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Fragonard and the Dangerous Reading

Fragonard in love.

Fragonard and the Dangerous Reading

Fragonard and the Dangerous Reading

Published at 14 December 2015
"Never has a chaste girl read a novel", declares Rousseau in the preface of La Nouvelle Héloïse, 1761.

In the 18th century, reading became more widely adopted. Many social classes could therefore access means of knowledge that could cause established order to be called into question. Among the literary productions that inspired the most mistrust among authorities, the novel regularly provoked anathema and moral censorship. It was with this type of literature that Fragonard gladly associated. Representations of readers, female ones especially, abound in his works. Numerous moralists condemned the corruptive influence of the novel on a female readership considered too sensitive and therefore vulnerable.

Ambiguous, even frankly licentious rep- resentations flourished. However, literature was not the only corrupter of morals. Correspondence also devel- oped considerably in the 18th century. A special type of literature, the epistolary novel, bears witness to this unprecedented rise evidenced by the greatest literary successes of the century, from La Nouvelle Héloïse by Rousseau in 1761 to Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos in 1782. Exchanges of correspondence appear in the works of Fragonard, undoubtedly with their own romantic and deliciously forbidden significance.

© Jean-Honoré Fragonard, La Lettre © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, dist. Rmn-Grand Palais / image of the MMA








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