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The Princesse De Cleves (Classics) [Paperback]

Madame Lafayette , Robin Buss
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 April 1992 Classics
Set towards the end of the reign of Henry II of France, The Princesse de Clèves (1678) tells of the unspoken, unrequited love between the fair, noble Mme de Clèves, who is married to a loyal and faithful man, and the Duc de Nemours, a handsome man most female courtiers find irresistible. Warned by her mother against admitting her passion, Mme de Clèves hides her feelings from her fellow courtiers, until she finally confesses to her husband - an act that brings tragic consequences for all. Described as France's first modern novel, The Princesse de Clèves is an exquisite and profound analysis of the human heart, and a moving depiction of the inseparability of love and anguish.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (30 April 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140445870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140445879
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 13 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 193,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Marie-Madeleine Pioche de la Vergne was born in Paris in 1634. in 1656 she married the Comte de Lafayette, had two sons, and lived on his country estate. She then returned to Paris, and the couple remained largely separate from then on. She started a literary salon with her close friends Madame de Sevigne and the Duc de la Rochefoucauld. She also mixed in court circles and wrote a biography of her friend Henriette, wife of the Duc d'Orleans, after her death. She is mostly remembered for her novels. She died in 1693.

Robin Buss is a writer and translator who works for the Independent on Sunday and as television critic for the Times Literary Supplement. He has published on Vigny and Coteau and written three books on European cinema.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
At no time in France were splendour and refinement so brilliantly displayed as in the last years of the reign of Henri II.1 Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The First French Novel 13 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The first French novel speaks of intrigue, marital and carnal love, innocence, good and evil, human strengths and weaknesses, life and death. In short, Madame de Lafayette, the author of the first French novel, touched upon many of the psychological states and human emotions that the novel, as a literary genre, would ceaselessly continue to describe for over 300 years. The Robin Buss translation in Penguin Classics is one of the best I've read. For those who can't read La Princess de Cleves in the original ,this translation is as good as it gets.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love and intrique at the court of Henri II 12 May 2010
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
Mme de Lafayette wrote this during the reign of Louis XIV but the novel is set in the court of Henri II when his queen is Catherine de Medici, the young Mary Queen of Scots is his daughter-in-law and Diana de Poitiers was his mistress. As a courtier herself, Mme de Lafayette knew intimately the intriques and gossip that went on at court and she conveys that magnificently.

The young and very beautiful Madame de Cleves comes to court, is married rapidly to a man whom she admires and respects but cannot love, and falls in love herself with the Duke de Nemours, who feels the same for her. But tied by her sense of morality and the stories she has been told by her mother and others about the insincerity of court love, she restrains her passions and turns away from love.

This is a vivid, and exquisitely written novel that turns on the small emotions of love, duty and passion lived out in a public court where everyone is watching everyone else, and no-one's secrets remain hidden. Excellent.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Charming 17th century French love story 24 Nov 2008
Said to be the earliest French novel, this is a charming story of a virtuous married woman - the Princess de Cleves - at the 17th century French court of Henry II. She is wooed by the Prince de Nemours, the most charming man at court and remains faithful in body to her husband whilst falling in love with Nemours. Desperate to get away from temptation she confesses to her husband so that he will permit her to retire to the country but he erupts with fierce jealousy that ultimately leads to the ruin of their marriage and his death. Although theoretically free now to marry Nemours, the Princess retires instead to a nunnery to live out her life.

This is a terrific restrained love story and Lafayette brilliantly plays the power of the lovers' emotions against their understanding of the conventions of society and their place in it. The second half of the book is very tender and draws the reader into the unfolding tragedy. However, the first part, setting up the scene, is very densely written and assumes a knowledge of the court, its characters and manners that a modern reader struggles with. I had to re-read much of this material in order to follow who was who and how it all fitted together. Some of this is simply background of the nature of gossip and does not directly relate to the matter at hand, although it does provide wonderful colour. I found the book a slow read even though it is a very short and I often had to put it down to take stock.

