Society and Literature in 17th-century France
In Renaissance France, literature (in the broadest sense of the term) was largely the product of encyclopaedic humanism, and included works produced by an educated class of writers from religious and legal backgrounds. A new conception of nobility, modelled on the Italian Renaissance courts and their concept of the perfect courtier, was beginning to evolve through French literature. Throughout the 17th century this new concept transformed the image of the rude noble into an ideal of honnête homme ("the upright man") or the bel esprit ("beautiful spirit") whose chief virtues included eloquent speech, skill at dance, refined manners, appreciation of the arts, intellectual curiosity, wit, a spiritual or platonic attitude towards love and the ability to write poetry.
Central to this transformation of literature were the salons and literary academies which flourished during the first decades of the 17th century; the expanded role of noble patronage was also significant. The production of literary works such as poems, plays, works of criticism or moral reflection was increasingly considered a necessary practice by nobles, and the creation (or patronage) of the arts served as a means of social advancement for both non- and marginalized noblemen. In the mid-17th century, there were an estimated 2,200 authors in France (mostly nobles and clergy), writing for a reading public of just a few tens of thousands. Under Cardinal Richelieu, patronage of the arts and literary academies increasingly came under the control of the monarchy.
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