Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures School of Languages and Cultures

Falsehood Disguised:
Unmasking the Truth in La Rochefoucauld

Richard Hodgson

Like many of his contemporaries, François de La Rochefoucauld was passionately interested in the nature of truth and in the powerful internal and external forces that prevent human beings from finding truth in the complex and deceptive world of human interaction. In his Maximes and in his Réflexions diverses, La Rochefoucauld addresses this fundamental problem by trying to uncover the hidden motives and cleverly concealed falsehoods that enable human beings to disguise the truth both from others and from themselves.

Falsehood Disguised analyzes La Rochefoucauld’s ideas on truth and falsehood in the context of his views on self-love, on the passions, and on vice and virtue. It also explores his views on the subject in relation to what he sees as the extremely fragile foundations of the social contract. It examines these thorny ethical problems first in the context of the Baroque culture that directly influenced his thought and then in the light of the work of other moralists, including Gracián, Daniel Dyke, Descartes, and the Jansenists Blaise Pascal and Pierre Nicole.

Through close textual analysis of La Rochefoucauld’s writings, Richard Hodgson studies the moralist’s use of metaphors such as the mask as well as his very personal concept of what constitutes an être vrai, or genuine person. The study then traces the impact of La Rochefoucauld’s ideas on thinkers from Vauvenargues and Chamfort to Nietzsche, Lautréamont, and Lacan. It concludes by suggesting reasons why La Rochefoucauld’s concept of truth continues to have such enormous appeal to the modem reader.

While most recent studies view La Rochefoucauld’s work as representative of French classicism, Hodgson looks at it from the context of Baroque aesthetics and sensibility. He examines the extent to which the theme of falsehood, in its many disguises, pervades the writings of La Rochefoucauld, particularly the Maximes and the Réflexions diverses. Hodgson asserts that this theme provides the key to understand La Rochefoucauld’s concept of truth as it relates to almost every moral problem the moralist discusses, from self-love to the theory of honnêteté.

"In eight cogently written chapters, Hodgson argues that the relationship between truth and falsehood is central in La Rochefoucauld and shows why the moralist believes it is so difficult to penetrate beyond surfaces to uncover the truth.... an engaging study." Michael S. Koppisch, French Forum

For the complete review, see French Forum 21.2 (May 1996): 249-50.

"...[The study provides] a useful new perspective on a moralist who vaunts the power of perspective while dwelling on its instabilities....... breaks new ground and merits scrutiny.... Hodgson's thoughtful study is, then, a welcome addition to La Rochefoucauld studies. It should prove useful as an introduction for undergraduate students, especially those without knowledge of French or German, since all quotations in those languages are translated.... One of the most laudable aspects of Hodgson's book may therefore be to encourage the general reader to delve into the more specialized studies listed in his study's excellent bibliography." Susan Read Baker, Papers on French Seventeenth-Century Literature

For the complete review, see Papers on French Seventeenth-Century Literature 24.47 (1997): 593-94.

"Richard Hodgson gives us a clear and serious reading of La Rouchefoucauld's Maximes and Réflexions diverses focused on the notion of truth.... I found the discussion on the Baroque very relevant and significant, because Hodgson's main concern deals with such notions as illusion, appearance, concealment, and inconstance. I believe this chapter to be one of the most successful in the book." Laurent Dechery, Romance Quarterly

For the complete review see Romance Quarterly 47.1 (Winter 2000): 57.

"...la dimension baroque du moraliste se manifeste dans le fait qu'il se montre preoccupé par le conflit entre les apparences et la réalité, l'inconstance, le mensonge, la métamorphose et la mort.... c'est avec beaucoup d'adresse que Hodgson démontre que ce qui distingue La Rochefoucauld, c'est surtout la profondeur de son analyse des secrets du labryinthe du coeur humain, secrets que, paradoxalement, l'être humain comprend tout en se les cachant.... Hodgson réussit admirablement à présenter sa façon d'envisager l'amour-propre, les vices, et les vertus.... Richard Hodgson nous révèle La Rochefoucauld comme un meneur de jeu, toujours actuel, qui nous guide à travers ce que Hodgson très justement appelle le bal masqué de la vie. En conclusion, on ne saurait trop recommender la lecture de cet ouvrage fort stimulant qui remet d'actualité la pensée morale de François de La Rochefoucauld." Catherine Grisé, University of Toronto Quarterly

For complete review, see University of Toronto Quarterly 66 (Winter1996-97): 73-74.

"Before Hodgson, ... no one has single-mindedly investigated the issue [of the co-existence of lucidity and blindness] in La Rochefoucauld's Maximes. Thus this book reflects an important step and commands close examination." David Lee Rubin, University of Virginia

"This is a thoughful study of La Rochefoucauld's Maximes, which is generally considered to be among the most ambiguous French literary works ever written. … Hodgson has not only developed his own analysis of moral ambiguity in the Maximes but he has also made an important contribution to the study of the critical reception of La Rochefoucault by explaining very thoughtfuly how the Maximes were interepreted by such diverse readers as Nietzsche, Barthes, and Lacan." —Edmund J . Campion, French Review

For the complete review, see French Review 71.5 (Apr. 1998): 840.

Other reviews:
Year's Work in Modern Language Studies 58 (1996): 137
French Studies 51.1 (Jan. 1997): 70-71. (by Derek A. Watts).
The New Criterion, June 1996, 15-24 ("La Rochefoucauld: Maximum Maximist," by Joseph Epstein).
Revue d'Histoire Littéraire de la France 96.6 (Nov.-Dec. 1996): 1187-88 (by Marc Escola).
Romance Quarterly 47.1 (Winter 2000): 57 (by Laurent Déchery).
Studi Francese 40.2 (May-Aug. 1996): 400. (by Corrado Rosso).
Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literatur 108.3 (1998): 284-87. (by Oskar Roth).
Zeitschrift für französische Sprache und Literatur 108.3 (1998): 287. (by Werner Helmich).
Choice Dec. 1994, #33-2039

Richard G. Hodgson, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, has published studies on seventeenth-century French literature and contemporary Quebec fiction.

ISBN: 978-1-55753-218-4
1995. PSRL 7. xiv, 176 pp. 2 ill. Paper $32.95 


Information last updated September 20, 2013

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book cover and portrait of La Rochefoucauld
Portrait of La Rochefoucauld from the Album accompanying the Grands Ecrivains de la France edition of his complete works (Paris: Hachette, 1883).

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