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Baroque Themes and the Woman in Madame de Villedieu Carleen S. Leggett T WO LITERARY COMMENTATORS have characterized the progress of criticism of the baroque as a “ long and tortured” 1 series of “ complications and contradictions.” 2Greenberg sums it up as “ a criticism cast in a rhetoric of parallelism and antithesis that reflect the indeterminacy of the Baroque phenomenon itself” (12). From Heinrich Wôlfflin’s contrasts of Renaissance and baroque principles in art history early in this century, through various attempts in succeeding decades to apply these and other criteria to developing ideas of the baroque in France—including the critiques of Boase, Raymond, Spitzer, Rousset, Sayce, Tapié, Buffum, Butler, Hatzfeld, and Nicolich3—to recent French baroque studies such as those of Floeck, Chédozeau, and Hampton,4 baroque criticism has continued to flourish. It is not the intent of the present study to enter the fray by either championing or condemning any of the frequently conflicting theories, but rather to identify certain baroque themes agreed upon as such by a number of critics and to point them out, particularly as they relate to the woman, in the two best-known works of Madame de Villedieu—Mémoires de la vie de Henriette-Sylvie de Molière and Les Désordres de l’amour. Chronology and the French Baroque—One obvious objection which may be raised in connecting the works cited above in any way with the French baroque style is that of chronology. Mémoires was published between 1672 and 1674 and Désordres—Villedieu’s last published novel— appeared in 1675 (three years before Madame de Lafayette’s La Prin­ cesse de Clèves, to which Désordres bears certain resemblances and is often compared). Numerous critics of the French baroque situate it, as a more or less distinct literary movement, in the pre-classical period. Greenberg writes that “the period most commonly associated with the Baroque style in literature” is 1550-1650 (7). Floeck situates the baroque period “ entre les guerres de religion et la Fronde, ” while at the same time cautioning that “ n’importe quel auteur ne peut être qualifié purement et simplement de représentant de l’une ou l’autre théorie, et que le XVIIe siècle ne peut être scindé simplement en une période baroque et une Vo l . XXXIII, No. 3 81 L ’E sprit C réateur période classique” (235). Buffum poses the question: “ Why choose these particular dates, 1570 and 1650, as limits?” and admits that “ [a]ny such choice is . . . somewhat arbitrary.” 5Peyre is ill-disposed to what he calls “ wild assertions of the more extreme baroquists” and “ strange interpre­ tations of French classicism,” 6and he cites with favor Buffum’s work. He does connect French classicism more closely with the baroque, how­ ever, in stating that “ the French classical era was one of toning down the baroque elements inherited from earlier decades (the process of Klassische Dämpfung felicitously defined by Leo Spitzer)” and that “ French classicism . . . was un baroque dompté” (16). While he feels that “ the net positive result of . . . efforts to detect the baroque elements in the French writers traditionally called ‘classical’ . . . has proved dispropor­ tionate to the labor sustained” (18), Peyre nevertheless characterizes as “ commendable” Butler’s study on baroque elements in Racine.7Peyre also, rather strangely (in view of his general stance), speaks of “those . . . occasionally baroque poets, Corneille and Victor Hugo” (11). Nicolich emphasizes the fact that there is no unanimity of opinion concerning the quoi et quand of the baroque in French literature and sug­ gests that less often recognized hypotheses, such as the Hatzfeldian one, should be given more attention. Hatzfeld himself goes so far as to argue that “ Pascal, Racine, Bossuet, and Molière are no less baroque than the generation of Louis XIII.” 8He insists on the interrelatedness of the baroque in all the arts and the necessity of structural (as well as thematic) examination of texts, and laments the too frequent association of the term “ baroque” with the Portuguese name for the irregular pearl, pérola barroca (“ Use,” 180). Nicolich points out that, even though the wellknown baroque study by Rousset9 places the high...


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