Document Type


Date of Award



Pierre Carlet de Chambalin de Marivaux (1688-1763), French literature, 18th century, Translations

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature

First Advisor

Eliane Jasenas

Second Advisor

Marilyn Gaddis Rose

Third Advisor

Julio Rodriguez-Luis


Critics treat the period of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century as a crucial transitional period in the development of prose fiction. A number of recent works deal with the struggles of novelists in this period to create a “better” fiction through experimentation with form and format. Rosbottom refers to the situation of fiction writing as “the crisis of literary forms,” and Deloffre as the “problem of romanesque illusion.” For examples of suggested solutions to various problems of fiction writing furnished by Marivaux's immediate predecessors and contemporaries, one need only look to the number of memoir and anecdotal novels which sprang up at the time. The latter were frequently pseudo-biographical or auto-biographical accounts of the social adventures of a given lady or gentleman. Such works often dealt with scandalous or particularly amorous events, and for this reason they were not usually exempt from the disapproval of morally-inclined critics and readers. The anecdotal and memoir novels do, however, represent an attempted step in the direction toward verisimilitude. In leaving behind idealized figures from past history and hyperbolic heroism to concentrate upon recent events in the lives of supposedly real, though unknown, individuals, novelists thought to expand their reading public to those who were skeptical and scornful of the romanesque and yet had had their fill of burlesque satire of the Berger extravagant tradition.

La Voiture embourbée in many respects falls into the category of the brief anecdotal novel, thus mirroring one important result of the experimentation of the time, just as Marivaux’s early writing career reflects the general concern for finding viable forms of fiction. Marivaux’s first prose work, Les Effets surprenants de la sympathie, may be considered as the epitome of the romanesque. It takes the most conventional of love stories, interpolates a line of incomprehensibly sub-divided sub-plots, and repeated melodramatic adventures, and takes the material to its stock conclusion, mixing up a few characters and plots along the way.

In his next work, Pharsamon, Marivaux changes direction and opts for burlesque parody. In the tradition of his predecessors, Cervantes, Sorel, and Scarron, he engages in a thorough raillery of the romanesque. La Voiture embourbée, on the other hand, is neither complete emulation nor parody, though it contains elements of both. In its multi-leveled narrative format it can be considered as a piece of fiction about the process of writing fiction. It is also an experiment with fictional forms and functions, and as such represents a maturing writer’s statement about his art.