BECK index

French Literature and Theatre 1715-88

by Sanderson Beck

Diderot’s Philosophical Novels
Prévost and Manon Lescaut
Laclos: Soldier, Novelist & Feminist
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s Paul and Virginia
Le Sage’s Novels and His Comedy Turcaret
Marivaux’s Romantic Comedies
Beaumarchais and His Figaro Comedies

Diderot’s Philosophical Novels

      In 1748 Diderot published the comical novel Les Bijoux indiscrets (The Indiscreet Jewels) which was considered obscene. In 1747 the tale Nocrion, Conte Allobroge by Caylus had been published in which a fairy gives a knight the power to make the sexual organs of a woman speak, and Diderot used this device by having a genie give the bored Sultan Mangogul of the Congo a magic ring that pointed in that direction makes the vagina speak. This novel was successful, and the French took the Sultan to symbolize Louis XV and his mistress Madame Pompadour with the Sultan’s queen representing queen consort Marie Leszczynska. The mouth of women would try to silence the lower labia from talking and even tried to muzzle them. The jewels did not speak of their own orgasms but of those of their visitors, and they found that the majority were priests. What the Sultan learns from the babbling is the ability of women to dissimulate with extraordinary secrecy. However, his mistress Mirzoza seems immune to the power of the ring until she begins speaking. Then they realize that her mouth knows all the secrets of the jewels and openly expresses them. Thus her love is transparent and is considered reasonable and enduring.
      Diderot’s novel La Religieuse (The Nun) was stimulated by events that began in March 1758 when the young nun Marguerite Delamarre in the Longchamp convent brought a lawsuit to be released from the vocation imposed on her by her parents. The Marquis de Croismare pleaded for her; but she lost her case, and he retired. His friends in Paris wrote fictional letters in her name to him, and he wrote back to where the letters stated she was staying with Mme. Moreau-Madin who was also involved in the hoax. The marquis did not come to Paris but offered her a job, provoking the conspirators to forge letters from Moreau-Madin. Eight years later the hoax was revealed, and Grimm published the letters in his Correspondence Littéraire in 1770. Seven years later Diderot began revising the letters as a novel which was serialized in the Correspondence Littéraire taken over by Meister from 1780 to 1782. Diderot continued to revise his novel, and he added at the end the Préface-Annexe that has Grimm explaining the hoax letters. The novel was printed posthumously in 1796 followed by publication of a more recent manuscript in 1798.
      The novel The Nun is written in the first person from her point of view. Suzanne learns that she does not have the same father as her two sisters who are given dowries and are married. She is sent to the Saint-Marie convent when she is sixteen; but she does not want to become a nun. After a while the Mother Superior persuades her to stay there two more years. She saw how a nun who tried to escape was punished so severely that she went mad. Because she is resisting becoming a nun, Suzanne is punished also with solitary confinement. When she is asked to take her vows, she repeatedly says no and then is punished. She is told that her mother and sisters cannot help her and that as a nun she would get a small pension. She learns that her father is dead. She is persuaded to become a nun and chooses Longchamp because of her musical talent. She took her vows and spent two more years as a novice. She did not want to take her final vows, but after a long process she woke up with no memory of having taken them. She felt isolated and had few friends and faced much solitude and persecution. She decided to revoke her vows and brings her lawsuit. She is persecuted even more. After she loses her case, she is transferred to another convent and learns that the mother superior is a lesbian. Her prayers to be liberated seem to go unanswered. She confesses to a priest who also desires her and helps her escape. This novel portrayed what different convents could be like then and exposed the harsh treatment of a destitute woman forced into a religious calling she does not feel.

      Diderot began writing his short novel, Rameau’s Nephew, in 1761 or 1762, but he did not published it probably because it would have antagonized too many people. References in the work to events as late as 1774 indicate that he was still revising it by then. After his death on July 31, 1784 his writings went to Ekaterina (Catherine) II of Russia. Someone smuggled a copy of Rameau’s Nephew to Germany that Schiller gave to Goethe who translated it into German and published it for the first time in 1805. This version was translated back into French in 1821, and the original French Le Neveu de Rameau ou La Satire seconde was published in 1825. The most authentic manuscript in Diderot’s handwriting did not come to light until 1890.
      Diderot narrates what is mostly a dialog between himself and the nephew of the famous composer Jean-François Rameau (1716-77). A quote by Horace refers to the Roman god of change and trade, Vertumnus. Diderot walks around the Palais-Royal daily and then watches chess players in the Regency Café. One evening he engages in a discussion with an extraordinary character who exhibits both good and bad qualities without shame and who “shakes and stirs us up, makes us praise or blame, smokes out the truth, discloses the worthy, and unmasks rascals.”1
      Rameau greets Diderot as “master Philosopher.” Diderot immediately notes that his friend “forgives nothing but sublime genius.” He says his uncle “thinks of no one but himself.” He believes the world needs geniuses to bring change, and he prefers the wisdom of Rabelais to their peace of mind. He argues that evil comes from a few men of genius but admits that he does not know history nor anything at all. He says lies are more useful to nations, and the truth is most harmful.
      Diderot concedes that “although a lie may serve for a while, it is harmful in the long run;” but he contends that truth is best “even though it may do harm at the moment.” He cites the example of Socrates whom judges condemned for violating a bad law. Diderot says society should not tolerate bad laws and would not persecute geniuses if they had only good ones.
      Rameau admits he is “an ignoramus, a fool, a lunatic, a lazy, impudent, greedy good-for-nothing.” This surprises Diderot who thinks people usually hide or forgive themselves while condemning others. Rameau sees himself as a jester, a buffoon, and a saucy rogue because he can make bored people laugh. Yet he finds a dignity in man that nothing must destroy. He sees self-contempt in the soul’s torment from neglecting talent.
      Diderot says he endeavors to teach his daughter grammar, mythology, history, geography, drawing, and especially ethics. Rameau says, “Until one knows everything one knows nothing worth knowing” and that “it would be as well to know nothing as to know so little and so poorly.” He notes that professions make exceptions to ethics that he calls “idioms.” The worse times are the more idioms multiply. “In Nature all species live off one another; in society all classes do the same.” He suggests that virtue and philosophy are not for everybody. If the universe were wise, it would be “devilishly dull.” He sees no countries left and nothing but tyrants and slaves, and he advises going to court to flatter the tastes of people and serve their vices. He secures his own well-being with vices that are natural to him and that are congenial to the habits of his countrymen and agreeable to the tastes of his protectors which are closer to their needs than any virtues. “Virtue is praised, but hated” because it is too cold in a world where one must keep warm. “Like tigers we tear apart whatever succeeds,” and he goes on to say, “We insult everybody and injure nobody.” He says, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” and he has been “treated more familiarly than anybody.” Nature knows all the vices that escape the law.
      When Diderot offers him something to drink, he replies, “I am not hard to please. Poverty has accustomed me to everything.” When Rameau claims that he is a superior moralist, Diderot doubts that and declares that he himself is an honest man, not suited by those principles. Yet Rameau envies Diderot not for his telling the truth but for his gifts for telling lies in his books. The dialog and the novel end with Rameau saying, “He laughs best who laughs last.”

      Diderot wrote D’Alembert’s Dream and gave it to his friend Melchior Grimm who wanted to publish it in his Correspondence Littéraire; but in late 1769 Diderot learned of something he wanted to add and got the manuscript back. Later his friend Suard told him that Julie de L’Espinasse, who lived with d’Alembert, was concerned about how she was portrayed in the dialog. So d’Alembert watched as Diderot burned his only manuscript. After he returned from Russia in 1774 he tried to write the dialogs again but could not do so to his satisfaction. After Julie de L’Espinasse died in 1776, d’Alembert found her love letters from the Marquis de Mora. Then Diderot discovered a copy that Grimm had made, and in August 1782 Diderot sent a copy of his revised D’Alembert’s Dream to the subscribers of the Correspondence Littéraire. In 1785 Diderot’s daughter sent all his writings to Ekaterina II. Finally D’Alembert’s Dream was printed in 1830.
      The first part of D’Alembert’s Dream is “A Conversation Between Diderot and d’Alembert.” D’Alembert has a hard time believing that a Being could exist in every part of the universe, but he wonders if there could be a universal sensibility (consciousness) that would include stones. Diderot explains how even marble could be ground up, mixed with dirt, and over time be used to grow plants that could be eaten by living animals. They agree that memory indicates that they have awareness of self so that they can compare different memories and then reason and make judgments. Diderot mentions Berkeley’s view that physical bodies could not be known without a spiritual awareness or consciousness. He notes that mathematics and physics have necessary connections, but in morality and politics they are contingent or probable. They can study particular influences but cannot be sure what will follow.
      The second and longest dialog is also called “D’Alembert’s Dream,” and the speakers are the dreaming d’Alembert, Mlle. de L’Espinasse, and the physician Bordeu. She hears d’Alembert talking in his sleep and writes it down. She reports that he wonders how things might be on other planets, or if he could “see in a single drop of water the history of the entire world,” and he asked “what is our human lifetime in comparison with the infinite duration of the universe,” or “how many races of animals have preceded us” and how many will follow. He said, ”Everything changes, everything passes away—only the Whole endures.”2 Bordeu suggests that animals can change over long periods of time in response to necessity. D’Alembert himself is heard saying, “All beings participate in the existence of all other beings,” and “all nature is perpetually in flux.” Yet there is only one great individual—the whole universe. She asks about a spider and her web, and Bordeu asks if she means that all sensations are conveyed to a central point. He also recalls the theory that intelligence may be implanted in bits of energetic matter. D’Alembert wakes up and asks how he can continue to be the same person, and Bordeu says he told them that while he was dreaming. He says, “When we are asleep, it is the activity of our own consciousness that originates all the sensations we are aware of.”3 He explains that free will is the actions caused by ourselves. She asks about virtue and vice because the word “virtue” is holy in all languages. He says doing good has many different aspects. She mentions memory, making comparisons, judgment, reason, desires, aversions, passions, aptitudes, and talent, and he adds imagination which is aided by memories.
      The doctor goes away and comes back at two in the morning for the “Sequel to the Conversation.” Mlle. de L’Espinasse asks about mating between different species. Bordeu questions whether anyone can get any pleasure or profit out of total chastity, and she agrees that none can. He opposes either excess but implies that self-gratification is better than corrupting someone else’s wife. Finally she asks what is the cause of sexual perversions. He replies that it is weakness of nervous organization in the young, senility in the old, seductive beauty in Athens, scarcity of women in Rome, and fear of the pox in France.

