Madeleine de Scudéry  

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"Chapelain and Pelisson were her friends, as were also the Abbé Godeau better known as "le Nain de Julie," and Madame de Scudery, ugly, courtly, and clever, the Richardson of romance - at least in length."--The Gentleman's Magazine

"Her and her brother's heroes never enter an apartment until all the furniture has been inventoried."--"Les héros de roman" by Boileau

"The most voluminous writer of heroic romance is Mmle de Scudery, whose numerous productions amount to near fifty volumes."--History of Fiction (1814) by John Colin Dunlop

"The whole romance is loaded with tedious descriptions of the interior of Turkish and Italian palaces, which has given rise to the remark of Boileau, that when one of Mad. Scudery's characters enters a house, she will not permit him to leave it till she has given an inventory of the furniture."--History of Fiction (1814) by John Colin Dunlop

"She expresses so delicately the most difficult feelings to express and she knows so well how to painting the anatomy of the loving heart … She knows how to describe all the jealousies, all the anxieties, all the impatiences, all the joys, all the disgusts, all the murmurs, all the despairs, all the hopes, all the revolts and all those tumultuous feelings that are never well known except to those who feel them or have felt them."--Madeleine de Scudéry describing herself in vol. 10 of Artamène, using the pseudonym Sapho, tr. JWG

A lover who is afraid of thieves
Is not worthy of love.

--Mademoiselle de Scudéri (1819) is a novella by E. T. A. Hoffmann

"But what has chiefly excited ridicule in this romance, is the Carte du pays de Tendre prefixed in the map of this imaginary land, there is laid down the river D'Inclination, on the right bank of which are situated the villages of Jolis vers, and Epitres Galantes; and on the left those of Complaisance, Petits soins and Assiduites. Farther in the country are the cottages of Légereté and Oubli, with the lake Indifference. By one route we are led to the district of Desertion and Perfidie, but by sailing down the stream, we arrive at the towns Tendre sur Estime, Tendre sur Inclination, etc."--History of Fiction (1814) by Dunlop

The Map of Tendre featured in Clélie
The Map of Tendre featured in Clélie

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Madeleine de Scudéry (1607 – 1701) was a French writer best known for the novel sequence Clélie (1654-1660).



In 1637, following the death of her uncle, Scudéry established herself in Paris with her brother. Georges de Scudéry became a playwright.

Madeleine often used her older brother's name, George, to publish her works. She was at once admitted to the Hôtel de Rambouillet coterie of préciosité, and afterwards established a salon of her own under the title of the Société du samedi (Saturday Society).

For the last half of the 17th century, under the pseudonym of Sapho or her own name, she was acknowledged as the first bluestocking of France and of the world.

She formed a close romantic relationship with Paul Pellisson which was only ended by his death in 1693. She never married.

Her works demonstrate such comprehensive knowledge of ancient history that it is presumed she had received instruction in Greek and Latin.


The romances of Madeleine de Scudéry gained great influence with plots situated in the ancient world and content taken from life. The famous author told stories of her friends in the literary circles of Paris and developed their fates from volume to volume of her serialised production. Readers of taste bought her books, as they offered the finest observation of human motives, characters taken from life, excellent morals regarding how one should and should not behave if one wanted to succeed in public life and in the intimate circles she portrayed.

Criticism by Sainte-Beuve

In Portraits Of The Seventeenth Century Historic And Literary (1909)[1] Sainte-Beuve said that her books are unreadable:

It is true that her books are unreadable now and exasperating to literary taste; but we should remember that she made part of a great pioneer work, in which all the actors laid stepping-stones by which social life, literature, manners, refinement, the status of women, were to rise, and rise rapidly to higher things. With this before our minds we can overlook the Carte du Tendre (Map of the Country of Tenderness) which, by the way, was only a bit of private nonsense which her friends unwisely persuaded her to put into Clelie and turn to her solid advice to women, given in her Grand Cyrus:

But Saint-Beuve also commends her for encouraging women to learn how to read:

