Site de Benoît Melançon / Thèses canadiennes en littérature française du XVIIIe siècle


Lafrance, Geneviève, «Bienfaisance et Révolution. L’imaginaire du don chez Isabelle de Charrière, Gabriel Sénac de Meilhan, Joseph Fiévée et Germaine de Staël», Montréal et Paris, Université de Montréal et Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne, thèse de doctorat en cotutelle, octobre 2007, ix/387 p. Dir. : Benoît Melançon (Université de Montréal) et Michel Delon (Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne).


“Beneficence is the happiness of virtue. No other on earth is greater or more assured.” This credo, professed by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre a year before the storming of the Bastille, attests to the ideals of an era which considered beneficence a panacea. Assuring merit and happiness – both individual and collective – the desire to help others was later absorbed in the revolutionary ethos. In the aftermath of the Terror, however, a number of novelists betrayed in their works the sense that beneficence could prove to be a dangerous practice. Isabelle de Charrière, Sénac de Meilhan, Joseph Fiévée and Mme de Staël were among those who exposed its limits and pitfalls. This thesis has at its heart a reading of five novels: Trois femmes, L’Émigré, La Dot de Suzette, Delphine and Corinne. It examines the question of beneficence from the perspective of former donors, whose self esteem was threatened once tables were turned and aid was bestowed upon them. After the Revolution had reduced a large part of the nobility to dependency on the goodwill granted them, novelists who wished to relate their struggle had to imagine a type of gift that would not betray the downfall of individuals who, under the Ancien Régime, had demonstrated their superiority by spreading largesse. By depicting charity from the point of view of its recipients, novelists fed a discourse that, in those years, transcended their texts: reports on public assistance commissioned by the Constituent Assembly and new laws on inheritance and donations also contributed to a reassessment of the value assigned to gifts. Read in counterpoint, these texts show why many post-Thermidor protagonists gave and received abundantly but cautiously.

Keywords: French literature • French revolution • 18th century • 19th century • Novel • Philanthropy • Inheritance • Dowry • Sociocriticism

Prix d’excellence de l’Académie des grands Montréalais dans la catégorie Sciences humaines et sociales, arts et lettres (2008)

Université de Montréal’s candidate for the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools’ Doctoral Dissertation Award (2008-2009)


Publication

Couverture de Genevieve Lafrance (2008)
Lafrance, Geneviève, Qui perd gagne. Imaginaire du don et Révolution française, Montréal, Presses de l’Université de Montréal, coll. «Socius», 2008, 357 p. ISBN : 978-2-7606-2131-2. (34,95 $ / 31 euros)


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