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French-Speaking Worlds: Flora Champy

Thursday, February 29, 2024
4:30pm to 6pm PT

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Building 260, Pigott Hall, Rm 252
450 Jane Stanford Way, Building 260, Stanford, CA 94305
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Event Details:

Please join French-Speaking Worlds: Then and Now for a talk by Flora Champy (Assistant Professor of French, Princeton University).

"An Ellipsis and Nine Slaps: The Pursuit of Conjugal Happiness in Beaumarchais"

This paper will propose an alternative genealogy to a Hollywoodian genre while performing a defense and illustration of the canonical explication de texte. In his book Pursuits of Happiness, a philosophical examination of the films he labels “comedies of remarriage”, Stanley Cavell explicitly pits Shakespeare’s and Ibsen’s literary heritage against the tradition of the “French farce”. However, a close reading of Beaumarchais’ Marriage of Figaro reveals that tales of post-divorce remarriage share a common origin with Feydeau-style stories of patriarchal infidelity. While the Count’s feudal claim to Suzanne’s sexuality is heavily emphasized throughout the play, the plot finds its resolution only when Suzanne, in scene 8 of act 5, energetically rebuts her own fiancé’s stealthy attempt to trick her into sex. While Figaro seeks the complicity of the audience with an elliptic aside: “Il serait gai qu’avant la noce…”, she openly rebuts that supposedly “merry” plan by slapping him nine times. Her energetic reaction allows the play to reframe the initial gimmick of the droit du seigneur into a deeper question: how can the pursuit of conjugal happiness be equally fruitful for both sides? Acknowledging Beaumarchais’ paternity of both adultery and divorce plots enables a better understanding of the fraught connection between marriage and happiness, consent and pleasure, difference and equality: all pressing questions in our times.


Hosted by the French-Speaking Worlds: Then and Now Research Group, sponsored by the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages Research Unit and co-sponsored by the France-Stanford Center and Stanford Global Studies.

This event is part of Stanford Global Studies’ Global Research Workshop Program.