Sarah Beytelmann

Graduate Student
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My academic interests lie in early modern aesthetics and politics, from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. My dissertation, Critical Voices: Insults in Late 17th-Century French Literature, focuses on the transitional years of the century, which, as Paul Hazard argued in his work, La Crise de la Conscience Européenne, were marked by substantial psychological and moral changes prefiguring the Enlightenment. This project inquires into such a cultural transition by looking at verbal insults and expressions of hostility in the last decades of a century known for its defense of mondain civility, decency and verbal purism. I tackle this question through three case studies: Antoine Furetière’s Dictionnaire universel (1690), the letters of Elizabeth Charlotte von der Pfalz, also known as Madame Palatine, the German-born second wife of Louis XIV’s brother Philippe, and the Italian Comedy’s French repertoire performed in Paris between 1687 and 1697. These three protagonists belonged to different milieux, yet they all held paradoxical positions in history and in discourse, taking part in central political and cultural settings while being increasingly marginalized therein. In my dissertation, I argue that they embodied a  threat to the regime, and challenged its cultural foundations. Their use of insults, through which they voiced their difference and their dissent, is symptomatic of the emergence and diffusion of a critical consciousness in the French society of the time.