Original Copies: Rousseau, Laclos, Stendhal Open Access

Westbeld Gallois, Gina E. (2014)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/76537142h?locale=en


True originality is, perhaps, the offspring of superior imitation. The practice of imitation as a rite of passage and a show of mastery has a long history in literature. My interest in the concept of copying lies more with internal questions at the level of diegesis and the text than with the external concept of influence; notably ways in which, for instance, Rousseau's Julie ou la nouvelle Héloïse is explicitly read though two later novels, Laclos's Les Liaisons dangereuses and Stendhal's Le Rouge et le Noir and the complex mechanisms at work in scenes in which some form of copying, transcribing and/or imitation takes place. By analyzing key scenes of "copying" as mise en abyme for the process of literary creation, I will evaluate the status of the copy in general and how these novels "copy" through an explicit dialog with their predecessors, transcribing their readings into a nonetheless new and original text, affirming their own place in the novelistic tradition. Explicit scenes of copying comment implicitly on the very imitations they are performing. Rousseau's title and basic plot make overt reference to the legendary love story of Abélard and Héloïse. In Liaisons, Merteuil claims that Rousseau is the only novelist capable of expressing love convincingly as she criticizes Valmont's efforts to seduce the Présidente by feigning love through writing. In Le Rouge et le Noir, Julien is drawn into a roman par lettres when Mathilde tosses love letters to him at his desk, harkening back to Julie and Liaisons. Stendhal's novel emerges in the early 19th century proposing, not the ultimate novel of "psychological realism," as has sometimes been suggested, but the possibility of an escape from the copying and imitation so pervasive in worldly Parisian society. Paradoxically, it is through silence that Julien and Mme de Rênal seem to reclaim a kind of sincere moment of bonheur from the well meaning but unstable utopian systems imagined in Julie and from the cynical suggestion of the impossibility of Valmont's famous suppressed love letter to the Présidente.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Mastery Through Imitation


Chapter 1 - Julie ou la nouvelle Héloïse: Julie & the Inimitable Copy


Marked by Perfection: The Paradoxical Copy


Virtue as the Most Dangerous of Seductions


Worldly Paris: "Ce peuple imitateur"


Julie's Elysée: Cultivating Virtue?


Chapter 2 - Les Liaisons dangereuses: "Cherchez-en dans le siècle un second exemple!"


How to Read a Copy


Valmont's Innovations & Imitations


The Blind Copy: "Ce n'est pas ma faute"


Valmont's Suppressed Letter: The Impossible Copy


Chapter 3 - Le Rouge et le Noir: An Escape from Copying?


The Lettre anonyme


The Problem with Thinking


Pale Copies


Destiny Transcribed: The Return of the Romanesque


The Paradox of Silence


Works Cited


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