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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The composition, publication, and influence of Gilberte Périer’s La Vie de Monsieur Pascal Richmond, Lisa


Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French scientist, mathematician, and religious thinker. La Vie de Monsieur Pascal, a memoir of his life written by his sister Gilberte Perier, has served as the primary source for most other biographies. It survives in two versions. The first version was written in 1662 or 1663 and was published for the first time in 1684. The Perier family feared the text's suppression if published, because, contrary to its evidence, enemies of Jansenism claimed that Pascal had relinquished his Jansenist sympathies just prior to his death. A stolen copy was published in Amsterdam in 1684 without the family's consent, and no official censure resulted. The text was then reprinted many times. A second version has also survived in manuscript form, and was likely composed by Gilberte in 1669 or 1670, but not published until 1908. The reason it lay dormant for so long is unknown. It appears that Gilberte's intention was to show that despite her brother's worldly successes, he deliberately renounced his gifts in order to pursue a life of simple, child-like faith in God. The primary criticism levied against the historical veracity of her account is that it does not accurately portray Pascal's life between 1646, the date of his "first conversion," and his "second conversion" in 1654 (his night of fire). Gilberte stressed that Pascal renounced his scientific pursuits from 1646, whereas the facts of his life as independently known suggest that he remained concerned with these pursuits well past that date. The document has also been criticized as presenting an idealized portrait of Pascal. Scholarly estimations of Pascal from the 17th century to the present day have been formed at least in part by how Gilberte's text is interpreted.

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