Libertine clairs-obscurs: the enticement of the shadows

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This article draws an analogy between the early modern definitions of clair-obscur and eighteenth-century French libertine literature. In libertine prose the concept of clair-obscur is used not only to describe voluptuous settings: it also helps authors define libertine writing as always fully conscious of the balance it must reach, for the sake of erotic and aesthetic gratification, between being too clear and therefore crude and being too obscure and therefore unintelligible. However, whereas tradition had conceived shadows as peripheral within representation, libertines conceptualise darkness as an endless source of imaginative liberty and fantasies, making shadows crucial to their pleasure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-515
Number of pages17
JournalJournal for Eighteenth-Century Studies
Issue number4
Early online date6 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • Libertinism/libertinage
  • Erotic literature
  • Night
  • Clair-obscur
  • Narrative desire
  • Seduction
  • Barthes
  • Crebillon


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