Being interior: French Catholic autobiographies and the genesis of a literary mentality, 1596--1709

Nicholas Dugan Paige, University of Pennsylvania


Using techniques of discursive and historical analysis introduced by such scholars as Foucault, Habermas, Michel de Certeau and Roger Chartier, this dissertation pinpoints the advent, a century before Rousseau's Confessions, of an "autobiographical mentality"--a peculiarly modern mode of reading and writing that postulates an intimate, "interior" bond between author, reader, and the autobiographical text. This mentality, inseparable from the slow construction, over the course of the seventeenth century, of an interiorized subject--an individual felt to have an inner depth that set him or her apart from the exteriority of appearance, tradition and society--is especially evident in the diverse corpus of autobiographical writing produced within the Catholic Church. Chapter One provides an analysis of the material transmission of Catholic autobiographical writing to contemporaries--that is, the form in which this writing was prepared for consumption by a seventeenth-century readership. From about 1650 on, religious biographers insinuated progressively greater quantities of autobiographical writing into their works in order to give them the feel of interiority popular with readers. The second chapter shows how figures on the fringes of the Church, such as Jeanne Guyon and Antoinette Bourignon, used autobiography as part of a "poetics of opposition": the interiorized subject, of whom Rousseau will become the emblem, and autobiography emerge as an effect of the friction between the nascent and antagonistic realms of public and private. The dissertation ends with a close reading of a Jesuit autobiography, Jean-Joseph Surin's Science experimentale des choses de l'autre vie. This work differs from the others in that it constructs the autobiographical text as an essentially private space of self-analysis. Surin, asserting the irreducible difference of his experience in the face of an institution based on traditions of example, imitation and obedience, returns again and again to the intimacy of a textual space--autobiography--where difference can be articulated. Weaving together these examples, this dissertation traces the process by which autobiographical writing came to be associated with a knowledge of the writer's defining inner landscape and, more generally, came to mediate relations between an interiorized subject and the exterior world. ^

Subject Area

Romance literature|Religious history

Recommended Citation

Paige, Nicholas Dugan, "Being interior: French Catholic autobiographies and the genesis of a literary mentality, 1596--1709" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9627979.