Such forthright resistance is harder to come by in the poetry of her contemporary, Amable Tastu.
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Completely forgotten since the end of the nineteenth century, Tastu was highly regarded in the period for her poetry and her educational prose. In this dialogue between a guardian angel and a woman at different stages of her life, from girlhood to old age, the woman expresses her desire to write poetry, but is recalled to her quotidian duties by the angel:. A mes regrets ravis que la nature est belle! To my ravished eyes how beautiful is nature! All that my soul feels, that my eyes encompass Exhales from my mouth in melodious sounds!
Where are they running, those rivals with sonorous lutes? By a holy bond gently chained; What would you do with a treacherous hope? Although ultimately the angel of reason is given the last word, the open-ended form challenges prevailing discourses of domesticity. But death is liberty! After her second collection of poems in , Tastu renounced poetry and turned to more lucrative forms of writing educational books, historical surveys for young readers and translations.
Framed within a reception history marked by propriety, it is hard to see the potential for a feminist reading of her poetry. Coached by her mother, the writer Sophie Gay, Gay published her first collection of poems at the age of Il est un malheur que personne ne plaint, un danger que personne ne craint…. There is a misfortune that no one pities, a danger that no one fears….
As Dorothy Kelly has shown, Girardin critiques the discourse of femininity from within, by resorting frequently to irony and reversal. As Cheryl Morgan has recently argued, Girardin was perhaps a flawed poetess from the outset on account of her propensity for laughter. Ultimately, Delphine de Girardin alters the poetess tradition by using irony, humour or wit, but she developed this approach in prose and drama more than in poetry. Like many poetesses, the renown of Elisa Mercoeur arose from her tragic life-story as much if not more than her verse itself. The autodidact Mercoeur published two collections of elegies, the first at only 16, before dying tragically in Aside from her premature death that caused a sensation in the press, she will be remembered mostly as a regional poet from Brittany.
While her notoriety was based on an apparent acceptance of dominant views concerning femininity—the publication of her complete poems edited by her mother in did much to construct this image of virginal and prodigal child-poet—close examination of her poetry, according to Wendy Greenberg, shows clear engagement with the model of masculine genius and voice Her poems on the sublime and on philosophy have fallen on deaf ears because her tragic destiny as poetess was ultimately more compelling to her readers.
Louise Colet is yet another poetess whose life-story has received more attention than her voluminous writings. She wrote a copious number of poems, plays, novels, and other prose works, but her work has been overshadowed by her life and her relationship with her lovers, especially Gustave Flaubert, whom she met in Here is how Colet describes the modest and lighthearted muse of such poetry:. She rocks those hearts under her spell; does not consume the bard she inspires; kind and gentle, she comes at his first call; she is without bombast, she sings without a lute. She asks not for sunny skies or heat, a dark attic or a damp cellar appeal to her… and often, in doing her good deeds, she has been seen delivering an unexpected joy to the unhappy….
As such, her poetic erudition defies expectations about what women should write. Does the author wish to depict a female slave in revolt who shouts like a Spartacus or Saint-Simonian? God save me from such revolutionary ideas; I am not one of those women who have turned their shawl into a flag. The economic determinants of the linguistic backlash stemmed from the increasing participation of women in forms of lucrative writing such as journalism, educational books and translations.
Barred from the linguistic designation of poet , the term poetess , had it taken hold, would not have redressed the ideology of gender exclusion that leaves the woman poet without a proper name. While many eighteenth- and twentieth-century women poets are included, only Desbordes-Valmore figures as the token woman poet of the nineteenth century. The recently published introduction to nineteenth-century women poets, Wendy Greenberg's Uncanonical Women , however, seeks to remedy this bias and to revisit the nineteenth-century canon.
Critics, such as Gretchen Schultz and Adrianna Paliyenko with whom I have collaborated on a bibliographic article on this subject , have examined masculinist literary norms and the gender-based expectations that prevented the poetess from receiving an unconditional reception. New approaches to French Romantic women poets focus on the historical and cultural construction of the poetess or poet herself.
For a survey of the field, see the bibliographic article I published in collaboration with Adrianna M. Paliyenko, which the present essay substantially draws from. See note 3 of my bibliographic article. The Oxford English Dictionary , second edition also lists the following example of the pejorative connotations of poetess dating back to the mid-eighteenth-century. Mellor argues as much when she discusses the ideological limitations of the tradition of the female poet, which originated in that of the female preacher. Remembering, analyzing, imagining, considering the operations of his intellectual faculties and his bodily functions, observing himself sick, well, aging, Montaigne is especially concerned with the concept of change.
The form he conceived to carry the results of his meditations is perfectly adapted to this purpose. The language is clear, simple, and measured, giving a calculated but effortless appearance of spontaneity, engaging readers in a conversation that takes them gently into the paths of self-discovery. The legacy to posterity of this most moderate and self-moderating of thinkers is a double one. At the beginning of the 17th century the full flowering of the Classical manner was still remote, but various signs of a tendency toward order, stability, and refinement can be seen.
A widespread desire for cultural self-improvement, which is also a sign of the pressures to conformity in a society constructing itself around the king and his court, is reflected in the numerous manuals of politesse , or formal politeness, that appeared through the first half of the century; while at the celebrated salon of Mme de Rambouillet men of letters, mostly of bourgeois origin, and the nobility and leaders of fashionable society mixed in an easy relationship to enjoy the pleasures of the mind.
