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Scudéry, Madeleine De (1607–1701)


SCUDÉRY, MADELEINE DE (16071701), French novelist, philosopher, and moralist. One of five children born in Le Havre to a noble family of relatively modest means, Mlle de Scudéry was one of the most influential and popular novelists of the seventeenth century. She spent most of her youth in Rouen, where she received a better education than that of most girls of her social background and time. In 1637 she joined her brother Georges in Paris, and together they frequented the thriving literary salons of the Marais district. The two siblings worked together on works of fiction that enjoyed immediate success. In 1641 Madeleine published her first novel, Ibrahim ou l'illustre Bassa, under her brother's name. This practice of using the name of her brother as her pseudonymous signature was one that she continued for most of her prolific career as a writer, despite the fact that her own authorship was openly acknowledged in the gazettes, memoirs, and letters of the time. Although the precise nature of his contributions is uncertain, Georges did clearly collaborate to some extent with his sister in the writing of her novels, and he wrote the prefaces to several of her books.

Artamène, ou Le Grand Cyrus, Madeleine de Scudéry's second novel, published in ten volumes between 1649 and 1653, assured her celebrity both in France and abroad. It was translated into English, German, Italian, and Arabic. The French civil wars known as the Fronde were coming to a close during this same period, and Scudéry dedicated the novel to the duchess of Longueville, who had been a leader in the uprisings against the throne. Although its characters were drawn from historical sources and the setting was remote, Artamène, ou Le Grand Cyrus was a roman à clef in which most of the major characters could be identified with real people among Scudéry's contemporaries. She included a character sketch of herself as the Greek poet Sappho, expounding with her friends on platonic love and the life of the intellect. While she was writing the novel, Scudéry established her own literary coterie known as the samedi, named for the day of the week on which she received her guests, and modeled after the famous Rambouillet salon gatherings that Madeleine and her brother had frequented in the 1630s.

In her later works Scudéry focused increasingly on the philosophical discussions of salon society. The most famous episode in her third novel Clélie, histoire romaine, published between 1654 and 1660, concerns an allegorical map of the human heart, called the Carte du pays de Tendre (Map of the land of tenderness). The conversations generated by the map elaborate a theory of love that values reason over passion and discourages marriage. This led to Scudéry's novels being labeled as subversive by some, including the theorist of neoclassicism Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, who published a harsh satire on novels in which Clélie and the Carte du pays de Tendre were targeted as fostering waywardness among women and contributing to the decline of marriage as a social institution.

In the 1660s Scudéry moved away from the heroic novel genre and turned to shorter narrative forms, publishing three novellas, Célinte, nouvelle première (1661), Mathilde d'Aguilar (1667), and La promenade de Versailles (1669). These works were more realistic than her novels and were situated in modern times, and their action took place in locations that would have been familiar to her readers. But Scudéry continued to portray characters who themselves were captivated by the epic plots of heroic novels, thus focusing on the strong influence of novels on the collective imagination of her own social world. The 1660s were difficult years for many of Scudéry's circle, following the disgrace of her protector and patron Nicolas Fouquet, the superintendent of finances (16151680). Madeleine and her friend the historian Paul Pellisson (16241693) were among the small number of authors who dared to write appeals to Louis XIV on behalf of Fouquet, and Pellisson was imprisoned from 1661 to 1666. Although in 1671 Scudéry received the first prize awarded to authors by the Académie Française, she ceased to publish for the next nine years, until the appearance of the first of her collections of conversations, Conversations sur divers sujets (1680).

The last phase of Scudéry's career as a writer was devoted to ten more volumes of collected conversations, many of them excerpted from her novels. These were regarded by her contemporaries as representing the best of her writing, and unlike her earlier works, they were published under her own name. They reflected the collective efforts of Scudéry's milieu to cultivate the art of talk and develop a new aesthetic and practice of conversation. Translated almost immediately into English, they contributed to a body of literature describing new "French" styles of living that were imitated by elite circles in England, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

See also Bossuet, Jacques-Bénigne ; French Literature and Language ; Fronde ; Salons .


Primary Sources

Scudéry's works were translated in the seventeenth century, but few of her works are available in English today. Two new translations are The Story of Sapho, edited and translated by Karen Newman, Chicago, 2003; and Selected Letters, Orations and Rhetorical Dialogues, edited and translated by Jane Donawerth and Julie Strongson, Chicago, 2003.

Secondary Sources

Aronson, Nicole. Mademoiselle de Scudéry. Translated by Stuart Aronson. Boston, 1978.

Munro, James S. Mademoiselle de Scudéry and the Carte de Tendre. Durham, U.K., 1986.

Elizabeth C. Goldsmith

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"Scudéry, Madeleine De (1607–1701)." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . 17 Nov. 2017 <>.

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Scudéry, Madeleine de

Madeleine de Scudéry (mädəlĕn´ də sküdārē´), 1607?–1701, French novelist. Prominent at the Rambouillet salon, she later had one of the chief literary salons of Paris. Her two principal works, Artamène; ou, Le Grand Cyrus (1649–53) and Clélie (1654–60), are long pseudohistorical novels, full of fashionable sentiment and preciosity. They were extremely popular and all were translated into English. On the title pages appeared only the name of her brother, Georges de Scudéry (zhôrzh), 1601–67, who was probably only a secondary collaborator. Georges wrote plays and other works and actively attacked Corneille's Cid.

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"Scudéry, Madeleine de." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 17 Nov. 2017 <>.

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