit pas avoir icy de place, puis que je ne vous dois envoyer que des Histoires nouvelles; mais puis qu’elle est écrite, vous souffrirez, s’il vous plaist, Madame, qu’elle tienne son rang parmy les autres. (1674, 6: 247-248) 

The aged storyteller, who defends the truth value of orally-transmitted folk sto­ries like this one, represents unenlightened tradition:

Il y a plus de deux cens ans, continua-t-elle, que cette avanture est arrivée, et qu’on la sçait par tradition; et comme les choses qu’on sçait de la sorte sont toûjours très-vé­ritables, on ne doit point douter de cette Histoire, qui doit faire connoistre à tout le monde, que les Femmes sont sou­vent cause de la perte des Hommes. (246–247)

However, her modern, enlightened listeners, who represent the Mercure’s readership, are skeptical. With ironic smiles, they dismiss her unbelievable tale, along with its misogynistic message:

Toute la compagnie n’applaudit à cette Histoire qu’en soû­riant; il y eut mesme quelques malicieux qui plaignirent la catastrophe du malheureux Clitandre, mais ce fut d’une ma­niere qui fit connoistre qu’ils n’adjoûtoient guere de foi à son avanture. (247)

The framing text thus discredits the old woman’s tale and the anti-woman tradition it represents, presenting the story as an object of skepticism and even ridicule. This account of the tale’s reception signals a break with tradi­tion: the Mercure Galant will never blame the fair sex in general for men’s ills, nor will the shortcomings of some men be imputed to men as a group: the nouvelles are about individuals. This principle is in keeping with the core values of the Modern movement, which according to Joan DeJean included, along with “an openness to cultural difference,” “a de­fense of the right to individuality” (Ancients 131).

The Mercure’s resistance to gender stereotypes and traditional preju­dices extends also to lighter topics, like fashion. After a discussion of the latest women’s styles, published during the paper’s first year (1672, 3: 283–308), a lady named Lucresse asks the narrator-editor to give equal time to men’s style trends. Men, she argues, are just as interested in fash­ion novelties:

Il me semble que nous avons assez parlé de Modes qui re­gardent les Femmes, et que vous devriez à vostre tour nous entretenir de celles des Hommes; car vôtre Sexe en Amour et en Mode n’a pas moins d’inconstance que le nostre. (308)

The narrator concedes that men are no less slaves to fashion than are wo­men:

[J]’ajoûtay que pour faire voir que j’étois persuadé de cette verité, j’alois montrer que les Hommes avoient en tres peu de temps fait changer huit ou dix fois les modes de leurs manches, et que j’estois asseuré qu’on ne me mon­treroit point parmy les Femmes pour ce qui regardoit les Modes un exemple de pareille inconstance. (309)

This attribution of fashion fickleness to men makes a favorable impression on Lucresse and her friend; the narrator tells us that “Cette réponse de bonne foy, et qu’elles n’atendoient point, les fit soûrire” (310).

Here too, the narrator is attempting to discredit a stereotype, demonstrat­ing that men and women are not as different as we have been accustomed to believe. To prove this point, the Mercure shows its readers individuals who defy accepted norms and idées reçues, such as fashion-obsessed men and hardy women soldiers who distinguish themselves in battle. Dianne Dugaw’s work early-modern English female warrior bal­lads—popular songs about real or mythical cross-dressed women soldiers—provides a useful way of thinking about the representation of women in the Mercure. Dugaw writes,

If the ballads suggest anything, it is that “masculine” (or “feminine”) behavior—playing the part—and “male” (or “female”) identity—being the person—can be two differ­ent things. Thus the ballads do not in fact privilege the “masculine” at all, because at a deeper level they actu­ally subvert not only the privilege of one gender over the other, but the very category of gender itself. How reliable is such a category that can so easily conceal as much as it re­veals? (Dugaw 158–159)

Characters who transgress traditional gender-based behavioral norms lead us to reexamine the assumptions upon which these norms depend.[19]

Concealed sex and questions of gender identity lie at the heart of one the Mercure’s most famous nouvelles,the “Histoire de la Marquise-Marquis de Banneville,” published in the periodical first in 1695, and then again in 1696 in a revised and expanded version. In her introduction to the MLA critical edition of this novella, Joan DeJean attributes the piece to a trio of authors: François-Timoléon de Choisy, Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier, and Charles Perrault. DeJean, who had previously distinguished the story as “the first true fin de siècle literary work” (Ancients 119), notes that it “presents the frontier between femininity and masculinity as . . . thor­oughly permeable” (“Introduction” xix). The “Histoire de la Marquise-Marquis de Banneville” is a sort of fractured modern fairy tale where a boy raised from birth as a girl, the ravishingly beautiful Marquise de Banne­ville, who for most of the story does not know she is biologically a man, meets and falls in love with the Marquis de Bercourt, a girl who has decided to dress and live as a man. After a courtship complicated by the secrets of their sexual status, they marry, and once they experience and understand their sexual compatibility, live happily after ever.

One may interpret the story’s title character, La Marquise-Marquis de Banneville, as a metaphor for the treatment of gender in Le Mercure Ga­lant. Joan DeJean has already demonstrated that the story, published during the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns, represents Mod­ern principles. One could further argue that the Marquise specifically emblematizes the Mercure’s “coeducational,” gender-blending pedagogy. The “Histoire de la Marquise-Marquis de Banneville” contrasts starkly with the 1674 Clitandre tale (“Les femmes sont souvent cause de la perte des hommes”). Unlike the hoary venereal disease legend presented as the antithesis of the nouvelle, the Marquise’s story is an explicitly contempo­rary tale, as befits the Modern sympathies of its authors and of Donneau de Visé; it is complete with allusions to recent literary news and trends, such as the publication of Perrault’s “La Belle au bois dormant” in the Mer­cure in 1695, or the fairy tale vogue in general. The moralizing title of the Clitandre story, a tale dismissed as inane and outdated by the story­teller’s listening public, suggests that sexual categories are immutable: women will be women and men will be men, and women often bring men’s downfall. In “La Marquise-Marquis,” however, sexual categories are not fixed.[20] This nouvelle—like the Mercure itself, with its stories of valiant female warriors and learned women—demonstrates that differ­ences between the sexes are sometimes arbitrary, that outward appearances can be deceiving, and that for this reason, we should combat prejudice and stereotypes.[21] When the young Marquise criticizes the choice of a minor character, Prince Sionad, to dress in flamboyant femi­nine fashion, the Marquise’s mother reprimands her daughter with a message of tolerance. She advises her to refrain from judging others and instead to focus on her own conduct: “Contentez-vous, ma chère enfant, de faire votre devoir et ne trouvez jamais à redire à ce que font les autres” (15). The fact that the story enjoyed special, “signature” status in the Mer­cure bolsters my claim that it presents in microcosm some of the publication’s guiding pedagogical principles. “La Marquise-Marquis” is one of the few texts, if not the only one, to be published twice in the Mer­cure’s pages, presumably because its first printing met with success and its reappearance helped sell issues of the periodical. Furthermore, within the story, the Marquise “sells” the Mercure with this somewhat backhanded “product endorsement”: “Je l’ai lue [“La Belle au Bois Dormant”] quatre fois, et ce petit conte m’a raccommodée avec le Mercure Galant où j’ai été ra­vie de le trouver,” 51). The Marquise-Marquis, at once male and female, promotes the publication even as she symbolizes its inclusive, “coeduca­tional” approach. This close relationship between the character and the periodical in which her story was published should not surprise: in classi­cal mythology, after all, the messenger god Mercury, god of eloquence, commerce, boundary-crossings, communication, and, by extension, journal­ism, is the father of the hermaphrodite. The publication that bears his name sets out to entertain and instruct without prejudice polite society, a public composed of men and women.

University of Delaware

 

Works Cited

Choisy, François-Timoléon de, Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier, and Charles Per­rault. Histoire de la Marquise-Marquis de Banneville. Ed. Joan DeJean. New York: Modern Language Association, 2004. Print.

DeJean, Joan. Ancients Against Moderns: Culture Wars and the Making of a Fin de Siècle. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1997. Print.

———. “Introduction.” François-Timoléon de Choisy, Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier, and Charles Perrault. Histoire de la Marquise-Marquis de Banneville. Ed. Joan DeJean. New York: Modern Language Association, 2004. Print.

Donneau de Visé, Jean. L’Embarras de Godard. Paris: Jean Ribou, 1668. Gallica. Web. 5 February 2015.

———.Le Mercure Galant. Paris: Barbin, 1672–1710. Gallica. Web. 5 February 2015.

———. La Veuve à la Mode. In Théâtre du XVIIe Siècle. Vol. 2. Ed. Jacques Scherer and Jacques Truchet. Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléïade, Gallimard, 1986. Print.

Dugaw, Dianne. Warrior Women and Popular Balladry, 1600–1850. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. Print.

Fournel, Victor. Les Contemporains de Molière, recueil de comédies, rares ou peu connues, jouées de 1650 à 1680 avec l'histoire de chaque théâtre, des notes et notices biographiques, bibliographiques et cri­tiques.Vol. 3. Genève: Slatkine, 1863–1865. Print.

Garber, Marjorie. Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Identity. London: Routledge, 1992. Print.

Hanley, Sarah. “Engendering the State: Family Formation and State Build­ing in Early Modern France.” French Historical Studies 16.1 (1989): 4–27. Print.

Harvey, Sara. “La critique littéraire dans le Mercure galant : lorsque la galanterie rencontre les exigences d’une politique culturelle.” In La Média­tisation du littéraire dans l’Europe des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles. Ed. Florence Boulerie. Biblio17 205. Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 2013. 129–141. Print.

Hogg, Chloé. “Useful Wounds.” In Perfection. Ed. Anne L. Birberick. EMF: Studies in Early Modern France 12. Charlottesville, VA: Rookwood Press, 2008. 1–25. Print.

———.“War Relations: A Journalist Writes the Sun King's Wars.”In Rela­tions & Relationships in Seventeenth-Century French Literature. Ed. Jennifer R. Perlmutter. Biblio 17 166. Tubingen: Gunter Narr, 2006. 197–208. Print.

Perlmutter, Jennifer R. “Sociopolitical Education and the Nouvelles of the Mercure Galant.” In The Art of Instruction: Essays on Pedagogy and Lit­erature in 17th-Century France. Ed. Anne L. Birberick. Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi, 2008. Print.

Racevskis, Roland. Time and Ways of Knowing under Louis XIV: Mo­lière, Sévigné, Lafayette. Lewisburg, PA : Bucknell UP, 2003. Print.

Sgard, Jean. “Jean Donneau de Visé (1638–1710).” Dictionnaire des journa­listes, 1600–1789.       http://dictionnaire-journalistes.gazettes18e.fr/journaliste/244-jean-donneau-de-vise. Web. 5 February 2015.

Stedman, Allison. Rococo Fiction in France, 1600–1715: Seditious Frivol­ity. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2013. Print.

Steinberger, Deborah. “Obstinate Women and Sleeping Beauties in the Kingdom of Miracles: Conversion Stories in the Mercure galant’s Anti-Protestant Propaganda.” Papers on French Seventeenth-Century Lit­erature 40:58 (2013): 1–15. Print.

———.“The Difficult Birth of the Good Mother: Donneau de Visé’s L’Embarras de Godard ou l’Accouchée.” In Maternal Measures: Figur­ing Caregiving in the Early Modern Period. Edited by Naomi J. Miller and Naomi Yavneh, 201–211. Hampshire, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2000. Print.

Viala, Alain. La France galante. Paris : PUF, 2008.

Vincent, Monique. Anthologie des nouvelles du Mercure Galant (1672–1710). Paris: Société des Textes Français Modernes, 1996. Print.

———. Donneau de Visé et Le Mercure Galant. 2 vols. Paris: Aux Ama­teurs de Livres, 1987. Print.

———. “Le Mercure Galant à l’écoute de ses institutions. ” Travaux de Littérature 19 (Jan. 2006): 187–199. Print.

———. Mercure Galant, Extraordinaire, Affaires du temps : Tableau analy­tique contenant l’inventaire de tous les articles publiés 1672–1710. Paris: Honoré Champion, 1998. Print.

———. Le Mercure Galant : Présentation de la première revue féminine d’information et de culture (1672–1710). Paris: Honoré Champion, 2005. Print.


[1] In addition to the studies by Monique Vincent, Joan DeJean, Jennifer Perlmutter, and Allison Stedman cited in this article, I refer here to points of view expressed by Chloé Hogg, Sara Harvey, and Alain Viala in their respective works (please see “Works Cited”).

[2] Thomas Corneille joined Donneau de Visé at the helm of Le Mercure Galant in 1682, and the two collaborated until Corneille became too ill to continue in this role, around 1700. Charles Rivière Dufresny (1648–1724) took over as editor in chief after Donneau de Visé’s death in 1710. Since Donneau de Visé conceived the project and laid its groundwork, when I allude to “the editor” I am mostly referring to him, though admittedly it is at times difficult to distinguish his contributions to the publication from Corneille’s.

[3] Nearly all citations from Le Mercure Galant are taken from the edition available on Gallica (gallica.bnf.fr). The few issues of the periodical from the period 1672–1710 that have not yet been digitized are available on microfilm created by the Bibliothèque Nationale and held by major research libraries.

Issues of Le Mercure Galant published between 1672 and 1677 appeared irregularly and were assigned volume numbers, which I cite in my references. In 1677 only, the publication’s title was modified to Nouveau Mercure Galant. After 1677, the periodical returned to its original title and appeared monthly; volume numbers were used only exceptionally, when the quantity of material was so great that a single month’s issue was divided into multiple tomes issued simultaneously.

[4] In her analysis of the Mercure’s role in the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns, Joan DeJean cites the paper’s “pro-female bias” (Ancients 66).

[5] Perlmutter emphasizes Donneau de Visé’s dedication of his periodical to the Dauphin starting in 1677, which “further legitimizes it and provides a male counterpoint that represents the male readership to the ‘Madame’ figure to which he addresses each issue of the journal” (58). According to Monique Vincent, after 1677 “[Le Mercure Galant] complétait son image en ne dissociant pas belles-lettres et galanterie, savants et beaux esprits, lecteurs et lectrices” (“Le Mercure Galant à l’écoute” 194). For more on Le Mercure Galant’s different phases, see Vincent, Donneau de Visé et le Mercure Galant 121.

[6] The Extraordinaire, a supplement to the Mercure, appeared quarterly starting in 1678, and showcased contributions from readers on a wide variety of subjects and in numerous genres. Questions, or topics for debate, a salon-inspired activity, were a frequent feature; readers were invited to respond, often in verse. Monique Vincent finds little to distinguish the monthly Mercure from the Extraordinaire: “[P]arues sous le titre d’ensemble du Mercure Galant, [ces publications] n’en font qu’une et la matière qui les compose s’interpénètre de telle manière qu’une dissociation systématique entraînerait une confusion ou des répétitions regrettables” (Vincent, Donneau de Visé 219). Nonetheless, a distinct editorial voice is mostly lacking in the Extraordinaire, and its wholly reader-generated contents appear more random, and more clearly the product of amateurs.

[7] These pieces are cited in Vincent, Donneau de Visé 264. The question was announced in the Extraordinaire of October 1678 (391), and a response appeared in the following issue (Extraordinaire January 1679, 136–138).

[8] Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657–1757) was the nephew of the Corneille brothers, and a frequent contributor to Le Mercure Galant.

[9] We see this trait in Donneau de Visé’s theater as well as in his journalism. His dramatic production includes unique “slice of life” comedies, usually centered on women’s experiences; they treat the moments surrounding childbirth, or the loss of a husband (L’Embarras de Godard andLa Veuve à la mode respectively, both first performed in 1667). For more on these comedies, see Steinberger, “The Difficult Birth of the Good Mother: Donneau de Visé’s L’Embarras de Godard ou l’Accouchée.”

[10]Describing the French victory at Genoa, for example, he says of his sources, “Ces diverses lettres écrites par divers particuliers qui se sont trouvez aux endroits dont ils parlent, sont des preuves convaincantes de la vérité” (June 1684, 3: 200).

[11] See Sarah Hanley’s examination of this subject, “Engendering the State: Family Formation and State Building in Early Modern France.”

[12]Monique Vincent includes this story in her Anthologie des nouvelles du Mercure Galant (324–336).

[13] See also Time and Ways of Knowing, in which Roland Racevskis highlights the “accelerated processes of knowledge acquisition and transmission” facilitated by both the Mercure Galant and the newly-instituted postal service.

[14] Jean Loret’s gazette La Muse Historique (1650–1665) did provide literary news, but its circulation was much more restricted than that of Le Mercure Galant; it was originally intended solely for Marie de Longueville and her circle.

[15] For additional topics covered in the periodical, see Monique Vincent’s subject index (Mercure Galant, Extraordinaire, Affaires du temps: Table analytique contenant l’inventaire de tous les articles publiés 16721710), an invaluable resource for Mercure research.

[16] The connection between one of the Mercure’s principal authors, Fontenelle, and our modern notion of multiculturalism has been drawn by Joan DeJean (Ancients 125–126).

[17] For a perceptive discussion of the “injunctive exemplarity” of the Mercure’s nouvelles, see Perlmutter, “Sociopolitical Education.”

[18] The first of these two nouvelles is reprinted in Vincent’s anthology, pp. 241–250.

[19] Marjorie Garber makes a similar argument about transvestism in her Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Identity.

[20] The question of the tale’s attribution emphasizes the instability of these categories. In his 1695 introduction to the nouvelle, the Mercure’s editor refers to its author as a woman. However, when “La Belle au bois” was published in the Mercure in 1696, the editor indicated that the author of this story was the same person who wrote “La Marquise.” At the same time, it was common knowledge that Perrault was the author of “La Belle,” and in fact, within the narrative of “La Marquise-Marquis,” the author of “La Belle” is referred to as a man (Choisy, L’Héritier, and Perrault 51). Joan DeJean cites these discrepancies as evidence that the “Histoire de la Marquise-Marquis” was the product of collaboration by both male and female authors. On the other hand, the fact that the author’s gender appears undetermined or unstable perfectly suits the story’s main themes (“Introduction” xvii).

[21] Except perhaps when it comes to Protestants. See Steinberger, “Obstinate Women and Sleeping Beauties in the Kingdom of Miracles: Conversion Stories in the Mercure Galant’s Anti-Protestant Propaganda.”

