Posts Tagged ‘france’

Samuel Johnson reading (Joshua Reynolds)

A Syllabus

Where a great proportion of the people are suffered to languish in helpless misery, that country must be ill policed, and wretchedly governed: a decent provision for the poor, is the true test of civilization. — Samuel Johnson

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George University
Day: Six Wednesdays
June 26 to July 31
4215 Roberts Road, Tallwood, Fairfax, Va.
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course

The Enlightenment: At Risk

It’s been suggested the ideas associated with the European Enlightenment, a belief in people’s ability to act rationally, ideals of social justice, human rights, toleration, education for all, in scientific method, are more at risk than any time since the 1930s. In this course we’ll ask what was & is meant by the term, how & why did this movement spread, against what obstacles, what were the realities of the era and what were the new genres & forms of art that emerged. Our focus will be on select works by three major figures: Voltaire’s Letters on England, Diderot’s The Nun, Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands. We will also see Peter Watkins’s docudrama, Culloden (1965). It is asked that before class starts, people obtain and read Dorinda Outram’s The Enlightenment: New Approaches to European History.

Required Texts (in the order we’ll read them):

Voltaire, Letters on England, trans. Leonard Tancock. 1980; rpt. NY: Penguin, 2005.
Diderot, Denis. The Nun, trans., introd. Russell Goulbourne. 2005: rpt. NY: Oxford, 2008.
Johnson, Samuel. A Journey to the Western Islands in Scotland, together with Boswell’s The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, ed., introd. notes, Peter Levi. NY: Penguin, 1984.
(Alternative: Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, Journey to the Hebrides, ed., introd. Ian McGowan. 1996; rpt: Edinburgh: Canongate, 2001. ISBN 978-0-86241-4

Jean Huber, Voltaire Planting Trees, 1775 (click to enlarge).

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion. Read for the first day on-line Kant’s “What is Enlightenment?”  http://www.columbia.edu/acis/ets/CCREAD/etscc/kant.html

June 26: What do we mean by this term? Voltaire: life & career. Values embodied: list of good and bad buzz words.  The 4 Revolutions. For next week read Letters on England.

July 3: Voltaire, Letters on England. Diderot: life, career, Encyclopedie, On Slavery, Art Criticism. Read for next time, “Eloge de Richardson” (“In Praise of Richardson”) online at Diderot site and Eloge de Richardson

July 9: Diderot’s The Nun. Introducing Scotland, Jacobites & Jacobins

July 17: Peter Watkins’s Culloden

July 24: London & Edinburgh: Johnson and English enlightenment (biographer, edition of Shakespeare, essays). Begin Journey to Western Islands in Scotland.

July 31: Finish Johnson; brief lecture on Madame Roland, Mary Wollstonecraft and the struggles of 1790s in France.

Johnson and Boswell’s route through Scotland (click to enlarge)

Bibliography: Supplementary reading:

Brewer, John. Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century. University of Chicago, 1897.
Buchan, James. Crowded with Genius: The Scottish Enlightenment: Edinburgh’s Moment of the Mind. London: Harper Collins 2003.
Cobb, Richard & Colin Jones, ed. Voices of the French Revolution. NY: HarperCollins, 1998.
Curran, Andrew. Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely. NY: Other Press, 2009.
Davidson, Ian. Voltaire in Exile. NY: Grove, 2004.
Diderot, Denis. Selected Writings on Art and French Literature, ed, trans. introd. Geoffrey Bremner. Penguin, 1994.
————–. Letters to Sophie Volland, a selection translated by Peter France. London: Oxford, 1972.
Greene, Donald. Samuel Johnson. Boston: Twayne, 1989
McLynn, Frank. The Jacobites. Law Book Co of Australasia, 1985.
Mitford, Nancy. Voltaire in Love, introd. Adam Gopnik. NY: New York Review of Books, 2012. A classic.
Outram, Dorinda. The Enlightenment. 3rd edition. London: Cambridge, 2013
Prebble, John. Culloden, The Highland Clearances. Both Plimico, new edition 2002.
Roland, Marie-Jeanne. Memoirs of Madame Roland, trans, ed. Evelyn Shuckburgh Paris: Mercure de France, 1990.
Trouille, Mary. Sexual Politics in the Enlightenment: Women Read Rousseau. State University Press of NY, 1997.
Wain, John. Samuel Johnson. NY: VIking Press, 1974.
Williams, Helen Maria. Letters Written in France, ed. Neil Fristat & Susan Lanser. Ontario: Broadview, 2001.
Yalom, Marilyn. Blood Sisters: The French Revolution in Women’s Memory. NY: Basic Books, 1994.


Madame Roland (probably drawn while she was in prison)


Culloden. Dir, Peter Watkins. Fictional documentary. Featuring: Tony Cosgrove, Olivier Espitalier-Noel, Don Fairservice. BBC, 1968.
La Nuit de Varennes. Dir. Ettore Scuola. Script. Sergeo Armidei. Featuring: Jean-Louis Barrault, Marcello Mastroianni, Hanna Schygulla, Harvey Keitel. Opera Film, 1982
The Nun. Dir., Script. Guillaume Nicoloux. Featuring: Pauline Etienne, Isabelle Huppert, Martha Gedeck, François Négret. Les films de Worso, 2013.

The whole of Culloden online:

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Philip Glenister as Wm Stafford curtly asking Mary Boleyn to be his wife (The Other Boleyn Girl, 2003)

Jim Sturgess as George Boleyn, in the tower, awaiting beheading (The Other Boleyn Girl 2008)

Dear friends and readers,

This week I’ve been listening to Simon Vance read Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies so effectively that I returned to re-watching the 2008 Other Boleyn Girl film and part of the 2015 mini-series Wolf Hall. And now after several Tudor films this year I’d not watched before, and a number of non-fiction as well as fiction books on the actors and/or milieus of this area, how the Renaissance era is seen from contemporary documents. I’ve also come up with with an fresh idea that might help explain the popularity of this era. For why after all should the murderous and sexually insecure impulses of a half-mad King Henry VIII deserve a moment’s attention.

It’s this: the appeal of this Tudor Matter comes from its unacknowledged freedom to present masculinity in ways that undermine norms for men either in costume, manners or sexual behavior since the later 19th century, and tell real truths about fluid sexual desire and what worldly ambition may necessitate. hese “Elizabethan” or “Renaissance dream-themes,” screenplays and films expose men caught up in situations where their masculine pride is directly hit. They kneel to strong women, and their swords are rendered irrelevant when it comes to the power of money, religion and the king. The origin of this is in the period: men were flamboyantly dressed, the poetry and plays of the era demonstrate how they defied sexual taboos by enacting enthrallment, abjection, and sensitivity; when aristocrats or courtiers or businessmen (lending money) or soldiers, they were at direct risk from monarchs with the power to execute them with impunity. There were a number of women who came to power and used it effectively: Catherine de Medici in France, Elizabeth I in England are only among the most famous and powerful; there are many minor levels of power and victimage. Historical fiction and gothics picked up on this strain beginning with later 18th century gothics (Sophia Lee’s The Recess, 1783) and Walter Scott (Kenilworth and The Abbot among many others), and have not let up since; films took this over in both the US and UK from The Prisoner of Zenda on, and especially in the Errol Flynn and Gainsborough movies. Stewart Grainger is with us still in Ross Poldark.

Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (2001) has been credited with putting new characters into the familiar mapped territory: George and Mary Boleyn. In Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel has for a wider public transformed the character of Thomas Cromwell (it began in the scholarship of Geoffrey Elton and Marilyn Robertson, 1970s-89) from the monster of Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons into another kind of empathetic hero-monster, a fixer and businessman and intellectual coerced into cooperation, co-opted like many today feel they are. for myself I bond intensely with Mary Boleyn, and have ever wanted to read more about the so-called “minor” women of the court, from the French Jeanne d’Albret (mother of Henry IV who said Paris was worth a mass) to Katherine Parr. It’s the first age where we find numbers of women educated and writing letters and poetry and drama.

Beyond this I am just fascinated by bringing Elizabethan-set movies together, and looking to see what is their dramaturgy; what new did this movie contribute to the Tudor Matter, what new techniques did it use. I want to watch the older Elizabethan movies and trace the changes in movies about Elizabeth I, Mary Stuart, from Scott. I get the impression the 18th century was more stuck in frozen gender types than the age before or ours since. I find myself looking at the paintings of the Renaissance era to see where ideas and images came from for each decade of the 20th and 21st.

Ana Torrent as Katharine of Aragon (Other Boleyn Girl, 2008)

The 2003 film is peculiarly fascinating for the way it also defies dramaturgical norms: Andrew Davies is credited as adviser and this script has the characters speak directly to us; the focus of the story is inward shattering of participants. Who are these: Anne and Mary Boleyn, with George around the edges of their talk .The 2008 film was a commercially successful costume extravaganza, whose historical adviser was Gregory herself, whose characters in this film strongly feminist film: beyond the Boleyn Girls, the remarkable Ana Torrent for Katherine of Aragon, Kristin Scott Thomas for Elizabeth Boleyn, the mother of the two beheaded children. The agonies of childbirth are presented repeatedly. I found these two women writhing under their lack of power yet so strong. The makers of Wolf Hall have had the daring to give us a new Elizabethan revenge play, with Anne Boleyn as a cool and transgressive stealth tragic heroine, and Cromwell a driven Hamlet.

Clare Foy as Anne Boleyn, aggressively keen archer, POV Cromwell (2015 Wolf Hall)


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A masquerade: The Ball of the Yew Trees

Friends and readers,

Herewith my third report on the past ASECS conference at Williamsburg. The morning after the masquerade ball, I was up by 7:30 am as I knew two sessions included papers I did not want to miss. Without intending it, I spent a morning listening to papers about the unjust treatment meted out to women by law and custom — if we include the actual content of Burney D’Arblay’s The Wanderer, a session alive with the excitement of the individuals with their text. After lunch I met the editors of the coming complete edition of Anne Finch and heard some of her poetry sung aloud — not for the first time; I had myself participated in writing a script of her songs for a musica dolce group using later 17th and early 18th century musical instruments in the 1990s. And there was a walk along Colonial Williamsburg where people read aloud from documents either read aloud at the time of the revolution or delivered and read silently as momentous and (for the participants) dangerous events went on.

Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea

“Paper Cuts: Criminality, Violence and 18th century Judicial Reform” turned out to have three papers whose focus was violence and economic injustice inflicted on women as permitted by laws and customs. Peter Mello’s “Searching the Garrett: Jane Barker, John Stanhope, and Religious Law after the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion:” in going through archives from 1714/15 Prof. Mello discovered on 20 July a marquis received a letter from Stanhope: the pretender’s forces were aroused, and he outlined measures to take against recusants. The inhabitants of Lincolnshire for the previous 60 years had seen action taken against local matters: prostitution, theft, having a babies born outside marriage. Now state matters like demanding people take oaths against the pope began to be enforced. Inaction had been the rule on anti-papal laws; in 1715 the Papist Act forced registration of papists. Overt acts of persecution ensued. So just before the rebellion began parliament had begun practices which anticipate modern methods of control. Jane Barker was Catholic and feared inclusion; her property could be hurt; to have a stable and horses taken from you was a substantial loss. She went silent for about 8 years. From a hopeful Jacobite waiting for the return of her king Barker became a writer about the anxiety and results of living as a Catholic in England. These stories were held together as a patchwork quilt. Her heroine, Belinda, was at risk, as she tried to “pass”. Marriage in this collection is used as an analogy of political behavior: those who don’t marry are at risk of prosecution or imprisonment; when she marries, she ends up in disaster and calamity.

Helen Allingham, Fruit Stall, early 20th century Venice

Ana Maria Diaz Burgos’ “Slanderos words and violent deeds: Female victims and perpetrators in 18th century Peru:” from 1543-1821 many cases of misery and violence inflicted on women and women trying to defend themselves under siege and gain some social standing in Lima records. There were 151 cases where emotional and physical violence were imposed on women. In one case of physical violence the female victims were allowed to sue; women themselves uttered violent words to gain attention and protection. Prof. Burgos looked at who were the witnesses and how the events were portrayed, how women explained relationships they had with attackers. She told of a case of attempted rape and homicide where the woman denounced the brutal regime itself: the woman was badly injured; the man thought he had the right to beat her; the law required 6 indigenous witnesses and she had only 4: he said these witnesses were relatives and friends and thus biased; She said he had chosen a day when she was relatively unprotected. In the second case an altercation arose between women who had a history of quarrels; we get a picture of the narrow alleys, small houses, the squares where neighbors hung out; one dangerously accused the other of whoredom and witchcraft and one of them had to pay restitution; one had more witnesses, the other a daughter of under 25. The words are not quoted (as too defamatory). In these records we can hear the voices of lower class women.

After the rape, Clarissa washing herself (1991 Clarissa, scripted David Nokes, Saskia Wickham)

Mary Trouille’s “Evolution in Rape Laws and Attitudes towards sexual assault in the 18th century:” Men have often imposed sex on women through violence; the crime is now more visible than it once was, but one can construct a history of rape in pre-revolutionary France. Women were not considered as actors in their own right; if she came from the lower ranks she was ignored. Age, social status, reputation all played a role in whether a rape could be prosecuted. Forcible rape among the haute bourgeois and aristocracy was taken seriously; seen as a crime against the property of a father or husband; women as property were damaged as this threatened the sure legitimacy of the heirs born to them (modern variant: honor-killing). Punishments could be severe: burning at the stake; you could be drawn and quartered on a wheel, and less gruesome forms of capital punishment. Rather than risk shaming someone or a family the charges would be downgraded. Gradually attitudes shifted so rape seen as a crime against a person who has right to autonomy, and the focus begins to be the rape victim. There was a gap between the reality and heightened attention; the law did not distinguish between kinds of consent; less weight to testimony than medical records; when rape committed on a pre-pubsecent girl it was regarded as a crime and prosecuted more vigorously. People began to require examination of the victim. From 1791 the Napoleonic code demands proof of rape, unequal strength, cries for help, traces of violence on the body. 1803 there is a move backwards; hard to have 4 witnesses.Rape cases accounted for little more than 1% of what was prosecuted. We see a turning point in attitudes towards dissolute aristocrats: the public was apparently distressed to see a horrible crime go unpunished because the perpetrator was a high status male. There is still a popular belief in the untrue idea that in custom a lord had the right to deflower a girl who lived on his property on the first night of her marriage; it was in the 18th century these false beliefs took hold. There was greater determination to prosecute violence.

Prof Trouille then went over some high profile cases of sexual assault involving aristocrats. 1733 a chambermaid attacked by a marquis and his brother who broken into the house; the man was angry when he was ignored by the prosecutor; in the end there were royal pardons and the woman was imprisoned for taking money from her attacker (a bribe to be silent). In a second case of a Duke’s abduction and rape of a Parisian shopkeeper’s daughter, he followed her from church, gave her gifts, went after her mother. It reads like an episode from a Sade novel: he had a rape machine which held her upside down with her legs tied; the behavior of the libertines cold and calculating. The judicial procedure was suspended after the Duke offered money. In another case a count’s wife paid the victim in another case where the man raped his chambermaid in a carriage (perhaps Valmont modeled on this). Sade as emblematic dominates the landscape of these stories: the most notorious case (1768) when on a Sunday a girl was abducted, raped, beaeten, hot liquid poured over her wounds and she fled to and reached magistrates with her story. Sade said she was a prostitute, and she that he had offered her money after she lost her job in a textile factory. The story was elaborated into a myth — Sade supposed to have used a crucifix; it’s still being discussed by Deffand and Walpole. Charges were withdrawn in return for payment of a substantial sum of money, but Sade’s mother-in-law used a lettre de cachet to imprison him; he would be imprisoned for life. Booksellers provided indignant accounts as an illustration of the impunity enjoyed by the high placed male. Sade’s wife helped him escape to Italy; she was among the strangely complicit wives (eventually divorced).

