|French literary history|
The French literary style called préciosité (French pronunciation: [pʁesjɔzite], preciousness) arose in the 17th century from the lively conversations and playful word games of les précieuses (French pronunciation: [le pʁesjøz]), the witty and educated intellectual ladies who frequented the salon of Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de Rambouillet; her Chambre bleue (the "blue room" of her hôtel particulier) offered a Parisian refuge from the dangerous political factionism and coarse manners of the royal court during the minority of Louis XIV. One of the central figures of the salon that gathered at the hôtel de Rambouillet, Madeleine de Scudéry, wrote voluminous romance novels that embodied the refinements of preciosité; they were suffused with feminine elegance, exquisitely correct scruples of behavior and Platonic love that were hugely popular with a largely female audience, but scorned by most men. The "questions of love" that were debated in the précieuses' salons reflected the "courts of love" that were a feature of medieval courtly love. The satire of Molière's comedy Les Précieuses ridicules (1659) punctured their pretensions.
None of the ladies ever applied the term précieuse to herself or defined it. Myriam Maître has found in préciosité not so much a listable series of characteristics "as an interplay of forces, a place of encounter and mutual ordering of certain of the tensions that extend through the century, the court and the field of literature". In assessing the career of Philippe Quinault, which began at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, 1653, Patricia Howard noted, "For if in French theatre in the second half of the century, women's roles are preeminent, it was the précieux movement which made them so."
One précieuse parlor game, the retelling of fairy tales as if spontaneously (though the tales were in fact carefully prepared), was to have great effects. Many of these fairy tales, in the précieuse style, were written, mostly notably by Madame d'Aulnoy. This fashion for fairy tales, and the writers themselves, were a notable influence later upon Charles Perrault, and also many other writers such as Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, the author of the first known variant of Beauty and the Beast. They altered the stories notably from the folk tradition, as in making every character at least a gentleman by birth. The heroes and heroines of fairy tales written by the précieuses often appeared in pastoral settings and as shepherds and shepherdesses, but these figures were royal or noble, and their simple setting does not cloud their innate nobility.
The précieuses remembered through the filter of Molière's one-act satire of them in Les précieuses ridicules (1659), a bitter comedy of manners that brought Molière and his company to the attention of Parisians, after years of touring the provinces, and attracted the patronage of Louis XIV; it still plays well today. Les précieuses ridicules permanently fixed the pejorative connotation of précieuse as "affected". In the play the two provincial young ladies reject the suitors proposed by their father as insufficiently refined, only to fall in love with the suitors' valets, disguised as wits. In the provinces, the young ladies' Parisian pretensions were worth mockery, and in Paris, their puffed-up provincial naiveté and self-esteem were laughable. Thus Molière pleased all possible audiences.
The phenomenon of the précieuses in establishing French literary classicism was first revived, in an atmosphere of nostalgia for the douceurs de vivre of the Ancien Regime and the aristocratic leisure of its authoresses, by Louis Roederer, in his Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de la société polie en France (1838).
- The first use of précieuse to denote a literary patron of formidable powers of taste and judgment dates to 1654, according to W. Zimmer, Di literarische Kritik am Preciösentum 1978:51, noted in Patricia Howard, "The Influence of the Précieuses on Content and Structure in Quinault's and Lully's Tragédies Lyriques" Acta Musicologica 63.1 (January 1991, pp. 57-72) p 58, note.
- "qu'un jeu de forces, un lieu d'affrontement et réglage mutuel de certaines des tensions qui traversent le siècle, le cour et le champ littéraire". Myriam Maître, Les Précieuses: naissance des femmes de lettres en France au XVIIe siècle (Paris:Champion) 1999:19.
- Howard 1991:58.
- Maître 1999: part I.
- Terri Windling, Les Contes des Fées: The Literary Fairy Tales of France
- Jack Zipes, When Dreams Came True: Classical Fairy Tales and Their Tradition, p 38-42 ISBN 0-415-92151-1
- Terri Windling, Beauty and the Beast
- Paul Delarue, The Borzoi Book of French Folk-Tales, p xi, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York 1956
- Lewis Seifert, "The Marvelous in Context: The Place of the Contes de Fées in Late Seventeenth Century France", Jack Zipes, ed., The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, p 920-1, ISBN 0-393-97636-X
- Howard, Patricia, "Quinault, Lully, and the Precieuses: Images of Women in Seventeenth-Century France." in Cecilia Reclaimed: Feminist Perspectives on Gender and Music ed. Susan C. Cook and Judy S. Tsou, editors, pp 70–89. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.
- Maître, Myriam. Les Précieuses: naissance des femmes de lettres en France au XVIIe siècle (Paris:Champion) 1999