Le Régent à Ispahan: mises en fiction allégoriques de Philippe d’Orléans et la Régence (1721-1745)

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Haverford College. Department of French and Francophone Studies
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The Regency period of early modern France (1715-1723) represents an eight-year overture between the absolute monarchy of Louis XIV's reign and the development of the Enlightenment movement over the course of the century. After the death of the Sun King, the heir to the throne was his eight-year-old grandson, the future Louis XV. The regency was granted to the late king's nephew, the bon vivant Philippe d'Orleans, a more liberal influence at court who sought to introduce political and economic reform such as John Law's attempt at a state bank. While the courtly nobility and the parliaments (judicial bodies with limited legislative input) initially saw increased involvement in the affairs of the state, the later half of the Regent's reign would see the return of absolutist tendencies and the concentration of power in the hands of a few powerful ministers. As contemporaries struggled to make sense of the sometimes chaotic political and economic changes of the period, they increasingly turned to a body of literature, allegorical novels, to make sense of events and express their apprehension and anxiety over developments at the Palais Royal. The period saw the development of a form of literature in which contemporary events, especially matters of the court and the influences of ministers, were incorporated into fiction, often under the guise of oriental or ancient Greek stories. While this transposition was designed to fool the censor, in many ways it was designed to be transparent enough to the reader that they could recognize the stories for what they were--fascinating glimpses into the life of the king and the workings of royal government. Increasingly, such literary sites became centers for exposure to a multitude of opinions and the development of a debate on royal policies that the reader could participate in. Authors refused to participate in a univocal propaganda effort, either in favor of or against the Regent, and instead sought to incorporate a number of different view points. In fact, the very nature of the relationship between readers and the act of reading was in the process of changing. The vision of reading as a form of obedience to royal policy was increasingly replaced with a desacralized one in which readers formed their own opinion of the monarch after being presented with multiple points of view. While much scholarship has focused on the descralization of the monarchy in the later half of the century, the Regency era represents a critical first step in the shift towards Enlightenment values amongst readers.