Starting from the premise that the study of quarrels—and especially those involving women—has much to gain by considering conflicts that do not involve an appeal to a public, this essay focuses on the case of Madeleine de Souvré, marquise de Sablé (1599–1678), who articulated a theory of conflict in her “Maximes” and was involved with several high-profile controversies through her friendships with François de La Rochefoucauld and the nuns of Port-Royal de Paris. In her theory and practice of conflict, Sablé develops an art of ambiguity that strives for both individual agency and interpersonal harmony. Throughout her maxims, she lays out explicit strategies for managing conflicts but is caught between an emphasis on gaining an advantage over one’s adversaries and, at the other extreme, finding a middle ground with them. But conflicts from her life suggest a different art of ambiguity: through her involvement with the first readers of La Rochefoucauld’s Maximes and her relations with the nuns of Port-Royal, Sablé aims to preserve her own viewpoint and her friendships at the same time. These ambiguities lead to the hypothesis that she faced gendered limits that pushed her to search for ways of making her opinions more palatable and, ultimately, of allowing them to coexist with diverging opinions.

You do not currently have access to this content.