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The Princesse de Cl`eves: with `The Princesse de Montpensier' and `The Comtesse de Tende' Paperback – Sep 15 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; Reissue edition (Sept. 15 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199539170
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199539178
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 1.8 x 13 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 200 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #277,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


'His well-judged introduction and his notes are angled towards a student readership ... He also, and this gives his translation a definite edge, includes two important shorter stories by Madame de Lafayette. His translation offers a fair equivalent of Lafayette's careful, often knotty, phrasing, which plunges the reader into the perpexities of amorous feeling and moral choice.' Times Literary Supplement

About the Author

Terence Cave is a Professor of French Literature, University of Oxford; and Fellow at St John's College, Oxford.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By JJ on July 1 2009
Format: Paperback
This volume is a must read for fiction enthusiasts. The translation by Terence Cave is one of the best around, and both The Princesse de Cleves and The Princesse de Montpensier are wonderful. Fast-paced and intense, Madame de Lafayette's fiction are unforgettable.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 34 reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
A Landmark Work July 12 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"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.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Outstanding historical fiction March 1 2009
By Catherine Delors - Published on
Format: Paperback
One of the finest literary works ever written in French is a historical novel, The Princess de Clèves, published in 1678. I first read it in high school, because it was part of the curriculum. Truth be told, I found Princess rather dry and uninspiring at the time.

Clouet Mary StuartAnd then one night, many years later, I flew to France from California and was suffering from a bad case of jetlag. I rose and went to the bookshelves in my aunt and uncle's home, searching for something to while away the hours that still separated me from daylight. I happened upon La Princess de Clèves, and started reading.

And I was amazed! I was a grown woman now and I found the story of the heroine heartbreaking.

The plot is very simple: a young noblewoman, Mademoiselle de Chartres, marries the Prince de Clèves, a man she esteems and respects but does not love. This is not a forced marriage as in Mistress of the Revolution, not even an arranged marriage.

Madame de Chartres, the heroine's mother, is a caring parent, though she is also ambitious and wants the best possible match for her daughter. The husband, the Prince de Clèves, is a completely decent man, very much in love with his young bride.

What is tragic here is that the heroine does not even suspect that something is missing from her marriage. She is, in a way, happy in her naiveté.

And suddenly, her universe collapses when she meets, and falls passionately in love with the dashing Duke de Nemours. She is torn between her passion and her high religious and moral standards.

I said earlier that Princess is a historical. It has all the makings of one. The setting is the French Court in the 16th century, during the final years of the reign of Henri II. The author lived 120 years later and she thoroughly researched the period.

Many historical characters appear in the novel: Queen Catherine de Medici, her fearsome rival, the King's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and Mary Queen of Scots (pictured here.) Young Mary was then married to the Dauphin, future François II. The intrigues and shifting alliances between the followers of these three powerful women form a complex web that surrounds the heroine.

I will simply translate the first sentence: "Magnificence and chivalry have never appeared in France with such brilliance as in the last years of the reign of Henri Second."

You read the rest...
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
"She foresaw terrible rocks ahead for the young woman" May 31 2009
By frumiousb - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The Princess de Cleves is one of those books that smart people cite and which one should eventually read. Why so important? It is generally regarded as being one of the first European modern novels and a classic of its period (published anonymously in 1678). It is also quite an important milestone in the history of women's writing. More recently, its popularity resurged in France as a result of French President Sarkozy making nasty remarks about its relevance in early 2009.

What else is good to know before you pick up the book? It's a historical novel, set 100 years before the writer's lifetime. Historians who read this confidently write that Madame de Lafayette (or Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne) was extremely faithful to the time period of the book. I don't know enough about the court of Henri II to be able to do anything except report those claims.

It is also possibly good to know what the book is about. The Princess de Cleves is a kind of a romance-- contrasting the duties of formal marriage with the pressures of romantic love. Its main character is a lovely young woman who is untouched emotionally by any man and who is tragically awoken by the Duc de Nemours only after her marriage to the Prince de Cleves.

How is it for the modern reader to read?

(Note: this review refers to the Penguin Classics edition which was translated by Nancy Mitford and revised by Leonard Tancock.)

Well, I'd recommend that you take the time to find out for yourself. So that's one point. It is easy enough to see the influences that this book has had when you read it and for that alone is worth the time to read. The plot is one that will also have relevance today and should readily draw readers into the story. The value given to romantic love is naturally very different than it is today, so it may even appear bleak or shocking to the modern reader. All that is naturally good.

I felt frustrated because I felt I was far enough away from the time that I was missing some of the book's conversation. Much seemed to turn on courtly manners-- point and counterpoint. I'm not educated enough in the etiquette of the time to really appreciate it and so sections of the book went on over my head. I could have done with an edition that explained some of that-- or at least more than this Penguin Classics edition achieved.

(One funny thing about this edition was listening to Leonard Tancock in his foreword struggle to explain how he had to revise basically everything about the translation without coming right out and criticizing Mitford.)
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Worth it! Aug. 1 2011
By Babieca - Published on
Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed this book! It does get off to a slow start with the role call of everyone at court, but there's a glossary of names in the back to help with any confusion. The notes are helpful too.
The court intrigue reminds of Dumas, and the interior monologues remind me of Austen, but of course those came later and look back at texts like this one. Once you get settled into the world of the court, the plot takes off, and though the twists are simple, the pathos of the characters as they react to each revelation is what makes it work so well. I knew the plot summary when I picked up the book, and there are still some major zingers that surprised and delighted me!
Like I've said, getting started takes some patience and attentiveness, but The Princesse de Clèves is totally worth that small initial investment. I recommend it highly!
19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
repression July 26 2002
By m-starr - Published on
Format: Paperback
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.