Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version



The Romanic Review Volume 103 Numbers 1-2, pp. 233-253.


© 2012 The Trustees of Columbia University.


In the Princesse de Clèves, confession, embedded this time in the courtly context, plays an undeniable, and yet complex, role in the unfolding of the main character's development. What I call involuntary confessions of the flesh—signs of the interior that slip out, unbidden, onto the exterior of the body—might appear to contradict the restraints of a century marked by René Descartes's privileging of the rational and by an increasingly strict imperative to rein in unruly signs of the flesh. In a court obsessed with appearance and dissimulation, how could involuntary confessions of the flesh possibly contribute to the development of the modern Western subject? I argue that such confessions strike to the very core of the early modern self. In the initial moment of their appearance, they cannot be performed, dissimulated, or falsified.