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Spectacles of Intimacy: A New Look at the comédie larmoyante Deborah Steinberger IN LE PHILOSOPHE MARIÉ (1727), Philippe Néricault Destouches blends comic and serious scenes in his portrayal of a young man's efforts to keep his marriage secret. The hero, Ariste, wishes both to avoid ridicule from his bachelor friends and to remain in the good graces of an ornery relative from whom he expects to inherit. The play features comic elements in the tradition of Molière: a lighthearted dépit amoureux, a clever soubrette. But it also shows us a son in tears at his father's knees, begging forgiveness for a marriage contracted without his consent, and a loving husband and wife threatened with separation at the hands of a tyrannical uncle. These sentimentally charged situations, featuring pathos built on family ties, are a novelty for French comedy of this period: they mark a break with the affective atmosphere of the comedy of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries , dominated by Molière and Dancourt. This mixture of the serious and the comic makes Le Philosophe marié one of the first examples of the comédie larmoyante. Along with Nivelle de La Chaussée, Destouches pioneered this new type of comedy, devoted to the private sphere, and depicting family harmony and marital fidelity as the greatest sources of happiness. The plays of Destouches and La Chaussée portray the family home with an innovative blend of realism and idealism. On the one hand, they show us characters at home engaged in ordinary daily activities: writing and reading for business and pleasure (Destouches's Le Philosophe marié and Le Glorieux), squabbling with a sister (Le Philosophe marié), organizing entertainment for guests (La Chaussée 's Le Préjugé à la mode). On the other hand, these authors idealize the domestic space as they celebrate the power of family, which educates and reforms individuals, and transforms a house into a home. The comédie larmoyante has long been vilified, or at best neglected. Gustave Lanson, who wrote in 1887 the only book-length study of this genre, condemns its "fade sensibilité," and calls the works of La Chaussée "à peu près illisibles aujourd'hui."1 This last remark makes immediately clear the shortcomings of his critical approach. The plays of Destouches and La Chaussée were obviously created not to be read, but seen: any attempt to analyze these works must consider them above all as spectacle. Here, for example, I study the dramatic space and stage settings of these plays. The comédie larmoyante, 64 Fall 1999 Steinberger I believe, represents an advanced stage of a movement I call "the domestication of French comedy": starting in the 1660s, one notes a gradual transformation of stage settings from public square to domestic interior, from public to private space.2 This "domestication" of the stage is in turn linked to a phenomenon which has been documented by Philippe Aries, Roger Charrier and many others: the evolution of new patterns of social space in early modern France, with increased differentiation of the public and private spheres.3 Recognition of the growing allure of the private and domestic may help us to understand the enormous success the comédie larmoyante enjoyed before contemporary audiences. Despite their putative literary shortcomings, these works held undeniable appeal for the theatergoing public. As the Abbé Desfontaines wrote in 1737, "Cessons de médire de ces fausses comédies; elles sont goûtées de notre siècle."4 With 20 performances each in their first run, Destouches's Le Philosophe marié and La Chaussée's Le Préjugé à la mode qualify by the period's standards as real successes; La Chaussée's La Fausse Antipathie and Mélanide were performed over 20 times; and Destouches's Le Glorieux enjoyed a triumphant total of 30 first-run performances, a record held by only four other plays produced between 1715 and 1750.5 Their election to the Académie—Destouches in 1723, La Chaussée in 1736—indicates that these authors had earned the respect of their peers. Yet, despite their immense popularity and their distinguished standing among their contemporaries , modern studies...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 64-75
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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