Poétique de Madame de Sévigné. L’invention d’une langue

Work published with the financial support of the CRCV.

Poétique de Madame de Sévigné. L’invention d’une langue, Nicolas Garroté, Presses universitaires de France, February 2023, 336 p., €18 (ISBN: 978-2-13-084689-5).

In Recherche du temps perdu, Odette and Swann do not say “make love” but “make cattleya”: they use what Proust calls a “less general, more personal language, more secret than normal language”. Similarly, in her letters to her daughter, Mme de Sévigné invented a special language, a loving, secret cipher that she created from quotations, foreign words and expressions of all kinds.
For a quarter of a century (1671-1696), this language allowed her to express in a witty, genuine and profound way, an extraordinary passion that classical prose was unable to convey.
Moreover, while the keystone of the Lettres, this language, probably for the first time in history, met the fundamental requirements of the epistolary genre: to be a “conversation between absent friends” and a “mirror of the soul”. It thus appears both as the essential driving force of the work and the culmination of the genre: as the secret of a personal poetry – that of Mme de Sévigné – and the key to a generic poetry – that of the letter.

Qualified Modern Literature teacher and Doctor of French Literature, Nicolas Garroté teaches 17th and 18th century literature at the université Paris-Est Créteil. He is a specialist in memoirs and letters of the classical age.

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