03 August 2021

Madelaine de Scudery: A Map Of The Affections

"and it's something that everybody needs...." - Lowman Pauling & Ralph Bass, Dedicated To The One I Love, 1961

If there were a reliable map for affairs of the heart, its cartographer would become wealthy, and rightly so. According to the French novelist Madelaine de Scudery, the road to love begins at Nouvelle amitie (New Friendship), located at the bottom of the map above on the River of Love.  The River has three tributaries: Respect, Esteem, an Affection. Along the right bank, various waystations with names like Fresh Eyes, Love Letters, Constancy, and Generosity invite the traveler rest and reflect. On the opposite shore, Complacence, Inequality, Treacherousness, and Perfidiousness tell a much different story. Scudery created her Carte du tendre (A Map of the Affections) as a game to amuse her friends during the winter of 1553-1664.

Marriage is absent from Scudery's map, likely because emancipation from matrimony was the only route to freedom in the 17th century. Not only did Scudery not marry, she eventually managed to free herself from the burdensome guardianship of her brother George. a typical feature of the life of a femme couverte of the minor nobility in France. Previously she had been forced to her beloved Paris for three years from 1644-1647 when Georges served as the Governor of the Fort-Notre-Dane-e-la-Garde At Marseilles.

It may be an oblique nod to this difficult time with terre inconnu (the Perilous Sea). And deviating from New Friendship could lead a woman to Indiscretion.  Caught between the Sea of Enmity and the Lake of Indifference, a woman might easily feel trapped. To add a bit of historical perspective, consider the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, drawn up by John Adams in 1780.  It included a provision providing that a widow should not be forced to remarry if she preferred to live alone.

In France, la querelle des femmes already had a history, dating back to the 15th century when Christine de Pizan had also been an official author at the French court, publishing The Book of the City of Ladies in 1405.

Madelaine de Scudery (1607-1701) was born just nine years after Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598, ending four decades of devastating violence over religious doctrine between Protestants and Catholics. With hindsight, the French  Reformation was one of history's great failures. Born in Le Havre where her father was the captain of the port, she was orphaned at the age of six, her care was then entrusted to the care of an uncle who was a cleric. An estimable and farsighted gentleman, he provided the girl with an excellent education: her studies included reading, writing, drawing, music, Spanish, and Italian. There is even some evidence that she studied Latin and Greek. She also applied herself to the study of agriculture and medicine.  A voracious reader, Madelaine began her philosophical studies with Montaigne (hence her skepticism) and Plutarch (hence her stoicism).

After the death of their uncle in 1637, the siblings moved to Paris where Madelaine was introduced to the salon chambre bleu (Blue Room) at the Hotel Rambouillet where she became a regular attendee. From there she launched her literary career, publishing a defense of education for woman in Illustrious Women in 1642. Scudery also published numerous highly successful novels including Artamene, s two million words it holds the record as the longest novel ever (yet) published.

The pair then moved to the Marais where Madame de Scudery established her own weekly salon Samedis (Saturdays). During the 17th century, women were once again attempting to make their way as authors in the (male) literary world. 

The Precieuses, as the women were called, were repeatedly subjected to ridicule, notably by Moliere in his first play Les precieuses ridicules (1659). It is also worth noting that the King, Louis XIV, also scorned learned women and that Moliere was a favorite of the King. 

As if this were not enough to discourage the women, Moliere took another swipe in 1672 with Les femmes savants or The Clever Women. Make no mistake, thee stakes were high for all concerned. Reputation is a form of gold in the republic of letters. Not only did these women, whether at Royal court or in the salons of Paris, mean to attain the status of authors, they intended to replace the male concept of love - wherein it is the man who gets to choose and the woman can only assent or refuse (if she is lucky).  One reason that Scudery made the Lake of Indifference so large was that, then as even today, we women keep watering it with our tears.

Scudery was honored by the Academie Francaise in 1691. Madelaine de Scudery survived her brother Georges by three decades, dying at the ripe age of ninety-three.

For further reading: Precious Women by Dorothy Ann Liot Baker, New York, Basic Books:1973

Image: Madelaine de Scudery - Carte du tendre (A Map of the Affections), 1654, Francois Chaveau, engraving, Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris.


Tania said...

Quelle merveille que cette carte du Tendre, merci de la faire revivre !

Jane said...

Tania, j'ai dû utiliser une loupe pour lire les petits caractères.

Translation: I had to use a magnifying glass to read the small print.