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Reviewed by:
  • Lectures de Madame de Lafayette par Jean Rohou et Gilles Siouffi
  • John D. Lyons
Lectures de Madame de Lafayette. Par Jean Rohou et Gilles Siouffi. (Didact Français.) Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2015. 207 pp.

This book shares with prior volumes in its series a title beginning with the words ‘Lectures de’. Unlike the others, however, this new book is not an edited collection of studies by several authors but a jointly written study by two literary scholars. It is, in effect, a broad introduction to the writings of Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette aimed at advanced students and at teachers of French literature. There are five chapters. The first is devoted to the political, social, and intellectual context of France during Lafayette’s lifetime, and does not directly concern her own life and work. Here we find an account of dominant themes, the impact of the Fronde and its defeat, and the rise in favour of the historical nouvelle at the expense of the longer heroic novel. The second chapter offers introductions to the Princesse de Montpensier and Zayde, with extremely brief mentions of other less well known writings. The third and by far the longest chapter is devoted to La Princesse de Clèves—a third of Jean Rohou and Gilles Siouffi’s book. The fourth chapter deals with Lafayette’s biography and with the question of the authorship of the books attributed to her. This is a thorough, well-documented, and lucid presentation of Lafayette’s work, striking for its inclusion of discussions of style, literary genres, composition, history, reception, the psychology of the characters, and the structure of each text. I will recommend it without hesitation to all my advanced students. The substantial bibliography lists books and articles exclusively in French. Considering the extensive body of critical studies of Lafayette that have appeared in English, this list needs to be complemented by other sources, such as John Campbell’s excellent état présent of Lafayette studies that appeared in these pages (see French Studies, 65 (2011), 225–32). There is an index of names consisting primarily of names that do not appear in Lafayette’s writings. In other words, Machiavelli and Virgil appear, as does Louis XIV; but while François Ier appears, neither Diane de Poitiers nor Nemours nor Catherine de’ Medici is listed. However, all in all this is a useful contribution to the study of Lafayette’s work.

John D. Lyons
University of Virginia


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