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  • La Précieuse, ou Le Mystère de la ruelle
  • Nicholas Hammond
Michel de Pure : La Précieuse, ou Le Mystère de la ruelle. Edited by Myriam Dufour-Maître. (Sources classiques, 98). Paris: Honoré Champion, 2010. 820 pp. Hb €130.00.

Myriam Dufour-Mâtre's previous work on préciosité makes her the ideal scholar to edit and champion the cause of Michel de Pure's long novel La Précieuse (first published in 1656), and she certainly does not hold back from arguing that it 'mérite de figurer parmi les romans du XVIIe siècle les plus novateurs que nous ayons à découvrir' (p. 7). It is unfortunate, therefore, that an edition costing €130 is hardly going to reach the widest of readerships. Yet, for all the novel's obscurity and occasional longueurs, Dufour-Mâtre's proselytizing zeal is infectious and the quality of her analysis is high. Rather than becoming bogged down in attempts to decipher all the names of the précieuses (an often futile task that has preoccupied previous scholars), she concentrates on the many fascinating structural, narrative, linguistic, theoretical, intertextual, and gender-related elements of the book. Generous in acknowledging her debt to an unpublished doctoral thesis by Daniel Maher, Dufour-Mâtre is especially effective in commenting on the metatextual features of Part IV of the book, which she reads as a parodic and satirical response to Madeleine de Scudéry's Clélie (which was itself about to be published when Les Précieuses first appeared). As befits the role played by conversation in galanterie, La Précieuse is described by Dufour-Mâtre as 'un roman critique de la conversation et de sa fonction matricielle dans l'invention galante' (p. 65). Throughout the novel, various forms of orality are staged, whether through speeches, the interpretation of songs, or even the reading aloud of letters or stories. Yet the text is equally concerned with the process of reading: 'bien disantes ou insupportables bavardes, fines lectrices ou tyrans des Lettres, les précieuses de Michel de Pure sont encore d'habiles rédactrices ou des plumitives sans succès' (p. 66). Moreover, various linguistic debates of the time are brought to the fore in the novel. Perhaps most interestingly, the frequency with which the words 'liberté', 'libre', and 'librement' appear — a point that Somaize remarked upon in his Dictionnaire des Pretieuses (1660) — shows the extent to which [End Page 388] freedom of expression, choice, creativity even, are central preoccupations for the women who populate the text. Dufour-Mâtre includes useful accompanying material as appendices, which helps to elucidate de Pure's and others' conception of préciosité and galanterie. The Index is divided between 'Notions' and 'Personnages', and in the text itself her notes are learned but never intrusive.

Nicholas Hammond
University of Cambridge


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