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Denounced by her contemporaries as a political schemer and religious fanatic, Maintenon has long been criticized as an opponent of gender equality. The writings in this volume faithfully reflect Maintenon's respect for social hierarchy and her stoic call for women to accept the duties of their state in life. But the writings also echo Maintenon's more feminist concerns: the need to redefine the virtues in the light of women's experience, the importance of naming the constraints on women's freedom, and the urgent need to remedy the scandalous neglect of the education of women.
In her writings as well as in her own model school at Saint-Cyr, Maintenon embodies the demand for educational reform as the key to the empowerment of women at the dawn of modernity.
VOLUME EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION
Composed for classroom performance by older pupils at Saint-Cyr, Maintenon's dramatic dialogues constitute one of the theatrical genres used by Maintenon in her schema of education. At the beginning of instruction at the academy, Maintenon had used written dialogues composed by the headmistress Madame de Brinon and by the novelist Mademoiselle de Scudéry. But in her reaction against the worldliness of the original Saint-Cyr curriculum, Maintenon had eliminated the neoclassical sketches as too pagan and too frivolous. As a substitute, she wrote dozens of her own dramatic dialogues, miniature morality plays designed to inculcate a particular virtue deemed essential for the students.
Most of the dialogues attempt to clarify a moral quality to be cultivated by the student audience. Justice, courage, prudence, temperance, piety, wit, and glory are among the virtues debated in the following dialogues. Maintenon's presentation of the virtues follows certain patterns of argumentation. Attentive to the gender of her audience, Maintenon repeatedly transforms the meaning of a virtue from its traditional masculine associations to traits specific to the experience of women. On True Glory presents glory as the endurance of the homemaker. On True Wit celebrates authentic wit as a capacity to serve others in different situations. Refuting the theory that only men can acquire courage, On Courage illustrates the nonmartial exercise of the virtue by women in the school and in the home.
On True Glory typifies Maintenon's technique in the gendered transposition of virtue. Rooted in the Greek classics, the virtue of glory (gloire) was commonly interpreted in the Renaissance as the attribute of a person who had achieved renown through public service. So frequently was the service of a military nature that the term gloire militaire had become a standard phrase. Banned from the military and most sectors of civic life, women were not considered proper subjects for the possession of gloire. In On True Glory Maintenon contests the male bias surrounding the virtue by redefining it and by providing a new narrative for it, rooted in the distinctive experience of women. Maintenonian glory is the courage to maintain one's honor against the temptation to moral compromise. The exemplars of glory are no longer warriors and statesmen. They are the maid who refuses a bribe and the spinster who refuses an immoral suitor. Against the traditional patriarchal cast of the virtues, Maintenon reconceptualizes the virtues in terms of the history of women, especially impoverished women. But rather than insisting that women pursue virtue by entering traditionally male domains of action, Maintenon chronicles how women pursue the virtues differently in a sphere of action proper to their gender alone.
Maintenon's dialogues also frankly depict the typical constraints faced by women. On the Necessity of Dependence skewers the adolescent fantasy of the freedom that beckons after the end of studies. It details the social demands that will severely limit the freedom of any woman, whether single, or married, or widowed. On the Drawbacks of Marriage similarly studies the constraints governing both the convent and marriage, the destinations of the vast majority of women. For Maintenon, the experience of dependence and restriction is not limited to women alone. As she argues in On Constraint, the king himself, like all men and women, must suffer the painful limitations on his personal freedom created by religion, law, custom, and the daily demands of his state in life.
Maintenon's dialogues reflect her ambiguity on ethical issues related to social class. If many of the dialogues celebrate a hierarchical social order by their emphasis on deference, many of them also insist that moral value is distinct from, indeed often opposed to, material wealth and social rank. On Eminence exalts the moral worth of a commoner who becomes a general on the basis of merit while it mocks the aristocrat who flatters himself on account of his birth. This hesitation on the value of social hierarchy reflects Maintenon's own embittered relationship with a blood aristocracy who despised her as a low-born upstart. It also reflects Louis XIV's controversial policy of ennobling commoners who had served the throne meritoriously and in reducing the privileges of the ancient French nobility, defined by its ancestry.
The dialogues follow a similar structure. Several female characters discuss a moral dilemma of obvious concern to adolescent women of aristocratic background. Part of the effectiveness of the plays lies in Maintenon's skillful use of her characters as projections of her adolescent audience's typical beliefs, questions, and anxieties about the future. The dialogues usually debate the meaning of a specific virtue essential for women of such a social rank. Maintenon often employs the distinguo to explore subtle gradations of meaning behind an abstract term. On True Glory, for example, carefully studies different meanings of the term as it establishes the opposition between "true" and "false" glory.
