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The ethics of space, secrecy, and solitude: domestic space in French sixteenth-century literature and visual culture

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Title: The ethics of space, secrecy, and solitude: domestic space in French sixteenth-century literature and visual culture
Author(s): Black, Elizabeth
Advisor(s): Keller, Marcus
Contributor(s): Fresco, Karen L.; Mortimer, Armine K.; Flinn, Margaret C.; Wade, Mara R.
Department / Program: French
Discipline: French
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Doctoral
Subject(s): Sixteenth century French literature architecture history of architecture visual culture Renaissance home domestic space secrecy solitude
Abstract: This dissertation examines the representation of domestic space in Gilles Corrozet’s Blasons domestiques (1539), Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron (1549), and Michel de Montaigne’s Essais (1580-1595), as well as attitudes towards the building of family homes expressed in architectural treatises by Leon Battista Alberti, Sebastiano Serlio, and Philibert de l’Orme. The study demonstrates how the changing use of domestic space in sixteenth-century France corresponds to the nascent individualism of the period and affects textual production, the ethics of personal behavior, and the notions of solitude and secrecy. Alberti, Serlio, and De l’Orme use their architectural treatises to both propose their ideal ways of building the family home and to present projects that they have completed on commission for noble property owners. Each architect incorporates rooms into his buildings that we would today call private. Corrozet’s imaginary house in the Blasons domestiques is posited as a reaction to the dual nature of the home as a place of both business and family life, an overlap which the writer and bookseller finds incompatible with leading a moral life. For Corrozet, solitude is an essential means to protect family members from what he considers lascivious material such as the poetic images of the blasons anatomiques, but also to keep the female body from becoming the subject of poetry. The separation of the household from the outside therefore prevents the production and consumption of morally dangerous texts. In the Heptaméron, solitude implies secrecy, one of the main driving forces behind narrative, since secrets are often made into tales. I argue that the collection exhibits a consistent condemnation of solitude, presenting it as antithetical to the idea that an ethical life can, and must, be examined out in the open. For Montaigne, solitude at home is an essential condition of self-exploration and therefore of writing about the self. But he also finds it almost impossible to find solitude, even at his family home to which he retires, and seclusion is condemnable if one can still be useful to society. His house cannot be isolated in space; neither can the essayist, and this tension between enforced presence in and desired absence from the world informs the writing of the Essais. Faced with two possible modes of representation, the essayist eventually favors writing over building as a means to depict the self in public, abandoning the conceit of building as a meaningful activity. Together the texts create a sixteenth-century imaginary of the home from both the user’s and the builder’s perspective. They contribute to our understanding of how domestic space was built, lived, perceived, used, dreamed, and subverted. The ethics of secrecy and of building the home become entangled with textual production in an ongoing debate between the desire to publish and the need to carve out time and space for the self within the home. This tension between the opposite movements of the physical self into the home and the textual self out of the printing press inform our twenty-first-century debates surrounding privacy and virtual space.
Issue Date: 2012-02-06
Genre: thesis
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/29676
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Clare Black
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-02-06
Date Deposited: 2011-12
 

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