The libertine novel

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This chapter offers a definition of the libertine novel as the erotic fiction of the Age the Enlightenment. Not only do libertine novels embody the intellectual audacity of the period through their transgressive and free-thinking characters; they also join efforts by scientists and philosophes to unveil the secret workings of the human machine whilst imagining a society fit for it. This chapter contends that this erotic and enlightened fiction represents a crucial element in the history of both literature and ideas, since it epitomises the moment when the Western world first stepped into modernity, challenging old ideals and idols, and redefining pleasure as any individual’s inalienable and natural right.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of the Novel in French
EditorsAdam Watt
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages220 - 236
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781108683920
ISBN (Print)9781108497077
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • Libertinage
  • Enlightenment
  • History of sexuality
  • Erotic literature
  • Pornography
  • Materialism
  • Empiricism
  • Laclos
  • Sade
  • Crebillon


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