Le theme du declasse pendant un demi-siecle de litterature romantique (1807-1857)
Lynch, Ann Marie Stewart
Master of Arts
This thesis, as the title indicates, is a study of the "declasse" of French Romantic literature. The purpose is to compare the situations and the personality traits of the romantic "declasses" with the end result of gaining insight into the factors which eventually caused the ruin of their ambitions. One factor is their birth into a social class to which they are emotionally and intellectually unsuited. Their unhappy existence is further complicated when they receive an unusually good education and thus are introduced into a manner of living to which they cannot hope to attain because of the rigid class structure. However fate and society are not reason enough to explain their misfortunes; it is rather their own personality traits which cause their eventual unhappiness. Chapter I deals with the development of the "declasse" theme, first as a real-life product of 17th century social and economic changes and then as the theme of some of the great 18th century literary works: Gil Bias, Manon Lescaut, Le Neveu de Rameau, La Nouvelle Heloise et Les Marriage de Figaro. However, the "declasse" romantic is also uniquely a product of his own century and, as such, is the typical romantic hero, the superior man, although here too he differs because of his innate sense of social inferiority. The well-known "declasses" of Romantic drama are Hernani, Antony, and Ruy Bias. All of them possess an over developed sensibility which causes them to be easily hurt, passionately inflamed and impulsive, often violent, in their actions. They are also abnormally proud of their superiority, thus compensating for their inferior social positions. This haughty arrogance is seen in their flagrant disregard for social custom and law. All lose out in the end because they strive for more than is theirs by birth and social tradition. Corinne, Julien Sorel and Emma Bovary, the "declasses", of the Romantic novel, exhibit the same hyper-sensibility and egotism. Corinne is important because she defines clearly the idea that the superior person is bound by a higher code than that which binds the common man. Feeling that she has a moral duty to make use of her talents, Corinne renounces her rank and flees to Italy where she does not hesitate to breach even further the laws of social propriety. Corinne's tragic unhappiness occurs because she does not realize that in repudiating her class and its mores she has given up all chance of ordinary happiness with the English Lord she loves. Julien Sorel bora of peasant stock is a perfect example of the classic "declass". There are two sides to Julien's character; the sensitive, tender and shy young plebeian who suffers from feelings of social inadequacies and who is morally disgusted by the corruption and brutality which surround him; and the proud "revolte" who plans triumph over his enemies. His plan succeeds until Julien, who has been forced to thwart his passions and sensibilities under the mask of a hypocrite, succumbs to a fit of passion and shoots his former mistress. Emma Bovary, thanks to her Convent education, is never content with the bourgeois life she must lead. She tries to escape from monotony by surrounding herself with luxuries, by losing herself in daydreams and finally by throwing herself into the arms of a first and then a second lover. She commits suicide because she is caught in the web of her own impulsive, greedy lust. Thus, these "declasses" just as the "declasses" of Romantic drama, are as much the victims of their own passions as they are of social injustices.