The Princesse de Cleves

Imitation and Desire: René Girard’s Mimetic Desire in Madame De Lafayette’s The Princess de Cleves College

In “Triangular Desire,” René Girard uses his theory of mimetic desire to describe the nature of the self through the desires of individuals and the motives through which these desires manifest themselves. Girard asserts that desires are rooted not in genuine interest, but instead result from the imitation of others. His theory, however, does not operate solely within a theoretical framework, but applies to relationships throughout history. Written almost 250 years prior, the characters in Madame de Lafayette’s The Princess de Cleves illustrate Girard’s theory of mimetic desire—specifically, the relationship between the Princess and M. de Nemours, wherein he begins to desire the married Princess, and the mother whose desire for social status stems directly from her mediation by the French Court. Additionally, within these dynamics, the Princess not only becomes the object of another’s desire, but also a pawn that others manipulate for their own ends. Thus, the theory of mimetic desire clarifies the motives that drive M. de Nemours and the mother.

Girard’s theory of mimetic desire, when applied to the relationships in The Princess de Cleves, represents the ideas of triangular desire and of internal and external mediation. Girard’...

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