The talk afterward was instructive. A legal historian asked Prof Mello about the non-enforcement of the laws against Catholics before 1715: among other things said: after the Monmouth rebellion there was a reaction against the savagery inflicted on the suspected; and after 1715 we see an attempt to put “the right” people into office. Prof. Burgos said Lima was a port where there was much corruption in the markets. As to rape, someone talked of a recent article in Past and Present where the figure of 80-90% acquittal was claimed; to prove rape you had to prove ejaculation; those who won had help from witnesses; repeatedly there were partial verdicts on lesser charges; the sexism is seen in the way women’s low status made them not believed. We see Richardsonian complexes of feeling; when a brutal male like Charteris was successfully convicted, he was pardoned by the king. Prof Trouille said middle class males were able to get cases dismissed completely because the magistrate was reluctant to prosecute harsh laws. We see minor differences between states but the same patterns emerge. The panel moderator talked of the difficulty of proving spousal abuse; midwives did testify to abusive husbands; bruises then had to be aggravated. It is true that parishes drove women from one parish to another in order to avoid supporting them or their children.

Anonymous print

The experience of the masquerade the night before seemed to seep into the session of Francis Burney’s D’Arblay’s The Wanderer. I was not alone in remembering Cecilia that night. I found myself sitting next to someone who recognized me from the night before but I had not recognized her as the woman who told me about her paper on tuberculosis and women’s beauty.

To the papers: Tara Ghoshal Wallace spoke of how the real history of the era is reflected in The Wanderer, a text conceived during the height of the French revolution. In FBDA’s writing outside this novel she insists that politics remains outside her sphere, yet she writes a recusant narrative, and in her diaries of how she rescued her papers as she was crossing the channel. Prof Wallace talked of “rupture” in the novel as history entering through the margins of the novel; e.g., the text punishes those who travel to France as frivolous tourists who want to find favorite famous spots. Diane Boyd talked of how The Wanderer conveyed paranoia, commenting on key scenes of intense anxiety and discomfort for the heroine. Shen then told of her study mapping the text using computer programs finding clouds of words and diagramming their frequency. The graph for Book I shows violent ambivalence over women working: Juliette had trouble finding a place in the shop, networking. Hired as musician, she is reluctant to perform in public and stays with private families, hoping to pass unobserved and yet she attracts intense attention. The graph shows violent swings over aging, public performance. Juliette is in a double bind: she must pay to learn so go into business; we see how inadequate her learning because she lacks theoretical knowledge; her working conditions sound terrible, she is often anxious about her inability to support herself. FBDA has a source information about a famous French milliner. Juliette flits from place to place: liberty is a source of difficulty. Juliette a kind of female Robinson Crusoe and her novel one which keeps some realities of work for money for women before us.

Francis Burney D’Arblay, The Wanderer; or Female Difficulties (as edited by Margaret Doody)

Elaine Bander’s paper was rather different: she went over the comedy of The Wanderer, expatiating on Sir Jasper. She argued for the influence of Pope’s Rape of the Lock. We see a complex of characters’ relationships evolving over the novel: Jasper’s inconsistency enables him to read Juliette’s character subtly; he is a guardian as the sylphs are guardians over Belinda; he tells her not to take an aversion to him; under her redemptive influence, Jasper helps her. Prof Bander also talked of the ending of the novel in Stonehenge and an Abbey. (Later Diane Boyd said the word cloud for “Harleigh” the hero was huge.)

Lastly Catherine Parisian discovered from the history of sales and descriptions of costs of printing The Wanderer that the book actually did well; the problem was how large it was and the costs of printing it; the book failed to meet the publisher’s high expectations & outlay. She offered fascinating details (who got what sums, how many copies of a book printed, typical length) that enabled her to compare the various earnings for The Wanderer with how a novel by Anna Maria Porter and Alicia Lacey (a novel) did. At the same time Burney D’Arblay wrote her brother that she had never read or chanced to meet with one word on the subject, and she never expected the book to find favor in the world or enjoy “the partiality” its “Elder sisters” had enjoyed. We know that she was energized by her obsessive suspicion the publisher was cheating her (as the publisher for Cecilia had, she felt) and got a good price.” It’s a book that resembles books of the 1790s; Napoleon had just abdicated when it was published so the publisher had over-estimated “how the market would perform” at that juncture.

There was not much time for talk afterward as a group; I did talk and sit with the organizer of the session, Cheryl Clark, who sat with me to listen to the Clifford lecture and then came with me to the luncheon where we sat together and talked of Burney studies some more.

Benjamin Lay (1677-1760).

There are just a few notes from Marcus Redicker’s rousing (almost preacher-like) talk on the remarkable abolitionist, Benjamin Lay. Prof Redicker opened with an anecdote typifying Lay’s behavior, outlook, status (or class): in 1738 he took a look walk to attend an annnual meeting of Quakers, which would include many slave-owners, where he decried slavery and performed a theatrical act which got people’s attention. He was thrown out. Prof Redicker emphasized how Lay used forms of guerilla theater to call attention to his causes, e.g., he kidnapped a couple’s child and arrived at the distraught parents’ cottage, he said to all who were there this is what it is to be a slave who can be sold at any time. Another time he smashed delicate tea cups in a market place to point to the connection between these and the mistreatment of slaves. 1677 Lay was born to Quaker parents in Colchester England, he worked as a shepherd, and active on behalf of the revolutionary people after the Civil War; he was a farm laborer, a seaman until he was 33; in 1717 ex-communicated by the Society of Friends (he would go to services and be disruptive); he and his wife lived in Barbados for 14 years: there he came into direct contact with half-starved, wretched slaves who would steal and he remained haunted by what he saw. He lived a long time in Philadelphia, he died 1759 at the age of 82. In physique he was a dwarf, 4 feet 11 inches high with a large head, and might be called disabled; his wife was a dwarf too and an active abolitionist. Benjamin Franklin published Lay’s vehement uncompromising anti-slavery, All Slavekeepers That Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates. He paid small attention to genre, so this work combines autobiography, tract, bibliography, scathing denunciations of quakerism as really practice, quotations from his commonplace book. The absence of sources (people don’t write down the terrible things they do) never bothered Lay who liked also to point out analogies between slaves’ lives and that of the workers in English mills. Lay opposed the death penalty, refused to eat meat (animals are God’s creation), boycotted sugar. Writers who influenced him included Edward Burrow. He was known widely and in his last years was something of a hermit and lived in a cave with a huge library. During the discussion Prof Brycchan Carey (who has researched into Lay’s life and works and written about him) brought up Lay’s significance for vegetarianism (Lay was far ahead of his time in his understanding of the politics of consumption). He has been a subject hard to research.

It was then time to go to the women’s caucus lunch. I can report the women just rejoiced at the terrific success of the evening before, the amount of money gotten, and made plans for next year: the 40th anniversary of the caucus deserved a party. All the tables were filled and we picked topics for next year, and good conversation was had.


For the afternoon sessions and “re-enactments” and walk in the set of blocks that make up Colonial Williamsburg, see comments.


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To translate seemed to me a beautiful thing to do — Victorine de Chastenay on her beginning Radcliffe’s Udolpho

La Coeur et la raison: title of Goubert’s translation of S&S, so the allusion is to Pascal’s La cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas [The heart has its reasons, that the reason doesn’t know]

Dear friends and readers,

I send along a brief review of Helen McMurran’s significant book. Her argument implies that creative and attentively alive linguistic translations as well as translations that paid close attention to changing the text to something acceptable to the targt culture were at the core of the spread of the novel across Europe.

Next up will be a two part evaluative review of Pierre Goubert’s study of Jane Austen: he finds out the traits of her mind and character as shown in the books and letters, and has himself written one of the powerful accurate translations of her book into French: La Coeur et la Raison, a translation that enables me to approach Austen’s text afresh the way Ang Lee’s great film adaptation (1995), together with Davies’ 2008 imitation also function. Goubert is much closer in spirit to Austen.

Then I’ll return to Austen’s letters, probably beginning with just Letter 95 (Jane from Henrietta Street, to Cassandra, at Godmersham, 3 Nov 1813).

What troubles me about the reviews of this book is most reviewers seem not to have bothered to read carefully enough to present its arguments about translation or simply (as usual) don’t care about translation studies to see its significance. Her views are consonant with David Bellos which a recent review of Virginia Woolf’s collaborative translations from the Greek with S. S. Koteliansky show hardly anyone takes into serious consideration. The writer found her alterations of Koteliansky deeply effective but had to dismiss it as not accurate, so wrote a muddled even puzzled account of the Hogarth project.

McMurran’s book is presented as having dual purpose: it also explains how novels spread and that was probably what attracted reviewers and a publisher as it’s what was mostly discussed by the reviews I read. The images in this blog are of translations of Austen into French from her own era. See Francophone Jane for listing.

This is Isobel de Montolieu’s translation: it contains her preface, a short life, and the whole of her text.

McMurran traces the history of translation in the 18th century. She argues that translation in the 18th century either refused to obey the norms of earlier translations which meant to obey the norms of classical culture as if it were universal; translations were also original (or idiosyncratic, depending on your perspective) in how they obeyed the target language’s literary norms (3). An influential study by Venuti divides translation types into domesticating or foreignizing. She says this division fails to take into account another way of thinking about translation. Before the 18th century the point of translating a text was to transmit it, and often the original and translated texts were used as learning tools.

Foreign language at the time was taught by method like Latin: silent, translating; in school texts we see words placed against one another as equivalents (9). (For my part I think this kind of study still essential in learning a new language.) You were transmitting the Latin and Greek (through Latin); your purpose to render and transmit; you produced what was understood and re-valued in original; you are engaging with, imitating, bringing up to date revered originals. There were classicists who did argue that a given text was not translatable, by which they meant it was necessarily at as good as the original. Such an argument would never be made when it came to Malory’s translations of 5 French romances into his romance epic of Arthurian Tales because the French texts were not respected (often not known). But it was applied in the case of Homer and Virgil especially. Now putting them into vernacular meant you were supposed to convey the essence of the author as you filtered it in your idiom. So Johnson complains that Pope loses the wild savage essence of Homer.

This Archipoche edition gives the complete and unaltered early 19th century translation of Austen’s MP as Les Trois Cousins by Henri Villemain.

In the later 17th century the historical sense was beginning to emerge, just glancingly but it was coming. People became aware that older texts were from another time and culture and the distance between themselves and this earlier time. They begin to update texts. The most infamous examples are the Shakespeare alterations in drama. 18th century scholars continue to see the much revered texts as partly timeless — not wholly as the verse imitations by Pope of Horace and Johnson of Juvenal show. But they never see the texts written in their own time as timeless. When they translate texts in their own time, they are not reviving or renewing. Translaters begin to see themselves as enriching their own readerships of their particular nation and language by translation. Literary translation becomes a transnational exchange; texts are seen as representative of a nation

Think of the difference between Curtius’s European Literature and Latin Middle Ages and Auerbach’s Mimesis

A very important sub-argument of this book is that translation in the era was not seen as hackwork. She has a long section showing simply that most translations we have were done of out love of a text, interest in it. Yes there were hacks, but they are in the minority because so badly paid. She suggests this sort of motive persists to our time.

It’s certainly true of Feneon’s Catherine Morland for Northanger Abbey which by chance, talent, perhaps spiritual affinity made this anarchist’s French text a genuine match for Austen’s:


The historical sense changed the way texts themselves were viewed in histories of the novel. Early histories of novel, starting from later 17th century just assumed earlier novels were written out of a universal impulse to tell a love or adventure story. They would connect texts across centuries and make no effort to discover if there was any author of the particularities of a time or place. De Sade’s history is the first person to look at circumstances and say the one romance comes from one culture and time and another from another. Scott developed this into an important insight: he was the first to begin to look at texts as forming national identity. Watt sidesteps all this to begin with new definition of novel that takes us back to universal aesthetic impulses (divided into neat binaries). But he too (McMurran does not say this) begins with this assumption there was something new in the 18th century which made a break with the past.

McMurran’s book may be a companion to Moretti’s Atlas of the Novel, showing us how much novels at the time represent an interaction between the French and English. But more importantly it’s an application of Bellos’s perspective on translation.

An anonymous 1816 translation of Emma, included in Valerie Cossy’s JA in Switzerland

McMurran tells us how trawling through catalogues tells us so little about the books — how nebulous and hard it is to make any sense of these catalogues, first pages, what little information is available and paratexts — and erects it into an understanding of the era as polymormous, as being indifferent to who the author was as they could not know. It was not until much later that it was admitted texts were changed to suit a political point of view, to sell to the taste of a public. Cossy’s book is an attempt to delve the people who produced the French translations of Austen, their political and personal views, and that of their immediate audience. It takes a long book to analyze just a couple of Austen’s translations (Montolieu, excepts from Pride and Prejudice) this way.


This is Eloise Perks’s 1822 text unchanged

She then moves into the translations themselves. It’s interesting to see (from what evidence we do have) that in the early parts of the 18th century 30-35% of fiction read in the UK were translations from French, but as century wore on less and less translations, there were more indigenous English texts in the UK. In France the proportions move the other way: little translation from the English until mid-way and then a flood of English texts translated into French begins, but these English texts were (it’s important to recall) naturalized, made to reflect French aesthetic and moral ideals.

This is Isobel de Montolieu’s text unchanged; unfortunately Helen Seyres has altered Montolieu’s text (as well as title, to Raisons et Sentiments) for Archipoche, making the reprint worthless

McMurran then turns to “rendering practices” in prose fiction. She explains that she ascertained what 18th century translators did when they departed from their text. Well it depends and was individual, but two common resorts are amplification to make more vivid, or condensing to make more forceful. I’ve found that later is typical for the two good male French translators of Radcliffe, Soules and Morellet (and sometime also for the poorer ones, Moylin and Fourier, but they might do that for anyone). Amplification allows for change of perspective such as we see in Smith’s Prevost and condensing such as we see in Chastenay’s Udolpho.

Behn then studies Eliza Haywood’s translations. I did not know that Haywood translated a lot (as did Behn) and I cannot resist thinking both did it for money. Haywood looks to heighten the impression of the text. My respect for her went up when I learned that that she translated Boiguibert’s Marie Stuart, Reyne d’Escosse, Nouvelle Historique, Mary Stuart was an attraction to Madame de Lafayette too (in her Princess de Cleves as the wife of Francoise). Haywood wrote about her methods justifying them Apparently many have thought her Mary Stuart an original book; she also wrote a fictionalized biography, The Life of Madam De Villesache, but this one she presented as a translation.

This real interest in French reminds me of Aphra Behn’s really fine work in French which only recently has gotten some attention (mostly libertine love poetry).

Quite career for Eliza Haywood as a translator. What’s interesting is how she deviates from her texts. Most of the time I dislike her fiction intensely (even her more domestic later fiction) which I find sarky and heartless or crudely didactic — it matters to me what her strength is exercised for; but here she emerges with a certain humanity. I did not know she translated a good deal of Prevost’s Memoirs of a Man of Quality; this is astonishing really.

McMurran then has a matching section on La Place as a French translator of English texts; his translation of Oroonoko influential; he sympathizes intensely with the African characters as native Caribs in a history of Imoinda; he manages to go outside a Eurocentric view of these characters according to McMurran.

About mid-point in her book the cross-channel emergence of the novel becomes her topic. Again she sees translations as central; part of this was the emergence of the nation state, for the first time the idea a language is not easily translated into another because of cultural differences is voiced regularly. McMurran loos at de-nationalizing strands too and turns to look at Richardson’s novels in translation.