To illustrate her moral point, Maintenon frequently uses an edifying narrative, often the tale of an impoverished person who overcomes social obstacles through mastery of the virtue under discussion. In numerous dialogues the edifying tale becomes thinly disguised autobiography. In On Privilege, the mysterious "Lady" with a hidden role in court affairs is obviously Maintenon herself. In On Constraint, Louis XIV's daily routine is depicted as a type of genteel martyrdom, lovingly recounted by a court insider. Several of the dialogues are little more than royalist propaganda. On Current Discussions, for example, baldly defends Louis XIV's policy of economic protectionism and condemns political dissent.
If the dialogues present opposing viewpoints on a moral question, Maintenon rarely leaves in doubt what constitutes the proper perspective on the issue in question. On True Wit, for example, clearly prefers the industriousness of the homemaker over the erudition of the scholar as the higher form of intelligence. Maintenon inevitably leads the student to the traditional moral and religious virtues as the key to facing the social demands she must endure. Maintenon's moralism, however, refuses fanaticism. The dialogues insist that all virtues, even piety, must be "reasonable." It is sober temperance, not ecstatic charity, that occupies the apex of Maintenon's edifice of virtue.
ON THE CARDINAL VIRTUES
VICTORIA: In order to be faithful to the project they have of making us capable of holding refined conversations, I thought that for today's conversation we should turn to the subject of the cardinal virtues. Each one of us could say whatever comes to mind about this subject.
PAULINE: Since that's decided, I'll take the role of Justice.
VICTORIA: I'll take Fortitude.
EUPHRASIA: I'll take Prudence.
AUGUSTINA: You don't leave me any choice. But I'm happy with my part and I'm delighted to play the role of Temperance.
JUSTICE: I don't think that any of you even pretends to be my equal. Nothing is as beautiful as Justice. She always has Truth beside her. She judges without prejudice. She puts everything in order. She knows how to condemn her friend and how to find on behalf of her enemy. She even condemns herself. She only respects what truly merits respect.
FORTITUDE: All of that is true, but you need me. If I didn't support you, you would grow weary.
JUSTICE: Why would I grow weary?
FORTITUDE: Because you have a rather gloomy personality. People have little affection for you. They fear you. People have to be exceptionally meritorious to get along with you.
PRUDENCE: It's my responsibility to set some limits to her projects, to prevent her from going overboard, to make her take her time. Without me, both of you would soon spoil everything.
JUSTICE: But shouldn't we always be just?
PRUDENCE: Of course. But you shouldn't always be at court avid to hand out a sentence. You should do everything in its own due time.
FORTITUDE: It's true that you might in fact offer certain services to Justice, but my services are just as important to help you. You tend to paralyze rather than to encourage action, unless I give both of you some of my boldness.
JUSTICE: I don't understand you. What? Do you think that I need your help just to see that my friend is wrong and my enemy is right?
FORTITUDE: No, you can figure that out by yourself. But you need me to help you render that judgment loud and clear, since your friendship makes you find it so difficult to upset your friend.
JUSTICE: It's enough for me to see that something is just in order for me to do it.
FORTITUDE: Yes, I agree with you. But you just don't want to see that what you attribute to Justice alone actually belongs to Fortitude. That is where you are being unjust.
TEMPERANCE: Ladies, I can only marvel at how you think that you can do without me and that I count for nothing since I'm in no rush to speak.
PRUDENCE: Do you also want to claim that you are necessary?
TEMPERANCE: I'm so powerful that I challenge all three of you to try to operate without my influence.
FORTITUDE: And how can your coolness help me?
TEMPERANCE: I will prevent you from exhausting everyone by your fervor.
JUSTICE: And how would you help me?
TEMPERANCE: I would moderate your justice, because it is often too bitter and inflexible.
PRUDENCE: I don't think you have any claim on me.
TEMPERANCE: I will oppose your indecisiveness. Your timidity often goes much too far.
FORTITUDE: Very well. To listen to you, one would have the impression that you are more important than all of us.
TEMPERANCE: Undoubtedly you all lean to certain extreme positions if I don't moderate you. I'm the one who places the limits to everything. I'm the one who takes this middle position, so necessary but so difficult to find. I'm the one who must oppose all excess.
PRUDENCE: I always thought of you as something opposed to gluttony and nothing more.
TEMPERANCE: That's because you didn't know me. In effect I destroy gluttony and lust. I suffer no exaggeration. Not only do I oppose all evil, but I have to put reasonable limits to the good. Without me Justice would be unbearable to human weakness, Fortitude would drive humanity to despair, and Prudence would often prevent people from making necessary decisions and would waste too much time weighing every option. But with me Justice becomes capable of adaptation, Fortitude becomes softer, Prudence starts to give advice without too much weakness, without being either too slow or too quick to judge. In other words, I'm the remedy to all the extremes.
JUSTICE: I'm astonished at what I'm hearing. Now, wouldn't you agree that wisdom can do without you?
TEMPERANCE: You can answer that question yourself, because you're well aware that to be wise you must be sober. Don't look for further arguments, Miss. You can't do anything good without me.
PRUDENCE: Well, can't we at least achieve our salvation without you?
