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Gossip, Sexuality and Scandal in France (1610-1715)


Nicholas Hammond

This volume is the first book-length study devoted to gossip in early modern France. Whereas many works that focus on other countries and periods have concentrated on the relationship between gossip and women, none has explored the crucial link between gossip and same-sex desire. Using material that has never been published before and touching on different social spheres, from valets to the immediate circle of Louis XIV, the author reveals a world radically different from the traditional image of France under the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV. An in-depth analysis of the theory and practice of gossip is followed by an examination of songs, poems, memoirs, letters and anecdotes from the time, bringing the milieu of what was known as ‘the Italian vice’ vividly to life. The book concludes by bringing these insights on gossip to a refreshing new reading of one of the period’s groundbreaking novels, Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette’s La Princesse de Clèves.


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Chapter 3 - Scandalous Subjects -87


Chapter 3 Scandalous Subjects In the cases of all the scandalous subjects discussed in this chapter, gossip and reputation are closely linked; for, as Nicholas Emler writes, ‘gossip does not merely disseminate reputational information but is the very process whereby reputations are decided’.1 One definition of the word ‘scandale’ by the 1694 Académie dictionary as ‘le mauvais exemple qu’on donne par quelque action, par quelque discours’ [the bad example given through some action or speech], even though couched in moralistic terms, brings to the fore one of gossip’s main functions: people’s actions translated into speech. Yet, although prominent people could sometimes be damaged by tales of the ‘mauvais exemple’ of their sexual exploits, it is striking how often their reputations remained unscathed and even in certain instances enhanced. Boisrobert The sexual preferences of the renowned priest, libertine, poet and found- ing member of the Académie française, François Le Métel de Boisrobert (1592–1662) were clearly known by many of his friends and are mentioned in a number of works. Significantly, for our purposes, he was also a major pur- veyor of gossip, as his friend Gilles Ménage reports in the Menagiana: 1 Nicholas Emler, ‘Gossip, Reputation and Social Adaptation’, in Goodman and Ben- Zéev, Good Gossip, p. 135. See also Bergmann, Discreet Indiscretions, pp. 102–7. 88 Chapter 3 M. de Bois-robert s’apelloit François Metel de Bois-robert, Abbé de Chatillon sur Seine, favori du Cardinal de Richelieu, de qui il s’étoit...

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