Contemporary life in the plays and novels of Marivaux
Green, Kenneth Douglas
In literary history or criticism not only is it necessary to make an objective study of the particular work or works under discussion, but also it is desirable to gain a comprehensive insight into the author and his works as a whole. This insight may be obtained directly through perusal of the author's works and indirectly through a study of his particular environment. In addition one has access to a wealth of information garnered by contemporary and by later critics. These critics render great service to the student both by opening up new avenues of approach and by giving him the opportunity to assess the validity of his own personal judgment on questions already considered. The critic has also a negative value, for not only does he indicate by his omissions what aspects of a subject have not yet been discussed but also he suggests by his vague treatment of certain topics what aspects have not yet been fully developed. This negative value can be realized only if the word "critic" is understood to mean "all critics." However, since no critic worthy of the name is able to present an analysis of a single aspect without reference to the other aspects of a particular subject, it is not difficult to determine, even from the limited number of critics that I have been able to consult, that no complete study has yet been made of contemporary life in the novels and plays of Marivaux. … What is evident in this rapid and restricted survey of critical opinion is that contemporary critics concerned mainly with "marivaudage" and little concerned with realism as we know it, paid scant attention to the social realism of Marivaux. Modern critics, though conscious of it, are uncertain about the extent of this realism. They feel that the comedies have a footing in the times but, wary of general observations of this sort they make qualifications that are nothing less than contradictions. They know, too, that the representation of milieu in the novels is more extensive and more realistic, but they are not so sure now as once they were that Marivaux is essentially a painter of the exterior aspects of his epoch. Because there is an apparent uncertainty as to the extent and the wherefore of this realism, the primary purpose of this thesis is to indicate how much of this reality is actually to be found in the plays and novels of Marivaux and the secondary purpose is to show how Marivaux fits this realism into the general pattern of his work. Using, then, as the basis for discussion the twenty-nine comedies of Marivaux, the novels, La Vie de Marianne, Ie Paysan parvenu, and, less extensively, Ie Don Quichotte moderne, and referring when occasion arises to the Spectateur Français, the Cabinet du Philosophe the Indigent Philosophe and other miscellaneous works, I propose to present in this essay, Contemporary Life in the Novels and Plays of Marivaux, first, an analysis of the comedies and novels with the detailed textual reference rendered necessary by the nature of the subject, and, secondly, and by way of conclusion, consideration of the results of this analysis in their relation to other aspects of the work of Marivaux.