Madeleine de Scudéry (skew-day-ree) was the sister of Georges de Scudéry, a famous dramatist and poet of seventeenth century France. After growing up in Le Havre, she went to Paris to live with her brother and soon became well known in French literary circles as a member of the Rambouillet coterie. Being a forceful personality, she became a person of consequence in Paris and succeeded Mme de Rambouillet as the leading hostess of literary Paris in the late 1640’s. De Scudéry enjoyed the friendship of Louis XIV and other royalty as well as that of many prominent literary figures. The salon she established was called the Société du Samedi, the Saturday Club. She also became known for her vigorous and eloquent defense of the equality between men and women.
With Ibrahim: Or, The Illustrious Bassa in 1641 she began to publish prose romances. In an age when French romances earned notoriety for their length, hers were longer than most; Artamenes: Or, The Grand Cyrus, appeared in ten volumes. It was followed by Clelia and Almahide: Or, The Captive Queen. Though they ostensibly presented so-called Oriental settings and characters, these romances used the language and action of seventeenth century France. The characters were often recognizable figures from the writer’s fashionable circle. Although love is the major theme in de Scudéry’s historical romances, they continue to please readers because of the depth of her insights into the complex motivation for human behavior. Because of prejudice against women writers in seventeenth century France, her novels were published under her brother’s name, but her contemporaries knew that Georges de Scudéry had written only the episodes in these novels dealing with war.
Although her novels fell into relative oblivion after her death, they began to attract renewed attention in the 1970’s, partly because she expressed so eloquently the inalienable rights of women and the need for equality between the sexes. A writer of essays and other prose studies as well as fiction, de Scudéry was the first winner of the prize for French eloquence with her An Essay upon Glory in 1671.