Login | Join/Renew


Métissage and Crossing Boundaries in the Seventeenth-Century Travel Narrative to the Indian Ocean Basin

Article Citation: 
XV, 1 (2013): 19–45
Michael Harrigan
Article Text: 

Printable PDF of Harrigan_19_45

Seventeenth-century France saw the production of a considerable number of travel narratives, which reflected the increasing level of Euro­pean presence and interest in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. These popular texts testify to levels of crossover between personal experience and intertextual tradition. They emphasize the dramatic nature of travel­lers’ adventures, while also representing—or offering explanations for—the cultural and physical particularities of human populations.

The settlements around the Indian Ocean Basin received diverse levels of attention by travellers, some of whose journals and travel narratives have only recently been (re)published. The Indo-Portuguese city of Goa inspired the greatest quantity of testimony. Despite the restrictions of a competitive colonial context, French visitors throughout the seventeenth century left accounts of the diverse population of this settlement. These include the popular early-century accounts of the apothecary Jean Moc­quet and of François Pyrard, the latter of whom spent a decade in the Indes.[1] Lesser-studied mid-century visitors to Goa include François La Boullaye Le Gouz or the Discalced Carmelite Philippe de la Très-Sainte Trinité.[2]As the seventeenth century advanced, the increasing Dutch pres­ence in the Indes is reflected in accounts of Batavia by two Protestants, the mercenary Jean Guidon de Chambelle and the better-known jeweller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier.[3] Peripheral figures, such as the corsair François Cauche, whose voyage to Madagascar is related in a 1651 account, testify to the trade networks encompassing the Indian Ocean Basin.[4] There were also French expeditions—and therefore large-scale encounters with in­digenous populations—during the seventeenth century; these inspired the Histoire left by the governor of the one-time French colony on Madagas­car, Etienne de Flacourt, or a journal de voyage left by Robert Challe on a French expedition to the Indes in 1690-91.[5] The increasing French interest in advancing France’s economic role in the East is reflected in the travels to India of the ill-fated Abbé Barthélemy Carré, recently published by Dirk Van der Cruysse.[6]

To judge from these texts, the French presence in the East gives an impression of fragmentation, and this corpus, taken as a whole, often testi­fies to fleeting encounters with competitive political and economic systems from which many French witnesses were excluded. This was the case with Mocquet, who found himself living in poverty in Goa at the be­ginning of the seventeenth century, or his contemporary Pyrard, who arrived in Goa while grievously ill, and was lodged at the Hospital before being imprisoned. Of course, some French testimony, like François Bernier’s account of his travels in the Mughal Empire, testifies to a com­paratively deep knowledge of Asian societies.[7] Ecclesiastics who travelled to Asia might do so as part of supra-national (although themselves poten­tially competitive) networks. However, the political and economic nature of French presence means that within this corpus of texts are hints at the possibility of isolated, often marginal, encounters with societies perceived as dynamic, and undergoing considerable transformations.

 The present study, then, is intended to dwell on those regions of the text that can be considered as marginal, and in particular through focus on reflections in this corpus of another potentially marginal group, the métis. With the exception of several valuable pages of Sophie Linon-Chipon’s Gallia Orientalis (2003),the topos of métissage in first-hand accounts of settlements in coastal Africa and Asia has traditionally received less atten­tion than in the Antilles (or, with Sara E. Melzer’s recent Colonizer or Colonized, seventeenth-century Brazil and Nouvelle France).[8] Mentions of the métis in the Indian Ocean Basin are infrequent and often fleeting, but nonetheless indicate the distinct place of the entity in proto-colonial soci­eties, sometimes in ways which hint at the reflection of problematic hierarchies. In approaching this subject, the present article will attempt to remain alive to the multiple social, religious and textual currents influen­cing the representation of the métis. Beginning with a study of the question of race and the classification of populations, it will then explore French representations of unfamiliar socio-economic hierarchies in Asia. This will be followed by analysis of the métissage resulting from new European settlements in the Indian Ocean Basin. The dramatic manifesta­tions of this phenomenon—in cautionary anecdotes—will be the object of the last section.


In the early modern period, the increasingly frequent encounter be­tween Europeans and numerous populations both East and West inspired much debate on the nature and extent of the differences between peoples. Giuliano Gliozzi’s Adamo e il nuovo mondo has demonstrated, for exam­ple, how the question of the origins of indigenous Amerindian peoples might reinforce or undermine various colonial pretentions; Gliozzi’s ac­count of the diverse fortunes of theories (and theorists) of polygenesis shows the subversive import of interrogations of the biblical narrative of the shared origins of humanity.[9] While the texts bequeathed by French travellers devoted much attention to what would now be termed “cultural” phenomena such as law, religion, or culinary habits, the physical differ­ences between Europeans and non-Europeans also received considerable attention. Those who had travelled far outside Europe reflect curiosity about the reasons for this visible physical diversity. Descriptions, as well as illustrations, of the differences in physiognomy and colour abound in travel narratives, and authors often resorted to comparisons with known topoi to this end. In these texts, reactions could take the form of aesthetic terms of appreciation. These might consist of comment on physical traits considered displeasing, or indeed, as with the traveller and physician François Bernier, of considerable attention to the perceived beauty of the women of the Indes.[10]

However, observers also formulated these differences of appearance into distinct categories such as nation, peuple, or indeed, espèce or race. The use of such terminology demonstrates a shifting, somewhat problem­atic, signifying potential of language confronted with new forms of difference. The connotations of the term race during the seventeenth cen­tury are illustrative of this. Race might encompass “Lignée, Extraction, Descendence, Famille” as César de Rochefort’s 1685 Dictionnaire makes clear.[11] Furetière’s Dictionnaire Universel (1690) and the later Diction­naire de Trévoux both similarly restrict the use of race to terms synonymous with “Lignée, generation continuée de pere en fils,”[12] or “Lignée, lignage, extraction” respectively.[13]It is Bernier, however, who is supposed to be the first author to have used race as “a classificatory label for identifying human varieties organized according to physiognomy and skin colour,” as Robert Bernasconi writes.[14] In his Nouvelle Division de la Terre, par les différentes Espèces ou Races d’hommes qui l’habitent… (1684), Bernier uses race as a synonym of espèce.[15]  However, while he did postulate that it could be useful towards categorizing, and “dividing” the earth, he was aware of the subjective nature of his classification:[16]

Les Geographes n’ont divisé jusqu’icy la Terre que par les differens Païs ou Regions qui s’y trouvent. Ce que j’ay remarqué dans les hommes en tous mes longs & frequens Voyages, m’a donné la pensée de la diviser autrement.[17]

While Bernier certainly considered that those differences between the “races” he identifies were of some significance, the reinforcement by some immutable order—such as later “scientific” classification—is nota­bly absent. The term espèce, without its later overtones, seems to have referred as much to physical form or appearance as to some other, insur­mountable category.[18]Nevertheless, skin colour was among the characteris­tics enumerated by Bernier which led him to classify Africans as a separate espèce. Rather than attribute this trait directly to climate (a conclusion which, Bernier implies, was common at the time), he assumed that this was due to some essence.

La noirceur qui leur est essentielle, & dont la cause n’est pas l’ardeur du Soleil, comme on le pense; puis que si l’on transporte un noir & une noire d’Afrique en un Païs froid, leurs enfans ne laissent pas d’estre noirs aussi bien que tous leurs descendans jusques à ce qu’ils se marient avec des femmes blanches. Il en faut donc chercher la cause dans la contexture particulière de leur corps, ou dans la semence, ou dans le sang qui sont néanmoins de la même couleur que par tout ailleurs.[19]

For Gliozzi, Bernier’s tone, “[réussissant] presque à présenter la théorie de la race comme une innocente curiosité érudite,”disguises the extremely subversive overtones of polygenesis in his text.[20]While such overtones are somewhat implicit in Bernier’s suggestion that semence is at the root of physical diversity, a distinct essence or contexture—even without a con­clusive or authoritative definition of its origin or composition—clearly has significant divisive potential.

The manifestations of diversity in the Indian Ocean Basin might be ac­companied by assertions of the radical, essential difference of its peoples. These include occasional suggestions that certain non-European popula­tions might be descended from “la race corrompue d’Adam,” the lineage of Ham, the cursed son of Noah.[21] As Gliozzi has indicated, such sugges­tions, while ultimately maintaining the monogenesis of humanity, still implied an insurmountable difference between human groups (the same author writes that African peoples were consistently ascribed a Bible-based genealogy that promoted their enslavement).[22] In early modern sources (sometimes far removed from the often unsophisticated observations of mariners), similarly divisive manifestations of the distinc­tive essence of peoples were thought to coincide with what would now be considered “ethnic” origin. These might be manifested in assertions on character traits which were linked to colour. In the early eighteenth-cen­tury Dictionnaire de Trévoux, for example,the entry Nègre ascribes reputed traits such as ignorance and cowardice, and practices such as sell­ing one’s own family to vast populations based on skin colour.[23]

This may give some hint of the potential of ethnicity to reflect the socio-economic or religious distinctions between Europeans and indigen­ous peoples which existed, or were developing, in the Portuguese, and later, Dutch sea empires. However, the lexicon had also evolved to denote the populations originating from mixed ethnic groups. European conquests and settlements led not only to the transportation of non-European popu­lations as a source of labour, but also to marriages or sexual encounters between Europeans and people of African, Amerindian or Asian origin. To the offspring of what is now called métissage, various classificatory terms were employed to explain both the origins of those of mixed parentage, and the extent to which they were mixed. As Robert Chaudenson has indi­cated in an article analyzing the origins of terms describing métissage in both French and Creole, the French term mulâtre, appearing from the six­teenth century, referred to a child born to black and white parents.[24] However, the term métis appeared initially to designate people of mixed European and Asian or Amerindian parentage. Nevertheless, as the same author points out, métis was used in at least one travel narrative as a syno­nym of mulâtre, that is, to designate the children of “hommes blancs et de femmes noires.”[25] Other texts hint at a conception of ethnicity in certain quarters in the seventeenth century, which demonstrates a radical fluidity; in several other travel narratives, the indigenous peoples of the Indian sub-continent are referred to as nègres, or noirs.[26]

Seventeenth-century dictionaries reflect the problematic associations of terms describing métissage. While Furetière’s Dictionnaire Universel (1690) does not refer to the classification of ethnic groupings in its six definitions of race, a definition of the métis is furnished which demon­strates that the term could refer to the offspring of unions between two different races of animal.[27]

METIS. Adj. Masc. C’est un nom que les Espagnols donnent aux enfans qui sont nez d’un Indien & d’une Espagnole, ou d’un Espagnol & d’une Indienne. On appelle aussi chiens metis, ceux qui sont nez de differente race, comme d’un Levron & d’une Epagneule.[28]

Of the definition of mulat [mulâtre], the same volume notes: “ce mot est une grande injure en Espagne,& est derivé de mulet, animal engendré de deux differentes especes.”[29]While Furetière does not write that human beings can be divided into espèces, in turn, according to their ethnic ori­gin, it would appear that the offensive potential of the insult derives from this animal association.[30] The Dictionnaire de Trévoux defines the adjec­tive métis in the same terms as Furetière, although the term mestif could designate “figurément des hommes qui sont engendrez de père & mère de différente qualité, païs, couleur, ou Religion.”[31]The children born to unions between Europeans and Môres, or sauvages, or Indiens were all mestifs,[32] while the term mulat is reserved for those of Afro-Amerindian parentage.[33]

In other words, while the term mulâtre applied to the children of Euro­peans (or Amerindians) and Africans, and métis applied to those born to unions between Europeans with Amerindians or Asians, a certain amount of fluidity existed within these definitions. This is demonstrated, as Sylviane Albertan-Coppola writes, by “[l’]insistance sur la polysémie des termes désignant le métis ou sur les cas de proximité sémantique.”[34]  Both terms were associated with the crossing of animal species, and this al­lowed one of them to be used as an insult.

In the sources examined in the present study, the suggestions of an es­sential difference between human groupings are thus to be situated within a corpus which reflects new movements of populations, as well as the re­sponse of language—with varying levels of success—to capture this difference. Bernier’s interrogations about the noirceur of les noirs d’Afrique are justified by observations of the consequences of the transportation of such peoples into distant lands. In the Indian Ocean Basin, the echoes of the perception of some essence of human beings were not only mediated through proto-racial or biblical discourses, but through encounters with indigenous or developing hierarchies inseparable from new economic networks. French accounts demonstrate varying levels of interaction with these networks, and reflect the perspective of the peripheral observer on the cultural manifestations of hierarchies.

Stratification and divisions in the Indian Ocean Basin

Despite attempts to gain a greater share in the commercial exploitation of the Indian Ocean Basin, France played a relatively minor role within its economies throughout the seventeenth century. The ambitious mid-century settlement on Madagascar ended violently with the departure of its sur­viving colonists to l’île Bourbon (later La Réunion), while small comptoirs such as Pondicherry paled in importance before the growing might of the Dutch and English East India Companies.

Frequently writing from the perspective of outsiders to the socio-economic systems of the Indian Ocean Basin which they describe, French travellers furnish testimony on the divisions between ethnic groups, and often, the accordance of superior privilege to members of certain groups. Pyrard divides up the “peuples de Goa” into “deux sortes, ou naturels, ou étrangers.” He divides the former sorte into “brahmanes, canarins et cu­rumbins, tous gentils,” with the brahmanes as the “maîtres & supérieurs entre les idolâtres,” and the curumbins the inférieurs. For the two lower orders, he describes the divisions in terms which stress economic roles; the canarins are sub-divided into two further sortes according to whether they carried out trade, or “métiers honnêtes,” or rather fishing, mechanical trades, or “autres choses basses.” The lowest order, the curumbins, how­ever, live “comme des sauvages” and carry out “[des] choses fort viles.”[35]

 Divisions between peoples also, unsurprisingly, had a strong religious component. In an overview of the admirable population of Goa, Pyrard divides it into “Portugais [...], métis, Indiens, chrétiens, et grand nombre d’autres Indiens infidèles, mahométans, ou gentils, banians de Cambay, canarins de Goa, brahmanes et autres de telle condition…”[36]  The text reflects a conception of human groupings based on both religion and eth­nicity. Portuguese Christians had superior privileges; Pyrard recounts that non-Christian “étrangers indiens” who inhabited Goa were obliged to pay tribute to the Portuguese, and that (excepting “les gens des ambas­sadeurs”), infidèles did not bear arms.[37]

However, mid-seventeenth century, François La Boullaye Le Gouz in­dicates the importance of divisions which appear to be based essentially on race (according to a conception of this term reminiscent of Rochefort and Furetière’s previously indicated definitions). La Boullaye relates that those of the “race des Bramens” who had converted to Christianity saw other Christians (Portuguese included) as immondes, and that they re­stricted their marriages to converts of the same tribe (tribu).[38] Seventeenth-century observers in Goa depict a society heavily stratified according to criteria based on birth.[39] Pyrard had described the “grande différence d’honneur” among the Portuguese community in Goa. The “Portugais de Portugal” are most esteemed, followed by those born in India to Portuguese parents, who are called “castiços, c’est-à-dire de leur caste et race.”[40] Pyrard is not alone in treating the term caste as a synonym of race, though one must again be circumspect in the use of the latter term, which refers principally to parentage.[41] Below the castiços, came those born to a Portuguese and an Indian parent, the mestiços, or “métis, mêlés,” (Pyrard calls them “les moindres”) while the mulatos “sont en pareil hon­neur que les métis.”[42]

La Boullaye devotes a chapter to describing the diversité of the vassals of the Portuguese crown, and “leur employ suivant l’ordre de la genera­tion.”[43]  Reinols, or “Portugais venus du Royaume de Portugal,” had superior privileges to Castissos (Castiços, born in India of Portuguese parents):

Les Mestissos sont de plusieurs sortes, mais fort mesprisez des Reinols & Castissos, parce qu’il y a eu un peu de sang noir dans la generation de leurs ancestres, d’autant qu’un Reinol prenant pour femme une Indienne, les enfans en naissent jaunastres, puis ces jaunastres se marians avec des personnes blanches, les enfans en naissent blancs, & à la troisiesme & quatriesme generation, ils sont aussi blancs que les Reinols & Castissos, mais la tache d’avoir eu pour ancestre une Indienne, leur demeure jusques à la centiesme generation: ils peuvent toutefois estre soldats & Capitaines de forteresses ou de vaisseaux, s’ils font profession de suivre les armes, & s’ils se jettent du costé de l’Eglise ils peuvent estre Lecteurs, mais non Provinciaux.

Les Karanes sont engendrez d’un Mestis, & d’une Indienne, lesquels sont olivastres. Ce mot de Karanes vient à mon advis de Kara, qui signifie en Turq la terre, ou bien la couleur noire, comme si l’on vouloit dire par Karanes, les enfans du païs, ou bien les noirs: ils ont les mesmes advantages dans leur profession que les autres Mestis.[44]

La Boullaye’s depiction of the visible manifestations of origin through skin colour may in part be considered alongside his other observations as essentially curious manifestations of human diversity. However, his focus on the determination of one’s place in the socio-economic hierarchy ac­cording to bloodline hints, again, at the potentially problematic nature of métissage. While physical difference between the métis and the Portu­guese settler or the descendent of Portuguese parents might disappear after several generations, those “stained”by non-European blood could not aspire to the highest positions in Goa.

Such accounts of the importance of factors of birth or race in the early modern colonial economies of the Indian Ocean Basin accompany depic­tions of various types of human servitude, frequently in the form of slavery. In the first decade of the seventeenth century, Pyrard vividly de­scribes the slave market in Goa, where slaves are led “comme on fait [en France] des chevaux,” and writes that there was “un nombre infiny, et de toutes [les] nations Indiennes.”[45] Studies by M. N. Pearson and Sanjay Subrahmanyam testify to the large-scale use of slave labour; it has been reported that during the early modern period, while Portugal had a higher percentage of slaves than any other European country, Goa had even more.[46] Pyrard’s description of the display of servitude when a Portuguese gentleman would pass through the streets of Goa vividly reflects this. The gentleman, on horseback or carried in a palanquin, and shaded by a para­sol carried by a slave, would be followed on foot by pages, lackeys, and a great number of slave estafiers wearing livery.[47] In a voyage made from 1617 to 1627, the Swiss captain Élie Ripon claims to have observed nu­merous slaves (“esclaves noirs”) in Macao, who had been brought through the seat of the Portuguese empire in Goa; it is unclear if these slaves were of African or Indian origin.[48]

Certain texts hint at the association between the use of terms indicating servitude and those indicating ethnic origin. In a text published in 1651, Cauche mentions encountering the members of a Dutch slaving expedition on Madagascar, who had been left there by their captain “pour y achepter des Negres, & les transporter en l’Isle Maurice, & au Bresil.”[49]  This also appears to have been reflected in the future La Réunion which, by the start of the eighteenth century, was becoming dependent for its successful ex­ploitation on slavery. A text bequeathed by the administrator Antoine Boucher lists instances of possession of a multitude of noirs and négresses (themselves apparently also “possessed” by mulâtres and even négresses).[50]

While the notions of achat and possession unambiguously constitute enslavement, Europeans who wrote about their encounters with unfamiliar societies elsewhere recount the existence of hierarchies which curiously reflect existing, familiar hierarchies. When Cauche, on Madagascar, is asked to carry out tasks such as the sacrifice of animals, his reflex is to interpret this as a deference which is directly related both to religion and to skin colour:

S’il y a un Chrestien parmy eux, ils le prient de faire cet office, je ne sçay par quelle defference, mais ils m’ont fait faire souvent ce mestier, je croy que c’estoit parce que je n’y prenois aucune part, ou parce que les blancs sont les maistres de l’isle, & que ceux-là mesme qui sont blancs, qui se disent venir des Indes Orientales, respectent les Europeans, comme estant plus blancs qu’ils ne sont. A cette cause ils appellent le Chrestien, Vaza, c'est-à-dire tres-blanc, defferant tant à ce mot, qu’ils appellerent une petite fontaine que j’avois fait passer par des cors dans ma maison à Mannhale Rame Vaza, qui veut dire la fontaine du Chrestien, ou du blanc.[51]

Here, Cauche depicts blancheur as the marker of authority, as well as being a phenomenon subject to its own internal hierarchy (to judge by the respect he claims Europeans were afforded). Whiteness is also synony­mous with Christianity, itself a source of indigenous deference. The later governor of Madagascar, Etienne de Flacourt, claimed that its inhabitants were distinguished by categories, the black-skinned inhabitants being di­vided into four and the white-skinned into three such sortes, respectively.[52] The iconography of Flacourt’s account reinforces the repre­sentation of such hierarchy, with one illustration depicting “Un Rohandrian avec sa Femme portée par ses Esclaves Lors qu’elle va en Visitte par le Païs.”[53]  Such depictions of a stratified Malagasy indigenous society must be read with some caution, as they reflect different, poten­tially problematic, levels of contact—and sometimes conflict—with indigenous peoples. They also reflect the ordering or classification of peo­ples in budding colonial systems, both East and West, which were to be subject to varying levels of infringement of that classification.

Encountering métissage

The French observers who are the focus of the present study were wit­nesses to the development of dynamic coastal settlements and economies, and often testify to the mutations, or the potentially fragile political equi­librium, of these societies. The socio-economic hierarchies they describe were subject to the mixing of populations, which generated a variety of cultural responses. Over time, Creole society would develop diverse re­sponses to such mixing of populations, as evinced for example, by the social and economic connotations of those terms indicating colour or eth­nic origin.[54] In the seventeenth century, the status of the métis might allow them to share many of the privileges of the white population; the métis might, for example, act as a source of authority in settlements with a nu­merically superior black slave population.[55]

Texts describing servitude bear witness to the potential tensions within an order built on a problematic social stratification. As part of a large French expedition in the early 1690s, Robert Challe encounters a large black (as well as a métis) population on the islands of Cape Verde. An often unsympathetic observer, Challe claims that the black population were characterized by “un esprit [...] servile”; deriding their “bassesse d’âme,” he writes that they were barely distinguishable from brutes.[56] His account of his own experience of the servitude of a nègre over two days hints at the tensions inherent in such servitude. He is informed, for exam­ple, that had he paid his servitor upon demand, he would have been promptly deserted (and not having seen the same individual once payment was made constitutes proof of this for Challe).[57]There is a somewhat un­easy tone in Challe’s brief account of the coexistence of Europeans, métis and noirs:

Les Européens […] sont en fort petit nombre, n’étant au plus que quarante, tant officiers de justice que d’épée, les créoles ou métis étant presque tous soldats & les autres de métier; auxquels tous il importe de maintenir l’autorité du gouverneur, puisque c’est elle qui fait leur sûreté contre les noirs, qui sont en bien plus grand nombre, mais à la vérité d’un esprit si servile & si abject qu’ils ne sont pas à craindre.[58]

The last affirmation is curiously ambiguous; the assurance that the noirs were not to be feared nonetheless hints at the presumption of a notion of crainte in such a society. Despite Challe’s reassurance, this extract hints at some assumption, among observers and perhaps readers, of an undercur­rent of tension in the relationship between peoples in this community.

Elsewhere in the Indian Ocean Basin, settlement patterns parallel those Chantal Maignan-Claverie has described in the case of the Antilles, with a great shortage of families—and of marriageable women—willing to make the voyage to the colonies, even years after their initial settlement.[59] In the East, European settlement was also predominately a masculine affair; Pearson writes that the “vast majority” of Portuguese settlers took their wives from among local women.[60] Charles Boxer writes that in the early days of Goa, marriage with converted women of Aryan origin had been encouraged by the conqueror Albuquerque.[61] For Pearson, this initial Portu­guese pattern of marriage follows a different pattern to later European settlements in the East.[62] However, with some estimates putting forward annual figures of perhaps two thousand Portuguese leaving for sixteenth-century India (“mostly for Goa”) and between six and eight thou­sand men leaving for Asia in the service of the Dutch VOC during the years of its existence (to speak of only two European countries), other forms of alliance between autochthons and male Europeans are reflected in contemporary texts.[63]

Portuguese culture in the Indian Ocean Basin itself became subject to a considerable amount of acculturation concerning alimentary habits or ap­pearance, even becoming predominantly Indian in “racial terms,” according to Pearson in the case of Goa.[64] The French texts which were generated from the encounter with this Indo-Portuguese composite culture reflect its métissage, as well as its divisions.[65] They recount the ambiguous social status of those who crossed European and Asian cultures. This social status is illustrated by Leonard Y. Andaya, writing of the cities of Southeast Asia in which the métis constituted a sizeable presence by the late seventeenth century:

These mestizo children were socially located between the cultures of their foreign fathers and their Southeast Asian mothers, and not totally accepted by either. Yet their very presence half-way between these societies made them ideal intermediaries in trade, diplomacy, and in the trans­mission of ideas between the two cultures.[66]

This lack of acceptance, at least by European cultures, is demonstrated by the most fleeting of references testifying to their “mixed”status.[67]The vague assertion made by the Abbé Carré is representative:

Je m’embarquai sur la galiote du capitaine Salvador George, Portugais indien, homme bien fait, de cœur, mais un peu bohémien de visage et de naturel indien.[68]

Clearly, Carré’s host was irreproachable, except for his appearance (his dark skin) and his vaguely Indian naturel, or character. The gipsylike (bo­hémien)appearance indicates that Carré’s host was in fact a castiço,as Dirk Van der Cruysse points out, or a métis.[69]Acculturation, displayed by the Indian naturel, is accompanied by a hint of physical difference remi­niscent of a distinct ethnic group familiar to the French reader (the Bohémiens), one which was itself perceived as socially problematic.[70]El­sewhere, the Abbé’s textreflects a difference in social status, determined by birth, which had been described by La Boullaye. Carré perceives a bas­sesse which further distinguished the characters of Portugais indiens and Portugais européens:

Le sieur Gaspar de Sousa, Portugais européen […] était sans contredit le plus honnête Portugais que j’eusse connu dans les Indes, homme d’honneur, généreux, et qui n’avait rien de bas ni qui ressentît les Portugais indiens.[71]

As Carré’s description of the captain Salvador George has demon­strated, however, the mention of the colour of the métis reflects concerns which transcend manifestations of social divisions. The appearance of the métis in the text might, of course, also be considered as another element of the diversity of the Grandes Indes, a diversity which was the raison d’être of the travel narrative. For example, Ripon’s description of the Portuguese in Macao focuses on a physical particularity of métissage:

[Les Portugais] trafiquent tous les jours ensemble, et se marient avec des femmes chinoises, aussi sont-ils la plupart camus comme les Chinois.[72]

However, there is evidence in certain French texts of a concern with the transmission of sang through métissage which reflects the question of race. La Boullaye praises the appearance of the Parsi population in India precisely because of their tradition of only marrying within their commu­nity, thus conserving the traits of their sang:

Ils ne s’allient qu’avec ceux de leur loy & nation, qui est la raison pourquoy ils ont conservé la blancheur & la beauté de leur sang dans les Indes, & autres lieux où ils ont fuy, parce que la blancheur ne vient nullement du climat, mais de la semence des parens.[73]

Another mid-century author, the ecclesiastic Philippe de la Très-Sainte Trinité, writes that the constant arrival in Goa of young Portuguese men, who marry Mistice women, means that “peu à peu les races se purifient.”[74]This purification of the métis population consists of a progressive dilution of the noirceur which is inherited, he states, from Indian mothers.[75]The conservation of the bloodline or the gradual attenuation of métissage are considered laudable in these two mid-century texts.

