Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 4-5-2004


Literary portraits, as the basic mode of character development in the seventeenth century, constitute a fundamental element of early French fiction. I trace the reverberations of the popular detached portrait in aesthetic and ideological realms, a study that reveals its important functions beyond its role as a salon game. I study the literary portrait’s incarnations in order to locate the ways in which its more energized presence in literature and society interact with the evolving novel. To uncover these exchanges, I undertake an elucidation of the literary portrait’s ties to painted portraiture, a history of the practice of literary portraiture in prose works from 1650-1730, and a hierarchical system of classification. I examine verbal depiction’s presence in portrait collections, nouvelles, and psychological novels to discover its shifting content, import, and functions. All the while, I consider it in terms of its contribution to French prose fiction’s evolving codes of verisimilitude. I have found that instead of replacing or erasing the set-piece heroic portrait as a result of changing tastes in narrative verisimilitude, the nascent French psychological novel uses the literary portrait in new, complex ways as a function of verbal depiction’s changing status as an activity and a textual object. The lens of the psychological novel’s incorporation of the literary portrait thus allows for the identification of a continuing aesthetic impulse centered upon the idea of plausibility throughout the early modem period. Furthermore, a study of literary portraiture’s interactions with the novel validates literature’s ability to reshape ideology and thus to perpetuate sociopolitical change. As a major force in the rise of the modem novelistic subject, the literary portrait therefore participates actively in the social upheaval that frames the early French novel’s development. In virtue of its simultaneous display of the realistic persona and the real person, this “forme bréve” provides a valuable key to deciphering the dynamic systems of exchange between public character and private individual, gossip and truth, and art and society.