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The cultural code in La princesse de Cleves Davis, Lenore Jane

Abstract

This study of Madame de la Payette's La Prlncesse de Cleves proceeds from a general overview of the cultural and social mores presented in the novel to examine the stylistic components upon which it is structured—the maxim or generalizing statement. It brings into play the relationship between the author and her audience, the questions of cultural and creative verisimilitude, and the seventeenth and twentieth-century critical reactions to the novel. Through close textual analysis, a definition of the cultural code, its content and its manifestation in the novel, is revealed. The code's foundation on public opinion and social practice is demonstrated in the numerous maxims and generalizing statements which support or contradict specific actions in the novel. The question of conformity or non-conformity to the code as illustrated by actions leads into a discussion of verisimilitude in the novel as a whole. The seventeenth century's insistence upon cultural vralsemblance is contrasted with the twentieth-century concepts of naturalization and creative vralsemblance. While this study finds that for the twentieth-century reader there may be some lapses of understanding with regard to small details of life in the society which Is described in the novel, it nonetheless shows that La Prlncesse de Gleves observes the prescriptions of its genre, the conventions of vraisemblance as they apply to the novel, and that Mme de la Fayette warrants consideration for her avant garde approach to recording the effects of the social attitudes of her time.

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