      In 1762 Laurence Sterne sent Diderot a copy of his novel Tristram Shandy. Diderot liked it, and in the 1770s he worked on the novel, Jacques the Fatalist and His Master, which used portions of Tristram Shandy and was distributed in nineteen parts in the handwritten Correspondence Littéraire from November 1778 to July 1780 and a few more in 1786. Schiller translated some of these in 1785, and the complete novel was translated into German in 1792. Jacques the Fatalist was published in French in 1796. The book was banned by the Paris police in 1825, and the next year copies were destroyed because it was considered an “outrage to both public and religious morality and to the common decencies.” At the beginning Diderot states the common theme reported by Jaques as what his Captain told him, “Everything that happens to us here below, for good and for ill, was written up there, on high.”4 Jacques tells many romantic and bawdy stories about his life to his master who seems to be more dependent on his servant Jacques than the other way around. These stories and others are often interrupted and are usually comical.
      At an inn the widow Madame de la Pommeraye tells how her late husband’s friend, the Marquis des Arcis, becomes her mistress. They both promise to be faithful to each other; but when he loses interest, she manipulates her former lover into a marriage with a prostitute. Des Arcis is upset at first but comes to accept the relationship, showing how Pommeraye’s motive of revenge resulted in an opposite effect. Diderot as narrator occasionally talks with the readers and asks for their opinions as to which way the story should go. Diderot as the author is free to make the choices. Near the end Jacques is hoping to wed his fiancée but wonders if his master is in love with her. Jacques according to his fatalism must accept whether his wife will be faithful or not. This calms his mind, and he goes to sleep.
      In this novel Diderot explored the question of human freedom versus the determination of the natural world. His book has been taken as satirizing the determinism of Spinoza’s philosophy by showing how various human choices and actions determine what happens but not always as expected. Perhaps we may conclude that humans with more awareness and ability to reason than other animals and plants have more options to exercise wider freedom; but natural laws and instincts also apply, and some would say that divine providence is also to be considered. For Diderot humans are the only social animal with moral awareness. In his writing he showed how nonconformists may stimulate change in society. Jacques has been interpreted as a prerevolutionary hero, and Diderot’s aim was to seek out the truth.
      In 1772 Diderot wrote philosophical dialogs in his Supplément au voyage de Bougainville about travels to Argentina, Patagonia, Indonesia, and Tahiti. In 1778 he wrote about politics in his Essay on the Reigns of Claudius and Nero.

Prévost and Manon Lescaut

      Antoine-François Prévost was born on April 1, 1697 at Hesdin in Artois. In 1711 after his mother’s death he studied at the Jesuit College of Hesdin. He became a Jesuit novice in 1713 in Paris and transferred to the college of La Flèche in 1715. He spent some time in the army and became a Jesuit novice at Rouen in March 1717. He returned to La Flèche for a year of philosophy and joined the army again in 1718. After the Jesuits rejected him in 1719 he joined the Benedictines at St. Maur near Rouen where they were devoted to scholarly work. He moved to other abbeys, and in 1724 he wrote a passionate novel, The Adventures of Pomponius, a Roman knight, or the history of our times which criticized the regency. In 1726 Prévost began teaching humanities at the College de Saint-Germer. He was ordained a priest, and he visited abbeys. In April 1727 he was sent to Paris and probably began writing the autobiographical novel, Memoirs et aventures d’un homme de qualité (who has withdrawn from the world).
      In 1728 Prévost was transferred to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, but in October he expressed his discontent in a letter to his superior. A lettre de cachet was issued for his arrest, and in November he left to go to England. In London he learned English well, tutored Francis Eyles, son of a former banker, attended plays, and participated in the literary life. Prévost appreciated English tolerance and found among them honesty, humanity, honor, wisdom, and happiness. He joined the Anglican Church, and he agreed with the English who believed that violence only produces external changes. He went to Holland in the fall of 1730 and began calling himself “Prévost d’Exiles.” He visit Rotterdam, The Hague, and Amsterdam. There in 1731 he published the seventh and last volume of his Memoirs et aventures d’un homme de qualité as the Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut and in October the first four (of 7) volumes of Le Philosophe anglais ou Histoire de M. Cleveland, fils naturel de Cromwell. He returned to England early in 1733 with his mistress Lenki Eckhardt. He wrote the periodical, Le Pour et contre, journal Littéraire d’un gout nouveau, which was printed in Paris in twenty volumes from 1733 to 1740. In December 1733 Prévost was detained for forging the name of Francis Eyles on a bill of exchange, and that month his arrest was ordered in Paris because of his banned novel, Manon Lescaut. He returned to Paris in 1734, and Pope Clement XII pardoned him in June and allowed him to transfer to another branch of the Benedictines in September. In the winter of 1736 he became the chaplain to the Prince of Conti. In 1737 he devoted three volumes of Le Pour et contre to Voltaire’s Lettres philosophiques, and in 1738 he permitted Voltaire to answer his critics in a long letter.
      In January 1741 Prévost was accused of a literary faux pas, and he traveled to Brussels and Frankfurt. He published his novel Histoire d’une Grecque moderne and three others by 1742. He translated Dryden’s All for Love, Steele’s Conscious Lovers, perhaps the anonymous 4-volume edition of Richardson’s Pamela, and many other works. He published his translations of Richardson’s Clarissa in 1751 and Grandisson in 1753. Prévost’s longest and most popular work was his Histoire général des voyages which was published from 1746 to 1759 in 15 volumes, providing Europeans with knowledge of overseas countries for the next century. He leased a house at Chaillot for three years and in 1750 met Rousseau who called him “worthy of immortality.” His revised edition of Manon Lescaut was published in 1753. In 1755 for nine months Prévost succeeded the Baron Melchior von Grimm as editor of the Journal Etranger which had the stated aim “to promote the development of a cosmopolitan spirit among the peoples so that they might live in greater harmony.”5 Prévost published 66 volumes of his own writing and 47 volumes of translations, and he was one of the most widely known writers in Europe. He died of a stroke on November 25, 1763.
      Prévost in a “Notice” at the beginning of his Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut described his novel as a “mixture of virtues and vices, a perpetual contrast of good sentiments and bad actions.”6 Yet his purpose was “to instruct while entertaining.” He realized that people are attracted to the virtues of gentleness and humanity. Yet they have difficulty practicing them because “we are afraid of being dupes by trying to be kind and liberal, of being considered weak by appearing too tender and emotional.”7 His work was intended to be “a treatise on morality shown entertainingly in practice.”
      The author of Manon Lescaut turns the narration over to the Chevalier des Grieux who tells how at the age of 17 he has just finished his philosophy course at Amiens. A bishop urges him to seek a career in the Church, but his parents want him to join the Order of Malta. He sees a beautiful and charming young woman and learns she is being sent to a convent against her wishes so that her inclination to pleasure may be checked. Grieux wants to set her free and persuades her to stay at an inn. He learns that her name is Manon Lescaut, and she escapes from her elderly escort. Grieux’s friend Tiberge is three years older, and Grieux tells him of his passion for the girl. Grieux promises to meet him so that he can run away with her. The couple goes to Saint-Denis, and they stay at an inn together. Though they are not married, at Paris they get an apartment and spend three weeks together. He wants to be reconciled with his father and hopes that she will win him over. She talks him into relying on the money they have, but one day he discovers she is seeing Monsieur de B. who is sharing his riches with her. Three lackeys of his father abduct him, and his brother takes him to their father. His brother blames him for giving himself up to an unknown woman. His father tells him that Monsieur de B. has won her heart, and his son wants to kill B. His father suggests he forget her and find another pretty woman, and he locks him in his room. After six months he is still obsessed with her, though he reads books and does some writing. Tiberge comes to visit and says she is being kept by Monsieur B, and Grieux decides to join his friend in the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice. Yet Grieux wonders,