Overall, it is more of historical interest than ideal for a modern reader, what it really deserves is a contemporary retelling because the story at the heart of the book is genuinely human.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Translation? 18 Sep 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This edition has been well prepared for kindle devices, but the translation is so out-dated that it hinders understanding. Only a few pages in "He had three sons very accomplished;" ?? "il avait trois fils parfaitement bien faits".
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.4 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding historical fiction 1 Mar 2009
By Catherine Delors - Published on
One of the finest literary works ever written in French is a historical novel, The Princess de Clèves, published in 1678. I first read it in high school, because it was part of the curriculum. Truth be told, I found Princess rather dry and uninspiring at the time.

Clouet Mary StuartAnd then one night, many years later, I flew to France from California and was suffering from a bad case of jetlag. I rose and went to the bookshelves in my aunt and uncle's home, searching for something to while away the hours that still separated me from daylight. I happened upon La Princess de Clèves, and started reading.

And I was amazed! I was a grown woman now and I found the story of the heroine heartbreaking.

The plot is very simple: a young noblewoman, Mademoiselle de Chartres, marries the Prince de Clèves, a man she esteems and respects but does not love. This is not a forced marriage as in Mistress of the Revolution, not even an arranged marriage.

Madame de Chartres, the heroine's mother, is a caring parent, though she is also ambitious and wants the best possible match for her daughter. The husband, the Prince de Clèves, is a completely decent man, very much in love with his young bride.

What is tragic here is that the heroine does not even suspect that something is missing from her marriage. She is, in a way, happy in her naiveté.

And suddenly, her universe collapses when she meets, and falls passionately in love with the dashing Duke de Nemours. She is torn between her passion and her high religious and moral standards.

I said earlier that Princess is a historical. It has all the makings of one. The setting is the French Court in the 16th century, during the final years of the reign of Henri II. The author lived 120 years later and she thoroughly researched the period.

Many historical characters appear in the novel: Queen Catherine de Medici, her fearsome rival, the King's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and Mary Queen of Scots (pictured here.) Young Mary was then married to the Dauphin, future François II. The intrigues and shifting alliances between the followers of these three powerful women form a complex web that surrounds the heroine.

I will simply translate the first sentence: "Magnificence and chivalry have never appeared in France with such brilliance as in the last years of the reign of Henri Second."

