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The Search for Lyonnesse

Women's Fiction in France 1670-1703

Shirley Jones-Day

Although Mme de Lafayette is acknowledged as the founder of the modern novel, her precise legacy has been understood only in relation to male-authored texts. However, she wrote as a woman, addressing issues that concerned women of her day, particularly the problem of the apparent incompatibility of sexual fulfilment and the institution of marriage. This study seeks to identify how La Princesse de Clèves was interpreted by three of Mme de Lafayette's most talented women successors and to show how their more sombre and subversive view of society was mediated in works of fiction which have strong affinities with the contes de fées for which they are well known. The novels of Mlle Bernard, Mme d'Aulnoy and Mlle de La Force are significant, not simply for what they tell us about themselves as women writers but also for what they reveal about the origins of the eighteenth-century novel.
Contents: Three women writers, whose works are almost totally unknown to us but who were immensely popular in their lifetime, provide important clues on how Mme de Lafayette's contemporaries read her work and how their interpretation helped to shape the eighteenth-century novel.