Today, I created my first book entry on Goodreads. Eléonor d’Yvrée (1687) by Catherine Bernard was a highly-acclaimed novel in the seventeenth century, but I seem to be the only person on Goodreads who has read it.
Catherine Bernard wrote during the latter half of the century and was clearly influenced by Madame de La Fayette. But unlike La Fayette, Bernard was also a playwright. She was related to and trained by big names in the literary world, most notably Bernard de Fontenelle, who tried to take credit for Eléonor d’Yvrée. History likes to forget and downplay female accomplishments.
In Eléonor d’Yvrée, our eponymous heroine is raised by the countess of Tuscanelle because her father was defeated in a war against the English king. In shame, the marquis d’Yvrée abandoned his children and retired to a monastery. We only encounter the marquis once in the novel. From the monastery, he orders Eléonor to accept her brother’s caretaker’s marriage proposal!
Unfortunately, Eléonor is in love with the count of Misnie. The count’s mother goes to great lengths to prevent her son from marrying Eléonor because she thinks that Eléonor is beneath her son in status. The plot thickens when Mathilde, the countess of Tuscanelle’s daughter, realizes that she’s also in love with the count of Misnie. So, Eléonor and Mathilde are both in love with the same person, but only Mathilde is allowed to marry the count. The duchess of Misnie convinces the countess of Tuscanelle that Mathilde and the count of Misnie would make a great pair, and Eléonor remains hopelessly betrothed to the count of Rethelois (her brother’s guardian).
Mathilde tries to take charge of her destiny. She tells the count of Misnie that Eléonor has been unfaithful; she has willingly chosen someone else over him. Mathilde knows that she has lied about her friend, but she wants to destroy the passion between Eléonor and the count.
Eléonor, on the other hand, feels that it is her duty to marry the count of Rethelois. She has no choice but to obey her father’s wishes. When Mathilde admits to her selfishness, Eléonor encourages Mathilde to marry the count of Misnie. Indeed, she gives Mathilde to the count. The count, however, doesn’t love Mathilde back. He is devoted to Eléonor.
Eléonor may not be able to escape her duties, but Eléonor tries to be a master of her destiny. When she encourages her rival to marry her lover, she acts against her inclinations. She actively consents to a marriage that will make her miserable, but this act is one of freedom.
Mathilde also tries to be a master of her destiny, but in a different way. She lies to the count of Misnie about Eléonor’s character. For a moment, it seems like Mathilde will win. She is, after all, betrothed to the count. But the love isn’t mutual. There is no victory in marrying a person who doesn’t love you back. Eléonor is the strongest of the pair because she puts her friend’s interests above her own. Mathilde, on the other hand, tries to lie and cheat her way to love.
Eléonor begs the count of Misnie to stop seeing her. She no longer wants to be in contact with the count. The count attends Eléonor’s wedding, but Eléonor refuses to acknowledge his presence. The count of Misnie blames Mathilde for everything. “Are you pleased? Eléonor has married the count of Rethelois, you are now avenged.”
Mathilde catches a fever and dies during the night.