Case of the Invisible Author

Madame de Lafayette’s anonymously published La Princesse de Clèves (1678) traditionally marks a pivotal event within several different narratives of Euro-centric modernity. ‘The first modern French novel’ does not tell us much; more helpful distinctions include its status as one of the first romans in which the main action revolves around communication and miscommunication rather than adventure or allegory, it also dramatizes the emergence of the private, interior self from within the intrigues of court society, the triumph of realism over romance, the proto-feminist triumph of the individual female author over the dominant, male-dominated games of politics and politics by other means, and, related to all three, the emergence of critical history, the history of intervention, intertextuality, and subjectivity, rather than gradualist, linear progress from a single teleo-phallo-patho-logical point of view. There are even some reasonably convincing attempts to read proto-psychoanalytic concepts into the work, yet more support for the compelling but probably misleading assertion that psychoanalysis is the twisted stepchild of literary criticism.

What this circulation of readings conceals is exactly what it projects: a singularity that is detached from and indeed disinterested in whatever is said about it, an originating hole within history (of the novel, of the salon society of late 17th-century France), analogous to the hidden author (from the beginning it’s been surmised that La Rochefoucauld, the intellectual center of de Lafayette’s social circle, had more than a little to do with the novel’s creation) and the fictional narrator who by novel’s end learns to hide herself in plain sight.

The game of court as portrayed in the novel is a dazzlingly complex network of relations both known and hidden — the first few pages do nothing but list the important personages under Henri II and their various intrigues. They, men and women both, are motivated by a ruthless pragmatism, interrupted from time to time by impulsive outbreaks of emotion that are strictly speaking unpredictable. Says the one fictional character (Madame de Chartres) to the other (Mme. de Chartres, her daughter, soon to be the titular Princesse de Clèves), “If you judge from appearances here…you will be often mistaken; what appears is seldom the truth.” She is principally referring to the duplicitous structure of court society, running as it does on the production and circulation of secrets, but there is also an indirect warning of the violent emotions that are the secret authors of the court (driving, for example, Henri II to be led by his mistress Diane de Poitiers for much of his reign, the ‘open secret’ at the heart of the court’s separation into factions). The maddening contingency of its social relations projects a seething, passional unconscious into its members, as the disavowed truth of its fictional appearance.

Pierre Daniel Huet, friend and co-conspirator of de Lafayette and the notorious Mlle de Scudéry, was the first to lay the foundation for fiction’s propriety in the form of the novel. His tale is epic in itself: fiction, though a defining capacity of humankind in general, finds its special “genius” in the Oriental fable, which brings together fiction, verse, and fantasy in to a highly addictive, pleasurable art of deception (the ‘Gay Science’), also used to communicate secret knowledge. A dual legacy of refinement and corruption followed its (viral?) profusion across Europe, from Greece to Rome to the unfortunate interruption of Northern barbarians, finding it’s ultimate form in (where else) France. Fiction in its ideal modern form is as follows:

“I say Fictions, to distinguish them from true Histories; I add, of Love-Adventures, for that Love ought to be the principal subject of a Romance. They must be writ in Prose, to be conformable to the Mode of the times. They must be writ with Art, and under certain rules; otherwise they will only be a confused mass without order or beauty.”

Fiction’s power to seduce comes from the same source as its power to offer moral instruction, which is its only defensible objective. That is, from mastery of its form, which, as narrative, is the same in which factual history is written (the battle between true and false histoire rages in earnest now). The ‘Romance’ (modern roman in this context), in contrast to the purely fictional Fable, is probabilistic — “Fiction of things, which may but never have happened.” Its potential for miscommunication, both accidental and intentional, is obvious, though this is not yet a necessity (a more contemporary trope). Huet illustrates this concept through a pseudo-economic metaphor derived from Plato’s retelling of the fable of Porus (Plenty) and Penia (Poverty) in the Symposium and Socrates’ deconstruction of their offspring Love, who is neither god nor man, but mediator between the two. In Huet’s version, Poverty (as Ignorance) is the faculty or form of desire for Riches (as Science), and as such is simply the absence or lack of those riches. Pleasure is the result of their union. But the form/faculty always yearns for more than the ‘reasonable’ satisfaction granted by what at first appears to be its ‘object,’ but which, as either Riches or Science, is actually a new way of being-in-the world, a new form and not the possession of any particular thing. The soul is thus constantly at risk of temptation by “Occult sciences” and “Fictions, Fables, and Romances” which promise a kind of satisfaction more easily attained, since it consists solely of the imagination — the faculty of desire — creating empty figures for itself.

Form (Art) is the element of fiction that allows it to seduce the refined as well as the barbarian taste:

“These are touched with the beauties of Art, and that which proceeds from the intellect; but the former such as are children and the simple, are sensible onely of that which strikes their imagination, and stirs their passions, & they love fictions in themselves, without looking further. Now Fictions being nothing but narration, true in appearance and false in effect; the minds of the simple, who discern only the bark, are pleased with this show of truth, and very well satisfied. But these who penetrate further, and see into the solid, are easily disgusted with this falsity, so that the first love the falsehood, because it is concealed under an appearance of truth; these others are distasted with this Image of truth, by reason of the real falsehood, which is couched under it; if this falsehood be not otherwise ingenious, mysterious, and instructive, and buoys itself up by the excellence of the invention of art. And S. Augustine saith somewhere, that these falsities which are significative, and couch a hidden meaning, are not lyes, but the Figures of truth, which the most Sage and Holy persons, and our Saviour himself have made use upon occasion.”

