Critical Evaluation

Although Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux composed his The Heroes of Romances in 1666 and revised it just four years later, he did not authorize the publication of this work during his lifetime. Nevertheless, it was published without his permission first in 1688 and then in 1693. Such unauthorized publications occurred frequently in seventeenth century France because the concepts of intellectual property and copyright did not yet exist and, as a result, a French writer did not then possess the legal right to prevent the publication of his or her works if a manuscript happened to fall into the hands of an unscrupulous publisher. In the preface to this dialogue, which he wrote shortly before his own death, Boileau-Despréaux claimed that he opposed publishing this work while Madeleine de Scudéry was still alive because he did not want to hurt her feelings.

Madeleine had come to be admired for the sincerity of her commitment to high moral standards and to deep spirituality. Even after her death in 1707 at the advanced age of ninety-nine, Boileau-Despréaux would not authorize the publication of The Heroes of Romances, even though all the writers whom he had criticized in this satiric dialogue were by then deceased. He sensed perhaps that the exceedingly nasty and condescending opinions expressed in this work would provoke unfavorable reactions from readers, who might then think poorly of his works and of himself.

Although Boileau-Despréaux clearly amused his readers by contrasting the true historical figures of King Cyrus, Alexander the Great, Horatius Cocles, Clelia, and Joan of Arc with their...

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