La Rochefoucauld Criticism - Essay

David Westgate (essay date October 1968)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Westgate, David. “The Concept of Amour-Propre in the Maximes of La Rochefoucauld.” Nottingham French Studies 7, no. 2 (October 1968): 67-79.

[In the following essay, Westgate explores the concept of self-love as it was understood in the seventeenth century to better grasp La Rochefoucauld's use of this idea in the Maximes.]

Critics generally agree that amour-propre is central to the description of man in the Maximes, but not all have seen into the full sense of the term. H. Chamard writes of it as being egoism;1 W. G. Moore envisages it as self-interest;2 for A. Krailsheimer, it is the “permanent and radical...

(The entire section is 6368 words.)

Maria A. Green (essay date winter 1969)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Green, Maria A. “Moral Assessment in La Rochefoucauld.” Romance Notes 11, no. 2 (winter 1969): 355-61.

[In the essay which follows, Green argues that La Rochefoucauld's system of ethics is concerned with moral assessment rather than moral obligation, which is why he focuses on such concepts as self-deception, pride, and self-interest.]

It has often been said in one form or another that La Rochefoucauld is not to be taken in by anything within his sphere but that his sphere takes in very little. With the air of El Greco's St. Martin giving his cloak to the beggar, he strips off poor beggars' cloaks and leaves them shivering in the cold. Distrustful of man,...

(The entire section is 2152 words.)

E. D. James (essay date October 1969)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: James, E. D. “Scepticism and Positive Values in La Rochefoucauld.” French Studies 23, no. 4 (October 1969): 349-61.

[In the following essay, James argues that scholars who consider La Rochefoucauld a skeptic are mistaken, insisting that the writer has a complex but positive conception of virtue.]

La Rochefoucauld's sceptical account of human motivation and conduct seemingly obscures the boundaries between virtue and vice, the self and selfishness, what is necessarily so and what is often so. The problem is posed acutely by an often discussed maxime which first appeared in the definitive edition of the Réflexions ou Sentences et Maximes...

(The entire section is 5988 words.)

Donald Furber (essay date December 1969)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Furber, Donald. “The Myth of amour-propre in La Rochefoucauld.” The French Review 43, no. 2 (December 1969): 227-39.

[In this essay, Furber analyzes La Rochefoucauld's concept of self-love, which the critic argues is at once a principle of unity and disunity in the human personality and a mysterious aspect of human nature.]

It is difficult not to accept the critical position which emphasizes the futility of searching for a system in the writings of La Rochefoucauld.1 Contradictory in their affirmations, ambiguous in their moral point of view, paradoxical in their composition, the seventeenth-century Maximes and Réflexions...

(The entire section is 5734 words.)

Jonathan Culler (essay date January 1973)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Culler, Jonathan. “Paradox and the Language of Morals in La Rochefoucauld.” Modern Language Review 68, no. 1 (January 1973): 28-39.

[In the essay below, Culler maintains that La Rochefoucauld's use of paradoxical language in exploring ethics forces readers to unravel the complex moral categories they use, and make sense of their own moral experience.]

For one man calleth Wisdome, what another calleth feare; and one cruelty, what another justice; one prodigality, what another magnanimity; and one gravity, what another stupidity, & c. And therefore such names can never be the true...

(The entire section is 6696 words.)

Joseph G. Weber (essay date January 1974)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Weber, Joseph G. “The Personae in the Style of La Rochefoucauld's Maximes.PMLA 89, no. 1 (January 1974): 250-55.

[In the following essay, Weber studies La Rochefoucauld's personification of human traits in the Maximes.]

Moralist literature of seventeenth-century France can be characterized by what might be called a human dialectic. The dynamics of this dialectic derive from the image of person. The author is in dialogue with himself or with an aspect of his personality, or there is a dialogue between the moi and autrui, or between moral principles. One readily thinks of Montaigne and the moi universel, Pascal and his...

(The entire section is 3979 words.)

Susan Read Baker (essay date January 1974)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Baker, Susan Read. “La Rochefoucauld and the Art of the Self-Portrait.” Romanic Review 65, no. 1 (January 1974): 13-30.