( categories: )

'Meh': The Unmarked Jews of Nicolas Boindin’s _Le Port de mer_

Article Citation: 
17 (2016), 28–40
Author: 
Jennifer R. Perlmutter
Article Text: 

Perlmutter, Printable PDF

A priori assumptions about Jews abounded in seventeenth-century France. Originating in the Middle Ages, some of these assumptions drew from superstition; many French people believed that Jews engaged in the ritual murder of Christian children, that they were lustful, and that they held a lifelong pact with Satan. Others stemmed from historical events and re­alities such as those that held that Jewish men were feminized through circumcision, that Jews were Christ killers, that they were traders of se­cond-hand goods and usurers.[1] The playwright and theorist Nicolas Boindin was born in 1676 into a society that espoused such beliefs and inevitably came in contact with these biases. Yet, he depicts two Jewish characters in his now little-known 1704 play, Le Port de mer, in a manner that suggests that his own perspective was largely unformed by them.[2] Al­though Nicolas Boindin includes characters he either explicitly identifies as or suggests are Jewish, these characters remain fundamentally “unmarked” by their Jewishness. In using the term “unmarked,” I am adapting Judaic Studies scholar Irven M. Resnick’s concept of “marking” that he indirectly de­fines as the referencing of an indelible nature, in this case a Jewish one (11). While Boindin’s characters do have superficial markings of Jewish­ness, I argue that they remain fundamentally unmarked in that he does not attribute any indelible Jewish nature to these characters, nor do the other characters appear to respond to any such perceived nature. For this reason, Le Port de mer represents a significant departure from how most of Boindin’s contemporaries thought about the Jews.

Henry Lancaster underscores the importance of these characters in not­ing that Le Port de mer “is the first French play in which one of the leading male characters is a modern Jew and in which the heroine is a mod­ern Jewess” (270). The characters in question are Sabatin, a father who is a merchant, and his daughter, Benjamine, who is looking for a hus­band. As historian Adam Sutcliffe remarks, “Judaism was […] widely used in the seventeenth century as a form of conceptual token, deployed for its particular rhetorical authority” (87). Indeed, Jewishness was a powerful concept, incorporated into a text less to say something about the Jews themselves than to give authors a foil that allowed them to say something about their own society instead. That Boindin included Jewish characters in his play suggests that he did so for a strategic purpose. While literary scholar John Dunkley has addressed Boindin’s approach to the “other” in his article “Nicholas [sic] Boindin: The Presentation and Re-presentation of Alterity,” the present work goes further in that it will consider a dynamic fundamental to Le Port de mer itself, yet distinct from any religious tension, as an indication as to why Boindin depicts Sabatin and Benjamine as he does. Specifically, I show that instead of emphasizing these characters’ Jewishness, Boindin focuses on the tension that exists between the father and the daughter over the choice of a husband. While Sabatin and Benjamine are on one level simply playing out the sort of money vs. love generational dispute common to comedic father-daughter pairings of the past (cf: Molière), it is through his focus on this storyline played out by two Jewish characters that Boindin is, in fact, commenting on the place of otherness in late seven­teenth-century French society.

Nicolas Boindin was not a prolific writer, and his stint as a fiction writer was a particularly short one.[3] One of only four authors of comedies performed at the Comédie-Française during the last years of Louis XIV’s reign (Lancaster 266), Boindin published three comedic plays between 1701 and 1707; a fourth appeared posthumously in 1753.[4] Three of these plays are only one act long. Accepted into the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres in 1706 at the age of thirty and supported by influential peers such as Voltaire, Boindin nonetheless never came to occupy one of the coveted chairs of the Académie française. A nineteenth-century biog­rapher attributes this rejection to Boindin’s rather public and unabashed atheism which, as I later show, helped define the role Jewishness plays in Le Port de mer (Bibliographie 15). Whatever the reason, Boindin’s rejec­tion did not appear to deeply trouble him. Indeed, he gloried in his reputation as a contrarian and used his atheism as conversational fodder during his regular visits to Paris’s cafés. It was most likely at the popular Café Laurent that Boindin met Antoine Houdar de La Motte who became a close friend and collaborator on two of his comedies. While they are said to have co-written Les trois Gascons in 1701, it is thought that La Motte only contributed advice on the later Le Port de mer (Dunkley “Alterity” 84).[5] It was this play that enjoyed the greatest success among Boindin’s contemporaries, with sixty performances by the end of 1715 (Lancaster 272).[6] Despite his popularity at the time and Le Port de mer’s success, little current scholarship has been written on Nicolas Boindin.[7]

It is easy to understand why audiences found Le Port de mer appeal­ing. It is a light, comedic love story in the manner of Molière, set in a seaport and populated by a cast of characters with tongue-in-cheek names. Sabatin is the molièresque father, an unscrupulous man with his eye on the bottom line who has arranged for his daughter, Benjamine, to marry Doutremer, a seafaring fellow who has a way with pirating. But Benja­mine finds Doutremer’s coarse manners and the prospect of a life at sea with him repugnant; she prefers his more refined nephew, Leandre, who is be­sotted with her, too. Fortunately, they have loyal servants to help them find a way to be together. Leandre’s valet, La Saline, and Benjamine’s lady’s maid, Marine, devise a scheme to dissuade Sabatin and Doutremer from pursuing the marriage. They stumble upon Leandre’s thieving former footman, Brigantin, who has been sent to the galleys for stealing from thea­tergoers. Facing little choice, Brigantin quickly offers to help Leandre as a means of compensating for his earlier wrongdoings while in his ser­vice. Disguise is at the heart of their scheme. La Saline dresses as a Turkish slave trader, Brigantin as a female slave, and Leandre as a Moor—complete with blackface—and head to the slave market where they expect to run into Sabatin. As anticipated, he is there, and La Saline easily con­vinces him to bring home the two slaves to try out for free. Once at Sabatin’s house, Brigantin and Leandre seek out Marine and Benjamine, to whom they reveal their true identities once they are convinced of Benja­mine’s feelings for Leandre. They return to their disguises when Sabatin interrupts them. Brigantin, in character as a female slave, explains that she was describing to his daughter that she had married a pirate only to dis­cover she was his thirteenth wife. This pirate, Doutremer himself, was now back on shore seeking his fourteenth wife. Sabatin is sufficiently out­raged, but as luck would have it, Doutremer shows up right at that time, and the three schemers are no longer able to maintain their masquerade. Rather than punishing their treachery, Sabatin instead asks Doutremer whether he would prefer to allow Leandre to marry Benjamine. In ex­change for the return of some jewels his nephew has stolen from him, Doutremer hands over Benjamine to him. A singing, dancing Feste Ma­rine follows, complete with Australian women and a monkey.[8]

The seaport setting of Le Port de mer surdetermines the entire play, from the names of the characters to their cavalier attitude toward women. The play abounds with foreigners, common criminals, slaves and pirates—the usual suspects in any seaport world. The two Jewish characters, Saba­tin, and his daughter, Benjamine, are right at home with this motley crew, all of whom, with the exception of those who are already enslaved, appear to live without fear of prejudice or imprisonment. This is surprising given the stigma popular imagination attached to such characters at the time. In fact, Boindin draws our attention to the absence of such prejudice in his play through his choice of setting. Le Port de mer takes place in a Tuscan port town called Livorno,[9] which is known for its “Leggi Livornine” or Livornian Laws. Enacted in 1590 by Ferdinando I of Medici, these laws provided amnesty for some criminals, established privileges for merchants that included tax benefits, Tuscan nationality, and the right to own prop­erty and, most importantly for our present study, allowed freedom of worship. Livorno became a thriving, cosmopolitan city, a haven for petty criminals, merchants, pirates, and religious refugees from around the world. Jews from Spain and Portugal were the first of their religion to immi­grate to Livorno following their expulsion from their home countries in 1492 and 1497, respectively. In 1667, a second wave of Jews arrived from what is now Algeria. Livorno was exceptionally accommodating to this population. Unlike their experience in almost all other places in Eu­rope, Jews of Livorno were not required to live in a ghetto in this city, nor were they obliged to wear identifying clothing; they could also hire Chris­tians as domestic help, as Sabatin himself does. While elsewhere Jews would be indelibly marked as other and treated as such, in Livorno they received the same treatment as everyone else. The concept of “otherness” was, ironically, foreign to Livorno.

This location calls to mind Foucault’s heterotopias, spaces that exist within societies, each of which serves a function (761). There are different types of heterotopias, but Foucault provides the following overarching defini­tion:

des lieux réels, des lieux effectifs, des lieux qui sont dessi­nés dans l’institution même de la société, et qui sont des sortes de contre-emplacements, sortes d’utopies effective­ment réalisées dans lesquelles tous les autres emplacements réels que l’on peut trouver à l’intérieur de la culture sont à la fois représentés, contestés et inversés, des sortes de lieux qui sont hors de tous les lieux, bien que pour­tant ils soient effectivement localisables. (755–56)

Heterotopias are, in essence, realized utopias. Examples include theaters and gardens as well as convalescent homes, psychiatric wards, and pris­ons. While only some of Foucault’s heterotopias are localities in which people find themselves voluntarily, all of them are demarcated in space. Specifically, Livorno is a type of “heterotopia of deviation” which Fou­cault defines as “celle dans laquelle on place les individus dont le comportement est déviant par rapport à la moyenne ou à la norme exigée” (757). I would add that even the suspicion that these individuals’ behavior deviates from the norm justifies their inclusion in such spaces. As does a prison, Livorno houses criminals, but it also welcomes those such as Jews whose mere presence elsewhere gives rise to concerns. However, unlike a prison or the other heterotopias Foucault identifies, Livorno does not have strictly defined boundaries. This seaport town opens onto the Ligurian Sea and thereby allows for a freedom of movement uncharacteristic of most heterotopias. It is this freedom of movement that Doutremer references toward the end of Le Port de mer and which I will analyze below as it re­lates to the particular function of this heterotopia. Like Jewishness in seventeenth-century writing and therefore the Jewishness of Le Port de mer’s characters, Livorno as a heterotopia that welcomes Jews among oth­ers serves a particular function in this play.

As mentioned above, the two heroes of Le Port de mer are Jewish and en­joy the freedoms life in Livorno affords them, and I maintain that Boindin’s depiction of Sabatin and Benjamine reflects their status as Jews in Livorno. Boindin does identify Sabatin as Jewish and Benjamine as such by relation, but the Jewishness of these characters does not get in the way of their interactions with those around them, nor does it determine the storyline. Indeed, there is a collective “meh,” a social indifference to what was generally perceived as a significant and remarkable religious differ­ence at the time. In other words, others do not seem to treat Sabatin and Benjamine differently because of their Jewishness; their Jewishness is “unre­markable,” so to speak.

Nonetheless, Sabatin and Benjamine are dissimilar to each other in the de­gree to which they are unmarked, and I will argue below that this distinction is key to understanding their respective roles in the play. First, Sabatin and Benjamine are presented differently from the outset. The au­thor (or perhaps his editor) identifies Sabatin as Jewish in the character list at the beginning of the play, and the other characters repeatedly mention his Jewishness to each other, referring to him as “nôtre Juif” [sic] and “le Juif.” Benjamine’s Jewishness, on the other hand, is never made explicit. We assume she is Jewish because her father is, but neither Boindin nor his characters mention this fact. Second, Sabatin’s name is explicitly Jewish. Derived from the Italian “sabato” meaning “Saturday,” it refers to the Jew­ish day of rest or Sabbath. The following humoristic exchange between Brigantin and La Saline in scene two further emphasizes the ethnic origins of the father’s name:

Brigantin

A qui en veut donc ton Maître icy?

La Saline

A la fille d’un certain Juif, chez qui je me suis introduit.

Brigantin

Son nom ?

La Saline

Je n’en ai pû encore retenir que la moitié ; Hazaël-Raka-Nimbrod-Iscarioth-Sabatin.

Brigantin

Quoi ! Benjamine, la fille de M. Sabatin ?[10] (145)

In contrast, Sabatin’s daughter is identified only by her first name, Benja­mine. This name has its origins in the Old Testament but is a common name not only in Jewish but also in Christian families. It is a more ambi­guous identifier than that of Sabatin, whose Jewishness is reinforced by La Saline’s enumeration of his other names of biblical origin. Finally, Sabatin is a merchant, one of the few professions exercised by Jews in the seven­teenth century.[11] Benjamine’s primary occupation, on the other hand, entails convincing her father to allow her to marry the man she loves ra­ther than the man he has chosen for her. Given Benjamine’s lack of superficial markings of Jewishness, that her mother is never mentioned in the play should come as no surprise. Judaism is a matrilineal religion and the mother’s absence further underscores Benjamine’s unmarkedness.[12] In short, Benjamine’s Jewishness is presumed but never identified explicitly, while Sabatin has explicit superficial markers of Jewishness.

This dissimilarity extends to Sabatin and Benjamine’s respective na­tures, and while these natures do reflect the degree to which each character is identified as Jewish, I maintain that it is not their relative Jewishness that determines these natures, and that their natures are not perceived as particularly Jewish. On the one hand, Sabatin is the greedy patriarch simi­lar to the ones who populate Molière’s plays: stubborn and somewhat shady in his dealings but able to be won over. Benjamine, on the other hand, does not seem to have inherited any of her father’s character flaws. La Saline’s continued discussion with Brigantin highlights this distinction. La Saline asks Brigantin if he knows M. Sabatin, to which Brigantin re­plies:

Trait pour trait. Tien, l’usure, la dureté, la défiance, la fraude, & le parjure, avec quelques régles [sic] d’Arithmétique n’est-ce pas ce qu’on appelle ici M. Sabatin ?

La Saline responds,

Justement, mais en récompense, la générosité, la ten­dresse, la franchise, & la constance, avec une taille divine, le visage le plus gratieux, les yeux les plus brillans du monde, & mille autres menus attraits, c’est ce qu’on ap­pelle ici Benjamine. (146)

As we can see, Sabatin’s many shortcomings are well known by others. It is true that popular imagination at the time often associated these particu­lar shortcomings with Jewish merchants, as Dunkley observes.[13] However, Boindin, through Brigantin, enumerates these character flaws not as traits specifically associated with Jewishness—after all, Benjamine has none of them—but instead as those particular to the traditional father figure who seeks an advantageous marriage for his daughter. Brigantin fears for Lean­dre not because he is courting the daughter of a man who is Jewish but because he is courting the daughter of a man who is greedy and stubborn. Brigantin knows that his former master, Leandre, will face a formidable opponent in trying to marry Benjamine for love, since he lacks the finan­cial resources her father seeks.

In Le Port de mer, Boindin dissociates Jewishness from any particular in­delible mark of a Jewish nature. Instead, it stands in for the system of Old Regime values that had slowly begun to unravel by its 1704 publica­tion date. The dissimilarity in the degree to which Boindin identifies both Sabatin and Benjamine as Jewish does not mark them as having dissimilar—not to mention specifically – Jewish natures. Instead, it serves to identify them relative to a value system that maintains religion as a valid basis on which to pass judgment, a value system that Boindin, a self-professed atheist, does not espouse. When Boindin attributes superficial and easily recognizable markers of Jewishness such as a name and a trade to Sabatin, he is really identifying him as a patriarch who subscribes to the old world value system by which one person’s being Jewish means some­thing to another. It follows that Benjamine’s lack of even superficial Jewish markers signals her disengagement from that system and thereby her modernity.[14] For the atheistic Boindin, Jewishness is a signifier he appro­priates to communicate new meaning rather than a source of interest in and of itself. Dunkley writes,

Boindin ne s’occupe nullement de la religion de Saba­tin, sans doute parce qu’il regarde du même œil le judaïsme et le christianisme. C’est uniquement l’inhumanité du person­nage et la malhonnêteté de ses affaires qu’il évoque. … [S]on indifférence sentimentale n’a rien de spécifique­ment juif ; la majorité des pères-‘obstacles’ des comédies lui ressemblent assez. (LXII-LXIII)

One only has to look back at Molière’s Harpagon (L’avare), Sganarelle (Le Médecin malgré lui), Géronte and Argante (both in Les Fourberies de Scapin), among others, to find comedic incarnations of the traditional fa­ther figure who resemble Sabatin. None of them is Jewish, yet all take their role as old world patriarch to an extreme.

Like that of his literary predecessors, Sabatin’s indelibly marked charac­teristic is not his Jewishness but his greed. Just as Sabatin is not the only father figure in early-modern French literature with this vice, he is also not the only inhabitant of Livorno with it. Based on his depictions of Sabatin and Benjamine, we can neither say that Boindin suggests that there exists a causal relationship between Jewishness and avarice nor that he disparages Jews. As Lancaster maintains, “The play cannot … be consid­ered anti-Semitic, for to [Sabatin’s] daughter is attributed all the generosity, tenderness, and beauty that he lacks, while the Gentiles are not better than he” (271). Sabatin’s greed results from his particular interpreta­tion of patriarchal values that mark him as old school; after all, “l’avarice devient un vice avec l’âge” (Desan 118). What feeds this avarice is not Sabatin’s Jewishness but his trade. Philippe Desan calls capitalism an institu­tionalized form of greed (115), and merchants such as Sabatin—not to mention pirates such as Doutremer—depend on and exploit this eco­nomic system for their livelihood. Sabatin might be superficially marked as Jewish while Benjamine is not, but what fundamentally distinguishes him from his daughter is his stubborn adherence to and exploitation of a traditional system of values that prioritizes financial gain over love when deciding whom she should marry. While being superficially marked as Jewish does not entail being treated as “other” in Livorno, it does signify a generational difference that, in Sabatin’s case, plays out through his unscrupu­lous mercantilism.

