Reviews - What do customers think about La Princesse de Cleves?
Torn... good or bad? Apr 15, 2004
The tale of a fictional woman living at the French Court during the 17th century reign of Henry II. It is a very slow read at first, but then the pace picks up. Many real historical figures make an appearance, either in person or in gossip. A nice historical romance thus far, with plenty of detailed court intrigues. While the main character (and her mother) are fictional, the rest of the characters are not (including the Prince of Cleves himself, who never married in real life). Keeping in mind the period this was written, it's quite good. But the constant referring to characters by titles/surnames rather than given names got very old, and I found Madame de Cleves too hypocritical to like the character.
17th Century Modern Feb 1, 2003
The most surprising thing one finds when reading The Princesse de Cleves is its unbelievable level of modernity. An interesting research study would be to draw parallels between the plot of this 17th century novel and the modern romantic dramas, as I believe the results would be quite surprising. The political and social dramas it raises seem much more at home in a more jaded modern story. The book also features a shockingly unconventional love story that must have raised quite a few eyebrows in the time of its author, Madame de Lafayette.
The plot takes place inside the closed world of the French elite, during the reign of Henry II. Although the novel starts out famously slow, once you get past that tedious interval the story gets much more interesting. We are introduced to the true powerbrokers of France, men and women absolutely possessed with the thirst for power. Those with some education of the French Revolution should find this section of the novel very enlightening, as it highlights their absolute isolation and ignorance of the body politik itself. Instead, the pampered court spends their time stabbing each other in the back and doing everything possible to get close to the king. To do this, they employ everything in the arsenal, including arranged marriages, family ties, and a lot of sex. If one wants a fictional but definitely reality based account of Machiavellian politics in the Renaissance, this is a great book to read.
Then of course, we come to the actual love story. In the beginning, the love between our Princesse and her suitor seems to be a familiar romance, one which numerous writers have regaled us with. A dashing young prince falls in love with a beautiful fair maden. However, this book quickly pulls away from such monotonous convention, and, in glorious French style, takes the reader on a descent into true human nature. That is the kind that harbors jealously and intrigue. The love story quickly becomes a fierce and tumultuous event, with the actual lovers stuck in the middle. A very progressive love story.
This book is definitely a classic, as it really represents a big development in the genesis of the novel. However, it does get very tedious at times, and often drifts into meaningless window dressing. Nevertheless, The Princesse de Cleves is on the whole a very engaging and complex love story that should satisfy any modern reader interested in the multitude of topics it covers.
repression Jul 26, 2002
I read this book because John Updike said it was one of the world's greatest novels of romance -- but I should have known from his other choices (Madame Bovary and The Scarlett Letter, among others) that he likes his romance bleak! The Princess of Cleves is certainly of considerable scholarly interest, being as it is a very early novel, and delving interestingly into the predicament of a woman trying to behave morally despite the frivolity, intrigue and pleasure-seeking of the 17th century French court. But the story is difficult and sad: young woman marries dutifully, then falls in love with a handsome duke, he feels similarly and pursues her passionately, but she struggles against her feelings, which wrecks havoc on everyone. The predicament is closely linked to the context and doesn't feel timeless or grand in theme; rather, the triviality of it stokes up thoughts of what caused the French revolution. Interested readers may prefer the Norton critical edition, which offers a number of essays as well as the text.
A Landmark Work Jul 13, 2002
"La Princesse de Cleves" is among the most scrupulously accurate historical fictions in literature. It is also arguably the first historical novel ever written and one of the earliest novels in any language.
But is a classic in Mark Twain's sense of the word, the sort of book everyone wants to have read but nobody actually wants to read?
I agree with another reviewer that this isn't beach blanket fare. Readers of early English literature will find it more palatable than Samuel Richardson's "Pamela" and better plotted than anything by Defoe. Although Mme. de Lafayette is not the first important female writer in French - Christine de Pizan comes to mind - this highly original work outdoes Aphra Behn, Fanny Burney, or any other English woman before Jane Austen.
If those comparisons bring a sparkle to your eye then prepare for a treat. The central figure is a sixteen-year-old girl fresh from a sheltered childhood in the countryside when her mother decides to deal for a prestigious son-in-law. Except for the fictional protagonist every figure in this late Renaissance setting is historically accurate. The jousts, the love affairs, the betrayals, and the shocking death of one pivotal figure all happened. De Lafayette presents the French royal court at its most glamorous, then peels away the facade to reveal ambitions that corrupt or destroy everyone who remains in their spell.
Women's fictions from this era were expected to be love stories. This one succeeds at that well enough to woo modern readers while it levels a scathing attack on the French aristocracy in the tradition of Moliere.
A Specialized Classic Jul 9, 2001
I agree with most of what the previous reviewer said. This short novel is required reading for anyone studying French literature, women's literature in particular. However, the first chapter is mostly devoted to long lists of names and descriptions of various people, some of whom are important to the story and others who are not. This technique tends to make all the characters run together. It is very difficult to remember all of the characters, who they are related to and/or allied with, etc. Some sort of "family tree" would have been nice. Also, I thought the ending (which I will not give away) was a little contrite and not really up to the standard of the rest of the book. This translation is very readable, but reading it in the orginal language is preferable. This is not "beach" reading, but if you are deeply interested in French literature and/or European history, this story may prove rewarding.