If it is true that heavenly aid is at every moment
equal in strength to the passions,
then let someone explain to me
by what fatal influence we can find ourselves
swept all of a sudden far away from our duty
without finding ourselves capable of the slightest resistance
and without feeling the slightest remorse.8

      Grieux is admired for passing his exam on theology, and he finds that Manon has come to see him. She dazzles him and says she will die without his love. He says she still has his heart, and they share “a thousand passionate caresses.” She has jewelry and money from B but will leave his furniture. They try to live frugally at Chaillot; but Manon is “passionate for pleasure,” and they get a second apartment in Paris. Grieux consults about money with her brother who is in the Royal Guards.
      After a fire destroys their possessions, Grieux refuses to let Manon get money from a nobleman. He borrows money from Tiberge and learns how to cheat at cards. Manon’s brother persuades her to become the mistress of wealthy M. de G—M—, and Grieux pretends to be her brother to join her in his house. They steal jewels and money but are caught by the police. M. de G—M— visits Grieux in prison; but when he learns that Manon is also detained, he tries to strangle her brother. Grieux asks himself,

By what fatality have I become so criminal?
Love is an innocent passion;
how has it changed for me
into a source of miseries and disorders?9

Later he justifies his criminal acts because he believes that love is an innocent passion and a sign of a superior character. Tiberge takes a note to the brother who brings Grieux a pistol, but while escaping he kills a guard. He bribes those holding Manon to arrange her escape dressed as a man. They go to her brother’s house, but M. Lescaut is killed by a man he cheated at cards. Grieux borrows money from Tiberge. The couple wants to get revenge on G—M—, and they deceive his son into giving her presents; but G—M— alerts the police who arrest them again. The elder Grieux arranges for his son’s release, but Manon is to be transported to Louisiana. Grieux gets permission to go with her on the ship, and they live in a crude shelter in New Orleans. He gets a job and asks permission to marry her; but the governor’s nephew has fallen in love with her. Grieux wounds him seriously in a duel, and the couple flee; but she becomes ill and dies in a field. Grieux mourns her, and Tiberge arrives and persuades his friend to go back to France where he repents. In this novel a religious man, who loved writing romantic stories, warns people about the dangers of romantic love.

Laclos: Soldier, Novelist & Feminist

      Pierre-Ambroise Choderlos de Laclos was born on October 18, 1741 in Amiens asthe younger of two sons of a poor secretary to King Louis XV. He attended the Royal Artillery School at La Fère 1760-62 and was sent to the garrison at La Rochelle. He became a first lieutenant in 1765, capitaine par commission in 1771, and capitaine-commandant in 1780. He was posted at Grenoble 1769-75 and to relieve his boredom wrote a few poems. In 1774 he wrote “Epître à Margot” which was published in the Almanach des Muses in 1776, and it was infamously taken as a reflection on Madame du Barry. His libretto to a comic opera based on Marie-Jeanne Ricoboni’s novel Ernestina had only one performance attended by Queen Marie Antoinette on July 19, 1777, but it was booed from start to finish. Laclos was moved around and became a fortification strategist at Ile de Ré 1779-82, and during that time he wrote his only novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which was published in four short volumes in April 1782. At least sixteen editions of the scandalous novel were published that year, and he was sent back to La Rochelle until 1786.
      A new edition of Dangerous Liaisons or Letters collected in one section of society and published for the edification of others was published in 1787 and included his correspondence with Madame Riccoboni about the novel. In France at this time most of the upper classes accepted mariage de raison based on economics rather than on love which could be found outside of marriage. Though the novel’s immorality was often criticized, it was not banned until the cour royale de Paris did so in 1824. The editor’s preface included the following warnings:

that any woman who consents to receive an unprincipled man
into her circle of friends must end his victim;
the other, that any mother is, to say the least, imprudent who
allows anyone but herself to win her daughter’s confidence. Young people of either sex might also learn that
the friendship which unprincipled persons offer them so glibly
is always a dangerous trap,
as fatal to their happiness as to their virtue.10

      Les Liaisons Dangereuses consists of 175 letters from 1 August 17— to 14 January the next year. Fifteen-year-old Cécile de Volanges writes to her friend Sophie Carnay at the Ursuline Convent that her mother is planning to marry her to the Comte de Gercourt. Previously he left the Marquise de Merteuil for a more virtuous intendante who abandoned the Vicomte de Valmont. Merteuil and Valmont were lovers before that, and the Marquise writes to him that she wants him to seduce the virgin Cécile for revenge against Gercourt; but Valmont writes back that that would be too easy. Instead he hopes to seduce the virtuous Madame de Tourvel, whose husband, a judge, is away on a case. Merteuil writes that young Danceny has been courting Cécile, and the Marquise intends to quarrel with him. Valmont promises Merteuil that he will help Danceny deflower Cécile in order to humiliate Gercourt. Valmont also wants to resume his love affair with Merteuil. She says that if he can get written proof that Tourvel loves him, then she will agree to that.
      Cécile writes love letters to Danceny but refuses to see him, and she asks the experienced Merteuil for advice. Merteuil persuades Madame Volanges to take away her daughter’s letters from Danceny so that the young lovers will be drawn together. Madame Volanges takes Cécile to visit Valmont’s aunt, Madame de Rosemonde. Tourvel has heard of Valmont’s wicked reputation and tries to avoid him, but he says he loves her for spiritual reasons. He agrees not to express love or intimacy. He writes to Madame de Tourvel in a letter,

Why, tell me, do I deserve to be treated
with such crushing severity?
I am not afraid to let you pass judgement upon me;
what, then, have I done?
What, except yield to a natural feeling, inspired by beauty,
sanctioned by virtue, and kept at all times
within the bounds of respect,
its innocent expression prompted not by hope but by trust?11

Gradually she lets down her guard, and they become friends. Concerned that she might be seduced, she insists that he go away, and he reluctantly submits and goes to visit his aunt in the country in order to advance the affair of Cécile and Danceny who arrives secretly. Valmont has been delivering Danceny’s letters to Cécile and persuades her to give him the key to her room. He then seduces her by suggesting she can learn to enjoy sex as often as she wants.
      Valmont continues to court Tourvel. Not making headway he ignores her, and then she writes asking for friendship. Cécile writes to Merteuil for advice with Danceny. Madame Volanges also writes to Merteuil and considers breaking off Cécile’s engagement, but the Marquise urges her to provide for her daughter’s future. When Tourvel finally warms up to Valmont, he humiliates her by refusing, shaming her. She writes to Madame de Rosemonde to explain why she is leaving. Valmont is sad to see her go, and Cécile refuses to see him. Merteuil, seeing Valmont’s failures, decides to seduce Danceny who still writes love letters to Cécile.
      Valmont manages to make love to Tourvel and describes his conquest in a letter to Merteuil. He comes to her for his reward, but she insists on the written proof from Tourvel. Merteuil criticizes him for losing his detachment and really being in love with Tourvel. Yet she is hiding her love for Valmont and is afraid of losing him. Cécile had been made pregnant by Valmont but has a miscarriage. Valmont and Merteuil quarrel, and she writes to him,

Do you know, Vicomte, why I never married again?
It was certainly not for lack of advantageous matches:
it was solely so that no one should have the right
to object to anything I might do.12

He writes back that now she will either be his lover or his enemy and that he will take the slightest obstacle as a “declaration of war.” Merteuil accepts the war, ignores Valmont, and captivates Danceny. He learns of Valmont’s affair with Cécile, challenges him to a duel, and wounds him. While dying Valmont gives Danceny his letters from Merteuil. She is embarrassed, is marred by smallpox, and goes to Holland. Tourvel mourns Valmont, and Cécile enters a convent. Danceny gives the letters to Valmont’s aunt and becomes a celibate knight of Malta.

      In early 1783 the Academy of Châlons-sur-Marne sponsored an essay contest on the question “What would be the best means to improve the education of women?” Laclos briefly answered no on March 1 because “our laws and our customs are equally opposed to our ability to give women a better one.”13 He argued that if one is not stretching the faculties, one is restraining them, and instead of education it is deprivation.

Degraded more and more by a long habit of slavery,
you have come to prefer its debasing but convenient vices to
the more difficult virtues of a free and respectable existence.14

He advised women who would recover their advantages.

