Zayde: A Spanish Romance

Zayde: A Spanish Romance


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Standing at the critical juncture between traditional romance and early novelistic realism, Zayde is both the swan song of a literary tradition nearly two thousand years old and a harbinger of the modern psychological novel.

Zayde unfolds during the long medieval struggle between Christians and Muslims for control of the Iberian Peninsula; Madame de Lafayette (1634-93) takes the reader on a Mediterranean tour typical of classical and seventeenth-century romances—from Catalonia to Cyprus and back again—with battles, prophecies, and shipwrecks dotting the crisscrossed paths of the book’s noble lovers. But where romance was long and episodic, Zayde possesses a magisterial architecture of suspense. Chaste and faithful heroines and heroes are replaced here by characters who are consumed by jealousy and unable to love happily. And, unlike in traditional romance, the reader is no longer simply expected to admire deeds of bravery and virtue, but instead is caught up in intense first-person testimony on the psychology of desire. 

Unavailable in English for more than two centuries, Zayde reemerges here in Nicholas Paige’s accessible and vibrant translation as a worthy representative of a once popular genre and will be welcomed by readers of French literature and students of the European novelistic tradition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226468525
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 08/01/2006
Series: Other Voice in Early Modern Europe Series
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Nicholas D. Paige is associate professor of French at the University of California, Berkeley.

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A Spanish Romance

By Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne Comtesse de Lafayette THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS

Copyright © 2006 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-46852-5

Chapter One



When most readers today think of "the" novel, that distinctive jewel in the crown of European literature, it is in fact a certain type of novel that comes as if naturally to mind-the realist novel that, we have been taught, "rose" triumphantly over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and that aimed at setting characters in and against the material world that grounded their existence. This view is not so much wrong as incomplete: other vibrant fictional genres were practiced before and alongside the developing realist novel; romance, gothic, and sentimental novels had their own plots, their own lexicon, their own codes, and they often were even more popular than their realist rivals. The omission of such traditions from most modern thinking about the novel is not just a matter of the oversimplification that dogs any attempt to define the novel or chart its evolution, for recent scholarship has underlined how persistently these now-denigrated traditions were associated with women. From its very beginnings, realism-taken to be sober, serious, and male-wasfounded on the rejection of novelistic genres maligned as formulaic, escapist, emotional, and thus female. Zayde was one of the victims. Here was a book whose popularity remained high for a century following its publication, a book lauded by thinkers otherwise hostile to novels-Bayle, La Bruyère, Voltaire. A book, moreover, written by a woman, Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne, comtesse de Lafayette, who alone among women authors of Old Regime France had a work accepted into the canon of world literature-The Princess of Clèves, variously referred to, depending on context, as the first psychological novel, the first historical novel, even the first realist novel, and at any rate as the epitome of classical style. Yet Zayde, which came from the same pen as The Princess of Clèves but which appealed to an alternate (and endangered) conception of what novels should be, subsequently fell from favor, and its loss of prestige speaks volumes about how the realist prejudice has rewritten our conception of what the novel is and made it nearly impossible to appreciate the other novelistic genres to which early modern women made a particularly active contribution. Zayde is perhaps the best possible introduction to the genre that the nascent realist novel was to compete with and then to stigmatize, romance.

During most of the seventeenth century, France was the leading producer of romance, often called the heroic or Baroque novel-"heroic" because its idealized characters behaved courageously and virtuously in the face of adversity, "Baroque" because the genre was replete with tales within tales, disguises and ruses, and a never-ending series of plot twists. These books were heir to the Hellenistic novels of Xenophon, Heliodorus, and others, which were wildly popular upon their rediscovery in the Renaissance and remained so well into Lafayette's day. (Jean Racine, her contemporary, was said to have known Heliodorus's much-loved third-century Aethiopica by heart.) They also grew out of chivalric romances such as the fourteenth-century Spanish Amadís of Gaul-a volume so foundational that even Cervantes spared it the flames he reserved for the rest of Don Quixote's library. Indeed, Cervantes's renowned parody of chivalric romance, popular as it was, did nothing to stem the tide of the Baroque fictions of Honoré d'Urfé, Gautier de Costes de La Calprenède, Marin Le Roy de Gomberville, and finally Madeleine de Scudéry. These new romances were respected as virtual manuals of civility: Louis XIII's minister Richelieu declared, on the subject of d'Urfé's best-seller, "that he was not to be admitted into the academy of Wit, who had not been before well read in Astrea." And they were spectacularly successful, translated into Dutch, English, Spanish, Italian, and German. These sprawling, many-volumed works did not acquire such cultural dominance by being mere escapist love stories: in its heyday, the Baroque novel formed, in the critic Mikhail Bakhtin's words, "an encyclopedia of all the types of literary language of the epoch," collecting and organizing a mass of philosophical, historical, political, and geographical knowledge.

