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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

This woman I play: The pleasure (and talent) of theatricality in Laclos, Diderot and Rousseau
by Knezevic, Nancy Reid Wischard, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2013, 185; 3568552
Abstract (Summary)

My dissertation uses Choderlos de Laclos's Les liaisons dangereuses as a prism to show the importance of the triptych formed by theatricality, talent and pleasure in eighteenth-century French literature. In the first chapter, I examine Laclos's literary criticism to highlight the relevance of theatrical pleasure in Laclos's conception of the novel. The novel, in Laclos's view, should give the reader the same pleasure as the theater gives the spectator. This position, I argue, finds its historical resonance in Corneille. In chapter two, I show that it is because Rousseau valued theatricality as women's natural talent that he disparages the public appearance of actresses inside the theater. In Chapter three, I examine Diderot's conception of the actor in Le Paradoxe sur le Comédien to highlight the irony ignored by most critics: whenever Diderot refers to an example of great talent, he speaks of actresses, not actors only. Contrary to Rousseau, Diderot values talent as the ability to overcome what is natural, and feminine. The comparison of Le Paradoxe to his Lettres à Mademoiselle Jodin shows that Diderot outlines a specific role for theatricality in an actress' private life as the tireless performance of virtue. For both authors, the concepts of theatricality and talent serve the spectator's pleasure: the private spectator in the case of Rousseau, the theater spectator for Diderot. In chapter four, we see that Laclos considers theatricality as a means for Merteuil to negotiate the tug between sexual identity, how she is identified, and her talent. I show that Merteuil's exceptionality resides in her capacity to experience jouissance as it was defined in the XVIIIth century: the right to reap the fruits of one's labor. What makes Merteuil a rare protagonist is not her acting per se, it is the pleasure she reaps from her gleeful and ironic gaze. In effect Laclos's (female) reader discovers in the novel a model of jouissance last seen by the (male) audience of Corneille's Médée. Laclos's representation of Merteuil's theatricality, and the pleasure she derives from playing with gender roles gives his novel a unique place in eighteenth-century French literature.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Meltzer, Francoise
Commitee: Norman, Larry F., Wray, David L.
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Romance Languages and Literatures
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 74/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Romance literature
Keywords: Diderot, Denis, Jouissance, Laclos, Choderlos de, Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Talent, Theatricality
Publication Number: 3568552
ISBN: 978-1-303-23161-2
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