Le Port de mer’s heterotopic setting functions to support the schemes of characters such as Sabatin. With its easy access to the sea, Livorno facili­tates transactions both kosher and not; indeed, the seaport enables the greedy to thrive because it allows them freedom of movement between land and water. Literary critic Frank Lestringant remarks on the fact that people first displayed greediness around the same time the possibilities for their travel expanded, a statement that implies a co-dependence between greed and travel: one travels in order to satisfy one’s desire for material gain and one has a desire for material gain because one knows it is now possible to achieve it (149). As mentioned above, seaports such as Livorno lack strictly defined physical boundaries and thereby facilitate such travel. Livorno itself also lacks moral boundaries, as is evidenced by its openness to deviant populations. The seaport setting therefore lends itself well to the flourishing of greed and other potential harbingers of criminal behavior. Lestringant explains how, in turn, greed itself entails a further blurring of boundaries: 

Ainsi donc l’avarice entraîne, avec l’expansion pre­mière de l’humanité hors d’elle-même, le brouillage des limites; elle établit la communication contre nature des lieux séparés et provoque le court-circuit de l’enfer et du ciel, de la terre solide et de l’élément liquide. (150)

Here, Lestringant references the moral gray zone in which greed resides and that, in Le Port de mer, echoes Livorno’s physical openness and its inclusiveness. While it is clear that this heterotopia plays an important role in support of its heterogeneous population, it also serves a broader func­tion in relationship to its surrounding space.

Foucault states that “[les hétérotopies] ont, par rapport à l’espace restant, une fonction” (761), and it is this function that is the key to under­standing that of the unmarked Jewish characters in Boindin’s play. In spite of its seediness, Livorno can be considered in a positive light as an unusu­ally tolerant place where Old Regime values are relativized and reinterpreted. As I argue above, Sabatin’s superficial markers of Jewish­ness suggest that he subscribes to—at least partially—a traditional value system that prioritizes financial gain over love in a marriage. While Li­vorno facilitates his mercantilism, it also fosters his greed, which is what defines him as other in the eyes of those with whom he interacts. Although he has a Jewish name and trade, Sabatin does not face criticism because of them but because of his unscrupulousness. In contrast, Benjamine, with her lack of superficial markers of Jewishness, embodies the modern values of Li­vorno itself. Because Boindin tells his public that her father is Jewish, it is particularly notable that he does not do the same for her even though she clearly is. I maintain that this is because Benjamine does not subscribe to the outmoded system of values of her father. Although Benjamine is Jew­ish, she remains outside the concept of otherness, a concept that Livorno does not recognize or foster. Despite this difference between the father and his daughter, neither is indelibly marked as Jewish, just as none of their compatriots is indelibly marked as other. I agree with Dunkley that “[i]t is in Jewishness that … alterity is located. But this does not affect Jewish­ness as a whole” (“Nicholas [sic] Boindin” 91). In Livorno, all types come and go, and the concept of “otherness” remains foreign. It is no surprise that Boindin’s play is entitled “Le Port de mer” rather than “Benjamine” or even “Sabatin,” for it is the seaport itself that represents the modern val­ues Boindin loudly touted in Paris’s cafés. After all, Boindin “était naturellement contradicteur” (Biographie 16). It is through an analysis of this author’s seemingly indifferent treatment of Jewishness at a time when most perceived it as a threatening other that we arrive at this understand­ing.

Le Port de mer is clearly a modern play set in a town where being called a pirate, a criminal, or a Jew is akin to being called brunette, green-eyed, or tall. In this play, these markers of identity have lost their meaning and operate as empty signifiers of the system that established their original values. Toward the end of the play, the pirate, Doutremer, reveals how slip­pery these markers have become. By that time, we have learned that he has another name, “Salomin,” which is most likely his birth name. Al­though no characters refer to him as Jewish, this Old Testament name referring to one of the kings of Israel certainly suggests that he is also Jew­ish.[15] Just as Doutremer has given up a life on land in favor of one at sea, so too has he given up his birth name for one that reflects his seafaring ways. Doutremer chastises La Saline when he refers to him as “Monsieur Salomin”  by responding, “Tais-toi, je ne suis Salomin qu’à Merseille [sic], & je suis ici Doutremer. Je change de nom & de pavillon, selon mes intérêts” (189). It is worth noting here that King Solomon’s best-known attribute was his wisdom.[16] It is certainly no coincidence that Boindin put such a declaration in the mouth of a character the public would readily iden­tify as wise. In doing so, Boindin is predicting the ultimate triumph of a value system in which superficial markers of identity serve simply as linguistic currency while one’s nature is now defined by the choices made by the individual. In other words, he predicts a triumph of the modernes over the anciens as we find in Livorno. Through his depiction of un­marked Jews, Boindin expresses his anticipation of a post-monarchal society in which citizens are no longer subject to the identities bestowed upon them by birth, and Old Regime rigidity is rejected in favor of a less stratified and less prejudiced mental frame.

Portland State University

 

Works Cited

Bibliographie universelle, ancienne et moderne ou histoire, par ordre alpha­bétique, de la vie publique et privée de tous les hommes qui se sont distingués par leurs écrits, leurs actions, leurs talents, leurs ver­tus ou leurs crimes. Tome cinquième. Paris : chez Michaud Frères, 1812.

Benbassa, Esther. Histoire des Juifs de France de l’Antiquité à nos jours. Paris : Éditions du Seuil, 2000.

Boindin, Nicolas. “Le Port de mer.” Quatre comédies. Ed. John Dunkley. Paris: Société des Textes Français Modernes, 1997. 136–200.

Desan, Philippe. “L’avarice chez Montaigne.” Seizième Siècle. 4 (2008) 113–24.

Dunkley, John. “Nicholas [sic] Boindin: The Presentation and Re-presenta­tion of Alterity.” Romance Studies. 31 (1991) 83–94.

———. “Introduction” in Quatre comedies. Ed. John Dunkley. Paris: So­ciété des Textes Français Modernes, 1997. VII–XCV.

Foucault, Michel. “Des espaces autres.” Dits et écrits. Volume II. Paris: Éditions Gallimard. 1994. 752–62.

Lancaster, Henry Carrington. Sunset : A History of Parisian Drama in the Last Years of Louis XIV, 1701–1715. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1945 (1976).

Lestringant, Frank. “Avarice et voyage.” Seizième Siècle. 4 (2008) 149–70.

Mancewicz, Aneta and Kazimierz Wielki. “Shakespeare in Europe: Introduc­tion.” MIT Global Shakespeares. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 5 June 2014.

Michael, Robert. A History of Catholic Antisemitism. The Dark Side of the Church. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Pemble, John. Shakespeare Goes to Paris. How the Bard Conquered France. London and New York: Hambledon and London, 2005.

Resnick, Irven M. Marks of Distinction. Christian Perceptions of Jews in the High Middle Ages. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012.

Rozenblit, Marsha L. “Intermarriage: Modern Europe and United States” in Baskin, Judith R. The Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 277–78.

Sutcliffe, Adam. “The Philosemitic Moment? Judaism and Republicanism in Seventeenth-Century European Thought.” In Philosemitism in History, eds. Jonathan Karp and Adam Sutcliffe, 67–89. Cambridge: Cambridge Univer­sity Press, 2011..

Trachtenberg, Joshua. The Devil and the Jews. The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relation to Modern Antisemitism. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1993.

Yardeni, Myriam. Anti-Jewish Mentalities in Early Modern Europe. Lanham, New York, London: University Press of America, 1990.


[1]See Esther Benbassa’s Histoire des Juifs de France, Robert Michael’s A History of Catholic Antisemitism, Joshua Trachtenberg’s The Devil and the Jews and Myriam Yardeni’s Anti-Jewish Mentalities in Early Modern Europe, among others, for an overview of the perception of Jews throughout French history.

[2]I would like to thank Perry Gethner for introducing me to this work.

[3]Boindin also wrote memoirs, letters and one discourse, some of which were published after his death in 1751.

[4]Lancaster casts some doubt on the attribution of Le petit maître de robe, thought to be Boindin’s fourth and last play (267).

[5] Repeated disputes with La Motte over authorship credit among other issues led to the dissolution of their friendship. Boindin began to frequent the Procope instead (Bibliographie 16).

[6]Lancaster notes that “it was acted more frequently than any other play by an author who began to write after 1700” (272). Le Port de mer opened for Bérénice, Ariane, Les femmes savantes and L’école des femmes, among others. Its format (and, perhaps, its exoticism) lent itself to popularity. As a result of the Querelle du théâtre incited by Madame de Maintenon in 1694, fewer tragedies were performed and the most successful productions were short, one-act plays. As Dunkley explains, “Afin de lutter contre la désaffection du public et la concurrence de la Foire, les Comédiens-Français trouvèrent deux expédients: diminuer le nombre relatif de représentations de tragédies et jouer fréquemment les petites pièces en un acte […]. Le moment était donc favorable pour les compositions de Boindin” (“Introduction” xxix).

[7]A search of the MLA database on May 3, 2014 turned up only four titles, three of which were written by Dunkley.

[8] While it is tempting to regard Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice as inspiration for this play due to its seaport setting and the Jewish father-daughter main characters, it is highly unlikely that Boindin had read or seen it. John Pemble remarks that “The French did not discover Shakespeare until they discovered England; and they did not discover England until Voltaire, the abbé Prévost, and the baron de Montesquieu crossed the Channel at various times in the 1720s” (1). He goes on to explain that Shakespeare’s plays were not performed in France until the early nineteenth century (35). Furthermore, I have not found evidence that Boindin knew English or that Shakespeare’s plays were readily available in France at this time either in English or in French translation (see Pemble xiii and Mancewicz). (I would like to thank Melissa Walter for suggesting these references.) Lancaster attributes Boindin’s inspiration instead to Molière’s Sicilien and Champmesle’s Rue de Saint Denis (270).

[9] “Leghorn” is the town’s English name.

[10]It is worth noting that it is not Sabatin’s Jewishness that evokes Brigantin’s surprised reaction but the situation in general. His Jewishness is not the obstacle here; instead, it is, as we learn soon after, Sabatin’s dubious character.

[11]Adam Sutcliffe asserts that “no ethnic group of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was more closely associated with commerce than the Jews” (71).

[12] While it is possible that Benjamine was conceived out of wedlock, the more plausible scenario for a daughter of a Jewish merchant of the time is that she is the product of an arranged marriage. There is therefore a strong likelihood that her mother, too, is Jewish. As Marsha L. Rozenblit explains, “Before the invention of the concept of civil marriage in the modern era, all marriages were conducted under religious auspices, and intermarriage in the technical sense did not take place.” She continues, “The widespread practice of arranged marriage in the Jewish middle classes virtually guaranteed that Jews married other Jews” (277-78). Rozenblit also notes that civil marriage became widespread in Europe only in the twentieth century (278).

[13]“Marchand d’esclaves, usurier et homme d’affaires en train de méditer une banqueroute frauduleuse, Sabatin constitue une caricature de Juif tel que la mentalité populaire se le représentait alors” (Dunkley Quatre comédies lxi).

[14] Even her name, which recalls that of Benjamin, the eternally youthful youngest child of Jacob, suggests that she belongs to a new, modern generation.

[15]This would indicate that Doutremer’s nephew, Leandre, is Jewish as well and that a marriage between him and Benjamine would therefore be considered proper. However, the fact that Doutremer is probably Jewish and, by relation, his nephew, seems to have eluded some of Boindin’s contemporaries who criticized the play’s ending. See Lancaster 272.

[16] The name, however, means “peace.”

A priori assumptions about Jews abounded in seventeenth-century France. Originating in the Middle Ages, some of these assumptions drew from superstition; many French people believed that Jews engaged in the ritual murder of Christian children, that they were lustful, and that they held a lifelong pact with Satan. Others stemmed from historical events and re­alities such as those that held that Jewish men were feminized through circumcision, that Jews were Christ killers, that they were traders of se­cond-hand goods and usurers.[1] The playwright and theorist Nicolas Boindin was born in 1676 into a society that espoused such beliefs and inevitably came in contact with these biases. Yet, he depicts two Jewish characters in his now little-known 1704 play, Le Port de mer, in a manner that suggests that his own perspective was largely unformed by them.[2] Al­though Nicolas Boindin includes characters he either explicitly identifies as or suggests are Jewish, these characters remain fundamentally “unmarked” by their Jewishness. In using the term “unmarked,” I am adapting Judaic Studies scholar Irven M. Resnick’s concept of “marking” that he indirectly de­fines as the referencing of an indelible nature, in this case a Jewish one (11). While Boindin’s characters do have superficial markings of Jewish­ness, I argue that they remain fundamentally unmarked in that he does not attribute any indelible Jewish nature to these characters, nor do the other characters appear to respond to any such perceived nature. For this reason, Le Port de mer represents a significant departure from how most of Boindin’s contemporaries thought about the Jews.

Henry Lancaster underscores the importance of these characters in not­ing that Le Port de mer “is the first French play in which one of the leading male characters is a modern Jew and in which the heroine is a mod­ern Jewess” (270). The characters in question are Sabatin, a father who is a merchant, and his daughter, Benjamine, who is looking for a hus­band. As historian Adam Sutcliffe remarks, “Judaism was […] widely used in the seventeenth century as a form of conceptual token, deployed for its particular rhetorical authority” (87). Indeed, Jewishness was a powerful concept, incorporated into a text less to say something about the Jews themselves than to give authors a foil that allowed them to say something about their own society instead. That Boindin included Jewish characters in his play suggests that he did so for a strategic purpose. While literary scholar John Dunkley has addressed Boindin’s approach to the “other” in his article “Nicholas [sic] Boindin: The Presentation and Re-presentation of Alterity,” the present work goes further in that it will consider a dynamic fundamental to Le Port de mer itself, yet distinct from any religious tension, as an indication as to why Boindin depicts Sabatin and Benjamine as he does. Specifically, I show that instead of emphasizing these characters’ Jewishness, Boindin focuses on the tension that exists between the father and the daughter over the choice of a husband. While Sabatin and Benjamine are on one level simply playing out the sort of money vs. love generational dispute common to comedic father-daughter pairings of the past (cf: Molière), it is through his focus on this storyline played out by two Jewish characters that Boindin is, in fact, commenting on the place of otherness in late seven­teenth-century French society.

Nicolas Boindin was not a prolific writer, and his stint as a fiction writer was a particularly short one.[3] One of only four authors of comedies performed at the Comédie-Française during the last years of Louis XIV’s reign (Lancaster 266), Boindin published three comedic plays between 1701 and 1707; a fourth appeared posthumously in 1753.[4] Three of these plays are only one act long. Accepted into the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres in 1706 at the age of thirty and supported by influential peers such as Voltaire, Boindin nonetheless never came to occupy one of the coveted chairs of the Académie française. A nineteenth-century biog­rapher attributes this rejection to Boindin’s rather public and unabashed atheism which, as I later show, helped define the role Jewishness plays in Le Port de mer (Bibliographie 15). Whatever the reason, Boindin’s rejec­tion did not appear to deeply trouble him. Indeed, he gloried in his reputation as a contrarian and used his atheism as conversational fodder during his regular visits to Paris’s cafés. It was most likely at the popular Café Laurent that Boindin met Antoine Houdar de La Motte who became a close friend and collaborator on two of his comedies. While they are said to have co-written Les trois Gascons in 1701, it is thought that La Motte only contributed advice on the later Le Port de mer (Dunkley “Alterity” 84).[5] It was this play that enjoyed the greatest success among Boindin’s contemporaries, with sixty performances by the end of 1715 (Lancaster 272).[6] Despite his popularity at the time and Le Port de mer’s success, little current scholarship has been written on Nicolas Boindin.[7]

It is easy to understand why audiences found Le Port de mer appeal­ing. It is a light, comedic love story in the manner of Molière, set in a seaport and populated by a cast of characters with tongue-in-cheek names. Sabatin is the molièresque father, an unscrupulous man with his eye on the bottom line who has arranged for his daughter, Benjamine, to marry Doutremer, a seafaring fellow who has a way with pirating. But Benja­mine finds Doutremer’s coarse manners and the prospect of a life at sea with him repugnant; she prefers his more refined nephew, Leandre, who is be­sotted with her, too. Fortunately, they have loyal servants to help them find a way to be together. Leandre’s valet, La Saline, and Benjamine’s lady’s maid, Marine, devise a scheme to dissuade Sabatin and Doutremer from pursuing the marriage. They stumble upon Leandre’s thieving former footman, Brigantin, who has been sent to the galleys for stealing from thea­tergoers. Facing little choice, Brigantin quickly offers to help Leandre as a means of compensating for his earlier wrongdoings while in his ser­vice. Disguise is at the heart of their scheme. La Saline dresses as a Turkish slave trader, Brigantin as a female slave, and Leandre as a Moor—complete with blackface—and head to the slave market where they expect to run into Sabatin. As anticipated, he is there, and La Saline easily con­vinces him to bring home the two slaves to try out for free. Once at Sabatin’s house, Brigantin and Leandre seek out Marine and Benjamine, to whom they reveal their true identities once they are convinced of Benja­mine’s feelings for Leandre. They return to their disguises when Sabatin interrupts them. Brigantin, in character as a female slave, explains that she was describing to his daughter that she had married a pirate only to dis­cover she was his thirteenth wife. This pirate, Doutremer himself, was now back on shore seeking his fourteenth wife. Sabatin is sufficiently out­raged, but as luck would have it, Doutremer shows up right at that time, and the three schemers are no longer able to maintain their masquerade. Rather than punishing their treachery, Sabatin instead asks Doutremer whether he would prefer to allow Leandre to marry Benjamine. In ex­change for the return of some jewels his nephew has stolen from him, Doutremer hands over Benjamine to him. A singing, dancing Feste Ma­rine follows, complete with Australian women and a monkey.[8]

The seaport setting of Le Port de mer surdetermines the entire play, from the names of the characters to their cavalier attitude toward women. The play abounds with foreigners, common criminals, slaves and pirates—the usual suspects in any seaport world. The two Jewish characters, Saba­tin, and his daughter, Benjamine, are right at home with this motley crew, all of whom, with the exception of those who are already enslaved, appear to live without fear of prejudice or imprisonment. This is surprising given the stigma popular imagination attached to such characters at the time. In fact, Boindin draws our attention to the absence of such prejudice in his play through his choice of setting. Le Port de mer takes place in a Tuscan port town called Livorno,[9] which is known for its “Leggi Livornine” or Livornian Laws. Enacted in 1590 by Ferdinando I of Medici, these laws provided amnesty for some criminals, established privileges for merchants that included tax benefits, Tuscan nationality, and the right to own prop­erty and, most importantly for our present study, allowed freedom of worship. Livorno became a thriving, cosmopolitan city, a haven for petty criminals, merchants, pirates, and religious refugees from around the world. Jews from Spain and Portugal were the first of their religion to immi­grate to Livorno following their expulsion from their home countries in 1492 and 1497, respectively. In 1667, a second wave of Jews arrived from what is now Algeria. Livorno was exceptionally accommodating to this population. Unlike their experience in almost all other places in Eu­rope, Jews of Livorno were not required to live in a ghetto in this city, nor were they obliged to wear identifying clothing; they could also hire Chris­tians as domestic help, as Sabatin himself does. While elsewhere Jews would be indelibly marked as other and treated as such, in Livorno they received the same treatment as everyone else. The concept of “otherness” was, ironically, foreign to Livorno.