The encounter with the East also reflects a concern with the effects of climate and environment on human beings. In the late seventeenth century, Challe’s account of the early settlement of Pondicherry describes a métis population which had preserved its blancheur.

Il y a plusieurs Français mariés à des filles portugaises, qui ne sont pas noires, mais métisses ou mulâtres, & dont les enfants sont blonds & d’une peau aussi blanche que les Européens les plus délicats.[76]

This délicatesse, in the context of La Boullaye and Philippe’s previously-mentioned observations, must surely have been considered a positive re­sult of métissage. However, Challe also claims that the majority of the French officers and soldiers in the settlement had been irredeemably cor­rupted to the point of being unable to return to Europe. The reason for this was a frequentation of prostitutes which left them, he claims, “salés & poivrés”. Weak, thin and hideux, the paleness of their skin, which made them resemble “des nouveaux Lazares, ou du moins des moines de Notre-Dame de la Trappe,”is in this instance the visible sign of a physical cor­ruption.[77]While Challe does furnish some remarkable, apparently first-hand, testimony of prostitution, his “nouveaux Lazares”may also reflect an association between European residence in the Orient and physical de­gradation, or the loss of what Europeans considered to be their superior level of vigour.[78]Given the survival of the belief in a link between climate and character, this would imply that métissage consisted of the mix of European with the product of an environment supposed to impart weak­ness and other negative traits.[79]

Seventeenth-century reflections of métissage also circulate in texts which inspire questions on the claim to first-hand testimony, or on the role of intertextuality. A notable and frequent topos is that of the receptivity of the Asian population to the sexual favours of European men.[80] These might be claimed to be the result of first-hand experience; Mocquet, for example, claims that an Indian woman brought her daughter “pour coucher avec [lui],” and that his refusal caused the girl considerable up­set.[81]The extremely influential and near-contemporaneous account of the East Indies by the Dutchman Linschoten includes a passage which re­counts the desire of servants to give birth to white-skinned children:

Les meres de tels enfants quelque grande que soit leur povreté & servitude, ne voudroyent pas avoir pensé à les meurtrir ou estouffer, ains tiennent pour gloire non petite d’avoir esté engrossies d’un homme blanc, & pourtant gardent soigneusement leurs enfants, & ne les lairroyent pas mesmes à leurs propres peres quand ils les voudroyent avoir pour argent.[82]

Pyrard, depicting the market at Goa, claims that slaves acted as maquerelles for their mistresses. The alliance with a European would be considered honorable:

Toutes ces Indiennes, tant chrétiennes qu’autres ou métisses, désirent plutôt avoir la compagnie d’un homme de l’Europe vieux-chrétien que des Indiens, et leur donneraient plutôt de l’argent, s’en tenant bien honorées: car elles aiment fort les hommes blancs de deçà, et encore qu’il y ait des Indiens fort blancs, elles ne les aiment pas tant.[83]

According to Pyrard, skin colour alone cannot justify the preference for Europeans; the choice of the European may indeed, as Sophie Linon-Chipon writes in relation to this extract, be determined by religious confession.[84]However, while not as flagrant as in Linschoten, there may also be a suggestion that it is the origin of the European—some inherent essence distinguishing him from Indians—that determines this preference. Both extracts dismiss any hint of economic interest in the desire for the compagnie of a European, and in Linschoten, the métis is a source of glory in having inherited the essence of the homme blanc.

Linschoten and Pyrard’s assertions are also at the cusp of fiction and must surely demonstrate the potential for the encounter between diverse cultures to fascinate, even to generate fantasy among the male authorship. The coexistence of stratified groups within these colonial societies was recognized by certain authors to be the site of tensions, and of unresolved and possibly emergent conflicts. Others hint at the value of preserving an essence conceived of, at times, in an apparently fluid manner, and encom­passing lineage, colour, and religion. Métissage was clearly encountered, but as the following section will demonstrate, was also reflected in the development of more elaborate narratives in which the promise and the perils of breaching divisions were reflected.

Métissage and cautionary tales

The textual provision of supposedly empirical evidence in travel nar­ratives to the Indian Ocean Basin was often accompanied by anecdotes recounting dramatic and violent occurrences or sexual transgressions.[85]  Figuring alongside descriptions of the political organization or the religion of eastern cultures, these tales reflect hearsay, or hypotexts from a corpus which included other travel narratives.[86]

Manifestations of métissage within such anecdotes demonstrate a strong moral focus. Like other popular European anecdotal forms, they are often explicitly cautionary, and demonstrate the inevitable punishment of sin, or astonish the reader by their outlandishness.[87] In such forms, the phenomenonof métissage, when it is encountered, sometimes retreats into the backgroundas one more detail in a curious, or cautionary, tale. Pyrard, for example, furnishes a vivid account of the physical suffering endured by a mulâtre as punishment for his crimes, in a chapter alongside “justices diverses” or the “humeur amoureuse des femmes indiennes.”[88]  However, this anecdote is notable as an account of exceptional human courage, but makes no explicit link between this trait and ethnic origin.[89] In another case, the tragic fate of a young métis shipwrecked in the Maldives who rises in the esteem of the people by his bravery, is considered by Pyrard as a lesson on the dangers of rising above one’s station both in those islands and elsewhere.[90] So, while the constant indication of a character’s status as métis indicates that it is an inescapable, distinct, category, the principal dramatic or moral value of some tales cannot be attributed with certainty to this status.

Nevertheless, métissage also features as an element in cautionary an­ecdotes which invite a reading in the context of the existing proto-colonial order. A number of French accounts refer to the druggings of Europeans by Orientals either to permit infidelity or to take revenge on lovers who wish to leave them.[91] Pyrard warns against the terrible jealousy of métisse and Indian women,and Mocquet attributes deceit and drugging to the mé­tisses in particular (the fact that both travellers had the same ghost writer, Pierre Bergeron, is no doubt not indifferent).[92]La Boullaye (who had read both Pyrard and Mocquet) vividly depicts similar intrigues in Goa between Portuguese soldiers and “les femmes des autres Portugais, ou mestisses, qui ayment à faire l’amour au dessus de toutes les femmes du monde.”[93]  All three narrators repeat the topos of the amorous temperament of Orien­tals (and indeed, of the Portuguese women in the East), and in this, the métisse inherits traits attributed to her sisters of other origin. Indeed, for Mocquet and La Boullaye, she supersedes others both in her level of skill in carrying out her deceit, and/or in her amorous temperament. This may, as Linon-Chipon writes, be as much a condemnation of women as of the métis(se), in which “la femme métisse, [...] avant d’être métisse, est femme.”[94] However, the métisse is also an intermediary accessing the products of the East to harm the European world of which she too is, in part, a member.

Mocquet’s narrative also implicates the métisse in vivid descriptions of the brutality of the Portuguese colonial empire, and of great abuses carried out on the slaves in Goa. The barbaric punishment inflicted by one métisse on a slave for her lack of promptitude in waking up, proves fatal, and the “horribles châtiments” of another “fait mourir de la sorte cinq ou six es­claves qu’elle faisait enterrer en son jardin.”[95]  The implication of the métisse in such graphic excess appears to reflect on her status in the col­ony. When this part-European, part-Oriental occupied the position of authority that owning slaves implied, she is strikingly depicted as unable to restrain herself and temper its reasonable use.

Mocquet’s narrative contains two other tales which are representative of another reason why such tales could fascinate. Among the many unfor­tunate characters the narrator met in his travels was the son of an “Ethiopian king,” whose skin colour aroused suspicion in his father: “Il était fils d’un Noir et d’une Noire, et néanmoins était blanc et blond.”[96] The apothecary Mocquet speculates that this anomaly was caused by la fantaisie: through the mother “imagining” the whites who she had heard lived in Mozambique, or some other vivid psychological impression.[97]In a second tale, Mocquet recounts the consequences of a Genoese woman giving birth to a black child after suffering another psychological impres­sion; this time her anger at a black female slave falling pregnant by another slave. Her husband’s belief that he is the victim of adultery gives rise to numerous peripeteia, such as the exposure of the child in the wil­derness, an eventual chance encounter of father and son in a market in Algiers, and their tragic end.[98] The great dramatic interest of Mocquet’s tales must be considered within the overall context of the thematic and moral preoccupations of the histoires tragico-maritimes, and they depend on the early modern conception of the power of the imagination to mark the unborn child.[99] Yet, both also demonstrate an important implication of métissage. The suspected infidelity from which both derive their dramatic interest is actualized by the ineffaceable sign of colour. Moral transgres­sion—even if falsely imputed—is assumed to have been made visible.

This visibility and exposure of moral transgression is a theme adopted in French accounts of the Dutch East Indies, but in forms which also re­flect contemporary perceptions of socio-economic hierarchies. Jean-Baptiste Tavernier’s account of La Conduite des Hollandois en Asie con­tains a chapter entitled De l’Orgueil des femmes de Batavia, de leur credit & de leurs amourettes. Tavernier depicts Batavia as a site of considerable and undesirable social mobility, a place to which “des filles de la lie du peuple” were principally brought.[100] Once married, Tavernier claims, these women, bejewelled and “servies par plusieurs esclaves de l’un & de l’autre sexe” developed an excessive pride and insolence. The amourettes which Tavernier claims they embark on with young men recently arrived from Holland reflects the promiscuity attributed by Mocquet and Pyrard to their Portuguese sisters nearly three-quarters of a century previously. Tavernier sets the scene for an anecdote with a moral assertion which frames the story in a cautionary manner:

Le plus souvent quand les femmes s’imaginent que leurs amours sont fort secrètes & qu’on n’en peut rien sça­voir, c’est alors que Dieu permet qu’elles sont plûtost découvertes & mesme avec beaucoup d’infamie.[101]

He recounts that the Dutch wife of the secretary of the Hospital in Batavia had been childless for several years, and, despairing of ever having chil­dren, turns her attention to a slave who was “bien fait mais fort noir.”Her eventual pregnancy is greeted with great, but short-lived joy by her hus­band:

À l’accouchement toute cette joye fut changée en deuil, & l’on fut fort surpris de voir un enfant noir qu’elle mit au monde….[102]

The child, in this tale, bears the visible mark of the deceit of the mother, a deceit which transgresses both socio-economic and ethnic boundaries, and which is severely punished ; the father is dispatched on the galleys after­ward. Here, a multiple transgression is made irrevocably visible in a form reminiscent of what Robert J. C. Young characterizes as the subversive body of the child born from “hybrid”sexual unions.[103]

However, in the case of a transgressive union in which the father was European, Tavernier presents a notably less subversive outcome. He sug­gests that one of those who attempted to have the secretary take back his wife, may have related a conte concerning a noir and a noire. In this tale, the wife gives birth to an “enfant blanc,” the father probably being “quelque soldat Portugais.”[104]The great anger of the cuckolded husband is appeased by the arrival of a priest, who comforts him simply by recount­ing how a black hen might lay white eggs:

Par cette comparaison la colère du Cafre s’appaisa, il fut embrasser la mère & l’enfant, & il ne se parla plus de la chose.[105]

The resolution of this tale differs greatly from that preceding it in verging on the comic, either by the facility of the priest’s explanation, or by the ease with which it is accepted by the husband.

Tavernier’s first anecdote hints not only at the seriousness of the transgression of adultery in the new European settlements in Asia, but also of the dramatic potential that narratives of such métissage might have. This potential is developed in another anecdote, which features in the ac­count of the service of the mid-seventeenth-century mercenary, Jean Guidon de Chambelle, with the Dutch East India Company. Introduced by the title Histoire d’une femme hollandaise qui eut affaire avec son esclave, & de la justice qu’on en fit, the cautionary nature is made immediately clear. In the absence of her husband, a young and high-born European woman in the colony calls one of her slaves, “un des plus contrefaits de la nature et le plus sauvage, ni autrement avait quelque esprit” into her room.[106] Her expressions of affection astonish her slave, who initially re­fuses her advances, which include the following affirmation of the superiority of the colonist:

Regarde comme je suis blanche et toi noir, et quel hon­neur je te fais, dont tu devrais être glorieux. Oui, je te promets (mets la main dans la mienne), pourvu que tu sois secret, de t’affranchir et te donner des esclaves qui te servi­ront, te faisant riche.[107]

In this case, the transgression of the boundaries of colour is conceived of as an honour for which the slave must be grateful (as Linschoten wrote of slaves in Goa).[108]Yet the result of this confusion of existing limits is that the previous submission of the slave is turned into scorn for the master who was encouraged to free him: “Cet esclave, étant en franchise […] commença à se méconnaître et à mépriser celui qui l’avait affranchi.”[109] The bestowal of social mobility, enabled by deceit and adultery and blur­ring ethnic divisions, clearly brings confusion to the colonial order.[110]  The text places the transgression alongside the most serious and hidden of all, and promises that punishment must surely follow: “Comme les choses les plus cachées se découvrent avec le temps, Dieu ne laisse jamais rien im­puni.”[111]  Indeed, the sentences initially received—death for the wife, and a symbolic mutilation and re-enslavement of the Noir—demonstrate the seriousness of this crossing of boundaries. This is finally commuted to a severe punishment which, for the woman, includes a symbolic execution, the annulment of her marriage, and her exclusion from society.

Elle serait mise pour toute sa vie au spinus, qui est un lieu où on met les femmes de mauvais gouvernement. Et pour cet affranchi, qu’il demanderait pardon à son maître, disant qu’il avait été forcé; après serait fouetté, et esclave pour toute sa vie de la Compagnie.[112]

A short report immediately follows this tale of, this time, a femme mestive who deceives her Dutch husband with a Noir.[113]While the considerable dramatic interest and the dialogues of the first tale are absent, it demons­trates the abhorrence with which this combined infringement of race, marriage, and class was viewed. The fate of this second couple, while de­void of certain elements of the first, includes a severe physical punishment for both.

Elle fut démariée d’avec son mari, eut le fouet et la marque, et condamnée trois ans au spinus, et le Noir eut le fouet et la marque, et fait esclave pour sa vie à la Compagnie.[114]

Ultimately, despite their differences, the cautionary thread in these tales is apparent. While Mocquet’s anecdotes are in some cases simple transpositions of the theme of (supposed) adultery made visible by skin colour, others testify to the ambiguous perception of métissage and the métis(se), situated between cultures and the hierarchies of the colony. For Chambelle and Tavernier, the theme of adultery is accompanied by vivid demonstrations of the consequences of the disruption of the colonial order. When European women infringe its barriers with the same sexual licence traditionally attributed to European males in the Indies, an inevitable pun­ishment dramatically reaffirms the existing hierarchy.


The travel narratives examined in the present study reflect the attempt to encapsulate difference in recognizable forms of text, and the interac­tions of contemporary—potentially widely disseminated—formulations of human difference with intertextual tradition. As the panorama of the Indes, they are depictions of the composition of societies through the encounter with difference and, in this, can be said to convey an inherently problem­atic, even conflictual dynamic. In early modern colonial societies, they testify to the importance of religion in constituting identity, as well as of other constructions of diversity which reflect socio-economic status as well as birth and race.

These texts are also composed of the residue of testimonies gathered by individuals who occupied transient positions within the societies of the Indes. In their edited form, they often testify to the re-use of topoi of the printed corpus. Nonetheless, the reader is often faced with the testimony of travellers who skirted the edges of cultures and of languages, and is led to ask in what it might reflect the echoes of the lost oral traditions of early colonies. The notoriously unreliable traveller-narrator, recounting unlikely anecdotes on the margins of experience, reflects a curious mix of Euro­pean and colonial preoccupations.

French travellers, as has been seen, often themselves occupied a place on the margins of colonial societies. One is led to question how the en­counter with métissage reflects or even interrogates their own often uneasy existence, and the extent to which their affirmations of rigid difference constitute assurances of belonging, faced with the often threatening di­versity of the Indes. In addition, in these texts generated from the encounter, and often the conflict, between European, African and Asian peoples, the problematic place of métissage is hinted at. The phenomenon, ever on the margins of developing socio-economic, racial and even reli­gious systems, occupies uneasy territory in the margins of this corpus. Within, perhaps, can be glimpsed the reflection of the confrontations, fears and desires of the developing colonies.

University of Warwick

[1] Jean Mocquet [1575–1616?], Voyages en Afrique, Asie, Indes orientales et occidentales (Paris: Chez Jean de Heuqueville, 1617), repr. (Rouen: Jacques Cailloué, 1645); Fourth part reprinted as Voyage à Mozambique & Goa, ed. by Xavier de Castro & Dejanirah Couto (Paris: Éditions Chandeigne, 1996); François Pyrard de Laval [1570–1621], Voyage de François Pyrard de Laval…, 2 vols(Paris: Chez Samuel Thiboust, 1619); repr. as Voyage de Pyrard de Laval aux Indes orientales (1601–1611),ed. by Xavier de Castro, 2 vols (Paris: Éditions Chandeigne, 1998).

[2] François La Boullaye Le Gouz [1623–1668], Les Voyages et Observations du Sieur de La Boullaye Le Gouz (Paris: Gervais Clousier, 1653); Philippe de la Très-Saint Trinité [1603–1674], Voyage d’Orient… (Lyon: Antoine Jullieron, 1652; repr. 1669).

[3] Jean-Baptise Tavernier [1605–1689], Recüeil de plusieurs Relations & Traitez singuliers et curieux de J. B. Tavernier, Escuyer, Baron d’Aubonne, Qui n’ont point esté mis dans ses six premiers Voyages. Divisé en cinq parties… (Paris: Gervais Clouzier, 1679); the voyage of Jean Guidon de Chambelle has been published by Dirk Van der Cruysse as Mercenaires français de la VOC: le récit de Jean Guidon de Chambelle (1644–1651) & autres documents (Paris: Chandeigne, 2003).

[4] François Cauche [1615?–?],Relation de Voyage que François Cauche de Rouen a fait à Madagascar, Isles adjacentes & Coste d’Afrique: Recueilly par le Sieur Morisot (Paris: Augustin Courbé, 1651).

[5] Etienne de Flacourt [1607–1660], Histoire de la Grande Isle Madagascar (Paris: Alexandre Lesselin, 1658); Robert Challe [1659–1721], Journal d’un voyage fait aux Indes orientales (Rouen. Jean-Baptiste Macheuel, 1721),repr. asJournal d’un voyage fait aux Indes orientales (1690–91),ed. by Frédéric Deloffre & Melâhat Menemencioglu (Paris: Mercure de France, 1979).

[6] Abbé Barthélemy Carré [1636?–1699?], Le Courrier du Roi en Orient: Relations de deux voyages en Perse et en Inde 1668–1674,ed. by Dirk Van der Cruysse (Paris: Fayard, 2005).

[7] François Bernier [1620–1688], Histoire de la dernière Révolution des États du Grand Mogol; Événements particuliers; Suite des Mémoires (Paris: Barbin, 1670–1671); repr. in Un Libertin dans l’Inde Moghole: les Voyages de François Bernier, 1656–1669, ed. F. Tinguely, A. Paschoud, C. –A Chamay (Paris: Chandeigne, 2008).

[8] Sophie Linon-Chipon, Gallia Orientalis: Voyages aux Indes Orientales (1529–1722): Poétique et imaginaire d’un genre littéraire en formation(Paris: Presses de l’Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2003); especially the section « La rencontre de l’autre et la figure du métis », 448–453; Chantal Maignan-Claverie, Le métissage dans la littérature des Antilles françaises: Le complexe d’Ariel (Paris: Karthala, 2005); Sara E. Melzer, Colonizer or Colonized: the Hidden Stories of Early Modern French Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012). Melzer furnishes an interesting study of the apparent promotion of French-Amerindian marriages, 91–121.

[9] Giuliano Gliozzi, Adamo e il Nuovo Mondo: la nascita dell’antropologia come ideologia coloniale: dalle genealogie bibliche alle teorie razziali, 1500–1700 (Florence: La Nuova Italia Editrice, 1977); trans. by Arlette Estève and Pascal Gabellone as Adam et le Nouveau Monde: la naissance de l’anthropologie comme idéologie coloniale: des généalogies bibliques aux théories raciales (1500–1700) (Lecques: Théétète Éditions, 2000). All references are to the French translation. On, for example, Isaac de la Peyrère’s Prae-Adamitae (n.p.: n. pub., 1655), see Gliozzi, 440–457.

[10] François Bernier, Nouvelle Division de la Terre,par les différentes Espèces ou Races d’hommes qui l’habitent…Journal des Sçavans, vol. 12 (lundi 24 avril 1684), 148–155, 152. Reprinted in facsimile in Robert Bernasconi, ed., Concepts of Race in the Eighteenth Century, vol. 1, ‘Bernier, Linnaeus and Maupertuis’ (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2001). See also Bernasconi, ed. Race (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 13, 25. On the possibility that Bernier’s ‘futile’ conclusion on female beauty is intended to limit the ‘explosive’ potential of the rest of his text, see Gliozzi, 478–9.

[11] César de Rochefort, Dictionnaire Général et Curieux contenant les Principaux Mots et les plus usitez en la Langue Françoise (Lyon: Pierre Guillimin, 1685), entry race, 620. Punctuation and spelling has not been modernized in French texts consulted in their seventeenth-century editions.

[12] Antoine Furetière, Dictionnaire Universel, vol. 3(The Hague-Rotterdam: Arnout & Reinier Leers, 1690), entryrace, non-paginated.

[13]Dictionnaire Universel François et Latin, 2nd edition, vol. 4(Trévoux: 1721), entry race, 974.

[14]Bernasconi, ed., Concepts of Race..., vii.


[16]On the lack of precision in Bernier’s division, and the equation of espèce and race,see Bernasconi, ed., Race, 12–13.

[17]Bernier, ibid., 148.

[18] 'Espece n.f. (XIe s., Alexis; lat. species, vue, regard). Dictionnaire du moyen français: la Renaissance, ed. by Algirdas Julian Greimas & Teresa Mary Keane (Paris: Larousse, 1992), 259. On espèce, see also Tzvetan Todorov, Nous et les autres: La réflexion française sur la diversité humaine (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1989), 19. See also section Races,111–196.

[19]Bernier, 150. On the heritage of the reference to semences, see Bernasconi, ed., Race, 13.

[20] Gliozzi, 478–479. This, as the same critic points out, entails hiding ‘les liens qui unissent étroitement au préadamisme la théorie raciale,’ ibid.

[21] Jean de Léry,Histoire d’un voyage faict en terre de Brésil, ed. by Frank Lestringant (Paris: Librairie générale française, 1994); repr. of 2nd edn (Geneva: Antoine Chuppin, 1580), 420–422 and footnotes. See Lestringant’s introduction, 37. See also Lestringant, Le Huguenot et le Sauvage (Paris: Aux Amateurs de Livres, 1990), 50, 119–122. For an example in Madagascar, see Cauche, 122; in Pondicherry, see Challe, 1979, 296. On the necessity of treating Challe’s evocation of biblical explanations with caution, see Chantale Payet-Meure, ‘Robert Challe: La Bible à l’épreuve du voyage’, in Sophie Linon-Chipon and Jean-François Guennec, ed., Transhumances divines: Récits de voyage et religion (Paris: PUPS, 2005), 181–197, 185. 

[22] Gliozzi, 481–482.

[23] Dictionnaire Universel François et Latin, vol. 4, entry Nègre, 64.

[24] Robert Chaudenson, ‘Mulâtres, métis, créoles’, in Métissages: Linguistique et Anthropologie, vol. 2 (Saint-Denis (Réunion): L’Harmattan, 1992),  23–37.

[25] See François Martin de Vitré, Description du premier voyage faict aux Indes Orientales par les François en l’an 1603 (Paris: L. Sonnius, 1604), 11. See Chaudenson, 25.

[26] Claude-Michel Pouchot de Chantassin, Relation du voyage et retour des Indes orientales… (Paris: Coignard, 1692), 136, 143; in translation to French from Dutch in Frans Jansszon Van der Heiden,Le Naufrage du Terschelling sur les côtes du Bengale (1661), ed. by Henja Vlaardingerbrock & Xavier de Castro (Paris: Chandeigne, 1999), 45; Challe, 284–285;  La Boullaye, 194.

[27] On the evolution of terms designating métissage through the following century, see Sylviane Albertan-Coppola, ‘La Notion de métissage à travers les dictionnaires du XVIIIème siècle’, in Jean-Claude Carpanin Marimoutou and Jean-Michel Racault, eds, Métissages: Littérature-Histoire, Vol. 1 (Saint-Denis (Réunion): L’Harmattan, 1992),35–50.

[28] Antoine Furetière, Dictionnaire Universel, vol. II(The Hague-Rotterdam: Arnout & Reinier Leers, 1690), entry métis, non-paginated. On this extract, see Albertan-Coppola, 43.

[29]Furetière, entry mulat. Absent from 1727 edition of Furetière (The Hague: 1727), though appears as mulato in Dictionnaire Universel François et Latin, vol. 3 M-MYU(Trévoux: 1721), entry méstif, 357;mulat, mulastre, ou mulate, 542. See Albertan-Coppola, 44.

[30]On the offensive potential of these terms as illustrated by early modern dictionaries, see Albertan-Coppola, 41–42.

[31] Entry métis in Dictionnaire Universel François et Latin, vol. 3(Trévoux: 1721), 373; Ibid., entry mestif, 357.

[32] ‘On appelle aussi métif, un enfant né d’un Indien & d’une Espagnole, ou au contraire: dans le païs on appelle crioles.’ Ibid. This would imply that the Indien father here is of Amerindian origin.

[33] Dictionnaire Universel François et Latin, vol. 3(Trévoux: 1721), entry métis, 373; entry mulat, mulastre ou mulate, 542.

[34]Albertan-Coppola, 44.

[35]Pyrard, 1998, vol. 2, 568–569.

[36]Pyrard, 1998, vol. 2, 597.

[37]Pyrard, 1998, vol. 2, 567–569.

[38]La Boullaye, 205.

[39]  On the diverse perceptions of this classification, see C. R. Boxer, Race Relations in the Portuguese Colonial Empire (1415–1825) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 62–68.

[40]Pyrard, 1998, vol. 2, 570.

[41]See also La Boullaye, 209.

[42] Pyrard, 1998, vol. 2, 570–571.

[43] La Boullaye, 209.

[44]La Boullaye, 209.

[45]Pyrard, 1998, vol. 2, 590–591; 571.

[46]M. N. Pearson, The New Cambridge History of India, I: 1, The Portuguese in India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 15; 95. Subrahmanyam gives a seventeenth-century estimate of approximately ten slaves per casado household. Sanjay Subrahmanyam, The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500–1700: a Political and Economic History, 2nd ed. (Chichester; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 240.

[47] Pyrard, 1998, vol. 2, 598.