It’s here I left off, but will return eventually, but again I interested to see a new perspective (so many have studied Clarissaand Richardson in translation you see). The new perspective informs Robert Frail’s more recent enquiry into transation, A Singular Duality which again is defeated by reviewers who remain wedded to the idea a translation is first and foremost a crib of a specific text. See Gillian Dow. “A Singular Duality: Literary Relations Between France and England in the Eighteenth Century (review).” Translation and Literature 17.1 (2008): 127-131. Project MUSE. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. .

The modern Pleiade texts

McMurran begins with the idea that a national cosmospolitanism characterized the outlook of readers and translators alike in the 18th century; people read the second language of either English or France while they were in Europe. As there was intense hostility between France (and hence French and French book) and the UK (books in English) so there was also intense admiration. This too describes some of the motives for translating central to the function and nature of translated texts in the era.

A still from Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise, an appropriation of Austen’s Northanger Abbey: the image resembles a common motif in women’s painting (e.g., Jane Freilicher).

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Sir Charles Pasley (1780-1861)

Dear friends and readers,

This is a high-spirited letter. S&S has been published, a success d’estime; in three days P&P will be announced and on sale; she is working on her final published version to come of MP. What more could she want? a dream come true.

Diana Birchall uses the word “jubilant” for one set of phrases and I agree she feeling strong; alas, though her big wins are not doing her generosity of spirit much good. This is a demented sort of jubilation: Austen triumphs in her books, but she has little to show for it: no companionship with the women she wanted, no money, no open reputation. In fact she has not gained anything tangible or in status. She’s still like a porcupine within, still sore. She is not living the life she wants but what that is she can’t say, thwarted at every turn as she’s been — except for these books for which she sacrificed time, energy, spent all within her that she had as she successively corrected and revived.

She is just determinedly cheerful in the opening paragraph. She slides over a lack of reciprocating letters from Cassandra or others. Usually the lack of a letter is rationale enough to justify a sense of hurt, loss, emptiness. On top of that it’s cold. And as if this weren’t enough, Cassandra is at the ambiguous Steventon. Yet “this is exactly the weather we should wish for …” If they have had no letter, they have an “excellent Stilton cheese and after Mr Digwood’s base usage (he didn’t come? didn’t write?) they have had Miss Benn (a source for Miss Bates).

She has been reading. She assumes we (like Cassandra) understand the political content of the books, and when we do know, her strongly stated preference is significant. Southam (see my blog on his JA and the Navy and her brother Frances) however made clear and it’s significant. Pasley was a deeply reactionary conservative politician whose book defended imperialism to where and to do what few were willing to go or do. The man advocates the most ruthless of imperialist policies, the sort that leads to what Belgium did in the Congo. the book ws a Society-Octavo (Alton book club had its own binding). Southey reviewed it and said it was the most important political document of the era.

Jane approves — because her brothers stand to make money? (Remember her flipancy about Sir John Moore’s defeat: how many dead, but how nice we know none of them.) Pasley kept at “expansionist politics” supported by “a certain easy ruthlessness,:” the English should enact “the ambition of
conquerors,” those who loved Burke loved this. Let us attack and destroy all our enemies” by force, take Buenos Aires as an operation.

Jane returns to this book repeatedly in this letter. She says she loves it as much as she ever did Clarkson (the abolitionist). Buchanan’s Christian Researches in Asia is also preferred. A proselytizing Evangelical Christianizer. The two Mr Smiths are parodists of contemporary (often romantic) poetry, the Rejected Addresses. From the aside to Mrs Digwood and their placement next to the flirting couple the content is about courtship: in each someone’s address is rejected.

She also sidelines Anne Grant’s Letters from the Mountains; she slyly insinuates she’d like to get rid of the book. I’m not a one woman fan club but I like Grant and find her criticism head and shoulders above Austen’s, she is romantic, but a thinking feeling tolerant one. Her poetry and stance of moderate conservatism fits Austen’s notions of reasonableness and tender feeling. Had Austen written but one passage of critical assessment like Grant’s we’d never hear the end of it. We can’t know what displeased Jane exactly and she knows she can’t attack frontally. Perhaps again she wants no peer.

LeFaye gives us no help on Mr White. Her mother is reading John Carr’s Travels in Spain from Miss B (he was a diplomat) to make sure she is literally accurate in MP. Tellingly for those who want the book to have general application outside the UK (outside what we’d call the Eurocentric), she does worry about a reference to the Government house at Gibraltar. Maybe we should pay attention to this detail as much as Fanny’s not getting any information about slavery in Antigua.

Austen does love to debunk so we get a lot about the parody of contemporary poets called Rejected Addresses by the Smiths. I wish I knew which poets were parodied and on what grounds. Not a peep on this from LeFaye. But the book and its courtship thme does serve to enable Jane to sneer at the Papillon’s niece Eleanor. Why does she come in for a shot? Austen often mocks the Papillon; one of them was suggested for a husband for her. Perhaps they were dim. At the opening of Miss Austen Regrets Gwyneth Hughes has Olivia Williams as Austen sending him up, quizzing him meanly.

I suggest the line “What she meant, poor Woman who shall say?” is a reference to a certain imbecility in understanding and that’s what leads her to talk of the Papillons. Austen doesn’t like Whist but certainly decamps hastily from playing rounds with this set. She did read Anne Grant for she remembers detail from a card party in Grant’s letters and says there were just as many for their round table as there were at some similar party in Grant’s letters.


Tax or spring cart (1903)

On Wednesday she went to a party with the Clements in their tax (or spring cart — you paid little taxes). A party on previous Wednesday to which she went with the Clements in a tax cart. It’s small and no doubt a declasse way to travel. She let them know it. “I would rather have walked, & no doubt they must have wished I had.”

So she didn’t bother to hide her disdain or make herself pleasant. and much preferred to ‘run home with my own dear Thomas” — luxury in comparison to the cart. No doubt the cart was lousy, bumpy and uncomfortable. but I find nothing to admire in her making the others know it. If she couldn’t really be polite, then walk there.

But of course that would have been even more socially low.

There were 11 there and one man who would have pleased her father. Whenever her father is brought up in these letters, Jane Austen’s morality improves. Mr T is nothing but dark-complexioned, but Mr W, a “very young man, hardly 20 perhaps … of St Johns, Cambridge & spoke very highly of H. Walter as a Schollar.” Walter was a family member too. Austen is never not partisan. Then the sort of vignette Henry James puts down in his notebooks for later
use to write up for his novels:

I could see nothing very promising between Mr P & Miss Pt — She placed herself on one side of him at first, but Miss Benn obliged her to move up higher; –& she had an empty plate, & even asked him to give her some Mutton without being attended to for some time. — There might be Design in this, to be sure, on his side; — he might think an empty Stomach the most favourable for Love. —

So Mr P and Miss Patience Terry are flirting. Jane then turns to Mrs Digweed, and becomes polite; she hopes the Rejected Addresses amused Mrs Digweed but Mrs Digweed’s silly mind flies off to some detail that is unimportant. Then that Eleanor looks like someone rejected.

She decamped at 10 and “not ashamed of my dutiful Delicacy” — she made her mother at home an excuse, but still she goes on to include more of this barbed gossip about the people there. I agree with Diana that Austen is just loving to disparage and be superior here:

WWhat can be a stronger proof of that superiority of ours over the Steventon & Manydown Society, which I have always foreseen & felt?”

But it’s not on grounds of the Rejected Addresses that the Miss Sibleys are sitting around not-reading (for they are reading the book, but rather that the Miss Sibleys openly want to
imitate Austen’s group. Austen’s group has never been caught wanting to emulate some other book society. No. And then we get a series of references to which books the Miss Sibleys prefer. Biglands, and Barrows, and Macartney’s and Mackenzies. Since in another place (MP) Fanny Price likes MacCartney perhaps this is just high spirits catching on to anything to laugh at and the alliteration is part of what the writer is enjoying.

But again there is a political meaning here. Austen prefers that ruthless imperialist. The other books are travels, about the peninsular war (perhaps critical of war policy) and the places include Iceland. Who would want to read of Iceland, pray? maybe that’s part of this not so funny joke.

The Coulthards were talked of you may be sure; no end of them; Miss Terry had heard they were going to rent Mr Bramston’s house at Oakley, & Mrs Clement that they were going to live at Streethams Mr Digweed 8{ I agreed that the House at Oakley could not possibly be large enough for them, 8{ now we find they have really taken it. — Mr Gauntlett is thought very agreable, & there are no Children at all. —

Streatham was a beautiful place, but how many children can any place stand? Austen is with Mr Gauntlett. People who go on rejoicing at Jane Austen’s warm love of children prompt me to echo her: “What [they] mean … who shall say?”

Then we turn to activities after Wednesday. Jane went for a walk. Happily (she says) it provided her with someone to unload Anne Grant’s Letters to the Mountains onto. Jane said she found the walk agreeable and if the others didn’t, the fault was theirs, for “I was quite as entertaining as she was.”

Dame G. is pretty well, & we found her surrounded by her well-behaved, healthy, large-eyed Children. — I took her an old Shift & promised her a set of our Linen; & my Companion left some of her Bank Stock’? with her

We might stop here and consider the typical character or core of a satirist. It often does come from alienation of some sort. Then a sudden drop down to calm decency. Austen was not irritated by the poor villagers they visited. They aroused no antagonisms.

And then we get a reference to a Tuesday which is I think a quiet reference to the game of Tuesdays in the novels:: “Tuesday has done its duty & I have had the pleasure of reading a very comfortable Letter.” It had a lot in it, the cover written on, and Austen’s mood improves after she reads it.


1983 BBC MP: Nicholas Farrell as Edmund listening with distaste and discomfort to

Jackie Smith-Wood as Mary talking of how admired are men in the professions (unlike clergymen)

The last part of the letter is not as barbed nor does Austen get a kick out of mocking other people or showing herself to have been disdainful of things she for the moment deems beneath her (like the cart). She really does not like these social occasions with people whose minds she finds imbecilic, and with no reference to arouse her competitiveness, her shots after Tuesday are limited to those who’ve genuinely taken potshots at her or have hurt her for real in some way.

Potshots include Mrs Bramston:

LeFaye shows herself a pro-family editor. Austen says Mrs Bramston is the sort of woman she detests. Why? LeFaye without admitting she is justifying Austen offers the “information” in her appendix that John Byng said she was “an artful worldly woman, of a notable self-sufficient capacity, … not selon mon gout; and her son is letter better than a blockhead,” to which LeFaye adds one of the two Mrs Bramstons thought “the first three of JA’s publishd novels boring and nonsensical.” A stupid woman: the boring gives it away. She probably let it be known she despised _S&S; this tells us the people in the neighborhood all around knew the authoress was none other than Miss Austen.

People who have hurt her (or other members of the family) include the people who took Steventon: so Austen says she does not recognize Steventon from Cassandra’s description of if justifying why probably Mary and James too behave the way they do, not omitting Anna’s responses to them:

I cannot imagine what sort of place Steventon can be.

Cassandra has been saying see how Mary is not so bad, and Austen acknowledges “kind intentions”). But Mrs Austen not keen on sharing the cooked pork; better to offer a share in the pigs. (Well yuk, maybe it is not so nice to have someone send cooked stuff that are left-overs. The parallel is in Emma where the rich Woodhouses and Emma remember to send pork to Miss Bates and Jane. Here Mary is in the position of the grand lady Emma and Austen’s mother and herself Miss Bates and Jane.

But in turn Mrs Austen is just filled with “great pleasure” to send a pair of garters and “is very glad she had them ready knit.” Enigmatic in tone because probably the mother did not feel about all this the way Austen patently does — she thinks the whole thing absurd – as we can see from how this “twig” entered _Emma_.

I thank Christy for identifying the specific Papillon Jane found herself having nearly to sit down to whist with. There Austen after all found the suggestion she marry him grating enough to hold the grudge in her letters.

I read Diana on the reference to Gibraltar in MP. But Diana ignores the meaning of the passage she quotes, its political content which fits into this letter.

It’s interesting because it shows one of the characters intuitively uncomfortable with what the author Austen is so keen in this letter would think would exult him. Pasley’s imperialism (and those who want to see MP as about colonialism do not usually remember she said she likes Pasley as much as Clarkson) would suggest people dressing up in uniform because they’ve been promoted should exult. Not Edmund. Only Fanny reconciles him to anything. Edmund is a portrait of someone not for sale, someone who does not want a position or place that does not involve him in duties his conscience makes palatable to him.

Here we can compare bring Austen’s MP in comparison with Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde: Montgomery a lord who has no money must force himself to take a job with the East India company (just the sort of thing Mary Crawford would respect) and knows it will be distasteful and require him to exploit the natives; Edmund does not make such a distaste explicit but it’s behind his enigmatic comment to Mary that he would have to do things for the kinds of positions she wants to take he would not be able to endure.

This is a good place to see how Austen’s fiction slips away from her conscious meaning — probably upon a revision. She is “in character,” Edmund a hero in her mind and we have an anti-imperialistic stance towards uniforms. By contrast, William is continually apparently naive and will take promotion and riches at any price; Austen says at one point he was not too kind to another man aboard his ship as he wished he could supersede him when the guy died. This is precisely Tom’s attitude towards Dr Grant. Very human.

So after the important event of the Tuesday (some Tuesdays are not bad, they are rather important), the comfortable letter from Cassandra, what do we have? mostly a thicket of gossip and doings.

She’s glad to go for walks. As she knows “Mary is interested” to know that Miss Benn is not neglected, Mary is to be told that Miss B dined last Wednesday at Mr Papillons.”

Another hit. It’s sarcastic. How lucky is Miss Benn. (Of course like Marianne Jane is forgetting perhaps Miss Benn might have enjoyed it? Maybe Miss Benn was no fool. And we get a list of people she dined with in a row. She had little money for food let us recall. Once she even wore her new shawl! Remember how they had to be sure not to buy her a too nice one for then she’d never wear it.

Jane is glad to hear that Martha is not at Barton. No wonder she hardly mentioned the employer. There is no barb here, only (perhaps) a reference to something under the bed. It could be dogs, but LeFaye reminds us that the single ladies at Cranford had myths about spirits beneath the beds both mischievous and protecting.

I had fancied that Martha would be at Barton from last Saturday, but am best pleased to be mistaken. I hope she is now quite well. — Tell her that I hunt away the rogues” every night from under her bed; they feel the difference of her being gone. —

Not far from it is this delight in walking and in winter no matter how filthy, greasy, cold, and ugly the roads: It’s here the slightly demented gaiety comes out.

A very sloppy lane” last Friday! — What an odd sort of country you must be in! I cannot at all understand it! It was just greasy here on Friday, in consequence of the little snow that had fallen in the night. — Perhaps it was cold on Wednesday, yes, I beleive it certainly was — but nothing terrible.-Upon the whole, the Weather for Winter-weather is delightful, the walking excellent.

It seems that Anna is going to come to Chawton for a visit. Mrs Austen’s letter will be forwarded by someone else (saving postage) but if they do not manage it, Anna will have it to read when she comes.

Scarlets is the country estate where the harridan Aunt, Jane-Austen Leigh resides. Austen is glad to hear anything “so tolerable” of them from Mr Leigh’s letter,. (He will double-cross them; he leads them to think he will share his wealth with Mrs Austen and hers when he dies but leaves it all to his wife who then holds it of over JEAL’s head for years to come).

“Poor Charles and his frigate. But there could be no chance of his having one, while it was thought such a certainty.” Charles not given a frigate. She’s ironic. Because they want something, things are against us.

The letter ends with a hit at Anna’s suitor’s news — she can scarcely believe him) and her dismissal/irritation at Mrs Bramston. She says she had rather been called liar by Mr Cotterell than to excite no interest in Mrs Bramston who (see above) insulted her book perhaps knowing it would get round to her.

