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The Pretentious Young Ladies   By: (1622-1673)

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Molière began in The Pretentious Young Ladies to paint men and women as they are; to make living characters and existing manners the ground work of his plays. From that time he abandoned all imitation of Italian or Spanish imbroglios and intrigues.

There is no doubt that aristocratic society attempted, about the latter years of the reign of Louis XIII., to amend the coarse and licentious expressions, which, during the civil wars had been introduced into literature as well as into manners. It was praiseworthy of some high born ladies in Parisian society to endeavour to refine the language and the mind. But there was a very great difference between the influence these ladies exercised from 1620 until 1640, and what took place in 1658, the year when Molière returned to Paris. The Hôtel de Rambouillet, and the aristocratic drawing rooms, had then done their work, and done it well; but they were succeeded by a clique which cared only for what was nicely said, or rather what was out of the common. Instead of using an elegant and refined diction, they employed only a pretentious and conceitedly affected style, which became highly ridiculous; instead of improving the national idiom they completely spoilt it. Where formerly D'Urfe, Malherbe, Racan, Balzac, and Voiture reigned, Chapelain, Scudéry, Ménage, and the Abbé Cotin, "the father of the French Riddle," ruled in their stead. Moreover, every lady in Paris, as well as in the provinces, no matter what her education was, held her drawing room, where nothing was heard but a ridiculous, exaggerated, and what was worse, a borrowed phraseology. The novels of Mdlle. de Scudéry became the text book of the précieux and the précieuses , for such was the name given to these gentlemen and ladies who set up for wits, and thought they displayed exquisite taste, refined ideas, fastidious judgment, and consummate and critical discrimination, whilst they only uttered vapid and blatant nonsense. What other language can be used when we find that they called the sun l'aimable éclairant le plus beau du monde, l'epoux de la nature , and that when speaking of an old gentleman with grey hair, they said, not as a joke, but seriously, il a des quittances d'amour . A few of their expressions, however, are employed even at the present time, such as, châtier son style ; to correct one's style; dépenser une heure , to spend an hour; revètir ses pensées d'expressions nobles , to clothe one's thoughts in noble expressions, etc.

Though the précieux and précieuses had been several times attacked before, it remained for Molière to give them their death blow, and after the performance of his comedy the name became a term of ridicule and contumely. What enhanced the bitterness of the attack was the difference between Molière's natural style and the affected tone of the would be elegants he brought upon the stage.

This comedy, in prose, was first acted at Paris, at the Théâtre du Petit Bourbon, on the 18th of November, 1659, and met with great success. Through the influence of some noble précieux and précieuses it was forbidden until the 2d of December, when the concourse of spectators was so great that it had to be performed twice a day, that the prices of nearly all the places were raised (See Note 7, page xxv.), and that it ran for four months together. We have referred in our prefatory memoir of Molière to some of the legendary anecdotes connected with this play.

It has also been said that our author owed perhaps the first idea of this play to a scarcely known work, le Cercle des Femmes, ou le Secret du Lit Nuptial; entretiens comiques , written by a long forgotten author, Samuel Chapuzeau, in which a servant, dressed in his master's clothes, is well received by a certain lady who had rejected the master... Continue reading book >>

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