Pure Fiction = Pure Image (the false effect), Pure Art = Pure Form (the appearance of truth). This split function determines the hierarchy of readers — and the hierarchy of faculties within the reader (intellect over passion, mind over matter, line over pigment) — necessary to grasp the escalating profusion of print narrative within a legal system. The Aristotelean understanding of narrative as above all a philosophical problem has continued unchecked into the present, as modern fiction’s unshakable (but productive) adversary.

The modern critic Claudio Guillén sets up the relationship between literature and its criticism in a rather satisfying way — neatly separating the universal ‘mode’ from the situated ‘genre’ and casting it out into the stratosphere (as the universal only refers to what is undeniably present — narrative, poetry, the basic modes of human expression — it can be ignored). Genre, always under development, is “an invitation to the actual construction of the work of art.” As such it can never just be applied; it has to be reincarnated as the outcome of individual decisions. But it ‘invites’ different decisions from different perspectives. For poets (read: artists in general) it is an invitation to create in relation to a formalized set of traditional expectations, tweaking and disrupting them according to the poet’s aesthetic impulse. For the theorist-critic, genre compels logical deduction and the construction and maintenance of classificatory systems, a “thankless task” that always takes place after the fact. Guillén paints this as an inescapable problem — genre as the condition of existence for “poetics” a provisional, political contest, requiring continuous upkeep, that nevertheless relies for its language on the realm of theoretical abstraction. ‘Poetry itself’ is less stable territory:

“Whether poetry itself — whether the totality of the significant works that come together in the poetic experience and the imagination of an epoch — provide the historian with a genuine order or system, is surely a most difficult question to answer. Yet the shape of poetics need not provoke such doubts. The code, if not the message, is a coherent whole. One cannot but agree with Professor Fubini when he suggests some of the ways in which genres can be regarded not as the evolution of independent norms, nor as the survival of timeless ‘structures,’ but as the history of changing theoretical systems.”

Literature as System: Essays toward the Theory of Literary History

Logic, formerly the perpetrator of ‘timeless structures,’ thus gains from narrative a certain fluidity, now almost able to keep pace with the lurching, shapeless mass of history. It is always a step behind, true, but could the future — or indeed the present — exist without it?

The famously anticlimactic ending of Clèves has the heroine, rather than unite with her secret lover, abandon him and all of court society for a chaste spiritual retreat. This is in spite of the facts as he patiently explains them to her: her mediocre husband is dead, the authorities will not resist her remarriage after a reasonable period of mourning, they are in love. The whole action of the novel — the waylaid letters, the misinterpreted acts of politesse, the overflowing confessions — have led to this point, the opening of the way for repressed passion to finally be consummated. But no, there has been something else secreted behind the all the displaced, sexed textuality, an inner logic, attributed to no higher authority but which appears as the sole, ineradicable remainder after everything else is explained away.

“There is no obstacle,” pleaded Monsieur de Nemours; “you alone thwart my happiness, you alone impose a law which virtue and reason could not impose.”

“It is true,” she replied, “that I make a great sacrifice to a duty which exists only in my imagination.”

An imaginary logic that when acted upon becomes ethical, ideological, epistemic — take your pick. Modes of communication are valued insofar as they create the sense of a secret self hidden just behind them. The act of ‘revelation’ or confession is more important than what is revealed. It was precisely the Princesse’s confession to her husband of her illicit love for Nemours, the secret that eventually drives him to death, that most clashed with the sensibilities of early readers. To them it was a senseless strategic-economic decision — what motive could she possibly have had? — though after two centuries of 19th century novels it seems all too conventional to us. A self that can never simply be revealed, not even to the self, a ‘self’ that seduces its merely apparent double into believing in it, was not at the time an unusual or strange concept, essential as it is for the production and circulation of secrets, a social economy Rochefoucauld called amour-propre and Lacan would later formalize in terms of desire and the split subject.

No, this intrusion into reality of form (which was still located beneath appearance) was the novel’s most ‘subversive’ and disorienting quality. No reference to God, but a counter-egoic union of the self with an imaginary and invisible Law, mirroring de Lafayette’s allegiance to the counter-Reformationist philosophy of Jansenism, its result the Princesse performing the profoundly asocial act of (re?)claiming herself, taking herself out of circulation. Every fictional intervention within the otherwise historically accurate tableau introduces a counter-narrative that presents itself through bizarre causality (contrivance) and (dreamlike) imagery, which, taken together, suggest hidden consistency and predestination with no other purpose. The Princesse’s first act that is not conditioned by the politics of the court or the circumstance of passion is to deny the game of secrets for the fiction of the private. Like the novel’s anonymous author, she transforms her merely apparent, social self into a symbol of her own author-function, a letter addressed to the universal that aims to reground the unwritten rules of communication and inscription. The truest, most complete self, we find, finds itself in theory.

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34 Responses to “Case of the Invisible Author”

  1. That was a pleasure to read.. Though I think there is here with the “problem” of the bourgeois individual as a woman the basics of the “solution”, a bourgeois conception of wifedom and what that entails for the female and feminity as aspect of identity, though not quite the same as the anglo bourgeois ideal already entrenching because pitted against the neo chivalry and gallantry model of the era of Absolutism. In the context of Griseldism, the gesture of “removing self” from circulation looks more like a metaphysical property issue of the bourgeois order, especially in retrospect, as much later in full blown modernity quite a lot of creativty goes into situations to sustain this fidelity as penitence (in stendhal, in hardy, for example), with a mysticism of marriage playing out and tested against various schemes of justification and lack thereof.

  2. traxus4420 Says:

    thank you —

    i saw the ending of this novel as an attempt to transcend the troubling relationship between bourgeois self and property through an individualist metaphysics, though later maybe the gesture of removal gets more definitively reclaimed by man, church, convent, etc. in quick-n-dirty marxist terms maybe you could put it as the commodity trying to become equal to itself. are you suggesting the difference between the problem of bourgeois femininity/solution of bourgeois wifedom and the ‘anglo bourgeois ideal’ is primarily one of gender? what do you mean by the second term?

    also, i guess you should look out, since apparently k-punk is coming after you (you are the ‘marxist supernanny,’ right? or is he abstracting you into an archetype?).

