The Travails of Conscience: The Arnauld Family and the Ancien Régimeby Alexander Sedgwick
Like the Bouthilliers, the Colberts, the Fouquets, and the Letelliers, the Arnauld family rose to prominence at the end of the sixteenth century by attaching themselves to the king. Their power and influence depended upon absolute loyalty and obedience to the sovereign whose own power they sought to enhance. Dictates of conscience, however, brought all that to an
Like the Bouthilliers, the Colberts, the Fouquets, and the Letelliers, the Arnauld family rose to prominence at the end of the sixteenth century by attaching themselves to the king. Their power and influence depended upon absolute loyalty and obedience to the sovereign whose own power they sought to enhance. Dictates of conscience, however, brought all that to an end and put them in conflict with both king and pope. As a result of the religious conversion of Angélique Arnauld early in the seventeenth century, the family eventually adopted a set of religious principles that appeared Calvinist to some ecclesiastical authorities. These "Jansenist" principles were condemned by the papacy and Louis XIV.
The travails of conscience experienced by the Arnauld family, and the resulting religious schism that separated different branches, divided husbands from wives and parents from children. However, neither the historic achievements of individual family members nor the differences of opinion between them could obscure the sense of family solidarity.
The dramatic appeal of this book is underscored by a tumultuous period in French history which coincides with and punctuates the Arnauld family's struggle with the world. We see how this extraordinary family reacted to momentous political and religious developments, as well as the ways in which individual members, by means of their own convictions, helped shape the history of their time.
Sedgwick resumes his theme of Jansenist individualism by focusing on the family most closely identified with the movement. The author skillfully traces the traits that brought the Arnaulds to prominence: education, dedication to royal service, and family cohesion...Sedgwick describes the remarkable characters of the story: Mother Angelique, the reformer at Port-Royal; the patriarch Robert Arnauld de'Andilly; Antoine 'le Grand Arnauld'; and foreign minister Simon Arnauld de Pomponne. The strength of the book, however, lies not in these highly readable portraits but in its analysis of internal family dynamics (the interaction of strong women who separated themselves from the world but remained dependent on family protection and men who wavered between the world and the divine) amid the culture and politics of early modern France. Recommended reading for all students of the Ancien Régime.
Alexander Sedgwick examines the emotional turmoil of many Arnauld family members, as they sought to distance themselves from a corrupt world and focus their minds upon God...This book is largely based on memoirs, letter and polemical tracts written by the Arnaulds and their friends...[and is] successful in evoking the tormented lives of the Jansenists and their wish to pass on their beliefs.
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Alexander Sedgwick is University Professor, Emeritus, the University of Virginia.
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