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Selected Letters, Orations, and Rhetorical Dialogues

Selected Letters, Orations, and Rhetorical Dialogues

by Madeleine de Scudery, Jane Donawerth (Translator), Julie Strongson (Translator)

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Madeleine de Scudéry (1607-1701) was the most popular novelist in her time, read in French in volume installments all over Europe and translated into English, German, Italian, and even Arabic. But she was also a charismatic figure in French salon culture, a woman who supported herself through her writing and defended women's education. She was the first


Madeleine de Scudéry (1607-1701) was the most popular novelist in her time, read in French in volume installments all over Europe and translated into English, German, Italian, and even Arabic. But she was also a charismatic figure in French salon culture, a woman who supported herself through her writing and defended women's education. She was the first woman to be honored by the French Academy, and she earned a pension from Louis XIV for her writing.

Selected Letters, Orations, and Rhetorical Dialogues is a careful selection of Scudéry's shorter writings, emphasizing her abilities as a rhetorical theorist, orator, essayist, and letter writer. It provides the first English translations of some of Scudéry's Amorous Letters, only recently identified as her work, as well as selections from her Famous Women, or Heroic Speeches, and her series of Conversations. The book will be of great interest to scholars of the history of rhetoric, French literature, and women's studies.

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Best Translation of 2004
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University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
Other Voice in Early Modern Europe Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

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Selected Letters, Orations, and Rhetorical Dialogues

By Julie Strongson

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2004 Julie Strongson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226144046


She questions her about a certain very stupid man, who is only happy because he is ignorant

I must discuss this man with you, the one you wrote me about. I imagine that he is happy, yet I believe that he has no reason to be [so]. He is only happy because he is ignorant and only has peace of mind because he is insensitive. It is no wonder that he has no worries, because he [also] has no knowledge. It is no great surprise that the blind are not afraid of lightning. If they don't tremble as do others, they are not [necessarily] happier; on the contrary, I think that they would prefer to have perfect sight, even on condition that it would sometimes be dazzled. You will say that I read this in the book that you admire so much and that my letter borrows from it. Think what you will; I believe that there is no more danger in taking something good from a book that we like than in picking fruit from a tree that belongs to us. We don't read simply to amuse ourselves, but also to have it benefit us.

However, returning to our man, I swear to you that I never want such a happiness. I would rather have your intelligent worries than his tranquility- I mean the noble cares that knowledge brings with it and the reasonable fears that serve to awaken the intelligence, not to trouble the mind. The happiness of these you write me about is like that of people asleep. Their minds are resting, but only because they are not capable of worrying.

I know you'll laugh at the fact that I'm ending this letter with a comparison that you'll find a little too lofty for me. It seems that it's possible to avoid bouts of depression just as one avoids crashes of thunder. To evade either one, you have to be very high or very low. But although there's equal safety in both places, there's not equal glory. I would rather avoid the storm standing on Mount Olympus than hiding in a cave. And drawing on that book I'm stealing from, I would rather be above adversity than below it and would rather be incapable [of unhappiness] through reasoning than through stupidity.

I leave you then with this [thought], begging you that you will no longer speak to me in this way and no longer argue against your own interest by quitting the company of great minds. You have too large an interest to resign from their company, and if I defend them, it is in order to praise a virtue that you possess and I long for. I would love to have elegant [enough] words to say what I think since I love to serve you and to show you, whenever possible, that I am,


Your etc.

She tries to prove that those who have the least amount of wit have the least amount of worry.

Write what you will about great minds, it seems to me that they have more fame than happiness and that it is very difficult to have both great wisdom and little trouble. It is true that [the brilliant people] are admired and that they stand out above others; at the same time, I believe that, with all this advantage, they should still be compared to the bush in Holy Scripture, which gave off enough light but was also full of thorns. There are thorns in such enlightenment: there are quite a few sorrows that knowledge increases rather than cures. Let's speak frankly and not let ourselves be charmed by beautiful appearances. Just as those who have a severe illness would prefer to feel less in order to be tortured less, so I believe that those who are miserable would want to decrease their knowledge in order to diminish their distress.