[In this essay, Baker discusses an autobiographical sketch written by La Rochefoucauld, which she says is not only a self-portrait but a commentary on society, human nature, and morality.]

Je vis un jour à Barleduc, qu'on presentoit au Roy François second, pour la recommandation de la memoire de René, Roy de Sicile, un pourtraict qu'il avoit luy-mesmes fait de soy. Pourquoy n'est-il loisible de mesme à un chacun de se peindre de la plume, comme il se peignoit d'un creon?

Montaigne,...

(The entire section is 9009 words.)

Robert Green (essay date December 1974)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Green, Robert. “Lost Paradise and Self-Delusion in the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld.” The French Review 48, no. 2 (December 1974): 321-30.

[In the following essay, Green claims that La Rochefoucauld's use of the maxim to present his ideas and observations fails, in part because he stresses the importance of the concept of self-love.]

The maxims of La Rochefoucauld1 purport to reveal to the reader the naked face of man by showing him the Truth. The emblem of the frontispiece is a portrait of “The Love of Truth” ripping off a mask from Seneca's face, and the fourth edition bears the definitive epigraph: Nos vertus ne sont le plus souvent que...

(The entire section is 4142 words.)

Janet Morgan (essay date January 1977)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Morgan, Janet. “A Reconsideration of La Rochefoucauld's Maximes.Forum for Modern Language Studies 13, no. 1 (January 1977): 47-58.

[In the essay that follows, Morgan argues that La Rochefoucauld used theological concepts to present his secular ideas because of the familiarity of those concepts.]

Recent discussion on La Rochefoucauld has tended to rehabilitate the Maximes by taking seriously the moral analysis they contain instead of reading them simply as the expression of a personal disillusionment. More serious consideration of the text seems to have resulted primarily in disagreement as to how far La Rochefoucauld is “sceptical” of...

(The entire section is 5962 words.)

Philip E. Lewis (essay date 1977)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Lewis, Philip E. “A Problematic Work.” In La Rochefoucauld and the Art of Abstraction, pp. 15-54. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977.

[In this excerpt, Lewis offers an introduction to the problematical aspects of reading La Rochefoucauld, focusing on the difficult and ambiguous nature of the maxim.]

Just as reading La Rochefoucauld has almost always meant reading the Maximes, reading the Maximes has almost automatically entailed reflecting on the nature of the maxim, on its status as a genre or type of statement. The apparently simple question—what is a maxim?—leads into a tangle of complex problems in La Rochefoucauld's work. To...

(The entire section is 13643 words.)

Vivien Thweat (essay date May 1978)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Thweat, Vivien. “Style, the Self, and Society in La Rochefoucauld's Réflexions diverses.French Forum 3, no. 2 (May 1978): 99-112.

[In the essay below, Thweat contends that the Réflexions diverses deserve to be studied in their own right because they offer an account of the author's concept of the social self, and provide insight on seventeenth-century social life.]

More often than not La Rochefoucauld's Réflexions diverses are considered primarily as they relate to the Maximes or as background material for the Classical concept of wit and taste. On occasion they have also been presented as proof of La Rochefoucauld's...

(The entire section is 6890 words.)

Buford Norman (essay date 1981)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Norman, Buford. “Knowledge, Meaning and Style in Variants of La Rochefoucauld's Maximes.Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature 8, no. 14 (1981): 19-31.

[In the following essay, Norman discusses La Rochefoucauld's treatment of knowledge, meaning, action, and motivation in the Maximes.]

Knowledge—its nature, its limitations, its acquisition, its applications—is not only one of the most important topics in La Rochefoucauld's Maximes; it is also a concern which underlies the entire work. The Maximes, through their content and through their form, are constantly seeking after knowledge of man while at the same time raising...

(The entire section is 3048 words.)

Susan Read Baker (essay date 1986)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Baker, Susan Read. “The Reception of La Rochefoucauld's Maximes (1659-1665): A Question of Gender?” Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature 13, no. 24 (1986): 65-81.

[In the essay which follows, Baker discusses the differences in the initial reaction to the Maximes by La Rochefoucauld's male and female contemporaries.]