Do not continue to allow yourselves
to be deluded by false promises,
do not expect the help of the men who created your ills:
they have neither the will nor the power to end them.15

Without freedom there is no morality, and without morality there can be no education.
      Laclos published his essay “On Women and Their Education” in 1783, but it was generally ignored during his lifetime. Greatly influenced by the ideas of Rousseau, he contrasted the freedom, strength, health, beauty, love, and happiness of natural women to those enslaved by the society of his time. Men in their desire to control everything have corrupted everything. In puberty desires naturally come to life and are followed by pleasure unless it is poisoned by the ills of institutions. Women lose the habit of loving as defiance and insensitivity wither and constrict the soul. They avoid pleasure and are susceptible to distractions that become difficult. He observed that few women “grow old without being a gambler, a slanderer, or a religious bigot.”
      For the natural person the lack of afflictions leads to the enjoyment of pleasures. To be happy what is needed is to desire nothing. Men enslaved women because they are generally weaker and are burdened by bearing and raising children. Thus men subjugated women who could not defend themselves. Women learned to veil their charms to awaken curiosity and by refusing consent aroused in men the desire to please them. Thus beauty and love came into being. Laclos believed that every natural woman who is young, tall, and strong is beautiful; but clothing hid the beauty, and the exposed face become the center of attention. Laclos advised women to exercise the sensitivity of their souls and cultivate their minds to increase the number of their ideas. The great impulses of the soul are portrayed in the eyes.
      In the spring of 1784 Laclos published his essay on Fanny Burney’s epistolary novel Cecilia. In 1786 he married Marie-Soulange Duperré, two years after they had a son. Also in 1784 the Paris Academy offered a prize for the best eulogy of Louis XIV’s General Vauban. Instead of praising him, Laclos criticized Vauban’s work as a general and an engineer and for greatly increasing France’s debt by spending millions rebuilding forts he had destroyed in sieges. His essay provoked a storm of protests, and he was assigned to the frontier post at Metz. In 1787 he was made a Knight of St. Louis with a pension of 800 livres. That year Louis XVI banished his cousin Louis-Philippe-Joseph, Duc d’Orléans, after he defended the Parlement’s right to question new taxes imposed by the King. Laclos supported Orléans and entered his household as his Secrétaire des commandements to handle accounting and bill collecting.
      During the revolution in 1792 Laclos fought in the Valmy victory and was appointed chief of staff for an Army of the Pyrenees that did not exist and then Governor-General of French India which had no army or navy. He was imprisoned for six weeks in the spring of 1793 and was arrested again in November and held for a year. Then for the Committee on Public Safety he wrote the essay “On War and Peace.” He and his wife supported Napoleon’s coup d’état on November 9, 1799, and in January 1800 Bonaparte appointed him a brigadier general. After being posted to Taranto in Naples as commander-in-chief of artillery in Italy in 1803, he became ill and died on September 5.

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s Paul and Virginia

      Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was born on January 19, 1737 in Le Havre and read Robinson Crusoe when he was 12. At that age he went with an uncle who was a sea-captain on a voyage to Martinique, but he was as displeased by his uncle, the ship, and the trade as he was by his teacher in college. He was good at mathematics and was educated as an engineer at the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées until it was shut down by the Seven Years War in 1758. Then he joined a new corps of engineers and served in the army under the Count of Saint-Germain, fighting at Corbach and Varbourg. After a dispute with a commanding officer, Bernardin was assigned to help prepare Malta for an attack by Turks. He soon left there in 1761 and sought service in Holland. He became an engineer for Ekaterina (Catherine) II of Russia but was blocked from trying to find a passage through Russia to the Indies. He went to Poland in June 1764 and became intimately involved with the Princess Marie Lubomirska. By May 1765 he was a major and aide-de-camp to the elector of Saxony, and in the summer he traveled to serve Friedrich II of Prussia; but he returned to France in the fall. He reported his observations of these armies in his Memoir on Desertion. In March 1768 he sailed as a royal engineer to Madagascar but refused to disembark until he got to the Ile of France (Mauritius) where he became involved with the administrator Poivre’s wife. He observed much ignorance, coarseness, and dishonesty among the French colonials, and he especially criticized the brutal treatment of slaves. He spent his time studying plants and animals. He left the island in November 1770 and reached Paris in May 1771. There he became friends with Jean-Jacques Rousseau who became his mentor.
      Bernardin de Saint-Pierre wrote Voyage à l’Île de France in 1773 and published his Études de la nature in December 1784. In 1788 in the third edition of the Études he published his novel, Paul et Virginie, which became popular in France and in Europe and was published by itself in 1789. This was the first of hundreds of editions, and it was translated into many European languages. The novel made him famous and provided him with a regular income. In 1790 his novel, The Indian Cottage, described a scientist’s quest for wisdom in India, and he discovers that the vegetarian Brahmins have healthy and long lives. Saint-Pierre advocated a vegetarian diet, and he noted that the Japanese, who ate mostly plants and seafood, had strong warriors. In 1792 Louis XVI appointed Saint-Pierre the Superintendent of the Royal Botanical Gardens and Curator of Natural History Collections, and in 1794 the Convention made him a professor of Moral Science at the new Ecole Normale Supérieure. He was a Member of the Institute from 1795 until his entrance into the French Academy in 1803, and he became its president in 1807. He died on January 21, 1814, and his Harmonies of Nature was published in 1815.
      Saint-Pierre wrote in his preface to the 1788 edition of Paul and Virginia that happiness comes from living in accord with Nature and virtue. After a brief description of the Ile de France the author has an old man narrate the story. In 1726 Monsieur de la Tour and his pregnant wife arrive, but he soon dies of a fever. Madame de la Tour meets Marguerite who was abandoned by a nobleman and has given birth to Paul. They become neighbors and close friends. Madame de la Tour has the baby Virginia, and they bring up the two children together as if they were brother and sister. The old man becomes godfather to both. Marguerite has a Yolof Negro named Domingue who is intelligent and is treated well. The two mothers share everything with the children even their breast-feeding. They hope that they will “enjoy the pleasures of love and the happiness of equality far from the cruel prejudices of Europe.”16 They are not threatened by punishments from God, and the two households hold everything in common.
      One day an escaped Negress appears, and they give her food. After a journey they persuade the landowner to pardon her. On the way back grateful runaway slaves carry the weary children home. When Paul is twelve, he and Domingue plant orange, lemon, and other fruit trees. The old man shares Latin verses such as “Here is a clear conscience and a life that knows no deceit,” but Virginia likes “Shaken always, but constant” even better. Occasionally Madame de la Tour reads them stories from the Bible, but their main theology is Nature based on feelings, and their morality is actions as in the Gospels. Their faith in a Supreme Power gives them consolation from the past, courage in the present, and hope for the future. They are polite and help those in need, gaining the respect of the rich and the confidence of the poor. They eat from their gardens of vegetables, fruit trees, and seafood. Marguerite teaches them that happiness is found by making others happy. When Paul caresses Virginia, she is confused and runs off to her mother. Madame de la Tour suggests that Paul could go to India and by trading buy a slave so that he could come back and marry Virginia; but he does not want to leave her.
      Madame de la Tour has a wealthy aunt who has disowned her, but she asks her niece to send Virginia to be educated in France. The island’s governor explains to Paul that those in authority often give to vicious schemers while ignoring hidden merit. Virginia does not want to leave, but a missionary persuades her that it is God’s will. Paul wants to go with her, but he discovers that Virginia has left the island. He asks the old man to teach him how to read and write so that he can send letters to Virginia. He does not like geography and the violence of history, but he finds more humanity in novels such as Telemachus. A letter arrives for Madame de la Tour from Virginia who writes that she is being called a countess, though she has no money of her own. Paul writes back promising to improve the garden, and he plants seeds that she sent from Europe.
      The old man describes his life on the island and notes that never has a murderous gun frightened the peaceful children. After Virginia has been away for more than two years, the old man records a conversation he had with Paul. He explains that Paul is a bastard and that in the current French society he would have little opportunity to advance. Paul decides that he will acquire knowledge from books so that he can be useful to his country. The old man says that the best book is the Gospel which teaches equality, friendship, humanity, and peace; but for centuries Europeans have used it as an excuse for wrath and tyranny. He says that in France the young corrupt their neighbors’ wives while the old cannot win their wives’ affection. Farming is considered the lowest work. Nature balances all things. The rich have nothing to hope for and everything to fear while the poor have little to fear and everything to hope for. The old man says,

The works of the great authors are beams of the wisdom
that governs the universe, which mankind,
inspired by divine art, has learned to maintain on earth.17

They learn that a ship has arrived and receive a letter from Virginia who is on board; but a hurricane drives the ship away from the shore. Paul makes valiant efforts to save her but cannot get to the ship, and Virginia drowns. Paul recovers from exhaustion and mourns the loss of Virginia. The old man tries to console him by explaining that the virtuous are rewarded after death. Within two months Paul, Madame de la Tour, and Marguerite have died. Paul and Virginia had a great influence through the 19th century and was mentioned by characters in Lamartine’s Graziella, Balzac’s The Village Priest, and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

