Madame de Lafayette's "La Princesse de Cleves" has, since its publication in the late 17th century, been subjected to moralistic evaluation that has chastened and maligned the heroine for over three hundred years. The princess has been accused of implausible behaviour, deep-seated egoism, irreligion, obsessive concern with appearances, suicidal tendencies, psychological immaturity, cowardice and general inauthenticity as a human being. This collection of essays is intended to change the direction of the debate regarding the princess's character. After an introduction that traces the critical reception of the novel in France from 1678 to the present, 12 essays - from different critical perspectives, including feminist, sociocritical, religious, ethical, psychological and narratological - highlight various aspects of the narrative. Collectively, the essays defend the princess against many of the charges made against her over the centuries, rehabilitate her reputation and establish her authenticity as a fictional character. The pluralism of "An Inimitable Example" does not foreclose debate, but rather invites dialogue.
It should be of interest to all teachers of French literature, feminist literary scholars, students of critical theory, and historians of European literature in the early modern era.