The Novel pp 46-64 | Cite as

Courtly Love, Private Anguish

Madame de Lafayette: La Princesse de Clèves


It is difficult to imagine a divide more dramatic than that between the Don Quixote and what has widely become known as ‘the first French novel’, Madame de Lafayette’s remarkable little gem, La Princesse de Cleves, first published in 1678. It still glows with dark brilliance among the many other early attempts of the new genre of the novel to define itself in opposition to a long tradition of more or less outrageous romance. Still caught in many respects in the severe prescriptions of propriety and restraint of French classicism and very much the product of the century that produced Racine and Corneille, it lacks both the wild inventiveness of the Don Quixote and the exuberance with which authors like Defoe, only a few decades later, could bring to their representations of the life of the lower classes.


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© André Brink 1998

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