Le Sage’s Novels and His Comedy Turcaret

      Alain-René Lesage (1668-1747) was the son of a novelist who worked for the royal court in Rhuys. Both his parents had died by the time he was 14, and then his uncle squandered his fortune. Lesage studied at the Jesuit college at Vannes in Brittany and became interested in literature. He moved to Paris in 1693 and married a beautiful but poor woman. He studied law but gave up being a law clerk to work as a translator. The Abbé de Lyonne encouraged his interest in Spanish literature and gave him a pension. Lesage translated two plays by Francisco de Rojas Zorilla, one by Lope de Vega, and another by Calderon de la Barca. Lesage’s one-act farce, Crispin, his master’s rival, was his first success in 1707. That year he also published his novel, Le Diable boiteux which drew from the picaresque Spanish novel by Luis Véles de Guevara, El diablo cojuelo, (1641). Le Diable boiteux had several editions, was revised in 1729, and was translated into English by Tobias Smollett as The Devil upon Crutches in 1750 and revised in 1759. In 1715 Lesage published the first two volumes of his realistic novel, L’Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane, followed by volumes 3 and 4 in 1724 and 1735. Also in the 1730s he published three more picaresque novels inspired by Spanish literature. Lesage’s most successful play Turcaret was produced in 1709. He wrote more than a hundred vaudeville comedies and was considered Molière’s successor.
      Though the frame of Asmodeus; or, The Devil on Two Sticks is based on a Spanish picaresque novel, the stories reflect French culture. Don Cléofas is a student at Alcala in Madrid, and on a dark night he visits his lover Doña Thomasa. A few men attack him, and he flees over rooftops, enters an attic through a window and finds a magician’s tools. A demon in a bottle says he is Asmodeus and offers to help him. Cléofas breaks the vial, and a dwarf in a white satin cloak with crutches emerges. Asmodeus had been captured by a magician, and they escape together. Cléofas holds on to the cloak as they fly over Madrid and look into houses. They stop at a mansion where cavaliers and ladies are at a wedding. The demon tells how the Count de Belflor fell in love with Leonora de Cespedes. Her duenna, Marcella, helps him make Leonora his mistress. One morning he falls from a silken ladder while leaving her bedchamber, awakening her father Don Luis. Belflor offers to provide for her brother Don Pedro but declines to wed her. Later he repents while Pedro neglects his studies to court secretly a beauty. He gets in a brawl but is saved by Belflor. Don Luis confronts the lovers, and Belflor agrees to marry Leonora and lets Pedro wed his sister, Doña Eugenia, who turns out to be his secret love. Cléofas and the demon witness the double wedding, but Marcella is sent to a nunnery.
      Cléofas and Asmodeus visit other homes. After seeing a poor marquis, a plagiarizing writer, a panderer for rich widows, and a publisher of books attacking religion, Cléofas asks for revenge on his unfaithful lover Doña Thomasa who is hiring men to murder him. Asmodeus makes them jealous, and they fight each other. Police are summoned; two men are killed; the others are put in a dungeon; and Thomasa is transported to the colonies. Next they visit a prison which is more like a madhouse with political and religious fanatics and jealous lovers. Asmodeus also shows him others who should be in an insane asylum. They see a fire in the house of Doña Seraphina, and Asmodeus transforms himself into a student and rescues her to please Cléofas whom her father believes saved her. They learn how people died and witness death scenes.
      Then Asmodeus tells a long story about friendship. Don Juan de Zarata has killed his wife’s lover and flees from Toledo to Valencia where he prevents a duel between Don Alvaro Ponzo and Don Fabricio de Mendoza over the widow Doña Theodora de Cifuentes who then chooses Fabricio. He and Don Juan become friends. Juan hides his passion for Theodora, and in frustration she goes home to Villareal. Juan admits he loves her, and Fabricio considers their friendship more important. Alvaro’s men abduct Theodora and sail for Sardinia. Fabricio and Juan pursue them but are captured by Tunisian pirates. Juan is sold to the Dey of Algiers to be a gardener but wins over the dey who asks him to console a lady in his harem who turns out to be Theodora. She was taken when pirates killed her kidnappers. Juan and Theodora escape aided by Fabricio on a French privateer; but Fabricio stabs Juan, thinking he is Alvaro, and then learning the truth he mortally wounds himself. Juan falls from a horse and dies, and Theodora dies of grief.
      At dawn Cléofas wants to see more, and Asmodeus shows him many people; but they could not enter the king’s cabinet because other devils were in control there. Asmodeus diverts him with the sight of ransomed slaves at a monastery, and he tells their stories. Asmodeus realizes he must return to his master, and he makes Cléofas promise not to reveal what he has seen and heard. Cléofas wakes up in his apartment after a long sleep and calls on Seraphina. He admits to her father that he did not rescue her, and they are allowed to marry.

      L’Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane is Lesage’s long picaresque and realistic novel completed in 1735. The parents of Gil Blas are poor, but his fat uncle Gil Perez helps him get an education from a tutor. With forty pistoles and a mule Gil Blas heads for Salamanca to study; but he joins a mule train that is robbed by the muleteer who seduces a passenger. Gil flees in the woods and joins a gang of thieves led by Captain Rolando. Gil becomes a servant, tries to escape, and then ingratiates himself with the captain. Six months later they rob a coach, kill the men, and capture a beautiful lady. While the thieves are asleep, Gil escapes with Doña Mencia who buys him fine clothes and gives him money. He travels on and finds his schoolmate Fabricio who is now a barber and persuades Gil to be a servant. He becomes very clever at serving various masters. The physician Sangrado always forces his patients to drink water and bleeds them. During a plague Gil is allowed to treat the poor, and like Sangredo’s patients they all die. Gil serves Don Matthias and is bold but careful about stealing and enjoys an easy life carousing every night. Wearing his master’s clothes, he tries to get a mistress, and an old lady helps him win a lonely lady who turns out to be a serving maid.
      After Matthias is killed in a duel, Gil Blas works for Arsenia and then the virtuous Aurora whose love for the student Lewis is unrequited. Gil persuades her to dress as a man, and she gets an apartment in the same building as Lewis. Eventually they are married, and Gil, satisfied with his success, moves on. He keeps some robbers from attacking Don Alphonso who becomes his friend. Gil serves a duenna until she discovers an ulcer on her back. Then he helps an archbishop write homilies. After he has a stroke, Gil informs him that his homilies have deteriorated. He is dismissed and realizes the truth can be dangerous.
      Gil Blas becomes a secretary for Spain’s prime minister, the Duke of Lerma, and then his agent. Gil is able to sell favors for the Duke, and successful court intrigues make him greedy. He makes Scipio his servant and gets Alphonso appointed governor of Valencia. Lerma asks Gil to pander for Spain’s prince. Scipio arranges for Gil to marry the daughter of a wealthy goldsmith; but when Gil is taking the prince to a bordello, he is arrested. Loyal Scipio joins him in prison. Gil is ill for months and then is banished from Madrid. Alphonso gives him an estate at Lirias where Gil and Scipio live as country gentlemen. Gil falls in love with Antonia and marries her, but she dies in childbirth. The prince has become king of Spain, and Gil goes back to the court and becomes close to the prime minister Olivares. Involved in another affair with the king, Gil has to resign and returns to Lirias. He marries Dorothea and hopes to enjoy his old age while educating their children.

      Lesage’s best comedy Turcaret was produced on February 14, 1709 and was withdrawn after seven performances and not played again until 1730. Before and after the play are two brief critiques by Asmodeus and Cléofas, characters in Lesage’s novel, Asmodeus; or, The Devil on Two Sticks. At the end Asmodeus says that people are saying that all the characters in the play are vicious. He recognizes the devil’s people as those who get rich by usury and then squander their fortune when they fall in love. The play reflects the current situation in which people try to get money out of the wealthy tax collectors.
      The maid Marine criticizes the Baroness for wasting her money, and because Turcaret, whom she plans to marry, is unpleasant. The money the tax collector gives her she turns over to the Chevalier for his gambling. She is being swindled by him and his valet Frontin. Marine says that Turcaret will never wed her, and to marry the Chevalier would be a disaster. The Baroness promises to break with the Chevalier. Frontin brings a message from him that he has lost all his money, and he says an ageing countess is pursuing him. The Baroness hands Frontin a diamond for the Chevalier, and Marine calls her a dupe. Turcaret’s valet Flamand comes in and gives the Baroness a note of credit for 90,000 francs with four lines of verse. Turcaret arrives, and she says he is bribing her. He gives Marine a handful of silver as he leaves. The Chevalier and Frontin arrive to thank the lady. Marine is afraid of being plundered again, and the Baroness discharges her. Frontin says that maids are like religious bigots who give charity for spite. The Baroness gives away the note and asks them to redeem her diamond. The Chevalier says he courts the coquette to ruin the financier. Frontin says they pluck a coquette who devours a businessman who fleeces the rest.
      In act two Frondin brings back the diamond, and the Baroness asks him to find her a new maid. He leaves, and Turcaret comes in and says Marine told him about the Chevalier. He asks to see the diamond. When she refuses, he goes into the bedroom and breaks the mirror and other things. He asks for the note of credit. She says she let Marine go for reproaching her love for him. He forgives her even though she and the Chevalier think of him as their cash cow. He says the credit note will pay for the damage which he estimates at 9,000 francs. Frontin comes in and asks to work for Turcaret and says he knows bookkeeping. Turcaret hires him. Frontin tells Lisette to flatter the Baroness and her infatuation with the Chevalier who brings none of the money from the note. He sends Frontin to get money from a broker.
      The Baroness hires Lisette and praises the Chevalier. Turcaret promises to build a mansion for the Baroness. The young Marquess enters and tells her that Turcaret ruins people and how he lost a valuable diamond to Turcaret’s pawnshop. He drinks a lot and says the Chevalier is a libertine. Turcaret defends lending money on collateral. The usurer Rafle, who runs his pawnshop, arrives and discusses with him several financial deals. Turcaret asks if he is working for the people and against his own interests. If he did, the company would have his head. Rafle says that Madame Turcaret is in Paris and demands to be paid. Frontin urges Turcaret to buy a carriage for the Baroness by using a middleman. Frontin and Lisette are saving their money.
      The Marquess is interested in the countess. A bailiff arrives and says the Baroness must pay a debt of the deceased Baron Porcandorf for 30,000 francs. Turcaret says he will pay it. After they leave, Lisette and the Baroness recognize it as a swindle. Madame Jacob arrives, and the Baroness learns that she is Turcaret’s sister. She says he falls in love often and promises to marry them. Madame Turcaret arrives, and the Baroness realizes that Turcaret is married. He calls his wife a demon. Frontin reports that Turcaret’s creditors have caught up with him. Frontin also says they took incriminating papers from him. The Chevalier gives him notice. After the others leave, Frontin tells Lisette that he was not searched, and so on the notes they made 40,000 francs in one day and can marry. He declares that Turcaret’s reign is over and that his has begun.

