Friday, October 14, 2016

Biography - Madeleine de Scudéry 1607-1701, French author & philosopher

I could not resist this posting for the obsessive of reasons.  It is not because she is a rather amazing early female author & philosopher, but because her portrait was painted in a 16C garden with a blooming flower pot and an allee leading to a fountain.

Madeleine de Scudery (1607-1701) painted by an unknown artist probably of the German school.

In Le Havre on November 15, 1607, Madeleine de Scudéry was born into a minor Norman aristocratic family. Orphaned at the age of six, Scudéry entered into the care of her uncle, an ecclesiastic who provided her with an extensive education. She studied reading, writing, drawing, painting, music, & dancing. She received instruction in the practical arts of medicine, agriculture, & domestic economy. Her most notable achievement was mastery of Spanish & Italian; the domestic library featured numerous volumes written in each language. A voracious reader, she discovered the epic serial novels which would become her preferred literary genre as an author. Scudéry also began her philosophical initiation with the reading of Montaigne, who would influence her later sympathy with skepticism, & Plutarch (in the French translation by Jacques Amyot), who introduced her to the Stoic philosophy of reason, will, & virtue.

In 1637, Scudéry joined her brother Georges at his residence in Paris. A burgeoning playwright, Georges introduced his sister to the literary salons of Paris. Mademoiselle de Scudéry quickly became a frequent guest at the Hôtel de Rambouillet, where Catherine de Vivonne presided over her salon, the celebrated chambre bleue (blue room). Notable salon authors included Pierre Corneille, Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac, Valentin Conrart, Jean Chapelain, Gilles Ménage, Mademoiselle de Montpensier, Madame de Sévigné, Madame de Lafayette, & Catherine Descartes. Although eclectic in their philosophy, several authors evinced a clear sympathy for moral libertinism. In later writings, the salon libertine would often serve as the object of Scudéry's censure.

During the Rambouillet years, Scudéry launched her own literary career. Printed under the name of her brother Georges, she published an historical novel, Ibrahim or the Ilustrious Basa, in 1641, & Illustrious Women or Heroic Harangues in 1642. With the publication of Artamène or the Great Cyrus, a novel printed in 10 volumes from 1648 until 1653, Mademoiselle de Scudéry acquired literary fame. One of the world's longest novels, containing more than 2 million words, the work attracted a broad European reading public still avid for serial historical romances. Although it is set in ancient Assyria, the work was clearly a roman-à-clef which depicted various members of Rambouillet's literary circle through pseudonyms. Scudéry herself appears under the title of Sappho. 

Now an acclaimed author, Scudéry participated enthusiastically in the capital's literary quarrels. In 1651, she was involved in a dispute over the relative merits of Isaac de Benserade's sonnet Job & Vincent Voiture's sonnet Urania. In political disputes, Scudéry remained faithful to the French crown. During the Fronde (1648–53), the intermittent civil war opposing old aristocratic families & the Parisian parliament to the monarchy, Scudéry sided with the throne, despite her personal admiration for the women who had led the military resistance to the Bourbons in certain areas of the country. 

In 1653, Madeleine & Georges Scudéry established a new residence in the Marais neighborhood of Paris. It is here that Mademoiselle de Scudéry conducted her famous Saturday salon: the samedis, where a large literary circle assembled to discuss disputed questions, especially those concerning the nature of love. The writings of Montaigne, Pierre Charron, & Marguerite de Navarre were discussed in the debates on the nature of true friendship. Prominent participants in the salon included Madame de Sablé,Madame de Lafayette, Madame Scarron (the future Madame de Maintenon), Valentin Conrart, Paul Pellisson, Jean-François Sarasin, Gilles Ménage, Jean Chapelain, & Antoine Gombaud, chevalier de Méré.

Scudéry continued to work as a prolific author. The ten-volume Clélie or a Roman History (1654-61) contained Scudéry's most celebrated passage, the Carte de Tendre, a map of love, which describes the various obstacles (depicted as rivers, deserts, & mountains) affection must overcome as it attempts to reach the summit of spiritual love. Sensing the public's disaffection for the older serial novels, Scudéry published several novellas: Célinte (1661), Mathilde d'Aguilar (1667), & Promenade at Versailles (1669). Later in life, Scudéry published her most philosophical works. Labeled as “conversations,” these works were a series of dialogues presenting the philosophical & literary issues commonly debated in the salons; the anthologies contained dialogues extracted from the earlier novels, reworked dialogues, & dialogues created expressly for the new collections. The works included Conversations on Different Subjects (1680), New Conversations on Different Subjects (1684), Moral Conversations (1686), New Moral Conversations (1688), & Moral Dialogues (1692).

Scudéry's prolific authorship & influential salon brought her numerous honors. The Académie française awarded her its 1st literary prize for her essay On Glory in 1671. The Academy of the Ricovrati in Padua elected her to membership in 1684. 
Mademoiselle de Scudéry died on June 2, 1701. She was interred in the Parisian church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
Madeleine de Scudéry written by John Conley