The Princess of Cleves relates the story of a young girl and young men that are trapped inthe vicious circle of an impossible love. Written by Madame de Lafayette in 1768, this narrativedescribes the romantic intrigues that flourished in the Royal Court of Henri II. As a “romand’analyse”, this book delves into the psyche of its various characters and presents their tribulations with love and relationships. In particular, it reflects the hardships of the youngPrincess as she refuses to surrender to love in fear that it would lead to her demise. Her assumptions are not unfounded as multiple characters suffer the consequences of their romanticinclinations. In the end, her decision to resist love allows for a dialogue as to whether reason andlove are two irreconcilable entities, and if so which of the two should prevail.
The treatment of love in literature often proved to be highly influenced by contemporarysocietal conventions. For instance, romance literature in the Middle Ages comprised two distinctvisions of love. The first considered love as a being a primitive impulse that one cannot control asseen in romantic tales such as Tristan and Isolde. The second,
or courtly love,was originally described as an idolization and an elevating sentiment for the beloved based onmerit that inspired the lover to prove his love through heroic actions of courage (Paris 459).Interestingly, among the rules of courtly love established by 12
century author AndreasCapellanus two particularly apply to The Princess of Cleves: true love cannot happen between ahusband and a wife, and love, in its essence, is suffering (Capellanus 177-186). During the periodin which Madame de La Fayette wrote her famous Princess of Cleves (late 17
century), scholarsgenerally perceived love as being fundamentally opposed to reason (Haig 18). In her novel, theCountess of La Fayette innovatively joins the principles of love representative of both themedieval and the classical era. This combination resulted in a work of art that portrays a certainmistrust towards love as noted by the famed French author and philosopher Albert Camus:Sa simplicité réelle est dans sa conception de l’amour; pour Mme de La Fayette, l’amour est un péril. C’est son postulat. Et ce qu’on sent dans tout son livre (la Princesse deClèves) comme d’ailleurs dans la Princesse de Montpensier, ou la comtesse de Tende,c’est une constante méfiance envers l’amour. (Camus 40)