  3. traxus4420 Says:

    ‘bourgeois self’ should probably read ’emergent bourgeois self’ or ‘proto-bourgeois self,’ technically/historically speaking.

  4. “also, i guess you should look out, since apparently k-punk is coming after you (you are the ‘marxist supernanny,’ right?”

    oh…dunno…thanks for the warning, but i doubt he’s that much of a misogynist freak – the marxist supernanny has to be a man, surely?

    “‘anglo bourgeois ideal’ is primarily one of gender?” – i’m not sure i understand the question; i think the ideal which reaches a kind of extreme in the victorian period is seen already in the 17th century in england, but as an ideal truly, an extreme, not a norm. By this I mean the woman who gets an intense satisfaction of her repression, her victory over herself, and the arbitrariness of marital duty serving as this pretext for this self overcoming to be the ideal, which is a kind of recognising property in self (in the 18th century there are querelles about this, trying to find a test for ‘rightful owner’ – rightful mate etc etc). With the princess of cleves, there is in retrospect something which anticipates Julie d’Etangs, mme de renal, etc.., a kind of ecstasy, getting more exaggerated.

  5. traxus4420 Says:

    ok, i thought you were drawing a contrast btw. 2 different modes of subjectivity.

    a similar kind of ‘victory over the self’ happens in oroonoko as well, another escape from becoming property by fidelity to a kind of spiritual, disembodied value of the self.

    i said ‘reclaim’ in the last comment because in cleves and oroonoko this act of (godless) fidelity rejects the role of property by pushing its constraints beyond the letter, unlike in the rousseau/stendahl books. so the fantasy of removal gets taken up in a more conservative vein later on, with marital duty operating in conjunction with otherworldly fidelity (as pretext), and no longer against it.

    actively breaking the rules of ownership, by transgression or transformation, is of course denied across the board (cleves resists adultery, oroonoko resists violence against the whites, except for a moment of self-defense).

    re: your reputation — i thought you were the only one referred to in blogland by that term? this was announced along with some cryptic statement about ‘benign paternalism,’ so i don’t know what to think.

    uch, whatever, i feel ridiculous even bringing it up.

  6. “re: your reputation — i thought you were the only one referred to in blogland by that term? this was announced along with some cryptic statement about ‘benign paternalism,’ so i don’t know what to think.”

    Oh – I never saw it before. Honestly I find it hard to image where ‘supernanny’ would come from; it seems so incongruous with the other usual complaints and tropes. I suspect k-punk really “brings a lot of baggage” with him wheree’er he goes internetically.

    About property in this thing: one of the sites of ideological noise I think is in this split subject and what is the property in the self? With a woman the tension of the proprietor model individual is exaggerated, and a kind of abstract “purity” (later will be called, suggestively, ‘integrity’) emerges; purity is an old trope but the purity that novel narrative produces (and which only it can produce or make visible) is something new and different from the marian cliché that hangs around still forever in lyric poetry. But the expansion is definitely along the axis of aestheticism, aesthetic abstraction which is less interested in the tension between the actor and the role than in juicing the role as dominant and fundamental with a kind of secular mysticism, and this is genuinely new. This is something, a mine, over which the I proprietor, even if a woman, can assert mystical property claim. I think commodification is though related a distinct thing here, another feature; the market mechanism is not that which produces (though it is something whose expansion requires) the mysticism of property and proprietor individualism; Princess of Cleves is interesting about this, but in all its contexts (synchronic, diachronic – Lettres Portugaises was ten years earlier), maybe not so clear as it is in the context belatedly built for it which emphasises its innovation and “psychology” etc. What’s lost in this “rise of the novel” scheme is the reactionary aspects (Molière is dead already). It’s an historical romance, set a hundred years before; less innovative than accomodating itself, an old form (like perrault etc) to an existing situation: it is in a sense a defence of Don Quixote, the case for the Don Quixote against Cervantes.

  7. …because its not out of but in circulation she is made to opt for.Her choice at the end is dictated by the needs of the mediatised plane – she is staging herself as persephone, its already written, its to be oberserved and recounted in the novel which is itself overtly placed on an existing bookshelf; what “circulates” is the letters of gallantry.

  8. And it’s emphasised that she is one of these letters of gallantry or belongs with them, in order of being terms, rather than with the duc de nemours because she’s the only wholly fictional character, and she is surrounded by characters with real world, or historical, referents – she’s the only major character that’s just text, just a sign with no referent.

  9. fyi: Daniel Miller/Antigram/JosephK is the Marxist Supernanny.

  10. the question here is between self-possession and being self. as i read it, the novel proposes that the first, because the protag is a woman and because she is fictional, necessarily collapses into the second (the duty implicit in ‘her’ imagination commands her behavior). it is, as you say, this retroactively applied theoretical structure that identifies her as a ‘split subject’ (the first?), but it is also the Jansenist philosophy (philosophy because stripped of its God) of predestination and unrepresentable salvation Lafayette is pushing that secretly determines the course of the novel, through its fictional interventions.

    cleves as a counterargument to quixote is a good way of putting it. i do think, though, that the novel is not accommodating itself to an existing situation (the historical romance), it is — not to reopen an old can of feces — subverting it, by making it say something other than what it is supposed to say, though the basic narrative structure is almost identical. at the same time it is differing from recorded history and verisimilitude, but keeping, also, so close as to be barely contradicting them. within both the diegetic plane and generic convention, all actions that are ‘hers’ (performed according to her imaginary duty) are the ones that seem out of place.

