Keywords: French literature, anecdote, “secret history,” A. Varillas, F.-P. Dalairac, E. Pufendorf, M.-A. Gomez, L. de Mailly.
For citation:

Golubkov A.V. Paving the Road to the Historical Novel: “Les Histoires Secrètes” in France at the Turn of the 17th and 18th Centuries. Studia Litterarum, 2020, vol. 5, no 4, pp. 88–101. (In French)

Author: A.V. Golubkov
Information about the author:

Andrey V. Golubkov, DSc in Philology, Senior Researcher, A.M. Gorky Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Povarskaya 25 a, 121069 Moscow, Russia; Professor, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Myasnitskaya St. 20, 101000 Moscow, Russia.


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Received: May 25, 2020
Published: December 25, 2020
Issue: 2020 Vol. 5, №4
Department: World Literature
Pages: 88-101

UDK: 821.133.1.0
BBK: 83.3(4Фра)51


This article examines the genre of “secret history” which gained widespread currency in France after the publication of the book Anecdotes of Florence: or, A Secret History of the House of Medici (1685) by Antoine de Varillas. The preface to the book gives an overview of the theory of the genre that welcomes representation of hidden, sometimes “dishonorable” or “insignificant” premises of important events, usually ignored by official historiographers who tend to focus on the façade of their protagonist’s life. Authors of such “secret” stories are advised to use gossips obtained from the “royal” circles and find their way into the studies and bedrooms hidden from the eyes of the others. The article shows the impact that elements of Varillas’s poetic style (ethnographic flair, the topoi of bedroom and “cabinet,” focus on the human body etc.) had on the texts of “secret” memoirs and notes by François-Paulin Dalairac, Esaias von Pufendorf, Madeleine-Angélique de Gomez, and others. A more detailed interpretation demonstrates how historical narrative degraded into fictional prose and in many respects anticipated — together with other sources analyzed in the article — a formula of the historical novel a la Walter Scott.


1 Dalairac -P. Les Anecdotes de Pologne ou Memoires secrets du regne de Jean Sobeski III du nom. 2 vol. Amsterdam, Henry Desbordes, 1700. (In French)

2 Dubois N. Histoire secrette des femmes galantes de l’antiquité. 6 vol. Paris, E. Ganeau, 1726–1731. (In French)

3 Gomez -A. Anecdote ou Histoire secrète de la Maison Ottomane. 2 vol. Amsterdam, La Compagnie, 1722. (In French)

4 Histoire secrète du connestable de Bourbon. Lyon, Bachelu, 1696. 328 p. (In French)

5 Lavaur de. Histoire secrète de Néron. 2 vol. Paris, E. Ganeau, 1726. (In French)

6 Mailly de. Rome Galante ou histoire secrète sous les règnes de Jules Cesar et d’Auguste. 2 vol. Paris, Jean Guignard, 1695. (In French)

7 Mailly de. Anecdote, ou Histoire secrète des vestales. Paris, Guillaume Cavelier, 1700. 234-[5] p. (In French)

8 May G. L’histoire a-t-elle engendré le roman? Aspects français de la question au seuil des Lumières. In: Revue d’histoire littéraire de la France, 1955, T. 55, pp. 155–176. (In French)

9 Pufendorf Les anecdotes de Suède ou histoire secrète des changements arrivés dans ce Royaume, sous le Règne de Charles XI. La Haye, Charles Charpentier, 1716.[6]-231 p. (In French)

10 Sué Vies des Douze Césars. vol. 3. Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1957. 142 p. (In French)

11 Varillas Les anecdotes de Florence ou L’histoire secrète de la Maison de Médicis. Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2004. 304 p. (In French)