Marivaux’s Romantic Comedies

      Pierre Carlet de Marivaux was born in Paris on February 4, 1688. His father served in the French navy and the army in Germany until 1697, and later he got a position in Riom in charge of the mint. Pierre studied law in Paris while living in Riom for two years before moving to Paris in 1712. He began using the name Marivaux in 1716 on a mock epic of the Iliad. In 1717 he married 34-year-old Colombe Bollogne. He completed his law degree in 1721 and was listed as a trial lawyer. His wife died in 1723 or 1724. He was strongly influenced by Italian commedia dell’arte, and over 42 years he wrote 38 plays. He also contributed to the periodicals L’Indigent philosophe from 1727 and Le Cabinet du philosophe from 1734. His two respected novels were not finished. La Vie de Marianne was published in 13 parts between 1731 and 1742, and Le Paysan parvenu was begun in 1735. His daughter went into a convent in 1745. Marivaux was a regular at the salons of Madame de Lambert and later those of Madame de Tencin and Madame du Deffand. Tencin helped him get elected to the French Academy in 1742. After a long illness he died on February 12, 1763.
      Marivaux’s comedy La Double Inconstance (Double Infidelities) opened on April 6, 1723 at the Comédie Italienne in Paris. At court the Prince’s servant Trivelin tells young Silvia that it is unreasonable for her not to accept the love of the Prince and marry him, but she loves Arlequin and will not be separated from him. He notes that she has many ladies waiting upon her now, but she says they spy on her. Silvia does not want to go to concerts and ballets but would rather dance with Arlequin. Trivelin reports this to the Prince, and Flaminia says she will make Silvia see her duty as a woman. The Prince says she can promise her honors and gifts. Although the law makes the Prince marry a subject, it forbids him to use violence against anyone. He was attracted to her beauty and simplicity when he dressed as an officer and saw her in the palace, but she would not renounce Arlequin. Flaminia asks her sister Lisette to make Arlequin fall in love with her. Trivelin tries to persuade Arlequin to let Silvia wed the Prince, but Arlequin will not give up his right and says all three would be unhappy. Trivelin offers him a town house and a country house; but Arlequin likes having only one house, and he prefers healthy walking to a carriage. Neither is he attracted to the coquette Lisette. Flaminia tells the Prince that she is attracted to Arlequin. She promises the Prince that Silvia will love him and that she will wed him and that Arlequin will marry her. Flaminia encourages Arlequin and Silvia to continue to love each other and, though asked to spy on them, will not betray them. Flaminia talks with Arlequin, and Trivelin offers him food.
      Flaminia tells Silvia that most people think she would be happy married to the Prince, but Silvia asks why he cannot find someone who wants him. Disguised as an officer the Prince talks with Silvia courteously. She realizes he loves her, and she does not know how to react. Flaminia brings her a fine dress which she accepts but not for the Prince. Flaminia tells Arlequin that she wants to make him and Silvia happy and says she lost her lover who was like him. She flatters him, and he likes her. A lord tells Arlequin that he has to cultivate the Prince and his advisors, but Arlequin would rather cultivate a field to produce food. Arlequin says that Flaminia loves him and Silvia as brother and sister, and they feel the same toward her. Silvia sees no harm in that. Lisette apologizes to Silvia on behalf of the Prince. Then Lisette asks Silvia to help her win back the Prince and threatens her. Silvia says she will speak to the Prince. Flaminia tells Silvia that Arlequin is too crude and gross for her, and Silvia admits that the officer has touched her with his love. Flaminia offers to take Arlequin off her hands, and Silvia feels confused. The Prince as the officer says he will obey Silvia. She replies that the Prince wants her, that Arlequin loves her, and that the officer deserves her. She tells him she could love him. The “officer” tells Silvia he will accompany her to an entertainment prepared by the Prince so that she can see him and refuse his hand.
      The Prince tells Flaminia that Silvia is worthy of his love, and Flaminia says that Arlequin is in love with her without knowing it. Arlequin tells Trivelin that he and Silvia must be married, and he dictates to Trivelin a letter to the Prince’s Secretary of State. He mentions Flaminia, and Trivelin admits that he has loved her secretly for two years. Arlequin tells this to her, but Flaminia tells Arlequin that she loves him more than anyone. He admits she is equal to Silvia in his love. Arlequin tells the lord he may respect people he fears, but he does not love them. He accepts his letters of nobility. He learns that his duty is to be generous and honorable; but the latter may mean avenging an insult, and Arlequin does not want to kill anyone. He says his honor is too reasonable to be noble and gives the letters back. The Prince reveals himself to Arlequin who apologizes for being rude. The Prince forgives him and asks what riches he can give him. Arlequin wants Silvia back. The Prince says that only Arlequin does not want him to have Silvia, but Arlequin asserts his right as a subject. The Prince says they have been hurting each other, and he says Arlequin can be happy at his expense. Arlequin is softened by his charity and asks if he gave him Silvia, would he be his favorite? They agree to be friends, and the Prince encourages him to say what he thinks. Arlequin asks if Flaminia could be his mistress, but the Prince says she helped Arlequin hurt him. Flaminia tells Arlequin that Trivelin betrayed them to the Prince who ordered her to leave and never see Arlequin again. She confesses that she loves Arlequin, who says he loves her too. He says that Silvia will marry the Prince, and he and Flaminia agree to marry each other. Silvia tells Flaminia that she no longer loves Arlequin, and Flaminia assures her that her lover will find her. Silvia admits to the “officer” that she loves him. As she is about to swear that she does not love the Prince, he reveals himself. They agree to marry. The Prince assigns Flaminia to shower Arlequin with rewards and has Arlequin accept her as his wife.
      This charming romantic comedy contrasts the corruption of the court life to the simple sincerity of Arlequin and Silvia. Yet the Prince and Flaminia also demonstrate sensitivity and proper ethics.

      On January 23, 1730 the Comédie Italienne performed The Game of Love and Chance (Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard) by Marivaux. Silvia learns that her servant Lisette is glad that Silvia’s father Orgon is arranging a marriage for her even though she knows that Silvia will decide for herself. Lisette says that Silvia’s future husband is charming, attractive, and handsome; but Silvia has noted that handsome men are often vain, and she would rather have a reasonable man than a charming one. Silvia has observed three men who are hypocritically gentle and sweet in public while treating their wives much worse. Orgon assures Silvia that she is free to decide whether to marry Dorante or not. Silvia wants to observe him for a while without his knowing her and asks Lisette to change places with her. Orgon agrees to their disguises. Secretly he confides in Silvia’s brother Mario that Dorante will pretend to be his valet, who will play the role of the master, and they agree not to tell Silvia and Lisette. Dressed as a maid, Silvia talks with Dorante who is acting as his valet calling himself Bourguignon. Because they both have decided to marry a person of quality, they agree to be friends. They each feel love for the other, and she asks him to describe his master. His valet Arlequin is pretending to be Dorante, and he sends Silvia to fetch his future father-in-law. Dorante instructs Arlequin to act more seriously.
      Lisette tells Orgon that her charms are working on Dorante and that Silvia should reveal herself; but Orgon says if Dorante loves her, she can marry him. Arlequin tells Orgon that he loves his daughter and will marry her. Dorante tells Arlequin to stop strutting. Lisette acts modestly and then tells Arlequin that she loves him but that their fate is in the hands of their parents. They both swear to love each other. Silvia tells Arlequin that she must speak to Madam. Silvia tells Lisette that Arlequin does not suit her. Lisette says she must not act like a servant. Dorante tells Silvia that his master may be leaving, and she says she neither hates him nor loves him. This makes Dorante unhappy, and he wants to spend more time with her. As they talk, they become more friendly. Silvia tells her father and brother that Bourguignon got on his knees to her. Orgon tells Silvia that the valet has made her dislike his master. Silvia is tired of playing her part, and she says she hates Lisette more than Dorante. The real Dorante asks to speak to Lisette (Silvia) and admits he could not stop loving her. Then he informs her that he is actually Dorante. He is concerned that her mistress is infatuated with his valet because they remind him of the social distance between them. Silvia tells Dorante that she will give her heart to him, and she asks him to be patient. Silvia tells Mario that Bourguignon is Dorante, and she asks him to pretend to be in love with Lisette.
      Arlequin tells Dorante that he can make a good match, but Dorante will not let him marry Silvia. Arlequin says he will tell her who he is. Mario tells Bourguignon (Dorante) that he loves Lisette and has more to offer her, and Mario tells Silvia that Dorante is very confused. Orgon asks Silvia if she expects Dorante to propose to a servant; but she hopes he will to prove his love for her. This is a difficult test for him to overcome his social bias. Silvia hopes that Love will triumph over Reason. Lisette tells Orgon that Dorante is in love with her. Organ says he will let her marry him, but she has to tell him who she is. Lisette tells Arlequin that she spoke to her father and that she can marry him. When Arlequin reveals he is the valet, she is very disappointed. He asks her to put love before pride, and she confess she is the maid and agrees to marry him. Arlequin tells Dorante that he is going to marry Orgon’s daughter, making him think they will be equals if Dorante weds Lisette. Dorante tells Silvia (Lisette) that he is leaving because he thinks she loves Mario. She hides her feelings, and he confesses his love for her and agrees to marry her in spite of his father. Finally everyone gets together, and Silvia indicates that Orgon is her father. Dorante is happy that he has given proof of his love for her.