    one could argue that these minor textual subversions will become constitutive of the novelistic/bourgeois/transcendental subject (endlessly ‘making a place’ for it within the established conventions of representation), as a counterpart and even complement to the outright criticism/satire offered by quixote, which of course is still parasitic on the (in its case, chivalric) romance. i’m thinking of that genre’s countless resurgences in the novel — i.e. Gothic — where recycled tropes are manipulated to produce different effects.

    if the princesse has any referent it’s the anonymous author; the protag is a referent along with those you identify to the narrative’s ‘outside,’ the mediatized plane, and it is precisely here — as circulating media, as (moral, metaphysical, media) theory, as ideology — that a new generic model of the subject can come into existence. The perceived ‘openings’ in the novel’s series of conventional representations are the proposed rewritings of those conventions. But also, as I write in the post, their regroundings, since they are not yet purely medial.

    re: antigram — ah, dejan had me all confused — forgot his disappearance was k-punk’s fault. so much intrigue! almost makes me want to shut down comments and just write diary entries.

  11. lot to ponder…just right away though:

    “i do think, though, that the novel is not accommodating itself to an existing situation (the historical romance), it is — not to reopen an old can of feces — subverting it, by making it say something other than what it is supposed to say, though the basic narrative structure is almost identical. ”

    but the existing situation is not the historical romance (d’Urfé in verse), but lettres portugaises, francion, furetière, perrault’s fairytales, paul scarron, as well as theatre, corneille, racine, moliere and lully…the genre quarantine gives one impression but i’m skeptical of the picture this gives; I think its skewed to exaggerate “events” in development. The split subject for example is in everything renaissance and late medieval. A theme. The integrated subject is perhaps the innovation, arriving as the locus of property as it alters.

    The dedication of the novel Francion (Charles Sorel, 1623) is written to the fictional protagonist, Francion, by a fictional author (pseudonym but more than that) “Du Parc”.

    for the rest i have to think; i think i agree with everything. Just perhaps not the “position” of this book, which i think is generically reactionary too. (This isn’t the period of literature I really know about, but the one just preceeding, so i don’t say this with too much confidence.) But the letter intrigue thing seems up-to-the-minute, a concern, the focus of a “problem”; and for me this feature’s “modernity” is more striking than the purported illusion of psychological “depth”, which compared to Molière say or Scarron does not seem very deep at all.

    “so much intrigue! ”

    yeah; i didn’t know kpunk rid the internet of antigram; i thought perhaps he got his dream job writing for Cosmogirl. heek heek snort snort.

  12. “No reference to God, but a counter-egoic union of the self with an imaginary and invisible Law, mirroring de Lafayette’s allegiance to the counter-Reformationist philosophy of Jansenism, its result the Princesse performing the profoundly asocial act of (re?)claiming herself, taking herself out of circulation”

    I’ve been thinking about this and Jansenism, the problem of Jansenism, which is principally about obedience and loyalty (to mother church) without love and in the absence of constraints (its really protestant and calvinist), and at the time of cleves, the principal querelle between the jansenists and rome is about interpretation of text – is the letter (Augustinus) heretical? Does it expressed these banned heresies – is it proof of infidelity to the church (bride of christ) – or not? Also the competing mysticism and quietism (of mme guyon), deploys the metaphor of romantic infatuation, of sexual love, to describe the christian’s devotion to God as well as God’s love of humanity. It’s irrational and excessive etc.. God ravishes the mystic, the mystic is ravished and surrenders to ravishment as a kind of total sacrifice of self to God’s passionate love.

  13. …the key being risk rather than insurance.

    Mme Guyon wrote: “We want to lose ourselves and conserve ourselves whole at the same time, that God should flatten the rocky mountains for us and upholster them with cloth; no no one must perish and be truly lost. To want always to lose oneself and at the same time want signs that one is not really lost, this is to lose oneself figuratively only and not in reality; it is to take oneself back after having been liberated, which one does not really believe. It is to want to link two things that can’t be linked. We cannot deceive ourselves: we canne escape ourselves except by losing ourselves.” (my trans, not perfect but this is the sense…Mme Guyon et Fénélon, La correspondance secrète, Paris: Dervy-Livre 1982)

    One could see this sort of thing as an assumed interlocutor for Cleves in a sense.

  14. this is all really good, thanks — i am a bit swamped right now, though things should clear up in a few days. A few quick things:

    first, apparently like you this isn’t really an area of expertise for me, just sort of introducing myself to it and following along with the dominant theories, rise of the novel and genre crit, testing out where they fit or don’t with the contemporary things i’m more familiar with. i’m aware of the dangers of this approach — the ToN/genre schemas are probably popular just because they do lead well into the Modern Subject, but at the moment they’re all i’ve got.

    the ravishment thing is really old, the earliest thing i know is hadewijch in the 13th century in england (who lived in a religous but informal retreat — the movement of women who did this were the beguines? beguins?) but i’m sure there are older writings from france. but in reading cleves i didn’t see much sign of this — the depiction of her retreat is almost completely external, to the point of near-irony in the lyons translation i was using — “Her life, which was not long, furnished inimitable examples of virtue” — reminds me of the narrator in Barry Lyndon (the Kubrick version). what’s it like in the french?

