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Mythic aspects of the feminine in Madame de la Fayette's La Princesse de Clèves

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Title: Mythic aspects of the feminine in Madame de la Fayette's La Princesse de Clèves
Author: Caulfield-Malkin, Bonnie K.
Degree Master of Arts - MA
Program French
Copyright Date: 1987
Subject Keywords Women in literature; La Fayette, Madame de (Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne), 1634-1693 -- Characters -- Women
Abstract: Madame de La Fayette's La Princesse de Clèves was written between 1671 and 1677 at a time in French history when women's rights were beginning to find a voice in the "salons" of a few prominent female members of the leisure class. Although an immediate success with the reading public of seventeenth-century France, Madame de La Fayette's novel attracted a great deal of critical attention of the type that did not convince her to cast off her anonymity and come forth as the rightful author. As a roman d'analyse, La Princesse de Clèves stepped out of the conventions of vraisemblance and bienséance (plausibility and propriety) by the manner in which it followed the rites of passage of a young girl from maidenhood to self-evolved womanhood through the use of the medium of human relationships. In taking the idea of a psychological study one step further, into the realm of mythology, the reader is able to gain greater insight into the motivational forces at work within the principal character's psyche. Madame de Clèves' mythical journey towards a greater sense of self-awareness is activated by a deep-seated need, found in varying degrees in both women and men but in general more predominantly in women, to establish and maintain positive, creative relationships with others. This need goes back to the essential and eternal bonding between mother and daughter and the more tenuous bonding between mother and son. Placed within a mythological framework, the princesse's fictional development can be described through the intermediary motif of the quest. The princesse, unconsciously at first, sets out on a search for Self - a search for the centre of undistorted recognition of one's essence. She is stirred to action by feelings of dissatisfaction, loss and incompleteness arising from deep within her being. The initial phase of the journey entails a pulling away from the intense Mother bonding (without totally separating from it) by means of initiation through the "masculine" (her platonic lover Nemours). She is then able to accept and appreciate the parts of her inner nature she had been taught to avoid as a young girl (passion, moodiness, rage) and begin the difficult task of redeeming the Feminine within, in both her beauty and her destructiveness. During the process of looking at her own life, her own immediate past, the princesse finds herself drawn to the myths of a more distant past as well. She comes in touch with her mythical beginnings, with the unconscious dreams of an ancient people who, unlike their successors, were more at peace with their connection to life's mysterious truths personified by the oldest revered divinity: the ancient Great Goddess, "Union of all things related one to another." The result for Madame de La Fayette's heroine is a self-realized existence far from the culturally dictated role that society had allotted for her. In her moving away from the French court to the world of wholeness and integrity of country home and convent, the princesse is able to taste the fruits of freedom. She is able to become filled with the "goddess energy" of all aspects of her life and join past and future in her personal quest to bring inner healing to herself and to others.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/26793
Series/Report no. UBC Retrospective Theses Digitization Project [http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/retro_theses/]
Scholarly Level: Graduate

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