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Pets and their Couples

Chardin, Charrière, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, and Marivaux


Servanne Woodward

Baroque novels focus on the psychology of love, while love in the context of nature is the subject of the pastoral genre. Introducing animals to such texts proves unexpectedly challenging. The inclusion of pets in the artistic representation involves a reversal of scale and various modes of comedy, including socio-political satire. At a time when some writers fantasize that children can be born of a human-animal couple, or question the degree of free will and physiological determinism influencing human or animal actions, scientific and philosophical enquiries threaten to reduce the whole animated world to a physiology akin to one of automatons. It is a criticism levied by the sentimentaires against the libertines. Eventually, the study must be initiated with the monitoring of the modulated and variable conceptions of the persons constituting a «couple» and the status of the «pet».
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Chapter Two


1.   “It’s not the cat!” The subject of Mr. and Mistriss Henley’s fight

Lettres de Mistriss Henley publiées par son amie (1784) by Isabelle de Charrière was written in response to Samuel de Constant’s novel Le Mari sentimental ou le mari comme il y en a quelques uns.97 The Swiss epistolary novel appeared in 1783 and told the story of the unfortunate marriage of M. Bompré, a country gentleman whose wife is a brute and who drives him to suicide. On the book cover of her epistolary narrative, Charrière inserted La Fontaine’s verse “J’ai vu beaucoup d’hymens, &c.”, and the other half reads: “aucuns d’eux ne me tentent”.98 In Lettres écrites de Lausanne (1785), Cécile assesses that the young man she prefers loves her moderately (whenever he sees her), and while anticipating heartaches and humiliations in the best union she can hope for, she reflects that marriage would make her vulnerable. On these grounds, she rejects a worthy suitor from Berne. She prefers remaining single in the company of her mother, dreaming of a house with a garden somewhere between Lausanne and Rolle, or Vevey and Villeneuve, where they would live happily.99 Charrière’s polemical narrative may be interpreted as a moral and edifying tale, as was announced in the subtitle of her first novel, Le Noble (1763), or a cautionary anecdote about marriage. Medha Nirody Karmarkar explores the categories of the “anecdote” for Charrière as a ← 51 | 52...

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