Definitions

précieuse

Précieuses

[prey-see-ooz; Fr. prey-syœz]
The literary style called préciosité ("preciousness") arose from the lively conversations and playful word games of les précieuses, the witty and educated intellectual ladies who frequented the salon of the 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 XIII. One of the central figures of the salon, Madeleine de Scudéry, wrote voluminous romance novels that 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.

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.

In the Fronde, the blue-stockings tended to be aligned with the surintendant des finances, Nicolas Fouquet, drawing the satire and ire of the aubignaciens, of the Cardinal de Retz's party.

In the précieuse style, numerous fairy tales 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. 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 are 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).

Roxane, a critical character in Edmond Rostand's 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, is described as a précieuse.

Notes

References

  • 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

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