Thus we can speak of minds as [we can] senses: the most sensitive are the easiest to affect. Moreover, medicine and philosophy heal the unhappy and sick in much the same way: the one numbs feeling, without which there is no pain, and the other tries to rid one of care, without which there is no misery. This means that the most ignorant are the least unfortunate. I don't deny that there are some who rise above misery and overcome it, but I think that people such as these are very rare. I see very few who resemble you. And to tell you the truth, I believe that those who give themselves the most grief are neither the great [minds] nor the small ones, but only the mediocre ones. It seems that disquiet takes shape in a soul just as clouds in the air: the sun raises some vapors, which it then has a hard time dissipating; and mediocre intelligences fling themselves into their troubles, which they can't seem to get rid of.

While great minds overcome worry and small ones ignore it, mediocre ones burden themselves with it. Much as Christianity rejects people who couldn't care less about salvation, Moral Philosophy rejects them for happiness. These are the sort of people who complain [all the time] and for whom enlightenment increases misery, since it serves only to show them the entrance to many labyrinths [of ethical quandary] from which there is no exit. Am I wrong then to believe that those who have the least intelligence have the least grief? Inasmuch as there are so few who vanquish affliction, is it not enough for me to follow the path that is most worn and to content myself with remaining below [the reach] of trouble through ignorance, since I am unable to rise above it through reason? Since the happiness of small minds is genuine, I don't care if it is less glorious than the happiness of the wise. It is for the most part as pure and as solid, even if it is not as noble. In this I am saying what I would like to be rather than what I am, because, although I am lacking in intelligence, I am not at all lacking in worry. I suffer the misery of those who have attained some enlightenment, and yet I am deprived of their advantages. You know well, and I do not at all doubt, that if you put up with my [lack of] wit, it is because of my affection and the desire that I have to be,


Your etc.

She calls her her goddess-she asks her to pierce all the way to her heart to see the affection that she cannot express.

Although I beg you to think of me, I admit, nevertheless, that I need your judgment more than your memory in order to stay in your good graces, because your memory only shows things as they appear, while your judgment can discover them as they [truly] are. Don't be satisfied with the power to win hearts when you also might have the power to penetrate them-such is the affection that you produce there. Don't be like the sun, whose heat extends further than its light and who produces gold and metals in the earth, where the brightness of her rays will never penetrate. You will say to me that this is a language of courtship and that my friendship sounds like love. But why would [love] not have the same vocabulary, since it has the same intensity? [Love] differs only in its goal and not in its strength. Don't disapprove then if I beg you to help me make you see the extremity of my affection, and, since I call you my goddess, I pray you to show me some effect of that title, looking at my heart rather than my hands and caring more for my intention than my offering. Certainly I would be the most miserable person in the world if you judged my friendship only by its effect or by my words. I have neither power nor eloquence. But even if I had one or the other to an ideal degree, I still would not be able to demonstrate adequately to you the desire I have to serve you, and to be,


Your etc.

She says that she has more love than knowledge and that, because of the influence of her affection, she injudiciously puts her feelings into words.


I don't believe that those who gave you their approval can forget that. Your virtues cause [in others] the desire to preserve as well as to acquire your good opinion. I have only one regret: not having enough intelligence to truly appreciate the perfections of yours. I am told that one must measure love through [deep] knowledge, and yet, although I do not know you perfectly, I can't imagine that someone could love you more. Because, if that were so, I would further regret not possessing more intelligence in order to experience even more affection. I think that I completely disagree with what you say about the sun: my heat extends farther than my light, and my love extends farther than my knowledge. Don't call me your goddess anymore, if you do not want me to call you my idol. You are mistaken to grant such honor to someone who so little merits it. Don't look any longer for words to testify that you love me: the effects on you have demonstrated that to me, and I won't see better with the light of a torch than with the light of the sun itself. Thus I make comparison of actions to words, for words do not demonstrate as clearly as actions do what kind of friendship we have. However, it is those [poor substitutes] that must serve me, since I have no other way to show you how much I am,


Your etc.

She sends word that nothing could stop her from writing to her, not even a fever, no matter how extreme.

