Conclusion: Evaluations, Influence, and Fortune

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Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 2,907 words

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[(essay date 1947) In the following essay, Morrissette summarizes his larger study of Villedieu, noting what he considers to be both the strengths and the weaknesses of her literary production. Morrissette also traces previous critical responses to Villedieu’s work and proposes topics for further study of the author.]

It is evident from the many quotations made from various works of Mlle Desjardins that, whatever her other merits, the style and literary technique of her writings were ill suited to survive the test of time. Though her contemporaries thought her “la dixième Muse,” the “célèbre des Jardins” of divine talents, possessing “de rares lumières,” “une manière d’écrire aussi galante que tendre,” and a style “que peu de personnes ont eu … plus aisé,” the most we may now allow her is a fairly rapid, sometimes vivacious style, with somewhat shorter phrases than her predecessors used and an occasional line or turn which can still give a faint pleasure in the midst of so much cliché and banality.1 Only in the Recueil de lettres de la Hollande (1668), and then only in the portions which treat of her actual travels and the sights she saw, did Mlle Desjardins produce elegant, colorful prose which can still give the reader a keen sense of choses vues et vécues.

Her poetic skill may likewise be briefly dismissed. Mlle Desjardins imitated the “poetic” traditions of her day, traditions which have since been so discredited that the names of most of the poets of her period are nearly as obscure as her own: Segrais, Saint-Pavin, Charleval, de Cailly, Chapelle, Mme Deshoulières, Benserade. Poetry as they understood it was a formalized, unimaginative, epigrammatic expression of certain conventional emotions which Mlle Desjardins quite aptly termed “des pensées vives.” There are few images, little color, no real effects of anguish or aspiration, but only lighthearted reproaches to the faithless lover in whose arms “j’ay demeuré pâmée.” No doubt Mlle Desjardins did suffer from “excès d’amour,” and felt the “tourments” of which her verses are full, but of these “longues douleurs” little, if anything, reaches the sensibility of the modern reader. Her pastoral verses and vers de circonstance deserve even less consideration, except for the occasional historical interest of such a piece as her description of the festival at Versailles on the night of the performance of her play Le Favory.2

As for her plays, one can only say that aside from a few “beaux vers”3 her tragi-comedy Manlius and her tragedy Nitétis are derivative, tedious, and almost completely lacking in dramatic force. Their more or less “classical” form seems artificial, and is sometimes spoiled by gross sentimentality, as at the end of Manlius. Her rhymes and phrases sound like second-rate Corneille, and the endless recurrence of banal tags like “Hé quoi,” “courroux,” “flamme,” etc., quickly fatigues the reader. Her single comedy, Le Favory, was successful in its day and seems superior to Manlius and Nitétis in construction, style, and dramatic effect. In selecting the subjects of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420117477