[48] ‘‘Ils tiennent grande quantité d’esclaves noirs qu’ils amènent de Goa.’ Élie Ripon, Voyages et aventures aux Grandes Indes, 1617–1627, ed. by Yves Giraud (Paris: Les Éditions de Paris, 1997),  93.

[49]Cauche, 37. On the colonial project in Madagascar, seeM. Harrigan, Veiled Encounters: Representing the Orient in Seventeenth-Century French Travel Literature(Amsterdam; NY: Rodopi, 2008), 219–224; Linon-Chipon, passim.

[50] Antoine Boucher, Mémoire pour servir à la connoissance particulière de chacun des habitans de l’Isle de Bourbon, notes by Père Jean Barassin, Collection Mascarin, (Saint-Clothilde (Réunion): Éditions ARS Terres Créoles, 1989), 80, 86, 97.

[51]Cauche, 122.

[52] FlacourtHistoire, 47.

[53]Non-paginated illustration in Flacourt.

[54]See Chaudenson’s 1974 article for the nuances of vocabulary to describe colour in three colonies previously dominated by the French. ‘Le Noir et le Blanc: La Classification Raciale dans les Parlers Créoles de l’Océan Indien’, Revue de Linguistique Romane, janvier-décembre 1974 [no. 149], 75–94.

[55] On white-métis economic competition in eighteenth-century Saint-Domingue see Yves Benot, La Révolution française et la fin des colonies (Paris: Éditions La Découverte, 1988), 60–61. On the métis as an ‘esclave civilisé et robuste’ see Linon-Chipon, 452.

[56] Challe, 138.

[57]‘Il semble que ces noirs n’ont que la figure humaine, qui les distingue de la brute, une bassesse d’âme dans toutes leurs actions que je ne puis exprimer. Le gain fait sur eux ce qu’un morceau de pain fait sur un chien affamé.’ Challe, 138.

[58]Challe, 138.

[59] Maignan-Claverie, 130–131; 220–221.

[60] Pearson, 104–105.

[61] Boxer, 64.

[62]Pearson, 104.

[63]The statistics for Portuguese departures are from Pearson, 92; those concerning the VOC in Dirk Van der Cruysse, ed., Mercenaires français de la VOC: le récit de Jean Guidon de Chambelle (1644–1651) & autres documents (Paris: Chandeigne, 2003), 21. See Pyrard, 1998, vol. 2, 591 and La Boullaye (209–210; 262) on master-slave relations in Goa. See Boxer, 60–62 on the situation in the sixteenth-century Portuguese possessions.

[64] Ripon, 93; Pearson, 101.

[65] ‘Le geôlier et sa femme étaient métis.’ Pyrard, 1998, vol. 2, 540.

[66]Leonard Y. Andaya,‘Interactions with the Outside World and Adaptation in Southeast Asian Society, 1500–1800’, in The Cambridge History of South-East Asia, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 345–401, 371.

[67]Linon-Chipon quotes the Docteur Dellon, and the ambassador Chaumont who, while noting the considerable numbers of métis in late-century Goa and Siam respectively, distinguish them from the véritables Portugais. Charles Dellon, Nouvelle Voyage aux Indes Orientales (Amsterdam: Paul Marret, 1699), 208; Alexandre de Chaumont, Relation de l’Ambassade de Mr le Chevalier de Chaumont à la Cour du Roy de Siam (The Hague: Isaac Beauregard, 1733), 84. See Linon-Chipon, 450.

[68]Carré, 505.


[70] See for example the entry Bohêmien, in Dictionnaire Universel François et Latin, vol. 1(Trévoux: 1721), 1085–1086.

[71]Carré, 1032.

[72]Ripon, 93.

[73]La Boullaye, 189.

[74]‘Tous les ans arrivant aux Indes des jeunes Portugais, qui se marient avec les filles Mistices, peu à peu les races se purifient.’ Philippe de la Très-Saint Trinité, 1669, 134.


[76]Challe, 288.

[77]Challe, 287.

[78]See La Boullaye, 257. On La Boullaye and links between climate, vigour andvaleur,see my Veiled Encounters, 207–208. However, John Fryer reports in the 1670s that children born in India to English mothers were ‘a sickly generation’ and that, according to the Dutch, ‘[children] thrive better that come of a European Father and Indian Mother.’ John Fryer, John Fryer’s East India and Persia, vol. 1, ed. by William Crooke (Hakluyt Society: 1909), repr. (Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprint, 1967), 179.

[79] On climate and character, see Charles-Louis de Secondat de Montesquieu, De L’Esprit des lois, inŒuvres complètes, vol. II, ed. by Roger Caillois, Éditions de la Pléiade (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1951), 478. For one curious (and briefly positive) depiction of métissage, see Flacourt’s depiction of a mixed French-Malagasy Christian population in the dédicace of his Histoire (non-paginated), and my article ‘Trahison and the Native: Flacourt’s Histoire de la Grande Isle Madagascar (1658)’ in Reverberations: Staging Relations in French since 1500. A Festschrift in Honour of C.E.J. Caldicott, ed. by P. Gaffney, M. Brophy, & M. Gallagher (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2008), 315–326.

[80] Ripon, 148; L’Estra, 77, 84; Pouchot, 174; see Linon-Chipon, 477–495.

[81]‘Il y eut une Indienne qui m’amena sa fille pour coucher avec moi, comme le mainate l’avait avertie; mais cette fille âgée seulement de treize ans, voyant que je ne la voulais pas toucher, se prit à pleurer et gémir, voulant à toute force que j’eusse affaire avec elle, et sa mère faisait ce qu’elle pouvait pour l’apaiser, moi ne sachant pourquoi se faisait tout ce mystère.’Mocquet, 1996, 102. Footnote in 1996 edition: ‘Mainate (mainato): membre de la caste des blanchisseurs, laquelle est exclusivement chargée du lavage et empesage du linge.’

[82]Annotation by Bernard Paludanusin Jan Huyghen Van Linschoten, Histoire de la navigation de Jean Hugues de Linschot Hollandois, aux Indes Orientales (Amsterdam: Henry Laurent, 1610), 87.

[83]Pyrard, vol. 2, 592. On this extract, and on the Occidental as a ‘produit de choix’, see Linon-Chipon, 490.

[84] Linon-Chipon, 490.

[85]The theme of these ‘oriental’ anecdotes is discussed in greater detail in my Veiled Encounters, esp. 237–252.

[86]I use Genette’s definition of the hypotext.SeeGérard Genette, Palimpsestes: la littérature au second degré (Paris: Seuil, 1992), 13. See for example Tavernier, Recüeil de plusieurs Relations… ; Histoire de la Conduite des Hollandois en Asie.

[87] French forms include those of François de Belleforest, Histoires Tragiques…, 7 vols (Rouen: Pierre L’Oyselet, 1603), or of Jean-Pierre Camus, L’Amphitheatre Sanglant… (Paris: Joseph Cottereau, 1630); repr. (Rouen: Jean de la Mare, 1640); repr. ed. by Stéphan Ferrari (Paris: Champion, 2001). See also Christian Biet’s Théâtre de la cruauté et récits sanglants en France (XVIeXVIIe siècle) (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2006).

[88] Chapter XXII, Justices diverses faites pour adultères, paillardises & autres péchés. Humeur amoureuse des femmes indiennes. Du grand pandiare, & de la résolution étrange d’un mulâtre, Pyrard, 1998, vol. 1, 282–289.

[89] Pyrard, 1998, vol. 1, 287.

[90] Pyrard, 1998, vol. 1, 241.

[91]On the heritage of these accounts, see editor’s note (111, footnote 1) in Mocquet, 1996, 215–218; On ‘oriental’ drugging see also my Veiled Encounters, 244–248.

[92]Pyrard, 1998, vol. 2, 645. For this and other examples of amour exotique dangereux, see also Linon-Chipon, 499–500; Mocquet, 1996, 111. On Bergeron’s editing of Mocquet and Pyrard, see Grégoire Holtz, L’Ombre de l’auteur: Pierre Bergeron et l’écriture du voyage à la fin de la Renaissance (Geneva: Droz, 2011), 277–320; on the datura druggings see 415; on Bergeron’s critiques of Portuguese colonial policy in Asia, see 167; 291.

[93]La Boullaye, 279.

[94]Linon-Chipon, 450. The condemnations of Pyrard, Mocquet and La Boullaye do, nonetheless, predate the early eighteenth-century voyager Luillier who, Linon-Chipon suggests, is among the first to condemn métissage [ibid.].

[95]‘Il y avait une métisse qui avait par ces horribles châtiments fait mourir de la sorte cinq ou six esclaves qu’elle faisait enterrer en son jardin.’ Mocquet, 112–113.

[96]Mocquet, 1996, 72.

[97] Mocquet, 1996, 73.

[98] Mocquet, 1996, 73–74.

[99] As Jean Céard writes: ‘qu’est-ce que l’imagination de la femme enceinte, sinon la faculté de projeter dans le corps de son enfant l’image d’autres créatures ?’Jean Céard, in Ambroise Paré, Des Monstres & Prodiges, 4th edition (1585), repr. ed. by Jean Céard (Genève: Droz, 1971), XXXIX. See also Paré’s chapter Exemple de Monstres qui se font par Imagination, 35–37.

[100] Tavernier, 148.

[101]  Tavernier, 151.

[102]  Tavernier, 152.

[103]‘The identification of racial with sexual degeneracy was clearly always overdetermined in those whose subversive bronzed bodies bore witness to a transgressive act of perverse desire.’ Robert J. C. Young, Colonial Desire:Hybridityin Theory, Culture and Race(London; NY: Routledge, 1995), 26.

[104] Tavernier, 153.

[105]Tavernier, 154.

[106]Chambelle, 157.

[107]Chambelle, 158.

[108]Linschoten, 1610, 87. Quoted above, p. 37.

[109]Chambelle, 158.

[110]Dellon also writes that the ‘servitude plus douce’ of slaves at Goa causes them to becomes insolent, and even to engage in robbery. Dellon, 209–210.

[111] Chambelle, 158.

[112]Chambelle, 159. On this voyage and the ‘conclusion du pur style “colonial’” of this extract, see François Moureau, Le Théâtre des voyages: une scénographie de l’Âge classique (Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2005), 111–112.

[113] Chambelle, 159.

[114]Chambelle, 159. The spinus was a ‘Maison de correction pour femmes’, note by D. Van der Cruysse in Chambelle, 269.

( categories: )

Gender Performance in Seventeenth-century Dramatic Dialogue: From the Salon to the Classroom

Article Citation: 
XV, 1 (2013): 1–18
Theresa Kennedy
Article Text: 

Printable PDF of Kennedy_1-18


As early as the Renaissance, the dialogue served as an important forum for debating questions related to the female condition: “the issues of women’s equality with men; the appropriate education for women; and the ways that men and women should imagine and treat each other, in mar­riage or in other relationships” (Smarr 106). Yet, even into the seventeenth century, the majority of dialogues continued to exclude female interlocu­tors.[1] Steeped in the erudite, humanist culture of antiquity, the dialogue employed rhetoric or debate as a strategy to dismiss women participants, who were discouraged from learning the art of rhetoric (Smarr 11).[2] Madeleine de Scudéry redirected the dialogue genre with the publication of her conversations, featuring both male and female interlocutors with equal opportunities to express their views on a variety of different topics.[3] Other women authors beginning with Marguerite de Navarre, Marie Le Gendre, Helisenne de Crenne, and Catherine des Roches found their voice in the convergence between dialogue and drama.[4] The dramatic dialogue, exemplified by Plato and Erasmus, was written in a simple dialogic form, and intended to be acted aloud by male pupils. Female authors, who had been intimidated by the traditional, highly ornamental forms of the dia­logue, found a fruitful ground for their writing in the dramatic dialogue. The dramatic dialogue was particularly successful in the seventeenth-century salons. Unlike Scudéry’s conversations, the narrator did not interrupt the characters’ exchanges, and dialogues could be read aloud or dramatized in a shorter period of time. Since the salonniers did not always have access to a private stage or costumes in order to put on a full-fledged professional production, the dramatic dialogue proved to be an enjoyable source of entertainment for both male and female participants. Thus, by re-appropriating the dialogue, Scudéry and her female predecessors di­rectly questioned the exclusivity of a genre traditionally associated with masculine voices and allowed the female interlocutor to join the conversa­tion.[5] Yet, these female writers continued to write with both men and women in mind.

Catherine Durand, a prolific writer of dramatic texts, and the Marquise de Maintenon, institutrice of Saint-Cyr, were among the first to exclu­sively express a woman’s point of view in the dramatic dialogue. Their writing followed two strategies: first, both Durand’s and Maintenon’s dialogues feature only female interlocutors; secondly, they emphasize how women should conduct themselves. Thus, by exploiting the dramatic dia­logue as a means of expression, Maintenon and Durand provided a forum in which women were able to discuss and rehearse their roles for the stage of life.

At the same time, Durand’s and Maintenon’s dialogues teach us about the shifting codes of conduct for women at the end of the seventeenth century. As these dramatic dialogues move from the salon to the class­room, one is made distinctly aware of a cultural battle between a secular, mondaine society that rejects morality, and the State, which subscribes to more traditional, Christian values. They both seek to make women more aware of the importance of safeguarding their reputations in a society that privileges men.

Yet, while Durand does not discourage women from engaging in gal­anterie, Maintenon¾who supports the State’s objectives[6]¾claims that women remain above reproach only by rejecting the vie mondaine and embracing domesticity. The language used in their dialogues reflects their divergent interests: The informal and at times uncouth language in Du­rand’s dialogues is intended to entertain. On the other hand, the more polished, formal speech featured in Maintenon’s dialogues reveals a moral, didactic purpose. Maintenon’s dialogues reject the life of ease and pleasuresto which young aristocratic women had formerly been accus­tomed. The worsening economic conditions were forcing young women to reconsider their priorities, and thus gallantry as a way of life became less of an option for women.

Catherine Durand

Although there is little known about the life of Durand, she was a pro­lific and celebrated author of her time. The printer of a collection of her works published posthumously under the title Oeuvres de Madame Durand (1757) refers to Durand in his avertissement as one who “s’est distinguée par ses écrits et dont l’auteur de la Bibliothèque des Romans parle avec éloge.” The variety of works in this collection—including the dramatic dialogues in question, the libretto for her opera Adraste, a poem entitled “La Vengeance contre soi-même,” a short story taken from Cent Nouvelles nouvelles, and an ode dedicated to the King which won an award from the French Academy in 1701—demonstrates that Durand, like other writers of gallant works, experimented with hybrid literary genres.[7] The author also published a number of novels and semi-historical works.[8] In the eighteenth century she is credited with having invented the genre of the dramatic proverb by the Comtesse de Genlis in her introduction to Carmontel’s proverbs and comedies.[9] Catherine Durand’s Comédies en proverbes were printed as an appendix to the Comtesse de Murat’s novel Le Voyage de Campagne (Paris,1699).[10]

Like many of Scudéry’s conversations, Durand’s Dialogues des gal­antes modernes imitate an agonal model in which interlocutors discuss their opposing viewpoints. In the end, the interlocutors either maintain their initial positions or one interlocutor succeeds in convincing the other to change her viewpoint.[11] It is significant that Durand’s dialogues are diphonic as opposed to polyphonic. While Scudery’s interlocutors must choose their words carefully according to the “bienséance” of their polite company,[12] Durand’s female interlocutors may speak without reserve in the company of women. Durand exploits this formerly pedantic genre to discuss women’s role in the art of gallantry, all the while intentionally excluding male interlocutors.[13] As we shall observe, without a distracting male presence, her female interlocutors can speak more frankly.

Like Scudéry’s conversations, Durand’s Dialogues des galantes mod­ernes reflect the salon culture which “demonstrated a blatant contempt of heterosexual sex and marriage” (Legault 128)—both obstacles to la vie mondaine and the pursuit of loftier goals such as cultivating one’s mind. Yet, gallantry, loosely defined as the art of courtship,[14] is permitted within the context of polite society. Throughout her dialogues, Durand maintains that women may engage in gallantry as long as they do not risk their reputations. The voice of reason, or the porte-parole, is the dame galante who remains in control of her male suitors and enjoys a pleasant and ac­tive social life. Her foil, on the other hand, is foolishly willing to ruin her reputation for an amorous conquest or an undeserving lover. Durand pat­terns her foil of the model dame galante after that described by Sapho in Scudéry’s conversation “De l’air galant”:

Mais le mal est que les femmes qui se mettent la gal­anterie de travers dans la tête, s’imaginent qu’à force d’être indulgentes à leurs galants, elles les conservent: et toutes celles dont j’entends parler ne songent ni à leur réputation, ni même à l’avantage de leur propre galanterie, mais seulement à ôter un amant à celle-ci; à attirer celui-là; à conserver cet autre; et à en engager mille si elles peuvent. Il y en a même, ajouta-t-elle, qui font encore pis: et qui par un intérêt avare font cent intrigues au lieu d’un. (Scudéry 56)

In this passage, Sapho criticizes women who become obsessed with pur­suing lovers. These women not only jeopardize their reputations, but also their self-respect. Durand’s dialogues put Sapho’s lessons into practice. The reader is made to identify with the dame galante, who practices res­traint and good judgment with regard to her potential suitors. Her foil, on the other hand, who makes poor choices, instructs as well as amuses the reader.

In the first dialogue, Amarante, the voice of reason, attempts to correct her foil, Julie, a married woman who risks her reputation by indulging in innocent flirtations with men other than her husband. Julie complains to Amarante that she cannot escape her doting husband whom she married solely for financial security:

JULIE.   Ah, que j’ai bien un plus grand sujet de douleur! Ce mari que j’ai pris pour faire ma fortune, & pour avoir de la liberté, s’avise d’avoir une passion à ne me lais­ser aucun repos….
AMARANTE.   Je ne m’étonne plus de votre affliction: Un mari qui vous aime! C’est un prodige dans la nature: il faut le faire cesser.
JULIE.   Vous riez impitoyablement de mon état; je voudrais vous y voir. Quoi, depuis le matin jusqu’au soir, & depuis le soir jusqu’au matin, ne cesser de voir un homme toûjours empressé, toûjours amoureux! Je ne puis faire un pas sans lui! Il me suit au Bal, à la Comédie, à l’Opéra…. (30)[15]

While Amarante identifies with Julie’s desire to “se divertir avec liberté” and to “suivre le torrent” (32), she scolds Amarante’s complete disregard of her marital status. Amarante reminds her friend that if she were to make her husband jealous and if they were to separate, society would quickly find fault with the woman’s actions. Just as Sapho warns, a woman who jumps headlong into a passionate love affair without thinking of her repu­tation risks losing the esteem of others:

AMARANTE.   A la fin, la tête tourne, la crainte du blâme est deja levée, on n’en dira pas davantage quand l’embarquement sera sérieux; ainsi, de degrés en degrés, on se jette dans l’abîme où chacun vous accable de mépris. (33)

Amarante depicts the worst case scenario in which Julie may find herself if she continues down her treacherous path. In the end, Amarante’s pessi­mistic vision surprises Julie, since she has “encore bien du chemin à faire avant que d’en venir là” (33). The intimate setting of this private discus­sion between women is what permits Amarante’s brutal honesty. Through Amarante, Durand transmits a serious warning to married women who compromise their reputations by indulging in love affairs.

Likewise, in Dialogue VI, Araminte, a dame galante, plays the voice of reason by warning her friend Clarice of the double standards that re­strict the behavior of a married woman. While Araminte spends her time gallivanting, her friend Clarice compares her own life of solitude to that of an Anchorite. Clarice bemoans her overprotective husband who confines her to the home. When Araminte asks her why her husband is so strict, Clarice explains that he wishes to honor his mother’s recommendations for the proper household. Araminte accuses Clarice’s husband of perhaps using his mother as an excuse to keep her under his thumb:

ARAMINTE.   Ils sont ravis, les maris, d’avoir un pré­texte pour tenir leurs femmes éloignées du monde…. (52)

Note that, once again, the privacy of their exchange allows Araminte to comment negatively about tyrannical husbands—observations that she would less likely voice around male interlocutors. The openness of their discussion leads Araminte to ask her friend more intimate questions. When Araminte asks what Clarice would do if she discovered that her husband was unfaithful to her, Clarice shockingly replies that she would take a lover herself. Araminte is surprised that her friend would abandon her reputation in order to seek vengeance. She reminds Clarice that society is quick to judge a woman who is unfaithful to her spouse, even if he is unfaithful himself:

ARAMINTE.   La moindre chose ternit notre réputa­tion; tandis que nos maris n’en font pas moins estimés, pour nous contraindre ou pour nous tromper. (56)

Note that, although Araminte is truthful, she sympathizes with Clarice. In fact, Amarinte is happy to realize that her friend is of a similar mindset and has not withdrawn from la vie mondaine because of a desire to live a life of inimitable virtue, but because she has been made a prisoner in her own household. Through Araminte’s foil, Durand paints a dismal picture of married life, which may negatively affect one’s ability to maintain a mondaine lifestyle.

Unmarried women are less restricted in their movements, but they are likewise advised to be selective in their interactions with men. In Dialogue VII, Dorimene describes her freedom as a dame galante:

DORIMENE.   Coquette si vous voulez, c’est un joli métier que celui que je fais. Je dors, je mange, je me ré­jouis, mes yeux sont toujours brillans, mon humeur toujours égale; je recois tout ce qui se présente, je ne cours point après ce qui fuit…. (59)

While Dorimene never pursues men, Cephise, her foil, consistently pines away after a cruel lover who leaves her void of any pleasure in life:

CEPHISE.   Sensible jusqu’à l’excès, je pleure, je gé­mis, je veille; le trouble me saisit, le cœur me bat, sitôt qu’il s’agit de Dorilas; mais aussi, que je goûte de vérita­bles plaisirs quand j’ai lieu d’en être contente! Qu’un moment de calme me paye libéralement de toutes mes agi­tations! (60)

In the end, Dorimene cannot convince Cephise that throwing herself at the feet of her lover is a wise choice. Dorimene leaves her in mid-sentence:

CEPHISE.   Arrêtez; encore un petit mot. Quoi! Vous ne voulez pas m’entendre? (61)

Similarly, in Dialogue VIII, Celinde, a dame galante, criticizes Doris, who pursues an indifferent lover rather than allow herself to be wooed by as many suitors as possible. Celinde believes Doris would be more in control of her situation if she took a less aggressive stance:

CELINDE.   C’est une étrange personnage que celui d’une femme qui se jette à la tête! Prenez une autre voye; montrez-vous souvent suivie de vos anciennes conquêtes. (65)

Yet Doris insists upon chasing the object of her affections, stating: “J’aimerois mieux aimer toute seule, que d’être poursuivie par un homme difficile à rebuter, pour qui je n’aurois aucune inclination” (68). Once again, the voice of reason fails to convince her friend that she is running towards destruction.

In addition to resisting men who do not return their sentiment, other dames galantes discourage their female friends from pursuing men who do not appreciate them for their wit and intelligence. In Dialogue V, Con­stance tries to talk Orphise, her foil, out of obsessing over an unworthy lover, especially since he does not respect Orphise. Orphise, however, believes that women can only gain the affections of men through beauty:

ORPHISE.   Mais telle est notre condition. Livrées à la bagatelle dès notre enfance, on ne nous admet à rien de sé­rieux; plaire est notre grande affaire. (47)

Constance condemns this attitude, affirming that women should be judged by their minds: “Mais pourquoi ne faisons-nous pas nos efforts pour nous rendre souhaitables par notre esprit” (48)? Through Constance, Durand encourages women to reject unworthy suitors who do not admire them for their intelligence and wit. Womenwho value themselves as intelligent, independent beings, live more satisfactory lives.

Dialogue III portrays the financial problems that plague single women of aristocratic families and the ruses to which they resort in order to maintain their lifestyle. It features a young woman, Mariane, who brags to her friend Hortense about how she exploited an older gentleman who was in love with her, just to have money to buy the latest styles in clothing. Hortense, unable to convince her friend of her wrongdoing, has the last word:

HORTENSE.   Tu as raison. Dès qu’on a franchi les bornes de la pudeur, rien ne coûte que l’indigence. (42)

It is clear that the voice of reason, Hortense, does not find Mariane’s ac­tions the least bit amusing. Instead, Hortense accuses Mariane of abandoning her self-respect. At the same time, she seems rather unsurprised, as if this was a kind of repeat performance that she had observed often among women of her station.

The anecdote described above would not have been a suitable conver­sation topic for a group of both men and women. Through the appropriated dialogic form, women were able to openly discuss their points of view in an intimate setting without the presence of a male inter­locutor. Through her female interlocutors, Durand encourages both unmarried and married women who have active social lives to make wise choices if they engage in gallantry. The female interlocutors who act as a foil to the voice of reason serve as a warning to other women who neglect their reputations. They emphasize that, even in polite society, women are judged more harshly than men, and that women should take care not to compromise their reputations for a romantic fling.

Durand’s gallant dialogues are reflective of the mondaine lifestyle which advocated the art of gallantry. Yet many young women from im­poverished families of nobility could no longer pursue this way of life. The Hortense/Mariane dialogue showcases a young woman sacrificing her virtue to maintain an aristocratic lifestyle. This contrasts the lessons found in the writings of Maintenon, who sought to keep young aristocratic women born into poor aristocratic families from making similar choices.

Madame de Maintenon

While Durand makes the argument that women will have more agency in their active social lives when they respect the rules of gallantry, Main­tenon claims that women will have more agency and earn the respect of their husbands if they reject la vie mondaine. While Maintenon was also quick to point out women’s less-than-favorable position in society to the female pupils of Saint-Cyr, she emphasized how to navigate a social sys­tem that no longer guaranteed a life of ease to women of noble families. Her own life served as a model for the young Saint-Cyriennes in whom she attempted to instill such values as hard work and modesty.

