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

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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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Conclusion -141

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Conclusion In Act I of Benjamin Britten’s 1945 opera Peter Grimes, two of the cen- tral characters discuss their place in the small borough in which they live. Whereas Peter Grimes feels excluded and sets himself in confrontation with the townsfolk, Ellen Orford believes in the possibility of their integration into that society. For Peter, not only those who populate the town become purveyors of malicious gossip about him but even the inanimate objects which make up the town (the walls of houses) seem to be actively involved, as can be seen in Peter’s words taken from Montagu Slater’s libretto: Where the walls themselves Gossip of inquest. Ellen, on the other hand, presents a crucially dif ferent view. As she replies to Peter, But we’ll gossip, too, And talk and rest. By recognizing that gossip is something which she and Peter can share, she is recuperating the traditionally held negativity of gossip into something much more positive and af firmative of shared experience. Not only will their gossip neutralize the tittle-tattle which has surrounded them but it will also allow them to exist at peace within the community. What is more, their gossip will not be confined to women alone but will belong to men and women alike. Significantly, Peter’s inability to adapt himself to Ellen’s view leads to his further isolation and final destruction; but it does not undermine the potential of a better life as imagined by Ellen. Over the course of this book, I hope to have...

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