Precious Women

Precious Women

Precious Women

Precious Women

Excerpt

At first they were the precious few of their time, a group of favored ladies who gathered in private houses and learned to make conversation artfully. They were the magical secret feminine center of early seventeenth-century society, a society launched by the marvelous Marquise de Rambouillet, the first, the greatest, the archetypal hostess. And their aim in life was nothing less than the creation of worldliness, the imposition of form and ritual on a community that was wallowing in lust, blood, and dirt.

But they succeeded, and became the many, so many that their secret precious style ended up a public joke.

All we have left of the précieuse is the cultural stereotype Molière gave us, the pretentious lady whose pedigree is in doubt and whose intellect is small, but who claims to know everybody and everything. She sets a high price on her person; she is an absurd narcissist, sitting up in bed to entertain—let others come to her, she is too fragile to go out in the cold—and will talk only of poetry and beautyaids. She is supercilious; she cannot say "teeth"; it has to be the "furniture of the mouth." She is the acme of irresponsible and shallow womankind, a pampered, frigid doll.

The word précieuse was not always such a rebuke, although there is something inherently vulnerable in it. It was a shrill cry of self‐ definition, and it was bound to be put to scorn by a newer breed of worldlings who came to take her place. The précieuse did indeed set a high price on herself. This in itself was not new. Her earliest . . .

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