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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The role of vision in Les caracteres Brown, Margaret Ellen


Les Caracteres ou les moeurs de ce siecle, written by Jean de La Bruyere at the twilight of the seventeenth century has been both hailed as a brilliant study of human nature and dismissed as the malicious revenge of a jealous court figure. Such variety in criticism is to be expected of an author who, by painting precise portraits of members of his society, illuminates the depths to which human nature has fallen in a decadent age of material opulence, social frivolity and moral debility. What Jean de La Bruyere presents is man's relationship with his peers rather than with himself as did Pascal. This study examines the vast tableau of the observers and the observed whose very existence depends on seeing and being seen. It highlights the author's skillful depiction of the members of society who spend much of their time watching each other: examining, scrutinizing, judging, mocking, condemning and imitating. Visual references and vocabulary such as the verbs of seeing ("voir", "remarquer", "observer", "paraitre") and nouns of sight ("yeux", "oeil", "vue") abound in the text and are included as Appendix A as extensive textual evidence of the self-reflective nature of La Bruyere's society. This study examines the visual aspects of the social relationships of the textual heroes, the visual bonds between the King and his court, the optique of the author as astute observer of men and perceptive judge of the psychological significance of the visible, and the moral implications of the prominence of the "act of seeing" in society.

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