Claire d'Albe: An English Translation
Author(s): Sophie Cottin
Translator(s): Margaret Cohen
Pages: xxxiv & 158 pp.
". . . these two volumes are a welcome addition to the number of texts by women writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries readily accessible for undergraduate and postgraduate teaching."Katherine Astbury, University of Warwick
"Claire d'Albe is an excellent choice for the series. In the early years of the nineteenth century, this novel was both highly successful and scandalous. It belongs to important literary and intellectual traditions and would work well in a course tracing the history of French literature in the period, especially as an example of women's writing."English Showalter, professor emeritus of French, Rutgers University
Both Claire and her husband, M. d'Albe, are virtuous and upstanding, and Frédéric, her husband's nineteen-year-old adopted son and factory assistant, is honest and noble-hearted. But in the beautiful and secluded Loire Valley, the friendship between Claire and Frédéric gradually develops into a forbidden passion.
Claire d'Albe (1799) was audacious in its day for its representation of adulterous love as a positive act of self-fulfillment. As the volume editor, Margaret Cohen, indicates, Sophie Cottin's best-selling work of sentimentalism highlights the tension in Enlightenment liberalism between collective welfare and personal happiness. Although such later French authors as Stendhal and Balzac denigrated sentimentalism along with female novelists, Claire d'Albe influenced their realist aesthetics.
Sophie Cottin, born in 1770, was raised in a Protestant, upper-middle-class family from Bordeaux. She received no formal education but corresponded and read extensively. Exiled from Paris by the Terror and displaced by the loss of her husband, mother, and fortune, she retired to a country house in 1794 to become one of France's preeminent novelists. Claire d'Albe was translated into several languages.