Precisely at the moment Lafayette was giving her own twist to the romance tradition, however, it was about to be lost. Whatever the causes of this literary extinction-and it surely can be laid at the door of numerous social, political, even epistemological changes-romances, once so central, were increasingly dismissed as fodder for idle and uncritical women readers. Don Quixote, that archetypally idealist and naïve reader, was of course a man, but by mid-century one can see the first signs of a conflation of romance and the gullible female imagination that will persist until Flaubert's Madame Bovary and beyond: in The Precious Damsels, from 1659, Molière made a name for himself by satirizing women who spend too much time with the romances of Madeleine de Scudéry; the self-appointed policeman of classicism, Nicolas Boileau, would also level his wit against Scudéry in his Dialogue on Romance Heroes (composed in 1664-65). This derogatory gendering of romance would not carry the day until the nineteenth century, but contemporary readers did nonetheless start to express impatience with the genre, rejecting exotic locales and distant historical settings, unbelievable coincidences, martial bravery, idealized virtue and fidelity, and all those multiple plotlines unfolding over thousands of pages. The last volume of Scudéry's Clélie appeared in 1661, but in spite of its success, both she and the most talented young writers of the next generation-Lafayette, but also Marie-Catherine Desjardins, known as Madame de Villedieu-cast about for ways to update romance, primarily by making it shorter. The result was a number of "mini" romances, of which I will have more to say presently. Nearly all of these, however, were commercial and critical failures-all except Zayde, which acquired a lasting prestige, and which would never be equaled in both its compression and subtle subversion of romance structures and motifs. Still, Lafayette's work was unable to stave off the fate that had already befallen the rest of romance; after a hundred years of being mentioned approvingly in the same breath with The Princess of Clèves, it became another casualty of the realist prejudice. The Princess of Clèves was the book late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century critics would retain for the edification of France's schoolchildren, praising it somewhat backhandedly as miraculously exempt from the supposed feminine excesses of the period's fiction-the exception that proved the rule that women write bad novels, as it were. But Zayde, that "funerary monument" to an impeccably pedigreed form of fiction nearly two thousand years old, remains what just might be the most savvy and evolved representative of romance, the novel's long-suppressed "other voice."


Lafayette's origins may not have been impeccably aristocratic, but she did have the good luck to be born into a family that recognized the interdependence of intellectual matters and social status. It was in early 1633 that her parents, Isabelle Péna and Marc Pioche, wedded. Both were from roughly the same social stratum: Péna's father was a court physician; Pioche exercised with some success the profession of architect before starting a military career. (Somewhere along the way, and like so many, he would enhance his respectability by adding the noble tag "de La Vergne" to his surname.) Before their marriage, the couple already enjoyed connections with a place known as the chambre bleue, or blue room-the first French salon, created in the second decade of the century by Catherine de Vivonne, the marquise de Rambouillet. Péna counted among her friends a number of women who were regulars of the chambre bleue; and, back in 1618, when Rambouillet had decided to rebuild her residence to make it more conducive to the gatherings that were rapidly becoming a successful alternative to hierarchical court life, she called on the architectural talents of Pioche, who himself frequented the salon. Rambouillet's blue room provided a space where members of the nobility could perfect their social refinement, notably through literary discussions; and one of the favorite activities of this new Parisian intelligentsia was actually acting out the work that inaugurated the reign of the Baroque novel, d'Urfé's L'Astrée, whose thousands of pages were published between 1607 and 1627. Members of the Rambouillet salon would dress up as d'Urfé's shepherds, mimic their amorous predicaments, assume their names. From this point on, until the moment Isabelle Péna's first daughter, Marie-Madeleine, would sum up and put to rest the tradition with Zayde, romance would be the mirror of France's cultural elite.

Salon life was part and parcel of a social strategy for success that involved parlaying existing connections into new ones. Indeed, Lafayette's parents had both been hangers-on to the family of Cardinal Richelieu: Pioche de La Vergne had managed to secure a position as tutor to one of Cardinal Richelieu's nephews, while Isabelle Péna was in the service of Madame de Comballet, Richelieu's niece and the future duchesse d'Aiguillon. When the new couple's first daughter was born, Comballet assumed the role of godmother, holding Marie-Madeleine over the baptismal font on March 18, 1634, in the church of Saint-Sulpice. From this point on, the couple pinned their ambitions on the child, who received a solid education and, as firstborn, the dowry that made possible an advantageous marriage. (Her two younger sisters, as was the custom, were sacrificed to convent life.)

Marie-Madeleine's early years were spent in Paris, in the two residences that her father and mother built near Saint-Sulpice, on the corner of the rue de Vaugirard and the rue Férou, facing the palace and gardens belonging to François de Luxembourg. Later, in 1648, the family moved to Le Havre, where Pioche was named lieutenant. This was the beginning of the Fronde, a prolonged aristocratic and parliamentary revolt against the regency of Anne of Austria and her minister Mazarin; Pioche maintained loyalty to the crown, was awarded a brevet de maréchal for his trouble, but died soon after, in 1649. Returning to Paris, Marie-Madeleine's mother quickly remarried. This time, she was able to marry up: her new husband was René-Renaud de Sévigné, a member of the military and cultural elite. Sévigné's involvement in the Fronde was in keeping with his nobility-unlike Péna's first husband, he sided with the antimonarchical forces. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the losing side; he was exiled, at the end of 1652, to his family estate in Anjou; his wife and stepdaughter visited him for some months over the next two years, but their main residence continued to be Paris, where an excellent marriage, to François de Lafayette, was arranged for Marie-Madeleine in early 1655. Isabelle's long social ascension had reached its apogee.