    all of this takes us to text, the ‘letter intrigue thing’ which i agree is the important part here. i hope i didn’t suggest in the post that i was emphasizing the proto-psychological realist elements of the novel. that would mean there would have had to be more psychological description, whereas i thought the bits that are there are most interesting for highlighting what isn’t. also their placement. when she finally retreats it is emphasized that she cuts off communication to the court and nemours; she also cuts off interior ‘communication’ to the reader. her life then becomes formalized, the interior self is no longer marked by explicit thoughts, but its boundaries (as ritual/ethical behaviors) are clearly outlined. so yes this is a reactionary, regressive movement, but it is maybe complement as much as opponent to the omnipresent circulation of the letter penetrating even into the minds of subjects and dissolving their boundaries (culminating in….proust? joyce?) — it is also closer to the form taken by the philosophical theories of the subject (descartes on): rigid forms/structures/systems (fluctuating between abstract and concrete), variable/absent/illusory content (referent). this is where i think genre theory gets interesting but i don’t know yet how to make it clearer.

    risk rather than insurance or risk as the only real insurance?

    re: historical romance — this is a murky term, isn’t it — i’m thinking of the big, multivolume prose epics, after d’urfe — i think the proper french term is ‘romans de longue haleine?’ like what scudéry wrote, though hers were i think talkier than was normal — but again my knowledge on this period reaches its narrow limits.

    francion also sounds interesting, i’ll have to put it on the list.

  15. ” in reading cleves i didn’t see much sign of this ”

    right – I meant its the refused option (the love affair itself, how the story could go, tristan and isolde, lettres portugaises, its an option on the table), as it is set up as a faintly still allegorical alternative to the choice she makes. (you could say that something is happening to allegory before your eyes kind of, one level in the process of subordinating and abolishing the other)….

    more in a bit.

  16. (It’s another tradition of course, another country, another class, another language, another religion, but Cleves is exactly contemporaneous with Pilgrim’s Progress 1678)

  17. (this Duc de Nemours was most famous as a really charismatic killer of calvinists.)

  18. “her life then becomes formalized, the interior self is no longer marked by explicit thoughts, but its boundaries (as ritual/ethical behaviors) are clearly outlined. so yes this is a reactionary, regressive movement, but it is maybe complement as much as opponent to the omnipresent circulation of the letter penetrating even into the minds of subjects and dissolving their boundaries (culminating in….proust? joyce?) ”

    perhaps as a thought experiment, rather than as seeing this as a coherent articulation of philosophy, one could suppose for a moment its instead a problem, an incoherence. My feeling about this novel was always that it disappoints an expectation and that this disappointment is the principle effect – that it sets up one thing and delivers another, that the whole thing has the air of a feint.

    But not just because there’s no happy ending for the lovers – the story itself goes in this unexpected direction, away from the drama of the triangle (its not Phaedra) and into this drama of the minutae of dealing with a scandal. It’s this that focuses us on the private/public thing, because the characters are themselves engaged in this dilemma. But I wonder if this smell of modernity it is not an effect of a different incongruity, not the dilemma as the narrative stages it, but another, the tension between the plot and the textual practise, the sense that the whole thing is esoteric. So instead of a coherent argument about a contradiction, its an incoherent attempt to do incompatible things. Perhaps what this object is is an evenemental strructure that is a vestigial allegory of the soul, with another allegory (of a suspected heresy) interlocking with this, all with this new outfit on it, learned from little libels and the like. It’s pose of true story is like Defoe almost until that ending. Then these tensions which create “depth” are about the text production, the conflicting needs of different ideological purposes. The end is dictated by the needs of the didactic structure (i think not romance here as predecessor, but heptameron style tale, just the length suggests it), certain things are going to be affirmed, but the pull of verisimilitude and this illusion of particularity makes that ending awkward, because all this, the surface, the portraiture, the way the text is seducing the reader, belongs to another genre with other concerns. Thus this sense that one kind of story is promised, and another delivered, and also this weird feeling of the semi irony at the end, the result of this cooling and reversion in the end to the didactic purpose. Because while there is this convincing hard to grasp “modernity” about the whole thing, and its linked to these conversations which create a kind of illusory psychology, there’s actually a hole or flaw in the thing from this point of view specifically, which is while the Princess is a “convincing” person, she is not convincingly passionately in love. She’s not a “character”, a simulacrum individual, in love – her being in love is an interpretive position only. And this is a kind of problem, a disruption of this seamless level of verisimilitude, that we’re told she has this passion, and its important to the plot and also to justify other elements of her psychology, but the passion itself is not incorporated into the character at all. And so it is not shared with the reader, as is her anxiety. The author holds the love in the story at arms length throughout. It’s as if we were told she had a mole of her cheek, or possessed a purloined letter, and we know it’s there, and it becomes a device.

    She afterwards saw him at the Court of the Queen-Dauphin; she saw
    him play at tennis with the King; she saw him run the ring; she
    heard him discourse; still she found he far excelled everybody
    else, and drew the attention of the company to him wherever he
    was; in short, the gracefulness of his person, and the
    agreeableness of his wit soon made a considerable impression on
    her heart.

    From this (montage-ish) paragraph forward, it’s simply given. The love in the story is “by rote” – we are to know it by hints, as if it were a disease with a pattern of symptoms, it’s gallantry, the late version of courtly love (with its allegorical oomph lingering in its procedures?). It exists to construct a set of collateral emotions such as embarrassment, and to spark social consequences. Puts one in mind of Rochefoucauld that there are those who would never fall in love had they not read about it in books first. The interiority that sparks the story – the passion of the Princess of Cleves – is not a psychological interior, but a generic convention; the inner life is textual and there is a whole textual apparatus (of gallantry itself, at court, and of its representation in art) to manage it and indeed to create it through management. She “picks” him, even, from a line-up really; he is an appropriate object. The discussion with the Queen about balls, lovers, and clothes is practically scientific; it concerns dramaturgy, the “private” self is inaccessible beneath this, yet this is the stuff of which the Princess of Cleves’ “love” is made. The passionate love itself is not the thing in the vessel of a private individual, it’s public and constructed by the court. For us now it’s main component, if we are to invest the stories with enough psychology to say, is vanity.