      The Triumph of Love (Le Triomphe de l'amour) by Pierre de Marivaux was first performed by the Comédie Italienne in Paris on March 12, 1732. Princess Léonide is dressed as a man and is using the name “Phocion” and has her maid Corine disguised as the male “Hermidas.” They have quit the court to come to the garden of the philosopher Hermocrate, and Hermidas is to make portraits of him and his sister Léontine who live there in retreat. Léonide claims the throne that her uncle Léonides usurped from King Cléomenes who had abducted the wife of Léonides. They have died, and Prince Agis has been raised by Hermocrate. One day Léonide saw Agis in the forest, and Hermocrate saw her. She wants to get revenge on Hermocrate and his sister. Harlequin overhears they are women and surprises them. He will not let them in the gate until Phocion gives him money. The philosophy of Hermocrate opposes love, and he has taught the same to Léontine and Agis. Phocion tells Harlequin and the gardener Dimas that he wants to see Hermocrate. Agis sees them and becomes friends with Phocion. Léontine sees Phocion and asks “him” to explain why “he” wants to see her brother. Phocion wants to study with the wise Hermocrate, and Léontine says they do not allow that. Phocion then asks to speak privately with Léontine and implies that “he” is falling in love with her and flatters her. Phocion asks to stay for a few days. Hermocrate appears, and Léontine begs him to approve the visit and rushes off. Hermocrate remembers meeting the princess and recognizes her. He accuses her of wanting to steal his pupil Agis. Phocion says she loves Hermocrate and wants to learn to be like him, and she says she is “Aspasie.” She suggests they go see Léontine.
      Agis is glad to find Phocion who shares his feelings. He says he hates the fair sex, but Phocion tells him that she is the woman Aspasie who was persecuted by Princess Léonide. She says Agis and Hermocrate want her to leave, but Agis says that he will make Hermocrate let her stay. Phocion tells Hermidas and Harlequin that two more interviews will “cook” Agis. Phocion flatters Léontine who believes that “he” is making love to her, and she does not want her brother to know. Hermidas brings the portrait she painted of Léontine who is won over to love. Agis is wooed by Aspasie. Hermocrate tells Aspasie to leave, but she flatters him by agreeing with his philosophy. He insists that she leave, and she cries. Harlequin is chased by Hermidas and shows them the miniature portrait of Hermocrate who surrenders to Aspasie’s love, and she gives her portrait to him. Agis arrives and asks Hermocrate to let Phocion stay. Hermocrate becomes jealous which delights her that he cherishes her. He does not want anyone to know so that he will have time to think. Léontine comes in and says that she allowed Phocion to stay, and her brother agrees with her.
      Phocion tells Hermidas that Hermocrate and Léontine both want to marry her secretly. Léontine tells Phocion that they will wed in town in two hours. Hermocrate asks Aspasie if Agis can live with them because he fears the princess; but she says the princess would marry Agis if she knew him. Hermocrate says that a war is being fomented against the princess and that she should be imprisoned. Harlequin and Dimas ask for more money from Phocion who threatens to lock them up. Agis is jealous of Hermocrate and Léontine, and he tells Aspasie how sweet it is to love her; but he hates Princess Léonide. Hermocrate feels he is being punished and realizes how painful it is to switch philosophies. He and his sister realize they are both going to town to get married, and he suggests a double wedding there. Then they learn they are marrying the same person. Agis is hoping to marry her too and complains he did not get a portrait. Aspasie says that was because he is getting the person. Agis yields to Hermocrate, but Aspasie says she tricked everyone else for him. Agis is afraid the princess will never spare him, but she reveals that she is the princess and that he has all her love. She surrenders her throne to him. She leaves Hermocrate to reason and expects that his sister will no longer want her now that she knows she is a woman.

Beaumarchais and His Figaro Comedies

      Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was born in Paris on January 24, 1732, the seventh of ten children. He left school to become an apprentice at watch-making for his father. He invented a new way of regulating watches, but the court’s master watchmaker Lepaute claimed the discovery. In 1753 Caron appealed to the Academy of Sciences, and the next year they ruled in his favor. He entered the court as King Louis XV’s master watchmaker, and by 1755 he was a court functionary and bought an office in the Royal Household. Caron married a widow and from her property he adopted her name “de Beaumarchais” in 1757, but the end of the marriage caused much litigation. In 1759 he began teaching Louis XV’s daughters how to play the harp. His association with the financier Paris Duverney helped Beaumarchais become a rich merchant. In 1761 he became a noble and purchased the office of lieutenant-general. In May 1764 he went to Spain to help his sister who had been abandoned by the royal archivist and El Pensador editor Don José Clavijo y Fajardo. The lurid description of this quarrel by Beaumarchais was later adapted for the stage by Goethe in Weimar and by Marollier in Paris.
      The first play by Beaumarchais, the sentimental drama Eugénie, was produced by the Comédie Française in January 1767. In 1768 he married the Léveque widow, but she died two years later. Another sentimental play, Les Deux Amis, failed in January 1770. After his partner Duverney died in July, the will’s executor Comte de la Blache sued Beaumarchais for alleged debts, and the legal case would drag on for ten years. He won the case against La Blache in 1772, but during the appeal the Marquis de Chaulnes had him imprisoned in February 1773 for his insolence. Beaumarchais paid a bribe to Madame Goezman, but her husband the judge decided in favor of La Blache. Beaumarchais wrote a memoir criticizing Goezman. In 1774 Louis XVI sent Beaumarchais as his agent pursuing Angelucci-Atkinson to Vienna regarding a pamphlet exposing the King’s sterile marriage with Marie Antoinette. He was attacked in the Lichtenholtz forest by bandits but survived to warn Empress Marie-Thérèse.
      Beaumarchais turned his Barber of Seville into a serious drama with a fifth act, but its premiere on February 23, 1775 was a failure. Three days later the four-act comedy, The Barber of Seville or the Useless Precaution, was successful. Outside the physician Bartholo’s house in Seville and below his ward Rosine’s window the Count Almaviva is disguised to court her. The barber Figaro arrives playing his guitar and singing about serving and being served in equal measure. He recognizes the Count who tells him to call him Lindor. Figaro figures he is lucky when a great man does him no harm, and he wonders how many masters have the virtues required of valets. His literary efforts have been undone by numerous rivalries and hatreds. The Count notes his cheerful philosophy, and Figaro says he would rather laugh than weep. They hide as Bartholo and Rosine appear at the window. Rosine drops a paper and says it is her song. As the doctor goes to get it, she alerts the Count to pick up the letter. Figaro advises self-interest, and he informs the Count that whining Bartholo has not yet married his ward and that she hates him. Figaro also serves Bartholo as surgeon and apothecary, and the Count welcomes Figaro as his liberator. Figaro advises him to enter the house as a trooper with a billeting notice. Bartholo has her music master Bazile arranging his secret wedding. The Count sings the song from the letter, and Rosine sings back that she trusts her heart to Lindor. The Count says she will be his wife, and Figaro advises him to use gold for intrigue.
      In her room Rosine writes a letter to Lindor. She tells Figaro she is bored and gives him the letter. Bartholo enters and angrily complains that Figaro has put his household out of action with medical treatments. They quarrel, and Bartholo says he must use discipline. Bazile arrives with Figaro hidden in a cabinet. Bazile tells the doctor that the Count is in town and urges him to start a rumor about him. Bartholo plans to marry his ward soon and gives Bazile money. Figaro has overheard and warns Rosine that her wedding is tomorrow. Bartholo accuses her of writing a letter and shows her evidence. The Count arrives as Lindor and passes a letter to Rosine. Bartholo tells him to get out, and the Count says he is the regiment’s horse doctor. Bartholo says he is exempt from billeting and goes to get the proof. The Count hands her a letter, and he is willing to fight Bartholo. She refuses to let Bartholo read her letter and accuses him of jealousy. She says she is not his wife, and he says this is not France where women do as they like. She switches the letters, and he reads one from her cousin. He begs her to forgive him, and she shows him the letter. She reads that Lindor asks her to quarrel with her guardian.
      The Count returns as the tutor Alonzo, and he tells Bartholo that Almaviva is in town and that Rosine has written to him. The Count hides in the closet as Rosine tells Bartholo that she will dismiss the tutor and Bazile. She says she twisted her ankle, and Bartholo goes out. Bartholo returns and stays to hear the lesson with Alonzo. As the doctor dozes off, the Count kisses her hand. Figaro talks with Bartholo and shaves him so that the Count can be with Rosine, but Bartholo becomes vigilant. Bazile comes in and is perplexed by Alonzo but learns the secret before the others tell him to go to bed. The Count whispers to Rosine that they will come for her at midnight. She tells Bartholo that he offers nothing but horrible slavery and that she will marry anyone who helps her escape from that prison. Bartholo goes to find Bazile for an explanation.
      Bazile tells Bartholo that Alonzo may be the Count and warns him that marrying a woman who does not love him is risky; but Bartholo says he must marry her that night. Bazile says the notary has booked a wedding at Figaro’s house. Bartholo confronts Rosine with a letter she wrote to the Count who, he says, gave it to another woman. She wants to punish the Count and agrees to marry Bartholo; but she is pretending. Figaro tells the Count that he has love, hate, and fear on his side. Rosine arrives, and the Count reveals who he is and says he loves her. She is glad to have escaped from hate when love is what one is made for. She admits that she removed the ladder and told her guardian of their plan. The Count tells the notary that they are having the wedding there, and he gives money to Bazile so that he will sign as a witness. Bartholo arrives with the magistrate and officers and orders Rosine and the “scoundrels” arrested; but they are impressed by Count Almaviva and the preference of Rosine who is now of age. Figaro concludes that when youth and love are at one, then the precautions of age are futile.