Judge the desire I have to get one of your letters by the care I take to send you mine. Having suffered a bout of fever, and seeing that the mail is ready to leave, I am resolved, despite my illness, to write to you. Needless to say, my hand trembles not from fear but from shivering. In this state I am prevented from writing you along letter, because the messenger presses me on one side and my illness on the other. I must end then and leave what I need to tell you for another time. Perhaps I am endangering myself and the pain will become more intense, but that is not important-I will endure it patiently, since the effort I make is very commendable, to take this occasion to prove how much I am,


Your etc.

She is afraid that, having received a little satisfaction, she has lost a greater one and that, by forcing herself to write, she has only worsened her illness.

I didn't feel the joy that I had hoped for at the return of this messenger, learning of your indisposition through the letter that you have done me the honor to write to me. I fear that the pains you took only worsened your fever and that, in giving me this gift [of writing to me], you have deprived me of a greater one that I might have had. Certainly, it's true that the two most pleasing pieces of news that I could receive are to be told that you love me and that you are in good health. Similarly, what I fear most in the world is a change [for the worse] in either your health or your friendship. The slightest fear of one or the other would make me hate my life. I swear that no letter has ever been as dear to me as the one you sent me despite your illness, but I would rather you took care to get better than to write to me. Although your news greatly reassures me, I love your health better than your letters. I beg you to believe me and offer myself to serve you in whatever you might wish, as


Your etc.

She reassures her that she has not forgotten her and hopes that the frequency of her letters is not bothersome.

I must admit that in my fear that I'd been wiped from your memory, I was very relieved to find out that your long silence was a result of your being so far away rather than your forgetting me. You desire that I interpret it that way, and I assure you that I share the personality of those people who readily believe what they want [to believe]. I won't look very closely to see if it's Truth or Politeness talking.

I no longer doubt that it was lack of opportunity, rather than [your] desire, that I received no letters from you. As for my letters, I have reason to hope that some are still on their way [to you], since if you had received all of them, you would not have had any reason to complain about the proofs of my remembering [you], as I have about your silence. Our complaints would have been different: you perhaps would have hoped for my letters a little less frequently and I for your letters a little more often.

But I'm sorry. I don't really believe you are angry that I write to you, and, since you tolerate my affection, your patience will result in these testimonials [to my love for you]. I only wish that I had greater ability in order to better deserve what you are to me and to more clearly show you what I am to you, which is,


Your etc.

She reassures her that her letters are never bothersome and describes the grief she feels that she has not received all of them.


You are wrong to think that I could ever forget you, unless you could possess less worthiness or I could possess less knowledge of [your worth]. There is nothing as true as the assurance I give of my memory of you, and you have more reason to believe that than to desire it. That is more true than beneficial. You are my model and my preservation: I think of you incessantly to console myself and to guide me. You tell me that I haven't received all of your letters. If this is true I have cause to give you complaints and thanks and to think myself unhappy at the same time as I believe myself obliged to you. I would be less worthy of this favor if I felt less at this notification. I see myself forced to incorporate two opposing passions-grief and joy-resulting from the same cause. If I rejoice in the knowledge of your remembering me, I grieve at the news that I haven't received all the testimonies to it. As for my letters, you received them all on the same day from what I have learned.

However, as you can see, I wrote one after another. I am sorry that they were not delivered to you as I wanted. But since this has happened, at least I will have one grand advantage: in the future, if you don't get any at all, you may blame my bad luck for what should perhaps be blamed on my forgetfulness. [But] never doubt that I desire to honor you, and, whether I write to you or don't write to you at all, believe that I am completely,


Your etc.


Excerpted from Selected Letters, Orations, and Rhetorical Dialogues by Julie Strongson Copyright © 2004 by Julie Strongson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Jane Donawerth is a professor of English and affiliate faculty in women's studies at the University of Maryland. She is the author of Shakespeare and the Sixteenth-Century Study of Language, and most recently, editor of Rhetorical Theory by Women before 1900: An Anthology. Julie Strongson, a specialist in French and English comparative literature, is an instructor at the University of Maryland.

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