All subjects ‘of whatever state or quality’ should ‘live together peacefully as friends’: the Edict of Nantes (1598) not only establishes religious tolerance, it calls for friendship among non-peers. Correspondences and treatises on friendship show how social interaction in absolutist France was profoundly changing: new court and salon societies bring together men and women, king and subordinates, moralists and libertines. Yet, literary scholars focus on the Aristotelian ‘perfect friendship’ that only applies to equal men, for all other relations would tilt to love or self-love.
My project offers the first extensive study of non-peer friendship in 17th-century France. I will study and compare non-fictional texts (theoretical reflections, letters, memoirs) and fictional narratives on friendship (from poems by the converted Théophile de Viau to the anonymous play 'Le Triomphe de l’amitié'), to examine if and how true friendship can bridge the gap of gender, moral conviction, sociopolitical rank or personality.
By combining tools from literary studies and history of emotions, with concepts from socio-political history, my project not only shakes the traditional literary approach to friendship, it also offers new insights into the rapidly changing social structure of pre-revolutionary France. In staging a desire for egalitarian, affective relations, texts on nonpeer friendship, I argue, prepare the Enlightenment and illuminate the struggles of today’s multicultural society.