Dignified Retreat: Writers and Intellectuals in the Age of Richelieu

Robert A. Schneider
Publication Date
November 2019
Cardinal Richelieu, Louis XIII’s first minister and the architect of French absolutism, is often celebrated for his role in reviving the arts and letters in the crucial period in the formation of French classicism. This book looks less at him than at the writers and intellectuals themselves in the creation of a new culture distinguished by the rise of the French language over Latin and the emergence of a literary field. The author argues that even the French Academy, founded by Richelieu in 1635, was more the result of an already established literary and linguistic movement that he merely managed to co-opt. Dignified Retreat examines the work and activities of over one hundred writers and intellectuals, focusing especially on their place in the urban context of a revived Paris after several generations of religious warfare in the sixteenth century. The theme of “retreat”—a withdrawal from public engagement and certain modes of public expression—runs throughout the book as a leitmotif that captures the ambivalent position of these men (and a few women) of letters as they tried to establish the legitimacy of their calling outside the established institutions of the Church, the law, and the university. Building on the work of such French literary scholars and historians as Marc Fumaroli, Alain Viala, Hélène-Merlin Kajman, Christian Jouhaud, and others, Schneider offers a novel approach to this important period in French cultural history.