Thérèse Philosophe is a 1748 French novel ascribed to Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens (1704-1771). It has been chiefly regarded as a pornographic novel, which accounts for its massive sales in 18th-century France (as pornographic works were the most popular bestsellers of the time). Aside from that however, this novel represents a public conveyance (and arguably perversion) for some ideas of the Philosophes, the intellectuals of the 18th century Age of Enlightenment.
The narrative starts with Thérèse, a girl from solid bourgeois stock, who becomes a student of Father Dirrag, a Jesuit who secretly teaches materialism. Thérèse spies on Dirrag counseling her fellow student, Mlle. Eradice, and preying on her spiritual ambition to seduce her. Through flagellation and penetration, he gives her what she thinks is spiritual ecstasy but is merely sexual stimulation. "Father Dirrag" and "Mlle. Eradice" are named after anagrams of Catherine Cadière and Jean-Baptiste Girard, who were involved in a highly-publicized trial for the illicit relationship between priest and student in 1730.
Thérèse is placed in a convent, where she becomes sick because her pleasure principle is not allowed to express itself, putting her body into disorder. She is rescued by Mme. C and Abbe T. and she spies on them discussing libertine political and religious philosophy in between sexual encounters.
Thérèse's sexual education continues with her relationship with Mme. Bois-Laurier, an experienced prostitute. This is a variation on the whore dialogues common in early pornographic novels.
Finally, Thérèse meets the unnamed Count who wants her for his mistress. She refuses him intercourse, out of her fear of death in childbirth (not unreasonable at the time.) He makes a bet with her. If she can last two weeks in a room full of erotic books and paintings without masturbating, he will not demand intercourse with her. Thérèse loses and becomes the Count's permanent mistress.
Engraving by Antoine Borel for Thérèse Philosophe.
Thérèse Philosophe also appeared in English translation.
- Darnton, Robert. The Forbidden Best-sellers of Pre-revolutionary France W. W. Norton & Company, 1996 ISBN 0393314421
- Brumfield, William C. "Thérèse philosophe and Dostoevsky's Great Sinner," Comparative Literature, vol. 32 (summer 1980) 3:238-52.
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