and Mme de Sevigne, (conclusion)
The Centuries and a Daughter
Report of an Aesthetic Realism class
by Lynette Abel
related the instincts of Mme de Sevigne to four centuries, which he described
in terms of their predominant instincts. "The sixteenth century was a century
of discovery and surprise. The seventeenth century had a certain kind of
order--it was annoyed with the disorderliness of the sixteenth century.
The seventeenth century was interested in the individual man, what his
questions were. The eighteenth century went back to the sixteenth
with [its feeling for] the surprise quality of the external world, but
[the eighteenth century saw the world as something to be explained.
With nineteenth-century romanticism, man himself was gotten back to, with
more wonder and surprise. Mme de Sevigne should be seen as of the
sixteenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, along with being of the
Mr. Siegel read a
letter of Mme de Sevigne to her daughter, Mme de Grignan, who was on her
way with her husband to live in southern France:
"You make me feel for you all that
it is possible to feel of tenderness....Be assured that I think of you
continually: it is what devout persons call a habitual thought; it is what
one ought to have for God, if one were to do one's duty. Nothing
distracts me; I am always with you; I see your coach, which always advances
and which will never come toward me....I am afraid that it will overturn...."
"While [Mme de Sevigne] was interested in everything
in France," commented Mr. Siegel, "the one person she seemed to have emotion
for was her daughter." He translated another letter that showed Mme
de Sevigne's "varying interests and her power of thought." It has
this classic sentence about God: "He wants our hearts, and we will not
give them to him; there is all the mystery." And Mr. Siegel observed,
"We feel two instincts present in Mme de Sevigne: something abiding, all
is well; and [the feeling that] everything is tottering, teetering, changing
into unseen debris."
He described her
as "exceedingly cultivated" and "a contemporary admirer of Pascal."
And we heard a letter he translated in which Mme de Sevigne chides her
daughter for not caring for Pascal. Said Mr. Siegel, "At a time when her
daughter was not seen as a Daughter, with all that means," Mme de Sevigne
could be critical of her--not see her as a "torturing Divinity." Mme de
Sevigne says of her daughter's reading, "You flutter about. You do
not love history. A person doesn't have pleasure when he is not deeply
liking of what he reads."
At the conclusion
of this class, Mr. Siegel said, "The uncertainty of Mme de Sevigne and
worry about her daughter is one of the most tremendous domestic things
ever. And it [is] inseparable from a hightpoint in the literary epistolary
art. The anguish was there; the classicism ensued."