TEMPERANCE: Only with great difficulty. I calm the religious zeal that is too combative, too angry, too aggressive. I have to help religious faith conduct itself in a way that avoids excess. I moderate the desire to give alms as well as the desire to keep them. I limit the time for prayer, penances, retreat, silence, good works. I abbreviate a sermon. I shorten a session of spiritual direction or an examination of conscience. Finally, I have to soften even the flames of religious fervor.
JUSTICE: You certainly keep busy.
TEMPERANCE: My personality doesn't permit me to feel fatigue. I intervene gently and serenely.
FORTITUDE: All this leads to the conclusion that we very much need you. But don't you need someone in particular?
TEMPERANCE: No, I'm quite self-sufficient.
FORTITUDE: But can't someone be too moderate?
TEMPERANCE: But that would no longer be moderation, because it tolerates neither too much nor too little.
PRUDENCE: You make me unhappy with my own condition. I now desire yours.
TEMPERANCE: That's because you had too high an opinion of yourself. Still, you are all very worthy qualities. Is there anything more magnificent than Justice? Always founded on truth, free of prejudice, incorruptible, disinterested, capable of ruling against herself despite her self-love?
JUSTICE: But even with all of that, you say that I am hated.
TEMPERANCE: That's because you refuse to flatter others, and they want to be flattered.
FORTITUDE: And you still think that I would ruin everything without you?
TEMPERANCE: Yes, but with me, you do wonders. You enliven all the virtues, you follow through on all your projects until they are finished, and you never surrender to fatigue.
PRUDENCE: And I'm still just someone who hesitates.
TEMPERANCE: You know how to choose the right time. You're accommodating. You foresee possible dangers. You know how to take the measure of a situation. You're absolutely indispensable as long as I can prevent you from falling into an excess of caution.
FORTITUDE: You're just trying to cheer us up. In the end, our role is less important than yours.
TEMPERANCE: But what would I be without you? Used only and often uselessly to oppose excess and human passion? My true value is to be necessary for the moderation of all the other virtues.
FORTITUDE: But are we really virtues, if we often need you to avoid some extreme action? A virtue, after all, is supposed to hold always to the middle.
TEMPERANCE: It's up to me to make this middle position known. Now, I'm not saying that you might do some great evil, but there's still the danger that you might go too far.
JUSTICE: Is it possible for me to be too just?
TEMPERANCE: No, but to judge too often and to be constantly on everyone's back helps no one. When the ardor of Fortitude is joined with the aridity of Justice, the situation becomes even more dangerous.
PRUDENCE: I could try to remedy that situation.
TEMPERANCE: Often enough you try to do so. We need each other. We should live together serenely and without jealousy. Let's unite ourselves against the corruption of the world. If it weren't for the assistance of grace, it would be stronger than all the virtues together.
FAUSTINE: I am really tired of being preached to every day about courage. I truly would like to know in what exactly courage consists.
ELEANOR: Courage is not having any fear. This kind of achievement is not for our sex. It's acceptable for us to be afraid of ghosts, of thunder, and of all kinds of danger.
SOPHIE: It has to be acceptable, because I would not be able to avoid it.
VICTORIA: Certainly courage is opposed to fear. But there is more than one kind of fear. It's not necessary for us to cultivate the courage that makes someone go to war or be willing to risk his life. But I would certainly want to eliminate the weaknesses our friend just discussed.
SOPHIE: Oh! Just how could I eliminate these?
VICTORIA: First of all, by opposing them. The weaknesses we pick up in our youth-and which we think are so charming-became illnesses later on that make us suffer and that we can no longer abandon. I've seen some people really oppressed by this sort of thing.
FAUSTINE: Nothing seems more excusable to me.
EMILY: We will continue to have enough weaknesses that must be excused without keeping some voluntarily.
FAUSTINE: But let's return to the topic of courage.
VICTORIA: I am convinced that our friend probably knows more than us about the subject.
EMILY: If that's true, it's because she has more frequently sought out the one who makes these reproaches3 and listened to her counsels.
SOPHIE: Miss, whatever the case may be, tell us what you have learned about the subject.
Excerpted from DIALOGUES AND ADDRESSES by Madame de Maintenon Copyright © 2004 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
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Volume Editors' Introduction
On the Cardinal Virtues
On True Glory
On True Wit
On the Necessity of Dependence
On the Drawbacks of Marriage
On the Different States in Life
On Current Discussions
On Education at Saint-Cyr
Addresses to Students
Volume Editors' Introduction
Of the Cardinal Virtues
Of True Glory
Portrait of a Reasonable Person
Of the Utility of Reflection
Of Religious Vocations
Of the Single Life
Of the World
How to Maintain a Good Reputation
Of Avoiding the Occasions of Sin
Against Religious Innovations
Of Education and of the Advantages of a Demanding Upbringing
Addresses to Faculty
Volume Editors' Introduction
Of the Education of Ladies
Of Solid Education
Of the Danger of Profane Books
Of the Proper Choice of Theatrical Pieces for Pupils
Series Editors' Bibliography
Posted December 9, 2009
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Posted December 12, 2009
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