Maintenon, otherwise known as Françoise d’Aubigné, was born No­vember 24, 1635 in the prison of Niort to the son of the great Huguenot poet Agrippa d’Aubigné. Because of their extreme poverty, Maintenon was raised by relatives and educated in an Ursuline convent in Paris. A relative’s connections in Paris allowed her to meet the poet Paul Scarron, whose marriage proposal Françoise accepted in 1652. In 1669, Mme Scarron, made a pauper by her deceased husband’s debt, accepted a position as governess to Mme de Montespan and Louis XIV’s illegitimate children. As the relationship with his mistress deteriorated, the king grew fond of Mme Scarron, and he gave her an aristocratic title, after which she became known as Mme de Maintenon. Following the queen’s death in 1683, Maintenon and the king were secretly married. He and Maintenon built Saint-Cyr, a boarding school for daughters of poor aristocratic families, which she directed until her death there in 1719.[16]

Inspired by the conversations written by Mlle de Scudéry, Maintenon’s dialogues targeted the older Saint-Cyriennes preparing for marriage.[17] Rejecting the gallant nature of Scudery’s conversations,[18] Maintenon wrote to Mme de Montfort, Dame de Saint Louis, in a letter dated Sep­tember 20, 1691:

Élevez vos filles bien humblement; ne songez qu’à les instruire dans le religion; n’élevez pas leur cœur et leur es­prit par des maximes païennes: parlez-leur de celles de l’Évangile. Ne leur apprenez pas les Conversations que j’avois demandées; laissez tomber toutes ces choses là sans en rien dire. (Lettres 1: 175–76)

In lieu of Scudéry’s conversations, Maintenon wrote her own simple dia­logues, able to be dramatized by her female pupils. They were never intended to be performed in public, but on some occasions the King and members of the court were present for private performances.[19] Maintenon referred to her dramatic dialogues as “conversations,” a genre Furetière associated not only with Scudéry herself, but also with the act of educating youth.[20] Maintenon’s goals in writing her dramatic dialogues were not only to entertain her female pupils, but also to give them the occasion to practice their pronunciation (in a society that had traditionally placed such emphasis on their silence):

J’ai cru qu’il était raisonnable et nécessaire de divertir les enfants, et je l’ai vu pratiquer dans tous les lieux où l’on en a rassemblé; mais j’ai voulu en divertissant celles de Saint-Cyr remplir leur esprit de belles choses dont elles ne seront point honteuses dans le monde, leur apprendre à prononcer, les occuper pour les retirer de la conversation qu’elles ont entre elles, et amuser surtout les grandes qui, depuis quinze jusqu’à vingt ans, s’ennuient un peu de la vie de Saint-Cyr.[21]

Maintenon’s dialogues, like Scudéry’s, feature three to six characters.[22] Maintenon’s however, only feature female voices as opposed to the mixed company appearing in Scudéry’s conversations. Maintenon’s dialogues, like those of her female counterparts, imitate an agonal model, in which one female pupil, representing the voice of reason, opposes the viewpoints of her classmates.

While Scudéry’s conversations feature lengthy narration and were in­tended to be read, Maintenon’s dramatic dialogues were intended to be memorized and dramatized in the classroom. Maintenon viewed the dra­matic arts as a useful and entertaining pedagogical tool. Between “l’oral” and “l’écrit,” Maintenon’s dialogues were intended to exploit “le plaisir d’un jeu théâtral” and “l’utilité d’une réflexion ou du moins de connais­sances morales.” In terms of form, Maintenon’s dialogues oscillate between “dialogue théâtral” and “le catéchisme;” between “manuel édi­fiant” and “analyse psychologique…” (Plagnol-Diéval 55). Maintenon’s dramatic dialogues mark a significant contribution to female education. Maintenon further develops the dramatic dialogue genre by assigning it a pedagogical purpose. In her book on théâtre d’éducation in the eighteenth-century, Marie-Emmanuelle Plagnol-Diéval credits Madame de Mainte­non with having invented a genre later taken up by the Comtesse de Genlis and Madame Campan. Yet, let us not forget that the dramatic dialogue first developed in the salon. The fact that Maintenon also wrote dramatic proverbs gives credence to the idea that she may have been introduced to Durand’s dramatic writings through acquaintances that frequented the salon of the Marquise de Lambert.[23]

Though Maintenon’s dramatic dialogues mirror Durand’s emphasis on the female point of view, they differ philosophically. Originally used to entertain the salonniers, Maintenon later transformed the dramatic dia­logue, ironically, to preach against the mondaine world. Like Durand, Maintenon notes the double standards that place women at a disadvantage. Yet Maintenon encourages women to embrace the private sphere and find satisfaction in the home rather than in society.[24] Throughout her dialogues, Maintenon persuades the young Saint-Cyriennes to forgo the diversion that dictates the lives of mondaines. For instance, in “Sur le travail,” the girls discuss the sense of satisfaction that can only result from hard work:

MLLE CLÉMENTINE.   J’aime, à la vérité, à me di­vertir, mais je trouve plus de plaisir à travailler qu’à jouer.

MLLE ODILE.   Oh! quel plaisir peut-on prendre à tra­vailler?

MLLE CLÉMENTINE.   Celui de faire quelque chose, de ne pas perdre son tems, de s’accoûtumer à se passer de divertissemens, et de n’avoir rien à se reprocher. (214-5)[25]

Mlle Hortense states that a woman’s sex confines her to the private sphere. At the same time, she emphasizes the satisfaction that may be found in domestic work:

MLLE HORTENSE.   En effet, que peut faire une per­sonne de notre sexe qui ne peut demeurer chez elle, ni trouver son plaisir dans les devoirs de son ménage. Il ne lui reste plus qu’à les chercher dans le jeu des compagnies, les spectacles: y a-t-il rien de si dangereux, non seulement pour la piété, mais même pour la réputation? (216–7)

Hortense indirectly criticizes the mondaines who damage their reputations by participating in inappropriate activities. This contrasts with Durand, who advocates an active social life as long as one does not risk compromi­sing one’s reputation. In the end, Mlle Hortense is unsuccessful in converting Mlle Odile, who is more interested in imitating the mondaines. This dialogue illustrates the difficulty that Maintenon had in convincing the Saint-Cyriennes to accept work values that they must have more or less associated with the bourgeoisie, and even with their servants.

Unlike her contemporary Durand, Maintenon does not advise women to engage in gallantry or to find pleasure in the company of men. She does however encourage young women to speak wisely and with confidence in their presence. In “Sur la bonne contenance,” Maintenon dismisses the notion that women must speak to men with lowered gazes, so as to assume a position of inferiority:

MLLE MARCELLE.   Je croyais que la modestie étoit d’avoir les yeux baissés.

MLLE FLORIDE.   C’est un effet de la modestie, mais elle doit être encore plus dans l’esprit que dans l’extérieur.

MLLE MARCELLE.   Vous permettriez donc qu’on levât les yeux?

MLLE FLORIDE.   Oui, certainement, il faut les lever quand on veut voir quelque chose, et c’est même un man­que de respect de ne pas regarder ceux à qui on parle.

MLLE VALÉRIE.   On peut regarder un homme, si on a envie de le voir?

MLLE IRÈNE.   Il seroit à desirer qu’on n’en ait jamais envie, et je vous avoue que je suis toujours choquée quand j’entends dire à une personne de notre sexe: Un tel est agréable, ou affreux, il a les yeux beaux, la bouche grande, le nez bien fait, etc. (255–6)

All four characters conclude that timidity is unadvisable in social situa­tions, and that one should speak with confidence to the opposite sex. At the same time, it is clear that gallantry is strictly forbidden. Addressing these young women of impoverished noble families, Maintenon sets out to remind them that they must hold fast to the only thing that remains—their honor.

In “Sur la réputation,” Maintenon warns of young men who seek to seduce young women:

VALÉRIE.   Quoi! Si un homme vous dit qu’il est charmé de vous, vous le croirez par charité?
ANASTASIE.   Il faut que je le croie ou que je l’accuse de mensonge.
VALÉRIE.   Oui Mademoiselle, c’est un mensonge; il n’est point charmé de vous; il vous le dit pour vous gagner et pour vous perdre ensuite.
PLACIDE.   Vous faites les hommes bien méchants.
VALÉRIE.   Ils le sont en effet….(321)

While Durand depicts a successful society woman as one who engages in gallantry, here Maintenon proposes that women will always fall prey to ill-intentioned men.

Whereas many of Durand’s female interlocutors promote the idea that marriage should give them a license to gallivant, Maintenon constantly reminds the Saint-Cyriennes of their station and the fact that they cannot afford the same freedoms enjoyed by their male counterparts. In “Sur la lecture,” Maintenon stresses the fact that married women should attempt to please their husbands, rather than entertain themselves. She discourages those Saint-Cyriennes who wrongly associate marriage with freedom:

LUCIE.   En quoi consiste ce soin de plaire à son mari? Faut-il passer son temps à s’ajuster?
GABRIELLE.   Le mariage est quelque chose de plus sérieux: Les moyens de plaire à son mari sont d’étudier ses goûts et de s’y conformer, de faire sa volonté et jamais la nôtre. (357)

Yet Maintenon softens the blow in “Sur le murmure” by reminding the Saint-Cyriennes that everyone is subject to someone else:

ANTOINETTE.   C’est la dépendance qui porte au murmure; on est libre quand on a atteint un certain âge.
ZOÉ.   Et qui est-ce qui est libre? non seulement notre sexe dépend toujours, mais les hommes même dépendent les uns des autres. (361)

As emphasized in “Sur le bon esprit,” the ideal married woman does not develop her reputation in society, but instead finds contentment in the home:

MLLE CÉLESTINE.   Ah! Comment pouvez-vous vous plaire à travailler depuis le matin jusqu’au soir à un ouvrage où l’on fait toûjours la même chose….
MLLE AGATHINE.   Et moi, Mademoiselle, j’y prends beaucoup de plaisir: lorsque je suis à mon métier je n’ai point l’esprit inquiet des affaires d’autrui, j’ai le con­tentement de voir avancer mon ouvrage, et la satisfaction quand il est achevé, d’avoir fait quelque chose: je ne suis point exposée à des conversations satyriques, qui me pour­roient faire offenser Dieu; je ne suis point dans une oisiveté qui me causeroit de l’ennui, et lorsque je repasse dans mon esprit ce que j’ai fait, je suis tres contente de n’avoir ni la paresse, ni les discours inutiles à me reprocher: je me couche contente et je dors sans inquiétude. (93)

In the end, Mlle Agathine fails to convince Mlle Célestine that domesti­cated life makes one happy. Mlle Célestine represents the attitude of most Saint-Cyriennes, who clung to the notion that marriage offered financial stability and the freedom to pursue the pleasures of mondaineté—a mis­conception perpetuated by some of Durand’s female interlocutors. While Durand depicted marriage as a stumbling block for mondaines, Maintenon believed that women would find a sense of peace and a sense of self-worth only in their domestic lives. Maintenon’s ideas support the goals of the state, namely strengthening the familial structures of the aristocracy.


Maintenon and Durand merit our attention as the first women writers to use the dramatic dialogue to address the question of women’s behavior from an exclusively female point of view. The dramatic dialogue offered women an intimate forum in which they could discuss the female condi­tion. Their dialogic format allowed women to discuss and rehearse the codes of conduct. These women writers also merit our attention since they participate in the development of new genres. Both Durand’s and Mainte­non’s appropriation of the dramatic dialogue represent a significant contribution to women’s writing in the context of the salon at the end of the seventeenth century. As Delphine Denis states, there is a need in the university and academic settings today to understand the culture mondaine and acknowledge its collaborative contribution to the belles-lettres (11). Maintenon’s writings represent a major contribution to female education. Her use of salon-inspired dialogue and role play would continue as a tra­dition well into the eighteenth century, moving such women as Madame de Genlis to write educational plays for use in the home.[26] Young women thus continued to benefit from a more engaging instructional experience. Yet, as the dramatic dialogue on female comportment was translated from “salon” to “classroom,” it became a vehicle for increasingly conservative notions of female behavior that dominated the eighteenth century. Mainte­non’s pedagogical drama advocating bourgeois values such as domesticity signals the end of gallantry both as a form of literature and as a way of life for aristocratic women.

Baylor University


Works Cited

Buckley, Veronica. Madame de Maintenon: The Secret Wife of Louis XIV. London: Bloomsbury, 2008.

Carmontelle. Proverbes et comédies posthumes de Carmontel précédés d’une notice par Madame La Comtesse de Genlis. Paris: Chez Ladvocat, 1825.

Cazanave, Claire. Le Dialogue à l’âge classique. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2007.

Craveri, Benedetta. The Age of Conversation. New York: New York Review Books, 2005.

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

Des Roches, Catherine. Les Secondes œuvres. Ed. Anne Larsen. Genève: Droz, 1998.

Durand, Catherine. Œuvres de Madame Durand. 6 vols. Paris: Prault, 1757.

Fumaroli, Marc. Le Genre des genres littéraires français: la conversation. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Furetière, Antoine. Dictionnaire universel, contenant généralement les mots français tant vieux que modernes. Tome Second. Paris: La Haye et Rotterdam; A.&R. Leers, 1690.

Goldsmith, Elizabeth C. Exclusive Conversations: The Art of Interaction in Seventeenth-Century France. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

Gréard, Octave. “Saint-Cyr.” Le Nouveau Dictionnaire de Pédagogie et d'Instruction primaire. Ed. F. Buisson. Paris: Librairie Hachette, 1911. Institut français de l’éducation. <http://www.inrp.fr/edition-electronique/lodel/dictionnaire-ferdinand-buisson/document.php?id=3572>.

Kennedy, Theresa. “Madame de Maintenon’s proverbes inédits: Words to live by.” Women in French Studies Journal 18 (2010): 29–42.

Lambert, Anne Thérèse de Marguenat de Courcelles, marquise de. Avis d’une mère à sa fille: Suivis des réflexions sur les femmes. Paris: Editions Payot & Rivages, 2007.

Lazard, Madeleine. Le Théâtre en France au XVIe siècle. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1980.

Legault, Marianne. Female Intimacies in Seventeenth-Century French Literature. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012.

Maintenon, Madame de. Dialogues and Addresses. Ed. and trans. John. J. Conley, S.J. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004.

———. Lettres historiques et édifiantes. Ed. Th. Lavallée. Vol. 1. Paris: Charpentier, 1856.

———. Les Loisirs de Madame de Maintenon. Édition de Constant Venesoen. Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2011.

Méré, Antoine Gombaud, Chevalier de. Œuvres complètes du chevalier de Méré. Vol. 1, Paris: F. Roches, 1930.

Plagnol-Diéval, Marie-Emmanuelle. Madame de Genlis et le théâtre d’éducation au XVIIIe siècle. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1997.

Scudéry, Madeleine de. De l’air galant et autres conversations: Pour une étude de l’archive galante. Ed. Delphine Denis. Paris: Champion, 1998.

Smarr, Janet Levarie. Joining the Conversation: Dialogues by Renaissance Women. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005.

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

Viala, Alain. La France galante. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2008.

[1] The Chevalier de Méré’s conversations for instance feature exchanges between the Mareschal de C. and the Chevalier. In fact, the dames present are not considered worthy participants of their exchange. See the very first conversation in Œuvres complètes in which the Mareschal expresses to the Chevalier his desire to converse with him without the distraction of women:  “J’ai mieux aimé vous entretenir […], que de joüer avec ces Dames. Nous discourons de certaines choses, qui ne s’apprennent point dans le commerce du monde” (8). It is suggested that the women would have little to contribute to their exchange.

[2] According to Alain Viala, seventeenth-century writers of this category of literature began to disassociate themselves with overly rhetorical or obscure language (See 63, 55 respectively).

[3] Scudéry published ten volumes of conversations between 1680 and 1692:Conversations sur divers sujets (1680); Conversations nouvelles sur divers sujets (1684); Conversations morales (ouLa Morale du monde) (1686); Nouvelles conversations de morale (1688) and Entretiens de morale (1692).

[4] Anne Larsen describes Catherine des Roches’ second volume of dialogues as “proches du théâtre lu” (40).

[5] Claire Cazanave demonstrates that the dialogue, which favors the strongest voices, is essentially masculine in nature (44).

[6] “Society’s elites have an obligation to set an example for the lower classes, and the state-sponsored education of future aristocratic mothers will not only help to instill the nobility with virtues beneficial to the crown, but it will also tie them more closely to the king” (Qtd. in Goldsmith 66).

[7] Alain Viala states that the blending of genres is characteristic of writers who contributed to la littérature galante: “Plutôt que de séparer les genres, elle les réunit, voire rêve de les fondre ensemble” (51). Also see Allison Stedman who argues that Durand, who incorporates various salon pastimes into her hybrid novels, is a major contributor to the rococo period’s “aesthetic apex” (12).

[8] La Comtesse de Mortane (Paris, 1699); Mémoires de la cour de Charles VII, 2 vols. (Paris, 1700); Oeuvres mêlées (Paris, 1701); Le comte de Cardonne, ou la Constance victorieuse, histoire sicilienne (Paris, 1702); Les Belles Grecques, ou l'Histoire des plus fameuses courtisanes de la Grèce (Paris, 1712); Henri, duc des Vandales (Paris, 1714); and Les Petits soupers d'été, 2 vols. (Paris, 1733).

[9] In her introduction to Carmontel’s Proverbes and comédies Genlis states: “Cette idée [de prendre pour base de ses petites pièces un proverbe qu’il mettait en action] n’était point de son invention; très-longtemps avant Carmontel, une personne nomée Mme Durand avoit fait imprimer un petit recueil de Proverbes dramatiques, mais qui tomba promptement dans l’oubli, parce que toutes ces petites pièces étoient de la plus grande insipidité.” While Genlis is critical of them, it would appear that Durand’s plays hadn’t entirely been forgotten since Genlis knew of them and perhaps had even read them.

[10] For a recent edition of this work in translation see A Trip to the Country by Henriette-Julie de Castelnau, Comtesse de Murat, ed. and trans. Perry Gethner and Allison Stedman (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011).

[11] See Cazanave 81–83 for more information on categories of interlocution. The agonal model is initially associated with the writings of Aristotle, but would be imitated by authors in other centuries. Although Scudéry’s conversations were polyphonic, many of them employed the agonal model. See also Smarr 27.

[12] Delphine Denis states that l’air galant is directly associated with la bienséance: “conduit par le jugement,” il “doit être partout proportionné à ce qu’on est et à ce qu’on fait” (48).

[13] Her dialogues respond to those of her male counterparts, such as the conversations of the Chevalier de Méré in which the two interlocutors discuss among other things the ways in which a galant homme might court a young lady. For instance, see 20-21. There are few dialogues that examine the various situations in which a dame galante might respond to or refuse a young man’s attempts to engage her.

[14] Furetière describes galanterie as “Ce qui est galant; & se dit des actions et des choses” and as “l’attache qu’on a à courtiser les Dames” (138).

[15] All quotations will be taken from the 1757 edition of Oeuvres de Madame Durand.

[16] For more biographical information, see Buckley.

[17] The two volumes of conversations published in the 1688 Nouvelles conversations de morale were written specifically for the female students at Saint-Cyr.

[18] Most salonnières adhered to the teaching of Saint-François de Sales, who in the Introduction à la vie dévote represented “a radical change of position by proposing the compatibility of devout and worldly ways of life” (Craveri 20). This kind of philosophy was much appreciated by many of the mondaines. Maintenon would posit the idea that these two lives were not compatible, and thus stopped frequenting the salon altogether.

[19] Gréard writes: “Elles les apprennent de mémoire et les récitent entre elles. Le roi goûtait beaucoup cet exercice. Il aimait à entendre ces conversations; il avait un très grand plaisir à les voir réciter par les demoiselles, et Mme de Maintenon ne manquait pas de les préparer de telle sorte qu’elles servaient même sans affectation à l’instruction des princes et des princesses qui avaient l’honneur de l’accompagner Sa Majesté et des officiers qui formaient sa suite” (100).

[20]According to Furetière, the conversation “[…] se dit dans le même sens des assemblées de plusieurs personnes sçavantes & polies. Les conversations des Sçavants instruisent beaucoup: celles des Dames polissent la jeunesse. Mademoiselle de Scudéri, le Chevalier de Méré, ont fait imprimer de belles conversations” (Qtd in Viala 62).

[21] Letter from Madame de Maintenon à Madame Du Pérou dated February 21, 1701.

[22] According to Stefano Guazzo, who wrote La civil conversazione (1574), there were to be no more than the number of Muses, and no less than the number of Graces. See Fumaroli 13.

[23] Durand’s friend, La Comtesse de Murat, attended the salon of the Marquise de Lambert. Her salon, noted for its focus on literature and the arts, was held twice a week at the Hôtel Nevers. Maintenon’s niece, the Comtesse de Caylus, and Fenélon also frequented this salon. For a recent study on Maintenon’s dramatic proverbs see Kennedy 2010.

[24] As John Conley states in the introduction to Dialogues and Addresses, “Maintenon’s works transfer the empowerment of women to their own distinctive culture….Women must engender a language, a code of virtue, an ensemble of practical skills, and a method of education that bear the irreducible stamp of the feminine sex” (13–14).

[25] All quotations have been taken from the 2011 edition of Les Loisirs.

[26] See for instance Théâtre à l’usage des jeunes personnes en quatre tomes (1779–1780) and Théâtre de société (1781).

( categories: )

(2013) Volume XV, 1


Theresa V. Kennedy.  Gender Performance in Seventeenth-century Dramatic Dialogue: From the Salon to the Classroom.....................................................................1

Michael Harrigan. Métissage and Crossing Boundaries in the Seventeenth-Century Travel Narrative to the Indian Ocean Basin...............................................................19

Karen Santos Da Silva.  Pringy’s Les Differens caracteres des femmes:  The Difficult Case of Female Salvation..........................................................................................46

Kathrina Ann LaPorta.   “The Truth about Reasoning”: Veiled Propaganda and the Manipulation of Absolutist Authority in Eustache Le Noble’s  La Pierre de touche politique (1688–1691).......................................................................................................72

Book Reviews

La Motte, Antoine Houdar de. Les Originaux ou L’Italien. Édition établie par Francis B. Assaf.  Tübingen: Narr Verlag, 2012. ISBN 978-3-8233-6717-8. Pp. 76 (Perry Gethner).....94

Delehanty, Ann T. Literary Knowing in Neoclassical France: From Poetics to Aesthetics. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2013. Pp. ix + 209. $80. (Christopher Braider).....96

McLeod, Jane. Licensing Loyalty: Printers, Patrons, and the State in Early Modern France. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 2011. ISBN 978-0-271-03768-4. Pp. 312. $74.95 (Kathrina LaPorta).....99

Krüger, Annika Charlotte. Lecture sartrienne de Racine: Visions existentielles de l'homme tragique. Tubingen: Narr Verlag, 2011. ISBN:  978-3-8233-6620-1. Pp. 275. 74€ (Nina Ekstein).....101

Racevskis, Roland. Tragic Passages: Jean Racine’s Art of the Threshold. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8387-5684-3. Pp. 221. $47.50. (Ellen R. Welch).....103

Woshinsky, Barbara R. Imagining Women’s Conventual Spaces in France, 1600-1800. The Cloister Disclosed. Great Britain: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2010. ISBN 978-0-75466754-4. Pp. 344. $119.95 (Jennifer Perlmutter).....105

Review of Siefert, Lewis C. and Domma C. Stanton (Eds and Transl). Enchanted Eloquence: Fairy Tales by Seventeenth-Century French Women Writers. The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe: The Toronto Series, vol. 9. Toronto: CRRS, 2010. ISBN: 978-07727-2077-1. Pp. 362. $32 (Charlotte Trinquet du Lys).....107

( categories: )

Review of Greenberg, Mitchell. Racine: From Ancient Myth to Tragic Modernity

Article Citation: 
XIV (2012): 147–149
(Roland Racevskis)
Article Text: 

Greenberg, Mitchell. Racine: From Ancient Myth to Tragic Modernity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010. ISBN 9780816660841. Pp. xvi + 287. $25.00.

In Racine: From Ancient Myth to Tragic Modernity, Mitchell Greenberg connects the mythic dimension of Racine's tragedies to their political implications, tracing the significance of the Œdipus myth through most of Racine's theater—Les Plaideurs and Alexandre le Grand are not discussed. The first chapter, on La Thébaïde, shows how Racine's first play stages the triumph of chaos over culture. For Greenberg, La Thébaïde is not just a young playwright's initial foray; the tragedy and the myths behind it are foundational for Racine's theater.

In the second chapter, on Andromaque, Greenberg argues for the central importance of visual metaphors in the 1667 tragedy. Through distorted and non-reciprocal gazes, Racine's characters struggle with their desire for identitary unity, a desire constantly frustrated by their fractured subjectivities. The third chapter focuses on Britannicus and on what the author considers the most perverse couple in Racinian tragedy, Néron and his mother Agrippine. An interesting feature of this section is Greenberg's focus on the interrogative mode as expressive of the connections between desire and power: "Quoi? Tandis que Néron s'abandonne au sommeil / Faut-il que vous veniez attendre son réveil?" (1.1.1–2).

The fourth chapter includes readings of Bérénice, Bajazet, and Mithridate: "each in its own (tragic) way traces through the sexualization of its political plot the tenuous but necessary triumph of an idealized Western (Christian) monarchy over an Oriental (barbarian/Muslim) despotism" (119).  Greenberg reads the protagonist Bérénice as a simultaneously passive and phallic woman—it is this duality that makes her an irreducible and persistently appealing character. With Bajazet, "more self-consciously than in his other plays, Racine makes voyeurs of his audience" as they contemplate "the other" in the form of the phallic Oriental woman, Roxane (136). Greenberg incisively revisits the openness of the ending of Mithridate, where the rebel king reappears only in order to disappear, thus suggesting, exceptionally for the Racinian tragic universe, the promise of a future. Chapter five gives a psychoanalytical reading of sacrifice in Iphigénie. The altar, absent from the stage but ever-present in the spectator's imagination, marks the ambivalent point where an emerging nation contemplates both its troubled origins and its proleptic fate.

The sixth chapter, on Phèdre, examines how law and politics attempt and fail to contain a sexuality that is figured as monstrous and gendered female. In a useful heuristic pairing, Greenberg proposes to see "Phèdre and Hippolyte as but two differently gendered variations of the same, that is, a bisexual figuration, a two-headed monster of recalcitrant sexuality" (208). The characters dramatize the internal, and thus modern, struggles of the subject under seventeenth-century absolutism, a system based on the desire for unity but fractured from within by subjective multiplicity. A new reading of Thésée's role maintains that, by embracing Aricie's family, the king undergoes the transformation from archaic ruler to modern subject, "from a figure of mythology to the architect of democracy" (225). In the wake of the sacrifice of the dyad Phèdre/Hippolyte, Athens, and by extension France, moves from mythology into history. In the final chapter on the sacred tragedies, Greenberg contends that the elements of psycho-sexual disorder that seem to come under the tighter control of Biblical cosmology still threaten to re-emerge to disrupt absolutist order. The fundamental tensions of Racine's tragic world, expressed most clearly for Greenberg in the Œdipus myth, remain unresolved.

This thought-provoking study builds on arguments previously elaborated in Greenberg's Subjectivity and Subjugation in Seventeenth-Century Drama and Prose, Canonical States, Canonical Stages, and Baroque Bodies. While the theoretical developments and textual analyses are presented in a convincing and engaging way, multiple errors in transcription of passages from Racine's plays produce at times a jarring effect for the reader. More than a fourth of offset quotations from primary sources contain errors, some of them affecting versification. For example, line 1.1.82 from Phèdre reads: "Et la Crète fumant du sang du Minotauro..." More careful copyediting would have improved the book's readability. Nonetheless, the reconsideration of Racine's tragedies in the light of Freudian analysis that this study proposes makes a strong and provocative contribution to the field of early modern theater studies. The book will appeal to students and scholars interested not only in early modern theater but also in the political culture of absolutism.   

