Contents

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p. ix

Acknowledgments

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p. xi

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Introduction

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pp. 1-15

In the debates that accompanied the spread of the Enlightenment the enemies of the philosophes were not limited to the champions of tradition, religious orthodoxy, and their institutional strongholds—the church, the university, the court, the parlements, the Jesuits.1 Those enemies could be confronted head-on with honor. It was a heroic struggle ...

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Prologue: Boudoir and Tribune

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pp. 16-44

The disjunction between a language of critique, irony, and satire and a language of belief involves a difference in the responses elicited from the public. An attitude of ironic distancing resulting from an effect of dissonance that splits the audience’s response is offset by an attitude of abandonment to the emotions created by a discourse that presents itself as the unmediated and transparent expression of an impassioned individual. Both ...

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1 A Faded Coquette: Marivaux and the Philosophes

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pp. 45-58

Of all the writers who cultivated a feminine esprit and who embodied the ethos of the moderns, Voltaire was especially irritated by Pierre Carlet de Marivaux. While Voltaire was laboriously pursuing theatrical glory by attempting to imbue the respectable but depleted genre of tragedy with a new life, Marivaux had reached celebrity in the theater with several successful comedies that explored the baffling emotions of young love and ...

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2 Fakes, Impostors, and Beaux Esprits: Conversation’s Backstage

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pp. 59-84

There was in Marivaux something that deeply disturbed those of his contemporaries who yearned for the redemptive value of archaic models and that sent them scrambling for the relief of satire. While he remained faithful to the aesthetics of bel esprit and the comic subversion that was practiced by the first generation of the galants (1640–70), he fashioned it into an entirely original poetics and raised it to a pitch that had never been reached before. Ever ...

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3 The Sly and the Coy Mistress: Style and Manner from F

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pp. 85-112

The dictate on the author’s modesty was sanctioned by three distinct but interrelated discourses: moral, aesthetic, and worldly. Modesty and unaffectedness (or should we say the affectation of modesty) were as suited to a good writer as they were to the honnête homme and to a beautiful woman. Being a bel esprit transcended what today we call being a writer; it fell into the murky category of ...

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4 Capturing Fireside Conversation: Diderot and Marivaux’s Stylistic Challenge

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pp. 113-140

The core of Marivaux’s oeuvre and of the seduction of his poetics lies in the disjunction between the surrender to the lure of the fictional world and an attitude of distrust toward all manifestations of inauthenticity and fictionality. Well before Rousseau, Marivaux was the writer who devoted the most attention to analyzing the contamination of reality by fiction. All of his novels ...

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5 Grace and the Epistemology of Confused Perception

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pp. 141-166

In chapter 2 we explored one facet of esprit, namely, the bel esprit in its social dimension as a ridiculous author who turns his craft into a self-promoting enterprise. But esprit was far more than a snob’s career move. It was above all ...

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6 Between Paris and Rome: Montesquieu’s Poetry of History

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pp. 167-193

When Montesquieu published his inelegantly titled Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence (Amsterdam, 1734), the republic of letters was not unanimously impressed. Voltaire, always exquisitely attuned to the ebb and flow of the reputation of his rivals (anybody vying for public attention was his rival), welcomed it as a promise of Montesquieu’s own decadence: “Have you seen ...

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7 Montesquieu for the Masses, or Implanting False Memory

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pp. 194-220

Twenty years after the death of Montesquieu, in May 1775 the Mercure de France published a story signed by an obscure Mingard that purported to reveal a touching act of generosity performed by Montesquieu while he was visiting Marseilles. On a tour of the harbor the pr

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8 Everlasting Theatricality: Arlequin and the Untamed Parterre

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pp. 221-251

Many phenomena lead us to think, however, that prerevolutionary audiences reacted to the aesthetics of the drame in ways that the philosophes found profoundly disconcerting and distasteful. Despite the many injunctions against theatricality (of which Voltaire and Diderot were the most outspoken representatives at midcentury), manifestations of self-conscious, theatrical awareness of form did not decline on the French stage. Even ...

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Epilogue: The Costume of Modernity

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pp. 252-262

The lively theatrical culture that was reflected in the activities of the parterre was a sign that insubordinate forms of theatricality were being enacted throughout the eighteenth century, despite the playwrights’ (and the authorities’) attempts to channel and control the audience’s response. I have defined such theatricality as the effect of a heightened awareness of forms, as the knowledge that those forms were rooted in the monarchy’s (and the authors’) appropriation of the culture of antiquity for purposes of self-representation, legitimation, and enhancement; hence ...

Notes

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pp. 263-329

Index

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pp. 331-346