In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Desire and Writing in Scudéry’s “ Histoire de Sapho” Patricia Hannon S CUDÉRY SCHOLARSHIP often focuses on her 1654 novel Clélie, which contains the “ Carte de Tendre,” the best known of the many amorous geographies in vogue during the second half of the seven­ teenth century. Scudéry’s sometimes ambiguous distinction between the friendship or “ amitié tendre” of the land of Tendre and the passionate love of the “Terres Inconnues” has elicited divergent critical interpreta­ tions: certain critics emphasize the novel’s intellectual, spiritual love reflective of the purgation of passion, whereas others stress its apology of passion, valorizing of the affective dimension, and legitimation of sentiment.1However, the issue of eroticism in Madeleine de Scudéry’s works is seldom addressed.2 My reading of “ Histoire de Sapho,” the tenth and final volume of Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus (1653), reveals that what appears to be an idealized or intellectualized love includes an important erotic dimension.3 The argument for eroticism in Scudéry’s œuvre is strengthened by selecting a text written prior to Clélie: “ Histoire de Sapho” can be conceived of as a kind of hiatus before the lines sep­ arating love from friendship, the land of Tendre from the “Terres In­ connues,” are more forcefully delineated.4 For in this anterior text, love’s body is defined by “ inclination” —“ pente qu’on a naturellement à quelque chose” (Pierre Richelet, Dictionnaire françois, 1680)—guaran­ teed by its very irrationality to be free of ulterior motives. “ Si je dois votre amour à quelque chose,” explains Sapho to Phaon, “ c’est à votre inclination” (560). Love is born not of the marriage contract—“ Je veux un Amant sans vouloir un Mari” (415)—but arises rather from “ inclina­ tion,” “ une liaison avec quelqu’un qu’on peut choisir” (412): Jugez donc, Phaon, si je trouverais bon que vous puissiez m’aimer par nulle autre raison que parce que vous me trouvez aimable, & parce que vous ne pouvez vous empêcher d ’avoir de l’affection pour moi. (561)5 The nature of Sapho and Phaon’s “ inclination” is clarified by ana­ lyzing the scene in which the heroine poses for her portrait under the watchful eyes of the salon habitués. Although the eroticism of this scene is usually neglected in favor of a more traditional reading of Vol. XXXV, NO. 2 37 L ’E spr it C réa teu r “ saphonisme” as the sublimation of passion, its literal encoding of the body into gestural language could easily be transposed to the boudoir, which here seems to trespass on the limits of the public drawing room. Salon society is the third term in a triangular configuration wherein a mute Sapho and Phaon communicate through well-placed glances and meaningful blushes. The lovers’ glances, “ il savait si bien l’art de parler d’amour sans en parler” (444), are signs to be deciphered in an amorous game where mediated expression is the rule. Just as their glances are a kind of broken sentence interrupted by the group surrounding them, so too are the lovers’ bodies fragmented into synecdoches against the encompassing scene. Sapho is reduced to an “ aimable rougeur,” “beaux yeux,” and especially “ rêverie” ; while Phaon is dispersed into “regards,” “ visage,” and “ un air si languissant & si amoureux dans ses yeux” (444-45). The references to Sapho’s blushing and daydreaming underscore the erotic components of this passage where the painter reveals the soul of his subject already undressed by her lover’s glances: “ par un aimable rougeur qui paraissait sur le visage de Sapho, . . . elle trouvait que les regards de Phaon lui en disaient trop” (444). The numerous references to Sapho’s “ rêverie” which close the passage sug­ gest a jouissance compatible with the restraints of this social gathering: “ Sapho, rêvant assez profondément, arrêta ses beaux yeux sur le visage de Phaon, qu’elle ne voyait pourtant pas. . (445). Scudéry’s Sapho recalls the original poetess of sexual desire when she loses control: “elle regardait Phaon sans le voir,” and “ en rougit” (445). On yet another level, Sapho’s embarrassment results from her violating the ideal of sociability by a personal...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 37-50
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.