This location calls to mind Foucault’s heterotopias, spaces that exist within societies, each of which serves a function (761). There are different types of heterotopias, but Foucault provides the following overarching defini­tion:

des lieux réels, des lieux effectifs, des lieux qui sont dessi­nés dans l’institution même de la société, et qui sont des sortes de contre-emplacements, sortes d’utopies effective­ment réalisées dans lesquelles tous les autres emplacements réels que l’on peut trouver à l’intérieur de la culture sont à la fois représentés, contestés et inversés, des sortes de lieux qui sont hors de tous les lieux, bien que pour­tant ils soient effectivement localisables. (755–56)

Heterotopias are, in essence, realized utopias. Examples include theaters and gardens as well as convalescent homes, psychiatric wards, and pris­ons. While only some of Foucault’s heterotopias are localities in which people find themselves voluntarily, all of them are demarcated in space. Specifically, Livorno is a type of “heterotopia of deviation” which Fou­cault defines as “celle dans laquelle on place les individus dont le comportement est déviant par rapport à la moyenne ou à la norme exigée” (757). I would add that even the suspicion that these individuals’ behavior deviates from the norm justifies their inclusion in such spaces. As does a prison, Livorno houses criminals, but it also welcomes those such as Jews whose mere presence elsewhere gives rise to concerns. However, unlike a prison or the other heterotopias Foucault identifies, Livorno does not have strictly defined boundaries. This seaport town opens onto the Ligurian Sea and thereby allows for a freedom of movement uncharacteristic of most heterotopias. It is this freedom of movement that Doutremer references toward the end of Le Port de mer and which I will analyze below as it re­lates to the particular function of this heterotopia. Like Jewishness in seventeenth-century writing and therefore the Jewishness of Le Port de mer’s characters, Livorno as a heterotopia that welcomes Jews among oth­ers serves a particular function in this play.

As mentioned above, the two heroes of Le Port de mer are Jewish and en­joy the freedoms life in Livorno affords them, and I maintain that Boindin’s depiction of Sabatin and Benjamine reflects their status as Jews in Livorno. Boindin does identify Sabatin as Jewish and Benjamine as such by relation, but the Jewishness of these characters does not get in the way of their interactions with those around them, nor does it determine the storyline. Indeed, there is a collective “meh,” a social indifference to what was generally perceived as a significant and remarkable religious differ­ence at the time. In other words, others do not seem to treat Sabatin and Benjamine differently because of their Jewishness; their Jewishness is “unre­markable,” so to speak.

Nonetheless, Sabatin and Benjamine are dissimilar to each other in the de­gree to which they are unmarked, and I will argue below that this distinction is key to understanding their respective roles in the play. First, Sabatin and Benjamine are presented differently from the outset. The au­thor (or perhaps his editor) identifies Sabatin as Jewish in the character list at the beginning of the play, and the other characters repeatedly mention his Jewishness to each other, referring to him as “nôtre Juif” [sic] and “le Juif.” Benjamine’s Jewishness, on the other hand, is never made explicit. We assume she is Jewish because her father is, but neither Boindin nor his characters mention this fact. Second, Sabatin’s name is explicitly Jewish. Derived from the Italian “sabato” meaning “Saturday,” it refers to the Jew­ish day of rest or Sabbath. The following humoristic exchange between Brigantin and La Saline in scene two further emphasizes the ethnic origins of the father’s name:

Brigantin

A qui en veut donc ton Maître icy?

La Saline

A la fille d’un certain Juif, chez qui je me suis introduit.

Brigantin

Son nom ?

La Saline

Je n’en ai pû encore retenir que la moitié ; Hazaël-Raka-Nimbrod-Iscarioth-Sabatin.

Brigantin

Quoi ! Benjamine, la fille de M. Sabatin ?[10] (145)

In contrast, Sabatin’s daughter is identified only by her first name, Benja­mine. This name has its origins in the Old Testament but is a common name not only in Jewish but also in Christian families. It is a more ambi­guous identifier than that of Sabatin, whose Jewishness is reinforced by La Saline’s enumeration of his other names of biblical origin. Finally, Sabatin is a merchant, one of the few professions exercised by Jews in the seven­teenth century.[11] Benjamine’s primary occupation, on the other hand, entails convincing her father to allow her to marry the man she loves ra­ther than the man he has chosen for her. Given Benjamine’s lack of superficial markings of Jewishness, that her mother is never mentioned in the play should come as no surprise. Judaism is a matrilineal religion and the mother’s absence further underscores Benjamine’s unmarkedness.[12] In short, Benjamine’s Jewishness is presumed but never identified explicitly, while Sabatin has explicit superficial markers of Jewishness.

This dissimilarity extends to Sabatin and Benjamine’s respective na­tures, and while these natures do reflect the degree to which each character is identified as Jewish, I maintain that it is not their relative Jewishness that determines these natures, and that their natures are not perceived as particularly Jewish. On the one hand, Sabatin is the greedy patriarch simi­lar to the ones who populate Molière’s plays: stubborn and somewhat shady in his dealings but able to be won over. Benjamine, on the other hand, does not seem to have inherited any of her father’s character flaws. La Saline’s continued discussion with Brigantin highlights this distinction. La Saline asks Brigantin if he knows M. Sabatin, to which Brigantin re­plies:

Trait pour trait. Tien, l’usure, la dureté, la défiance, la fraude, & le parjure, avec quelques régles [sic] d’Arithmétique n’est-ce pas ce qu’on appelle ici M. Sabatin ?

La Saline responds,

Justement, mais en récompense, la générosité, la ten­dresse, la franchise, & la constance, avec une taille divine, le visage le plus gratieux, les yeux les plus brillans du monde, & mille autres menus attraits, c’est ce qu’on ap­pelle ici Benjamine. (146)

As we can see, Sabatin’s many shortcomings are well known by others. It is true that popular imagination at the time often associated these particu­lar shortcomings with Jewish merchants, as Dunkley observes.[13] However, Boindin, through Brigantin, enumerates these character flaws not as traits specifically associated with Jewishness—after all, Benjamine has none of them—but instead as those particular to the traditional father figure who seeks an advantageous marriage for his daughter. Brigantin fears for Lean­dre not because he is courting the daughter of a man who is Jewish but because he is courting the daughter of a man who is greedy and stubborn. Brigantin knows that his former master, Leandre, will face a formidable opponent in trying to marry Benjamine for love, since he lacks the finan­cial resources her father seeks.

In Le Port de mer, Boindin dissociates Jewishness from any particular in­delible mark of a Jewish nature. Instead, it stands in for the system of Old Regime values that had slowly begun to unravel by its 1704 publica­tion date. The dissimilarity in the degree to which Boindin identifies both Sabatin and Benjamine as Jewish does not mark them as having dissimilar—not to mention specifically – Jewish natures. Instead, it serves to identify them relative to a value system that maintains religion as a valid basis on which to pass judgment, a value system that Boindin, a self-professed atheist, does not espouse. When Boindin attributes superficial and easily recognizable markers of Jewishness such as a name and a trade to Sabatin, he is really identifying him as a patriarch who subscribes to the old world value system by which one person’s being Jewish means some­thing to another. It follows that Benjamine’s lack of even superficial Jewish markers signals her disengagement from that system and thereby her modernity.[14] For the atheistic Boindin, Jewishness is a signifier he appro­priates to communicate new meaning rather than a source of interest in and of itself. Dunkley writes,

Boindin ne s’occupe nullement de la religion de Saba­tin, sans doute parce qu’il regarde du même œil le judaïsme et le christianisme. C’est uniquement l’inhumanité du person­nage et la malhonnêteté de ses affaires qu’il évoque. … [S]on indifférence sentimentale n’a rien de spécifique­ment juif ; la majorité des pères-‘obstacles’ des comédies lui ressemblent assez. (LXII-LXIII)

One only has to look back at Molière’s Harpagon (L’avare), Sganarelle (Le Médecin malgré lui), Géronte and Argante (both in Les Fourberies de Scapin), among others, to find comedic incarnations of the traditional fa­ther figure who resemble Sabatin. None of them is Jewish, yet all take their role as old world patriarch to an extreme.

Like that of his literary predecessors, Sabatin’s indelibly marked charac­teristic is not his Jewishness but his greed. Just as Sabatin is not the only father figure in early-modern French literature with this vice, he is also not the only inhabitant of Livorno with it. Based on his depictions of Sabatin and Benjamine, we can neither say that Boindin suggests that there exists a causal relationship between Jewishness and avarice nor that he disparages Jews. As Lancaster maintains, “The play cannot … be consid­ered anti-Semitic, for to [Sabatin’s] daughter is attributed all the generosity, tenderness, and beauty that he lacks, while the Gentiles are not better than he” (271). Sabatin’s greed results from his particular interpreta­tion of patriarchal values that mark him as old school; after all, “l’avarice devient un vice avec l’âge” (Desan 118). What feeds this avarice is not Sabatin’s Jewishness but his trade. Philippe Desan calls capitalism an institu­tionalized form of greed (115), and merchants such as Sabatin—not to mention pirates such as Doutremer—depend on and exploit this eco­nomic system for their livelihood. Sabatin might be superficially marked as Jewish while Benjamine is not, but what fundamentally distinguishes him from his daughter is his stubborn adherence to and exploitation of a traditional system of values that prioritizes financial gain over love when deciding whom she should marry. While being superficially marked as Jewish does not entail being treated as “other” in Livorno, it does signify a generational difference that, in Sabatin’s case, plays out through his unscrupu­lous mercantilism.

Le Port de mer’s heterotopic setting functions to support the schemes of characters such as Sabatin. With its easy access to the sea, Livorno facili­tates transactions both kosher and not; indeed, the seaport enables the greedy to thrive because it allows them freedom of movement between land and water. Literary critic Frank Lestringant remarks on the fact that people first displayed greediness around the same time the possibilities for their travel expanded, a statement that implies a co-dependence between greed and travel: one travels in order to satisfy one’s desire for material gain and one has a desire for material gain because one knows it is now possible to achieve it (149). As mentioned above, seaports such as Livorno lack strictly defined physical boundaries and thereby facilitate such travel. Livorno itself also lacks moral boundaries, as is evidenced by its openness to deviant populations. The seaport setting therefore lends itself well to the flourishing of greed and other potential harbingers of criminal behavior. Lestringant explains how, in turn, greed itself entails a further blurring of boundaries: 

Ainsi donc l’avarice entraîne, avec l’expansion pre­mière de l’humanité hors d’elle-même, le brouillage des limites; elle établit la communication contre nature des lieux séparés et provoque le court-circuit de l’enfer et du ciel, de la terre solide et de l’élément liquide. (150)

Here, Lestringant references the moral gray zone in which greed resides and that, in Le Port de mer, echoes Livorno’s physical openness and its inclusiveness. While it is clear that this heterotopia plays an important role in support of its heterogeneous population, it also serves a broader func­tion in relationship to its surrounding space.

Foucault states that “[les hétérotopies] ont, par rapport à l’espace restant, une fonction” (761), and it is this function that is the key to under­standing that of the unmarked Jewish characters in Boindin’s play. In spite of its seediness, Livorno can be considered in a positive light as an unusu­ally tolerant place where Old Regime values are relativized and reinterpreted. As I argue above, Sabatin’s superficial markers of Jewish­ness suggest that he subscribes to—at least partially—a traditional value system that prioritizes financial gain over love in a marriage. While Li­vorno facilitates his mercantilism, it also fosters his greed, which is what defines him as other in the eyes of those with whom he interacts. Although he has a Jewish name and trade, Sabatin does not face criticism because of them but because of his unscrupulousness. In contrast, Benjamine, with her lack of superficial markers of Jewishness, embodies the modern values of Li­vorno itself. Because Boindin tells his public that her father is Jewish, it is particularly notable that he does not do the same for her even though she clearly is. I maintain that this is because Benjamine does not subscribe to the outmoded system of values of her father. Although Benjamine is Jew­ish, she remains outside the concept of otherness, a concept that Livorno does not recognize or foster. Despite this difference between the father and his daughter, neither is indelibly marked as Jewish, just as none of their compatriots is indelibly marked as other. I agree with Dunkley that “[i]t is in Jewishness that … alterity is located. But this does not affect Jewish­ness as a whole” (“Nicholas [sic] Boindin” 91). In Livorno, all types come and go, and the concept of “otherness” remains foreign. It is no surprise that Boindin’s play is entitled “Le Port de mer” rather than “Benjamine” or even “Sabatin,” for it is the seaport itself that represents the modern val­ues Boindin loudly touted in Paris’s cafés. After all, Boindin “était naturellement contradicteur” (Biographie 16). It is through an analysis of this author’s seemingly indifferent treatment of Jewishness at a time when most perceived it as a threatening other that we arrive at this understand­ing.

Le Port de mer is clearly a modern play set in a town where being called a pirate, a criminal, or a Jew is akin to being called brunette, green-eyed, or tall. In this play, these markers of identity have lost their meaning and operate as empty signifiers of the system that established their original values. Toward the end of the play, the pirate, Doutremer, reveals how slip­pery these markers have become. By that time, we have learned that he has another name, “Salomin,” which is most likely his birth name. Al­though no characters refer to him as Jewish, this Old Testament name referring to one of the kings of Israel certainly suggests that he is also Jew­ish.[15] Just as Doutremer has given up a life on land in favor of one at sea, so too has he given up his birth name for one that reflects his seafaring ways. Doutremer chastises La Saline when he refers to him as “Monsieur Salomin”  by responding, “Tais-toi, je ne suis Salomin qu’à Merseille [sic], & je suis ici Doutremer. Je change de nom & de pavillon, selon mes intérêts” (189). It is worth noting here that King Solomon’s best-known attribute was his wisdom.[16] It is certainly no coincidence that Boindin put such a declaration in the mouth of a character the public would readily iden­tify as wise. In doing so, Boindin is predicting the ultimate triumph of a value system in which superficial markers of identity serve simply as linguistic currency while one’s nature is now defined by the choices made by the individual. In other words, he predicts a triumph of the modernes over the anciens as we find in Livorno. Through his depiction of un­marked Jews, Boindin expresses his anticipation of a post-monarchal society in which citizens are no longer subject to the identities bestowed upon them by birth, and Old Regime rigidity is rejected in favor of a less stratified and less prejudiced mental frame.

Portland State University

 

Works Cited

Bibliographie universelle, ancienne et moderne ou histoire, par ordre alpha­bétique, de la vie publique et privée de tous les hommes qui se sont distingués par leurs écrits, leurs actions, leurs talents, leurs ver­tus ou leurs crimes. Tome cinquième. Paris : chez Michaud Frères, 1812.

Benbassa, Esther. Histoire des Juifs de France de l’Antiquité à nos jours. Paris : Éditions du Seuil, 2000.

Boindin, Nicolas. “Le Port de mer.” Quatre comédies. Ed. John Dunkley. Paris: Société des Textes Français Modernes, 1997. 136–200.

Desan, Philippe. “L’avarice chez Montaigne.” Seizième Siècle. 4 (2008) 113–24.

Dunkley, John. “Nicholas [sic] Boindin: The Presentation and Re-presenta­tion of Alterity.” Romance Studies. 31 (1991) 83–94.

———. “Introduction” in Quatre comedies. Ed. John Dunkley. Paris: So­ciété des Textes Français Modernes, 1997. VII–XCV.

Foucault, Michel. “Des espaces autres.” Dits et écrits. Volume II. Paris: Éditions Gallimard. 1994. 752–62.

Lancaster, Henry Carrington. Sunset : A History of Parisian Drama in the Last Years of Louis XIV, 1701–1715. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1945 (1976).

Lestringant, Frank. “Avarice et voyage.” Seizième Siècle. 4 (2008) 149–70.

Mancewicz, Aneta and Kazimierz Wielki. “Shakespeare in Europe: Introduc­tion.” MIT Global Shakespeares. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 5 June 2014.

Michael, Robert. A History of Catholic Antisemitism. The Dark Side of the Church. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Pemble, John. Shakespeare Goes to Paris. How the Bard Conquered France. London and New York: Hambledon and London, 2005.

Resnick, Irven M. Marks of Distinction. Christian Perceptions of Jews in the High Middle Ages. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012.

Rozenblit, Marsha L. “Intermarriage: Modern Europe and United States” in Baskin, Judith R. The Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 277–78.

Sutcliffe, Adam. “The Philosemitic Moment? Judaism and Republicanism in Seventeenth-Century European Thought.” In Philosemitism in History, eds. Jonathan Karp and Adam Sutcliffe, 67–89. Cambridge: Cambridge Univer­sity Press, 2011..

Trachtenberg, Joshua. The Devil and the Jews. The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relation to Modern Antisemitism. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1993.

Yardeni, Myriam. Anti-Jewish Mentalities in Early Modern Europe. Lanham, New York, London: University Press of America, 1990.


[1]See Esther Benbassa’s Histoire des Juifs de France, Robert Michael’s A History of Catholic Antisemitism, Joshua Trachtenberg’s The Devil and the Jews and Myriam Yardeni’s Anti-Jewish Mentalities in Early Modern Europe, among others, for an overview of the perception of Jews throughout French history.

[2]I would like to thank Perry Gethner for introducing me to this work.

[3]Boindin also wrote memoirs, letters and one discourse, some of which were published after his death in 1751.

[4]Lancaster casts some doubt on the attribution of Le petit maître de robe, thought to be Boindin’s fourth and last play (267).

[5] Repeated disputes with La Motte over authorship credit among other issues led to the dissolution of their friendship. Boindin began to frequent the Procope instead (Bibliographie 16).