Jane in form,

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Dear friends and readers,

As promised, here is the third of four blogs on Mary Trouille’s book. It’s on the fiction that deal with wife abuse about which I’ve written elsewhere , Sade and his La Marquise de Gange and Plessix-Gray’s Chez Sade; Genlis’s Histoire de la Duchess de C************ and Retif and Agnes de Bretonne’s Ingenue Saxancour),  here’s I’ll concentrate on Trouille’s perspective on these works.

La Divorce, Pierre Etienne Lescuerer — the underlying them of Trouille’s book is the necessity of liberal divorce laws and equality of respect between the partners in a marriage

For Trouille’s history of the era, and summary description of whole book and three court cases: see Part one

See Part Two.  for brief description of three cases of Part One and detailed description of three more cases

I summarize the three cases you can read about in Part Two here.   The fourth case (Berges) shows a man who married a woman solely for her money and when she ran out or refused her, beat her mercilessly; it looks to me like he meant to kill her in order to get control over her money; he humiliated her by keeping his mistress in the house and taking his mistress to public occasions.  (There’s a parallel with Trollope’s  which shows up Trollope’s soft-peddling of dangerous situation as Emilius is a killer too, but we are not encouraged to sympathize with Lady Eustace).   The fifth case (Mme Mandonnet) the wife did not want to have sex with the husband after the birth of the first child; he beat her ferociously; he was much older and she married to him by parents; the parents backed her, she left and husband driven to tell this humiliating reality in the first person in order to argue he was not so bad.  The sixth case (L’Ormes) a woman had instituted divorce proceedings in 1802 only to find in 1803 these were no longer valid; Bellarts, the very lawyer who argues against Mme Mandonnet now argues for the wife on grounds of incompatibility, shown to be centrally important in marriage (more than sexual misconduct, even violence — according to Bellarts, himself never married), and she must not be allowed to go back for he wants to retaliate and keep her money.  (There’s again a parallel with Trollope, this time his He Knew He Right where I show how Trollope’s presentation of such a case is so soft and forgiving of the husband.).

Trouille chooses three fictional accounts of wife abuse from later 18th century France that are based on real historical events, and in one case, that of the Marquise de Ganges she can compare what happens in a novel to what is presented in a memoir.

For conclusion and final thoughts, coda.


The real Marquise de Ganges as idealistically painted in the later 17th century mode by Pierre Mignard.  Hers is a story of such horrific betrayal which was not at all seen before you wonder any woman would ever marry. What a chance she was taking.

Part III, Chapter 7: "Until death do us part."  My title for my NA paper was "People who marry may never part."  I’ve just gone over my blog on the biopic, Quills, and my blog, Sade,  on the biography by Francine du Plessix-Grey and Sade’s La Marquise de Gange, Eugenie de Franval, and two short philosophical works.

IN 1667 a tiny village, Ganges, was rocked by ruthless brutal murder of marquise de Gange, wealthy Provencal heiress, by brothers-in-law with husband’s complicity (after a long time of abuse).  It stirred people and prompted many versions and in different genres: non-fiction memoirs, a play, novels, jurist essays.

The value of studying this fiction is not only to give us an inkling of a real life case on which this is based, but to show us the difference between novels and real life memoirs. People writing novels want to entertain with gothic romance; people writing non-fiction want to present historically accurate account. But something more than that happens to the content. The question is what does happen when someone takes a historical or legal account and makes a novel:  "how the portrayal of spousal abuse is affected by the genre of the text in which it appears, be it legal brief, novel; form of discourse (historical, literary, legal), or change in attitudes.   (Speaking generally, I’d say the story is given drama and meaning and pattern it never had, and also people are punished who never were. Also characters are made considerably kinder and/or less puzzlingly abject.)

In other words, what Trouille is doing is showing us how this case is presented, and how the genres deform the evidence and what we can read out of these deformations.  I think she goes beyond this to suggest to us how hard it is to know things.  In this case it seems what happened  is far more horrifying than we have evidence for, but like Hannah Arendt says, this is by no means unusual in human nature (it’s banal).

I should say what I think we have before us is the crazed irrationality of the worst aspects of human nature, how power corrupts and how powerful people will prey on those susceptible to them. After all the marquis and his brothers must have known that after all they would not get this money and would be punished at least to the extent of having to leave their land and property.  So what is the gain at this bad risk?  They weren’t thinking at all; they were enjoying themselves.  As to the Marquise, she was really a victim of the era and its mores which demanded she stay.  Her father was dead; no brothers came forward; we don’t know enough about her mother and what was her relationship to her children; this story focuses sheerly on man and wife and brothers, with some attention to mother and his mistress (a Madame de Merteuil figure).

Real names:  Diane-Elisabeth de Joannis de Rossan (named by Sade, Euphrasie) married Charles de Vissec de Latude, baron de Ganges (named by Sade Alphonse).  The baron’s brother was the abbe, Henry (renamed Theodore) and his youngest brother was Bernard (just called "le chevalier").  Gilbert Levy thought Garsault’s 1757 memoir was Sade’s main source; Sgard and Jacques Proust (along with Trouille) think Sade’s source is Gayot de Pitaval’s detailed 1739 account.  There’s a third account, a historical study, Fortia d’Urban (a descendent of the Ganges and describes Duke as loving husband poisoned by malicious gossip) 1810, to which Sade had access and which Trouille thinks may have prompted Sade to write his novel.

After Sade’s:  novellas by Dumas pere  (1840), Louise Colet (1858), play by Borilie and Chandezon (1815). Another Gange descedent, Mazel de Ganges (1885) and Delayen’s, a historical novel, he was a jurist (1927)

The real marquis as he appears in public documents was a vicious man; Gayot a cold brutal avaricious, cold, deceitful man, prone to jealousy, himself a "lady’s man;" admiration for his wife made him jealous, illl humored, physically abusive.  Mazel paints a vile, base man who would do anything cruel, cold, capricious, greedy, deceitful, weak.   Delayen more specific: after birth of first child Marquis’s passion diminished, after 2nd, Marquis loses all restraint; specific about cruel violence, emotional and verbal abuse. 

Sade makes him into a man driven by sexual jealousy as a result of a malicious younger brother bent on destroying their marriage and gaining an inheritance.  Marquis’s mistress, Mme de Varie’s husband recommended in front of Marquise that her husband put her in prison on bread and water and feed her only bread and water; when she refused to see Mme de Varie again, he left town. She would not go with him — afraid for her security. Sade gives us a loving faithful husband manipulated into jealous fury by Iago-like brother, wants sister-in-law’s inheritance. Gayot, Mazel de Ganges and Delayan say brother had pernicious influence, but Marquis jealous, ill-humoured mean before brother’s influence.

Sade’s novel: desire is motivating destructive force; Abbe consumed and thus jealous, resentful of Marquis, abandons plans to marry an heiress to concentrate on seducing Marquise & destroying brother’s marriage. More she resists, more he is incensed; more she remains loyal to unjust husband, the more enraged & hardened against her the Abbe. He can triumph only by murdering her (perverse and diabolical man).

Gayot first to produce probing psychological analysis: envy, ambition, malice, Iago-like; Gayot makes him also misogynistic, parasite on brother.   Sade drew on Gayot for portrait of abbe and family and makes Abbe central to drama, relationship of Abbe and Marquis central, abbe spider entrapping others; string of plots, machinations, entirely fictional (in Abbe’s mind);  Sade expands and embroiders Mazel de Gange’s incidents to make them dramatic and gothic.  Sade makes husband a victim of his own credulity; sets up a tryst in garden and brings Marquis to see; abbe also planted a forged letter showing her infidelity. Marquis murders man.  Now Marquise tried by husband, found guilty, put in prison at Ganges with Abbe watching over her; harsh conditions, no mother or son, abbe tries to turn mother and daughter against one another. Words of Marquise’s torment recalls almost word for word Sade’s accounts of his ilfe in prison.  She is said to be supported by religious faith and reading.

Trouille thinks religion encourages Marquise’s passive resignation rather than resistance; she "seems to exult masochistically" (pp. 218-19); tone reminds me of Richardson’s Clarissa, like Clary hoping for reconciliation with parents so Marquise hopes (also naively) for reconciliation with Marquis. When she has a chance, she does not denounce her brother-in-law. When her husband baffled, she refrains from accusing brother lest she cause a rift (!). As a result, he blames her; she is victim of her own generosity; ever more vulnerable, she has lost her husband’s trust. A credulity and trust in human nature leads her to trust the chevalier; only at the end, when chevalier draws sword against her, and when husband at her deathbed demands she change her will does she see evil of both. Central lesson of book: against placing too much trust in people unworthy of confidence. A Sade moral:  "la noble simplicite de la vertu n’est-elle pas toujours la dupe des menees odieuses du crime" (p. 220)

Critic Jacques Proust asks if Marquise is a positive heroine for Sade the way she had been for Guyart, Gayot, previous commentators and minds of contemporaries. Proust thinks Marquise embodies characteristics Sade found abominable, a natural victim and Said identifies with murderers.

Trouille says no Marquise shows strength, integrity, resists with courage and savvy; foils attempts to seduce and/or rape, preserves son’s inheritance; she escapes effects and delays effect of poison and so exposes the three men. Sade and Sade’s characters express admiration for Marquise. They also desire to corrupt her. Trouille says Sade identifies with both Marquise and murderers, particularly with brother-in-law; a dialogic approach allows Sade to explore his own thoughts on good and evil, virtue and vice.  Series of conversations in which Abbe declares passion and will reconcile her with husband provided she yields to him, alternates privations and punishments with gifts and flowers; free her from failed marriage.

Sade uses abbe to argue that unhappy marriage a prison from which spouses should escape through divorce and impassioned defense of divorce  that reiterates key arguments by divorce advocates; she rejects arguments, is loyal, faithful to husband. Given Marquise is heroine, it does sound like defense of conjugal fidelity and indissolubility of marriage; to seasoned "Sadeologue" debate an example of dialogic approach that enables Sade to advance subversive position while seeming to support convention.  Turning point death of grandfather; Abbe abandons seduction; Marquis frees wife.  Abbe plots and slanders to mount evidence she is mentally and morally incompetent.

These slanders are emotional abuse and humiliation and she continues to "love passionately" this husband. Why? I wonder what this word "love" can mean.

Mother persuades her not to believe in feigned reconciliation and urges her to protect inheritance; after failed kidnapping attempts, she draws up will, leaves all to son, her mother as his guardian; "testamentary declaration before Avignon notables "any subsequent will is null and void" (p. 224).  Marquise lured back to Gange; Gayot, earlier commentators, Sade say Marquis greeted her with open arms. Delayen cites chambermaid on strained relations leading up to murder, including reproaches, shutting her up in a tower; he threatened her: 

2 letters by Marquis to mother, the first of death threats against her, her isolation, fear her husband’s family will usurp her fortune. To her mother:  "ne m’abandonnez pas, ayez pitie de moi" — like Franciose de Graffigny beseeching her father to rescue her from husband’s violence (p. 225).  Second letter:  her husband’s anger, his brother’s threats against her friends, her despair, begs mother to intercede.

Arsenic laced pudding first attempt (counteracted by heavy cream eaten with it); Marquise designates her mother guardian of her children if she should die. Other accounts & Sade’s show Marquis bullying her to sign him the guardian and use of the fortune, but then he learns of testamentary declaration so new will has no legal value.

Determined attempts to kill her follow; brothers now put arsenic into purgative medicine; she refuses to drink it. Brothers lose patience and ask her how she will die:  sword, pistol, poison? She takes poison, escapes into city streets, is followed; brothers call her a madwoman and adulteress.  Everyone know this false; women did what they could to shield her, and she dies 19 days later from effects of poison, having suffered terribly. Sade sticks to history here.

Maitre Ribier, lawyer representing Mme de Rossan, Marquise’s mother argued motives greed, not passion.

Sade presents motives as perverse passion, "abomination against nature", jealousy and resentment, incestuous desire of brothers; Abbe has "fiendish nature."  Gayot’s "lesson" also that well-born perverted are capable of horrible emotions & crimes.

Sade does show marquis’s avarice and coldness, complicity in murder as events unfold; and invents a letter to show him giving consent to murder if she will not change her will. but if such a letter existed, Ribier would have used it.  Sade, Des Essarts, Delayen say Marquis showed no remorse whatsoever; Sade’s Marquis says she brought it on herself (p. 229). Other commentators divided on marquis’s role in murder. 1667 memoir remains ambivalent, outraged at thought Marquis may have been involved, citing wife’s words of forgiveness (p. 228). Gayot explicit Marquis wanted it, and Des Essarts follows that (p. 227), but that the Marquise’s generous forgiveness was a torture of remorse for him (p. 228-29). Fortia d’Urban (the relative) downplays the Marquis’s role in the murder but shows him to have been terrible man who later brought economic ruin to region by persecuting Protestants in return for permission to live openly at chateau de Ganges (which king had given his son by Marquis).

Physical bullying: almost none in Sade, Marquis delegates to Abbe. Sade deals only briefly with public reaction afterward (p. 231)

Delayen (who also calls attention to wife beating not being acceptable among aristocrats at the time and how was all right to beat servants) and Gayot describe Marquis as jealous and physically abusive even before brothers come to live with them, underlining frequency and severity. Gayot at one point she remained unconscious in a tower she was put into after he beat her with a leather strap (p 230). Such incidents are evidence Marquis complicit in murder. Committed in his residence where he controlled everyone.

Mazel de Ganges goes into detail about public outcry, no one doubted a terrible crime committed. Gayot shows public hostility and horror in public, how women identified with Marquise. Delayan says M. de Maniban, avocat-general of Toulouse demanded death penalty for abbe and chevalier and Marquis to be sent to galleys. but Marquis’s lawyer, Jacques de Rapin more talented and influential than Ribier. Mme de Rossan’s scathing judicial memoir by her lawyer, Ribier: husband intended & planned it, long siege of hideous behavior, should blacken all who were complicit and would prevent adequate punishment, husband in this memoir claims evidence circumstantial and he loved his wife &c&c. Gayot says this last plea saved him from death sentence.

Aug 21, 1667 Parlement de Toulouse condemn absent abbe and chevalier to be broken on the wheel, Marquis perpetually benaished, stripped of nobility, property confiscated.  Public outcry especially by woman that punishment not capital. Gayot says afterward a harsh punishment given to Marquis de La Douze who was convicted of poisoning his wife to marry another woman.

Denouement and discontinuities in style in Sade: 

In real life after initial hiding of himself (because he was banished), the marquis led a comfortable life in Ganges (his castle) and then Avignon, living to the ripe old age of 99 and (according to Delayan) never expressing any remorse for his wife’s death.

Sade’s version: the brothers also got away with it.  Sade has Marquis join chevalier to go join the Venetian army as mercenaries but they die soon afterwards while fighting the Turks. This is the same account given by Gayot and early non-fiction commentators. Fortia d’Urban rejects it; Mazel de Ganges says chevalier lived in one of his brother’s castles at Provence; since both brothers condemned to death in absentia, false rumors spread to protect them.

In real life d’Urban, Mazel and Delayen later wrote that the abbe fled to Holland and adopted a new identity, converted to Protestantism and built a life as a tutor to a count’s son; when his past is revealed, he fled to Amsterdam, met and married a noblewoman and became a respected member of a Protestant congregation and died of natural causes. They say  he was intensely remorseful. 

Sade has this brother murdered by mysterious avenger, perhaps the son? (A virtuous deathbed appeal by Marquise to her son not to revenge is in D’Urban, Gayot, Des Essarts, Delayen.)  Sade knows he is fictionalizing and justifies this as otherwise the story would be amoral and too painful: “si consolant pour la vertu, que ceux qui l’ont persecutee doivent infailliblement l’etre a leur tour.” It’s so consoling for virtue to know that those who have been persecuted infallibly persecute in turn.

