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  • "Le style paraît simple, mais il a une force merveilleuse"1:The Mémoires et lettres de voyage of Sophie de Hanovre (1630–1714)
  • Christine McCall Probes (bio)

In Le Siècle de Louis XIV (1751), Voltaire declared that French has become "la langue de l'Europe," reminding his readers of the great authors of the seventeenth century and the Calvinist pastors and refugees, among others, who took the language to foreign countries. Voltaire praised the French "esprit de société" linking it to the qualities of the language itself: "La langue française est de toutes les langues celle qui exprime avec le plus de facilité, de netteté, et de délicatesse, tous les objets de la conversation des honnêtes gens; et par là elle contribue dans toute l'Europe à un des plus grands agréments de la vie" (4: ch. 33, 244). Pierre Bayle, one of the authors singled out by Voltaire for the dissemination of the French language, had affirmed in his preface to Furetière's Dictionnaire universel (1690) that French is heard and spoken in all the courts of Europe, "et il n'est point rare d'y trouver des gens qui parlent français et qui écrivent en français aussi purement que les Français mêmes" (Van der Cruysse, Mémoires 22). Such was the case of Princess Sophie de Hanovre of the Orange-Nassau court whose German father and English mother "ne se parlaient et ne s'écrivaient qu'en français" (Van der Cruysse, Mémoires 22). As Van der Cruysse specifies, "leurs nombreux enfants parlaient l'allemand, l'anglais et même le néerlandais, mais s'exprimaient de préférence en français" ("La cour" 769–70). [End Page 85] In this essay I examine Sophie's style, focusing on qualities of her écriture in the context of the narration of her voyages, both compulsory and voluntary. My analysis of her reflections on the past in the Mémoires and of her essentially instantaneous recounting to her brother the voyages to France and Italy will highlight, as well, distinguishing characteristics of Sophie's narration as letter writer. I treat the memoirs and the letters together because of thematic considerations, that is, the voyages and the events recounted in each. Furthermore, only a year separates the letters from France and the writing of the Mémoires; examining them together also allows us to better appreciate "deux registres complémentaires d'une écriture à la fois intelligente, élégante et naturelle" (Van der Cruysse, Mémoires, Introduction 29).

Sophie de Hanovre was the mother of the future George I of England and the adored aunt of Elisabeth Charlotte, duchesse d'Orléans, Madame Palatine, second wife of Monsieur. Her Mémoires et lettres de voyage have been preserved thanks to a copy made by Leibniz who praised them, as my title indicates, for their style. The Mémoires were never published in France until Dirk Van der Cruysse's recent edition (1990), complete with critical apparatus.2 Discovered in the nineteenth century in the royal archives of Hanovre, the Mémoires were published once in Germany (Köcher 1879), then translated into English (Forester 1888). The manuscript copy of Leibniz whose extensive service to Sophie included several roles, "secrétaire, bibliothécaire, conseiller, correspondant et confident," dates from 1709 (Van der Cruysse, Mémoires, Introduction 14). Scholarship on Sophie de Hanovre has focused on her biography and her role in history.3 Only a few studies have concentrated on the Mémoires, notably on the sections where she narrates her travels to Italy and France, for example: Van der Cruysse, "La cour," Requemora-Gros, Nolde and Probes. For Nolde, traveling princesses were often both political mediators and cultural brokers. She encourages the examination of memoirs and correspondence to assess this "mobilité fondamentale mais peu étudiée": "Il suffit de s'intéresser aux mémoires écrits par des femmes pour se rendre compte à quel point le voyage faisait partie de la vie de nombreuses dames de la haute noblesse" (60).4 [End Page 86]

Sophie tells us that she wrote the Mémoires "pour éviter la mélancolie...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-5486
Print ISSN
1077-825x
Pages
pp. 85-105
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-10
Open Access
No
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