Roland Racevskis, University of Iowa

( categories: )

Review of Goldstein, Claire. Vaux and Versailles: The Appropriations, Erasures, and Accidents That Made Modern France

Article Citation: 
XIV (2012): 145–147
(Matthew Senior)
Article Text: 

Goldstein, Claire. Vaux and Versailles: The Appropriations, Erasures, and Accidents That Made Modern France. Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.  ISBN 978-0-8122-4058-0. Pp 270. $59.95

In December of 1661, Finance Minister Nicholas Fouquet was arrested in Nantes, at the orders of Louis XIV, charged with embezzlement and lèse-majesté, and eventually sentenced to life in prison. The team of artists who had created Foucquet’s Vaux-le-Vicomte and sustained its brilliant culture (Félibien, La Fontaine, Le Brun, Le Nôtre, Le Vau, , Scudéry, and others) was recruited by Louis to build Versailles and celebrate his glory, even as hundreds of orange trees and other plants were uprooted from Vaux and transplanted to Versailles. Fouquet’s arrest, graven in the memory of contemporary dix-septièmistes by the opening scenes of Rosselini’s La Prise de pouvoir, signifies, in the heroic narrative of the Sun King, the bold decision by the young king to govern alone and inaugurate the process of creating, ex nihilo, the modern absolutist state; a mercantilist empire; and a unique French classical style in architecture, garden design, dance, painting, political spectacle, and literature.

Claire Goldstein’s Vaux and Versailles revisits Fouquet’s arrest and the confiscation of his cultural and political vision by Louis XIV, in order to ascertain what aspects of what became known as classicism were derived from Vaux. “The appropriation and erasure of Fouquet’s daring roturier project made possible Louis XIV’s consolidation of the modern nation-state. Vaux provided the king a medium and a vocabulary with which to write the rule of his grand siècle …” (176). Analyzing the work of artists the king stole from Fouquet, Goldstein contrasts their work at Vaux, under the friendly patronage of a finance minister who himself composed rimes and enigmas and created an atmosphere of emulation and collaboration, with their work at Versailles, where an atmosphere of conformity, ambition, repetitious panegyric, as well as the colossal scale of the new château and park, lead to feelings of anxiety and paranoia. In a series of parallels, we see, in every case, the original idea at Vaux and its replication at Versailles.

Chapter one examines Moliere’s Facheux, performed at Vaux in August of 1661, as part of the lavish fête for the king, contrasted with its performance three years later as part of the Plaisirs de l’île enchantée. Subsequent chapters analyze Mme de Villedieu’s Favory, tapestries designed by Le Brun for Vaux and Versailles, literary visits to Versailles by Félibien, La Fontaine, and Mlle de Scudéry, Neptune’s Grotto at Vaux, explicated by La Fontaine in Le Songe de Vaux, the Grotte de Thétis and commentary by Félibien, and a concluding chapter on La Quintinie and horticulture.

At Vaux, Molière’s comédie-ballet gently ridiculed its courtier audience for their slavish conformity to fashion and manners, while at Versailles the same play was used, paradoxically, to enforce rigid conformity to such manners. Molière effected this change in perspective and meaning by adding a new prologue designating the king as the author of the play, a role reinforced by his elevated position as spectator of the play during the fête. Goldstein skillfully explains the political work of the fête, which, by means of lavish gardens, hydraulic fountains, and poetic conceits transforming Louis and Fouquet into Hercules, Apollo, or Alexander, “forged equivalence between the host and his domain.” Evocative details unearthed by the author concerning the staging of the fête explain how such equivalences were formed, “… Molière’s troupe make their entrance out of machines engineered to look like garden statues and trees” (35). There are many such vivid moments of historical re-creation in the book that succeed in capturing and reproducing the “plaisir,” “merveilleux,” and “enchantement” that poems, paintings, fountains, and tapestries from the period sought to evoke. Two such moments are the treatment of Le Brun’s paintings in the Salon des Muses at Vaux and the grottos of Neptune and Thetis at Vaux and Versailles. After a thorough explanation of the manufacturing process of tapestries at Vaux, Goldstein presents Le Brun’s painting of the victory of the muses over the other arts, “at the literal summit of the room” (72). The salon is carefully reconstructed architecturally followed by a vision of the salon through the eyes of the dream-narrator of La Fontaine’s Songe de Vaux, who, upon entering the room, feels his soul filled with an inexpressible sweetness similar to what he had experienced in the physical presence of the muses, “sous le plus bel ombrage de l’Hélicon.”  Looking at Le Brun’s painting, the dream-narrator is thrilled to see the muses “logées dans l’une des plus belles chambres [du] palais” (74). Through the work of Le Brun, La Fontaine (and its careful reconstitution by Goldstein), we share in La Fontaine’s vision of the muses taking up residence in Fouquet’s château.

The work of decoding and interpreting such expertly reconstructed scenes is equally lucid and cogent. We are told that Felibien’s ecstatic praise of the king seems “comically hyperbolic” (105); careful readings of prefaces and dedications to the king reveal, however, that the monarch was theorized and celebrated as both the author and the aim of all artistic production at Versailles, the “efficient and final cause” of spectacles in Aristotelian terms. The melding of the natural and the artificial in garden theory is similarly well explained. According to the traditional presentation of this trope, Nature and Art are combined by garden artists to form a “third nature.” At Versailles, however, this idea was superseded by the theory of the king who operates independently, according to his own art, without the necessity of nature, at liberty to fabricate his own exterior environment. Many of these ideas seem extravagant, Goldstein explains, when applied to the individual man who was king; however, when related to the infinite, meta-subject created by the fiction of the king, such extravagant ideas produced powerful emotions and deep identifications.

Vaux and Versailles is an exemplary interdisciplinary work that opens up many new fields of enquiry; it brings the spatial turn in recent theory to bear, very creatively, to early modern France; the book restores Vaux to its rightful place in architectural and cultural history and proposes the promeneur of Vaux and Versaillesas an interesting counterpart and forerunner to the flâneur of modern Paris, London, and Berlin. The only argument I found myself resisting in this work is its insistence on the originality and ideality of Vaux, at the expense of a totally derivative and dystopic Versailles. Vaux is a “troubling forebear” that “haunts” and “destabilizes” Versailles. Formerly autonomous artists are robbed of their individual voices at Versailles, whose gardens are “illegible and anxiogenic.”

The disappearance of the individual courtier into the royal essence at Versailles had its progressive and historically inevitable aspects. Such collective fusion inspired emotional and aesthetic responses that were as intense and authentic as the experiences Fouquet created at Vaux. Where Goldstein sees erasure, theft, and destruction of an artistic heritage, one could also see continuation and reabsorption, as the Bourbon kings, through their appropriation of Vaux, continued to forge an alliance with the noblesse de robe and the rising middle class.  

Matthew Senior, Oberlin College

( categories: )

Review of Seifert, Lewis C. Manning the Margins: Masculinity & Writing in Seventeenth-Century France

Article Citation: 
XIV (2012): 142–144
(Juliette Cherbuliez)
Article Text: 

Seifert, Lewis C. Manning the Margins:  Masculinity & Writing in Seventeenth-Century France Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-472-07058-1.  Pp. 339.  $29.95.

Culture’s most normatively empowered positions can also be its most ambiguous, unstable, and imperiled.  Such is the condition of masculinity in seventeenth-century France, according to Lewis C. Seifert’s lucid and far-ranging study of the grand siècle’s literary ideals of honnêteté, effeminacy, homosexuality, transvestism, and other seeming limit-versions of manliness.  Written with precision, clarity, and humility before a surprisingly complex subject, Manning the Margins has much to recommend it, equally for specialists as for scholars of sexuality studies or those interested more generally in the way texts mediate the cultural field.

Seifert's project is to elucidate the ways in which masculinity, despite its constitutive pretense to dominion, instead is defined dialectically—between dominance and submission—and therefore appears “variable, multiple, and contingent” (2) in its meanings and forms.  Tracing the deep threads of uncertainty that betray the precarious position of the masculine ideal, Seifert engages with historical figures (the chevalier de Méré, Vincent Voiture, Théophile de Viau), texts (plays by Molière, Scudéry's Clélie, “Histoire de la Marquise-Marquis de Banneville”), and the literary historical record.  Through this multi-faceted approach, Seifert's is part of a current strain of research striving to destabilize the view of seventeenth-century France as a homogeneous culture defined by a rigid hierarchy.  France, both before and during the reign of Louis XIV, emerges as a site of ambiguities, tensions, and evolving cultural figures.  Seifert's contribution to this body of work is unique, however, since he is offering a work of what might be called literary historical sociology.  Following distantly and somewhat critically on the heels of Norbert Elias and Pierre Bourdieu, Seifert revises their models of, respectively, "court society" and “masculine habitus” while bringing to bear contemporary advances in North-American feminist studies on classic French culture.  In turn, masculinity studies has much to learn from this study. 

Divided into two parts, Manning The Margins explores, in the first four chapters, elite construction of masculinity, first through the figure of the honnête gentleman and then through the dynamic fortunes of salon masculinity through more specific cases.  Scholars outside our field might benefit most from this first section, with its critique of the question of "civility," a topic well-known to scholars in our field but less studied outside of it. Seifert starts with a simple enough observation:  that the honorable gentleman is a gendered construct, and that codes of civility which guide his ideal behavior and social position are also inflected by the vulnerable status of masculinity.  Recently, scholarship on civility has emphasized how, as a uniquely French phenomenon it ensured increased liberty and pleasure for both women and men (Habib, Viala).  In contrast, Seifert shows how the specter of effeminacy created constraints for both men and women.  In doing so, he both offers a subtle critique of recent European trends that seek to rehabilitate the habits of elite social practices as a model for respectful and meaningful heterosociability today.

The second section, with chapters focusing on marginal sexuality practices, also places the seventeenth century's own contestation of marginal sexualities in conversation with our own.  Here, Seifert's approach to literary history shines through on each page; the methodological combination of reading the literary texts alongside careful attention to the pock-marked and inconclusive archive for such figures as the abbé de Boisrobert, Théophile de Viau or the abbé de Choisy (and authors associated with them) is a model of patience and clarity.  This is the kind of book where a specialist reader will be engrossed by even the footnotes.  In the spirit of other recent works on masculinity and literature (LaGuardia, Reeser) in which poetry or prose is less a medium for contestation or refusal than for an exploration of the limits of one's gendered positions, Seifert's presentation of the sodomite and the cross-dresser's literary imaginings suggests a desire to write instability and dynamism.  Instead of seeing these ambivalent, nameless positions as failures or insufficiencies, Seifert makes the case for their very searching fluidity as one of the key early modern "sources of the self" (Taylor). 

Manning the Margins offers a measured and thorough critique of some long-standing concepts informing our view of the Classical Age, from civility to salon culture to the role of the marginal writer, and does so by opening up the historical and literary archive for our renewed attention.  But—perhaps equally significantly—it is also a model of literary history, where the historical archive and the search for a definitive answer about what might have been are treated as precisely, but as ambivalently, as the construction of masculinity. In this regard, the chapter on Voiture is a model of a new kind of reception history that respects literary aesthetics as well as the shifting ground of the archive itself: thus the tension between Voiture's close association with women and the later attempts to distance him from the effeminate becomes an aesthetic created by his own writing, by that of his contemporaries, but also by his nephew Pinchesne and subsequent commentators such as La Bruyère (115).  Through Voiture's shifting masculinity the grand siècle itself is shown to be a multi-layered construction. The University of Michigan Press should also be commended for producing such a beautifully edited book, with an excellent index and clear footnotes—a paratextual apparatus that, while marginal, affords a dynamic and fluid reading of Seifert's scholarship.   

Juliette Cherbuliez, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Works Cited

Habib, Claude. Galanterie française.  Paris: Gallimard, 2006.

LaGuardia, David.  Intertextual Masculinity in French Renaissance Literature.  Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2008. 

Reeser, Todd. Moderating Masculinity in Early Modern Culture. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2006.

Taylor, Charles.  Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity.  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1989.  

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

( categories: )

Review of Wilkin, Rebecca. Women, IMagination and the Search for Truth in Early Modern France

Article Citation: 
XIV (2012): 137–142
(Barbara Woshinsky)
Article Text: 

Wilkin, Rebecca.   Women, Imagination and the Search for Truth in Early Modern France. Aldershot, Hampshire and Burlington, VT:  Ashgate Publishing Company, 2008.  ISBN 978-0-7546-6138-2.  Pp. 243.  $114.95

This rich, erudite study addresses “the deployment of gender distinctions by early modern intellectuals in order to define truth and to legitimate particular means of attaining [it]” (7). The organization of the book is original.  While Wilkin traces a general movement in early modern French thought from hermeneutics to ethics to epistemology “proper,” she interweaves   arguments in order to avoid an overly linear presentation.  And whereas many studies of early modern philosophy begin with Descartes, Wilkin ends with him, referring to his work throughout as “a confrontation of positive and skeptical modes of seeing” (2). This confrontation is a recurrent thread in the book; “positive” authors tend to denigrate women, while skeptical writers reverse gender hierarchies in order to undermine rigid philosophical or religious systems. 

Although her work acknowledges and builds upon the contributions of feminist research, Wilkin’s perspective differs from her predecessors’ in two important ways.   First, she claims that “through the exclusion of women,  [male writers] articulated the limits of the search for truth and sought to ensure their privileged place within it” (2). In other words, the male-authored works she analyses, though they seemingly deal with women, are not really “about” the female sex but about epistemology and power. Second, Wilkin criticizes earlier feminist analyses that, according to her, “have stressed the sexist ideology behind the emergence of a monolithic and masculine enterprise” (7).  She does not deny—indeed, it would be impossible to do so—that misogyny was a dominant discourse in early modern society.  However, she asserts it was not the monolith it is sometimes imagined to be.  For example, misogynistic views were employed both to attack and to defend witchcraft trials.   Wilkin asserts that these contradictory representations of women “speak … to the fragility of human confidence in its claims to knowledge” (1).

Each of the book’s five chapters focuses on one or two authors. The first two chapters examine the epistemological implications of the witchcraft debates of the mid and late 16th century, beginning with Johann Weyer’s “De praestigis daemonum.”  Weyer (1515–88), a Swiss Protestant physician, argued that witches should not be tortured or prosecuted because their alleged diabolical acts are merely illusions, fabricated by Satan and imposed on the minds of poor, weak females.    Because of their predisposition to melancholia, women are more susceptible to demonic possession than men—a claim that runs counter to other views associating melancholy with male genius (13).  According to Weyer, “that crafty schemer the Devil thus influences the female sex, which by reason of temperament is inconstant, credulous, wicked, uncontrolled in spirit and … melancholic” (11).  No feminist, Weyer’s apparent lenience toward accused witches is based on his low opinion of women.  According to Wilkin, Weyer’s main purpose is not to save women from persecution, but to enhance his own prestige as a physician.    By “demonizing” witches (and women in general) as ignorant, illiterate and gullible, he underscores the physician’s privileged access to knowledge.   Rather than hidden within the female body, truth is in plain sight for those who can see clearly—like physicians.    However, Weyer’s “epistemology of surfaces” (8) leaves him open to critics such as Jean Bodin. 

In contrast to Weyer’s literalist epistemology, Bodin’s hermeneutics are “tortuous” in their insistence on the need to extract hidden meanings from nature. Like Augustine and his later disciple Pascal, “Bodin viewed everything as a text in need of interpretation” (57).  Furthermore, torture, specifically the torture of women accused of witchcraft, lies at the heart of Bodin’s truth-seeking.   By gendering nature as a female who will not give up her secrets easily, he validates the use of violent means to find what is hidden.  In this ideology, the “mastery” of nature ends in its destruction by human (masculine) action.

Politics and demonology are linked in Bodin’s thought by an imperative to subordinate women to men. In Six Livres de la republique (1576), the model for absolutism is the submission of the wife to the husband, whereas in De la Demonomanie  des sorciers  (1580), witchcraft is defined as “divine treason” because it shows insubordination to both man (if most witches are considered female) and to God.  While both works reveal Bodin’s deep misogyny, neither his political theory nor his demonology is really about women (53), no more than Weyer’s work had been.  Weyer had portrayed women as weak and susceptible to delusions in order to strengthen his authority as a physician.  While completely opposed to Weyer’s argument,  Bodin uses a similar strategy to shore up the marginal position of provincial magistrates,  who had criticized the Paris parlement for its leniency towards accused witches: “the extraction of the witches’ confession allows for the demonstration of the magistrate’s hermeneutical prowess” (74). In both cases, women are mere counters in a skeptical/epistemological debate and a struggle for power.  

This theme is recast in chapter 3, which deals with the neo-Stoic response to the intellectual and political crisis of the late Renaissance.  Wilkin adds the element of gender to this mix, arguing that masculinity becomes an unstable category in the writings of the neo-Stoics.  Guillaume du Vair defends the “masle” virtues of strength and constancy shown by the politiques, who had been vilified as effeminate by their League opponents.  At the same time, he reviles the Catholic Leaguers as “womanish.”  For the neo-Stoic Du Vair, masculine characteristics are still portrayed as positive, feminine as negative.  But unlike Weyer and Bodin, du Vair does not found these gender oppositions solely on anatomical differences; rather, gender roles are grounded in the will. Hence, exceptional women, by their actions, can choose to demonstrate male virtue.  As a result, belonging to a particular gender cannot be guaranteed:  men risk displaying a “womanly” nature if they fail to maintain their strong posture and control their “feminizing” emotions.  I would add that this gender trouble is dramatized in Corneille’s Horace:  Horace tragically fails to sustain his performance of vertu whereas his sister Camille displays male constancy.

This gender instability is reinforced in André Du Laurens’ Discours des maladies melancoliques, the first medical treatise on mental health written in the vernacular.  Du Laurens categorizes pathological melancholia as “hypochondriacal,” meaning that it emanates from the organs below the diaphragm, particularly the uterus.  Thus, men who succumb to tristesse may as well be dressed as eunuchs or castrated.   However, they can avoid this fate by eschewing melancholia and embracing vertu.  For Du Vair and Du Laurens, then, gender differences are not uniquely grounded in the body.  Yet as Wilkin points out, women do not escape the strictures of gender so easily:  “no Stoic would arrive at the conclusion that ‘l’esprit n’a point de sexe’ because they viewed sex as the body’s reflection of a non-corporeal nature that was already gendered” (139).

Chapter 4, “The Suspension of Difference:  Michel de Montaigne’s Lame Lovers,” examines “the intertwining development of pro-woman polemic and the rise of skepticism in Renaissance France” (143).  Wilkin sandwiches her analysis of Montaigne between two works relating to the contemporaneous querelle des femmes:  Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim’s De nobilitate et praecellentia foeminei sexus (1529) and Marie de Gournay’s De l’égalité des hommes et des femmes (1622).   The set-up discussion of Agrippa allows Wilkin to clarify the opposing uses of skeptical argumentation in this period.  Agrippa’s skeptical discourse furthers his fideist attack on the arrogance of vain philosophers who try to oppose reason to the word of God.  In contrast, according to Wilkin, Montaigne’s skepticism is not primarily Christian in nature.  As she correctly points out, Montaigne’s “Apologie de Raymond de Sebond” is not a true apology but a sly critique of fideism.  Rather, Montaigne’s skepticism derives from his reading of Sextus Empiricus, whose Pyrrhonianae hypotoses (Outlines of Pyrrhonism) lays out a method for Skeptical practice. Its purpose is not to uphold Christianity but to attain personal tranquility.    Montaigne had quotes from Sextus carved into the beams of his study, such as “I suspend judgment.”  

 Bringing gender back into play, Wilkin argues that “Montaigne’s inversion of the values that other philosophers assigned to masculinity and femininity is among the most thorough expressions of his skepticism” (148).   Montaigne demolishes Stoic ethics by undermining the notion of “male” virtue on which it rests.  Already in his 1st essay, “By Diverse Means We Arrive at the Same Ends,” Montaigne targets stoicism as a cause of violence rather than a solution for it:  showing constancy (or prideful obstinacy) before your enemy may get you tortured. Wilkin’s analysis of later interpolations reveals how Montaigne’s incorporation of gender into this essay became bolder and more direct—a vehicle for skepticism rather than just a critique of stoic ethics.  For example, “feminine” mollesse is recast as a virtue because flexibility and receptivity to impressions protect against rigidity of thought. This flexibility is literally displayed in “Of Cripples” by the buskin that fits either foot (or either sex): like our understanding, it is “double and diverse” (quoted in Wilkin, 174).   

Despite his speculations about the flexibility of gender, Montaigne is not interested in changing social practice.  In 1.23, “Of Custom and Not Easily Changing an Accepted Law,” he argues that given the confusing variety of customs, it is best to retain the ones we are familiar with.   However, the deconstruction of gender hierarchy in “Of Cripples” lays the groundwork for early feminist works like Gournay’s De l’égalité des hommes et des femmes. Unlike Montaigne himself (and Pascal later on), Montaigne’s covenant daughter will not merely relativize customary gender views, but condemn them.

The concluding chapter challenges what Wilkin considers “the dominant feminist interpretation of Cartesian philosophy,” according to which Cartesian dualism continues to exclude women.  Wilkin cannot deny the weakness of some of Descartes’ statements:  to claim that “even” women may possess reason is hardly a wholehearted endorsement of gender equality.   Descartes also stated that he toned down some of the Discours de la méthode because “I was afraid that weak minds might avidly embrace the doubt and scruples which I had to propound” without following his ensuing counter-argument.   However, Wilkin avers that by labeling women’s minds as “weak,” Descartes is merely following readers’ prejudices.  In his correspondence with Elizabeth of Bohemia, Descartes shows himself to be more open than in his published works, arguing that qualities of mind are gender free.  Poullain de la Barre will take up this argument, famously declaring “the mind has no sex.” I do not totally agree with Wilkin’s critique of Erica Harth—whose Cartesian Women Wilkin nevertheless deems “excellent.”  Before Wilkin, Harth had recognized the heuristic value and reformist potential of Cartesian rationalism.  Albeit “conventional and ambivalent,” Descartes’ philosophy opens the door to women as thinking subjects rather than mere counters or boundary markers in a masculine enterprise of truth seeking.  Wilkin’s research shows that, unfortunately, “during the late Renaissance, the exclusion of women from the search for truth was not contingent upon a particular epistemology” (94); yet both Montaigne and Descartes supplied fuel for future pro(to) feminist writing.  

In conclusion, Wilkin’s erudition and textual acumen are revealed in her analyses of early modern medical, philosophical, rhetorical and political treatises.  She also shows a thorough understanding of classical, medieval and Renaissance thought.  Wilkin lightens the difficulty of her topic with witty wordplay, such as “the toxic unctuousness of ultramontane persuasion” (38) and “a rag-tag gaggle of raving hags” (48).  While not easy to read or summarize, this important book merits study by philosophers and historians of science as well as scholars of literature and gender studies.  

Barbara R. Woshinsky, University of Miami

( categories: )

Review of Mclure, Ellen M. Sunsots and the Sun King: Sovereignty and Mediation in Seventeenth-Century France.

Article Citation: 
XIV (2012): 135–137
(Chloé Hogg)
Article Text: 

McClure, Ellen M. Sunspots and the Sun King: Sovereignty and Mediation in Seventeenth-Century France. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-252-03056-7. Pp. 316. $50.00

In chapter 4 of Le Roman comique, one of Scarron’s characters takes a nighttime trip “to the place where kings must go in person.” Scarron’s circumlocution poses in immediately felt terms the problem of representation at the heart of Ellen McClure’s erudite and agile revisiting of the question of divine right in Sunspots and the Sun King, a book that will interest scholars of early modern literature, history, and political philosophy. McClure uncovers the tensions, uncertainties, and making do that informed the articulation of divine right monarchy that has come to represent Louis XIV’s absolutism as much as the emblem of the Sun King—which, as the author reminds us, was not an unproblematic symbol of royal perfection given Galileo’s recent discovery of sunspots. It is this tacking back and forth between theory and practice, the ideal and the real, in questions about the mediation and delegation of power that, McClure convincingly argues, defined seventeenth-century France’s response to sovereignty after the political and religious upheavals of the preceding century (notably the Reformation) forced a rethinking of the relationship between state, subjects, and the divine. And it is this same tacking between theory and practice, in such domains as the writing of Louis XIV’s memoirs and the diplomatic conflicts of his reign, which comprises one of this study’s myriad strengths. Thawing the ideological block of divine right monarchy, McClure undertakes to “[reassess] the dominant discourse of legitimacy” by revealing the “fundamental contradiction between agency and dependency at the very heart of state power” (11).

Fueling McClure’s dynamic vision of power is the concept of mediation, “signify[ing] the movement of power and authority from the divine through its royal instrument” (and from the sovereign through the sovereign’s instruments), which the author analyzes in political treatises, royal memoirs, diplomatic history, and theater (7). If McClure prefers “mediation” to “representation” in order, as she explains, to avoid the latter term’s anachronistic connotations of popular political authority and positive self-interest, her concept of mediation is equally important in providing scholars of absolutism with a relational language of power. McClure’s analyses introduce a needed sense of movement and tension to static formulations of the power effects of royal representation in text and image. Privileging mediation over representation, McClure distances herself from the theoretical model furnished by Louis Marin’s “portrait du roi” (and behind this model, Ernst Kantorowicz’s theory of the king’s two bodies), which performs the Eucharistic-like transformation of the king’s physical and political bodies into a sacramental/semiotic body through representation. At the same time, sovereignty for McClure becomes a more vexed undertaking when it is no longer resolved in the baroque “coup d’état” but operated through time and space and mediated through a variety of human agents.

McClure’s first two chapters are concerned with the origins of sovereignty and the role of the monarch in early modern political treatises and the memoirs authored by Louis XIV and his team of writers. In her insightful reading of Jean Bodin’s Les six livres de la république …  against the backdrop of other sixteenth-century political thinkers, sovereignty becomes a linguistic act—an act of definition as indivisible and independent as definition itself. Arguing that seventeenth-century writers such as Cardin Le Bret, Jean-François Senault, and Pierre Le Moyne formulated divine right as a means of reforging the ties between God, monarch, and subjects that Bodin had severed, McClure proceeds through a deft analysis of the vocabulary and images deployed by these writers to describe the composite nature of the sovereign and mediate between the divine and the human. She pursues questions of authority and language in a valuable chapter on Louis XIV’s memoirs, which places the king’s singular enterprise of life-writing in the context of other model texts as well as royal panegyric that both celebrated the undertaking and reinforced the mystique of kingship through “a conscious refusal to scrutinize the inner workings of the monarchy” (71). Close readings combined with illuminating analysis of omissions and corrections in the memoir manuscripts reveals the tensions involved in the articulation of the royal “je” who takes the place of God as creator and doer of his text/kingdom—thereby correcting the erasing of individual royal agency operated by divine right—yet remains “an individual constantly attempting to inhabit this position” in the text (82–83).

