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Profil d'une oeuvre: La princesse de Cleves Mass Market Paperback – November 17, 2004
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The Princess de Cleves, the first great short novel in the French language, was published anonymously in 1678, although 'advance publicity' has made it clear that the author was Madame de Lafayette (with the probable assistance of La Rochefoucauld and others). The book caused a sensation then, and is now considered one of the French classics. Although this is a historical novel, set in the last splendid days of Henri II of France, it does in fact reflect the manners and morals of the court of Louix XIV: and in this artificial setting of gossip, deceit and intrigue (ably fostered by the teenage Mary, Queen of Scots), the tortures passions of the gallant Duc de Nemours and the radiant wife of the Prince de Cleves shine out with a pure brilliance. --This text refers to an alternate Mass Market Paperback edition.
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Young woman marries for convention. Her husband adores her yet she doesn't feel passion for him.
When she meets the Duke, the Princess of Cleves is totally undone by her love and passion for him.
Anyone who has fallen in love, or lust with the wrong person will understand her torment.
I read both versions to compare, and the English version leaves a lot to be desired!
I would not consider this to be a 'must read', but that all depends on what the reader is looking to get out of it. In many ways it feels a bit overly-dramatic and anti-climactic, but it has an intriguing setting (though it is under-utilized) and is an interesting analysis of 'animal'-attraction and the disruption it causes in ordered high society, where reputation is paramount. Madame de Lafayette makes an uncommon defense of temperance over pleasure, but to my mind, actually makes a rather poor case for it. Siding with temperance is quite a rare thing, so it is a shame that Lafayette didn't defend it better or at least make a more compelling resolution.
I really enjoyed this book more as an artifact than a novel. Being written in 1678 and taking place in the even earlier French court of Henri II of France (1558) is something that I find inherently interesting. The main thing that dampened my spirits while reading though was just how interesting the reign of Henri II was how little it matters for the story. I kept wanting to know more about Diane de Poitier and Catherine de Medici rather than the (now) commonplace 'love-is-pain' plot. So my score is more of a personal one than an attempt at objective criticism, as I think many modern readers will view this book as too dry to bother with, while others will thoroughly enjoy coloring in all of the space older novels left for the reader to fill out on their own.