The reception of La Rochefoucauld's Maximes from their inception to the present is an important topic recently broached during colloquia in France honoring the tricentenary of the duke's death.1 In the present study, I wish to further what is currently a collective critical endeavor by proposing a...

(The entire section is 4594 words.)

Henry C. Clark (essay date 1987)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Clark, Henry C. “La Rochefoucauld and the Social Bases of Aristocratic Ethics.” History of European Ideas 8, no. 1 (1987): 61-76.

[In the following essay, Clark claims that La Rochefoucauld's ideas are universal in nature and do not betray his aristocratic background. The critic goes on to explore the relationship between social participation and moral observation in the Maximes.]

One of the paradoxes in the career of the Duke of La Rochefoucauld (1613-80) consists in the almost complete absence of any overt evidence of social particularity in his literary work. In practice, he was acutely protective of every privilege pertaining to his imagined place in...

(The entire section is 8726 words.)

Joseph G. Weber (essay date 1987)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Weber, Joseph G. “The Maximes as Theatre.” In L'Image du souverain dans le theatre de 1600 a 1650/Maximes/Madame de Villedieu, edited by Milorad R. Margitic and Byron R. Wells, pp. 15-33. Paris: Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature, 1987.

[In this essay, Weber argues that the use of personification, movement, disguises, and other elements in the Maximes are characteristic of classical drama.]

Faced with one of the more elusive and cryptic works of literature, analysts have gone to considerable length to identify, contextualize and systematize the Maximes of La Rochefoucauld. The discontinuity of the work itself is...

(The entire section is 2959 words.)

Joseph Epstein (essay date June 1996)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Epstein, Joseph. “La Rochefoucauld: Maximum Maximist.” The New Criterion (June 1996): 15-24.

[In the following essay, Epstein offers a personal appreciation of La Rochefoucauld's life and work, presenting biographical details, discussing scholarly approaches to his texts, and exploring the usefulness of his observations.]

François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) did not invent the form known as the maxim, but instead, fairly early in its history, merely perfected it. Defying any notion of progress in the arts, nobody has come along in more than three centuries who has done it better; he remains unsurpassed. “We all have strength enough to endure...

(The entire section is 6639 words.)

Bradley Rubidge (essay date 1998)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Rubidge, Bradley. “Psychological Atomism, Amour-propre, and the Language of Generosity.” In La Rochefoucauld, Mithridate, Frères et sœurs, Les Muses sœurs: Actes du 29e congrè annuel de la North American Society for Seventeenth-Century French Literature, edited by Claire Carlin, pp. 43-52. Tübingen, Germany: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1998.

[In the essay below, Rubidge argues that elements of La Rochefoucauld's views, including his criticism of generosity, have similarities with the philosophical position called eliminative materialism.]

La Rochefoucauld's eighty-third maxim exhibits some argumentative moves that are typical of the...

(The entire section is 4216 words.)

Quentin M. Hope (essay date 2001)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Hope, Quentin M. “La Rochefoucauld and the Vicissitudes of Time.” Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature 28, no. 54 (2001): 105-20.

[In the following essay, Hope observes that La Rochefoucauld's maxims comment on all stages of life and are keenly aware of the joys and hardships of human existence.]

Many of La Rochefoucauld's best-known and most quoted maxims present themselves as timeless. That hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, that we can all bear the misfortunes of others are observations of human behaviour independent of time and change. These are maxims that apply at all places, in all times, to all men and women. Another...

(The entire section is 7785 words.)

Quentin M. Hope (essay date spring 2002)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Hope, Quentin M. “Humor in the Maximes of La Rochefoucauld.” Dalhousie French Studies 58 (spring 2002): 3-9.

[In this essay, Hope discusses La Rochefoucauld's love of teasing, making fun, and laughter, and claims that many of his maxims should be understood as jokes.]

I have undertaken to write about humor in La Rochefoucauld fully convinced that any reader will know what I mean by humor, but also aware that the word, like other words close to it, eludes definition. In L'écriture comique Jean Sareil speaks of the “impossibilité d'arriver à une définition objective du sujet” and adds: “Qu'est-ce que l'esprit, l'humour, la...

(The entire section is 4360 words.)