Expanding her focus on God and the sovereign, McClure explores issues of authority and delegation in a series of power couples that reproduce and complicate the tensions of the original duo: the sovereign and the diplomat (chapters three and four) and the playwright and the actor (chapter five). McClure links discussions of the role of the diplomat—a fraught question given the rise of international law, the growth and centralization of states, and the inadequate ideal of the ambassador of Christian peace—to the problems of mediation and “betweenness” raised by divine right. She shows how concepts of sovereignty were played out both in treatises on diplomacy and in the diplomatic controversies of Louis XIV’s reign (the 1661 conflict over préseance with the Spanish ambassador in London and the 1662 humbling of the pope after a diplomatic fracas caused by a street brawl in Rome). If Louis XIV won (at what cost?) these diplomatic stand-offs, the potential menace of the diplomat’s individuality and person, which McClure finds woven through early modern reflections on diplomacy, is fully realized in those troublesome ambassadors in theater, Oreste and Suréna, who animate scenarios of mediation deviated or blocked by the subject’s passions and the body’s attractions. McClure’s nuanced readings of theatrical figures of mediation in her last chapter—Racine’s and Corneille’s unlucky ambassadors, Rotrou’s actor Genest—shows how the theater brought questions of legitimacy and originality to bear upon the subject as much as the sovereign. The conflicts of authorship and influence inherent in theater, which McClureadroitly unravels in warring texts of the querelle du Cid and in seventeenth-century considerations of the role of the actor, magnify the challenges of the king who, like the playwright, seeks to define his own creativity and agency against the forces that would erase or corrupt his action.

McClure’s expert readings, ranging over an impressive scope of sources, reaffirm the importance of literary analysis in studying early modern formulations of the political in theory and practice. Particularly suggestive are the instances where, through the idiosyncrasies of bodies—the actor’s voice or the king’s hand counterfeited by his secretaries—McClure signals the possibility of a failure of mediation. A valuable addition to scholarship on absolutism, theater, and authorship, this compelling treatment of mediation shows writers, political thinkers, diplomats, and the king wrestling with the modalities of the delegation of absolute power through its limited instruments. 

Chloé Hogg, University of Pittsburgh

( categories: )

Depictions of War in the Plays of Rotrou

Article Citation: 
XIV (2012): 119–134
Perry Gethner
Article Text: 

Printable PDF, Gethner, 119–134


Even though one of the most common themes in French tragedy and tragicomedy was war, and even though the glorification of heroic conduct was a central feature of dramatic ideology, the treatment of combat raised many types of problems and was far from uniform. Jean Rotrou, one of the most prolific and most successful playwrights from the second quarter of the seventeenth century, can be seen as a representative example of what was possible and acceptable at that time.

Although war-related scenes could be a source of dazzling visual spectacle, the presentation of battle episodes on stage, often done in medieval and Renaissance plays, was abandoned in Rotrou's time. One obvious reason was the adoption of the three unities and the rules of bienséances and vraisemblance, which militated against the graphic depiction of large-scale violence. But another reason was more technical in nature: troupes with a small number of players and limited resources playing on comparatively cramped stages could not handle such episodes in a way that would be remotely convincing to an increasingly sophisticated public. Even later in the century, with the advent of tragic opera and the resources of the royal court, combat was mostly kept hidden from view.[1]

However, during the first half of the century, playwrights found other ways to incorporate elements of war-related spectacle. During the period that used décor simultané (juxtaposed sets, each confined to one portion of the stage area), there were several types of decor that could serve for plots centered around combat. Ramparts or city walls allowed for one or both of the following: leaders of the city under attack could appear atop the walls and speak to enemy leaders below, or the space in front of the walls could be used for a verbal confrontation, either before or after a battle. Elaborate tents set up for one or more of the commanders could also convey the atmosphere of battle without having to show actual fighting. In Antigone Rotrou uses all of these. We see Polynice, leader of the besieging army, meeting in his tent with family members, one of whom is another principal commander (I.6); later we see him at the base of the city walls where his sister Antigone will speak to him from above (II.1–2), and still later Antigone and her sister-in-law will come to the “remparts” where the fatal duel has just taken place to locate the body of Polynice and give it burial (III.6). Curiously, in the era of décor simultané only one tent could be featured, whereas in the period where unitary decor was the norm there could be multiple tents for tragedies taking place in the vicinity of a battlefield.[2] The tent was typically wide enough to permit the staging of an interior scene: the entrance flap could be folded back to show the leader meeting with his advisors or with enemy leaders within, as happens both in Antigone and L’Heureux naufrage (IV.1, V.1). There could be as many as four characters inside a tent at one time, and presumably there were chairs for them to sit on. In Iphigénie the tent has a writing table, and there is even an episode where the character inside his tent and another character outside the tent fail to notice each other for a considerable time (I.2–3).

Other elements of spectacle involved costumes and props. Warriors, in addition to wearing military dress, would certainly carry swords and/or other weapons, possibly period- or country-specific, if the troupe could acquire them. Entering companies of soldiers carry banners (Antigone v. 352) or the flags captured from the enemy forces (Dom Lope de Cardone v. 484), and it is likely that flags were featured in the military procession that opens the final scene of L’Heureux naufrage, for which the text specifies trumpets blown by the forces of both sides. Trumpets are typically featured in plays involving heralds, and it is possible that drums were also used in combat-related scenes. The opening scene of Crisante, for which the location is not specified, may well have begun with a military procession into the city center, since the dialogue that follows, between the Roman commander Manilie and his chief generals, focuses on celebrating the victory they have just achieved. Standards may have been used here and later in the council chamber scene (IV.3), in the course of which these are mentioned (v. 1070). Obviously, the number of participants in military procession scenes was limited by the size of the troupe, but we know that extras were sometimes engaged to beef up the spectacle and that these could be drawn from relatives or even servants of cast members.

If combat could not be shown directly, there were several obvious methods to create the sensation of a war environment, depending on whether the scene occurs before or after the fighting. There were a variety of possibilities for showing the preparations for battle. In Iphigénie the discussion dominating the first two acts focuses on whether the Trojan War ought to be fought at all, in light of the horrifying demand made by the goddess Diane: namely, that King Agamemnon sacrifice his oldest daughter in order to secure favorable winds. The other leaders strongly endorse the human sacrifice, given their eagerness to fight and, in the case of Ménélas, to recover his kidnapped wife. But Agamemnon is torn between his love for his innocent daughter and his desire to achieve a new level of glory as commander-in-chief of a monumental Greek force. Even the soldiers are allowed to make their views known. In Act IV we learn (through a narration) that the army is defying its top warrior, Achille, who has announced his intention to defend his fiancée single-handedly. In the spectacular fifth act, showing the preparations for the sacrifice of the heroine, a group of Greek warriors is present on stage. Although they say nothing, their position is represented by Calchas and Ulysse and they presumably participate in the scene through gestures.

In L’Heureux naufrage we see some of the preparations for a siege, which is ultimately averted. However, Rotrou provides ambiance but very few specifics. The queen summons her top commander to a strategy meeting, which is not shown on stage, and we see a discussion between the leader of the besieging army and two of his top generals, though they talk only about the sudden death of the king’s father and the new king’s determination to avenge him by prosecuting the war that they have traveled so far to wage. The play does in fact end with a military spectacle, but not that of combat: thanks to a negotiated settlement, the two armies meet ceremonially in the central square, where the marriage between the rulers of the opposing sides is officially declared.

If the battle has taken place prior to the start of the play or occurs during the course of it, the principal way to present those events was through narration. Although audiences were capable of appreciating lengthy speeches if delivered with gusto by a skilled actor, playwrights became increasingly concerned with making such passages integral to the action and not merely bravura set pieces. It is interesting to note that, unlike the single most famous such episode in the drama of the period, Rodrigue’s recounting of his battle against the Moors in Corneille’s Le Cid, Rotrou avoided having his heroic young men boast of their own exploits, which might seem immodest. Instead, they recount and praise the deeds of their fellow commanders.

Dom Lope de Cardone is unusual in that two very lengthy battle stories are juxtaposed in the same scene. But the episode is crucial to the forward motion of the plot in that it presents the tense relationship of the two young generals: they are at the same time fast friends who greatly admire each other and rivals in love, constantly ready to duel with each other. They laud each other’s exploits and each insists on having a reward bestowed on the other, though neither is willing to declare publicly the reward they both want for themselves, which is the hand of the infanta. A second function of the paired narratives is to illuminate the character of the two rivals, who appear in this scene for the first time in the play. They are undeniably courageous, valiant and charismatic, but they are also incredibly foolhardy, engage in perilous maneuvers that no prudent commander would advise, and even commit immoral acts. Dom Sanche, seeing his forces outmatched, resorts to treachery. He changes clothes with a common soldier, pretends to flee with a hundred picked men, asks to be taken directly to the Castilian commander, claims to have born in Castile and offers him his services. He and his men, as soon as they are placed at the rear of the army, suddenly draw their weapons and massacre the soldiers they have supposedly come to assist, and Sanche personally kills the commander, in what appears to be an assassination rather than a fair fight. This bold strategy, however questionable from the standpoint of the chivalric code, turns the tide of battle, and the king has nothing but praise for it. The combination of self-assertiveness, recklessness and disregard for authority is what will land the young commanders in trouble during the latter part of the play.

Far more humorous are the battle narrative episodes in another tragicomedy, Dom Bernard de Cabrère, which are spread out over three different acts. Significantly, it is not the narratives that cause laughter, but rather the lack of attention they receive from the on-stage audience. Although the king is delighted by the successful outcome of the recent campaign, which has gained Spain control of Sardinia for the first time, he is constantly distracted and thus keeps failing to reward his most meritorious general, Dom Lope de Lune. In the first act, when Lope himself begins to recount the campaign, the king hears not a word of it. That is because, before Lope can even begin, two messengers arrive with tidings of greater urgency: the king’s brother has launched a revolt that requires immediate mustering of forces, and the king’s beloved, Léonor, sends him a letter informing him that she does not return his affection and asking him to leave her alone. The king retains enough presence of mind to tell Lope to submit his petition in writing, but he drops the paper without having read it as soon as Léonor enters the room. Meanwhile, Lope’s best friend and fellow general, Bernard de Cabrère, who has risen to the rank of royal favorite, resolves to exert himself on Lope’s behalf. Bernard’s full-length battle narrative in Act II includes a description of Lope’s exploits, but, unfortunately, the king falls asleep right at the moment when Bernard begins to speak of Lope and wakes up only when that part of the narrative is over. The audience later learns the explanation for the king’s behavior: he spent the preceding night under Léonor’s window, trying to gain her favor with serenades, and as a result has not slept. But the two generals are unaware of this and do not even notice that the king has dozed off. Lope is demoralized when the king bestows generous rewards upon Bernard and upon the other commanders who are named during the final portion of the narrative, but does nothing to acknowledge or reward him. The king manages to stay alert during the third narrative passage in Act IV, but this time a series of misunderstandings works against Lope. He and Bernard, under the mistaken impression that the king has taken offense at something Lope has recently done, agree that when Bernard recounts the battle against the rebel forces that has just taken place he should not mention Lope by name, but rather refer to him as a nameless but valiant soldier. The king assumes that Bernard is designating himself by that euphemism, out of modesty, and again he rewards Bernard while doing nothing for the luckless Lope. Nevertheless, the friendship between the two young generals remains firm, despite the difference in the way they are treated and despite the fact that they briefly become rivals in love.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Rotrou’s treatment of war is his willingness to call into question the ethos of glory and militarism espoused by many of his protagonists. His major concerns are the use of underhanded tactics in battle and the crimes perpetrated against civilians. In Crisante, the Roman general in charge of guarding the captured enemy queen falls madly in love with her and finally rapes her. The second half of the play focuses on her determination to clear her name and take revenge on her assailant, which she eventually does. Significantly, the Roman commander-in-chief agrees with Crisante that the raping of female prisoners, especially those of high rank, is unacceptable, and even the assailant, Cassie, finally repents and publicly takes his own life. By showing the tendency of soldiers to believe that all standards of morality and civilized behavior are suspended in wartime, Rotrou questions the ethos of heroism based primarily on military valor and insists that aggression and the desire to achieve superiority must be subject to moral limits. Projecting this discussion onto the ancient Romans, seen as the ultimate heroic model by seventeenth-century audiences, makes it especially powerful. Cassie is so highly esteemed by his fellow officers that a number of them plead to have his life spared, insisting that his contrition should suffice as his punishment. When the commander-in-chief confirms the death sentence, the stage direction reads: “tous tirent leurs mouchoirs, et pleurent” (v. 1231).

In tragicomedies unethical conduct in war goes unpunished and is even viewed as justified, provided that the perpetrators emerge victorious, though Rotrou seems more dubious about such things than his characters. In Dom Lope de Cardone I have already mentioned Sanche’s use of treachery to win the battle against the defenders of the city walls in Valencia, including what is apparently the murder of their commander. Since Rotrou gives the impression that this is a civil war, rather than a war between two independent and rival kingdoms, one could justify Sanche’s conduct as just punishment for rebels. But far more disturbing is Sanche’s conduct during his mission to rescue the title character. Lope, having succeeded in scaling the walls though none of his men managed to follow, has jumped down into the ranks of the enemy and attempted to fight them single-handed. He is, not surprisingly, badly wounded and near death when reinforcements arrive to save him. But in the process Sanche and his forces massacre everyone in sight, including women and old men. Although he himself describes the scene as “un horrible carnage” (v. 669), not a word is said to criticize this unnecessary act of brute violence. Brief but graphic references to the gory side of warfare also occur in Crisante (v. 27–36) and Dom Bernard de Cabrère (v. 504–06), though apparently the casualties do not include civilians. Rotrou never loses sight of the unpleasant realities of war, though he refuses to dwell on them.[3]

In Dom Bernard de Cabrère the principal hero’s exploits also involve an element of duplicity. In order to end a protracted siege, Lope de Lune pretends to be a deserter fleeing a tyrannical ruler, alleges that he has been mistreated by his own side, and to make this charge more believable he wounds himself in the face and in the chest. He then gains admission to the enemy city and wins over a group of citizens who secretly open the gates to admit the forces of the other side. At least this stratagem, though explicitly compared to the one used by the Greeks against the Trojans, does not involve mass slaughter of civilians or the assassination of the commanders.

Another area in which Rotrou could be seen to question war is his choice of plots where the cause of the conflict is flimsy or at least questionable. In Iphigénie Agamemnon and Clytemnestre express doubts about the rationale for the Trojan War and strongly object to the condition set by the gods in order for the army to reach Troy. The appearance of Diane at the dénouement confirms both the justice of the gods, since the heroine’s life is spared, and the justice of the war, which Diane assures the Greeks they will win. But the play ends on a note of dramatic irony, since the audience knows that Agamemnon’s hope of returning home to “goûter un long repos” after the travails of warfare (v. 1914) will not be realized; instead, the cycle of violence will be perpetuated and destroy the Greeks’ own families. In Antigone the war pitting two brothers against each other is viewed by all the other characters as shocking and unnatural, and several family members try desperately to prevent the final battle from taking place. The uncontrollable hatred between the brothers leads to their deaths and to those of nearly their entire family. In L’Heureux naufrage the conflict derives in large part from plot devices typical of tragicomedy (misunderstandings, disguise, coincidences, flight of lovers and their pursuit by the girl's family) and can be quickly resolved by a diplomatic marriage. The military conflict in the two late tragicomedies is sparked by rebellions, and these are speedily put down.

Because wars are typically fought for political reasons, both their conduct and their outcome reveal the competence, or lack thereof, of the rulers and their commitment to justice and order. Usually the conclusion of a war, or its prevention, leads to a desirable political outcome: a capable monarch is installed or reinforced, and there is reason to believe that this person will keep the land stable and safe.[4] In Antigone the dénouement is unusually bloody and somber and the country remains stuck with a tyrant, though he is severely punished by the suicide of his last remaining son and faints in despair in the play’s final moments. Salmacis in L’Heureux naufrage makes some serious lapses in judgment but she is not tyrannical, and her mistakes are caused by love, which in the world of tragicomedy is viewed as an acceptable excuse. She allows herself to be so consumed by passion that she makes undignified offers to the man she loves, even indicating a willingness to abdicate and follow him to another country if he feels unequal to the burden of sharing her throne. And she unjustly condemns him to death when she believes that he has fought a duel over another woman, though the fact that the execution is halted just in time keeps her hands clean. The negotiated settlement that averts a war allows her to retain her title and a measure of dignity through marriage to the new Epirot king. However, the real power will pass into the hands of her husband, who seems to be a more rational and more capable ruler. In Dom Bernard de Cabrère the king reforms at the end, agreeing to marry the woman he loves but has previously tried to win only as a mistress, and also belatedly promising to reward a meritorious general whom he has repeatedly slighted. In Dom Lope de Cardone the king is capable and scrupulously fair, but also weak and dependent on the strength and loyalty of his top generals. The face-saving solution whereby he condemns the generals to death for violating his order not to fight a duel but pardons them at the last minute actually bolsters his authority: it allows him to display both impartial justice and clemency, while making the young warriors realize that they are indeed subject to royal authority and cannot simply act on their own. In Crisante the victorious Roman commander vindicates the honor of Rome by punishing a rapist in his ranks. Meanwhile, the defeated king of Corinth, who has managed to survive the Roman invasion, disgraces himself by failing to even consider further resistance to preserve his kingdom’s autonomy and by wrongly suspecting the honor of his wife; when he finally realizes his error he commits suicide. To this extent war can be seen as a kind of purification, ensuring that those leaders who can combine military might and good governance are the ones to survive.[5]

Rotrou's concern for maintaining order and stability leads not just to the praise of good rulers but also to the condemnation of civil war or other forms of civil disorder, which are invariably crushed. In a world where legitimate kings enjoy special divine protection, challenges to their authority must never be allowed to succeed. In Dom Lope de Cardone, where the plot is totally fictional, the conflict between Aragon and Castile, which in historical reality were independent kingdoms, is presented as a civil war, and the forces loyal to the king of Aragon win a quick and decisive victory. Even in Dom Bernard de Cabrère, where the main characters are taken from history, Rotrou communicated his basic message by altering a key circumstance from the Spanish play that he used as his primary source: instead of quashing a rebellion in remote territories held in Sicily and on the Italian mainland, the king must put down a revolt within his own land and led by his own brother. The victory of the forces loyal to the king is swift and decisive. The enemy army is quickly decimated, and the killing of their commander makes the survivors instantly lose heart. Although some Castilians fight alongside the rebels, the episode is presented as essentially a civil war. In Antigone, while Polynice is roundly condemned for starting a war against his native city, regardless of the legitimacy of his claims to the throne, Créon is likewise condemned for his impious decision to leave the body of Polynice unburied. That act not only offends the gods, but also shows his refusal to try to heal the wounds of civil war through forgiveness and reconciliation.

Another area where Rotrou explores the tense connection between warfare and politics is the relationship of rulers to their military commanders. In some cases the monarch is himself the lead general, whereas in other cases the general is separate from the ruler and viewed as a potential challenge to him. Having a division of labor may be fraught with peril, but it is still preferable to letting the king combine the two roles. Indeed, every time it is the king himself who leads his troops into battle, things do not go well. The most disastrous case is in Crisante. Although the Corinthian king Antioche never specifically states that he commanded his forces in the abortive struggle to free Peloponnesian Greece from Roman domination, no mention is made of any other leader, so we must assume that he served as his own chief general. While it cannot be held against him that he lost to the superior might of the Roman legions, Antioche merits condemnation for having fled his city with a few followers just before the Romans destroyed it and then making not the slightest effort either to ransom or to rescue his wife, who is being held captive. Far from thinking and acting like a hero, Antioche spends practically all his time on stage lamenting. He believes that he was defeated only because the gods were punishing him for the sins of his subjects, and he never takes any of the blame. Even in his final speech, just before he commits suicide, he thinks only of personal matters (he expects to join his wife in a better world where they will at last be free from persecution by the Romans), while giving no thought to the subjects he leaves behind. He is thus a model of both an inept general and an inept king, unable to govern in either peace or war.

Equally ineffective, though far less blameworthy, is the Epirot king Thaumasis in L’Heureux naufrage. When his daughter elopes with the man she loves, rather than accept the diplomatic marriage that he has arranged for her, he takes decisive action: he pursues the fugitives with his army and declares war on the queen of Dalmatia, who has granted them refuge. But no sooner has he set up camp outside the capital city and given the order to conduct a siege than he suddenly drops dead. One of his generals, Achante, praises the king for an active career in the course of which he won many victories. Moreover, if, as Achante suggests, Thaumasis was advanced in years, the fact that he was willing to continue commanding his troops at an advanced age is another cause for commendation. Of course, since this is a tragicomedy, the king’s death is providential: his daughter, Floronde, being very close to her brother Cléantes, who is the new king, easily negotiates a settlement that allows the war to be avoided. Cléantes will marry the Dalmatian queen and allow his sister to wed the man with whom she eloped. Thaumasis is an example of a king who is both a conscientious ruler and able commander, but he is the blocking figure in a love story and so must be gotten out of the way.

In all three of the tragedies that Rotrou based on classical mythology, the king is a distinguished warrior but a less than admirable ruler. In Hercule mourant, the title character is a superhero whose exploits stun the world. In addition to his twelve labors, he has frequently led troops in combat, though for the purpose of conquest, not self-defense. However, his military successes lead to problems at home: he attempts to wed a captive princess by force, he orders the execution of the captive prince whom she loves, and he lies to and mistreats his loving wife. Déjanire’s desperate attempt to regain her husband’s affection will, ironically, cause his death. In Antigone, the young king Ætéocle leads his own troops into battle and does a competent job, but the war that he has provoked is unjust, since it involves an unnatural combat between two brothers with an equal right to power. His mother Jocaste denounces him for his excessive ambition, which calls into question his self-serving claim that, though he was willing to avoid bloodshed and yield the throne to Polynice, his subjects would not let him do so: “Le peuple aime mon règne, et craint sa tyrannie” (v. 84). Following a climactic duel in which the two brothers kill each other, the kingdom passes into the hands of their uncle Créon, who turns out to be an even more odious tyrant and who apparently lacks the military skills demonstrated by his sons and nephews. As for Agamemnon in Iphigénie, while no one disputes his prowess, his behavior in war is notoriously brutal: Clytemnestre accuses him of having married her at sword-point after slaughtering her first husband and her sons. As commander-in-chief of the Greek forces, his behavior is no more admirable, since he endlessly hesitates about his course of action and spends much of the play either quarrelling with or being manipulated by other characters. Although Rotrou grants him the last word in the play, his smug declaration that he has satisfied the gods by his zeal and that he can claim credit in advance for the fall of Troy rings hollow.

Because of the difficulty in combining the two types of command, extended discussions of the mutability of fortune linked to success or failure in war are mostly confined to plays where the king is his own commander. To be sure, the fascination with the baroque themes of the confusion between appearance and reality, truth and illusion, the theater and real life, rationality and insanity, and power and powerlessness, distinguishes his entire corpus starting from his very first play, L’Hypocondriaque.[6] Hercule mourant opens with a monologue in which the title character laments the fact that his success in the recent war has been overshadowed by his unrequited passion for a princess whom he has captured in that war: he has enslaved others only to become himself a slave of love. Hercule’s sense of servitude, contrasting with his superhuman strength and valor, is not limited to his amorous failure. He likewise complains of Junon’s constant hostility to him, which has forced him to undertake a series of difficult exploits that ought to finally win him the place he deserves among the ranks of the gods, and yet this prize has so far been denied him. In Crisante Antioche’s lengthy discussion of the mutability of fortune is inspired by the frustration of having lost a war. The fall is indeed spectacular: the Corinthian king has in the course of one brief war lost his glory, his kingdom and his wife. In Antigone mutability is linked to the gods’ inexorable, but often confusing decrees, which at times promise a speedy and relatively pain-free end to the conflict in Thebes, but which ultimately spell the extinction of the entire royal house. In Iphigénie the powerlessness of the Greek army, and in particular of its commander-in-chief Agamemnon, derives from an oracle in which the goddess Diane demands his daughter Iphigénie as a sacrifice. This leaves Agamemnon, ostensibly the most powerful of the Greeks, in a painful position where he must renounce either his leadership position or his feelings as a father. The title character herself insists on the powerlessness of mortals in the face of the gods, who are capable of foiling the designs of the strongest humans, and she finds her only source of power in moral fortitude, willingly accepting her role as martyr in order to secure a victory for the Greek forces. The main example of complaints about mutability of fortune made by a champion, as opposed to the king or his allies, comes from Lope de Lune in the tragicomedy Dom Bernard de Cabrère, and here the topos is exploited for comic effect. The irony is that the young general, inevitably victorious in battle and assisted by an influential friend at court, keeps failing to receive the rewards he deserves for his valor. However, his bad luck in this area is solely due to the fact that the king is distracted by his stormy love affair with a lady in court, and once this is resolved and the king realizes his error, he promises to make up for his past neglect. The audience, realizing that the situation is not beyond hope, can thus appreciate Lope's seemingly tragic outbursts as examples of parody (on the stylistic level) and illusion (on the thematic level).

When the king and the hero are separate, the relationship does not have to be adversarial. Indeed, it can lead to friendship and partnership, as is the case in Le Véritable Saint-Genest, where Dioclétian promotes his leading general, Maximin, to the rank of co-emperor, as well as making him his son-in-law. Mention of the hero’s exploits is limited to a few lines in the emperor’s opening speech: Maximin, he explains, had already impressed him with his remarkable exploits, but the younger man’s most recent victory, by which he subdued the empire’s last remaining enemies, has made him worthy of the highest possible reward. Maximin accepts with grace and modesty, protesting that he does not deserve the hand of his beloved Valérie (nor, in his view, does anyone else), and he is concerned that his lowly origins may cause the subjects to despise him. Dioclétian waves away these objections, and there is total harmony between the two men for the rest of the play, which quickly moves on to other subjects (the glorification of the acting profession, a miraculous conversion to Christianity).

In several other plays the king has unqualified admiration for his chief general, and conflict arises only because of amorous intrigue involving another member of the royal family. Thus, in Bélisaire the Byzantine emperor Justinien ends up condemning the title character only because his evil wife Théodore, whose advances the general has spurned, falsely accuses him of attempted seduction. Given the intensity of his friendship with Bélisaire and his knowledge of his wife’s evil nature, Justinien’s sudden reversal of course is baffling and the protagonist’s death shocking. But in any case there is never any envy on the part of the ruler or any thoughts of rebellion on the part of the subject. In Venceslas the tension is caused by the obsessive hatred shown by the crown prince, Ladislas, to the chief general, Fédéric, whom he (incorrectly) believes to be his rival for the affection of the princess Cassandre, and whose favor with the king he views as a threat to his own position at court. Significantly, when Ladislas ascends to the throne in the play’s final moments, he experiences a moral conversion, which allows him to start behaving responsibly and to restore Fédéric to favor.

In the two final tragicomedies, the tension between king and generals is unplanned and again results from amorous intrigue. In Dom Bernard de Cabrère it is the king whose passion prevents him from paying proper attention to the narration of his commanders’ exploits. Although he is genuinely grateful and rewards them handsomely, especially Bernard, he inadvertently overlooks the valiant but unlucky Lope de Lune, who eventually leaves the court in despair. In Dom Lope de Cardone, it is the two young commanders whose amorous rivalry leads them to disobey a royal order, with near fatal results. Yet, whether the king’s lack of participation in the wars is due to lack of interest (in the earlier play the king appears to be young enough to lead his own troops) or to advanced age (in the latter play), there is no jealousy on the part of the ruler and no dangerous political ambition on the part of the generals.

