*Paris. France’s capital city is the setting for the major part of the novel. Marivaux’s novel examines the life available to a woman in the eighteenth century, when Paris was the center of society. All rules of social conduct and moral values were developed there and imitated elsewhere. Paris is definitely the place for Marianne’s life to unfold. The story deals in a conventional manner with aristocratic society, which was the proper subject of novels at the time. Marianne gravitates toward this society. Although her origins are cloaked in mystery, she has a strong sense that her unknown parents were members of the upper class. By chance and good fortune, Marianne finds herself included in this society. Thus, Marivaux’s novel conforms to the dictates of other novels of the period. As an observer and recorder of human experience, Marivaux was, however, intrigued by those who were not members of the aristocracy and took great pleasure in creating characters from other social milieus.
By setting his novel in Paris, Marivaux also affords himself the opportunity of including characters from other classes. His aristocrats and Marianne herself interact with the shopkeepers, coach drivers, and various other people of the city in such a way that Marivaux creates a wonderful panorama of characters not found in other novels of the period. At the shop where Marianne is employed for a short time, the reader meets the merchant Madame Dutour, a character almost as interesting as Marianne, and the shop girl Mademoiselle Toinon.
House outside Rennes
House outside Rennes (ren). The manuscript of Marianne’s story is found here in a cabinet contained in a wall of this house, which has already had five or six owners, by a man who has just bought the house. At the time Marivaux was writing, it was unacceptable for a woman, particularly a woman of the upper class, to write and publish. Marianne’s narrative is in the first person. Marivaux needed to create a fiction around the manuscript to protect Marianne’s reputation and to make her believable as a woman of quality. He does so by having the manuscript, which was intended only to be read by a friend of Marianne, be discovered in this obscure and secretive location.
Church. Parisian church in which Monsieur De Valville first sees Marianne and is awed by her beauty. He falls in love with her immediately. Marianne takes particular note of him as well. During the period, churches were places to worship, but they were also convenient places to be seen, especially for women. Being noticed at the church opens the way for Marianne to enter into the upper-class world to which she aspires. This particular scene has caused a considerable amount of controversy over the character of Marianne. She always speaks of her naïveté and innocence, but many critics view her conduct at the church as evidence that she is not what she pretends to be.
Convent. Roman Catholic religious community for women to which Marianne repairs each time her life becomes difficult. The convent plays a conventional role in the novel. Abandoned by Valville, whom she hoped to marry, Marianne enters the convent. She intends to take the veil and renounce all secular life. At the time the book was published, novels abounded with rejected heroines who withdrew to convents to suffer and mourn lost love. Entering the convent symbolized the death of the woman. Marivaux uses this conventional literary device; however, he brings Marianne back to life by having her receive a visit from a nobleman of about fifty who offers her a marriage based...
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solely on reason.
Greene, E. J. H. Marivaux. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965. Detailed, sensitive reading of The Life of Marianne, examining Marivaux’s artistic intentions, his handling of characterization, his adroit use of sentimentalism, and his hardheaded analysis of a corrupt society. Speculates on reasons the novel was never finished.
Haac, Oscar A. Marivaux. New York: Twayne, 1974. General survey of the writer’s achievements. Discusses The Life of Marianne as an early example of the psychological novel. Pays special attention to Marivaux’s development of major characters in the work.
Jamieson, Ruth Kirby. Marivaux: A Study in Sensibility. New York: Octagon Books, 1969. Examines The Life of Marianne as one of the works that reveals Marivaux’s contributions to the “novel of sensibility”; contrasts it with the extremely sentimental works of some of his contemporaries. Asserts that Marivaux balances reason and emotion in telling his story.
Laden, Marie-Paule. Self-Imitation in the Eighteenth-Century Novel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987. Extended analysis of The Life of Marianne focuses on Marivaux’s handling of narrative voice. Explains how he gives emotional and moral perspective to Marianne’s adventures by having the heroine serve as both protagonist and commentator, since she writes as an older woman about her life as a younger ingenue.
Rosbottom, Ronald C. Marivaux’s Novels: Theme and Function in European Eighteenth Century Narrative. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1974. Devotes two chapters to an analysis of The Life of Marianne. Focuses on the accommodations Marianne must make to succeed in society and the limits beyond which she cannot compromise her principles.