[6]Lancaster notes that “it was acted more frequently than any other play by an author who began to write after 1700” (272). Le Port de mer opened for Bérénice, Ariane, Les femmes savantes and L’école des femmes, among others. Its format (and, perhaps, its exoticism) lent itself to popularity. As a result of the Querelle du théâtre incited by Madame de Maintenon in 1694, fewer tragedies were performed and the most successful productions were short, one-act plays. As Dunkley explains, “Afin de lutter contre la désaffection du public et la concurrence de la Foire, les Comédiens-Français trouvèrent deux expédients: diminuer le nombre relatif de représentations de tragédies et jouer fréquemment les petites pièces en un acte […]. Le moment était donc favorable pour les compositions de Boindin” (“Introduction” xxix).

[7]A search of the MLA database on May 3, 2014 turned up only four titles, three of which were written by Dunkley.

[8] While it is tempting to regard Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice as inspiration for this play due to its seaport setting and the Jewish father-daughter main characters, it is highly unlikely that Boindin had read or seen it. John Pemble remarks that “The French did not discover Shakespeare until they discovered England; and they did not discover England until Voltaire, the abbé Prévost, and the baron de Montesquieu crossed the Channel at various times in the 1720s” (1). He goes on to explain that Shakespeare’s plays were not performed in France until the early nineteenth century (35). Furthermore, I have not found evidence that Boindin knew English or that Shakespeare’s plays were readily available in France at this time either in English or in French translation (see Pemble xiii and Mancewicz). (I would like to thank Melissa Walter for suggesting these references.) Lancaster attributes Boindin’s inspiration instead to Molière’s Sicilien and Champmesle’s Rue de Saint Denis (270).

[9] “Leghorn” is the town’s English name.

[10]It is worth noting that it is not Sabatin’s Jewishness that evokes Brigantin’s surprised reaction but the situation in general. His Jewishness is not the obstacle here; instead, it is, as we learn soon after, Sabatin’s dubious character.

[11]Adam Sutcliffe asserts that “no ethnic group of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was more closely associated with commerce than the Jews” (71).

[12] While it is possible that Benjamine was conceived out of wedlock, the more plausible scenario for a daughter of a Jewish merchant of the time is that she is the product of an arranged marriage. There is therefore a strong likelihood that her mother, too, is Jewish. As Marsha L. Rozenblit explains, “Before the invention of the concept of civil marriage in the modern era, all marriages were conducted under religious auspices, and intermarriage in the technical sense did not take place.” She continues, “The widespread practice of arranged marriage in the Jewish middle classes virtually guaranteed that Jews married other Jews” (277-78). Rozenblit also notes that civil marriage became widespread in Europe only in the twentieth century (278).

[13]“Marchand d’esclaves, usurier et homme d’affaires en train de méditer une banqueroute frauduleuse, Sabatin constitue une caricature de Juif tel que la mentalité populaire se le représentait alors” (Dunkley Quatre comédies lxi).

[14] Even her name, which recalls that of Benjamin, the eternally youthful youngest child of Jacob, suggests that she belongs to a new, modern generation.

[15]This would indicate that Doutremer’s nephew, Leandre, is Jewish as well and that a marriage between him and Benjamine would therefore be considered proper. However, the fact that Doutremer is probably Jewish and, by relation, his nephew, seems to have eluded some of Boindin’s contemporaries who criticized the play’s ending. See Lancaster 272.

[16] The name, however, means “peace.”

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The Valet: The Marquis de Louvois’s Invited Guest in the Mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask

Article Citation: 
17 (2016), 1–27
Author: 
Sarah Madry
Article Text: 

Madry, Printable PDF

Prefatory Remarks on the Spelling of Names

The last name of the man known as the Man in the Iron Mask is spelled “Dauger” except where another author’s spelling is quoted.

A seventeenth-century Paris family of minor nobility will be dis­cussed. That family’s name is spelled “d’Auger de Cavoye,” except where another author’s spelling is quoted.

Why Solving the Problem of the Man in the Iron Mask Is Important for Scholars of French Seventeenth-century History

This article addresses one description of the mysterious prisoner called L’Homme au masque de fer written in a letter, dated 19 July 1669, by the government official who oversaw his transfer to prison, Louis XIV’s (1638–1715) twenty-eight-year-old secretary for war, François-Michel Le Tellier, the marquis de Louvois (1641–1691). Louvois characterized Dauger in that letter as “only a valet.” Scholars have been compelled to incorporate this description of the prisoner into their theories about his iden­tity. The search for the answer to this mystery has been tangled up in the demand of the “valet” to be consequential.

This paper shows that, contrary to what has always been assumed, Lou­vois’s characterization of the prisoner as “un valet” does not describe the prisoner’s background or previous occupation, nor did Louvois intend it to. The word “valet” is a keyword in a pun that Louvois inserted into the state document that he wrote to the prison jailer, whom he knew person­ally. It does not indicate that Louvois knew the prisoner’s identity. This conclusion has been reached through interdisciplinary research on seven­teenth-century playing card design, French name spelling differences, salon culture word games, and a personal life episode of one of the Ancien Régime’s most redoubtable military administrators, the marquis de Lou­vois himself. The elimination of the “valet” will upset assumptions about Louvois’s comment about the famous prisoner; it will neutralize the only description in the official French archives of the prisoner’s occupation be­fore his arrest.

Louvois’s valet description has been a barrier to a launch of serious histori­cal research to settle the question of whether the mysterious man was genetically related to Louis XIV. If, freed from the parameter of the valet, future researchers on the Man in the Iron Mask mystery would find clarity on the genetic issue, then the problem would migrate into the supervi­sion of a larger set of Ancien Régime historians who would have to accept that Eustache Dauger threatened Louis XIV’s political and familial status. If Dauger’s existence threatened Louis XIV’s personal and legal royal rights, we must reconsider Louis XIV’s role in the Grand Siècle.

Introduction

L’Homme au masque de fer (? –1703) was a man imprisoned by Louis XIV in July 1669 for an unknown reason (Iung 56). Neither do we know the reason that he wore a cloth mask over the top of his face during the latter part of his imprisonment when he was out of his cell or when strangers came into his cell (Iung 51). His identity, his name, and his appear­ance were carefully hidden from everyone except a very small number of jailers (Iung 51). These three facts—his unknown crime, his mask, and the very stringent security given to him unceasingly for thirty-four years—are the reasons that members of the court and the public be­came interested in him as soon as they were aware of him.

The first person at court to speak publicly about him was Louis XIV’s sister-in-law, Princess Palatine Elisabeth-Charlotte (1652–1722). She told her aunt in a letter on 11 October 1711, only eight years after the prisoner had died in the Bastille (Orléans 187), that she had heard there had re­cently been a mysterious prisoner at the Bastille, always masked, who had been forbidden to speak under pain of death. Voltaire (1694–1778) be­came interested in the prisoner, perhaps during his own imprisonment in the Bastille in 1717, and spurred the public’s interest in the story inces­santly, including treating it in his Siècle de Louis XIV (1751) and Sup­plément au Siècle de Louis XIV (1753). Voltaire was the first writer to say that the prisoner’s mask was made of “fer” when he wrote to the abbé Dubos on 30 October 1738 (Voltaire “À M. l’Abbé Dubos” 305) that he had knowledge of “l’homme au masque de fer” — that he had spoken with people who had served him. In 1746, the chevalier de Mouhy wrote Le Masque de fer ou les aventures admirables du père et du fils. The book tells a story about a prisoner who wore an iron mask. Mouhy tells of metal masks used on prisoners in Turkey, Scotland, Spain, and Sweden. Duviv­ier suspects that Mouhy shared with Voltaire his research on masking (Duvivier 17). Whether Mouhy encouraged Voltaire to add the metal mask or not, Voltaire inserted it in his description of the masked man in his Siè­cle de Louis XIV (Voltaire Siècle 311). Witnesses who actually saw the masked prisoner do not mention a metal mask, but say that he certainly always wore a cloth mask when out of his prison cell.

In Liège in 1769, the Jesuit R. Père Henri Griffet (1698–1771) pub­lished Traité des différentes sortes de preuves qui servent à établir la ver­ité de l’Histoire, which included quotations of journal entries taken from a journal made by the lieutenant of the Bastille in 1698 named Etienne Du Junca (1642?–1706) that described in detail both the Mask’s entry into the Bastille and his death five years later (Griffet 307–08). The journal entries are eyewitness reports of the prisoner by a state official: a date stamp of his entry into the confines of the Bastille; confirmation that he was always masked; confirmation that he had never had a jailer other than Saint-Mars, and that the prisoner had no name (Griffet 303–09). Saint-Mars (1626–1708), on the day that Du Junca wrote his first journal entry on the pris­oner, 18 September 1689, was taking command of the Bas­tille after formerly being governor of Pignerol, Exiles, and Sainte-Marguerite pris­ons. “Saint-Mars” was a nom-de-guerre (Rousset 170 and Dijol 56); the name his family gave him was Bénigne Dauvergne. On 10 January 1673, the king gave him letters of nobility (Barine 20). Here is Du Junca’s entry from the prison register located in the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal that de­scribes the arrival of the new prisoner in September 1698:

Du judy 18e de septembre 1698 a trois heures apres midy, monsieur de St Mars, gouverneur du chateau de la Bas­tille, est arive pour sa premiere entree, venant de son gou­vernement des illes St Marguerite Honorat aient mene avec queluy dans sa litiere un ensien prisonnier quil avet a Pi­gnerol le quel il fait tenir touiours masque dont le nom ne sedit pas et laient fait mettre en de sendant dela litiere dans la premiere chambre delatour de la basiniere en atandant la nuit pour lemettre et mener moy mesme aneuf heures du­soir avec Mr de Rosarges un des sergens que monsieur le gou­verneur a mene dans la troisieme chambre seul delatour dela bretaudiere que javes fait mubler de touttes choses — quelques jours avent son arrivee en aient reseu lhordre de mon­sieur de St Mars le quel prisonnier sera servy et sounie par Mr de Rosarge que monsieur le gouverneur norira. (Du Junca 37 ve)

Griffet’s publication showed proof that the masked prisoner had really existed and gave credibility to Voltaire’s insistence that the subject was important (Duvivier 22, 28). These two historians fueled a detective search which continues today.

Pioneer nineteenth-century researchers went to the archives to identify all the prisoners of Saint-Mars, the jailer of the masked prisoner, realizing that inevitably (Iung 5), among this set of people, one would have to have been the masked prisoner. Their results and that of many subsequent au­thors might today be called a mashup of state prisoners who were incarcerated in the relevant time period arranged on a framework of event dates (such as the prisoners’ transfers between prisons), witness reports, and political events with the goal being elimination of as many candidates as possible.

Each writer on the Man in the Iron Mask mystery has had at least three tasks: telling the story of the man’s arrest, where and with what special security he was kept, and the witness accounts of his appearance and activi­ties; a review of the most likely candidates with an historical account of each; and the writer’s own conclusions, including why he or she chose one candidate over the others.

General Theodore Jung in La Verité sur le Masque de Fer (Les Empoison­neurs) d’après des documents inédits des Archives de la Guerre et autres dépôts public (1873) believed that the Mask was one of a group of conspirators who wished to assassinate Louis XIV; Emile Burgaud pub­lished Le Masque de fer, révélation de la correspondence chiffrée de Louis XIV (1893), claiming the Mask was Vivien Labbé de Bulonde, who made a serious military mistake that embarrassed Louis XIV (failed to hold the siege of Coni in the Piedmont in 1691); John Noone concluded in The Man Behind the Iron Mask (1988) that the prisoner was a fictional charac­ter created by the governor of Pignerol prison to advance his own interests. Paul Sonnino’s usual thorough research described in “On the Trail of the Iron Mask: The Candidacy of Claude Imbert” shed light in 1992 on a likely candidate, who, although Sonnino admits that the ar­chives produced an échec for his suspect, nevertheless showed masterfully the length to which researchers should go to investigate each lead (Son­nino “Imbert” 104). Sonnino said in 2014 that the testament of Cardinal Mazarin (1602–1661), specifically, changes made in the different versions of Mazarin’s will written by Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–1683), Mazarin’s intendant, after Mazarin’s death, indicate the identity of the pris­oner (Sonnino “Three Testaments” 16). Michel Vergé-Franceschi of the university François Rabelais de Tours in his 2009 Le Masque de fer, enfin démasqué believed that the prisoner was a valet of the duc de Beau­fort (1616–1669), a militant and popular cousin of Louis XIV, who wit­nessed the murder of his master (Beaufort) and was taken prisoner to prevent the death’s announcement.

Not only have professional scholars researched the identity of the masque de fer, but the highest officials of the French eighteenth-century state felt they had a right to know the truth of the matter. Louis XVI (1754–1793) and Napoleon I (1769–1821) sent state officials to the ar­chives for the man’s Bastille imprisonment records. Matthioli, an Italian double agent, was officially documented as the masked prisoner (Markale 236). But Matthioli’s candidature has been eliminated through archival research done after the French Revolution (Topin 329–30 and Duvivier 62).

Data found in the twentieth century eliminated all possibilities except Eustache Dauger, arrested at the request of Louis XIV near Calais, France, at the end of July 1669 and escorted under guard to Pignerol prison in the Italian Alps.[1] In the summer season the journey from Calais to Pignerol for one prisoner and a small company of guards would have taken about twenty-one to twenty-five days. That approximation is based on the jour­ney to Pignerol of Nicolas Foucquet, prisoner of musketeer Charles d’Artagnan, in winter 1664, which took twenty days from Paris (Petitfils d’Artagnan 145). We know that Dauger and his guards arrived at Pignerol on approximately August 21 because Louvois wrote a letter to Saint-Mars on 10 September 1669 that is a reply to a letter from the governor dated 21 August indicating that Pignerol had received the new prisoner. We have the letter of Saint Mars only in a transcription that was made by citizen Pierre Roux-Fazillac in 1801, Recherches historiques et critiques sur l’Homme au masque de fer, d’où resultent des notions certaines sur ce prison­nier, ouvrage rédigé sur des matériaux authentiques (Roux-Fazillac 105).

Vergé-Franceschi asked:

Peut-on être aujourd’hui absolument sûr que le prison­nier surnommé Eustache Dauger est bien le Masque de fer? Oui. Quand on dresse la liste de tous les prisonniers de Pine­rolo à cette époque, il est le seul à y avoir été admis en 1669[2] (Vergé-Franceschi 260).

Objectives and Spelling

The two objectives of this paper are: (1) to review Louvois’s letter and learn why Louvois called Eustache Dauger a valet; (2) to use this answer as support for the thesis that this was the prisoner’s real name. In seven­teenth-century France names of prisoners listed on official documents were often false names, created by the jailers to limit identities. A nick­name might be given to a prisoner based on an instance of his actions in prison, a reference to a previous occupation, where he or she was kept in the building, or a completely fake first and last name might be put in the records. Seekers of the solution to the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask have never known if Eustache Dauger was the prisoner’s name as Louis XIV understood it to be when he ordered him arrested.[3]

Solving the valet puzzle requires a reminder about French seventeenth-century family name spelling practices. There was much more misspelling of names of people in past generations than there is now—or let us call it multispelling, because misspelling means erroneous spelling and we do not discern an authoritarian attitude toward spelling; one did the best one could to write the name so that the reader recognized it, and the exact combi­nation of letters was secondary. It was accepted in the seventeenth century that in one instance a man’s last name could be written “Du Viv­ier” and the next person would write “Duvivier.” Meanwhile, the person himself would always sign his name “du Vivier.” Then there was the added possibility that a misspelling might occur, where “Duvivier” be­comes “Devivier.”

We must loosen for a moment our modern rigidity about nom et pré­nom spelling in order to understand the problem at hand, because the varia­tions of the spelling of the last name of the prisoner, Eustache Dauger, are linked to the reason that the marquis de Louvois styled him “un valet.”

François-Michel Le Tellier, the Marquis de Louvois

Most historians know Louvois as the waster of the German Palatinate in the course of the War of the League of Augsburg (1688–1697). If one were to rebut that statement and say that Louis XIV’s orders to Louvois were responsible for the Palatinate’s devastation, one could reply that by 1688 it was difficult to know if Louis XIV or Louvois was responsible for military decisions (Rousset 6). Louvois was war minister and since wars provided his job security, he made sure that Louis XIV had plenty of them (Mongrédien Louis XIV 175, Sonnino Louis XIV  5–7, 192).

The marquis de Louvois was Louis XIV’s secretary of war for much of his reign. Today we often title administrators in this high position minis­ters for defense, but what was called defense by Louis XIV and Louvois was more about thirst for territory and glory than it was about drawing lines beyond which foreign powers could not pass. Rather, it was Louis XIV who passed over the lines of others (Ekberg 175). Louvois and his father, Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Barbezieux, seigneur de Chaville et de Viroflay (1603–1685), created a French army that became the strongest and most feared military power in Europe, supplying Louis XIV’s redun­dant need for extreme attention. Louis XIV squeezed his people, his court, his nobles, his army, his enemies, and his friends to get a steady supply of glory that was only acceptable in its densest form.

Louvois directed the royal postal system from 1669 to his death in 1691 (Vaillé 7), and following Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s death in 1683 he was the government minister in charge of building projects. Louvois and the Paris chief of police conducted an investigation into a poisoning scan­dal in the capital in the 1680s, some parts of which touched members of the royal court and Louis XIV’s closest circle. An unpublicized assign­ment given to Louvois by the king was oversight of the Man in the Iron Mask’s needs, security, location, and treatment.

Louvois’s Letter to Saint-Mars Dated 19 July 1669

We do not know who Eustache Dauger was, but the reason that many of the most credible specialists in this subject tailor their conclusions to the prisoner having been a valet—a servant—is that the marquis de Lou­vois, in a letter dated 19 July 1669 to Monsieur de Saint-Mars, governor of Pignerol prison, to forewarn him that a prisoner named Eustache Dauger would soon be coming to Pignerol, wrote that since the prisoner was only “un valet,” his needs for furniture were negligible. The letter carries the earliest date of about 150 extant letters between Louvois, the off-site manager of the prisoner’s incarceration, and Saint-Mars. Saint-Mars had to receive orders from Louvois before he could change the routine of his prisoners, get them medical attention, buy them items, etc. His questions and Louvois’s answers went by couriers between Pignerol and Paris.

In the marquis de Louvois’s communication on 19 July 1669about the prisoner, Louvois broke all the rules, before there even were any rules about Dauger. There would be hundreds of royal warnings over the next thirty-four years to those who were managing his incarceration that there should be no hint of what the man had been doing before his arrest, and if Dauger said anything at all about his former life to anyone, the jailers had instructions to immediately kill him (Delort Détention des philosophes 156; Orléans 187; Petitfils Homme 37; Voltaire Siècle 311).

