La Chaussée, Pierre-Claude Nivelle de

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La Chaussée, Pierre-Claude Nivelle de (1692-1754): French, Playwright.

Pierre-Claude Nivelle de la Chaussée came from a traditional Parisian bourgeois family and was educated by Jesuits. Though he came to literature somewhat late in life, he quickly gained notoriety as an ardent defender of French language and poetry. He is widely credited as the creator of the comédie larmoyante or “tearful comedy,” a style of theater that takes elements from both traditional comedy and tragedy, and sets them in a middle class drama.

La Chaussée began his adult life in the financial world. In his twenties, he expanded on his family’s wealth in the John Law System speculation, but lost much of his money upon its collapse. Still, he had sufficient means to continue a comfortable lifestyle, and over the next decade he made inroads into French literary circles. In 1731, La Chaussée gained fame with the publication of Épître de Clio à M. de B., a poem in which he defends French language and poetics against the contamination of neologisms that La Motte had supported.

Ironically, despite his defense of traditional French forms, the successful opening of La Fausse Antipathie in 1733 cleared the way for the tearful comedy, a popular new theatrical phenomenon for and about the middle classes. His 1735 production of Le Préjugé à la mode led to his successful nomination to the French Academy, into which he was inducted in 1736. La Chaussée died in 1754 at his country home near Paris after an active career in the Academy.

Further reading:

Gustave Lanson, Nivelle de la Chaussée et la comédie larmoyante, 1903, 1970.

Steven Daniell

Auburn University