These first twenty years provided Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne, now the comtesse de Lafayette, with the irreplaceable foundations for her subsequent social and literary success. She served as maid of honor to the Queen Mother, Anne of Austria; she was tutored by a friend of the Pascal family; the scholar Gilles Ménage took an early interest in her education; her stepfather's family was also that of the author of the most respected correspondence in French literary history, Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné, and the two women became lifelong friends. Her marriage initially took her away from Paris: in accordance with the (legal) custom of the Old Regime, she followed the comte de Lafayette to his family's estate in Auvergne, in central France. During this time Ménage would send her books from Paris, among which were the first volumes of Scudéry's best-seller Clélie. Soon, however, and unusually for the time, the Lafayettes began to divide their time between his estate and hers, in Paris. This allowed Lafayette to frequent the salons of Rambouillet and Scudéry, where she met figures of the cultural elite who would figure prominently in her development as a writer-La Rochefoucauld and Sévigné, but also intellectuals less familiar to modern readers, such as Jean-Regnauld de Segrais and Pierre-Daniel Huet, both of whom played key roles in Zayde. The couple, who soon had two children, kept up their trips between Paris and Auvergne until around 1661, when the comte de Lafayette returned to his family estate alone. After this point, though apparently on good terms with her husband, Lafayette did not leave Paris.

It was a good time to be smart, privileged, and Parisian: salon culture was at its zenith. Being called a précieuse-and early testimony singled out the young Lafayette as one of the most charming and brilliant-was not yet an insult, and Lafayette participated in the literary games that flourished in Paris. Her first work-and the only one she would sign her name to-was in the genre of the verbal portrait, popularized by Scudéry in Clélie. It appeared in a luxury edition edited by Anne-Marie-Louise d'Orléans, duchesse de Montpensier, known as the Grande Mademoiselle, granddaughter of Henri IV and Louis XIV's cousin; it was of her friend Sévigné, whose portrait in Clélie had not been to Lafayette's liking. That Lafayette should start her writing in the Grande Mademoiselle's portrait collection seems fitting, for portraits were often exercises in literary ventriloquism. Contributors could and did simply offer a third-person sketch of a friend or celebrity; many portraits, however, were in fact simulated self-portraits, in which the writer pretended to speak with the presumed voice of the person depicted. Lafayette's portrait of Sévigné gave another twist to such ventriloquism, since she took on a masculine first-person voice, while nonetheless signing her own name: "Portrait of Madame the marquise de Sévigné, by Madame the comtesse de Lafayette under the name of an unknown man [un inconnu]." The formulation is odd to say the least, and hints that from the very beginning, Lafayette was highly practiced at stepping into the skin of narrators from whom she retained, however, an ambiguous authorial distance.

The question of Lafayette's signature is an important one, since all of the works on which her fame now rests were published anonymously or, in the case of Zayde, under the name of someone else. The standard explanation for her silence one might term the "aristocratic modesty" hypothesis, according to which, however much they played literary games together in private, nobles recoiled from actually being considered writers. Writing was an activity stamped with "the robe," that is, with the educated but bourgeois class of lawyers; these intellectuals served the highest aristocracy, who would be lauded as patrons in dedication after dedication. The explanation has undeniable value, but perhaps fails to account for the peculiarly complex nature of Lafayette's relation to literary publicity, a relation that could best be described as one of mistrust. Consider, for instance, the next major episode in her literary life-the publication of her historical novella The Princess of Montpensier, in 1662. The Princess of Montpensier was an outstandingly original entry on the literary scene in many ways-for its pessimistic portrayal of adulterous love, its lapidary brevity, its documented use of a recent historical setting. Yet its most distinctive feature may be an element foreign to the narrative itself: the novella was preceded by a crafty notice, purporting to be from the bookseller, stating that the contents of the book, in spite of its historical trappings, had been invented by its anonymous author. Lafayette could have simply published anonymously; she chose, however, to intervene in a way that complicated greatly the precise status of the printed work. The author was not merely using a notice-whose existence itself was highly unusual at the time-to claim the right to remain anonymous; rather, she was placing the normally invisible bookseller in the spotlight, and having this (anonymous!) figure assert the author's anonymity. The effect was to suggest layers of opacity separating literary creator from literary consumer-a far cry from the coterie atmosphere that had infused the project of the Grande Mademoiselle's portrait book, in which writing and reading were one big insider game of encoding and decoding.


Excerpted from ZAYDE by Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne Comtesse de Lafayette Copyright © 2006 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents


Series Editors' Introduction....................ix
Volume Editor's Introduction....................1
Volume Editor's Bibliography....................23
Note on Translation....................29
Zayde Part 1....................35
Part 2....................114
Series Editors' Bibliography....................195

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