As Trouille remarks, the irony of Sade’s sudden worry about morality and desire to please with a novelistic ending is clear:  he was hardly concerned with pleasing virtuous people in his life or other works. She says Sade delights in treating the most revolting subjects in the most shockingly explicit ways.  Many gothic elements (see Sade): sinister castles, dungeons, lasciious bandits, secret caves, chase scenes, dark forest, cadavers, and especially the topoi of "enfermement" and torture" (Dubost article on this I’ve read elsewhere).

Trouille says instead of having a libertine gothic novel (roman noir) we have a novel with a Sadean hero who fails repeatedly to seduce the heroine; he cannot go against the given facts and we end up with a woman of unassailable virtue (given the stereotypes of the time), so she is the impregnable castle and the only way to defeat her is to destroy her (p. 235).  Gilbert Lely thinks Sade for one yielded to pity (sentimentality), but, according to  Dubost and Trouille, Sade rather took a pleasure in writing up the story of the Marquise’s long horror of misery and despair; she’s like an animal hunted down (beatings remember, emotional and sexual abuse strong too); some episodes so overtopped, they read like parodies.  Trouille quotes mocking tone of prologue in which he pokes fun at melodrama & parodies sententiousness (of earliest chronicle account perhaps where the writer insists on the importance of telling this truth no matter how painful  it may be).

So we have a parodic gothic novel superimposed on a historical chronicle as well as tension between parodic and serious philosophical elements; abrupt changes in style and wild shifts, tongue-in-cheek tones for gothic-like episodes (kidnapping) shifts to grave recounting of her terrible end and pious deathbed.

Again she startles me: she denies that the tale shows the triumph of vice over virtue; rather we see good triumph in the abbe’s remorse and exemplary life later on!. What an extraordinary thing to say.  We have no idea what that abbe really felt, and she is forgetting everyone else.  It may be the poetic justice of Sade’s ending (deaths to all) is the result of his currying favor with censors, showing his moral reform to gain release from Charenton; he wanted a more violent ending in keeping with the gothic tone of the whole.

Sade chose to write a novel saying it would produce the more moral lesson; Goldzink scoffs at this posturing.  But in 1927 Delayen did chose to write a historical account where he used imaginative techniques but stuck close to the truth insofar as he could discover it from documents of all sorts. He aimed to rescue history from legend.  He contests what was said about marquis’s fate; he shows that the marquis’s mother was vulgar and mean-spirited, hostile and insulting towards daughter-in-law.  Still he must turn to family lore to probe yet more deeply and suggests from family memories that the marriage fell apart because the Marquis was younger than the Marquise (he was 20) and they had difficulty sustaining a sex life and her first child was born severely deformed (a crazy legend the child was born with teeth and a beard), and they never got over whatever was the deformity. Delayen (according to Trouille and I believe her) uses all sorts of melodramatic techniques: he makes use of the idea her death was predicted by an astrologer early on (the incident is first found in the 1667 chronicle and also Dumas’s novella).

Sade uses foreboding when Marquise sees chateau, terrifying nightmares during her first night at castle, a carriage accident foreshadowing coming stabbing by brothers-in-law (pp 238-39)

Mazel de Ganges, a Protestant minister and a relative, rejects the role of imagination.  He comes to the closest to giving us a plain truthful account, and tries to stay with family history, records, and local oral history, archives.  Truth, he says, is stranger and more interesting and instructive than fiction. Mazel’s moral is the powerful try to place themselves above law but are punished by divinity, and sincere faith can be a source of strength and hope. He says the repentance and redemption of Abbe is a triumph of religion (which Trouille did concur with) while Sade denies Abbey’s remorse.

Fortia d’Urban: studying private life and records better understand family relationships and workings of human heart; we learn about women. More useful to readers than grand sweep of public history.

Gayot thought tales of violence and murder entertain, touch, capture and tear at the heart.

Trouille: a comparison of the historical (d"Urban, Mazel de Ganges, Delayen) and judicial (Gayot, Des Essarts and anonymous chronicle of 1667 written "by "officier de Languedoc") with novels is instructive: we see an evolution in attitudes towards spousal abuse. Descriptions of marquis’s horrible behavior became more detailed, more realistic shows tolerance of abuse has diminished as public awareness grows.

But the public was aware before; it just looked the other way.  Maybe less people knew in a direct emotional way but it was known. Violence was tolerated in many aspects of life — not that I’m at all justifying any of it.

Myself I can imagine the falsifying glamorous opera that could have been written (but wasn’t the material perhaps just to hard and real). Now this was a positive portrait of a woman until the later 19th century; then it becomes by a writer like Jacques Proust a irritating fool (the kind of response poor Fanny Price sometimes gets and Eve Sedgewick Kosofsky gives Suzanne our nun). Yet it’s in our own time that such a case makes an obvious need for divorce.

I think the moral lesson one gains from this is:  give people as little unqualified power over one another as possible.

An image of a 3 volume set of Genlis’s Adele et Theodore in which is found the Histoire de la Duchesse de C***********

Part 3, Chapter 8.

Trouille opens with the commonplace that tales of women’s imprisonment and wife abuse abound in 18th century texts: she suggests with Foucault, Anne Williams (Poetics of Gothic) that in era when a shift between marriage as an alliance set up by a family and marriage as a love match for companionship was evolving, these stories register intense anxiety.  A move from respect for authority & law, protection of wealth, to system of change and expansion. Still families sought to control women’s sexuality & choice of husband. Stories about what could/would happen if unregulated desire let to have its way.  Trouille suggests persecution of gothic heroine reflects widespread subjugation of women under prevailing laws and customs (or the perception of this among women).

For plot-summary see my NA paper was "People who marry may never part." On the whole novel, Adele et Thedore,  my blog on Genlis, It’s a story of imprisonment, of life as a terrifed abject hostage living in solitude, in the dark, utterly dependent on a mocking accusatory husband. 

Trouille then cites the passages in Genlis’s Memoires where she claims the story is based on real things that happened to the Duchess of Cerifalco, Prince of Palestrina’s daughter. She was in Rome in 1776 with Duchess of Chartres; story told to her by Duchess’s father, Duchess still shattered.  It’s commonness in romance; Genlis’s determination to make her uncommon through concentrating on experience in dungeon.

Story a pyschodrama lesson for Baroness D’Almane’s daughter to learn to help her navigate treacherous social life.  The life of the family of D’Almane is ideal, that of the Duchess of C******** its dark contrast. D’Almanes carefully monitor their choice for Adele; Duchess of C**********’s father hoses man based solely on his wealth & position, then gives daughter’s hand to Duke 15 days after meeting him and w/o obtaining his daughter’s consent or knowledge.

Trouille finds a place where Duchess does criticize mother:  lack of communication, encouraging her friendship with girl who introduced Bellmire to her, but this is a wrinkle which leads to her blaming herself as if her falling in love with Belmire really was "cause" of misery. Husband would have found something else. For Genlis it’s the lesson of filial obedience, of self-control not one which criticizes parents’ choice.  Baroness d’Almane hopes story teaches Adele about excess of sensibility; dangers of romantic passion, strength of religion &c

Female gothic about defencelessness of women in the face of spousal abuse & oppressed status: Radcliffe’s books, Wollstonecraft’s, and rights of Woman argues sensibility imprisons women. There’s a marital gothic: begins with marriage. If Radcliffe an escape, French female gothic confronts the real critique of female submission and domesticity by stories of estrangement and defamiliarization where heroine actively resists her fate.  Countess of C********* did instinctively see her husband a sadist and loathed him quickly.  Quoting various studies of gothic, Trouille adds "much gothic terror focuses on anxieties about boundaries (from outside world, sinister people, forces). Duchess does not yield in words but does not defend heself (as useless), a response common in female gothic. Real crime is her passionate sexuality.

Duchess resolves to let herself die of hunger, that brings Duke with letter from Duchess’s mother showing he has given this mother her daughter and Duchess has conversation experience where she resolves to live, renounce her passion, and we have (according to Trouille) a tale of self-discovery and moral growth. I see none but repetition of religious cliches. Beyond resolving to endure and enduring the Duchess does not change any of her views (pp. 254-55).

Cruel ironies include Duchess’s mother visiting her tomb and seeks solace from persecutor, Belmire spends 5-6 months each year at castle with uncle (p. 255).  Duchess insists she is experiencing live burial and indeed the Duke intended this rather than quick relief of death (p 255). Part of power of this text is the insistence on how she misses the light; how she has to live in darkness:  "O Dieu! … souffrirez-vous que je sois enterree vivante and privee pour jamais de la clarte des cieux" (p. 256). At end freed by Belmire she is afraid to cross threshold without parents’ release (propriety concerns?)

She is made frightened and uncomfortable by the light because it will make her see herself again as she is now.  She is more anxious because now she hopes but nothing to fear now (p. 257).

Man’s home is his castle has a sinister meaning but this duke imprisons his wife because he feels he cannot control her otherwise (reminds me of Louis Trevelyan who feels he cannot control Emily in Trollope’s HKHWR). Fauchery: castle and dungeon stand for forced marriage itself.  Duke claims his attachment to castle as memory of his wife; in fact he can’t leave if she is to stay there alive.

Trouille goes too far again when she takes seriously the idea the Duke is as much a victim as his wife (Genlis’s contention in a preface), that he was driven by his passion, frustration and adduces as evidence that he let her breast-feed for a year (muslims let women breast feed before stoning them to death), hesitates before he imprisons her, seeming to feel sorry that she will be shut away and demanding she tell him who her lover is so he does not have to imprison her. But he doesn’t have to.  This excuse of frustration as if he had some right to her love has deluded Trouille.  It’s true he is not an ogre nor one-note villain, but to sympathize with him shows a similar blindness to her saying the real women in the stories were masochists.  Perhaps balance is her aim again? She forgets his sadism when she talks of his expectations for happiness thwarted.

Idea seems to be that Genlis goes beyond the stereotypes she uses to be subtle and complex: so with Duchess. Her silence is like the barrier of unspeakableness Eve Sedgwick describes blocking gothic heroine. Imprisonment frees her from social conventions so she begins openly to express hatred of him (p. 261).  (This reminds me of how late in Trollope’s Prime Minister Emily Wharton Lopez openly expressed erotic love in gestures and spiritual love in words for and to Arthur Fletcher in front of Lopez.). Duchess does openly express her love for Belmire and her hatred and contempt for her husband (nothing left to lose); she defies him and tells him God will punish him and she is not the wife of a man who treats her in this way.  Trouille finds her taking a sadistic pleasure in provoking terror and remorse in husband.

This is unreal. She has no power and he feels no remorse worthy the word.  It is, though, true the portrait is complex even if sympathy for the duke is not appropriate. It is also true that he ends up a priosoner of his crime — because of his need to hide it, and that he finds he cannot control her heart or mind, though he does her body, and even that she could have controlled to the extent of letting herself die. Trouille is taking seriously the idea religious faith gives strength (p. 262).  And we get this "have I not triumphed?" (this is Clarissa speech). Portrait of Duke in his last year reminds me of Lovelace in the last months of life before he goes off on his travels.  Goes out of his mind, ill, weak: Trouille sees Duke as fearing he will be damned for what he did to his wife.  He tries in vain to feed her. He cannot free her without exposing himself.  A moral victory where she has to pray he stays alive. She comes near starvation; to have even the slight interaction with him is better than total silence and solitude. 

Trouille quotes Anna Freud on how tortured person identifies with torturer and powerful. But pace Trouille Genlis goes overboard when she has Duchess feel pity for Duke after she is released.  Victims of terrorists/torturers do not feel pity for them. Nor is the duchess’s holding herself for not loving him right in terms of the story. He was a sadistic cold mean man of course she could not love him (p. 263)

An interesting aspect of the tale is once freed and the Duke dead, our heroine does not chose to remarry but marries her beloved (Belmire) to her daughter from whom she had become estranged (this is what happens in Frances Sheridan’s Sidney Biddulph).  Is this a pastoral ending which negates all that has happened (Kahane)? Heroine moves into a space which is illusory based on social withdrawal and psychological repression (like say Jane Eyre says Kahane). 

1983 Jane Eyre

Trouille says in 18th century to withdraw from marriage and social life as wealthy widow still left woman power; admits through this is to give up sexual desire (p. 264). It is a rejection of marriage.

DeLaMotte says these pastoral endings enabled women to idealize repression, replace anger with fortitude, sexuality with sensibility (p. 264), immurement.  DeLaMotte says central dynamic of gothic is repression of anger, a socially unacceptable feeling.  So Genlis’s heroine ends in forgiveness, piety, filial obedience, self-sacrifice.  What does distinguish Genlis is acuity of psychological analysis — so too Austen.

Trouille sees this ending with the sweet tears as masochistic and likens it to moments in Sade’s La Marquise de Gange. In Brun’s Les chateaux de la subversion, Brun sees power in these endings in that the heroine in the end gets something of what she wants and does not lose her understanding. A minimal goal and this replacement of herself with her daughters is also a death of the self. Trouille sees a triumph of power in giving her daughter to Belmire; Stewart a final fantasy of power and control. I agree with the Stewart. All the psychological subtleties can be there and it still a fantasy insofar as power, control, the daughter even liking or respecting her mother.  Steward mentions other French novels that end like this; I mentioned Sidney Biddulph above.

Duchess’s decision not to remarry is also a desire to escape emotional suffering a renewal of passion can bring. Rejection of usual marriage plot and euphoric ending. . The sanguine ending which Williams finds typical of Anglo-American gothics is not typical of French; French gothics usually end in tragedy (dysphoric). Genlis is a spiritual rebirth, melancholy.  Unlike Anglo-American the French heroine does not end up with transcendent ending that puts her with the very source of suffering the escape is supposed to alleviate.  So Genlis does refuse to re-enter the home-prison and be a mirror for her husband and father’s self-representations.  Williams says Anglo-American male gothics show man at end deeply maimed and so is this Duchess who has all sorts of symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. This kind of realism is uncommon (p. 268).

Trouille says the modest reforms that women desired (big for the time) which left them in roles in the home were appealing, even liberating for women.  Genlis regards society life as frivolous. (An analogy: most jobs available to lower middle and working class women are not fun at all, and nowadays tenuous, ill paid.)  Trouille argues that Genlis’s novel nonetheless "gives voice on a symbolic level all sorts of unnameable – and perhaps unthinkable – discontents with the ideology" that Adele et Theodore espouses.  we see dark side of parent-child, husband-wife relationships.  Devices to veil protest include putting tale in Italy, stressing the Duchess ending in forbearance, endurance. Trouille puts the novella therefore with those Helene Cixous and Carolyn Heilbrun see as important because they open a conversation, make a space for thoughts and feelings of the heart which move against the currents of an established culture.  Cixous: "l’ecriture est la possibilite meme du changement, l’espace d’ou peut s’elancer une pensee subversive, le mouvement avant-coureur d’une transformation des structures sociales et culturelles" (p. 271).

Perhaps reading such matter was what led Austen to qualify her statement in Northanger Abbey that such gothic happenings could indeed occur outside of Catherine and Henry’s purview, but it more shows why Radcliffe was not seen as otiose in Europe and England too.

It’s also framed in the larger didactic book one of whose themes is how a girl should confide in her mother (Genlis liked this) and the need of a girl to have real guidance for her own sake. Admirable sentiments, but as Trouille says, we find in Genlis’s book an approval of lying to the girl students and in effect total control over them quite like Rousseau’s plans for Emile and Sophie. And I’m bothered by how the Duchess just marries her daughter off to Belmire. The daughter is given no liberty of choice even if the male is said to be such a good man and so on.  So we have a tyrannical mother and Austen would have seen this. She is not a passive reader. Adele et Theodore pays rereading for the person interested in Austen’s sources.

