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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Moral and social constraints on femininity in the comedie larmoyante Leith, Hope Mary


This study has attempted to show that the plays of La Chaussée, which were popular in France in the middle to lat eighteenth century, were popular because they appealed to social values of the period, and particularly because they expressed a conservative view of society and of the role of women in that society. The introduction sets forth the historical and biographical background of La Chaussée, the extent of the success achieved by his "comédies larmoyantes" in performance and in publication during the eighteenth century, and the reasons for selecting the five plays on which this study concentrates. The focus on, female characters is explained by the number of plays "about" women: Mélanide, La Gouvernante, L'Ecole des méres and by the tendency in literary criticism to consider eighteenth-century French tastes in theatre dictated by women. Chapter I presents a content analysis of the five plays. This technique, taken from Goodlad, A Sociology of Popular Drama, provides plot summaries of these now unfamiliar plays which are used as a basis for chapter II. Furthermore it permits determination and comparison of these themes, settings, areas of conflict explored and types of resolution offered in the plays under examination. La Chaussée most frequently presents the problems of marital and familial love, and resolves conflicts with reconciliation, marriage, or another form of social integration. Goodlad brings out the relationship between popular success and a play's at least implicit didacticism and its conservatism in form and content. Chapter II uses narratological analysis techniques from Bremond, Logique du récit. The plays are considered as texts. The purpose here is to bring to light the structure of plot: how resolution in delayed or achieved, what roles -- victim, beneficiary, assistant, frustrator -- female character play in that structure. Heroines are found to be passive victims, beneficiaries, or even frustrators. Secondary female characters play minor assistant roles, or act as frustrators for the heroines. Resolution is achieved by male characters. Chapter III turns to discourse, how much and what is said about the female sex and/or by female characters. It examines the quantity, content and situation of female discourse in these plays, and particularly the social and situational restraints on discourse. A female character usually only has one scene with male characters in which she speaks half or more of the total lines, unless she is alone with someone over whom she has affective influence, and not her husband. Maids are used to express generalizations about the situation of women in society, and sympathy for the heroine. The discourse of heroines centres on the standards of virtue to which society holds them: patience, endurance, chastity, obedience. In the conclusion, critical judgments on La Chaussée from the eighteenth century to the present are reviewed and examined. Doubt is cast on the extent to which La Chaussée should be seen as promoting theatrical or social reform, and increased emphasis in placed on the nature of his didacticism, and the pervasiveness of his conservatism.

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