This is the very first document that mentions Eustache Dauger by name.

À Saint-Germain en Laye, ce 19 juillet 1669

Monsieur,

Le Roy m’ayant comandé de faire conduire à Pinerolo le nommé Eustache d’Auger, il est de la dernière importance à son service qu’il soit gardé avec une grande seureté, et qu’il ne puisse donner de ses nouvelles en nulle manière, ni par lettres à qui que ce soit. Je vous en donne advis par advance, afin que vous puissiez faire accomoder un chachot où vous le mettrez seurement, observant de faire en sorte que les jours qu’aura le lieu ou [sic] il sera, ne donnent point sur des lieux qui puissent estre abordez de personne, et qu’il y ayt assez de portes fermées, les unes sur les autres, pour que vos sentinelles ne puissent rien entendre. Il faudra que vous portiez vous mêsme à ce misérable, une fois le jour, de quoy vivre toute la journée, et que vous n’escoutiez jamais, soubs quelques prétexte que ce puisse estre, ce qu’il voudra vous dire, le menaçant tousjours de le faire mourir s’il vous ouvre jamais la bouche pour vous parler d’autre chose que de ses nécessités.

Je mande au sieur Poupart de faire incessamment travailler à ce que vous desirerez, et vous ferez préparer les meubles qui sont nécessaires pour la vie de celui que l’on vous aménera, observant que, comme ce n’est qu’un valet, il ne luy en faut pas de bien considérables, et je vous feray rembourser tant de la déspenses des meubles, que de ce que vous désirerez pour sa nourriture.

Je suis, monsieur, vostre très affectionné serviteur, De Louvois (Delort Détention des philosophes 155–56).

The Lettre de Cachet and the Arrest

On 28 July 1669, nine days after the letter above, a lettre de cachet, signed by Louis XIV and co-signed by Michel Le Tellier, Louvois’s father, ordered M. de Vauroy, sergeant-major of the citadel and town of Dunkirk, to arrest Eustache Dauger and take him to the fortress of Pignerol in the Alps, a prison reserved for political prisoners (Vergé-Franceschi 256). Another letter to Vauroy’s superior was signed by the king, also dated 28 July, giving a false excuse for Vauroy’s absence from his regular duties (Noone 151, Pagnol 123). No explanation was given in the lettre de cachet as to where the sergeant-major would find Dauger, so we may assume, since the arrest took place very soon after he received the order, that Vauroy had a separate communication as to the location of his target from either the king or someone else. It is also possible that Vauroy knew where to find Dauger without having to be told.

We do not know where Dauger was arrested. It may have been Calais. Vergé-Franceschi refers to a certification of reimbursement to Vauroy of travel expenses that researcher Stanislas Brugnon found in the mid 1980s in the Mélanges Colbert:

Vauroy commence par aller de Dunkerque à Calais avec trois hommes. A Calais, il récupère le prisonnier…. Stanislas Brugnon a retrouvé dans les Mélanges Colbert, à la Bibliothèque nationale, une “conduite,” c’est-à-dire un ordre de remboursement de frais de déplacements, comme pour les fonctionnaires d’aujourd’hui. On constate que le roi a payé ces frais à hauteur de trois mille livres pour quatre hommes de Dunkerque à Calais (Vauroy et trois soldats d’escorte); et pour cinq hommes de Calais à Pignerol (Vauroy, les trois soldats et le Masque de fer); puis trois mille autres livres pour quatre hommes de Pignerol à Calais (une fois le Masque de fer laissé aux mains de Saint-Mars) (Vergé-Franceschi 261).

Vauroy obeyed orders and took Eustache Dauger to Pignerol where Saint-Mars was waiting.

Post Script

Immediately after 28 July 1669, the date on the arrest warrant, Louis XIV or Louvois or both of them decided that the prisoner’s last name should not be spoken or written again because “Eustache” was thereafter not written for nine and a half years in any correspondence that has come down to us, and “Dauger” was almost never written again. The jailers had nicknames for Dauger so that they could be clear about which prisoner they were speaking of in a practical situation, but these names are the jailers’ inventions, not official ones. If he had to be spoken of, witnesses tell us that his jailers said, “the one whose name is not said aloud” (“le nom ne se dit pas”), or “the longtime prisoner,” or “the man who was brought by sergeant Vauroy.” For a time he was called “La Tour” due to the location of his cell at Pignerol (Iung 40). A false name was given to him on his death certificate and burial record: “Marehiel” or “Marchiel” (Furneaux 6).

Considerable thought and many chapters of books have been dedicated to the valet problem. Many authors have taken the marquis de Louvois at his word that the new prisoner was a valet, a manservant of moderate rank, and have eliminated from suspicion anyone who was not a valet. Other writers have been sure these words were deliberately used to hide the identity of the prisoner. But the characterization of the prisoner as a valet is the only mention of his social status by any of the very few people who had contact with him, so we have not ever been able to evade Louvois’s description. Historians and sleuths have had to consider the possibility that the Mask was formerly a servant. This has been the biggest stumbling block preventing investigators from believing that the Man in the Iron Mask was a royal relative of Louis XIV—a cousin, a brother, or a twin. If the prisoner had been a valet, he could not have been a prince.

Eustache Dauger (? –1703)

This paper does not attempt an overall answer to the question of the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask but it might be helpful to know a few things about the person described by Louvois as a valet.

The prisoner’s life before his arrest in July 1669 is unknown. Toward the end of his life he wore a cloth mask over the top of his face whenever he was outside his cell or when a stranger went into his cell. We are not sure if he wore a mask before that, and we do not know if the report of a metal mask, seen only once while the prisoner was traveling, was accurate. Voltaire’s report about the man in 1751 said, Ce prisonnier, dans la route, portait un masque dont la mentonnière avait des ressorts d’acier, qui lui laissaient la liberté de manger avec le masque sur son visage” (Voltaire Siècle 311). This is the sentence that started the myth of the iron mask. But Voltaire did not say that the prisoner wore an iron mask, only that he had a mask on that had steel springs in the chin area. He assumed this apparatus had to do with eating because it was located, so he had been told, near his mouth.

Voltaire tells that he got this information from the son-in-law of a doctor who treated the Mask and who had been the doctor of the maréchal de Richelieu (Armand de Vignerot du Plessis 1696–1788). Also testifying to this information, said Voltaire, was,“…M. de Bernaville, successeur de Saint-Mars, me l’a souvent confirmé” (Voltaire Siècle 312).

He heard regular Catholic mass so he was Catholic, whether from birth or from conversion from Protestantism. We know he could read because he was given as many books as he wanted (Delort Détention des philosophes 157). We deduce he could write because after his death his cell walls and floors were taken apart to uncover any writing he might have hidden (Griffet 311). He had lips and teeth, because eyewitnesses tell us they saw them under his mask (Petitfils Homme 94–95). We know he spoke French (Duvivier 120). We know that in 1703, not long before his death, he said to an apothecary of the Bastille that he thought he was about 60 years old (Delort Histoire de l’homme au masque 71), which indicates he was not sure of his age so we do not know how old he was when he died.

His first eleven years in prison were at Pignerol, where Saint-Mars had been governor since 1664. He was moved to Exiles, not far from Pignerol, when Saint-Mars was transferred there. Then the jailer and prisoner went to the island prison of Sainte-Marguerite, near Cannes, and finally in 1698 Saint-Mars got a promotion to the governorship of the Bastille, and Dauger went with him, traveling, as before, in the same cavalcade of carriages and soldiers that formed Saint-Mars’s moving van. Also following the governor’s path through all the stages of his career were his aides: his major, Jacques Rosarges (1633?–1707); his manager of the keys, Antoine Ru (?–1713); and two trusted infantry officers, one of these being a cousin of the governor and the other a childhood friend.[4] No one other than Saint-Mars and these officers ever guarded Dauger. The prisoner, Saint-Mars, and his team of guards were inseparable for thirty-four years.

Eustache Dauger was assigned an extremely high level of security. In 1670 Saint-Mars wrote to Louvois:

Il y a des personnes qui sont quelquefois si curieuses de me demander des nouvelles de mon prisonnier, ou le sujet pourquoi je fais faire tant de retranchements pour sa sûreté, que je suis obligé de leur dire des contes jaunes pour me moquer d’eux (Markale271).

Some of the precautions were typical for all prisoners, like having three doors to his cell, each closing separately upon the other (Fougeret 27). But there was extra security for Dauger. Not long after Dauger was taken to Pignerol, Louis XIV sent the sieur Vauban (1633–1707), his chief military engineer, to inspect the cell and the fortress to make sure everything was as it should be.

Eustache Dauger died suddenly in his cell in the Bastille on 19 November 1703, probably of a heart attack or stroke, his only sign of impending death being a slight malaise the day before at mass, indicating that he was not in the throes of a wasting disease. He was buried the next afternoon in the Saint-Paul church cemetery, the parish cemetery for the Bastille.[5]

He must have had remarkable inner reserves. Saint-Mars writes more than once that Dauger did not complain of his situation and was polite, accepting his fate from “God and the king” (Thompson 99). He quietly lived thirty-four years in confinement and then died a peaceful, quick death.

Playing Cards in the Seventeenth Century

John Noone says that there were many varieties of the spelling of the last name of the Man in the Iron Mask, “Dauger.” Spelling, especially of names of people, was often approximated according to pronunciation. No one seemed to mind if a name was spelled one way in one text but differently in the next one. Here are the other variations of the name that Noone printed: “Daugier, Doger, Dogier, d’Auger, d’Augier, d’Oger, d’Ogier, Auger, Augier, Oger, Ogier” (Noone 212). Maurice Duvivier was the first writer to muse on the many spellings of Dauger (Duvivier 120).

There are an unusually large number of spelling variations that can be made in this last name, especially because the first letters can be O or A or d’O or d’A or D’O or D’A. It can even start with H, as we will see below. In the rest of the name there are also many possible placements of letters. When the “i” in the spelling of Ogier is dropped, it creates Oger. When the name is spelled Doger, there are two deformations, the dropping of both the “i” and the apostrophe.

Since there was a French nobleman in Louis XIV’s court, Eustache d’Auger de Cavoye (also sometimes spelled “Eustache d’Ogier de Cavoye”), who had almost the same name as the famous prisoner, Noone referenced the origin of the d’Auger de Cavoye name to illustrate the many ways in which d’Auger and Dauger could be written. He said the Cavoye family claimed to be “…descended from Oger the Dane (Hogier the Ardennois) one of the twelve peers of Charlemagne” (Noone 212). A biography of Eustache d’Auger de Cavoye’s younger brother, Louis, titled Le Marquis de Cavoye 1640–1716: Un Grand Maréchal des Logis de la Maison du Roi, tells that the family believed this was the origin of their family name (Huguet 87).

Then Noone, as an interesting expansion about the Danish companion-at-arms of Charlemagne, noted that in old packs of French playing cards, the face cards, that is, the King, Queen, and Knave (also called Jack) cards, were assigned to an accepted set of famous people from the historical French court. The Knave or Jack of Spades was often personified by Hogier le Danois (sometimes spelled Ogier, sometimes Oger). Hogier probably was a real courtier in the court of emperor Charlemagne, although there are aspects of his story that seem mythical.

The assignment of names of historical characters to the picture cards in decks of playing cards is not practiced now except in imitation of old designs but it was conventional in seventeenth-century Europe. In an article on seventeenth-century card games, Orest Ranum (Ranum 556) cites an article in Bulletin du Vieux Papier that gives 1640 as the time when card makers in the French provinces began to use the same naming practices as Paris card designers, thus giving a general point of French consciousness as to the regularization of the historical characters on the cards.

The Bibliothèque Nationale’s online web site Gallica has many images of playing cards that show, on the face cards, the names of the historical characters pictured. We are able to see the deck called Jeu de cartes au portrait de Paris (Trioullier),made in the early 1760s, which has these assignments for the face cards: the King, Queen, Jack/Knave of Hearts are named Charles (Charlemagne), Judic (Judith), and La Hire (nom de guerre of Etienne de Vignolles, knight under Charles VII of France’s command (van Rensselaer 167–168); Clubs are marked Alexandre (Alexander the Great), Argine (anagram for regina), and the Jack/Knave carries the name of the creator of the card deck, Jean-François Trioullier; Diamonds are marked Cézar (Caesar), Rachel (the Bible’s Rachel), and Hector (Hector de Galard, captain of the guard to Louis XI of France, although sometimes he is also the Trojan warrior); Spades are David (the Bible’s King David), Pallas (Pallas Athena), and Hogier.

Card games are ideal entertainment for people who have a sedentary profession, such as prison guards and governors, and also for those people that a government forces to be sedentary: their prisoners. While King Louis XIV and his marshals and chancellors gambled at cards during evening appartements at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Versailles, the people they had put in prison played too. High-ranking prisoners played cards with their jailers when there was an inclination on both sides to do so. We have mostly to rely on our general feeling that this goes without saying because there are few references in scholarly literature to seventeenth-century card playing in prison. Georges Mongrédien says that the prince de Condé (1621–1686), cousin of the king, imprisoned during the Fronde, played cards with his guards (Mongrédien, Condé 89).[6] We are also told by Antonia Fraser that Françoise d’Aubigné’s (later Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV’s second wife, 1635–1719) father played cards with his jailers at the Niort prison where he was incarcerated and she was born (Fraser 150).

With few actual historical references but with a great deal of confidence, we can say that it is very likely that Saint-Mars, the prison governor to whom the marquis de Louvois wrote a letter about the valet who would soon be coming as a prisoner, would be familiar with cards and would have played his fair share of games, both as a soldier, which he was before he was governor of Pignerol, and as a prison superintendant in charge of a bored staff and a handful of miscreants in an isolated prison in the Alps. He would have seen the face, the weapon, and the name of Hogier the Dane practically every day of his life.

Who Was the “Valet”?

In French, the Knave or Jack, the third-ranking picture card in a suit of cards, is called the Valet.

The Knave of Spades is called the Valet de Piques; “pique” translated literally as “spade” in English. The remaining three picture cards of the third rank are the Valet de Coeurs, the Valet de Trèfles, and the Valet de Carreaux.

When Louvois said that Eustache Dauger was “un valet” in his letter to Saint-Mars, he was making a pun on Dauger’s last name.

A homophonic heterograph is a pun that makes a link between two words that sound the same but are written differently, in this case, Dauger and Hogier. Before even getting that far with this particular pun though, you have to know another connection that is not a sound-alike set of words but which is a set of interchangeable words: valet and Hogier. One of the valets in a deck of cards is customarily Hogier.

The structure of the joke is that the prisoner’s last name sounds exactly like the historical character (Hogier) anthropomorphized on Valet (Jack, Knave) playing cards. Eustache Dauger does not need extravagant furniture because he is only “un valet.”

We sense that “un valet” carries a pejorative connotation in this joke. There are historical precedents for the use of this word as an insult. One reads in Dr. Héroard’s (1551–1628) diary, the exact record of King Louis XIII’s (1601–1643) health and activities kept by his doctor from his birth, that the most infuriating thing his father Henri IV (1553–1610) could do to his son was to force him to admit he was his father’s valet (Héroard 1: IV). At a critical point in the Grand Condé’s relationship with the king, Anne of Austria, and Mazarin between the Fronde of the Parlement (1648–1649) and the Fronde of the Princes (1650–1653), the Condé family, who were opposed to Mazarin, began calling their eldest brother a valet of Mazarin to indicate they disdained his alliance with the slippery cardinal (Motteville 422). We have then, in the pun, three passages: Dauger is Hogier; Hogier is a Valet in a deck of cards; to be a valet of someone is humiliating. Both Saint-Mars and Louvois lived in sections of society where card playing was popular, so both men knew that Hogier le Danois was a Valet and both would enjoy having that connection turned into a laugh by Dauger being verbally dressed as valet.

Dix-septièmistes will already have made the connection between this complicated joke and the préciosité of the Paris salons. Madame de Rambouillet, whose house had seen so many delicious conversations d’esprit, had died only a few years before Louvois wrote the letter we are discussing, but her traditions lived on in the living rooms of her imitators. Writers, poets, bon vivants, and an occasional deep thinker came together at the homes of hostesses at regular moments in the week to talk, but more than that, to talk cleverly using historical, mythological, and literary allusions to describe current society matters, preferably current amorous endeavors by members of the society in the house or outside of the house. To belong to salon society, one was expected occasionally to launch a bon mot for the group. The précieuses counted points for wit, shock, and arbitrary connections held together by elaborate lattices of poetry and prose. Saint-Mars knew nothing of the salons other than that they existed, but Louvois had social connections that required him to be a player in these word games:

In a highly conversational and aristocratic milieu their object was to distinguish themselves where possible by originality of thought or expression. It was given to only a few, such as Voiture, to achieve originality of thought, and the others, wisely, concentrated on the art of rendering their ideas more striking by the piquancy of their vocabulary or by the ingenious construction of their phrases (Maland 56-57).

So let us not give credit to Louvois for originality; these plays on words were all the rage in his social circle; he was merely following fashion by inserting clever, hidden messages into communications with friends.[7] As to the execution of this pun, however, we must credit Louvois with a real coup. His play on words juggles Dauger, Hogier, and the miscreant, imaginary valet. It is a beautiful pun. Unfortunately for Louvois, it is this stunning joke which may prove to be the critical weakness in the sturdy barriers the regime built to hide Eustache Dauger that scholars need to make progress in solving the mystery of the man that Louvois was charged with keeping anonymous and hidden.

But there is more historical content in this joke. There are not just three “people” in the joke, but a fourth, who is the protagonist, the most important player: Louis d’Auger de Cavoye.

There is a heretofore little known chapter in the extramarital love life of the marquis de Louvois that is the mainstay of the argument that the minister of war’s “valet” was a personal joke, that Eustache Dauger must have been the famous prisoner’s real name, and further, that the marquis de Louvois, contrary to what has always been assumed, did not have any background knowledge about Eustache Dauger on the date of 19 July 1669—that he was catering to his own sense of humor and to that of the old Musketeer, a parent of his mistress.