An addendum not about this chapter in Trouille:

Catherine and Henry’s deeply distressed conversation when he discovers what she has been believing about his faher — who he later does say was very cruel to his wife (2007 Northanger Abbey)

The sinister cruel husband-duke locks his wife in a dungeon for many years, sending her food from a hole on top of the roof:  this is what Catherine Morland feared General Tilney was doing to his wife. The situation also anticipates Lewis’s The Monk and Radclliffe’s Sicilian Romance. It’s called "le souterrain" which is the French title for Sophia Lee’s The Recess."  I’m beginning to suspect that The Duchess of C*********** is a major source for Austen’s NA.


Illustration for a text by Retif de Bretonne: The misfortune of familes: The unworthy husband

Part 3, Chapter 9.

Ingenue Saxancour, ou La Femme separe by Restif de la Bretonne, perhaps with his daughter, Agnes (1788). I summarized and commented on this text in another blog.  What follows is Trouille’s commentary summarized and commented on.

Trouille opens by saying this novel is still shocking today (it is, it’s hard to read); it tells in thinly disguised fiction the real life story of horrific abuse of Agnes Retif from the time of her marriage, 1781, until she left her husband, 1785:  raises questions about power relations in abusive marriages, childhood experiences that foster abuse.  At time Retif accused of shameless exhibition to make money (sell books), capitalizing on daughter’s misfortune. Was he warning young women about dangers of marrying men of dubious background against father’s wishes? He called for liberal divorce laws.

Several related issues explored: in Retif’s life-writing he tells us he engaged in incestuous sex with his daughter, of which his estranged wife and this monster son-in-law accused him; if he was author there is (Trouille thinks) disturbing "voyeurism" in the text.  I’ve now read Anna Freud’s paper on "the relation of beating-phantasies to a day-dream,"Anna Freud’s paper on the "relation of beating-phantasies to a day-dream.  It’s striking and as far as it goes feels persuasive — on its own terms, framed as it is by Sigmund Freud’s theories of wish-fulfulment and childhood Oedipal complexes. Anna Freud’s paper does not use the word "masochist" very often, but she presumes that there is such a complex of feeling whereby a woman wants to experience bodily and emotional pain.  AFreud thinks that the woman takes this abuse as a sign of love. I’m not sure when Retif had sex with his daughter, but it does sound as if it may have occurred before the marriage and certainly did afterward — when she left the husband to live with her father. I wish I knew of a paper which connects, better yet, attempts to explain a young woman’s willingness to endure husband abuse as connected to her experience of incest.

In Thesmographie Retif says Ingenue Saxancour continues and amplifies story of his daughter’s marriage presented in another bitter novel by him about his wife and their marriage, La Femme infidele (1786)  La Femme infidele contains 40 page account of daughter’s experience written in her own voice ("Causes de ma fuite et de ma separation").  This 40 pages followed by letters exchanged among principal characters drawn from actual court documents and letters.  Retif said in Mes ouvrages (an appendix to Monsieur Nicolas) that Ingenue Saxancour is also based on the experiences of his daughter’s friend, Catherine Laruelle.  So it is not just the story of Agnes, but combines hers with that of Agnes’s friend, Caroline Laruelle (told to Retif). It is thirdly based on a story told to Retif by Sergent, a draftsmans from Chartres: another tale of wife abuse.

It’s a composite.

Called Moresquin in the novel, Charles-Marie Auge, was a 35 year old childless widower whom Agnes found repulsive and stupid; her aunt, Mme Bizet, pressured her into marrying him (to get rid of her as a burden). Agnes was 19. Aunt presents him as rich, suitable; we find out he has no occupation or place (he was incompetent and without integrity), his first wife died of grief after 10 years of horrible mistreatment; he has been guilty of aggravated battery, 2 rapes, several murders. Expensive settlements for parents and time in a penal colony.

Retif disliked Auge instinctively. Aunt encouraged Agnes to become pregnant to push her father into accepting the match. He wrote his wife encouraged the match to save herself expense of providing rightly for Agnes, to get back at her for her preference for her father, to alienate them from one another.  In the novel Agnes says her mother pushed her to write letters which alienated the father from her (p. 278). Another biographer of Retif says aunt (Mme Bizet) promised Auge 1200 livres and Auge hoped to to profit from marrying the daughter of a well-known author with friends in high places.

In Ingenue Saxancour Retif presents himself and daughter as tragic innocent victims of machinations around them; in Monsieur Nicolas Retif adds daughter responsible too: she feared no one else with financial security would come; she wanted to leave the oppressive aunt and escape the "abhorred" mother p. 279).

Married May 1, 1781; neither parent there and aunt left immediately afterward. A portrait of a detestable man; once alone the husband rears off her clothes and sodomizes his wife.  Early childhood for both included mothers who scorned them: they suspected themselves the products of adulterous liaisons.  Auge’s mother had refused to discipline him.  Trouille reprints dialogue where Ingenue laments his hatred for his mother, for what then can she expect? He replies he resembles his father very little because not his real father; thus this mother has caused all his vices. 

Less than a month after marriage he tells story of his life meant to intimidate her (see blog on Ingenue).  He threw hard bread at her and she bled a few weeks later; he apologizes but he sees he can get away with this: familiarity breeds contempt and he sees she has no one else (p. 280). Excruciating detail of his becoming horrifying abusive and her life a living hell (see blog on Ingenue).  I add he makes her eat leftovers from plates; comes home late at night, flies into rages, shouts obscenities, beats her, and makes her have sex in perverse ways.  A marked desire for oral and anal intercourse which Levy (an editor of another edition) regards as latent sadism and homosexuality (p. 281). He becomes more abusive when she is pregnant.

Trouille remarks (and I’ve read this elsewhere) that pregnant women suffer increased abuse because wife can’t defend herself, looks ugly, will cost more (p. 281)

He is apparently able to make her dress shamefully, to serve her servant, he kicks her in the back so violently she hurts for the rest of the pregnancy, gives birth early and then is dangerously ill. Now as I read this I think to myself no one could make me do this.  I am not an 18th century woman, but wonder if other 18th century women no matter what the going rhetoric would have stood for this. Perhaps something in her was susceptible to this and not in other women.

Now  I find Trouille judgemental and speaking out of her own strength:
  Trouille says that we are told in the novel the husband inserted men in her bed in the morning and she did give in, but there is something judgemental in Trouille’s way of putting this:  "when she is overcome with lassitude and mistakes – or claims to have mistaken – the intruders for her husband" (p. 282).

It’s really brave of Retif to tell the kind of event where the husband urges his wife to go to bed with someone to forward his career. The only places I’ve seen this are in Jacobean dramas (astonishing for their truth) and a few women novelists of the 18th century (D’Epinay in Montbrilliant, Georgiana Spencer in The Sylph, and Edgeworth, though qualified by making the woman complicit in Leonora).  I found Ingenue’s pleadings with her husband short as they were and inadequate nonetheless moving and would not impugn her with a "claims to have mistaken."  .

I know I skimmed some of the book because I found it so painful even the somewhat abridged version I read (about 1/4 is chopped off) so I must take on credit that Agnes does end up having a liaison with one of her husband’s friends.  Look at the perversity of the husband inviting a guy (Fromentel) over, then inspecting her body for traces (!) — is she a slave, an animal, then beating her for infidelity, then inviting him again.  Moresquin wants to be a cuckold and then is jealous. Agnes our narrator says the jealousy is an excuse to beat her again. 

Trouille goes through the monstrousness of what Moresquin subjects Ingenue to and says the "stark realism" of this is "unprecedented in the literature of the period, "painstaking details" and "psychological obstacles" to be "overcome in order to break free of her tormentors" (p. 283). 

So why did it take Agnes 4-5 years to leave this man: lack of financial resources, social stigma, weak legal position, lack of any social support services. Psychological barriers: Trouille cites some studies which argue that passivity and masochism are learned responses to abuse by showing how parents taught their daughters to submit. Masse says it has a survival function. Referring to Anna Freud’s paper, Trouille says that women are led to feel there is no scenario outside this dream’s borders, no other drama, no other reality. The only role distaste can choose is spectator who turns away. 

Two articles: Leonore Walker’s Battered Women and Learned Helplessness, Victimology, 2 (1977-78):525-34 presents a sociological explanation: the girl is trained early on to see that none of her actions have any effect on what is being done to her. She is shown doing anything is not just useless but often brings more punishment in its wake. This kind of thing done early creates a passivity difficult to break out of. Elizabeth Waites, "Female Masochism and Enforced Restriction of Choices, Victimology, 2 (1977-78):535-44 effectively demolishes whole idea of masochism as modern invention for explaining why women suffer so (it used to be their fault in another way, they were sinful), and shows how they weigh losses against gains (p. 284)

Ingenue/Agnes felt helpless because 1) circumstances surrounding marriage, 2) parents’ strained relations, 3) she’s estranged from them, 4) aunt would not look, 5) father cut off all ties. 

Then 2 and 1/2 years later Agnes writes father to ask him to visit and then she hides the situation. The three pregnancies tied her. He insults her as dependent on him, calls her horrible names; she internalizes this abject view of herself. She begins to think situation normal. He calls her his slave and she takes on this term for herself (p 285); he says she must obey or get worse treatment.

Cruel irony is by not resisting, trying to escape she ends up as he says.

Because other women then perceived her this way is no excuse for 20th century scholar to! (p. 286). 
I cannot understand why Trouille indulges in deploring Ingenue’s "weakness of character," "lack of resourcefulness," calls her a victim of her ‘spinelessness." P. 286) Trouille seems to suggest that because she can find women who scorn the woman who does not fight back (Wollstonecraft, Mme de Beausset), Agnes ought to have or could. Wollstonecraft never married an abusive man, I know nothing of Mme de Beausset. A scene where the other women in the neighborhood beat up Ingenue’s maid is adduced (pp. 287-88). She quotes Ingenue that she was afraid to apply to her father lest she drive her mother to hate her worse, but the lines about the father are sexual: maybe she knew she’d end up having incest with her father once she left the husband — and she is! ("si j’avais vouler me sauver dans le bras de mon pere", p 288)

She does say she took heart from these women’s actions against her maid. She sees the value of witnesses; she fled the man who wanted to kill her for firing the maid and the servant as witness for the first time made the aunt say she believed her. (The aunt might have believed her before but now she could not deny what another had seen.)

When she and Auge visit the Fromentels, the wife is outraged and chastises him sternly (I’ve read such a scenario once — could it be Drabble’s novel, Through a Needle’s Eye?); Mme urges Ingenue to stand up to Moresquin and she does with a knife and he backs down. But she has not learned how and why to resist in a less draining way; violence leads to violence; she’s led to whip her child for imitating malice to her; also immediately she relaxes, he resumes viciousness (p. 289). He soon realizes she is no match; her father does not support her.

Greuze: this is a picture where the wife’s mother-in-law attempts to break her teeth by insisting she eat hard bread – the picture exposes the hidden realities of family life

She fled him 7 times (p. 290).  Her parents pressure her to return (!) and Moresquin resumes his cruelties. Third year she flees more frequently, but each time father insists she return to husband (he told her "j’etais dans l’etat que j’avais choisi). Episodes of escalating violence; he tries to kill her with a sword; she is sent back by parents (!), and resolves to kill herself in such a way that he’d be charged with murder and executed.

This near-death experience gives her courage to tell father full truth; her utter lack of resources meant she had to have family support. So father agrees to help her get legal separation; even so he counsels her with all the drawbacks of leaving including loss of son. Moresquin had publicly accused Ingenue of adultery; she never sought custody. Her intense relief clouded by having to leave boy behind (p. 291); she rescues only her birds and dog. He brings the son to show he has turned the son against her. Not until February 21, 1786 does she file for legal separation to give her legal protection from his stalking and continued violence. Court grants separation, permission to live with father, and orders Auge to stay away.

She files for divorce 1793 on the grounds of incompatibility; has a lover by then, Louis Vignon, an office clerk 10 years her junior whose son she bore next summer; she does not marry him until 1798; Retif and his wife divorced in 1794, a month following daughter’s divorce, neither remarry. I’m surprised that Agnes did remarry.

Reftif’s motives for writing and publishing the novel.  Ostensible motive is to warn girls against precipitate marriage (must go into financial situation, morals, background,) and to heed parents’ advice. (This reminds me of Trollope’s Prime Minister and Emily Wharton and Ferdinand Lopez which goes into emotional and psychological abuse to the point the wife becomes abject; he won’t go into physical. Trollope’s novels keep going into this territory.) Frank unvarnished horror must be shown.

One critic says novel a "personal vendetta" (p. 293); most biographers think he published the novel to denounce son-in-law & expose wife’s role, and Retif admits this in Les Nuits de Paris and La Femme Infidele (p. 293).

He expresses "intense pain" he felt in Monsieur Nicolas (p. 293-94), wants to clear himself (underscores his firm opposition) & explain why he didn’t interfere earlier (not told, too ill). Does express bitter regret for leaving Agnes with his sister ("Moi, qui savais combien elle est bornee ..").

Porter says Retif’s self-portrait is self-deceiving, self-flattering, he was weak, w/o character; Lely that it’s hypocritical, dull. Trouille says it reflects a deep sense of guilt over what happened (p 291).  There was a pressing need for money too (p. 295) He needed material so turned to family life and anything that happened to him or he saw — I think he must also have had strong impulse to write his life.

Reader response.  Everyone outraged by publication of Ingenue Saxancour. It so went against the mores of the era. "He must be a maniac so to shame himself and family"  It could bring only grief. He went on to publish even more self-revealing works. Auge accused him of libel and had him arrested; Retif replied and work published. Unperturbed.  His daughter expressed gratitude; Mme Laruelle intensely for vindication and closure, died of TB in her early 30s.

Close collaboration:  Trouille agrees Tabarant makes persuasive argument Agnes had to collaborate, portrayals too realistic, intimate, detailed, tone of "celui d’une autobiographie feminine" (p. 297). Novel can also be read as sublimation of Retif’s desires and confused feelings towards putative daughter (p. 301)

Now Trouille herself "wonders" why someone could collaborate in book that would "shame" and "further damage her reputation."  (Again she is thinking from her point of view.)  Was it vindication?  Or, as Tabarant suggests, her emotional and financial dependence on her father.  Full blown incestuous relations with her father began less than a week after novel published — this is disturbing; they began 6 days after they finished the book (p. 298). Trouille sees the same passivity that led her to stay with, accept Moresquin’s abuse operates here; she says Agnes ambivalent about publication.  Retif maintained that Agnes not his daughter, but product of pre-marital liaison.  Apparently Retif engaged in incest with his other daughter, Marion. Trouille says relationship incestuous because Retif brought girls up as his daughters and they regarded him as their father.

In Retif’s Journal there is a love-hate relationship with Agnes. We see annotations of quarrels, of forced fucking; she resists, she capitulates, she finally leaves in 1794: affair fraught with tension, unhappiness. Confusion of narrative voice in Ingenue Saxancour when Retif writes defensively, to justify himself (p. 300). We see her father refuse to give Moresquin money though he knows Moresquin will beat her if he does not give it, at the same time as father does not want her to leave husband, son, household (p. 300).

Problems in the stance or art of the book
:  Agnes or narrator cannot be an innocent even if she asserts this because her descriptions show sophisticated maturity. Trouille recognizes the same contradiction in Suzanne Simonin in La Religieuse, particularly the nun’s scenes with the lesbian mother superior.  But this kind of contradiction found in many epistolary novels where teller must tell things his or her character should not really know.  Ingenue must tell of the anal intercourse; she must present herself as having had sex with three of her husband’s friends and not know it. Of course her credibility is undermind as a naive innocent heroine: when Sir Charles and other report compliments their credibility is similarly undermined. It does reveal variety of motives for writing novel.

