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Title: The French heroic novel, 1630-1660
Author: Bannister, Mark
ISNI:       0000 0000 2331 9920
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1976
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The thesis is primarily an investigation of the heroic ideal propounded in the novel and the relationship of that ideal to the ideological climate of the period 1630-1660. Part I I: The heroic novel owes much to the Greek romances, l'Astrée and Amadis de Gaule but offers a different ideal of heroism from them. The Greek romances had depicted essentially passive heroes, l'Astrée the heroism of renunciation and Amadis the heroism of physical strength and prowess. The heroic novel presents a hero whose nature is more important than his deeds though it is through his deeds that his nature is manifested. He exists at a higher level than the rest of mankind and is an incarnation of moral freedom. II: Though the general characteristics of the hero were agreed upon by all writers of heroic novels, there were important differences in the way the qualities which made up the hero were interpreted. In general terms, the pessimistic concept of heroism saw the hero as completely cut off from the rest of mankind, concerned only with his egocentric image of himself ; the optimistic concept stressed the altruistic side of heroism, the hero working for the rest of humanity. The terminology of heroism - générosité, gloire, vertu, etc. - was interpreted variously in the light of this distinction. III: The heroic novel assumed the existence of a benevolent providence leading the hero on to his ultimate destiny but, within that area, showed him resisting the attacks of fortune by direct action. To be heroic, he had to resist fortune directly : any attempt to anticipate problems or find ways round them was by definition unheroic. Heroism was therefore opposed to any form of prudence which suggested that action could be rendered unnecessary. IV: Heroism drew support from the Catholic humanist theory of the passions which superseded the neo-stoic morality of the early seventeenth century. The hero derived his energy from his passions and directed them towards the end proposed by his will. The two passions of major interest, love and ambition, could produce a superhuman individual when properly directed. The supremacy of the will came into question, however, particularly during the 1650s, and the novel began to depict heroes who were unable to control their passions absolutely. V: In the major tradition of the heroic novel, love was subsumed by the need to retain moral freedom : both hero and heroine ensured that their relationship did not lead to subjection to their partner. The increasing influence of feminism led to the acceptance of the view that women were morally stronger than men, which combined with the decline of the belief in the supremacy of the will to produce a relationship in which the male was subservient and self-effacing. Love came to take precedence over the maintenance of heroic status. VI: The justifications for the pre-heroic novel put forward in the seventeenth century usually relied on the claims of the imagination. The heroic novel developed together with a prose-epic theory of the novel, according to which fiction was linked closely to history to produce a greater moral impact than history alone could provide. Within the novel itself, however, historical truth was secondary to the aims of stirring the reader's imagination and impressing a moral attitude upon him. Many of the historical incongruities in the novel can be explained in terms of these aims. Part II VII: Ariane and l'Histoire celtique are proto-heroic novels : both depict a hero who to a certain extent devotes his energies to rising above fortune and asserting his moral independence. VIII: Polexandre arrives at its final version after several earlier stages in which the heroic element is gradually increased. The definitive version of 1637 depicts a superhero with absolute will-power, free from the defects of ordinary men. He has received a kind of "grace" which makes him capable of pursuing and achieving the highest virtue. IX: Ibrahim defines heroism in terms of the individual's ability to control his passions. The heroic virtues depicted are such that heroism is an ideal which most people would be capable of achieving, associated with the ideal of honnêteté. X: Cassandre holds up an ideal of absolute individual freedom. Heroism is egocentric, the hero faithful only to his own image of himself. XI: Cléopâtre ostensibly postulates the same heroic ideal as Cassandre but it has been affected by the discovery that the individual cannot guarantee to control his passions. Moral autonomy is thus disappearing. Women appear as superior because they have a stronger sense of bienséance than men and are therefore more capable of dominating situations involving the passions. XII: Le Grand Cyrus analyses the nature of the emotions to which mankind is subject. It makes plain the potential tyranny of the passions and proposes an ideal of restrained emotional involvement (amitié tendre) as a defence against them. Part III XIII: The heroic novel declined rapidly around 1660 after maintaining its popularity throughout the 1650s. "Realistic" novels and the burlesque cannot really be seen as anti-heroic. The major factor in the decline seems to have been the loss of belief in the supremacy of the will with the consequent revelation of the power of involuntary love. By 1660, the heroic novel had ceased to offer a heroic ideal in favour of an analysis of the affective side of human nature. The heroic framework became redundant and the nouvelle took over the analytical function being performed by the novel. The heroic novel is a factor in the search for moral values during the period 1630-1660. It offered an ideal of human liberty, defined variously by different authors, but all the definitions had to give way before the realisation that human freedom was restricted by human nature.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: French fiction ; History and criticism ; Heroes in literature ; 17th century