Studies in Self-Interest: From Descartes to La Bruyere

By A. J. Krailsheimer | Go to book overview

5: LA ROCHEFOUCAULD

HOWEVER much one may disagree with the assumptions about life on which Corneille's characters base their conduct, it cannot be denied that even the less effective tragedies contain characters who arouse our admiration or, at the very least, our respect. Misguided as they often seem to be, they are trying to do something difficult, even though to us it may appear simply pointless, and in their attempt they sacrifice all other considerations. Single-mindedness and high seriousness are the marks of all Cornelian heroes, and the best of them (from a dramatic point of view) have a panache about them which more than anything else typifies the pre-Fronde age. Descartes's famous portrait by Hals and his reputation as a swordsman belong to just the same tradition. Unfortunately the inner man, on whom Corneille and Descartes alike lay constant stress, is inaccessible to public gaze, and it is a good deal easier to imitate panache, which by definition will not escape notice, than the moral qualities with which it should properly be associated. In their admiration for the type of behaviour which Corneille put upon the boards, and with which their ancestors had filled the pages of French history, the Frondeurs were not sparing in panache, but the christening ceremony just recalled, and in general all of Retz's Mémoires, make it impossible for us to see behind the actions éclatantes the âme noble et généreuse which alone can invest them with meaning. Anyone who has seen a modern revival of a Victorian melodrama, acted with all the emphasis of the original, will have a vivid mental picture of the borderline between pure tragedy, which bears constant repetition, and its near relative, melodrama, which does not. It is in no sense a disparagement of Corneille's art to say that a strong vein of melodrama runs through his tragic work, le Cid and Rodogune being two obvious examples, without in any way detracting from the genuine tragic content. It is not altogether unfair to see in the Fronde an attempt to reproduce the melodrama, not wholly without success, under the mistaken impression

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Studies in Self-Interest: From Descartes to La Bruyere
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • I - Sixteenth Century Background 9
  • II - Descartes 31
  • III - Cornielle 47
  • IV - Retz 61
  • V - La Rochefoucauld 81
  • VI - Pascal: Lettres Provinciales 98
  • VII - Pascal: Method 114
  • VIII - Pascal: Pensees 126
  • IX - Moliere 152
  • X - Bossuet 173
  • XI - La Bruyere 196
  • Index 219
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