Still the ultimate aim is to make readers realise the need for changes in attitudes and laws regarding spousal abuse. She sees pornography in this work. I can’t.  So for her a tension between pornographic and reformist aims. Sensationalist approach designed to win Retif money and agreement with him (p. 302)

How much fact, how much fiction?
  It’s presented as histoire: a history or real-life story. Work seen by friends and family as scandalous biography. Many of events are corroborated in Retif’s journal entries; while he could lie and deceive, they seem to offer useful, more reliable information than that typically found in diaries.

For conclusion and my final thoughts see comments.

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Dear friends and readers,

Since I’ve found my original blog even just as a summary on Mary Trouille’s book is wholly inadequate, I revised and made a four part blog.

The first part covers the opening section on the state of the law, customs and social contexts for a study of actual conditions of marriage, and the laws and customs which allowed for separation and divorce, plus three opening cases.  The first on a case involved syphilis (M and Mme Ble), the second a case which exposes the prejudices limiting what an older woman (Mme de la Mezieres) can do to protect herself if she marries a much younger man; the third allowed cruelty in a case of a younger woman (Mme Rouches) married to an older man who allowed his step-son to beat her when she was pregnant (by the man) and the difficulty she had getting the court to acknowledge that severe beatings of a lower class woman mattered.

The section (part two of three) I’m going to cover here concerns three more cases, a fourth (Berge) which challenges male violence and the double standards governing sexuality , and two more, fifth (Mme Mandonnet) and sixth (Mme d L’Orme)where we see a conservative lawyer attacking the liberalization of the divorce law in France in 1792, but also  paradoxically using it on behalf of the wife. 

A third blog is on the  chapters in Trouille’s book on fictional accounts of wife abuse. I have written blogs and papers about some of it elsewhere (Sade and his La Marquise de Gange; Genlis’s Histoire de la Duchess de C************ and Retif and Agnes de Bretonne’s Ingenue Saxancour)t.

The last part, shorter, concludes with intersections of literature, law, life experience, and my own final thoughts of how reading this book makes you see 18th century life for women and novels differently.

Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743), Blindman’s Bluff (1728)

The above picture is intended to suggest the falsifying mysteries and sexual glamor with which marriage in the era was surrounded, the romance (in which it still is); in contrast to the unhidden realities that break ups reveal.

The real subject of this book is the necessity of liberal divorce laws and norms and laws that make both partners to the marriage equally valued/w equal powers. Its terrain is as much the UK and British experience for many of the notes and references are British and the situation not dissimilar for women.

The book may be said to be what happens when all power is to one individual and (except in the very elite) none to the other and what happens to the vulnerable powerless partner — which is what happened to just about all women until the early 20th century in the west and still happens many around the world still.  The case studies are universal in application.


Supposed to be a depiction of an imprisoned wife; a casual throw-away sneer by the lawyer in Mme Rouches’s case feeling sorry for men who are criticizing for imprisoning their wives shows this was not as uncommon as we suppose.

Chapter 5: challenging male violence and double standard in courts. This fourth case comes from Volume 158 of Des Essarts’s Causes Celebres.

The case of Henriette-Jeanne Gaune de Cazeau, Madame Aubailly de La Berge against  Gilbert Aubailly de La Berge, challenges standards of allowed violence. She accused him  of a gamut of terrible behavior, including insults, sordid cruelties, kicking and beating her mercilessly. He dissipated her fortune to keep a series of mistresses. She lived with him 2 years, 15 months later won separation and custody of her son.  Her memoir written by Victor-Alvoyne de Chantereyne (1762-1834), another of these lawyers working for legal reform from National Assembly to being a prosecutor under Napoleon.

Trouille begins with the norms that adultery by a wife is much worse (brings in illegitimate children), that women are inferior and have no right to judge (so even if husband’s adultery a sin, she cannot criticize as he owns her, not she him); only when husband’s adultery accompanied by aggravating circumstances, i.e., he invites the mistress to the house, she lives there &c has the wife just grounds for complaint.

But in 1778, in Traite de l’Adultere, Jean-Francois Fourel published a modern feminist critique of this double standard. So too Delacroix in his article, "mari" in the Encyclopedie: both husband and wife promised equally; they describe the wife as deeply wounded by his fidelity as well as his possible scorn. It is as much his duty to treat her with affection and as his first object sexually and no one else as it is hers. Chantereyne in defending his client, Dame de la Berge, pointed out the injustice of the double standard.  Like Linguet in the case of Mme Ble (Trouille’s first case), he succeeded in reshaping the law. He was another lawyer working to reform the civil law and published Essai sur la reforme des lois civiles (1790).

In this case Des Essarts considered Mme de la Berg entirely justified even the the grounds of the case represented more progressive views than what women were owed. Highly unusually Des Essarts just presents the wife’s case and doesn’t even name the husband’s lawyer. It could have been M. La Berge argued his own case (his finances were in a bad state).  The key argument in Chantereyne’s case was the need for stronger legal protections for women suffering serious physical and financial abuse from husbands.

Chantereyne:  Introduction ("l’exode"):  admits courts overloaded nowadays (we have seen this is not true, a myth) and then says in case of Mme de la Berge she has endured for a long time countless types of cruel abuse and been blameless; it’s time for her to seek redress, anything else would make her deserve the hideous treatment. 

Then the facts ("Les faits"):   She had lost her father and brother when young but had been close to her mother.  Reads like a gothic sentimental novel. Handsome seductive M de la Berge hide his deceit, depravity, cynical opportunism, she a paragon of beauty, virtue, innocence, sensibility.  He marries her and behaves terribly — presented with stock epithets. Basically he lied, pretending to have much money owed him, concealing debts, 2 days after wedding she has to pay 600 livres to cover his belongings from a lodging. Clauses designed to protect her money make him beat and abuse her.   (A parallel in Riccoboni’s Lettres d’Adelaide de Dammartin, comtesse de Sancerre, 1767). M de la Berge insisted on extravagant luxury (Des Essarts had critiqued Mme Rouches for this in Trouille’s previous case.)  He is continually squandering her money, taking what she meant to invest and then asking for more; he was supporting a courtesan-mistress who he showed himself in public with and who considered herself his real wife (she had a painting of herself made in the same pose as Mme de la Berge. Chantereyne concentrated not on the adultery itself (which Trouille says was painful to the woman who loved this man), but his dissipation of her fortune, slander of his wife, life-threatening violence, that the liaison was a continuation of something that had been going on before the marriage.

[This does remind me of Trollope’s Eustace Diamonds where M. Emilius wants Lady Eustace’s estate; in the film adaptation, the 1974 BBC Pallisers, Simon Raven treats the case as one where Emilius is roughing Lizzie up; bullying her into signing away bits of her fortune. Raven does not say why he wants this money (adulteries) but the outline is this one we find in the Berg case.]

Once the money ran out, his abuse became extreme and continual.  Chantereyne says de L Berge hated his wife for her moral superiority (this idea we find in novels), but Trouille argues it was his financial dependence on her and her inability to pay that sparked his rage. Scenes of her servants saving her, the neighbors — themselves get hurt. His was more violent when she was pregnant and Trouille says this pattern found today in abusive husbands and partners. She locked herself in but he succeeded in provoking a dangerous premature birth.  Scenes of his debauchery with a mistress in one room while she calls for help while in labor in another; when she will not give up what little she has, he begins to beat her (like Collet did Mme de Mezieres); she begs him not to abandon her and their son!  "Il rejette avec dedain ses instances …"

Violence escalated after landlady forces him to return to wife.  He beats her severely when she shows him a bill.  Her women and servants risk themselves saving her life; parallels with a pregnant servant risking her life to save Marquise de Granges in Delayen’s account of her murder. Men are indifferent to pregnancy; we see some solidarity among women (p. 165).

Aggravating circumstances of adulteries: 1) that he appeared with mistress in public in the same place as his wife; 2) that the affair began before the marriage: this is regarded as fundamental breaking of faith (it’s okay if he falls afterward: this a norm which enabled Cochin to obtain separation for Mme de Chasse (1728)’; his mistress also a prostitute and he squander’s wife’s fortune to support mistress; and adultery in the house: he seduces wife’s maid, Julie, by promises of clothes, she is fired, set up in neighborhood and supplies wine from wife’s cellar.  Chantereyne cites as precedent: Mme Herault (1769) wins separation because husband commits adultery in house; Mme Papon (1543) whose husband brought a mistress into house and made a settlement on her. 

Hounded by debts, he goes into hiding; Mme de la Berge works ceaselessly to get him a safe conduct to allow him to return home; when she arrives where he is and sees him with mistress, he takes knife to stab her.

Emotional abuse: he repeatedly tells her he married her for her money, tries to alienate family from her by slanderous letters and violence, intimidation (p. 171); he causes a violent quarrel at a party she gives for her sister’s recovery from an illness (p 166).  He spreads rumors about her as adulterous, attempting to poison child; he deprives her access to child on grounds she intends to mistreat him and would let him die of hunger; denying access to children a frequent retaliation by husbands against wife who filed for separation (what Agnes de Bretonne’s husband did).

She files for a separation only after particularly harrowing episode when she found him with 2 prostitutes; she flees for life, returns when 2 neighbors agree to protect her; falls ill before can go into convent, but in October she escapes after he beats her for refusing to give him money when she lay in sickbed. Her mother files formal complaint and has permission for daughter to enter a convent (p. 173)

It really is puzzling why this woman stays. He cites her sense of duty to him and child (she tried to use son to make him love her, he ignored son), idealized view of marriage.  Trouille asks why she forces him to return.  Spineless masochism?  Shame and fear for reputation, of husband’s retaliation. She exhibits sense of helplessness. We do see she was also an active player in what happens.

Legal arguments (moyens):  Arguments include de la Berge’s emotional abuse of Mme de la Berge ("mepris barbare") constitutes legitimate grounds for separation. Now judges are treated victims of spouse abuse (not as upholders of marriage) and thus defender’s of women’s right to free themselves. That the court must not fulfill this obvious goal of the husband: to take her estate. That they grant her permanent custody of their son: there is strong bond and deep consolation for Mme de la Berge. They will have double satisfaction of taking a child from tyrant his victim and giving a son to his mother. (This is a challenge to patriarchy.)  Revealing the way he characterizes novels:  this is no ingenious fiction made to engage sensitive souls.

Ends on truth claims (as novels often have); underscores his large number of witnesses; husband provides proof with his libellous pamphlets and slanderous letters

Yet the court ordered a full investigation!; would not grant immediate separation; perhaps they wondered why she stayed, believed the husband’s accusations, perhaps de la Berge had influence and separation would make his lose access to her estate when alive and after his death. In letters to his wife de la Berge says he is prolonging investigation as a means of revenge, for why does he atttempt to leave her and then contest the separation.

Only 1787 was she allowed to proceed with her suit with new evidence; only in 1788 granted a permanent separation.

One problem here was that she did not leave this man but endured terrible blows and behavior. It was her mother who resorted to getting the police on her side and was able to put the daughter temporarily into a convent.  This one is peculiar because there is no argument which brings out the husband’s side of the case.  Did the husband have no side for once (except to slander her which her lawyer brought up), so egregious was his behavior.  Why the delay?


The marriage contract signed in a village, among friends and relatives, Greuze

Part 2, Chapter 6: the fifth and sixth cases argued by well-known lawyer, Nicolas-Francois Bellart (1803 and 1805): Bellart’s critique of the 1792 divorce law:  defending Mme de L’orme (1803) and M. Mandonnet (1805)

In 1803 there is a cancellation of divorce based on incompatibility, abolition of family courts; grounds reduced to cruelty or harsh treatment, conviction of spouse as a criminal or adultery; she can be divorced for simple adultery and imprisoned for up to 2 years; he must bring mistress to house and the he is fined.  Mutual consent has set of restrictions that make it difficult to obtain (she must be between 21 and 45, he older than 25; cannot remarry for 3 years; must have series of requests and meet with family members).

Divorce drops. Rouen 67 per year from 1795-1805, from 1806 it’s 6 per year; divorce abolished in 1816. Caen: 181 divorces by 1804; after 13 until 1816.  Women still outnumber men.

By no means in intermediary time (1792-1803) had divorce been easy; it tore at fabric of family expectations, religion, lineage practice. [From my reading in Genlis’s life I know Genlis, together with son-ln-law fought against her older daughter’s petition for divorce from the crook-monster she had sold the girl to.]   Interesting that at first Napoleon had wanted to keep divorce by mutual consent and on grounds of incompatibility ("to make marriage indissoluble provokes ennui," and "puts curate above couple" he said), but in the face of opposition could only keep divorce by mutual consent under heavy restriction. Divorce based on incompatibility used as sign of radicalism; it threw wrench in ideals about families, woman challenging authority of patriarchy, the man’s control over goods.

Everything reinstated because fundamental attitudes had not altered. Women regarded as inferior, and as wives owned by, subject to husbands.

So first four cases from Des Essarts show gradual liberalization, so Bellart’s Memoires reflect conservative backlash, allied with conservatives who gained power during Napoleonic regime.  Bellart was allied to group of conservatives who repealed or watered down much of progressive divorce laws adopted by Revolutionary gov’t.

Cases bring out arguments against law in a later case.  The book becomes yet more varied for new things come out because of new laws. We see how even if attitudes remain the same, new laws and then the change back (partial) in 1803 shapes strongly what can be and will be told. Not as much comes out about individuals as you might think since pride and the same human realities are there plus the existence of many people whose attitudes adhered to the old traditional patriarchal structures.


In The Duchess (2008), we do have a scene of marital rape, and the Duke of Devonshire brings his mistress Lady Beth Foster, to live in the house with his wife, Georgiana Spencer. See my blog on this movie.

I preface this summary with this still because the crux of the issue of the fifth case, the conflicts of the Mandonnets was Mme Mandonnet was refusing to have sexual intercourse with Monsieur, and the reality the court sided with her and she won custody too, suggests there was real abuse, say spousal rape, though the word would never be used. We have here a case where a woman is rebelling against an arranged marriage with its endless pregnancies to a man much older than she.  The Duke was (in real life) also much older than Georgiana.

The fifth case another one where we have but one side:  Madame Mandonnet where Bellart the lawyer argued on behalf of the husband that his wife should be forced to return to him — this was after the 1803 laws changed back the terms of divorce.  Bellart used the case to argue on behalf of traditional values and to argue that fights and arguments happen all the time and are no basis for divorce.  If you count such a thing, marriages will dissolve away — and so they have.

Bellart’s framing argues the traditional view of marriage, and that the laws which had encouraged divorce based on incompatibility or mutual consent were undermining all that society was about. Of interest is Bellart assumes when a wife has the right to get a divorce, she’ll do it a lot; that he calls such women adulteresses. He assumes a husband owns his wife and once she has sex with him, she is criminal to have sex with another. He argues it’s the man who suffers terribly in this new law: he loses his family, his control. Women are meant to be an ornament and must be ruled by men (capricious, licentious).  This overthrows family property, inheritance rights; look at all these wives trying to recover "their" assets! 

This is the first case where the lawyer makes an emotional appeal to the judges on behalf of the children. Bellart sounds like Des Essarts on Mme Rouches (the one where the wife was accused of frivolous frittering away of his estate while she was demonstrating horrific abuse from her stepson.)

The memoir written by Mandonnet or written by Bellart on his behalf and is in the first person and is couched personally; so too is Mandonnet’s against his sister over their father leaving all to the sister.  Mandonnet was someone whom his father disinherited and who rose to be rich, powerful because of his connections, but we do see he was rejected by the father and sister. 