    So the didactic aims require a married woman tempted by an illicit amour and resisting, choosing duty, moderation, self-command over passion, but the detailed and convincing depiction of characters and their situation cannot cope with this scenario. So the one thing for which there is so much precedent in the psychology vein – being in love – is reduced to a convention, a device, a macguffin, while the whole thing goes off in another direction, the minutae of appearances, and becomes a study in the strain of matching feeling to demeanour, and the difficulty and danger of these theatrical codes of court. The love is another factor in the politics, whereas elsewhere and later the love is the dangerous mark of the individual’s individuality and freedom which strains against the politics. These codes of court are what the author is interested in, and what she knows; she’s dealing with them almost like a mathematician, or as if it were a treatise about chess. But the interiority the ToN would have as the impetus to this peculiar direction of the narrative is empty – the “being in love” that sets everything going itself derives from the court ceremonial and from its tradition of representation in art and doesn’t deviate. The mutual passion is a trope, and has no volatility of its own.

    What I think gives that tone of almost irony at the end – and i think it is there in the French too – is this feeling that this ending comes out of a different genre than the story; that sense of predestination is generic as well as philosophical, but really forced. At the end of the Heptameron stories – by Marguerite of Navarre, aunt by marriage of the duc de Nemours – the tale tellers comment, as in Decameron, on the stories they’ve just heard. I am reminded of one, the fourth day, a story about an unfaithful wife who, caught in flagrante, is made by her husband to drink out of the skull of her lover and live in a room with his bones hung up, and endures this all with exemplary humility and penitence, until a friend intercedes and makes him forgive her. Then the ladies and gents discuss. They discuss the tales in a certain way. I think its pretty clear the end of Cleves is a set up to that “discuss”. But it’s awkward, not because there are competing moralities or philosophies to apply to the narrative – how should I have behaved in the Princess’ place? Was the Prince of Cleves unreasonable? – but because one is not so sure how the text is representing, or what it is representing. One is as tempted to say the author could have made a different choice, told us something different, made something different happen, as to say the character should have behaved differently. And that faint irony that arises from this terse moralising end even introduces the author with a smirk, opening the possibility that she’s lying about what happened between her protagonists, that the story is a demonstration of the deft politics of concealment, that the story of marital virtue triumphing and emerging from the game of gallantry has been a triumph of her own artifice and skill in the theatrical code she’s been dissecting here, and the whole thing has just covered up “the truth” rather than exposed it.

  19. (Here’s the map:

    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carte_de_Tendre

    of the interior territory, Tendre, homeland of love, as concieved by Scudery and her fans.)

    The wiki entry mentions imitations and parodies, among them

    “En 1664, le père Zacharie se mit de la partie avec sa carte de « la Jansénie et ses voisins immédiats, la Désespérie à l’Occident, la Calvinie au Septentrion, et la Libertinie à l’Orient » insérée dans sa critique acerbe du jansénisme, la Relation du pays de Jansénie, où il est traité des singularités qui s’y trouvent, des coutumes, mœurs & religion de ses habitants.”

    In 1664 father Zacharie [de Lisieux] joined in with his map of Jansenia and immediate environs, Desperatia to the West, Calvinia to the North, Libertinia to the East” inserted in his acerbic critique of Jansenism: “The Story of the Land of Jansenia, in which is related the singularities, customs, moeurs and religion of this land and its inhabitants.”

    (The maps of the fictional territories of interiority which are associated with long form prose fictions already superimpose the interior land of erotic love and the interior land of religious belief.)

  20. oops lost comment, sorry if this repeats:

    here is the map;

    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carte_de_Tendre

    of the fictional interior territory of Tendre, as concieved by Scudery and her fans.

    the wiki entry mentions imitations and parodies, among them:

    En 1664, le père Zacharie se mit de la partie avec sa carte de « la Jansénie et ses voisins immédiats, la Désespérie à l’Occident, la Calvinie au Septentrion, et la Libertinie à l’Orient » insérée dans sa critique acerbe du jansénisme, la Relation du pays de Jansénie, où il est traité des singularités qui s’y trouvent, des coutumes, mœurs & religion de ses habitants.

    In 1664 father Zacharie [de Lisieux] joined in with his map of “Jansenia and its bordering neighbours, Desperatia to the West, Calvinia to the Norht, and Libertinia to the East” inserted in his acerbic critique of Jansenism “Account of the land of Jansenia, in which is related the singularities found there, of customs, moeurs and religion of the inhabitants.”

    (The maps of the fictional “interior” territories found in long prose fiction already suggest the superimposition of the territory of erotic love and the territory of religious faith.)

  21. Traxus, K-punk is no mysoginist, he loathes Colonel irrespective of gender, color or creed, and I think he has every right in the world to loathe her. The Colonel, on the other hand, is the Feminist Supernanny, and I warned you once, I am not going to do again, to watch out before you fall under the spell of this menace!!!

  22. parodycenter — he certainly has that right, and i won’t obstruct his loathing from reaching the delirious heights i know he’s capable of. i don’t think he’s a ‘misogynist freak’ however the term ‘benign paternalism’ sounds ‘shady,’ despite the fact that i’m on good terms with my dad. but obv. that line is all we have to go on, so it’ll be interesting to see what he comes up with!

    thank you for your warning.

    chabert — there’s a lot here, thanks, hope to get to it soon.

  23. the delirious heights

    what’s wrong with ”delirious heights” ?

  24. nothing, that’s why i’m not obstructing him! you parody people are so suspicious!

  25. a comment got lost before; about the maps:

    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carte_de_Tendre

    as wiki notes, many imitations and parodies, including a map of Jansenia, with Desesperatia to the West, Calvinia to the North, and Libertinia to the East.

