The Princess of Clèves

Overview

The Princess of Cleves, often called the first modern French novel, was published anonymously in 1678 and was received with enthusiasm by its contemporary audience.
The text of this Norton Critical Edition is that of Thomas Sargent Perry's 1892 translation, indisputably the translation that has best served readers in English. Reprinted repeatedly over the last one hundred years, the Perry translation is a classic in its own right. After careful review, the editor has corrected ...

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Overview

The Princess of Cleves, often called the first modern French novel, was published anonymously in 1678 and was received with enthusiasm by its contemporary audience.
The text of this Norton Critical Edition is that of Thomas Sargent Perry's 1892 translation, indisputably the translation that has best served readers in English. Reprinted repeatedly over the last one hundred years, the Perry translation is a classic in its own right. After careful review, the editor has corrected minor infelicities of translation (necessary to remain true to Lafayette's text) and updated vocabulary.
To experience the innovation of Lafayette's writing, it is necessary to understand the critical resistance it met with in seventeenth-century France.
"Contemporary Reactions" includes five assessments of The Princess of Cleves—by Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette herself, Roger de Bussy-Rabutin and Marie de Sévigné, Jean-Baptiste-Henry du Trousset de Valincour, Jean-Antoine de Charnes, and Du Plaisir—following its controversial publication. John Lyons's translations for this Norton Critical Edition make these reactions available in English for the first time.
"Criticism" includes eleven modern studies of the novel, five of which appear here in English for the first time, by Jean Fabre, Michel Butor, Jean Rousset, Helen Karen Kaps, Gérard Genette, Roger Francillon, Kurt Weinberg, Peggy Kamuf, Erica Harth, Joan DeJean, and Laurence Gregario.
A Glossary of Characters and a Selected Bibliography are also included.

The mores and lives of the 16th century court of Henri II.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393963335
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/1/1994
  • Series: Norton Critical Editions Series
  • Edition description: Subsequent
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 623,733
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

John D. Lyons is Commonwealth Professor of French at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1987; he was previously professor of French and Italian at Dartmouth College. He is the author of A Theatre of Disguise, The Listening Voice, and Exemplum. He co-edited Mimesis: From Mirror to Method, The Dialectic of Discovery, and Critical Tales: New Studies of the Heptameron and Early Modern Culture.

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Table of Contents

Introduction vii
The Princess of Cleves 1
Notes 203
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  • Posted June 15, 2009

    The Princess of Cleves

    In the mid-1500s, when Henri II was king of France, "there appeared at court a beauty to whom all eyes were turned, and we may well believe," our narrator tells us, "that she was a faultless beauty, since she aroused admiration where all were well accustomed to the sight of handsome women." She is Mademoiselle de Chartres, who is in her sixteenth year. Her mother, preparing her for the "agitation without disorder" that typifies court life, has educated her in every virtue.

    Of course, Madame de Chartres is no more able than any mother to foresee every danger her daughter will meet, the first one being marriage to a man for whom she has "no special love." The Prince of Clèves loves her passionately and hopes that her graciousness toward him will deepen into love, but she is young and has no experience or understanding of love. It is useful to know that love, in this story, means one thing. It is an emotion so compelling that it cannot be resisted; it is a force of nature that trammels reason, virtue and duty; it is not expected to be enduring or exclusive.

    You know what happens. Soon after her marriage Madame de Clèves meets the Duke of Nemours, whom she finds "so superior to everyone else, and so much outshining all in conversation wherever he might be, by the grace of his person and the charm of his wit," that he makes "a deep impression on her heart." She falls in love, and the man she loves is not her husband.

    What you won't expect, as this short novel unfolds, is how thoroughly the young Princess of Clèves has absorbed the instructions of her mother, who is now dead; how introspective she is; how finely she analyzes her feelings and understands her weakness when she is in the company of the Duke - he pursues her relentlessly, despite her efforts to avoid him; her husband contracts a fever and dies, devastated by the mistaken belief that she has entered into an affair; even more obstinately does Monsieur de Nemours pursue, arguing that she is now free, arguing, "Oh! Madame, what phantom of duty do you oppose to my happiness?"

    The Princess of Clèves is a roman d'analyse. Its purpose is to tell the secret history - the dramatic, human story - hidden beneath the public life of the French court. Its technique, according to one critic, is analysis: "the author only wants to count on analysis, on reasonable knowledge of passions, to bring her characters to life. Analysis must bear the burden of the whole novel."

    Another critic writes: "The heroine . disregards the public view of her situation to follow a difficult course of action in which she is able to succeed through an extreme défiance de soi." This "suspicion of oneself" was a "discipline of self-analysis and self-control taught by spiritual guides of the seventeenth century following Catholic reformers such as François de Sales (1567-1622)."

    I wonder if self-analysis, couched in narratives of passionate love, may be a unique French characteristic in literature, possibly in a degenerated form the closer we come to modernity. The Princess of Clèves ends with an idealism that is no longer available to novelists of the later nineteenth century. Success for the princess means an integrated personality and the magnanimous spirit that this requires. But for the self-indulgent and undisciplined Jeanne of Guy de Maupassant's A Woman's Life, rescue from sorrow comes only with the arrival of a distraction, her ba

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