Working Group on Narrative: Cynthia Vialle-Giancotti presenting 'Eighteenth-Century Literary Portraits'

Cynthia Laura Vialle-Giancotti
Wed November 17th 2021, 3:00 - 4:30pm

Dear colleagues, 

We are very excited to announce the the Working Group on Narrative's second event of the Fall quarter. Cynthia Laura Vialle-Giancotti, PhD candidate in Italian and French Literature, will present her paper Eighteenth Century Literary Portraits: The Repurposing of a Seventeenth-Century Socialite Practice


Christophe Schuwey, Professor of French at Yale University will offer a response.


The workshop will take place on Wednesday November 17th, at 3PM via Zoom


Cynthia has kindly provided an abstract of her paper below. This is the link to register in advance

Abstract: In this article I move away from the traditional approach to the Enlightenment as a break from past practices and traditions. Using recent research on description in the late 17th-century and in the Enlightenment, I consider instead the ways in which 18th-century novelists borrowed and repurposed 17th-century practices.

I examine specifically the ways in which 18th-century authors appropriated the 17th-century socialite portrait and recast it to fit the new genre of the fictional memoirs.This repurposing transformed what had been an eminently social practice - depicting real people with an encomiastic and extradiegetic objective in mind - into a solely literary practice, depicting fictional characters with a proleptic and intradiegetic objective in mind. In the first part of the article I initially survey what I have called the ‘vestiges’ of the 17th-century socialite portrait in 18th-century literary writings. I do so by investigating the discrepancies between dictionary definitions of portraits and actual novelistic practices, then by exploring the 18th-century rich discourse on portraits, composed of a persistent animosity and a continuously reiterated requirement of resemblance. 

In the second part of the article I move beyond the vestiges of the socialite portrait to interrogate the ways in which portraits supported fictional memoirs’ truth postures. The analysis of prefatory discourses, of portraits themselves and of diegetic ambiguity in fictional memoirs will help illustrate my argument. 

The goal of this article is ultimately to highlight the ways in which literary portraits, a traditionally discarded genre, play a role in the formation of 18th-century fiction.