MyFrenchLife™ French Book Club: Stendhal, Lamiel – August 2018
Calling all Francophiles, lovers of literature, and savvy challenge seekers. Have you ever dreamt of joining a French book club? Well, now’s your chance… Welcome to the MyFrenchLife™ 12-month French Literature Challenge 2018!
Every month this year, we challenge you to sit back, relax, and delve into one of our specially chosen French books! In August, we’re reading Stendhal.
Why take part in the MyFrenchLife™ book club?
Each month, we’ll be consulting our French literature experts to bring you a new and exciting French book review. We promise to dig deep and share our most intimate opinions, interpretations, and perceptions of France’s best literary offerings – and we’d love you to do the same!
The eponymous character Lamiel is Stendhal’s most independent and passionate heroine, who chooses to defy society’s mores.
Stendhal’s heroine is introduced as the adopted daughter of the Hautemares, an adoption that is simply to assure that the family fortune will be passed down to ‘good hands’. The couple then labels Lamiel as their niece, lying to the poor child as well as the town. However, the reader is quick to realise that this special ‘niece’ isn’t suited to their lifestyle…
Stendhal describes Lamiel’s incessant boredom and how it is painful for her to live amongst the Hautemares with their strict religious rules. Lamiel has no friends her own age and must simply live as a lonely girl, oppressed by their rules.
These include forbidding her attendance at dances and the reading of immoral literature. However, Lamiel’s imagination and curiosity are heightened through secretly reading these books; they are the fuel she needs to become a strong independent heroine.
L’ennui: Lamiel’s thirst for more
Lamiel is then sent to work as a personal reader, a lectrice, for La Duchesse de Miossens, who has become visually impaired. The books and newspapers Lamiel must read to the Duchesse are far from exciting and quickly become a way for the Duchesse to provide the young girl with an education for a lady.
Lamiel then suddenly becomes very ill, which Doctor Sansfin quickly realises is due to her boredom.
I found Stendhal quite comical.
He creates a character so audacious and passionate that the society she is part of causes her to feel sick with boredom.
Doctor Sansfin becomes the poor girl’s only friend in the world, curing her by reading to her from the books she loves. The doctor also educates Lamiel on the hypocrisies of society, yet refuses to tell her about love.
Lamiel’s curiosity causes her to look for her own answers.
Lamiel: a strong, independent heroine
Stendhal’s novel radiates feminine power: Lamiel becomes in control of her own destiny. She encourages a young village man to kiss her, paying him for her sexual experiences. These moments do not live up to her high expectations on love.
She then decides to seduce the Duchesse’s son and run away to Rouen with him. She reaps the benefits of his gifts, dressing as a bourgeoise woman, transforming her from paysanne to rich Parisienne.
One of the ways the reader can see this transformation is by mere appearance, as Lamiel finds it impossible to walk like a Parisian lady. Stendhal tells the reader she has too much energy and vivacity to walk properly, as a lady should.
Lamiel’s strength as a heroine comes from this defiance: she isn’t the perfect ‘quiet’ French lady she should be.
She isn’t afraid to say how she feels, she decides who she wants to be with and which path she wants to take.
The novel remains unfinished by Stendhal and was published posthumously. However, it will remain one of my favourite pieces of French literature.
It goes without saying that Emma Bovary is held up as one of the most important female characters created, but I equally think Lamiel may give Flaubert a run for his money!
Now it’s your turn – get involved here.
Let the challenge begin!
I'm a final year French student at University of Nottingham. I am passionate about French literature, in particular nineteenth-century French novels and love escaping to Paris for chocolat chaud. Follow me: my year abroad blog, instagram & twitter!
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