The married marquis de Louvois, in 1668, the year previous to his 19 July letter, had been attempting to have an affair with a young, beautiful, rich, married girl named Marie Sidonie de Lenoncourt, marquise de Courcelles (1650–1685). His efforts to experience double adultery had not been successful, however.

The marquise de Courcelles had preferred to give her favors to Louis d’Auger de Cavoye (1639–1716), a young noble at court and friend of the king (Pougin 21). We have referenced him above in connection with the history of the d’Auger name. Jacques Hillairet, historian of Paris, said of Louis de Cavoye, “Le marquis de Cavoie avait été élevé avec Louis XIV; il fut l’un des plus brillants seigneurs de son temps, sut gagner l’affection de Turenne, de Luxembourg, de Racine, mais s’attira l’inimitié de Louvois” (Hillairet 501).While keeping Louvois on her boudoir doorstep, the teenage marquise had an affair with Louis d’Auger de Cavoye, infuriating her husband, the marquis de Courcelles, who challenged de Cavoye to a duel. Dueling was illegal, and both duelists were arrested in the first week of July 1668 and taken to the Conciergerie to serve sentences (Pougin 16). In January 1669, six months later, Marie Sidonie appeared to be pregnant. In April, the marquis de Courcelles, while still in jail (as was Louis d’Auger de Cavoye), began a court prosecution against his wife for adultery (Pougin 16). She was taken into custody and gave birth on 5 July to a child that soon died.

What the story above shows is that Louvois and Louis d’Auger de Cavoye were rivals for the sexual favors of Marie Sidonie. Cavoye had gotten what Louvois had not, Louvois found an excuse to put him in prison, and did so. It would not be unusual in those circumstances for Louvois to have been pleased with his consolation prizes, the incarceration of his rival and the downfall of the girl who had spurned him. These events had been taking place a few months before and even one week before 19 July 1669, when Louvois wrote the letter to Saint-Mars in which he called the prisoner Eustache Dauger a valet.

Louvois was referring to his rival for the attention of Marie Sidonie de Lenoncourt, marquise de Courcelles, more than to Eustache Dauger, an unknown nobody whose name furnished Louvois an opportunity to make fun of Louis d’Auger de Cavoye. D’Auger and Dauger had the same name. Writing the pun to Saint-Mars nursed Louvois’s smarting self-confidence, which only someone as spectacular[8] as Marie Sidonie was able to damage, his self-confidence being normally solid. Saint-Mars’ wife’s sister was Louvois’s mistress, so Saint-Mars would have known of the failed pursuit of Marie Sidonie and Louvois’s “enmity” for Louis d’Auger de Cavoye.

Why Has the Explanation of“Un Valet” Been Difficult?

We are grateful to previous researchers for highlighting the different spellings of Dauger. Duvivier and Noone came to within a hair’s breadth of solving this difficult game of nomenclature, card playing, and male rivalry that Louvois unintentionally set for us.

First of all, a pun like this one is impossible to understand when one does not have the requisite knowledge of the compared items. If there is no knowledge of Louis d’Auger de Cavoye and none of his rivalry with Louvois—if there is no experience looking at a hand of playing cards with Hogier the Dane’s face and name printed on one of them, then it is impossible to hear the bell ring when these three items are likened to Eustache Dauger.

But that has not been the only obstacle. Here are some others:

1.    We are not accustomed to a family name being interchangeably spelled with a buffet of choices. The multiple possible spellings of the prisoner’s last name, Dauger, have confused us.

2.    Our playing cards are no longer labeled with the names of knights, kings, queens, and famous royal mistresses who lived in myth, ancient history, or distant history. So one key to unlock Louvois’s pun has to be knowledge of archaic customs in gaming, a recondite scholarly subject.

3.   The design of playing cards is not where scholars would expect to find hard historical data. Seasoned Mask researchers, locked on to facts about prison cell construction and the swollen list of Mask might-have-beens, have not placed enough emphasis on interdisciplinary studies. They have not asked art historians to join their search. Art and architecture historians should be consulted on historical mysteries because creators of history in every era often want to show their préciosité by using allusions to ancient or contemporary literature, characters, battle sites, love affairs, and other nests of specialized knowledge in their paintings, poems, stories, and building details. Art historians have the plaintexts for these codes.

4.     English-, German-, Spanish-, and Italian-speakers have never used the word “valet” for the third-ranking picture card because the word, at least when used in connection with playing cards, is French. English speakers use the word “valet” only for a servant. Researchers using any language but French have been at a disadvantage.

5.     In old English, German, Spanish, and Italian playing cards that follow the tradition of using names of famous people on the picture cards, the historical figures might not be French kings, queens, and heroes, so Hogier the Dane would possibly not appear on cards in non-French card decks, again limiting the number of people who might have understood the joke.

So the connections between Dauger, Hogier, and “un valet” have been hidden by haphazard spelling, language barriers, geographical distance, and the discontinuation of a historical tradition in designing playing cards. As for the link between Louis d’Auger de Cavoye and the marquis de Louvois, it is but one small sexual rivalry of Louis XIV’s court of which there were thousands, which almost never creep into scholarly research, unless one is studying just such things. Biographies of Louvois, if they mention her at all, do not connect the restless Marie Sidonie with Louvois’s valet.[9]

Conclusions

First, Louvois’s show of his pent-up jealousy for Louis d’Auger de Cavoye in the 19 July letter indicates that, at that first moment of his experience with the prisoner whose name had been given to him as “Eustache Dauger,” Louvoishad no knowledge of the prisoner other than his name and that he was to be arrested and sent to Pignerol prison, a prison for people who had been on the wrong side of a political matter. If Louvois had known how important this prisoner was to Louis XIV, he would never have dared to joke about him in a written document using a reference to his own failed lechery. He was a young man, just taking on the weight of his position after being tutored by his father, Michel Le Tellier, his predecessor, for many years. His father was still checking his son’s job performance and was a stickler for proper conduct. He would not have approved of his son’s light-hearted comment about a prisoner, especially one committed to paper that seemed to characterize the prisoner.[10] And the cautious, wily Le Tellier would have been right. We see the consequences of Le Tellier junior’s mistake. By this bravado, we have been given information about a very mysterious prisoner for whom the official, royal directive was that we should know absolutely nothing.

The larger picture becomes clear. Louvois was making a joke about someone he knew and hated, not about Eustache Dauger, a man it appears he did not know. And in the beginning there was no reason for Louvois or anyone else to spend two minutes wondering who Eustache Dauger was. There were secret arrests of boring evildoers all the time. Louvois, at this starting line, did not foresee the long race he would run with this particular prisoner, nor the gravity of the case that would gradually be revealed to him. He had been ordered to take care of this fiddling matter by his master, and, as always, he scrambled to obey. His flippant, surly bit of old boys’ club humor peddled to Saint-Mars tells us he did not consider the prisoner a challenge or a threat. The threat he minded was Louis d’Auger de Cavoye.

Second, the analysis of Louvois’s joke confirms that the spelling of Eustache Dauger’s last name is “Dauger” and not “Danger.” “Dauger” has been contested by some of the major writers on this subject in favor of “Danger,” but Louvois’s comparison of the prisoner to two other men, one of whom is Hogier and the other being d’Auger, confirms that the “Dauger” spelling is the correct one.

Third, despite the use of the name in a few official documents, Louvois’s letter being one, investigators have never been sure that Eustache Dauger was the prisoner’s real name, because often the authorities fabricated names of prisoners. The finding in this paper that Louvois allowed himself to make a pun on the prisoner’s name in a communication about official war office business is the basis for the theory that the authority that ordered the arrest of Eustache Dauger, Louis XIV, believed that Eustache Dauger was the name the man had used for himself until then. Eustache Dauger, to the best of Louis XIV’s understanding, was the real name of the prisoner he ordered sergeant-major Vauroy to arrest in July 1669 near Calais.

Louis XIV therefore gave this name to Louvois when he asked his minister to instruct the governor of Pignerol to prepare a cell. If Louvois had been told by Louis XIV that there was a problem saying the prisoner’s name, Louvois would not have written it to Saint-Mars. He would have given the new prisoner a false name.

It is not likely that Louvois would have made up “Eustache Dauger.” The joke would not have had value to Louvois if he himself was making up the name “Dauger” to serve as the nickname of the presumed criminal. The joke was born out of a naturally occurring conflation of names, which was the pattern of salon jokes. The subject material had to be a real artifact picked out of the actions or names of others and then appended to another action or event that showed the opinion of the author. Making up the root of the joke would have been cheating. He used the name the king gave him.

Fourth, we see that Louis XIV had a secret that he wished to hide from everyone else, including his closest advisors. Louis XIV’s knowledge of the prisoner is part of what must be determined before the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask can be solved. The solution to the valet problem intensifies that point, which has been made by many writers. Louis XIV kept to himself the nature of the “dissatisfaction” he had about the man he arrested. He gave his colleagues Dauger’s name, but not his identity. It begins to appear that Louis XIV did not tell any of the operatives who captured and incarcerated Eustache Dauger anything at all about the man they arrested and supervised. Probably even the veteran advisor and highly trusted Michel Le Tellier, Louvois’s father, who co-signed Dauger’s arrest order, was told a fable, as were Saint-Mars, Rosarges, Ru, and the doctors who treated his illnesses. All these characters were in file behind Louvois, the man through whom Louis XIV personally managed Eustache Dauger’s imprisonment. It was Louvois who took Louis XIV’s directions, sent them to the governor of the prison, who in turn gave orders to his staff. If Louvois was not told who the prisoner was, or at least was not told enough to keep him from being surly and personal in an official communication, then not one of his subordinates knew. At first Saint-Mars was curious. His pride in the fables he was telling people about Dauger attests to that. But instinctively we feel that this braggadocio came from his own lack of knowledge. Was Louvois curious? Eventually, probably, but at the point of arrest, Dauger didn’t interest him at all.

It is tempting to say that the discovery of Louvois’s pun on the name of Dauger proves that Dauger was not a valet, but we cannot yet be certain of that. He could still have been a valet without Louvois knowing it. But we are closer to that certainty, based on the logical consequences of Louvois’s statement being a joke rather than a description of the prisoner. Previously, it was probable enough that he was a valet that all authors on the subject have examined this description at length and many of the most erudite have formed their theories based on the valet. Now we see that Eustache Dauger was as likely a valet as he was a shoemaker or a bureaucrat. We now have no hint as to what his former occupation was and we never really did.

If there is a broad lesson for historical studies in this matter, it is that an interdisciplinary approach to a tough problem is likely to lead to success. Deciphering the marquis de Louvois’s letter to Saint-Mars has required knowledge of numerous sidebars of seventeenth-century history. It has also required a generous amount of skepticism about previous strategies and assumptions. Historians studying the Man in the Iron Mask have suspected that the jailers of Eustache Dauger, including Louis XIV, were devious and desired to mislead. They have been aware of M. de Louvois’s reputation for cold deceit in other official ministry of war business. But many who have read his July 19, 1669 letter to Saint Mars have credited him with honesty and candor in it. With that credit in place, the problem was not solved.

Jean Markale comes to a conclusion that deeds were done in this matter that is unpleasant to look at:

Que de cachotteries! Que de duplicité! A la lecture de ces documents parfaitement authentiques et conservés dans les Archives, on a l’impression désagréable de se trouver au fond d’un panier de crabes. Mais les crabes dont il s’agit ici sont ceux qui ont fait la grandeur de la France et dont on vante les mérites aux petits écoliers comme aux grands lycéens de la noble patrie française. (Markale 275)

Théodore Iung, perhaps the most thorough early archival researcher on the Mask, wrote to us in 1873 about the agonizing conclusion he came to after years of research on the Mask in the French archives of war:

On n’est en droit, d’ailleurs de ne négliger aucune dépêche, en apparence insignifiante, car celle-là justement se trouve avoir souvent une importance réelle. Or, par où commencer, dans quel sac puiser? Que de temps perdu ! Que de patience ! Que de richesses d’ailleurs non classées encore un peu partout! Et l’on pourra conclure avec moi, que, malgré les quatre mille dépêches nouvelles environ que j’ai trouvées concernant cette question, on est encore loin d’avoir obtenu tout ce qu’on est en mesure d’attendre. (Iung 51)

He says to his readers that he could not do everything that has to be done to solve the mystery; he can only provide some leads that will serve others who follow him. “Aidez-moi,” he pleads.

Issues Raised by the Absence of the Valet

The argument that has always defended the royal Bourbon family from connection with Eustache Dauger has been that the marquis de Louvois said he was a valet. We have assumed that Louvois knew the details of the man’s crime and background. We could not argue a blood connection with the Bourbons when we were told by the war minister that the prisoner was a valet. A valet is a servant, and not even the contemptuous Louvois would call a royal prince a valet; that would be much against the code of respect for royals and nobles. If Louvois wrote in an official document that Dauger was a valet, then he was most certainly not a Bourbon family member. But now we see that Louvois was not describing the prisoner; he was just using an accidental collision of identical names to make fun of a rival.

Now we can begin to ask if Eustache Dauger was a direct threat to Louis XIV and to his reign. If the king was not open with his most trusted confidants, then this matter must have been illegal. Resolving the valet issue faces us with the possibility that an extremely cruel act was committed by Louis XIV for his personal convenience and possibly for reasons of state. Depending upon the rank of Eustache Dauger, whenever we discover it, the explanation of this crime may have consequences for our basic assumptions about the policies and life of the Sun King, which would lead to some reassessments of Louis XIV’s place in the European seventeenth century. For that reason, historians must continue to ask why Louis XIV imprisoned Eustache Dauger.

Independent Scholar, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

 

Works Cited

Barine, Arvède. “Un geôlier au XVIIe siècle.” La Revue de Paris. 4 (1905): 5–36. Web. 10 July 2014.

Caire, Bernard. “Eustache et son secret.” Il y a trois siècles…le Masque de Fer…Actes du Colloque international sur la célèbre énigme (12–13 sep­tembre 1987). 2nd ed. 41–49. Cannes: La Direction des Affaires Culturelles de la Ville de Cannes, 1996. Print.

Delort, J. Histoire de la détention des philosophes et des gens de lettres à la Bastille et à Vincennes, précédée de celle de Foucquet, de Pellisson et de Lauzun, avec tous les documents authentiques et inédits. Vol. 1. Pa­ris: Firmin Didot, 1829. Print.

———.Histoire de l’homme au masque de fer. Paris: Delaforest, 1825. Web. 28 July 2014.

Dijol, Pierre-Marie. “L’Homme au Masque de fer.” Il y a trois siècles…le Masque de Fer…Actes du Colloque international sur la célèbre énigme (12–13 septembre 1987). 2nd ed. 51–67. Cannes: La Direction des Affaires Culturelles de la Ville de Cannes, 1996. Print.

Du Junca, Etienne. L’estat de prisouniés qui sont envoiés par l’ordre du Roy à la Bastille, à commenser du mescredy honsiesme du mois d’octobre, que je suis entré en possecion de la charge de lieutenant de roy, en l’année 1690, 24 octobre 1690 à 26 août 1705. 1698. Ms 5133, folio 37 ve.Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris. Print.

Duvivier, Maurice. Le Masque de fer. Paris: Armand Colin, 1932. Print.

Ekberg, Carl J. The Failure of Louis XIV’s Dutch War. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1979. Print.

Fougeret, W.A. Histoire générale de la Bastille, depuis sa fondation en 1369, jusqu’à sa destruction, 1789. Paris: Gauvain, 1834. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.

Fraser, Antonia. Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006. Print.

Furneaux, Rupert. The Man Behind the Mask: The Real Story of the “An­cient Prisoner.” London: Cassell, 1954. Print.

Griffet, R. Père Henri. Traité des différentes sortes de preuves qui servent à établir la verité de l'histoire. Paris: J. F. Bassompierre, 1770. Web. 23 Jan. 2015.

Héroard, Jean. Journal de Jean Héroard sur l’Enfance et la Jeunesse de Louis XIII (1601–1628) Vol. 2. Paris: Firmin Didot, 1868. Print.

Hillairet, Jacques. Dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris. Vol. 2. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1963. Print.

Huguet, Adrien. Le Marquis de Cavoye 1640–1716: Un grand maréchal des logis de la maison du roi. Paris: Honoré Champion, 1920. Print.

Iung, Theodore. La Vérité sur le Masque de Fer (Les Empoisonneurs) d’après des documents inédits des Archives de la Guerre et autres dé­pôts public. Paris: Plon, 1873. Print.

Maland, David. Culture and Society in Seventeenth-Century France. New York: Scribner, 1970. Print.

Markale, Jean. La Bastille et l’énigme du Masque de Fer. Paris: Pygma­lion/G. Watelet, 1989. Print.

Mongrédien, Georges. Le Grand Condé, l’homme et son œuvre. Paris: Hachette, 1959. Print.

———.Louis XIV. Paris: Albin Michel, 1963. Print.

Motteville, Françoise Bertaut. Mémoires de Mme de Motteville sur Anne D’Autriche et Sa Cour, Nouvelle Edition d’après le manuscrit de Con­rart avec une annotation extraite des écrits de Monglat, Omer Talon, de Retz, Gourville, Leret, Mlle de Montpensier, etc., des éclaircisse­ments et un index par M. F. Riaux et une notice sur Mme de Motteville par M. Sainte-Beuve. Vol. 2. Paris: Charpentier, 1904. Print.

Orléans, Elisabeth-Charlotte, duchesse d’. A Woman’s Life in the Court of the Sun King, Letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz, Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, 1652–1722. Ed. & trans. Elborg Forster. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins, 1984. Print.

Pagnol, Marcel. Le secret du Masque de Fer: une enquête policière. N.p.: Editions de Provence, 1973. Print.

Petitfils, Jean-Christian. L’Homme au masque de fer. Paris: Perrin, 1970. Print.

_____.Le Véritable d’Artagnan. Paris: Tallandier, 1981. Print.

Pougin, Paul. Mémoires et correspondance de la Marquise de Courcelles publiés d’après les manuscrits avec une notice des notes et les pièces justi­ficatives. Paris: P. Jannet, 1855. Print.

Ranum, Orest. “Jeux de Cartes, Pédagogie et Enfance de Louis XIV.” Les Jeux à la Renaissance, Actes du XXIIIe Colloque International d’Etudes Humanistes Tours – Julliet 1980. 553–62. Ed. Philippe Ariès et Jean-Claude Margolin. Paris: Vrin, 1982. Print.

