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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Du Plaisir as theoretician and practitioner of the novel form Hunter, Ellen Janet


This dissertation seeks to analyze two works by the 17th-century French writer, Du Plaisir, and to define their relationship to each other. By viewing La Duchesse d'Estramène through the critical theory of its author as expressed in Les Sentimens sur les Lettres, we are able to come to terms with Du Plaisir's formal definition of the petit roman, nouveau roman or nouvelle as he conceived it. Because the entire literary production attributed to Du Plaisir consists solely of these two short texts, the fact that the one analyzes the salient features of the other is strongly accentuated. Although the present study devoted more attention to the structural analysis of La Duchesse d'Estramène than to the Sentimens...., the latter work is considered as a highly significant reference. This study is divided into two major sections. Section I is entitled The Sentimens sur l'Histoire: an author's analysis of the creative process. The first chapter of this section is devoted to the background to the study of the Sentimens...; Du Plaisir's treatise is considered in the perspective of the rise of the petit roman in seventeenth-century France, and seen to share many similarities with the content of theoretical works on the novel written contemporaneously to it. The second chapter of this first section concerns Du Plaisir's theory of the anti-novel as presented in Part II of the Sentimens.... In particular, he condemns the voluminous and rambling heroic novels written at the beginning of the seventeenth-century in France; concision of form and content comprises the focal point of his theoretical remarks. Section II of this study deals with the structural analysis of La Duchesse d'Estramène, which could be sub-titled: "The dilemma of the honnête femme as seen by Du Plaisir." In the first chapter of this section, a resume of the action is followed by a discussion of the role of history in La Duchesse d'Estramène. Chapters II (Narrative Technique) and III (Characterization) concern the technical aspects of Du Plaisir's novel. By examining the methods which Du Plaisir uses to present the characters in his novel, and the hierarchy which he observes in so doing, we are able to appreciate the deliberate structure of La Duchesse d'Estramène. All of the personages populating the work, both major and minor alike, are conceived and presented by the author with a view to highlighting pertinent aspects of the heroine's complex personality. Du Plaisir's skilful use of the technique of moving point of view serves not only to make the character whose optic he adopts more believable, but also to lend to his narrative a depth of perspective which it might not otherwise have had. Du Plaisir succeeds in conveying to the reader a nuanced, evocative portrait of a woman who chooses to subjugate her personal wishes to the demands of bienséance, in an effort to maintain her reputation at court. In the Conclusion, the bond uniting theory and practice in the work of Du Plaisir is underlined, as theoretical remarks made in the Sentimens sur l'Histoire are related to La Duchesse d'Estramène, The latter work is seen to be an almost perfect example of the ideal petit roman as Du Plaisir himself conceived it.

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