Site de Benoît Melançon / Thèses canadiennes en littérature française du XVIIIe siècle

Nahrebecky, George, «Maîtres et disciples : les enjeux de la supériorité dans les Liaisonsdangereuses», Kingston, Queen’s University, thèse de doctorat, 1992, 232 p.

When used socially, the term “hero” refers to an exceptional or superior being. The term “literary hero”, on the other hand, which denotes the principal character of a literary work, must account for the mediocre as well as the exceptional, and therefore has often been forced to jettison the connotations of superiority which naturally attach themselves to its social counterpart. The advent of rigorous formal literary analysis has further broadened the semantic field of the term, since its integration into various literary theories is often preceded by attempts to redefine it and give it a specific meaning or function. The resulting semantic uncertainty surrounding the term renders its use even more problematic when analysing a text such as Laclos’ Liaisons dangereuses. Indeed, studies of the depiction of intellectual superiority linked to morally reprehensible behaviour in the Liaisons have often served to underscore the ambiguity which characterizes the use of such terms as “hero”, “heroine”, “principal character”, etc. This ambiguity points to the need for an alternative concept, independent of the notion of the hero, which could be used to analyze the depiction of superiority and inferiority on both the descriptive and structural levels. The main objective of this thesis is therefore the establishment of a theoretical framework, here called the master/disciple opposition, for this very purpose. We begin by examining the limitations inherent in the concept of the literary hero and some of the ways the former is defined by literary theorists (among them B. Tomachevsky, Philippe Hamon, and Northrop Frye), and then by choosing some of the criteria which define the master/disciple opposition. In the second part of the thesis we elaborate the master/disciple opposition through a detailed analysis of the Liaisons dangereuses. In the third part, in order to ascertain the workability of this opposition, it is applied to two other novels, Zola’s Germinal and Maupassant’s Bel-Ami. This application leads to further refinement of its theoretical underpinnings in the concluding chapter.

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