I leave you to judge whether I am wrong in wishing that women should know how to read, and read with application. There are some women of great natural parts who never read anything; and what seems to me the strangest thing of all is that those intelligent women prefer to be horribly bored when alone, rather than accustom themselves to read, and so gather company in their minds by choosing such books, either grave or gay, as suit their inclinations. It is certain that reading enlightens the mind so clearly and forms the judgment so well that without it conversation can never be as apt or as thorough as it might be. ... I want women to be neither learned nor ignorant, but to employ a little better the advantages that nature has given them, I want them to adorn their minds as well as their persons. This is not incompatible with their lives; there are many agreeable forms of knowledge which women may acquire thoroughly without departing from the modesty of their sex, provided they make good use of them. And I therefore wish with all my heart that women's minds were less idle than they are, and that I myself might profit by the advice I give to others."
(tr. Katherine Prescott Wormeley)


Her lengthy novels, such as Artamène, ou le Grand Cyrus (10 vols., 1648-53), Clélie (10 vols., 1654-61), Ibrahim, ou l'illustre Bassa (4 vols., 1641), Almahide, ou l'esclave reine (8 vols., 1661-3) were the delight of Europe, commended by other literary figures such as Madame de Sévigné. Artamène, which contains about 2.1 million words, ranks as one of the longest novels ever written. These stories derive their length from endless conversations and, as far as incidents go, successive abductions of the heroines, conceived and told decorously.

Scudéry's novels are usually set in the classical world or the Orient, but their language and action reflect fashionable ideas of the 17th century, and the characters can be identified with Mademoiselle de Scudéry's contemporaries. In Clélie, Herminius represents Paul Pellisson; Scaurus and Lyriane were Paul Scarron and his wife (who became Mme de Maintenon); and in the description of Sapho in vol. 10 of Le Grand Cyrus the author paints herself.

In Clélie, Scudéry invented the famous Carte du Tendre, a map of an Arcadia where the geography is all based around the theme of love: the river of Inclination flows past the villages of "Billet Doux" (Love Letter), "Petits Soins" (Little Trinkets) and so forth. Scudéry was a skilled conversationalist; several volumes purporting to report her conversations upon various topics were published during her lifetime. She had a distinct vocation as a pedagogue. She could moralize—a favourite employment of the time—with sense and propriety.

Controversial in her own era, Mlle de Scudéry was satirized by Molière in his plays Les Précieuses ridicules (1659) and Les Femmes savantes (1672) and by Antoine Furetière in his Roman Bourgeois (1666).

The 19th century German short-story writer E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote what is usually referred to as the first German-language detective story, featuring Scudéry as the central figure. "Das Fräulein von Scuderi" (Mademoiselle de Scudery) is still widely read today, and is the origin of the "Cardillac syndrome" in psychology.


Born at Le Havre, Normandy, in northern France, she is said to have been very plain as well as without fortune, but she was very well educated. Establishing herself at Paris with her brother, she was at once admitted to the Hôtel de Rambouillet coterie, and afterwards established a salon of her own under the title of the Société du samedi (Saturday Society). For the last half of the 17th century, under the pseudonym of Sapho or her own name, she was acknowledged as the first bluestocking of France and of the world. She formed a close friendship with Paul Pellisson which was only ended by his death in 1693.

Later years

Madeleine survived her brother by more than thirty years, and in her later days published numerous volumes of conversations, to a great extent extracted from her novels, thus forming a kind of anthology of her work. She outlived her vogue to some extent, but retained a circle of friends to whom she was always the "incomparable Sapho."

Her Life and Correspondence was published at Paris by MM. Rathery and Boutron in 1873.

Summaries of the stories and keys to the characters may be found in Heinrich Körting, Geschichte des französischen Romans im 17ten Jahrhundert (second edition, Oppeln, 1891).

Description of her life and work by Dunlop in History of Fiction

The most voluminous writer of heroic romance is Mmle de Scudery, whose numerous productions amount to near fifty volumes. Madeleine de Scudery was bom in 1607 at Havre, but came at an early period of her life to Paris, where she chiefly resided till her death, which happened in 1701, when she was in the ninety-fourth year of her age.

The Hotel de Rambouillet seems to have been the nursery in which the first blossoms of her genius were fostered ; and it must be acknowledged, that if the suc- ceeding fruits were not of the finest flavour, their bulk was such as almost to render competition hopeless. They at least procured her admission into all the academies where women could be received. She corresponded with Queen Christina, from whom she received a pension with marks of particular favour, and during several years her house was attended by a sort of literary club, which at that time seems to have been the highest ambition of the women of letters at Paris.

