La Princesse de Cleves by Madame de Lafayette

I read this book in French, and as a result of this missed a lot of the smaller details of this book because despite taking French for seven years I still can’t really read it. But I got the main idea, and what I understood I really liked. The book’s actually pretty exciting – there’s lots of court intrigue, tournaments, plot digressions involving the misplacement of a Very Important Letter (on that note, isn’t it amazing how many older books like this have plot points that revolve around Very Important Letters being misplaced?), and court gossip. So much court gossip. Most of it isn’t even plot-related, but I still found it entertaining.

My only main complaint is that even though Diane de Poitiers is a minor character (the story takes place at the end of Henri II’s reign, so it wasn’t like they could just leave her out), Madame de Lafayette refuses to let her do anything interesting. She just stays in the background and doesn’t serve any real purpose in the novel, which is sad, because Diane de Poitiers was kind of awesome.

Something else we discussed in my French class, which I’ll share here because I found it really interesting:  in 2009, French president Nicolas Sarkozy did what he does best and put his foot firmly in his mouth when he said that French schools shouldn’t require students to study the book, especially if the students were preparing for low-level public sector jobs. Since going into hysterics over art is practically a national sport in France, everyone proceeded to do just that and organize the best protest ever.

Essentially, a bunch of people got together in cities all over France and staged public readings of La Princesse de Cleves to show their support for the book.  You have to admit, that’s pretty damn cool.

Verdict: four out of five stars


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