Roujon, Jacques. Louvois et son maître. Paris: Grasset, 1934. Print.

Rousset, Camille.Histoire de Louvois et de son administration politique et militaire. Paris: Didier, 1873. Print.

Roux-Fazillac, Pierre. Recherches historiques et critiques sur l’Homme au masque de fer, d’où résultent des notions certaines sur ce prisonnier, ou­vrage rédigé sur des matériaux authentiques. Paris: Valade, an IX (1801). Print.

Sonnino, Paul. Louis XIV and the Origins of the Dutch War. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge UP, 1988. Print.

_____. “On the Trail of the Iron Mask: The Candidacy of Claude Imbert.” Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Western Society for French His­tory 19 (1992): 89–98. Print.

———. “The Three Testaments of Cardinal Mazarin.” French Historical Studies37.3 (2014): 421–36. Web. 6 Jan. 2015.

Thompson, Harry. The Man in the Iron Mask: A Historical Detective Investi­gation. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987. Print.

Topin, Marius. L’Homme au masque de fer. Paris: E. Dentu, 1870. Web. 23 Jan. 2015.

Trioullier, Jean-François. Jeu de cartes au portrait de Paris. Paris: Jean-François Trioullier, 1759–1765. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

Vaillé, Eugène. Histoire générale des postes françaises. Vol. 4. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1947. Print.

Van Rensselaer, Mrs. John King. The Devil's Picture-Books, a History of Playing Cards. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1890. Print.


[1] Particularly decisive in the election of Dauger as the masked prisoner was the elimination of Matthioli, who had been a primary suspect in nineteenth-century research, but, according to Saint Mars himself in 1681, Matthioli did not accompany Saint-Mars when he left Pignerol to be governor of Exiles, and letters from Louvois to Saint-Mars confirm that there would be only two prisoners going to Exiles with Saint-Mars, one of whom was La Rivière (?–1687), formerly a valet of Foucquet. The other prisoner that the king ordered to go with Saint-Mars, Matthioli, being ruled out, was Dauger. See Topin 329–30 and Vergé-Franceschi 309.

[2] Researchers who have also come to the conclusion that Dauger is the Man in the Iron Mask are Marcel Pagnol, Jules Lair, Andrew Lang, Maurice Duvivier, Rupert Furneaux, Harry Thompson, and Marie-Madeleine Mast, among others.

[3] Bernard Caire in his essay “Eustache et Son Secret,” which was included in the white paper resulting from a colloquium of Mask scholars in 1987 (Caire 43), believes the spelling is “Danger.” Jean-Christian Petitfils in L’Homme au masque de fer also believed this. Other researchers, including Jules Lair, Andrew Lang, and Maurice Duvivier, all having believed Eustache Dauger had an important part in this mystery, write the name “Dauger.” The argument presented below about Louvois’s characterization of Eustache Dauger as a valet will show that the correct spelling is “Dauger.”

[4] There were an extremely limited number of priests and doctors who saw him, always with his mask on, but these men do not concern us in the limited analysis of the valet problem.

[5] Only a remnant of one of the supports of the church west façade is extant. The west portal of the church would have been approximately 30, rue Saint-Paul, Paris 4ème.

[6] In particular, Guillaume de Peichpeirou Comminges, Comte de Guitaut (1626–1685), Condé’s chief of his personal guards. He was the nephew of comte François de Guitaut-Comminges (1581–1663), captain of guards for Anne of Austria.

[7] Saint-Mars’s wife’s sister was Louvois’s mistress.

[8] Her biography is well worth reading: Paul Pougin,Mémoires et Correspondance de la Marquise de Courcelles publiés d’après les manuscrits avec une notice des notes et les pièces justificatives (Paris: P. Jannet, Libraire, MDCCCLV).

[9] This paper found the connection d’Auger/Louvois/Courcelles through a book on the history of Paris streets. She is given by Jacques Hillairet, Dictionnaire des rues de Paris, 2, 501, as a former mistress and previous owner of Cavoye’s hôtel at 52, rue des Saints-Pères.

[10] Vergé-Franceschi also referred to the impropriety of Louvois’s joke, 257–58.

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(2016) Volume XVII

ISSN: 1040–3647

Editor: Faith E. Beasley

Associate Editor: Rose A. Pruiksma

Editorial Assistant: Meadow Hilley

Reviews Editors: Allison Stedman and Claire Goldstein

 

Table of Contents

Sarah Madry.  The Valet: The Marquis de Louvois’s Invited Guest in the Mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask.............................................................................1

Jennifer R. Perlmutter.  “Meh”: The Unmarked Jews of Nicolas Boindin’s Le Port de mer.... 28

Deborah Steinberger.  Le Mercure Galant and its Student Body:  Donneau de Visé’s Inclusive Pedagogy     41

Vincent Grégoire.  Emploi d’« objets magiques » et prédiction de phénomènes célestes dans les Relations des jésuites: une stratégie originale de conversion en Nouvelle-France au dix-septième siècle........................................ 57

Book Reviews

Call, Michael, The Would-Be Author. Molière and the Comedy of Print. West Lafayette, IN, Purdue University Press, coll. “Purdue Stud­ies in Romance Literatures,” 2015. ISBN 978-61249-385-5. Pp. 292. $45, reviewed by Ralph Albanese…………………………….……75

Meere, Michael, Editor. French Renaissance and Baroque Drama: Text, Performance, Theory. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-61149-548-5. Pp. 336. $90, reviewed by Christopher Semk………………………………………………….77

Turcat, Eric. La Rochefoucauld par quatre chemins. Les Maximes et leurs ambivalences. Tübingen: Narr Verlag, 2013. ISBN 978-3-8233-6803-8. Pp. 220, reviewed by Marie-Alix de Richemont.…..81

 

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REVIEW: Braider, Christopher. The Matter of Mind: Reason and Experience in the Age of Descartes. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4426-4348-2. Pp. 340. $75.

Article Citation: 
XVI, 1 (2015): 109–111
Author: 
Ellen McClure
Article Text: 

Christopher Braider’s The Matter of Mind: Reason and Experience in the Age of Descartes, winner of the 2012 Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for French and Francophone Studies awarded by the MLA, is an impas­sioned and engaging effort to put paid to the image of seventeenth-century France as a staid bulwark of rational classicism. This “tenacious idol to which most accounts of the early modern West pay homage” (3), tends to rest, Braider notes, on a vision of Descartes as the century’s emblematic figure, an intellectual hero whose dualist philosophy encapsulated the pe­riod’s longing for the certitudes afforded by a well-founded and transparent order. To counter this vision, Braider introduces his survey of seventeenth-century French cultural production with a reading of Mon­taigne’s essay “De l’expérience,” a provocative choice that serves to place the age of classicism against the messiness of contingent embodiment ra­ther than, say, against the geometric reflecting pools of Versailles. As such, this reading prepares the analyses that follow, which draw out the repressed Montaigne-ness of some of the century’s most notable writers and thinkers in order to locate what Braider calls “the duplicities that charac­terize French classical culture as a whole, engendering the nagging se­cond thoughts that put it on both sides of every issue” (31).

Appropriately, then, Braider moves on to Descartes, reminding the reader that the philosopher’s metaphysical masterpiece, the Meditations, never, in fact, enjoyed the status of an authoritative document. Instead of the warm welcome that the familiar narrative of the classical era might lead us to expect, the text was greeted with a series of objections from scien­tists, philosophers, and theologians inside and outside of France. Braider demonstrates how the inclusion of these objections along with Des­cartes’s responses in the published work exemplifies not duality, but dialogism, resulting in a work that can never quite attain the triumphant abstraction for which it strives. Descartes does, in the end, provide a use­ful framework through which to view the century, but only insofar as his aspiration for the clear, the distinct, and the universal is undercut by the inevitable pull of chaotic contingency. 

Braider goes on to trace the ways in which the stubbornness of the particu­lar subverts the willed universality of classicism through the art of Pous­sin, the plays of Corneille and Molière, the thought of Pascal, and the sat­ires of Boileau. The wide range of works considered, as well as the looseness of Braider’s theoretical apparatus, can at times lead the reader to wonder to what extent the conflict between universal and particular is spe­cific to seventeenth-century France. Yet answering this question would entail engaging in precisely the kind of clumsy causality or easy infer­ences that Braider argues miss the point; it is impossible to tie the century with a neat bow, especially since the seventeenth-century thirst for order is also our own.  Accordingly, Braider’s study succeeds especially well in his close readings of the works he considers. His account of the delicate equilibrium between the abstract sovereignty of the rational and the seduc­tive materiality of color in Poussin’s painting is masterful. In the following chapter, he offers a reading of Médée that convincingly argues that Cor­neille’s identification with strong female characters reflects the author’s consciousness of the unseemliness of pursuing literary greatness and per­sonal autonomy in a century devoted to classical conformity. His attention to Molière’s relatively little-studied play Le Cocu imaginaire focuses on the play’s circulating portrait in order to demonstrate the playwright’s sly and persistent subversion of the classical ideals of univocity and transpar­ency with an eye to “the often tragic potential of comic embodiment” (152). His chapter on Pascal points to the ways in which his philosophy and science intersect to complicate the apologetic goals of the Pensées. Finally, his examination of Boileau’s satire on l’équivoque deftly illus­trates the ways in which this rhetorical category denotes the supplément that is at once unavoidable and unassimilable to the classical ideal of clar­ity.

Braider’s wide-ranging work is not without its flaws. Although he in­cludes a sympathetic reading of Corneille’s female characters, the absence of female writers is glaring, especially given recent work, most notably by Faith Beasley, that argues that the "tenacious idol" of classicism is at least partly the result of centuries of overlooking women’s contributions to seven­teenth-century French culture.  Braider’s treatment of religion can also be puzzling. While he does acknowledge that theology, in the early modern period, was “an intellectual discipline to which, despite the era’s growing secularism, all others remained subordinate” (156), religion gets relatively short shrift. The chapter on Descartes focuses on mind-body dual­ism while hardly mentioning the Meditations’ other avowed pur­pose—to prove the existence of God—and Gassendi is described as a materi­alist and an Epicurean, but never as a priest. I also remain uncon­vinced that Mme Sganarelle’s infatuation with the portrait of Lélie in the Cocu imaginaire can be described as idolatry, insofar as idolatry typically involves overlooking, not (as is the case here) admiring, the materiality of the worshipped object.

That said, Braider’s provocative arguments, supported by readings that are often no less than ingenious, are a joy to read. Braider’s humor and light touch are also on display, as when he notes that Descartes is “no old fart of a sorbonnard” (53) or refers to the coups d’état theorized by Naudé as “the baroque equivalent of Bush-era ‘shock and awe’ ” (95). The reader fre­quently has the delightful impression of being in the classroom of an exceptional professor, whose attention to detail and refusal to accept re­ceived wisdom at face value push his students towards a deeper apprecia­tion of these infinitely complex texts.  Braider’s efforts to destabilize the classical canon, or, more accurately, to point to the ways in which the canon destabilizes itself, constitute a compelling argument that seven­teenth-century French culture is more relevant than ever—even, or espe­cially, in twenty-first century American universities where the struggle between the quest for Truth and the particularities of historical embodi­ment continues to be passionately and urgently fought.

Ellen McClure, University of Illinois at Chicago

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REVIEW: Winn, Colette H., ed. Teaching French Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2011. ISBN 978-1-60329-089-0. Pp. viii & 440. $40

Article Citation: 
XVI 1 (2015): 113–116
Author: 
Kathleen Llewellyn
Article Text: 

This collective work is both a critical reappraisal of current thinking on early modern women writers and a guide to studying their works, particu­larly in the classroom. Winn’s introduction explains the political, religious, and sociocultural background essential for understanding the works of French women writers of the sixteenth century. It includes a compre­hensive overview of social and legal perspectives on gender, as well as a description of the public and private lives that women of the era were likely to experience, the education they might receive, and the recep­tion faced by women who wrote and saw their works published. The es­says that follow, divided into four sections, explore a broad range of women writers from myriad interrelated perspectives.

The first part of the volume establishes the cultural, literary, economic, and social context in which early modern French women wrote. Brigitte Roussel examines the representation of marriages and domestic relation­ships in Nicole Estienne’s Misères de la femme mariée. Kathleen Wilson-Chevalier contends that visual art of the era can help students understand women’s roles in early modern society; her approach will bring a much appreciated interdisciplinarity to courses centered on literature. Carrie F. Klaus discusses women’s lives in convents, focusing on their experience of the Protestant Reformation. Diane S. Wood and Laura B. Bergman exam­ine the influence of humanism on the writings of Hélisenne de Crenne, in an essay that encourages student reflection on the importance of humanism in early modern writing across lines of gender and genre. Susan Broomhall considers women’s writing in the context of work, and situates it within the notion of gendered labor. An understanding of this concept is particularly important for today’s students, who often think of early modern women as excluded from economic activity. François Rigolot describes the literary, cultural, and legal transformation that took place in Europe, beginning in the fifteenth century, that fostered the notion of individual intellectual ownership, and thereby encouraged literary produc­tion and publication, including among women authors. Dora E. Polachek illustrates the long literary history of women’s erotic desirability, concentrating on such writers as Marot, Ronsard, Labé, Brantôme, and Marguerite de Navarre. Ann Rosiland Jones discusses Pernette du Guillet and her use of Neoplatonic conventions, establishing textual links between Du Guillet and her literary contemporaries.

Part II treats specific authors, beginning with Zeina Hakim’s study of Louise Labé’s use of imitatio. Danielle Trudeau examines classical influ­ences evident in Pernette Du Guillet’s poetry, as well as the poet’s innova­tions, through a close reading of Du Guillet’s chanson 7. Jane Couchman proposes that students investigate the epistolary genre through an examina­tion of a variety of letters penned by women from a wide range of so­cial classes. Using Georgette de Mornay’s emblem books as an exam­ple, Carla Zecher shows how books serve as both texts and as objects. Both Couchman’s essay and Zecher’s deepen students’ awareness and under­standing of material aspects of the early modern era. Edith Joyce Benkov demonstrates women’s engagement in the world outside home and convent through an exploration of Anne de Marquet’s pasquinades. Jean-Philippe Beaulieu suggests that students read Marie de Gournay’s Discours sur ce livre, not only as an entry into her work and her authorial persona, but also as a way of better understanding the difficulties faced by Renaissance women writers as they sought to establish themselves as recog­nized and respected public figures

Part III proposes specific pedagogical and critical strategies for study of early modern women writers. The approaches suggested here will also serve as an excellent introduction for both undergraduate and graduate stu­dents to the application of literary and cultural theory. Leslie Zarker Morgan locates Louise Labé in the particular cultural, historical, and liter­ary context that was mid-sixteenth-century Lyon. Carla Freccero has cho­sen novella 30 of Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméon – a story that inevita­bly seizes students’ attention – to demonstrate how feminist and queer approaches to reading early modern women’s writings can open new ways to understand their works. Nancy Frelick approaches Hélisenne de Crenne’sLes angoysses douloureuses qui procèdent d’amours through the per­spective of transference as a way to lead students beyond an autobiograph­ical reading of the text, or a view of it as largely derivative. Frelick’s essay also provides an excellent demonstration of the effects of a book’s reception, both among its contemporary audience and over time. Cécile Alduy suggests that students’ learning to decode Petrarchan lyrics is essential, not only for their understanding of Louise Labé’s poetry, but more fundamentally, for grasping the complex cultural construction that is gender. Claude La Charité draws our attention to the masculine “I” that appears in Marie de Romieu’s verse, challenging students’ frequent assump­tion that the poetic “I” is autobiographical. Androgynous writing is also the focus of Leah Chang’s essay, in which she examines a wide range of male poets writing in the voice of a woman. Anne R. Larsen explores female writing communities revealed in the works of Catherine des Roches, from literary salons to networks that spanned centuries and crossed national boundaries. Larson’s essay provides a welcome and in­deed necessary corrective for students who still imagine that early modern women writers were isolated and even alienated. Gary Ferguson argues for the inclusion of the poetry of the Catholic nun Anne de Marquets in a course on women writers. The addition of Marquets’s devotional poetry to courses where students read love-themed poems and stories (which tend to be quite popular and are probably more easily understood) will enable them to explore a wider range of women’s writing. Mary B. McKinley sug­gests that students complement their reading of Marguerite de Na­varre’s Heptaméron with Marie Dentière’s Epistle to Marguerite de Navarreas a way to better understand the significance of the Protestant Reformation in the lives of early modern French women. McKinley also uses Dentière’s Epistle as an opportunity for students to study rhetoric, which is crucial to understanding sixteenth-century literature. Colette H. Winn recommends that students undertake a comparative study of Gabri­elle de Coignard’s spiritual verse and Louise Labé’s love sonnets, which will enhance the students’ understanding of the place of Petrarchism in the work of both poets. Winn’s approach can be applied to a number of compara­tive studies, helping students find connections among texts, creat­ing a veritable literary tapestry. Deborah Lesko Baker addresses the sometimes problematic issue of having students read texts in Middle French. She suggests making Louise Labé’s prose works available to stu­dents both in the original French and in English translation.

Part IV of this collection points the reader to an abundant and diverse col­lection of resources. In one essay Colette H. Winn lists a number of critical editions of women writers’ work; in the following chapter she di­rects the reader to journals, professional associations, conferences, and colloquia for scholars of early modern women writers. A survey of valua­ble online resources is provided by Winn and Graziella Postolache. Karen Simroth James and Mary B. McKinley open the door to the past a bit wider for students by suggesting ways they can access centuries-old texts, both via online resources – digital facsimiles are more and more available – and directly in special collections that house rare books. James and McKin­ley also suggest ways that those resources might be used.

This volume will be a precious resource for teachers and for scholars. The selection of writers, subjects, and approaches is both broad and deep, and will prove invaluable for those who wish to include women writers in survey courses or courses focusing on a particular theme or genre, and for those constructing a course specifically centered on early modern women writers. The authors included in this volume have chosen texts that will fascinate students, drawing them into the literary culture of sixteenth-cen­tury France. At the same time, these texts will certainly challenge students, pushing them to understand the era in new ways, and to see from new perspec­tives not only early modern women’s lives, but the lives of early modern men as well, and even, perhaps especially, human experience across the centuries.

Kathleen M. Llewellyn, Saint Louis University

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