Lafayette's Subtle Engagement in the Early Modern Debate on Religious Toleration in La Comtesse de Tende (1724), La Princesse de Montpensier (1662), and La Princesse de Clèves (1678)
Rockefeller , Caroline Farrior Boone
This study shows how the romance plots in Marie Madeleine Pioche de la Vergne de Lafayette’s three novellas, La Comtesse de Tende (1724), La Princesse de Montpensier (1662), and La Princesse de Clèves (1678), subtly engage in early modern debates about the merits of religious toleration as a solution to the problematic religious difference the Huguenots, a Protestant sect, posed for nominally Catholic France. The three novels discussed in this study, all of which are set during or at the onset of the Wars of Religion, not only depict heroines struggling with moral dilemmas in their personal lives. They intervene in the early modern intellectual and political debate on religious toleration of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by depicting the challenges and possibilities of trying to create a tolerant space. In this study, I read the novellas as products of and responses to the tense political and religious climate in which they were created and first read. In order to unearth how what seem to be apolitical love stories actually engage in the then-ongoing early modern discourse about tolerance and toleration, I weave together close readings of the texts with excerpts from speeches, anonymous pamphlets, and theoretical and philosophical works of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries that explore toleration as a solution to religious strife and conflict, as well as more recent scholarship on toleration.