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C h a p t e r 2 Quixote Circa 1670 (Subligny) Subligny’s La Fausse Clélie, a modest success in the years Lafayette was at work on La Princesse de Clèves and for some years after, is long forgotten.1 On first inspection, it might not seem worth resurrecting. Its protagonist, Juliette d’Arviane, is subject to moments of madness during which she thinks she is the heroine of Scudéry’s famed historical romance Clélie, histoire romaine (1654– 60). What could be clearer? Like Cervantes taking on chivalric romance, like Cervantes’s emulator Sorel attacking pastoral in Le Berger extravagant (1627), Subligny ridicules—now with a gendered twist—the heroic romances that had refused to leave the literary stage. But his confrontation of airy feminine illusion with the manly prose of everyday life seems doubly redundant. First, because the joke was old: numerous novels and plays besides Le Berger extravagant had ridiculed readers whose tastes were behind the times.2 Second, because by 1670, the year La Fausse Clélie was published, even sympathetic observers seemed to know there would be no more Clélies. Hence, the critic Chapelain recognized the symbolism of the death, in 1663, of the author of the 10-volume Cassandre (1642–1650), writing, “romances [romans] . . . have fallen along with La Calprenède”; and Scudéry herself had already abandoned her old habits with Clélie’s last volume and started to experiment with shorter forms.3 So Subligny merely rehearsed a lesson everyone, even Scudéry, had absorbed: romance was dead. Finally. And it would soon have its replacement. “Little histories [petites histoires] have completely destroyed big romances [grands romans],” proclaimed critic and novelist Du Plaisir in 1682; by the following century his observation had hardened into banality.4 Such unanimity makes sense in France, whose literary production was particularly suited to proclamations of a revolutionary upheaval: the episodic, multivolume grands romans that ruled the roost from quixote circa 1670 63 L’Astrée’s first book in 1607 to Clélie’s last in 1660 quite simply ceased to appear , never to return, and the vogue for the historical novella took up the slack. The English data are less dramatic: though England avidly consumed in translation both the French historical romance and the French historical novella, it did not produce enough of either to leave the same telling pattern. Nevertheless, historians of the English novel have located a few Du Plaisirs of their own—in Behn, who distances her “history” Oroonoko of 1688 from “adventures . . . manage[d] at the poet’s pleasure”; in Congreve, whose preface to his 1693 novella Incognita not only theorizes the difference between “romance” and “novel” but even uses those terms; in Manley, who, perhaps cribbing from Du Plaisir, prefaces The Secret History of Queen Zarah (1705) by proclaiming, “Little histories of this kind have taken [the] place of Romances.”5 So in England too, by the turn of the century, the way had been cleared for the novel’s rise. Romance, the novel: as contemporary comments like these show, the opposition is hardly a figment of the modern academic imagination. But there are multiple difficulties, many long recognized by critics. The least serious of these is terminological: in English, the romance-novel opposition took a long time to stabilize (Reeve’s 1785 critical dialogue is still entitled The Progress of Romance), and French never did inscribe the opposition between old and new forms in the language.6 Second, romance seems to persist as a practice as much as a term. In France, many have noted that novels after La Princesse de Clèves often fail to display its sobriety of plot and characterization, and that, though shorn of romance’s Scuderian heft, they quickly put some pounds back on.7 Literary historians on the other side of the Channel have had to contend with a similar sense of déjà vu, since so-called novels—starting perhaps with Oroonoko and Incognita, and extending at least to the works of Fielding—often look uncomfortably like romances, incorporating, as in France, their themes, plot devices, and modes of characterization.8 A third difficulty is obvious enough, yet rarely confronted. Simply put, why was Scudéry still writing romances, anyway? Didn’t she know that Cervantes had already invented the novel? In other words, it is not just that romance is supposed to go away in the latter decades of the seventeenth century but...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812205107
Related ISBN
9780812243550
MARC Record
OCLC
794700580
Pages
312
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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