“Regard, spectacle et séduction dans trois récits merveilleux (Gueullette, Bibiena, Marmontel).”
Dix-huitième Siècle 45 (2013): 481-493
This article explores three 18th-century texts which played into a contemporary literary vogue for the figure of the “sylph.”
At the precise moment when the Enlightenment was in full swing, there was a huge surge in popularity for literature about these fantastical, aerial beings, who could step in and out of the air, suddenly become invisible, and whose flesh was like that of a normal human being.
Needless to say, their nocturnal apparitions enlivened many a character's bedchamber.
But writing about sylphs wasn't only focused on sex. In this article, I look at three texts where male protagonists are all in search of romantic fulfillment. To obtain the love they seek, they are required to reject logical methods of sourcing knowledge.
Instead, they are forced to have recourse to complicated visual manipulations, play-acting and deception. They must ultimately draw upon a supernatural imaginary involving sylphs to satisfy their desires.
Truth here becomes the product of illusions, and it occasionally deeply disturbs, in literature that substantially complicates understandings of the Enlightenment as predominated by rational, empirical quests for knowledge.