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YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY INVITO SPECTATORE: SCENES OF LOVE IN THE LETTRE À D’ALEMBERT SUR LES SPECTACLES ANGELA N. HUNTER “QU’ON nous peigne l’amour comme on voudra: il séduit, ou ce n’est pas lui,” writes Rousseau in the Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles (V 51).1 This punchy phrase sums up the main argument of one section of the Letter: the representation of love on stage always has the effect of seduction on the spectator. Rousseau further argues that theatrical seduction is always harmful, even if the love represented is innocent, and even if it is sacrificed to duty at the tragedy’s end (V 47-48), because “l’effet d’une tragedie est tout à fait indépendant de celui du dénoüement ” (V 50). In Rousseau’s depiction of this state of affairs, there is no way for love’s seduction to fail, and thus, no way for any other element of the tragedy to succeed in altering love’s effect once it is in operation. As Elizabeth Wingrove notes, “in this theatricality is hardly distinguishable from romantic interaction” (43). Love’s seduction seems as powerful from stage to spectator as from lover to beloved. The “romantic interaction” diagnosed in the Letter to d’Alembert, however, is not reserved solely for the stage: Rousseau’s own autobiographical relations enter into the scene of the letter in a powerful way. While the reference to Diderot in the preface – creating the definitive and painful break of their friendship – is perhaps the most famous moment of Rousseau’s personal interaction in the Letter, this break is only one part of the drama swirling around and within the text. Darach Sanfey and Ourida Mostefai have both written on the autobiographical aspects of the Letter as well as the circumstances of its writing, such as Rousseau’s problems with Mme d’Epinay and Grimm on the one hand, 1 All references to Rousseau’s writing are to Oeuvres complètes, noted by volume. I will use the designation Letter for the title henceforth. YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY 367 and his problematic love for Mme d’Houdetot on the other.2 To say that the drama at issue in the Letter is not solely that of stage or spectacle, then, is nothing new; both critics invoke Rousseau’s personal drama, with Mostefai calling it a veritable “drame bourgeois” (CG 76). Yet there is a seductive relation between the argument about love’s power in the Letter and the narrative of the Letter’s writing in Confessions that deserves more detailed exploration. This relationship represents more than aspects of Rousseau’s personal life motivating and permeating his critical text; it brings love to the center of the stage. These are not simply scenes where love is in question; they are scenes where love is in action. An examination of the spectator’s relationship to love in the Letter, particularly Rousseau’s example of the play Bérénice, will show the creation of a private scene in the spectator’s heart. This will link to another private scene of love in Rousseau’s description of his situation during the writing of the Letter. Rousseau depicts writing the Letter as a kind of private theater of his own feelings and intimate relations. Through a close analysis of these two scenes of love, we will discover that what Rousseau claims love does to the spectator at the theater also occurs in the text warning us about what happens at the theater. I. THE SCENE OF LOVE, OR WHY TITUS IS THE ONLY ROMAN IN THE THEATER According to Rousseau, love has become the fundamental interest of the French stage (V 43). The effect of “la Scene uniquement fondé sur l’amour” (V 47) is seduction, making the effect of tragedy synonymous with that of love.3 Rousseau is particularly concerned with what love does to the spectator even when it appears in legitimate circumstances or is used to bolster the play’s putative moral lesson: “bientôt les circonstances s’effacent de la mémoire, tandis que l’impression d’une pas368 ROMANCE NOTES 2 In looking back on the Letter from Confessions (and in writing its preface...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-7599
Print ISSN
0035-7995
Pages
pp. 367-376
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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