You read the rest...
18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars repression 26 July 2002
By m-starr - Published on
I read this book because John Updike said it was one of the world's greatest novels of romance -- but I should have known from his other choices (Madame Bovary and The Scarlett Letter, among others) that he likes his romance bleak! The Princess of Cleves is certainly of considerable scholarly interest, being as it is a very early novel, and delving interestingly into the predicament of a woman trying to behave morally despite the frivolity, intrigue and pleasure-seeking of the 17th century French court. But the story is difficult and sad: young woman marries dutifully, then falls in love with a handsome duke, he feels similarly and pursues her passionately, but she struggles against her feelings, which wrecks havoc on everyone. The predicament is closely linked to the context and doesn't feel timeless or grand in theme; rather, the triviality of it stokes up thoughts of what caused the French revolution. Interested readers may prefer the Norton critical edition, which offers a number of essays as well as the text.
33 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A 17th Century Soap Opera 17 Feb 2001
By Jeffrey Leach - Published on
This is an interesting book. A very fast read at just 176 pages, The Princesse de Cleves was written as a sort of snapshot of the behavior that was common in royal courts throughout Europe. Full of intrigue, love, treachery and death, this book reads exactly like a soap opera. The introduction says that it first appeared in 1678 and was one of the first romance books written in French. I decided to read it due to some courses in history that I've taken that concern this time period.
The main character is a woman of extraordinary beauty who quickly captures the hearts of men at the court of Henri II of France. She marries Monsieur de Cleves, even though she doesn't really love him. The marriage is more for position than emotion, although it's hard not to sympathize with her husband, as he treats her well and always tries to win her heart. His wife quickly becomes enraptured with the Duc de Nemours, a court dandy who has the reputation of loving 'em and leaving 'em. He falls in love with her, and the rest of the book is spent explaining their machinations as the Duc tries to get close to her, and Mme. de Cleves tries to keep him at arms length and honor her marriage to her husband. Everything comes to a head in the end, which is bleak and not at all happy as one would expect.
This book is fairly one-dimensional in shape. There is little character development beyond love affairs, and almost no description of scenery. This is an intensely character driven book, without the character, and very complex once the political intrigues enter the picture. All royal courts had intrigue, and France was probably one of the worst. When love affairs bloom, the webs become even more convoluted. It really is like a soap opera, although I couldn't help but notice that a deep cynicism runs throughout the book. Love as an emotion is reduced to mere politics, or a relationship in which power over another person is the sole goal. This is probably how it really was, though. The love between Mme. de Cleves and M. de Nemours is more genuine, but the system, and Mme. De Cleves misplaced honor, ultimately keeps them apart.
I'm not sure if I can recommend this book. You not only have to have an interest in history, but also the right frame of mind. The Penguin version is apt, although chapter breaks would have been helpful.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It is an historical novel 7 Oct 2011
By Arthur Fell - Published on
Having read the other reviews which describe The Princesse de Cleves rather well and considering the debate about its merits as literature, it is important to remember the fact that this is a novel written for a different time and place in history than we enjoy today. It cannot be judged by standards geared purely for pleasure reading. It is written in a somewhat archaic language with what we would now consider some excessive inner thoughts and concentration on the love affair and honor. When one views a play, one must suspend disbelief to enjoy it fully. Likewise, one must also make allowances in reading a book like this for his place in history and the manner of telling a tale in a somewhat stilted language. Beyond that the book poses some questions whose exploration is of interest to some. Was the Princesse de Cleves wrong in telling her husband of her love for the Duc de Nemours? Do people love as described in the book or is this a pure flight of fantasy? Should a promise made to her dead husband be kept given the circumstances of the mutual love the Princess de Cleves and the Duc de Nemours have for each other? If questions like this intrigue you, go for it. If you are interested in the historical aspect of the book, go for it. If you are not ready to accept the book on its own premises, it is not for you.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Timeless romantic classic 15 Feb 2010
By Keris Nine - Published on
From the moment of her arrival into the court of Henry II, the Prince of Clèves is stricken by the extraordinary beauty of the young Mademoiselle de Chartres. The desire to marry the young woman is not entirely within his control, but the various social considerations, alliances and protocol of position are eventually overcome. They are married, but the Prince fears that his new wife isn't capable of demonstrating the same depth of feeling that he has for her. To her surprise however, the new Princess de Clèves discovers that those feelings do eventually arise within her, but they are not for her husband, but a fervent and persistent admirer, the Duc de Nemours.

Thereafter there follows an elaborate game of dissemblance between the Princess and the Duc, each of them longing to explore these feelings and know what the other is feeling while keeping their emotions controlled within the accepted rules of Court etiquette, protocol and propriety. To fail to do so and have their secret known could mean ruin in the eyes of the elevated society they frequent, but each are no more capable of hiding their feelings from each other than they are from avoiding the gossip of the Royal Court. Worse still, the longer those feelings persist, the more difficult it becomes for Madame de Clèves to keep them hidden from her husband, and the consequences there can potentially be even more devastating.

Written in 1677, La Princesse de Clèves is one of the classics of French literature and on a par with Cloderlos de Laclois' Les Liaisons Dangereuses, similarly getting to the heart of the violent conflicting emotions involved in affairs of the heart. It's a historical romance that accurately describes the workings and the personalities of the Royal Court of Louis XIV, the novel taking in many various intrigues that involves marriage alliances with English and Spanish royaly, but they only add to the complexity of the relationships in the central romance. So powerfully and with such veracity are those barely suppressed emotions and romantic inclinations described, that the novel remains a timeless classic.
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