    So the interior territory of (scuderian) gallantry and the interior territory of religious faith already superimposed in this form, as territories. But, unlike the seamless balance of the allegory in courtly love, there’s a tension, an incongruity, that creates on the one hand a kind of almost simulacrum, and on the other brings textual production and media to dominance.

    It might have seemed almost “hipster” at the time, like the texting and blogging in “Gossip Girl”.

  26. Traxus, let me tell you how the game works:

    first the Cobra is going to tell you something like: ”Oh? So you come from Vietnam? How lovely! Our country needs to apologize to your country. We need to pay you war reparations, we must throw ourselves at your feet.” And then when she’s made you feel special like that, your twentyish hormones are going to start boiling – don’t be ashamed, it’s only natural that a young male should feel himself drawn to the Oedipal charms of an older woman. And whether you do or do not find the Vietnam war a relevant issue, nevertheless you will feel like you are extraordinary by virtue of belonging to a minority group. Then chitchatter will start about (mostly her) life – how she rescued people from prison, how she fought for the Marxist cause, how deeply moved she is by the suffering exerted by the Empire on oppressid minorities – all with the intent of portraying herself as a saintly nobleman who isn’t interested in getting to your pants, but is rather involved in something socially enagaged. At this point your precum is dripping already and there is talk of seeing her in Paris, where she will show you spectacular burgeois delights that America denied to the Vietnamese, buy you expensive clothes and treat you to spectacular dinners. And just when you’re starting to plan your flight details, suddenly the old lovers begin to crawl out of their coffins – John Steppling, Patrick Mullins, now also Dejan Nikolic – demanding their rights. The Cobra loses her balance, becomes distraught, begins to hiss, tries to hide, but the truth, painfully, obviously, comes into focus: she only really wanted to suck our your youthful energy so that her vampire charms may last forever!

  27. dejan, this is why people end up having to send you info about dutch anti-stalking laws. What is this? You said you wanted to come visit – I didn’t invite you anywhere. You invited me to Serbia. As for rescuing people from prison, if I told you the story of my ex-boyfriend, it was because you told me about your life and I was reciprocating. You demanded I call you, even though you ought have guessed that if I didn’t after several requests I was being tactful but did not want to talk to you. You told me you had no friends. If I decide after trying to be friendly with you that you are insanely demanding and hallucinating some kind of relationship that simply does not exist and that I don’t like you, that is my prerogative. The people I have met from the web are great and I get along with them great. If I find you unpleasant and obnoxious, after interacting with you a little, and don’t want to know you, you just have to accept that. What kind of obligation to be friends with you do you imagine I have? Because you email me constantly, I have some duty to reply? In fact I found you creepy right away, but I felt sorry for you – your lonliness, your employment problems, your health problems – so tried to be nice. Of course one should be more careful about replying to people who seem so intrusive and needy and not to respect boundaries, so I guess that’s a lesson for me. But what is this following around now everywhere for months and months? And bothering and harrassing other people? Just get yourself to a shrink.

  28. traxus, sorry about this; please feel free to delete that message if you prefer.

  29. In fact I found you creepy right away, but I felt sorry for you – your lonliness, your employment problems, your health problems – so tried to be nice.

    Yes this makes it quite obvious what an evil vicious cow you really are. Right from the start, you didn’t really even see me for who I was, rather you patronized me into your image of ” lonely, unemployed and sick” member of the oppressed underprivileged classes. And you’re lying again, you wanted me in your life as long as I was working for your radical Marxist shit propaganda business. What is this following you around for months and months? Payback time, bitch! You think you can just get away with anything with that viper tongue of yours, well now you’ll see that isn’t the case!

  30. You told me you had no friends.

    And I told you I had no friends amongst your class – well-to-do miserable hypocritical decadent faux-leftist american, dutch and other WASP cows, not that I do not have friends per se.

  31. chabert – i just now noticed the comments wordpress tagged as spam and restored them.

    “My feeling about this novel was always that it disappoints an expectation and that this disappointment is the principle effect – that it sets up one thing and delivers another, that the whole thing has the air of a feint.

    But not just because there’s no happy ending for the lovers – the story itself goes in this unexpected direction, away from the drama of the triangle (its not Phaedra) and into this drama of the minutae of dealing with a scandal. It’s this that focuses us on the private/public thing, because the characters are themselves engaged in this dilemma. But I wonder if this smell of modernity it is not an effect of a different incongruity, not the dilemma as the narrative stages it, but another, the tension between the plot and the textual practise, the sense that the whole thing is esoteric.”

    this is what i was trying to get at, and now i’m trying to figure out the point where we disagree, or if we do. i don’t interpret the novel at all as a coherent argument — the esotericism, the genre-mixing, does not lead to or ‘argue for’ a notion of a private self that can be written as the mind or soul’s ‘true voice,’ the interior psychological monologue. what i mean by the joyce/proust reference is a culmination of a certain psychological realist strain where this is taken to be a compelling representation of the subject. i meant it as a contrast.

