The Life of Marianne Essay - Critical Essays

Pierre Carlet

Critical Evaluation

Marivaux’s eleven-volume tale about the vicissitudes of a young woman thrust upon the world with no clear-cut social identity ranks with Samuel Richardson’s Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740-1741) and Clarissa: Or, The History of a Young Lady (1747-1748) as one of the first modern psychological novels. It is a pity that Marivaux did not finish the work; it was completed by Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni. The unfinished novel stops before the nun finishes her story and before Marianne is jilted, suffers various tribulations, and at last marries Valville.

Writing in the early decades of the eighteenth century, Marivaux used a variety of devices already common in the fiction of the day to give his work an air of verisimilitude. Using the device of the memoir and telling the story in the epistolary form were both well-tried techniques that helped readers accept the story as plausible and the behavior of the characters as realistic.

Marivaux is successful in creating lifelike characters because, unlike many of his predecessors and contemporaries, he concentrates on the exploration of emotion rather than on development of action. He goes beyond a number of novelists of his time to achieve a sense of realism by including language spoken by commoners, a device scorned by earlier writers who attempted to maintain standards of decorum prescribed by neoclassical theories of literature in vogue at the time. Marivaux often uses the language of the streets when appropriate for the scene and situation he is depicting. As a result, a number of his characters become individualized through their language, an accomplishment that links the author with the realistic tradition.

The writer’s major success in The Life of Marianne is his creation of a heroine whose behavior seems psychologically sound. Marianne is a complex character who succeeds by her wits and charm rather than by social position. Throughout the story, she struggles to find her rightful place in society. She is unable simply to claim that right because her origins are unknown, so she must earn her social rewards by...

(The entire section is 865 words.)