So before I reveal the comparison, let’s review Tartuffe.
Basically, in the shortest way that I can explain, Tartuffe is a “holy” beggar that was taken in by a wealthy man named Orgon. Tartuffe then lives with Orgon, his wife Elmire, his daughter Mariane, and his son Damis. Elmire’s brother Cleante, a vocal maid named Dorine, and Orgon’s mother Madame Pernelle also reside in the mansion. Orgon and Madame Pernelle worship the very ground Tartuffe walks on, and claim that he is the ideal holy man. Everyone else in the house doesn’t see him that way. So, when Orgon decides to bring Tartuffe into the family by marrying him to his daughter Mariane, everyone loses their shit.
They decide to set up Tartuffe, by allowing him to be alone with Elmire (while Orgon is hidden). Tartuffe tries to seduce Elmire, and his true character is revealed. Orgon decides to kick Tartuffe out, BUT dumb Orgon had already passed the estate onto Tartuffe.
Suddenly, when things aren’t looking too good, Tartuffe is arrested on the account of being a well-known criminal. Everyone lives happily ever after.
While I was sitting here trying to think of who Tartuffe reminded me of, it hit me.
Tartuffe is really the French 17th century version of Jane Austen’s John Willoughby.
[This is John Willoughby played by Greg Wise in 1995, my preferred version]
John Willoughby is a character from Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility, published in 1811.
Now, let me explain Sense and Sensibility.
The Dashwood sisters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margret, along with their mother, are forced to move out from their luxurious home after the death of Mr. Dashwood.
[From left to right: Mrs. Dashwood, Marianne, Margret, and Elinor]
Marianne is very passionate, and believes that love conquers all. One day she decides to go out into a field on a rainy day with Margret, when she slips and sprains her ankle.
And of course, a young handsome man comes to save her.
And his name is John Willoughby.
The two end up falling madly in love. He believes in the same things Marianne does, and he is nearly as passionate as her. The whole family is practically in love with him as well. Every time Willoughby is around, they squabble over his attention.
Since Willoughby and Marianne are very passionate about each other, they do things that weren’t normal back then for unmarried couples, such as sneaking off unaccompanied, or holding hands, or anything similar. Although her family is fine with this, because they all love Willoughby.
As the weeks pass, Willoughby becomes more distant with Marianne, until finally telling her that his aunt requires him to move to London forever.
Marianne is heart broken, and so is her family.
In short, Marianne ends up also travelling to London.
She runs into Willoughby at a party, and it is revealed that he’s marrying a VERY wealthy women.
Later on in the story, it is revealed that Willoughby had in fact had a child with another women, and had squandered his money. The only inheritance he’d have was what his aunt would give him when she died.
Willoughby’s true intentions were wealth, not love.
It is in this way that Willoughby is very similar to Tartuffe.
Both men weaseled their way into a family, and both were loved and admired.
Tartuffe’s act was the “ideal man” in Orgon’s eyes, just like Willoughby’s act was to Marianne.
Both Tartuffe and Willoughby were after money, and estate. They both lied, or simply did not reveal their origins, in order to create their image in the way they wanted it viewed.
There’s Tartuffe’s and Willoughby’s every where in our lives.
I think the lesson that both stories tell is to not always believe what you see, or even what you feel. There are deceptions everywhere.
Moliere. Tartuffe. Edited by John Berseth, Dover Publications, 2000.
“Sense and Sensibility. 1995.”