Book Review

Review: The Princess of Clèves by Catel and Claire Bouilhac

This is a lovely graphic novel adaptation of La Princesse de Cleves, written in the 1600s by Madame de la Fayette. It is a convoluted story of the intrigues of the French court, and of a young woman who must decide whether to a be a virtuous wife, or an impassioned lover.

The Princess of Cleves

Title: The Princess of Cleves
Author: Madame de la Fayette, script by Claire Bouilhac and illustrated by Catel
Pages: 216
Publisher: Europe Comics
Publication Date: 18th September 2019

I’m really glad that I was able to download a copy of this graphic novel from NetGalley, as I really enjoyed the story, but probably would have found the original novel a little dense or difficult to understand.

Saying that, though, I don’t know if this story really lends itself to a graphic novel format. I enjoyed the costumes, hairstyles and the illustrator was certainly good at showing clearly different faces and characters, but it felt more like an abridged version of the story, rather than a graphic novel.

I did enjoy the story – a young woman, new to the court of France, is remarkable for her incredible beauty. She quickly marries a man who is in love with her, but she feels very little except regard and duty towards him – she has never experienced love before and doesn’t know how forceful and intense it can be, until she meets the Prince of Nemours, to whom she feels an instant attraction. In order to maintain her virtue, she makes every effort to avoid him, withdrawing from society, but appears to be relentlessly pursued. She finally admits to her husband the attraction that she feels for another man but with promises that she would never act on it, only for her husband to be consumed by fear and jealousy, watching her every move.

Written about a clearly restricted time, where women were beautiful objects, the Princess of Cleves has elements of Greek tragedy, where the female protagonist silently fights for autonomy. At one point, she makes an excellent speech about how she cannot risk her own moral virtue by marrying the Prince de Nemours, even though there is nothing left to stop her, and suggesting that it was the chase that made her so attractive to him.

It is clever, and it is psychological – the loss of control, the sense of being chased. All of which I enjoyed, as I did the illustrations of costumes and cities.

4 stars.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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