Matthew Barfield

Matthew Barfield

French

Dissertation Topic

French moraliste writing from Blaise Pascal to Joseph Joubert

Situated somewhere between the fields of literary criticism, intellectual history, cultural history, philosophy and theology, my dissertation will study the development of French moraliste writing from the late seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth century; from the works of renowned seventeenth-century moralists such as Blaise Pascal, François de La Rochefoucauld, Jean de La Fontaine, Jean de La Bruyère, and the Marquise de Sablé, to those of eighteenth-century authors such as the Marquis de Vauvenargues, Alexis Piron, Antoine de Rivarol, Nicolas Chamfort, and Joseph Joubert. I aim to re-examine the idea that moraliste writing arose chiefly from the late-seventeenth century political context of aristocratic writers disillusioned by their loss of feudal power under absolute monarchy, and theological context of these writers' Augustinian or "Jansenist" beliefs. Contrary to these assumptions' basis in the biographies of the great moralistes of the late seventeenth century, moraliste writing continued to thrive throughout the eighteenth century in a diverse array of political and religious (or even irreligious) contexts - Royalists and Jacobins; aristocrats and bourgeois; Catholics, neo-Epicureans and neo-Stoics. What, then, motivated writers with such disparate views to use a style typified by the earlier moralistes? How was moraliste writing influenced by the social milieu with which it has become inextricably linked, the aristocratic salons organised chiefly by female hostesses? And can these writers' often cynical witticisms inspire us to moral improvement, as individuals or as a society? These are just some of the questions that I hope to address

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