    Cleves is more compatible with the more contemporary idea that the truth of the subject is an indeterminacy within or as an effect of incongruent formal structures. so, yes, everything in the novel is the product of a social code (the mathematics analogy is apt), but i would say that the final didacticism points beyond itself, that the princesse has escaped the text somehow and not just replaced one code with another, because this other code has no legitimating sovereign name behind it (no God, no husband). so it’s not a private self that can be materially defined, it can only be abstractly bracketed. the twist of irony at the end pushes the ambiguity in the manner you describe, that maybe this sense of deeper mystery – the ‘truth’ of love and religious devotion – is all a sham. this possibility has to be there or it stops being ‘true’ in this sense of formal inconsistency.

    what is interesting to me is how this lends itself so much more readily to philosophy and theory-driven criticism; it is so much easier to put to use or put to work.

    the maps and the heptameron (which i hadn’t even heard of) are all very interesting. ‘hipster’ and gossip girl seems like a hilariously accurate update on the demographic.

    do you think our model of how this novel is structured applies also to the later gothic revival mode and successive types of ironic genre pieces (noir, detective, etc.) and their ironic reception? this is really what my grand theory is, all else aside — that cleves is part of an ongoing countermovement to the modern realist/comedic/psychological novel, and that (maybe, sometimes) they have defined themselves against each other.

  32. dejan —

    re: “let me tell you how the game works:”

    this all sounds really sexy

    re: drama

    fun and all, but can’t actually care because, again, i don’t know your situation and don’t want to know. if this is offensive to you, sorry, but i have seen no sign that it is worth getting any more involved with than i already am.

  33. I don’t think we disagree…

    do you think our model of how this novel is structured applies also to the later gothic revival mode and successive types of ironic genre pieces

    I have a thing to say about this but for the moment, regarding the descendants of Cleves, the famous Regency courtesan and memoirist, Harriette Wilson, who had been the mistress of the Duke of Wellington among others, wrote a comic society novel, Paris Lions and London Tigers, which spoofs various genres and forms, including French drama like Marivaux and British comic novels. In it a young lady debuting in Paris is “put to a test” by her beau (comic version of Burney’s Camilla’s torture of testing by hers), who pretends to be a fop in his determination to discover if she is modest and genuine or mercenary and flippant before he offers her his hand. She passes the test, the offer is made, and the conclusion is this:

    Villers,

    I will not attempt to describe the painful sensations, which the idea of causing you any uneasiness, occasions me; but, believe me, the conviction that, in refusing to become your wife, I shall contribute to your future good, is alone, what gives me courage to say, to one who has honoured me, far beyond my deserts, that I never can be his.

    Had our loves been spontaneous, had we loved, and trusted each other, had your feelings sympathised, with mine, and your heart glowed, with the same truth and ardent affection, my happiness must have been too pure, and my devotion to you might have rendered me neglectful of those ties of friendship, in which I have hitherto gloried. I knew nothing of life or the world. To you, I devoted my whole soul, and the freshness of my first affections were yours, at once! Alas! all this while, when I would have laid down my life for you, you were scrutinizing my character, and suspecting me, at seventeen years of age, of the mercenary intention of affecting love to secure your fortune. While my heart gave itself, to you with pure devotion, you made me serve an apprenticeship, before you could give me credit for being better than the lowest hireling.

    You have taught me a lesson, which has sunk deep into my heart. You have made me feel that the face is not the index of the mind, and that, as a matter of prudence, and foresight, I ought to have looked on you with suspicion, and given you no credit for even the feelings of an honest man, till I had tried you.

    The illusion is destroyed. I never wished to become the wife of any man before, and since I have discovered that our present feelings are liable to be suspected, and misinterpreted, so grossly, I shall, perhaps, now continue, to the end of my life, single. Sure of the purity of my parents’ affection for me, I will devote my life to them, and my first faith, which has been pledged to you, shall never be broken.

    Farewell, then, Villers! You shall have my earnest prayers for your happiness. Do not, however, deceive yourself by false hopes. Let your own pride restore you to happiness. My parents can inform you that, as a mere child, I ever evinced unusual firmness of character. You suspected me of being vile, at that moment, when I gave you my whole heart, and I, now, love you no longer.

    Accept my forgiveness. Believe my assurance that I shall feel, for no other mortal being, such love as you once inspired, and that I shall never change either my name or my nature.

    May every happiness, which this life can impart, be yours, and may God bless you!

    MARY CALLAM.

    I will not attempt to describe Villers’s state of mind, on the receipt of the above letter. Time alone could heal the wound, Mary had implanted, in his breast. However, he felt so deeply, both from pride, and sincere regret, that he never once attempted to alter Mary’s resolution.

    Whether Clara, the fair and amiable daughter of the match-making Mrs. Pemberton, who had long encouraged the most sincere passion for him, was ever rewarded for her constancy, I know not; but Villers did not die. Life is too tough, and fights a hard battle with despair, in the breast of a beautiful, and accomplished, young man.

    The amiable Mary, was invited, by her early friend, Caroline, to act as bridesmaid, and accompany her and Hairbrain, to the country-seat of the latter, in Hampshire.

    Eliza Callam loved Villers no longer than he played the part of a first-rate beau: her passion was for the filigree buttons.

    Clementina married Monsieur le beau Militaire, who, being of a very mild temper, and feeling really grateful to one who relieved him from extreme penury, rendered his wife tolerably comfortable, in the civil way. The good Mr. Callam returned to London, with his family, in high spirits; for he longed to talk of the Lions, he had seen, amongst his, less favoured neighbours.

    Mrs. Callam hoped to return, some day or other; because she was so fond of made-dishes, and wood-fires. Peter declared Paris a dead bore, and was in raptures at the thoughts of seeing Kean again.

    Rosabella was seen driving, furiously, through one of the barriers of Paris, in a dashing, and gay equipage, with four horses, and post-boys, in scarlet jackets, and new, leather breeches, in the company of a fine looking foreigner, with a black moustache. The carriage, however, passed on so rapidly, that there was no such thing as ascertaining, positively, whether her companion, was a chasseur, en bourgeois, or a lord chamberlain!

    Au reste, mes lectures me permettront, maintenant, de leurs saluer, tous, Anglois et François, avec beaucoup de respect, espérant, toujours, qu’ils daigneront me souhaiter un bon voyage.

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