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Such gatherings did much to refine the literary language and also helped to prepare a cultured public that could engage in the serious analysis of moral and psychological problems. Its usual functions concerned the standardization of the French language.
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Manners are stylized, settings are conventional, and the plot is highly contrived; but the sentiments of the characters are highly refined, and the psychology of their relationships is sharply analyzed. Malherbe called for a simple, harmonious metre and a sober, almost prosaic vocabulary, pruned of poetic fancy. His influence helped to make French lyric verse, for nearly two centuries, elegant and refined but lacking imaginative inspiration.
He was the leader of a freethinking bohemia of young noblemen and men of letters, practising and preaching social and intellectual unorthodoxy. His persecution, imprisonment, and early death ended all this: libertinage went underground, and repressive orthodoxy was entrenched for a century or more.
Unlike the humanist playwrights of previous generations, Alexandre Hardy was first and foremost a man of the theatre. In addition to writing tragedies, he developed the tragicomedy and the pastoral play, which became the most popular genres between and In the theatre as elsewhere, the pastoral was a refining influence, providing a vehicle for the subtle analysis of feeling. Here the favourite theme of false appearances, the episodic structure, and devices such as the play within the play reflect the essentials of Baroque art. During the s a crucial struggle took place between this irregular type of drama and a simpler and more disciplined alternative.
Comedy gained a fresh impetus about But it was some time before Corneille, any more than his rivals, turned exclusively to tragedy. The emotional range Corneille achieves with his verse in The Cid is something previously unmatched. Contemporary audiences at once recognized the play as a masterpiece, but its form was subjected to an unprecedented critical attack. In terms of form, the essence of Classical French tragedy is a single action, seized at crisis point.
Chapelain was a major architect of Classicism in France. Tragicomedy lingered on as a popular alternative. By the s the mixture of modes was falling out of favour. Writers and their public had become more responsive to various standardizing influences. The long struggle to produce a literature that could claim to represent the moral and cultural values of a homogeneous society occupied the whole of the first half of the century. His self-reliant heroes, meeting every challenge and overcoming every obstacle, are motivated by the self-conscious moral code that animated Cardinal de Retz , Mme de Longueville , and other leaders of the heroic but futile resistance to Cardinal Mazarin.
Such optimistic, heroic attitudes may seem incompatible with a tragic view of the world; indeed, Corneille provides the key to his originality in substituting for the traditional Aristotelian emotions of pity and fear a new goal of admiration. Corneille asks that his audience admire something larger than life, and the best of his plays are still capable of arousing this response.
The same appetite for heroic subject matter is reflected in the midcentury novels. Such novels reflect the society of the time. They also show again what influenced the readers and playgoers of the Classical age: the minute analysis of the passions, when divorced from the superficial concerns of these novels, looks forward to the psychological subtlety of Jean Racine. Other writers of the period make a more individual use of the novel form. Cyrano de Bergerac returned to the Renaissance tradition of fictional travel as a vehicle for social and political satire and may be seen as an early exponent of science fiction.
Paul Scarron , an early practitioner of more realistic writing, was more down-to-earth in purpose and manner: in Le Roman comique —57 he set out to parody the heroic novels. The Maximes ; Maxims and Moral Reflections , his principal achievement, is a collection of epigrammatic reflections on human behaviour , expressed in the most universal terms: the general tone is bitingly cynical , self-interest being seen as the source of all actions. However, even this is touched with cynicism. He toured the provinces with his theatre troupe from about until , when they returned to Paris.
Even in stylized verse plays such as The School for Wives , Le Misanthrope performed , Le Tartuffe first version ; Tartuffe: The Hypocrite , or Les Femmes savantes ; The Learned Ladies , the comedy of manners merely provides a framework for the comic portrait of a central character, in which exaggeration and fantasy play a considerable part. In Le Tartuffe , and in Dom Juan , topical references and satiric implications were so provocative in dealing with the delicate subject of religious belief that there were strong reactions from churchmen.
However, the s were to see the rivalry between two acknowledged masters of serious drama. While Corneille retained his partisans among older playgoers, it was Jean Racine who appealed to a new generation. Tragedy for Racine is an inexorable series of events leading to a foreseeable and inevitable catastrophe.
Plot is of the simplest; the play opens with the action at crisis point, and, once the first step is taken, tension mounts between a small number of characters, locked together by conflicting ambitions and desires, in increasingly straitened and stifling circumstances.
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Racinian poetic language represents preciosity at its best: the intense and monstrous nature of frustrated passion is thrown into relief by the cool, elegant, and understated formulations that carry it. His work set a standard and a model for the study of the entanglement of the public and the personal that continued into the 20th century.
Boileau himself, in his satires from c. Though the novel was still considered to be a secondary genre , it produced one masterpiece that embodied the Classical manner to perfection. The language achieves its effects by understatement and subtle nuance rather than by rhetorical flourish. The expressive medium forged in the salons is here used to generate original insights into the inchoate feelings of confusion and disarray that overwhelm the naive, unformed young woman confronted with the experienced seducer.
The most distinguished prose writer of the age, however, was a man who, if he does reflect the society he lived in, does so in a highly critical light. The work remains incomplete, so that, in spite of the aphoristic brilliance, or the lyrical power, of many fragments, some of the thinking is enigmatic , incoherent, or even contradictory. Nevertheless, the central theme is clearly and strongly posed. Pascal is the first master of a really modern prose style.
A new intellectual climate can be recognized from onward, as the centralizing authority of absolute monarchy tightened its hold on nation and culture. The position of Bossuet is an ambivalent one.
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