One may well wonder why, given the importance of the conflicts between kings and champions in the plays of his contemporaries Corneille and Du Ryer, Rotrou chose to present the problem only in a muted form. Unlike the more subversive Du Ryer, who did not hesitate to show evil kings who flaunt their tyranny, break their promises, humiliate or persecute their subjects for no reason, and show no respect for the gods, Rotrou kept his rulers relatively conscientious and well-meaning, even though not always impeccable in their conduct. Du Ryer’s constant focus on the conflict between envy (on the part of rulers or courtiers, or both) and merit is again largely absent in Rotrou.[7] Envious men at court who try to harm virtuous protagonists are motivated primarily by amorous rivalry, and in each case even that is misguided. Ladislas, himself a distinguished warrior, feels jealous of Fédéric because he believes that the other man is in love with, and is preferred by, his beloved Cassandre, but that turns out to be untrue. Dorismond in L’Heureux naufrage tries to assassinate Cléandre because he believes that the young foreigner is wooing the woman he himself is pursuing, but in fact Cléandre is only pretending to woo Céphalie (though she prefers him to her original suitor.)

It is not until his final play that Rotrou chooses to tackle head-on the problem, likewise raised by Corneille, of the king whose reign is insecure and who must decide how he can cement the loyalty of the champion on whom he depends for his survival. It can hardly be a coincidence that this is the only play Rotrou composed during the period of the Fronde, when the conflict between the upper echelons of the nobility and the monarchy erupted into civil war. In fact, in Dom Lope de Cardone the king faces problems with multiple commanders. His own son, Dom Pèdre, previously distinguished himself in campaigns on two continents, but the latter has become so distraught over his rejection by the woman he loves that he refuses to take part in subsequent wars, even the current one which is taking place in his own land. The king, hoping to cure him of his depression and his inertia, offers him any reward he likes, not excepting the throne. As for the two younger generals who have taken over command from the crown prince, Lope and Sanche, he likewise offers them a reward of their choice, although, since both are in love with the king’s daughter, it will be hard to satisfy them both. Being both just and realistic, the king recognizes his dependence on these remarkable leaders and questions whether he can do enough to display his gratitude. Following the recital of Lope’s exploits, he wonders aloud: “quelle reconnaissance/ Peut ici m’affranchir du défaut d’impuissance?/ Lui puis-je offrir un prix à sa vertu pareil?” (II.4.676–78).

As in Le Cid, the Corneille play it most resembles, Dom Lope features two conflicting views of loyalty on the part of the top commanders. The title character is more respectful and more supportive of the principles of absolutism, arguing that the king is the perfect embodiment of rigid and impartial judgment, and that his threat to execute them if they disobey his express command not to fight a duel over the infanta must not be disregarded (IV.2.1204–11). Sanche argues, at much greater length, that they should consider themselves exempted from obedience to the king’s order because 1) the dictates of honor and of love take precedence, 2) a “beau crime” better marks the intensity of passion than a cold and weak respect for authority, 3) kings often issue decrees that they do not expect or even wish to see obeyed, 4) the king would not dare execute men who have won such glorious victories in his service (IV.2.1212–32). As it turns out, the king does insist on the supremacy of his orders and condemns Lope, the winner of the duel, to death. Despite a series of appeals for clemency, he argues that it is thanks to his constant insistence on maintaining justice and the supremacy of royal authority that he is both cherished and feared, and he is concerned that laxness in this regard would lead to chaos throughout the realm (V.4.1706–11).

Again, as in Le Cid, the character who has openly placed the demands of personal honor over obedience to the ruler is the loser in the duel, thus symbolically reaffirming the primacy of absolutist ideology. At the same time, however, Rotrou shares Corneille’s sympathy for the heroic mindset. The willingness to act independently, take risks, defy authority when it gets in the way, and to create oneself as a fully heroic individual – all these traits make Sanche and Lope the most dynamic characters in the play and inspire admiration for them. The king himself has to struggle with himself to carry out the condemnation of men whom he both esteems and needs, and he is greatly relieved when he is finally forced to act on his real desire to spare them.

Yet another crucial resemblance to Le Cid is the linkage between the two sources of the heroic mindset: heredity and sensibility, to use Prigent’s terms.[8] The need to prove oneself and to surpass oneself, especially in combat, comes equally from allegiance to family tradition and from the chivalric need to become worthy of the beloved. This gives considerable leverage to the king, whose need for valiant commanders to win his wars gives the hero a chance to prove himself, and who also has the power to bestow upon the hero the hand of his ladylove. At the same time, the fact that the realm is in grave danger helps imbue the hero with a strong sense of purpose. This is true for both of the final tragicomedies, where there is real or apparent civil war.

It is clear that Rotrou, as a political conservative and a protégé of both Richelieu and Mazarin, was determined to promote a vision where royal authority is always, though often belatedly, reaffirmed. There can be no excuse for monarchs to disobey the gods or for even the greatest heroes to disobey the monarch, and no form of civil disorder may be tolerated. War may be necessary, but it is not to be excessively glorified, and the warrior class has to know its place. Heroism, while still valued, is subjected to questioning. Rotrou’s tragicomedies always end with the state restored to peace and stability, whereas his tragedies often end with the prospect of chaos and devastation for the realm, as well as for the protagonists, but even in the darker plays the frequent references to the gods hint at the possibility of a proper resolution at some future date.[9] Though his universe, like France during the Fronde, seems to maintain only a precarious hold on stability, his fascination with the theme of divine providence keeps the plays from ending in total despair and allows for glimmers of hope.

Oklahoma State University

[1]The one exception in the Quinault/Lully corpus is a siege, executed by chorus and dancers, which occurs in Act II of Alceste. On the staging of warfare in opera, see my “Guerre et combat dans les premières tragédies lyriques,” in Armées, guerre et société dans la France du XVIIe siècle, ed. Jean Garapon (Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 2006; Biblio 17 number 167), 257–66. For the handful of plays from Rotrou’s generation that tried to put battle scenes on the stage, see Roger Guichemerre, La Tragi-comédie, Paris: PUF, 1981, 182–83.

[2]In the Mémoire de Mahelot the only two illustrations featuring tents (Hardy’s La Belle Egyptienne and Auvray’s Dorinde - both tragicomedies) show one tent per play. But later in that document, in Laurent’s listing of decor and props for plays staged during the latter part of the century, there are four tragedies for which multiple tents are listed (Racine’s Alexandre and Iphigénie, plus Du Ryer’s Scévole and Sallebray’s La Troade). Of course, all of the latter set of plays feature unitary decor, and the multiple tents often belong to characters on opposing sides of the war. See also Pierre Pasquier’s introduction to his critical edition of the Mémoire (Paris: Champion, 2005).

[3]Jacques Morel notes that the savage nature of heroism in Rotrou’s protagonists can lead either to criminal acts or magnanimous exploits, even for the same character, and that the bloodshed and brutality associated with combat never seem to trouble them (Rotrou dramaturge de l’ambiguïté [Paris: Klincksieck, 2002], 78–80).

[4]Given that France was involved in the Thirty Years’ War during most of Rotrou’s dramatic career and that he composed his final play just after the outbreak of the Fronde, audiences presumably viewed many of these plots in light of current events and the playwright may have chosen some of his subjects for the same reason. (But that is a topic I plan to treat elsewhere.)

[5]Rotrou’s political theory, like that of contemporary playwrights, included an endorsement of the divine right and absolutism principles, though not without major reservations and concerns. For a fuller discussion, see Morel, Rotrou dramaturge 92–108; André Stegmann, L’Héroïsme cornélien, genèse et signification (Paris: Armand Colin, 1968), 2: 370–408.

[6] Jean-Claude Vuillemin, Baroquisme et théâtralité: le théâtre de Jean Rotrou (Paris, Seattle, Tübingen: Biblio 17, 1994; also the introduction to Vuillemin's critical edition of L’Hypocondriaque (Geneva: Droz, 1999).

[7] On Du Ryer’s tragedies, see especially James F. Gaines, Pierre Du Ryer and his Tragedies: From Envy to Liberation (Geneva: Droz, 1987).

[8] See Michel Prigent, Le Héros et l’Etat dans la tragédie de Pierre Corneille (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1986).

[9] On the imprecision of Rotrou's generic markers, see Bénédicte Louvat-Molozay, “La tragédie de Rotrou au carrefour des genres dramatiques,” in Le Théâtre de Rotrou, ed. Pierre Pasquier, Littératures classiques 63, 2007, 61–70.

( categories: )

_L'Orphelin infortuné ou le portrait du bon frère_(1660) : rester propre au sein de la saleté

Article Citation: 
XIV (2012): 100–118
Francis Assaf
Article Text: 

Printable PDF, Assaf, 100–118

Je me propose dans cet essai de faire voir comment le héros de L’Orphelin infortuné ou le portrait du bon frère, petit roman d’à peu près 150 pages dans l’édition de 1991, réussit à survivre dans des conditions physiquement et socialement déplorables, tout en maintenant sa propre intégrité morale.

Paru à Paris pour la première fois chez Cardin Besogne en 1660 et republié en 1662 sous le titre Les Aventures[1] tragi-comiques du chevalier de la Gaillardise, le roman présente les aventures —ou plutôt les avanies—d’un jeune garçon, orphelin de bonne heure, en butte à toutes sortes de mauvais traitements de la part de son tuteur et de sa parenté, lesquels font preuve, non seulement d’une méchanceté qui ne se relâche jamais, mais même d’une cruauté allant jusqu’au sadisme. Forcé de fréquenter la lie de la société et souvent tenaillé par la faim et la misère, il sera contraint de vivre d’expédients simplement pour ne pas mourir de faim. Le héros (dont le nom ne sera jamais révélé) réussira à maintenir son intégrité morale —et sa bonne humeur— en dépit des souffrances qui lui sont infligées par des personnages qui sont autant d’exemples de corruption morale. Ses malheurs continueront jusqu’à son entrée dans l’âge adulte et à son établissement au service d’un gentilhomme parisien. Bien qu’il fasse quelques voyages en France, en Hollande et en Allemagne, le cadre principal de l’action est le Paris du temps de Louis XIII, grosso modo entre les années 1620 et 1640[2]. L’extrême malpropreté qui règne dans ce cadre, autant à l’extérieur (rues, places) qu’à l’intérieur (maisons, appartements), non seulement crée une dystopie qui contribue à accentuer ce contraste entre le héros et son environnement, mais renforce puissamment le réalisme de l’ouvrage. J’en parlerai en quelque détail plus loin, en m’appuyant sur des sources historiques, qui viennent soutenir et expliciter les sources littéraires.

Il importe de se pencher sur la nature littéraire de ce texte à la fois peu connu et peu conventionnel. Dernière histoire comique jamais publiée, l’ouvrage est peut-être aussi la plus réaliste et la plus picaresque du genre. César-François Oudin de Préfontaine, l’auteur de ce roman (qui n’a vraisemblablement rien d’autobiographique), est assez obscur. La notice du Dictionnaire des Lettres françaises —XVIIe siècle[3] donne une liste de ses ouvrages mais ses dates sont inconnues. Le catalogue général de la BnF présente également une douzaine de ses titres. Pas trace de lui cependant dans la Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne (q.v.). Révisée par Emmanuel Bury et Jean Serroy, la notice du Dictionnaire des Lettres françaises —XVIIe siècle (originellement de René Bray) est assez peu flatteuse : elle le décrit comme un « romancier, linguiste et lexicographe d’assez mauvaise vie. » (1008). Citant Lacroix (peut-être Paul Lacroix — 1806–1884)[4], Bray ajoute cependant : « il avait beaucoup d’instruction ; il connaissait les langues et les littératures étrangères, il écrivait en français comme un vrai Gaulois (sic). » On note que sa période d’activité se situe en gros entre 1628 (La Diane des bois —Rouen) et les années 1670.

Pour J. Serroy, la nature picaresque de L’Orphelin infortuné ne fait pas de doute[5]. Sans effectuer une comparaison point par point, dans sa thèse Roman et Réalité, les histoires comiques au XVIIe siècle (q.v.), avec le prototype du roman picaresque, La Vida de Lazarillo de Tormes[6] (548–558), il évoque suffisamment de correspondances pour persuader son lecteur.

Parmi celles-ci [les références littéraires de L’Orphelin infortuné], la plus manifeste est celle du roman picaresque. Sur le modèle espagnol, en adoptant comme lui la forme autobiographique du récit, Préfontaine raconte les aventures d’un malheureux, ballotté par la fortune et soumis aux pires vexations par son entourage[7]. Bien qu’il ne soit pas gueux de naissance, son père étant « un grand homme de lettres» (L’Orphelin infortuné 1[8]), le héros, se retrouvant très tôt orphelin, doit apprendre à ruser pour vivre ; confié à la garde de frères et de sœurs hostiles, il ne peut que compter sur lui-même. Passant de maître en maître, il fait vite l’expérience du malheur et se trouve réduit, comme le picaro, à prendre la fortune comme elle vient, en essayant simplement, à force de fatalisme et de débrouillardise, de rendre sa vie supportable (548–549).

Serroy souligne que, comme dans Lazarillo de Tormes, l’orphelin est en permanence aux prises avec la faim et doit avoir recours à toutes sortes d’expédients simplement pour pouvoir se mettre quelque chose sous la dent[9]. Notons cependant que, comme le font bon nombre de critiques français dès qu’il s’agit de picaresque dans la littérature française, il prend soin de démarquer L’Orphelin infortuné du roman picaresque espagnol, précisant que, en dépit des conditions pénibles qu’il doit endurer, le héros n’est pas un gueux (supra), à l’instar de Lazarillo ou, plus tard, de Guzmán d’Alfarache, le héros du roman éponyme[10]de Mateo Alemán. L’orphelin se dit le fils d’un « grand homme de lettres »[11], ce qui, selon Serroy, le rattache à la bourgeoisie (548–549). Il faut constater toutefois que ce lien avec la bourgeoisie —et les milieux intellectuels— est extrêmement ténu et n’intervient pratiquement jamais dans l’existence du héros, laquelle demeure très peu éloignée de celle d’un gueux.

Dès le premier chapitre, l’orphelin expose son statut de victime perpétuelle, statut dont il n’arrivera à se libérer qu’à la fin du roman. Notons cependant que, loin d’adopter un ton pathétique, l’auteur préfère le mode enjoué, témoin l’incipit du roman :

Mon père fut un grand homme de lettres : non de ceux qui les portent pour les messagers, mais que la science rend illustres et dont la mémoire ne mourra jamais parmi ceux qui comme lui, auront l’honneur de s’attirer cette dignité par leurs mérites (1). 

Précisons que l’identité de ce « grand homme de lettres » ne sera jamais dévoilée, non plus que la mention à sa mort d’une quelconque bibliothèque ou d’un fonds érudit, pour affirmer sa profession. Le frontispice de l’édition originelle (1660) porte ce sous-titre « histoire comique et véritable[12] de ce temps ». L’ouvrage se réclame donc bien de cette veine réaliste de la première moitié du XVIIe siècle. Serroy consacre toute une section de sa thèse à ce qu’il appelle « le roman vrai » (271-285). Sans se référer à L’Orphelin infortuné, il précise que ce qu’un auteur comme André Mareschal[13], par exemple, entend comme la vérité, c’est le fait de traiter la fiction sur le même plan que celle-ci. En restant étroitement focalisé sur des événements et des personnages non seulement réalistes mais carrément terre-à-terre, Préfontaine se conforme précisément à cette notion, légitimant ainsi son sous-titre rhématique[14].

L’auteur établit très vite le cadre du récit, dans ce Paris de Louis XIII lequel, loin d’être un locus amoenus lui est, dès son jeune âge, un lieu de tourments et de misère :

Je pris naissance en Paris, la capitale des Gaules et ma vie, à ce que j’ai ouï dire plusieurs fois, étant lors trop jeune pour me souvenir de cet article, commença à être traversée par le changement de quatorze nourrices, dont trois tachées de ce mal que les Napolitains appellent mal français et quatre ou cinq fort adonnées à la liqueur bachique […] Étant donc hors des mains de la dernière et échappé plusieurs fois de celles de la mort, je ne sais comment, avec les soins de ma mère et le bon air des champs où elle me fit porter […] j’atteignis l’âge de cinq ans.  (7–8) 

Sa mère meurt bientôt, suivie de près dans la tombe par son père. A la mort de celui-ci, il est confié (vers l’âge de sept ans) à sa demi-sœur aînée, qui se révèle, avec son mari, d’une nature monstrueuse, poursuivant l’enfant d’une haine implacable. On reçoit de la part du héros-narrateur au chapitre II (11–12) une explication lucide et fort détaillée des traitements à lui infligés : les enfants d’un second mariage sont toujours traités avec hostilité par ceux du premier. A noter qu’il ne montre aucune amertume en exposant cette situation, mais fait preuve d’un détachement presque clinique, qui contribue à renforcer l’aspect picaresque du roman.

Sa vie n’est qu’une série de mauvais traitements, suivis d’un mariage malheureux et de tentatives ruineuses dans le commerce. On reviendra sur ce point. Le milieu dans lequel évolue le héros serait cauchemardesque, tragique même, si le cadre sordide et les mauvais traitements l’avaient rendu méchant et vindicatif. Mais ce n’est pas le cas ; l’orphelin s’arrange pour conserver sa bonne humeur malgré tout et, sans aller jusqu’à pardonner formellement[15] à ceux qui l’ont cruellement tourmenté dans son enfance et sa jeunesse, il n’exprime jamais ouvertement de haine pour eux.

L’auteur décrit sans la moindre indulgence la malpropreté physique qui régnait de manière quasi-universelle dans certains lieux de Paris et parmi certaines couches de la population et qui correspond bien ici à la méchanceté de sa demi-sœur, de son beau-frère et d’autres parents. Nous avons en particulier des descriptions assez saisissantes de la saleté repoussante de certains intérieurs, encore qu’il passe sous silence la « crotte » qui infectait rues et places, et dont certains historiens nous ont laissé une idée assez précise.  Comme on l’a dit plus haut, cette malpropreté  est concomitante avec les souffrances physiques et morales qu’endure l’orphelin de la part de sa parenté et de ceux qui sont chargés de son éducation : coups, brimades, privations, voire même la maladie et les accidents graves sont son lot quasi-quotidien.  Et pourtant, l’auteur précise dans l’avertissement « Au lecteur » :

Mais avec tous les désordres et fâcheux inconvénients qu’il a soutenus, s’étant même trouvé engagé contre son inclination en la fréquentation de plusieurs sortes de gens selon les rencontres, il n’a jamais fait aucune action qui ait pu ternir l’honneur de sa naissance, dont je suis obligé rendre témoignage en sa faveur, avertissant aussi de sa part le lecteur que cette histoire, où est fait un mélange du sérieux et du plaisant, ne lui est pas seulement donnée pour s’en divertir, mais pour en profiter si bon lui semble, sa principale intention étant de blâmer les vices et enseigner moyen de les éviter plutôt que celui de les mettre en usage (4).

L’intention didactique semble ici de convention, mais ce qui est important, c’est le pouvoir d’observation que manifeste l’auteur. Pour être à même d’exprimer, de verbaliser son observation du monde et des instances de désir qu’il y observe, le picaro doit lui-même refuser de s’investir dans le désir afin de conserver la lucidité nécessaire à sa narration. Autrement, il cesse de parler du monde pour ne parler que de lui-même. Paradoxe : tout en racontant à la première personne, le je parle de tout sauf du je[16], c’est-à-dire de ses propres pensées, émotions et sentiments.

Notons qu’en dépit de l’explicit du roman, qui est de l’auteur plutôt que du narrateur, l’orphelin se montre neutre : ni antireligieux, ni fervent.  On donne ci-dessous pour information les dernières paroles de Préfontaine, qu’il ne faut pas attribuer à l’orphelin (noter le discours à la troisième personne) :

L’emploi où présentement il s’occupe[17] et l’estime qu’il tâche de s’acquérir parmi les grands lui fait espérer que la mauvaise fortune se lasse de le traverser, mais comme nous devons tout remettre entre les mains de cette divine Providence, qui est inconnue aux hommes, dont la plus sage conduite n’est pas toujours la maîtresse des événements, s’il lui arrivait que, pensant prendre l’occasion aux cheveux, elle fût fardée et que s’échappant elle lui laissa seulement sa perruque, il s’en faudrait consoler ainsi que de tout le passé, dont je finirai ici le discours en disant pour l’avenir, comme les astrologues, Dieu sur tout (143).

Libertin ou  non, il demeure cependant difficile de nier les aspects les plus importants de la psychologie du héros, qui demeure libre de corruption morale en dépit de ses fréquentations, qui vont de sa famille cruelle aux prostituées et voleurs du Paris de Louis XIII, présenté comme une dystopie pour l’orphelin. Est-ce parce qu’il est un être de haute vertu, ou plutôt parce que faire autrement, c’est s’investir dans le désir et perdre par là son pouvoir verbalisateur ?

Si les mauvais traitements lui viennent surtout de sa famille, les filous et les prostituées, ainsi que les fils de famille dévoyés, avides de s’encanailler dans ce milieu interlope, et qui forment le plus clair de sa compagnie, sont, paradoxalement, plus supportables, lui offrant des occasions de manger et surtout de boire. Remis des graves blessures qu’il avait souffertes en se portant au secours de deux religieux maltraités par des ivrognes (117), l’orphelin se voit à nouveau dans le dénuement et obligé de vivre d’expédients. Tout en étant réduit à fréquenter la racaille, il ne manque pas de préciser :

Puis, ne sachant de quel bois faire flèche, il me fallut continuer à vivre d’invention. Je me remis à chercher l’occasion et à hanter toutes sortes de gens, m’empêchant pourtant de faire aucune action qui me pût apporter du déshonneur[18] car pour le reste, ma vie était souvent à la pointe de l’épée qui, ne ressemblant point à ceux qui ont pris médecine, n’appréhendait point l’air.  (121)

Il faut d’abord noter qu’il considère, comme on l’a dit, les plus basses classes de la société comme plus charitables ou du moins plus bienveillantes que sa propre parenté. Durant sa maladie et sa convalescence, sa demi-sœur ne lui avait pas apporté le moindre secours. Ensuite, on constate que, bien que menant (par nécessité) une vie de gueux, il porte néanmoins une épée (réservée aux nobles en principe), dont il s’était servi pour venir au secours des moines —sans succès, puisqu’il avait été mis à mal lui-même.  L’auteur mêle ainsi habilement réalité et métaphore, puisque l’expression « à la pointe de l’épée » signifie « difficilement, par le moyen d’expédients ». On trouve cette expression dans la fable de La Fontaine Le Loup et le Chien (Livre I, vv. 19–20). Le chien rappelle au loup sa condition précaire ; trouver à manger est toujours problématique :

Car quoi ? rien d’assuré : point de franche lippée
Tout à la pointe de l’épée.

C’est précisément le lot de l’orphelin, pour qui chaque repas, chaque verre de vin constitue un obstacle à surmonter, et dont il ne triomphe souvent que dans la compagnie des marginaux.

Filous et prostituées vont de pair. Ce n’est pas gratuitement que Préfontaine présente celles-ci au lecteur.  L’orphelin note qu’elles sont renfermées dans ce qu’il appelle un banc à coucher[19], meuble qu’il reconnaît (en dépit de sa décrépitude) comme celui où il couchait lui-même lorsqu’il avait été mis chez le maître à écrire, dans sa jeunesse (infra).

Loin de porter un jugement moral sur ces « classes criminelles », il dépeint les prostituées non comme de mauvaises femmes, mais comme de pauvres filles à la merci à la fois de leur maquerelle et de la police[20].  Les artifices auxquels elles ont recours pour aguicher le client inspirent la pitié plutôt que la luxure. L’emprisonnement de l’une d’entre elles donnera lieu à une chanson, vraisemblablement composée, comme une ou deux autres dans l’ouvrage, par l’auteur lui-même, et qu’on pourrait intituler Les Putains-s’en-vont-en-guerre :

La Repaire, au désespoir,
De ce qu’on l’a mise en cage,
Jure qu’elle fera voir
Que ses gens ont du courage,
Qu’elle fera rallier
La plupart de son gibier
Pour faire une compagnie
Des filles de l’industrie.

La Haynaut lui a promis
Faire plusieurs compagnies,
Des putains du temps jadis,
Qui sont ses bonnes amies.
Elle prendra la Franchon,
La Saint-Arnou, la Nanon,
La Charpentier, la Normande,
La du Bois et la Flamande.

Louison et la Canadas
Passeront pour volontaires.
La Hubert, la Saint-Thomas
Ne demeurent pas derrière.
La du Verger, la Forêts
Disent qu’elles iront après
Pour achever ce voyage :
Ce sont mules de bagage. (123–124)

Comme l’on peut voir, cette chanson (dont le texte original ne donne pas la musique) reflète à la fois une certaine verve populaire et fournit un aperçu sociologique  —si mince soit-il— des attitudes des prostituées, qui de toute évidence ne se laissaient pas faire par les forces de l’ordre sans regimber ; les noms ou sobriquets que mentionne l’auteur correspondraient peut-être à des personnes ayant réellement vécu, si l’on s’en tient à ce que dit la notice du Dictionnaire des Lettres françaises  sur son mode de vie[21]. Si tant est qu’on puisse parler de libertinage dans ce roman,  celui de l’orphelin se borne à décrire la corruption morale qui l’entoure, sans porter de jugement dessus et sans s’y immiscer lui-même, ce qui lui permet de demeurer libre d’observer cet environnement et de le commenter.

Sans vouloir présenter L’Orphelin infortuné comme un ouvrage sur l’anthropologie de la délinquance au XVIIe siècle, il est quand même intéressant de noter les exemples et les variations de criminalité (outre la prostitution) que cite l’auteur. Depuis les voleurs de paquets et de paniers qui guettent les provinciaux au débarqué des bateaux ou à l’arrivée des coches jusqu’aux fausses servantes qui, un tison éteint à la main, font semblant de chercher du feu pour s’introduire dans les maisons et les dévaliser, en passant par la femme prétendument enceinte qui va avec une compagne chez une sage-femme pour se faire examiner pendant que la complice fait main basse sur tout ce qu’elle peut, Préfontaine offre un échantillonnage instructif sur les pratiques crapuleuses de l’époque (124–126), sciemment juxtaposé à l’aperçu précédent sur les pratiques de prostitution.  Il demeure cependant muet sur les meurtres qui devaient se produire régulièrement, surtout à la faveur de la nuit, dans les quartiers mal famés de Paris. Pour cela, on peut consulter l’Histoire générale des larrons, de François de Calvi[22].

La corruption, la cruauté, l’avarice vont de pair avec les conditions physiques de malpropreté, dans lesquelles évolue le personnage principal (et les autres aussi, bien sûr…). Inutile de chercher une attitude philosophique : Préfontaine semble éviter sciemment de présenter de quelconques personnages qui puissent faire pendant, soit à l’orphelin, soit aux autres qui peuplent le roman, pour formuler une idéologie qui transcende le sordide quotidien, ce qui tendrait à confirmer le manque d’intention didactique véritable (supra).