These honours did not preserve her, more than her brother, from the satire of Boileau. The pomp and seK- conceit of the brother, and the extreme ugliness of the sister, furnished the poet with abundant topics of ridicule. The earliest romances of Mad. Scudery were published under the name of her brother, and, in fact, he contributed his assistance to these compositions.

At first Madeleine aided her brother in his writing, and perhaps in this way acquired some of the mere formal art of composition, but snb- sequenUy these relations were inverted. Madeleine was in every case the inventor ; she conceived the plan. Both, then, worked out the par- ticulars in conversation. Madeleine penned the narrative, while Georges contributed occasional ideas or military descriptions. His name ap- peared on the title of Ibrahim, Cyrus, and Civile.

The life of the " Vierge des Marais," as she was called, was as blameless as her books. "Although you have not written your books with an eye to the public" wrote Mascaron to Mademoiselle Scudery, 'I am pleased with the public for keeping you constantly in view and concerning itself about the employment of a leisure, of which, it seems to me, you owe some account to the whole world. Cyrus, Clélie, and Ibrahim supply my autumn reading. These works have ever the charm of novelty for me, and I discover in them so many things calculated to reform society, that I do not scruple to tell you that you will often find yourself side

It is said, that M. and Mile. Scuddry, travelling together at a time when they were engaged in the composition of Artamenes, arrived at a small inn, where they entered into a discussion, whether they should kill the prince Mazares, one of the characters in that romance, by poison or a dagger ; two merchants who overheard them, procured their arrest, and they were in consequence conducted to the Conciergerie but dismissed after an explanation. A similar story has been somewhere related of Beaumont and Fletcher. While these dramatists were planning the plot of one of their tragedies at a tavern, the former was overheard to say, " I'll xmdertake to kill the king.*' In- formation being given of this apparently treasonable de- sign, they were instantly apprehended, but were dismissed on explaining that they had merely imagined the death of a theatrical monarch.

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Of the analogies that subsist between all the departments of Belles Lettres, none are more close than those of romance and the drama. Accordingly, as the Italian tales supplied the materials of our earliest tragedies and comedies, so the French heroic romances chiefly contributed to the formation of what may be considered as the second great school of the English drama, in which a stately cere- monial, and uniform grandeur of feeling and expression, were substituted for those grotesque characters and multi- farious passions, which had formerly held possession of the stage. From the French romances were derived the

^ Paris, 1667, 1 vol. ; other editions, Villefmnche, 1704 ; the Hague, 1736. Analysed in Koerting, pp. 453-457.

incidents that constitute the plots of those tragedies which appeared in the days of Charles II. and William, and to them may be attributed the prevalence of that false taste, that pomp and unnatural elevation, which characterize the dramatic productions of Dryden and Lee.

It appears very unaccountable that such romances as those of Calprenede and Scudery, should in foreign countries have been the object of any species of literary imitation; but in their native soil the popularity of heroic romances, particularly those of Mdlle. de Scudery, may, I think, be in some measure attributed to the number of living characters that were delineated. All were anxious to know what was said of their acquaintance, and to trace out a real or imaginary resemblance. The court ladies were delighted to behold flattering portraits of their beauty in Ibrahim or Clelia, and perhaps fondly hoped that their charms were consecrated to posterity. Hence the fame of the romance was transitory as the beauty, or, at least, as the existence, of the individuals whose persons or characters it pourtrayed. Mankind are little interested in the eyes or eye-brows of antiquated coquettes, and the works in which these were celebrated, soon appeared in that in- trinsic dulness which had received animation from a tem- porary and adventitious interest. This charm being lost, nothing remained but a love so spiritualized, that it bore no resemblance to a real passion, and manners which referred to an ideal world of the creation of the author. The sentiments, too, of chivalry, which had revived imder a more elegant and gallant form during the youth of Louis XIV. had worn out, and their decline was fatal to the works which they had called forth and fostered. The fair sex were now no longer the objects of deification, and those days had disappeared, in which the duke of Eoche- foucault could thus proclaim the influence of the charms of his mistress :

Pour meriter son coeur pour plaire a ses beaux yeux,
J'ai fait guerre a mon roi, Je l'aurois fait aux Dieux.

Besides, the size and prolixity of these compositions had a tendency to make them be neglected, when literary works began to abound of a shorter and more lively nature, and when the ladies had no longer leisure to devote the attention of a year and a half to the history of a fair Ethiopian.

See also

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