Critical Evaluation

(Essentials of European Literature)

Some books seem to have a universal value that transcends the time in which they were written. Others seem to be particularly representative of their epoch and eventually stand as a milestone in the development of a genre. Artamenes belongs to the latter category. It consists of ten volumes, each in two books. Despite its length, it has a remarkable unity of interest, if not of plot. The author indulges in lengthy stories within the story. These successive stories are ingeniously knitted together, one character being introduced casually in one, and being caught up with later in another. The organization of the novel is such that it is actually quite difficult to read only parts of it and still understand it. This type of novel was expected to provide a pastime, in the literal sense of the word. Although this may seem ironic in view of its length, Artamenes fulfilled this purpose. It provided noble sentiments together with a little learning. It is still possible to understand why it was such a great success.

Madeleine de Scudéry, known to her contemporaries as the “illustrious Sappho,” founded the most important salon in the Paris of the 1640’s. She belonged to the precieux, women who consciously tried to reestablish the courtly manners and language of the Italian Renaissance. Her novels—better characterized as “heroic romances”—helped to spread this tradition by means of both plot and language. Writing anonymously or with...

(The entire section is 551 words.)