Pour l’auteur la malpropreté physique de l’environnement où fonctionne son protagoniste va de soi, c’est pourquoi sans doute il n’en parle pas en détail, ce qui est peut-être une lacune, mais permet d’autre part au lecteur contemporain d’exercer son imagination. On peut aussi se reporter à Furetière, qui un peu plus explicite sur la condition répugnante des rues dans Le Roman Bourgeois (925–927), sorti 6 ans après L’Orphelin infortuné. Mais Furetière ne manifeste aucune velléité de promouvoir l’hygiène publique : ses allusions sont là surtout pour mettre en relief le ridicule du Marquis. C’est pourquoi on doit avoir recours à des sources historiques plutôt que littéraires contemporaines.

On commencera par parler de ces conditions d’hygiène, au double point de vue personnel et urbain. Dans Le Propre et le sale (q.v.), Georges Vigarello met à l’origine de l’abstention de bains et de ses conséquences les épidémies de peste qui sévissaient en Europe aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles (15–16). Sous l’influence des médecins, les pouvoirs publics interdisent l’usage des étuves (bains publics), établies en grand nombre dans les villes principales depuis le XIIe siècle, selon l’article de Monique Closson (1). Pourquoi ? Parce que, selon la Faculté, l’eau chaude dilate les pores et facilite l’entrée de l’air infecté de peste dans le corps.  Vigarello note que, tout en reconnaissant la valeur curative des stations thermales, chose acceptée depuis les Romains, aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles les autorités médicales affirment que l’eau combinée avec la chaleur ouvre le corps à l’invasion de toutes sortes de pathologies, outre la peste (19). Ajoutons que l’Église favorisait elle aussi la fermeture de ces étuves, à cause de la promiscuité sexuelle et de la prostitution qui y régnaient depuis le Moyen Âge.

On peut trouver dans L’Orphelin infortuné deux petits épisodes qui renseignent assez bien le lecteur sur la pratique assez commune de vider les pots de chambre par la fenêtre. Tous deux, au chapitre XIII, mêlent de façon assez révoltante l’amour et l’excrément. Le premier affecte l’orphelin lui-même, qui va soupirer sous les fenêtres d’Aurore, la sœur de son ami, pour laquelle il a conçu (pour la première et la seule fois de sa vie), un véritable amour. Malheureusement, voici comment se solde cette aventure :

 Un soir entre autres, ces gens[23], ayant assurément fait excrémenter chez eux tous ceux de leur connaissance, prirent l’occasion juste de me faire avec ce puant amas non seulement un bonnet de merde, mais l’habillement complet, dans l’espace de deux rues, où je ne puis croire que je ne fusse guetté. (77)

Ce n’est pas seulement une fois, mais sept qu’il se voit la cible de pareils projectiles. Cela indique que c’est la nuit qu’on déversait systématiquement par les fenêtres le contenu des pots de chambre et autres ordures. L’orphelin, c’est le cas de le dire ici, est vraiment infortuné.

Le deuxième consiste en un petit poème qui se veut galant, composé par un ami du héros et dédié à sa belle à lui, et dont voici les deuxième et troisième strophes :

Hier au soir marchant à tâtons[24]
Comme un aveugle sans bâton,
J’arrivai auprès de ta porte
Où une sorcière à sabbat,
Emplit ma tête et mon rabat
D’une puante bourguignotte[25].

Je quittai aussitôt l’amour
Et sans attendre qu’il fût jour
Je retournai dans ma tanière,
Où me fallut changer d’habit,
Donnant au diable le déduit,
La maison et la chambrière. (78–79)

Pour avoir une idée plus générale, cependant, de l’état des rues de Paris sous Louis XIII, il faut se tourner vers l’ouvrage d’Émile Magne sur la vie quotidienne au temps de ce monarque (q.v.) pour se figurer ce que les Parisiens devaient endurer à cette époque. En dépit des efforts du roi pour assainir les rues[26], elles restent immondes. Relevons ce passage :

La puanteur subsiste. La boue ou, pour parler comme les gens du siècle, la « crotte », englue vite le pavé nouvellement posé qui disparaît bientôt sous elle. Elle résiste au balayage et au lavage. Subtil mélange de crottins laissés sur la chaussée par les chevaux, ânes, mulets, bestiaux qui y circulent par myriades, de fumiers débordant des caves et des écuries, de gravois[27] sortis des ateliers et chantiers de construction, de détritus végétaux jetés au hasard par les herbagers forains, de résidus organiques expulsés des écorcheries, tueries et tanneries, le tout pétri sous les roues d’innombrables véhicules, avec la fange des ruisseaux où croupissent les déjections des éviers et des latrines, elle forme, au dire des contemporains, une « moutarde » noirâtre de senteur à la fois cadavérique et sulfureuse, piquante aux narines (24–25).

Roland Mousnier dans son histoire de la capitale (q.v.) observe que cette saleté généralisée nuisait même au commerce et donc au fonctionnement économique de la capitale, qui comptait sur ses différents ports fluviaux pour la plupart des denrées alimentaires consommées par les Parisiens : « En effet [dit-il], les bords de la Seine étaient envasés, remplis d’immondices » (195), ce qui gênait l’abordage des bateaux amenant les denrées alimentaires dans la capitale.

Cent ans plus tard, les choses n’ont pas vraiment changé, comme on peut s’en rendre compte à la lecture du roman de Patrick Süskind Le Parfum (q.v.). L’auteur laisse une description olfactive saisissante du Paris de 1738, donnée ici à titre d’indication, pour confirmer ce que dit Émile Magne du Paris d’un siècle auparavant.  Description romancée bien sûr, mais à la lecture de l’ouvrage, on voit que Süskind s’est bien documenté :

A l’époque dont nous parlons, il régnait dans les villes une puanteur à peine imaginable pour les modernes que nous sommes. Les rues puaient le fumier, les arrière-cours puaient l’urine, les cages d’escalier puaient le bois moisi et la crotte de rat, les cuisines le chou pourri et la graisse de mouton; les pièces d’habitation mal aérées puaient la poussière renfermée, les chambres à coucher puaient les draps graisseux, les courtepointes moites et le remugle âcre des pots de chambre. Les cheminées crachaient une puanteur de soufre. Les tanneries la puanteur de leurs bains corrosifs, et les abattoirs la puanteur du sang caillé. Les gens puaient la sueur et les vêtements non lavés; leurs bouches puaient les dents gâtées, leurs estomacs puaient le jus d’oignons, et leurs corps, dès qu’ils n’étaient plus tout jeunes, puaient le vieux fromage et le lait aigre et les tumeurs éruptives. Les rivières puaient, les places puaient, les églises puaient, cela puait sous les ponts et dans les palais. Le paysan puait comme le prêtre, le compagnon tout comme l’épouse de son maître artisan, la noblesse puait du haut jusqu’en bas, et le roi lui-même puait, il puait comme un fauve et la reine comme une vieille chèvre. Été comme hiver. Car en ce XVIIIe siècle, l’activité délétère des bactéries ne rencontrait encore aucune limite, aussi n’y avait-il aucune activité humaine, qu’elle fût constructive ou destructive, aucune manifestation de la vie en germe ou bien à son déclin, qui ne fût accompagnée de puanteur (9–10).

Il faut noter toutefois que Louis-Sébastien Mercier peint une image fort différente dans son Tableau de Paris (1781), versant olfactif en moins (sauf pour les cheminées). Poétiquement, il dote la capitale de toutes sortes d’attraits dont Magne, Mousnier, Süskind font abstraction. Mais en fait sa description, qui présente le Paris de la fin du XVIIIe siècle, est assez idéalisée pour qu’on puisse dire qu’elle n’est pas très réaliste.

Pour en revenir à L’Orphelin infortuné, c’est au chapitre III que le lecteur est confronté explicitement pour la première fois dans le roman à la malpropreté physique qui entoure le héros.  Ayant été mis en pension chez un maître à écrire de la plus basse classe possible, il décrit ainsi la chambre où il va coucher :

Il y avait avec lui [le maître à écrire chez qui il est mis en pension] une bonne vieille femme qui était sa mère. Il lui donna ordre de me faire coucher et elle me montra le lit qu’on m’avait préparé, qui était une invention faite comme une paire d’armoires, que l’on appelle un banc à coucher, puis elle se retira en un méchant grabat, derrière un morceau de natte volante pendue au plancher[28], qui séparait son alcôve d’avec l’appartement de Monsieur son fils, qui était une chambre du quatrième étage, tapissée d’araignées[29] en quelques endroits et en d’autres de vieux crachats, à qui le temps avait fait prendre diverses figures (15). 

Le roman mentionne également que le logement de ce maître à écrire était si enfumé qu’il l’appelle renardière, c’est-à-dire une tanière de renard[30], sans doute à cause de cheminées tirant mal. Le décor et l’ameublement sordides contrastent avec ce que nous apprend Émile Magne, qui consacre une partie du chapitre IV de son ouvrage au décor et à l’ameublement de la maison bourgeoise et aristocratique à Paris[31]. Ce qu’il ne mentionne pas, c’est l’état ordinaire de propreté des lieux. Il ne nous est donc pas possible de porter un jugement sur ce point à partir de données historiques, contrairement à l’état des rues. On peut supposer que les logements des classes plus aisées ou aristocratiques étaient balayés plus ou moins régulièrement, ce qui ne semble même pas être le cas ici. Le texte  fait mention d’un balai qui a beaucoup servi et que le beau-frère du héros éponyme emploie pour le battre (11). Mais on peut se rapporter aux citations de Magne et de Süskind pour supposer que la toute petite-bourgeoisie, à plus forte raison les classes ouvrières, était assez peu pointilleuse sur les questions de propreté (voir supra le mur constellé de crachats séchés).

L’avarice peut aussi se considérer comme faisant partie des désordres ou de la malpropreté morale auxquels est exposé l’orphelin. Le narrateur offre un échantillonnage détaillé de celle de l’épouse du maître à écrire de l’orphelin.  Que ce soit la viande sur le point de se gâter qu’elle va acheter le jeudi soir à bas prix[32], les tripes mal cuites à dessein pour en limiter la consommation et les poissons qu’elle prépare exprès sans les vider pour qu’on en mange aussi peu que possible, les œufs fêlés et à moitié vides, le lecteur a sous les yeux toute une gamme de pratiques plutôt répugnantes dont le but est de dépenser le moins possible et surtout sur l’orphelin, de façon à économiser au maximum sur sa pension. S’il n’est pas battu chez son maître à écrire, il y est souvent traité en serviteur plutôt qu’en élève et si peu et si mal nourri qu’il est obligé de faire de menus travaux dans le voisinage afin de se payer de quoi manger (25).

Ouvrons ici une parenthèse pour parler de l’innovation narrative et descriptive qui marque L’Orphelin infortuné. Pour cela, il faut se rapporter à l’archétype des histoires comiques, c’est-à-dire l’Histoire comique de Francion (1623). Dans le Troisième Livre, nous faisons connaissance avec le pédant Hortensius, dont Sorel présente de façon comique la ridicule prétention. Il est aussi parcimonieux que la femme du maître à écrire de l’orphelin, rognant au possible sur les frais de nourriture de ses élèves et s’attirant par là toutes sortes de tours de la part de ceux-ci, spécialement Francion (171–180). Ce qui distingue L’Orphelin infortuné  du Francion, toutefois, c’est le degré extrême d’avarice de la femme du maître et le récit aussi sordide que détaillé que donne l’auteur de la manière dont elle s’y prend pour soit nourrir au moindre coût soit même carrément affamer non seulement le héros, mais aussi la petite servante qu’elle a fait venir de la campagne et qu’elle traite au moins aussi mal que son pensionnaire (19). L’âpreté au gain de la femme du maître dépasse de loin la pingrerie somme toute assez comique d’Hortensius. Contrairement au pédant du Francion, qui pourrait passer pour avoir des préoccupations intellectuelles, elle est totalement terre-à-terre, n’ayant en vue que son commerce (elle est marchande de bois à brûler) et l’obsession, voire l’acharnement, de dépenser le moins possible, choses que Préfontaine rapporte avec assez de détail pour donner à penser qu’il s’est documenté d’après des situations véritables, faisant ainsi preuve de plus de réalisme que la plupart de ses confrères auteurs d’histoires comiques. Non seulement on ne voit pas cette avarice concentrée, morne et sans joie dans le Francion[33], mais elle est virtuellement absente d’autres histoires comiques, notamment Le Gascon extravagant, d’O. S. de Claireville (1637) et Le Page disgracié, de Tristan (1642)[34]. J. Serroy n’évoque pas non plus ce topos dans Roman et réalité. D’ailleurs, si Sorel —et, à un moindre degré, Tristan— dépeignent l’avarice surtout dans le but d’en faire la satire, Préfontaine, lui, la donne comme faisant partie de la vie quotidienne, sans aucun commentaire social ou moral.

Si l’avarice, surtout à ce point exacerbé, est un vice moral grave, la saleté physique y constitue un parallèle indéniable. On constate au chapitre IX que, de retour chez sa sœur aînée, il retombe malade. La méchante femme le fait mettre dans une chambre dont voici la description :

Ce taudis où l’on m’avait porté était un petit nid à rats, duquel il y avait à un coin deux ou trois pièces de bois scellées dans la muraille qui composaient un lit, avec de la paille tout usée, menue et pourrie de l’humidité d’une gouttière et tout proche il avait une petite fenêtre au-dessus de l’ouverture d’un privé qui n’était jamais bouché et m’envoyait de très désagréables vapeurs. Ce fut donc là le beau logement qui m’était marqué et où j’ai depuis ce temps-là couché plus de deux ans, ce qui m’a causé de grandes fluctions (57).

Il ajoute que les seuls temps où il n’est pas battu sont ceux durant lesquels il est malade, ce qui lui arrive bien souvent, jusque dans l’âge adulte.

Il ne tombe vraiment amoureux qu’une seule fois dans sa vie (Chs. XII–XIII) et encore cet amour est loin d’être payé de retour. Mais même le rôle d’amoureux transi lui est refusé.  On a parlé plus haut de la relation entre l’amour et l’excrément à laquelle l’auteur semble vouloir donner l’apparence de cause à effet. Après la première douche excrémentielle qu’il subit (supra), une deuxième achève de décourager ses entreprises amoureuses :

Mais ce fut bien pis quand, proche de cette maison dont souvent je me satisfaisais de contempler les dehors, je me sentis accablé non de la vidange d’un bassin à chaire percée, mais je crois d’une cuve entière de toutes sortes de puanteurs parmi lesquelles il y avait quantité de morceaux de verre et de bouteilles cassées, qui me pensèrent diffamer le visage (77).

Ses déboires sont loin de s’arrêter là.  On pourrait penser que son arrivée à l’âge adulte (25 ans) annoncerait la fin de ses malheurs (Ch. XV). Les deux événements qui normalement signifient prospérité et bonheur, c’est-à-dire sa réception dans la corporation des marchands et son mariage sont au contraire un tremplin qui fait rebondir ses malheurs. Sa parenté l’exploite et finit par le mener à la ruine. Quant à la femme qu’il épouse, voici ce qu’il en dit :

Après que j’eus été quelque temps en boutique, je songeai, mais à la male heure et trop tôt pour moi, à me marier. Il se rencontra des occasions avantageuses que mes parents, qui avaient dessein de me voir un jour gueux, détournèrent par leur médisance, mais ils ne s’opposèrent nullement à celle qui fut la cause de ma ruine car j’épousai une fille qui, ayant été mal élevée avec un beau-père avare, grand chicaneur et mal accommodé de biens et une mère qui avait l’esprit comme aliéné, se trouva si mal moriginée[35], qu’elle me donna beaucoup de peine. Elle n’avait aucun sens ni raison et n’en voulait point écouter. Nous avions souvent bruit pour sa grossièreté de langage et elle me disait qu’elle ne voulait pas être gromandée et passer pour ma vassarde, au lieu de dire gourmandée et vassale. Je lui dis une fois qu’elle assommait Ronsard. Elle me répondit qu’elle se moquait de Ronflard, que Ronflard ne lui donnait pas à déneret que je la voulais mettre aux cendres de la terre, pour dire le centre. Enfin au lieu du sommet de la tête, elle voulait que ce fût le sommeil, à cause que quand elle s’endormait, sa tête, disait-elle, se trouvait appesantie (96).

Non seulement elle est sotte et inculte, mais aussi acariâtre et querelleuse, vivant en mauvaise entente perpétuelle avec son mari et une demi-sœur de celui-ci qu’il a recueillie. Cette famille ne durera pas longtemps, le fils que lui donne sa femme étant emporté par la petite vérole à l’âge de onze mois et la femme elle-même peu après, par l’hydropisie.  Cette mort achève de le ruiner.

Il faut noter en passant que cette déformation grotesque de Ronsard en Ronflard est bien la seule référence qui puisse passer pour littéraire dans tout le texte, même si l’allusion implique qu’il ait connaissance de l’œuvre du poète et qu’il en ait fait mention à sa femme. Nulle part ailleurs il n’est fait mention de lui ou de toute autre figure littéraire. Le lien avec la bourgeoisie lettrée que lui attribue Serroy est non seulement, comme on l’a dit plus haut, ténu jusqu’à l’inexistence, mais l’orphelin n’en manifeste aucune conscience, à moins que l’on veuille arguer que son refus de s’encanailler ne soit dû à cette conscience de classe. Malheureusement, il n’existe aucune preuve textuelle de cela.

La malpropreté au physique et au moral, toujours présentes, font de l’environnement urbain une espèce de Cour des Miracles, notamment au chapitre XVII, où l’orphelin  loge, après la ruine de son commerce, dans un immonde galetas en compagnie de trois anciens soldats n’ayant qu’un bras à eux trois et manquant d’un certain nombre de jambes, et qu’il nomme par dérision « demi-chrétiens » (114–115).

Pour sortir de ce lieu insupportable, il cherche à se renflouer en mettant à profit ses connaissances en écriture au Palais de justice. Cette tentative n’aboutit pas (127). On peut la considérer à la fois comme un rappel de son ascendance et une nouvelle marque de la dégradation de sa vie par rapport à celle de son père : le fils de l’homme de lettres ne réussit même pas à être écrivain public ! En fait, même si l’on considère que ce métier pourrait à la rigueur constituer un tremplin —quelque humble qu’il soit— vers l’accès à un statut bourgeois —quelque inférieur qu’il soit— l’orphelin n’arrive pas à amasser assez d’argent pour pouvoir s’élever au-dessus des nécessités quotidiennes de la survie, en butte comme il l’est —ainsi que beaucoup de ses semblables— à l’hostilité des confrères plus anciens, qui veillent jalousement sur leurs privilèges et ne laissent aux plus jeunes que les miettes.

Après cette nouvelle déconfiture, il va connaître bien d’autres péripéties, dont un voyage en Allemagne via les Provinces-Unies pour recueillir la succession d’un frère défunt[36], avant de se caser définitivement comme maître d’hôtel chez un noble parisien et se mariera pour la deuxième fois, sans amour ni joie (ni sans doute plaisir non plus), mais du moins la relation semble stable[37]. Reprenant la parole à la fin de l’ouvrage, l’auteur met (ou remet) en relief  l’honnêteté foncière de l’orphelin :

Et après tout, supposez que ce soit l’histoire d’un particulier, vous trouverez que ses misères étaient capables de le porter à d’étranges extrémités s’il n’avait eu beaucoup de retenue, dont il doit rendre de particulières grâces à Celui qui distribue le don des vertus (142–143).

Du XIXe siècle jusque bien avant dans le XXe, L’Orphelin infortuné fut considéré par certains critiques comme de la sous-littérature ou même de la non-littérature, comme il l’a sans doute été du temps de sa parution. Et, il faut bien reconnaître, le texte présente de nombreuses lacunes et d’inexplicables raccourcis, tout en s’appesantissant sur certains détails somme toute assez banals et qui n’ajoutent pas grand-chose à l’intérêt du texte. Pourtant, si l’on veut se faire une idée de la vie d’un individu des classes inférieures de la société, comme de son environnement physique sordide, dans les années 1620–1640, on aurait du mal à trouver un récit plus authentique, avec tout son pessimisme et son fatalisme, que celui de Préfontaine.

University of Georgia







Ouvrages cités ou consultés

Assaf, Francis. « Le picaresque dans Le Page disgracié de Tristan l’Hermite » Dix-septième siècle, 1979 (4): 339-47.

Calvi, François de. Histoire générale des larrons. Paris : Thomas de La Ruelle, 1628 & Veuve Rigaud, 1640.

Closson, Monique. « Propre comme au Moyen-Age ». Historama, n° 40, 1987. http://medieval.mrugala.net/Bains/Bains.htm

Dictionnaire des Lettres françaisesXVIIe siècle. Édition entièrement révisée sous la direction de Patrick Dandrey.  Paris : Librairie Générale Française (La Pochothèque), 1996.

Furetière, Antoine. Le Roman bourgeois. In Romanciers du XVIIe siècle. Antoine Adam, éd. Paris : Gallimard (Pléiade), 1973.

Magne, Émile. La vie quotidienne au temps de Louis XIII. Paris : Hachette, 1942.

Mercier, Louis-Sébastien. Tableau de Paris (8 tomes). Amsterdam (s.n.), 1782–1783.

Mousnier, Roland.  Paris capitale au temps de Richelieu et de Mazarin.  Paris : Éditions A. Pédone, 1978.

Préfontaine, César-François Oudin de. L’Orphelin infortuné, ou le portrait du bon frère.  Texte établi, présenté et annoté par Francis Assaf. Toulouse : Société de littératures classiques, 1991.

Serroy, Jean.  Roman et réalité : les histoires comiques au XVIIe siècle. Paris : Minard, 1981.

Sorel, Charles.  Histoire comique de Francion.  Pp. 61–527 in Romanciers du XVIIe siècle. Antoine Adam, éd. Paris : Gallimard (Pléiade), 1973.

Süskind, Patrick.  Le Parfum : histoire d’un meurtrier.  Traduit de l’allemand par Bernard Lortholary.  Paris : Librairie Générale Française (Le Livre de Poche), 1993.

Tristan L’Hermite. Le Page disgracié.  Texte établi par Jean Serroy.  Grenoble : Presses Universitaire de Grenoble, 1981.

Vigarello, Georges. Le Propre et le sale. Paris : Seuil, 1985.

[1]La notice du Dictionnaire des Lettres françaises —XVIIe siècle  (1008) donne un titre erroné: Les Avantages… C’est clairement une coquille.

[2] Une remarque au chapitre V précise qu’il est victime d’un accident survenu au cours des réjouissances célébrant la prise de La Rochelle par les armées royales sous la conduite de Louis XIIIet de Richelieu (29 octobre 1628).

[3]Originellement de René Bray, révisée par Emmanuel Bury et Jean Serroy (1008).

[4]Également connu sous le pseudonyme de « Bibliophile Jacob ». Romancier, historien et bibliothécaire.

[5]Serroy ne relève pas la fin en fausse ouverture comme un aspect contribuant au caractère picaresque d’un roman, mais il évoque abondamment d’autres aspects de la narration. Voir citation infra.

[6]Anonyme (attribué par plusieurs critiques à Diego Hurtado de Mendoza — 1503–1575), Burgos 1554.

[7]Préfontaine a fort bien pu connaître le roman, paru en édition bilingue (espagnol-français) à Paris en 1601, chez Nicolas et Pierre Bonfons. A noter que Serroy ne fait pas mention de cette édition.

[8]La référence est de moi.

[9]Préfontaine explicite d’ailleurs cela au chapitre V, en faisant commenter à son héros les privations de nourriture presque quotidiennes qui lui sont infligées (31).

[10]Vida del pícaro Guzmán de Alfarache. Madrid, 1599–1604.

[11] Voir citation infra.

[12] Les italiques sont de moi.

[13] (16 ??–16 ?? — La Chrysolite, ou le Secret des romans —1634)

[14] Si un titre thématique parle du sujet du livre, un (sous)titre rhématique parle de sa forme.

[15]En dépit de l’explicit du roman : « Dieu sur tout »  (qui est clairement de l’auteur et non du personnage), ni le héros, ni les autres personnages (y compris les membres du clergé), ne manifestent une inclination religieuse sensible.

[16] Pour éviter d’alourdir le présent texte par une longue digression, je renverrai le lecteur à la section de l’introduction de mon édition s’intitulant « Les règles du je » (Introduction, xx–xxi).

[17]Il est maître d’hôtel d’un grand seigneur parisien.

[18] Les italiques sont de moi.

[19] L’auteur décrit cet objet comme « une paire d’armoires », sans élaborer (15).  L’expression ne se trouve pas dans le Dictionnaire universel. Une recherche électronique sur le site du Conservatoire national des Arts et Métiers (www.cnam.fr) n’a rien donné non plus.

[20] Une ordonnance de 1689 signée par Louis XIV punit les prostituées qui se trouveraient en compagnie de soldats en leur fendant le nez et les oreilles.

[21] L’article « prostitution » du Dictionnaire du Grand Siècle (1264–1265) porte surtout sur les efforts de répression et de réhabilitation des prostituées, tout en rapportant —sans donner de détails— les causes de la prostitution au chômage féminin

[22] L’édition de 1640 est plus élaborée que celle de 1628.

[23] Les voisins des parents d’Aurore.

[24]L’ordonnance royale prévoyant l’installation de lanternes aux coins et au milieu de toutes les rues de Paris date du 2 septembre 1667. Voir le site http://www.geopedia.fr/eclairage-public.htmInterrogé le 10 septembre 2012.

[25] Selon le Dictionnaire universel, une bourguignotte est une « arme deffensive pour couvrir la tête d’un homme de guerre» T. I, p. 268 (c’est-à-dire une sorte de casque). Comme on s’en doute, la « bourguignotte » de la chanson est formée d’excréments.

[26] Les rues principales de Paris sont pavées dès 1184, à l’initiative de Philippe-Auguste.  Voir http://www.planete-echo.net/CollecteParis/EugenePoubelle.html. Interrogé le 28 décembre 2010.

[27] Gravats.

[28] Plafond.

[29] Toiles d’araignées.

[30] Une façon de prendre les renards était de les enfumer dans leur terrier.

[31] Il s’est documenté à partir d’inventaires de notaires, d’archives et de plans de l’époque.

[32] Les boucheries sont obligatoirement fermées le vendredi.

[33] On relève une remarque en passant sur l’avarice des paysans dans le Sixième livre (272–273) et le personnage de l’avare Du Buisson aux Huitième et Neuvième livres.

[34] Il parle dans la troisième partie d’un « avare libéral », mais c’est surtout un paradoxe.

[35] Élevée.

[36] Nous sommes alors en 1635. Richelieu a signé avec la Hollande un traité d’alliance offensive et défensive contre l’Espagne le 8 février de la même année.

[37] En fait, le texte ne donne aucun détail sur ce mariage : ni sur la cérémonie, ni sur l’épouse, ni sur les raisons qui ont porté le héros à se remarier.

( categories: )
Syndicate content