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preciosity French preciosite, literally, preciousness

Fastidious or excessive refinement (as in language); specifically, the affected purism characteristic of the style of thought and expression that was prevalent in the 17th-century French salons. Initially a reaction against the coarse behavior and speech of the aristocracy, this spirit of refinement and bon ton was first instituted by the Marquise de Rambouillet in her salon and gradually extended into literature. The wit and elegance of the honnete homme ("cultivated man") became a social ideal, which was expressed in the vivid, polished style of Vincent Voiture's poems and letters and in the eloquent prose works of Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac. The ideal revived the medieval tradition of courtly love, as expressed in the novels of Honore d'Urfe. The success of his L'Astree (1607-27; Astrea), a vast pastoral set in the 5th century, was attributable as much to its charming analysis of the phases of love and the corresponding adventures and complications as to its portraits of members of contemporary society.

While the conceits and circumlocutions of the precieux, or "precious," writers were greatly admired by many, others--such as Moliere in his comedy Les Precieuses ridicules (1659; The Affected Young Ladies)--mocked them for their pedantry and affectation. Preciosity in France was eventually carried to excess and led to exaggeration and affectation (particularly as reflected in burlesque writers), as it did in other countries--seen, for example, in such movements as gongorismo in Spain, Marinism in Italy, and euphuism in England.

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Publication:Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature
Date:Jan 1, 1995
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