      In September 1775 Beaumarchais in a letter to Louis XVI wrote that the enthusiastic Americans would not yield to the British, and he emphasized, “We must help the Americans.” In 1776 he raised a loan of one million livres for American independence. In March 1777 the first of three ships carrying ammunition, guns, and military equipment for 25,000 soldiers worth at least five million livres arrived to aid the American victory at Saratoga. Beaumarchais was the shipper and much of the money used was his. In 1778 he was facing bankruptcy, and the King repaid him a million livres. That year shortly before his death Voltaire arranged for Beaumarchais to publish his complete works, and the next year he purchased all of Voltaire’s manuscripts.
      On April 27, 1784 La Folle Journée ou le mariage de Figaro by Beaumarchais was produced by the Comédie Française three years after they had accepted it. At first Louis XVI said it could never be performed; but the royal family got a semi-private performance in September 1783, and the King approved it in 1784. The play provoked violent attacks, and Beaumarchais was detained in Saint Lazare prison for five days; but the comedy had 68 consecutive performances and brought in 347,000 livres, netting Beaumarchais 41,000 which he donated to charity.
      The Marriage of Figaro takes place at Count Almaviva’s castle. His valet Figaro and Suzanne, the maid to the Countess, are planning to wed that night and are preparing to occupy the room between the Count and the Countess. Suzanne says that the Count is giving her a dowry and is expecting to exercise his right of the Seigneur. Figaro replies that he abolished that privilege upon his marriage to Rosine. Figaro hopes to find an intrigue to trap the deceiver and still get the money. He says he loves her. When she asks when he will stop saying it from morning to night, he says when he proves it from night to morning. The Count wants to take him on an embassy. Marceline and Bartholo come in, and Figaro wonders if she is taking him to court. She tells Bartholo that Figaro must pay his debt to her or marry her. Suzanne does not believe her claim. The page Chérubin seems to be in love with any woman he sees. He hides before the Count enters and says he is taking Figaro to London. They hear Bazile coming, and the Count hides. Bazile says such things that the Count comes forth and, having caught him with the gardener’s daughter Franchette, sends him away. The Count discovers Chérubin and forbids Suzanne to marry Figaro. The Countess and Figaro come in and flatter the Count with a ceremony. The Count forgives Chérubin and appoints him an officer in his regiment.
      The Countess tells Suzanne that the Count has tired of loving her, and they turn to Figaro to help them. He has sent a false report about a scandal involving the Countess to make the Count jealous by a letter given to Bazile. Figaro tells Suzanne to agree to meet the Count at dusk in a garden, but Chérubin will wear her clothes. They make him look like a girl. When the Count knocks, Chérubin goes into the closet. When he asks the Countess who she was talking with, she says it was Suzanne before she left. The Count asks her about the letter, and they hear a sound in the closet. The Countess says it is Suzanne, who hides. The Count escorts his wife away. Suzanne talks to Chérubin through the door, and he escapes by jumping out the window. The Countess admits to her husband that Chérubin is in the closet. She gives him the key, and he finds Suzanne there who says the page jumped out. The Countess blames the letter on Figaro, and she blames him for Suzanne; but they forgive each other. Figaro runs in and disowns the letter. The gardener Antonio asks for a drink and says that what sets man apart from beasts is drinking when not thirsty and making love whenever one wants. Figaro says he jumped out the window, but Antonio picked up a paper outside that is Chérubin’s commission. Marceline comes in and tells the Count not to allow Figaro’s wedding unless he marries her. Bazile says he has a claim on Marceline. The Countess tells Suzanne that she will exchange clothes with her to fool the Count and Figaro.
      The Count summons the Chérubin. Figaro says he can get by in English by using the phrase, “God damn!” The Count says he has the brains to advance; but Figaro says subservience works better, and he mocks politics. Time will show who means harm and who does not. The Count tells Suzanne that she must meet him, or her wedding is off. Marceline tells a judge that Figaro must marry her, and the Count rules that Figaro must pay the debt or wed her today. Figaro has been seeking noble parents for fifteen years. Marceline sees a mark on his arm and realizes that he is her son who was stolen by gypsies, and Bartholo is his father. They embrace. Suzanne runs in with money to pay the debt and jealously says he can marry Marceline, who gives back the agreement as her wedding gift for them. Antonio says his niece Suzanne cannot marry Figaro because he is illegitimate; but Bartholo and Marceline agree to marry.
      In the fourth act Franchette persuades the Count to let her marry Chérubin. Figaro thinks that Suzanne has betrayed him and vows vengeance against her and the Count. In act 5 Figaro expresses many of his revolutionary ideas, and he gathers people in the garden to expose the Count and Suzanne; but Suzanne is dressed as the Countess and vice versa. The Count without knowing it tells his wife that their happiness has turned to satiety because she did not keep his interest alive by renewing affection and using charming variety. Figaro comes forward to prevent them from going into a pavilion, but he discovers the disguised Suzanne. As they are reconciled, the Count tries to intervene and learns that he has been tricked by his wife. Figaro tells the Count that he commands everything except himself. The principals go on their knees, but after the Countess forgives the Count, they all get up. The play ends with a happy song about the follies of the day.
      This comedy played in London on February 21, 1785, and Mozart’s opera of The Marriage of Figaro opened in Vienna in 1786. That year Beaumarchais married a woman who had already bore him a daughter. During the Revolution in 1792 he tried to purchase guns in the Netherlands and was accused of hiding them, but a former mistress helped him escape the violence in September. Beaumarchais died in May 1799, but the United States did not make a final payment on the debt to the Beaumarchais heirs until 1835.


1. Rameau’s Nephew tr. Jacques Barzun in Great French Short Novels, p. 10.
2. D’Alembert’s Dream by Diderot in Rameau’s Nephew and other works tr. Jacques Barzun and Ralph Bowen, p. 117.
3. Ibid., p. 158.
4. Jacques the Fatalist and His Master by Diderot tr. David Coward, p. 3.
5. Quoted from L’Abbé Prévost, homme et l’oeuvre by Henri Roddier, p. 184 in L’Abbé Prévost by Richard Smernoff, p. 21.
6. Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost, tr. Donald M. Frame, 18.
7. Ibid., p. 19.
8. Ibid., p. 49.
9. Ibid., p. 74.
10. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos tr. P. W. K. Stone, p. 21.
11. Ibid., p. 65.
12. Ibid., p. 355.
13. “On the Education of Women by Choderlos de Laclos tr. Lydia Davis in The Libertine Reader: Eroticism and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-century France ed. Michel Feher, 129.
14. Ibid., p. 130.
15. Ibid.
16. Paul and Virginia by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre tr. John Donovan, p. 46.
17. Ibid., p. 113.

Copyright © 2017 by Sanderson Beck

EUROPE & REASON 1715-1788 has been published as a book.
For ordering information, please click here.

Britain of Georges I-III 1714-88
Wesley, Hume, Johnson, Smith & Pope
British Novels and Plays 1715-88
France of Louis XV and XVI
Montesquieu, Voltaire & Rousseau
French Literature and Theatre 1715-88
Spain, Portugal & Italy 1715-88
Austrian Empire and German States 1715-88
Lessing, Kant, Goethe and Schiller
Netherlands and Scandinavia 1715-88
Poland-Lithuania and Russia 1715-88
Summary and Evaluating Europe 1715-88


Chronology of Europe 1716-1830
World Chronology 1715-1817

BECK index