[LA FAYETTE, Marie-Madeleine Pioche de la Vergne, Madame de]. ~ La Princess de Clèves. Paris: Compagnie des Libraires Associés, 1741.
12mo (161 × 90 mm), pp. , 204; , 209, . Old ink stain to foot of final leaf, a few tears and paper flaws, the most serious being the upper margin torn away from 2 leaves (2, pp. 109-12) Contemporary calf, gilt panelled spine. Spine rather rubbed and faded. A modest copy. Early engraved bookplate of N.F.B. Le Sage.
First printed in 1678, with numerous reprints, a milestone in the history of European fiction, generally considered the first historical novel and the first psychological novel. Eschewing the fantastic rhetoric of other seventeenth-century authors such as Madeleine de Scudéry, and the excesses of heroic romance, La Fayette preferred to explore the realities of human emotion when exposed to love and jealousy and told a remarkably modern story of a virtuous young wife who suppressed her passion for a nobleman in the name of honour and duty. In so doing, La Fayette launched the ‘novel of character’ as a genre, in which the character of the protagonists is more important than the events of the plot. Set in the previous century during the reign of Henri II and with carefully researched historical detail, the novel nevertheless pursues themes of individuality and public expectation absolutely contemporary to its author’s times. After La Fayette, writers of French novels continued to be preoccupied with the realistic analysis of love, but none of their productions can compare with Princesse de Clèves until perhaps Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782).