Jones, Shirley Esther (1961)
Ethics and the novel as studied in the works of women novelists from the publication of 'Princesse de Cleves', 1678, until the end of the reign of Louis XIV, 1715.
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The introductory section is taken up with an examination of the moral climate of the society in which Mme de Lafayette wrote. The eclectic nature of honnetete is pointed out, together with its lack of concern for perfection to which it preferred a pursuit of refined pleasure guided by reason, Mme de Lafayette's ethics are found to be those of her generation in the setting of her novel, whilst her conception of love presents greater complexities, Mme de Villedieu is seen to preach a doctrine of hedonism which reflects exactly 'mondain' mentality, A study of the feminine novel from 1678 to 1703, at which point it seems to have suffered a relative eclipse, shows that whereas women writers portrayed passion and not amorous dalliance, they remain faithful to the ideal held by an earlier generation: that of pure love. Their conception of passion as omnipotent, together with the absolute virtue of the protagonists, means that there is no real moral dilemma. The heroes and heroines are thus represented as being worthy of pity, and their helplessness leads them to adopt a fatalistic attitude. The didactic aim, which had been so strong in the novel, tends thus to be replaced by a desire to move the reader. The moral notions, which act as an accurate guide to the ethics implied in the novels, reflect this change of emphasis from the struggle of will to the portrayal of sensitivity and suffering virtue. Such notions as 'la delicatesse', which has replaced 'la gloire' in importance, seem to hold the key to the understanding of this new ideal, A comparison with the contemporaneous masculine novel demonstrates the unity of tone in the novels of women writers; from the masculine novel is absent such evidence of moral preoccupation as we have found in the main part of this study. Thus it is to the works of women writers from the publication of the Princesse de Cleves until the end of the reign of Louis XIV that the credit must go for the development of the cult of sensibility in the novel.
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Deposited by David Morgan (UBYL020) on
in Royal Holloway Research Online.Last modified on 31-Jan-2017
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Institution: University of London, Bedford College (United Kingdom).