This study does not presume to examine or define the characteristics of what has come to be known as seventeenth-century French classical literature. This would call for a far wider and more systematic investigation into the structure, form and content of that literature than has been attempted here. It seeks rather to discern several of the recurrent features in the works of some of the major dramatists and thinkers of the century, and suggests that there may be a common complex principle underlying their diverse dramatic and philosophic visions, a principle most comprehensively covered by the term paradox. By the term I mean the holding in balanced tension of apparently incompatible elements and it seems to me to be suggested in and through the very diversity of those visions, in each of which it possesses its own coherence and characteristic expression. The works studied have been chosen because they appear to me to exemplify that common principle in their vastly different forms as well as being characteristic of the minds which created them.


Recurrent Feature Radical Scepticism Sceptical Doubt Balance Tension Philosophic Vision 
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  1. 1.
    A. Gide, Préface to L’Immoraliste in Romans, récits et soties (Paris, 1958), p. 367.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Quoted by W. G. Moore, in his French Classical Literature, An Essay (Oxford, 1961 ), p. 18.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    P. Larthomas, Le langage dramatique, sa nature, ses procédés (Paris, 1972).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    His third Discours on dramatic poetry in Pierre Corneille, Writings on the Theatre, ed. H. T. Barnwell (Oxford, 1965), p. 63.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    See P. Bénichou, Morales du grand siècle (Paris, 1948 ).Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    See the suggestive remarks of E. R. O. Borgerhoff in this connexion in The Freedom of French Classicism (New York, 1950 ).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Robert McBride 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert McBride
    • 1
  1. 1.The Queen’s University of BelfastUK

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