Mme Mandonnet’s memoir has disappeared but Mandonnet describes it enough so we can glimpse something of her side. Basically she refuses to have sex with him she says because his conduct was awful:  ferocious,. That he hit her during her first pregnancy. He presents them as of lower rank than she does in order to suggest she should take some of his abuse. He presents himself as deprived of his basic needs and the quarrels as all words and empty threats on his part, nothing else. He says she filed for divorce because her parents want to get the family property back.  It does feel much more like a modern couple, with real nuances of relationship coming out as important. He complains about the father-in-law’s animosity to him. 

Trouille says in fact the marriage was set up by Mandonnet and the father-in-law as they were close in age. This was common, a pact of one man selling his daughter to his friend.  That his father-in-law but her father was on her side against makes one think there is something wrong but in earlier cases it would not matter. Here modern values of happiness and comfort for the woman and individuals are prevailing.

Bellart ends with a renewed attack on new laws:  separation is worse than divorce because women need not have children (for the state or the husband); it’s an imperfect divorce. This was what was said in the Ble case (the man accused of infecting his wife with syphilis); we see men want wives — they want sex and they want children and a family situation to be in.

Trouille says in Bellart’s framing Mandonnet comes across as highly sympathetic. Mandonnet had concluded with a cri de coeur:  c’est le tort irreparable de condamner notre vieillesse a la solitude, nos coeurs a la haine, et nos enfants a tous les chagrins et a tous les prejudices qui resteront pour eux de la discorde de leurs parents."

What’s interesting is the court again rejected the husband’s suit for a repeal and decided with Madame Mandonnet: again the court decided he had abused her beyond what was allowed and she could divorce him.  The crux here is interesting:  she was refusing to have sex with him  and he apparently was ferocious. Some people might sympathize with him, but the judges didn’t — that’s what’s interesting. 

What emerges slowly is she was a young woman forced to marry a man distasteful to her who was much older than her; she succumbed and allowed him to impregnate her once. He hit her while pregnant. After the birth of two more children, she refused to go to bed with him any more.  He was probably very brutal after that, and finally she left him to go to her parents, She returned once after a reconciling letter from him, but then left again. He now owned the property or controlled it so she needed a court to declare a legal separation to get maintenance for herself and something to set up her children with.

I was interested in this requirement a court could declare that a woman go back to her husband. I have read this kind of court order could emerge in 19th century courts in England. Does this mean a man can really force his wife to go to bed with him, I wondered.  Would police bring her back?  Would they then leave her there to be brutalized?  Most of the time in England the upper or middle upper woman had the wherewithal to leave the county.  What she was avoiding was a court order ordering her back. If she didn’t go back, she could go to jail.

I wondered how many women were so ordered. Did anyone go to jail? i wondered what happened in England in the 1790s to 1810s.  Trouille does not deal with this sort of question as she stays firmly with her court cases and facts about them and France itself.


Scene of debauchery, Hogarth

Sixth case:  Mme de l’Orme.  This last case reveals Bellart switching gears and arguing for a divorce based on the idea that incompatibility is a more serious permanent cause of misery than violent abuse or adultery. This unexpected turn around comes from the reality that she had instituted divorce proceedings under the old law in 1802, and just as she was about to go to trial, 1803, the law changed and incompatibility while no longer there was the cause she had contended for. She did win her case even though grounds for divorce were no longer incompatibility. H refused to divorce her on grounds of mutual consent, still allowed with permission of family members "no doubt in an effort to retain control of her dowry."

In 1790 Louise Dangereux brings 100,000 livres to M De L’Orme (whose first name does not appear in this book); he had an annual income of 18,000 livres. So very rich.  She was a commoner, and was then subjected to veral and emotional abuse and stinginess; when she left him, he gave her 27,000 livres for her and 3 children which she said was inadequate given the dowry she had brought.

Judge also had less discretionary power after 1803.

Bellart knows he is known for his conservative principles so he submits 27 pages on the moral laxity of the 1792 law, then says Mme de L’Orme has gotten caught up in a bind: she went public, asked for divorce and to make her go back now, is to invite retaliation (even up to murder) in a situation that deteriorated and went public because of this law. The new law had made exceptions for those petitioning under old law.  Trouille a bit sarcastic: this is a Humpty Dumpty analogy for marriage: egg broken, cannot be put back together again.  But she goes no further.

Not content – because he wanted to win his case — he proceeded to argue how incompatibility was worse for a marriage than adultery or violence.  He submitted letters by the husband showing his hostile, emotionally abusive towards her family. Vindictive, vulgar.  After all one can commit adultery in a sudden moment and it mean nothing, especially if not repeated. Astonishingly though Trouille repeats Bellart’s argument that violence can show love and women cherish this as a sign of love! She is critical (this description of wife who longs to be beaten "appears rather cavalier … from a man who never married"), but she then credit his description of "the dynamics of violent marriage" with "understanding" the "cycle of violence and forgiveness" that "often characterizes such relationships" and then quotes the inane passage in Montesquieu which presents as amusing how Moscow wives want to be beaten daily."  In her book, she has cited J.P. Martin (read note in comment) where it’s shown how wrong and absurd this is. Women loathe being beaten; it is no sign of love; if they stay or go back, they are mostly driven by external circumstance, and we see in these cases when women have an alternative if they make hat mistake once they never do again.

"I’m astonished she prints this fatuity as creditable.  The situation again reminds me of a Trollope novel and again I see how weak and pro-male is the depiction.  The Berges (Case 4) were a situation like Lady Eustace’s marriage to Joseph Emilius where Trollope plays down the violence of the man’s nagging for money (though the TV show did not); here we see how soft Trollope presents the Trevelyan case in He Knew He Was Right. Emily says he’s insulting her coarsely and vituperatively in private. We never see it.  We never see Louis become violent — which he would have. So the situation does not come out as the cruel and horrible situation it would be in life.  Davies further turns the situation pro-husband by making him frail psychologically, and on the surface all love.

I suppose the value of this case is that it shows that people then did recognize how awful life could be with an incompatible spouse, even someone as traditional in outlook as Bellart.  We can see how facts can be distorted to win a case and how lawyers’ own personal views shape what they present.  But here she presents a shorter retelling than her other cases. Perhaps forced to in order not to make book too long.  So we don’t hear enough about the class conflicts (maybe the letters Bellart showed the judges didn’t survive), only that the man wanted her money, wanted to continue to torment her to get back.

I’m also suddenly aware (from reading J.P. Martin how little has been said about the experiences of the children in these cases).


See Part One  and Part Three

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                                         Could you shrink from so simple an adventure?   No, no, you will proceed into this small vaulted room, and through this into several others, without perceiving anything very remarkable in either.  In one perhaps there may be a dagger, in another a few drops of blood, and in a third the remains of some instrument of torture; but there being nothing in all this out of the common way, … Jane Austen as Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey

From Quills: another 18th century film where we watch a book burn (others are both NA films, and Miss Austen Regrets)

Dear friends and readers,

Tonight I’m writing a blog movie-review about Philip Kaufman, Doug Wright and Julia Chasman’s Quills, a movie I did not like. It’s been my policy over the past year or so not to write about movies or books or whatever that I don’t like – as it takes time — except when I think there is something importantly bad about it. In this case too I’m clarifying to myself (or will as I write and then revise and polish this one) what I think about this movie and how it relates to my recent project.

Charenton Dungeon halls as seen or built in Quills

Someone asked me why I watched it, and have been reading Francine du Plessix-Grey’s At Home with the Marquis de Sade as the probable sexual sadism of this movie and (as I’ve discovered) the snobbery, willingness to cater to supposed glamor and liking for stories of famous aristocrats in Plessix-Grey are not my usual thing. 

Good question and I’ll answer it as preface:  more than a year ago now I read Mary Trouille’s book on Wife Abuse in mid-18th century France and liked it very very much. I wrote a blog-review:  In Trouille’s book is a chapter on a woman called the Marquise de Granges. She was pushed into an arranged or coerced marriage, and then treated horribly, beaten, terrified, harassed, and she went to court to win separation and an income, a real life court case producing records which show aspects of the ancien regime as women experienced it.  Sade wrote a novel based on her life story. I’ve wanted to read it since then.  I had listened to Plessix-Gray’s book read aloud by Donada Peters for Books-on-Tape but not read it quietly to myself which I did want to do.  In order to understand why Sade wrote a novella based on the Marquise de Granges’s story I needed to learn about him and how this book relates to his life and other work.

Miolans, one of the fortresses Sade was imprisoned in, from Plessix-Grey’s Chez Sade

I’ve also read: Sadeian Woman by Angela Carter, a brilliant parody and critique of Sade, and A. S. Byatt’s Babel Tower, which includes an inset novella set in the ancien regime where a group of idealists set up a community apart, which given human nature from Sade’s point of view (or what we find in The Lord of the Flies) becomes a hell of cruelty where the strong abuse the weak.  The story in the present is parallel to this and is about wife abuse.

I am just now reading Felicite de Genlis’s Adele et Theodore, which contains at least 3 gothic novels:    The most famous is a longish inset gothic novel,

Histoire de la Duchess de C**********, very powerful, epistolary journal, about a wife badly abused by her husband, among other things he throws her in a dungeon, beats her, terrorizes her,
which begins in Volume II and goes on for quite a while. It was published separately and in English translation too — and today exists in a modern separate edition in French. I hope to read Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake, her Celestina (a dungeon story), and perhaps reread Radcliffe’s Sicilian Romance which like the story of the younger son in Adele et Theodore has a wife in the dungeon.  I want to bring together these materials as the underbelly of Northanger Abbey, embedded or reflected in the story of Mrs and Eleanor and General Tilney, not to omit Henry — and Catherine’s nightmare dreams.

There are different gothics, and one, male, which often features vampires, is deeply misogynistic, tends to pornographic and revels in cruelty, especially towards women, power over them.  This movie participates in except two of the women attempt to free themselves from either the hated husband or job as chambermaid — supposedly liberated by reading Justine, which is said to be (by Plessix-Grey) a kind of Candide which exposes the cruelty of the universe.  Justine is like Pangloss going about saying virtue is rewarded, and we see that the reality is the opposite. So she might as well give in to her appetites.  My view is that giving into her appetites is giving into appetites of men and becoming their plaything — and Carter partly says this. .Another type of gothic can be (and has been called) female gothic: Radcliffe writes this, so too Wharton, and it tends to be ghost stories, stories of psychological intangible terror with woman as victims. Here’s my paper on NA as a female gothic novel, recuperative, genuinely empowering

I’ve been reading about Sade and books by him:  Sade

So, now:  Quills

Madeleine ‘Maddy’ LeClerc (Kate Winslett) and The Abbe du Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix): there was such a chambermaid with that name and an Abbe who was an idealist running Charenton, but the characters as developed in this movie are fantasy.  Winslett often plays radical-thinking and feeling victim heroines (Marianne Dashwood, Sue Bridehead in S&S and Jude, respectively) Here they have a philosphical discussion which presents the idea it’s hard to tell evil from good, and indeed we will find that the evil man of the movie, Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) masquerading as an religious stern but good man is a cruel power-hungry appetite-ridden sadist who destroys the Abbe and inflicts horrendous cruelties on everyone

Caine is dressed to look Vampire like

Written by Doug Wright, directed by Philip Kaufman, and produced by Julia Chasman.  I watched this movie last night — well, nearly watched it. I couldn’t really look at the film steadily in the last 25 minutes or so.  I had to avert my eyes, look away.  It left me shaking, shocked. No one who had mentioned it to me really conveyed the horror of it.  It seems to me a horror male gothic film disguised as or combined with period and biopic drama, and connects to "horror-revenge" films or rape-revenge cycles, a subgenre of high violence, heavily sexua, brutal (I Spit on Your Grave is a notorious example).  There are articles on these, books:  Jacina Reed, The New Avengers: Feminism, feminity and the rape-revenge cycle (Manchester University Press, 2000); Colleen Kennedy, "Simulating Sex and Imagining Mothers," American Literay History, 4 (1992):165-85; Julianne Pidduck, “The 1990s Hollywood Femme Fatale: (Dis)Figuring Feminism, Family, Irony and Violence,” Cineaction, 38 (1995):65-72

I realize the film-makers are presenting it as "serious" on some level.  We have the audio-commentary (not for me as then I’d have to sit through the film in slow motion), two features (which I will try to watch), and other paratexts which announce this.  But I wonder: at some level it felt very sick (I was sickened), a revelling in imagined perverse physical pain on offer (about people’s mouths especially), even if what was exposed was the cruelties that masquerade under respectability and (yes) religion.  Bizarre too, necrophilia, sexual sadisms.

The movie began tongue-in-cheek, with Ron Cook as a parody  Napoleon, and at first was self-reflexively making fun of itself as well as other conventions. Its themes were censorship, hypocrisy, freedom of speech ostensibly, but as it went along (as Andrew Stein shows in a review),

           "is about desire and its discontents, not freedom of speech. The deplorable act uncovered in the film is not censorship of free speech but censorship of desire. Sade represents a man open to all his desires (in art if not in the real world); this is the theme that provokes and excites, fascinates and generates horror in people. Consequently, the film is about Sade and sadomasochism, and, to the extent that the ideals of free speech are at stake, they are couched in the language of Sadean perversion. Liberal ideals of free speech, when connected to a figure like Sade, become rationalizations masking the contemporary fascination with a historical figure who appeared open to forbidden fantasy; the stuff about censorship, the right of Art to say anything and critique hypocrisy, is at best secondary, a mere smokescreen. Quills thus expresses the filmmakers’ and filmgoers’ fantasies of perverse, unlimited gratification and their anxieties about the limits placed on those desires. We have only to look to consumer culture to discover the source of those fantasies and preoccupations. The media projects a continuous barrage of messages inviting people to indulge their fantasies and overcome their inhibitions. In the consumer age, to be free takes on the meaning of being free to enjoy and express desires without being censored for them (either from within or without). That is the fascination a figure like Sade holds over people in the postmodern consumer society. That is the real subject of the film (From The American Historical Review, Vol. 106, No. 5 (Dec., 2001), pp. 1915-1916)

And when the violence really got going and the attack (so to speak) on the abbe and Sade ended in the horrific death of the latter and madness of the former, it became a revelling in cruelty itself, especially towards women. We see them sodomized as a matter of course, and finding liberation in reading pornography, e.g., Simone (Amelia Warner), the girl Dr Royard-Collard buys from a nunnery.  No where in the movie do we find out anything philosophical about Justine: what’s suggested is girls want to have fun. 

Maddy reads Sade’s writing

As Andrea Dworkin and others have argued, this is changing one nightmare for the same one with a new justification that deprives women of the desire to say no. This is what is especially troubling. And that it was said to be mainstream. 

Perhaps this was thought right for a Sade movie. As the reader will see from the comments I received on C18-l, the film is a fantasy, seen as a metaphor for Sadean ideas.   As far as I can see it, the film tells us about our era far more than Sade: how a particular group of film-makers want him to be seen and how they use what’s associated with him.  So he is made to stand against censorship but he is also closely associated with sadism. In this film he is the victim not the perpetrator — as in life especially in his early years he was, if not of such total horrific acts as are attributed to Royard-Collard in the film (and his instruments and people acting for him), acts bad enough to make him a clear and present danger to others as he would not or could not control his sprees. See from Plessix-Grey’s book: Chapters 5 (The First Outrage), 8 (Easter Sunday, the Keller case), and 10 (The Orgy, sometimes referred to as "Little girls" as if prostitutes were not women) whch however tell only what got into police records and went to court at length. I do think there was something wrong or disturbed in this man: for periods he’d ben an exemplary husband, son-in-law, father, and then turn around and act out bizarre adolescent boy cruelties dressed up with blasphemies of a childlike sort.

That a film has little to do with its central historical figure in and of him or herself is very common with biopics and also many movies, sequels, to say nothing of academic literary and film criticism, recent biographies and editions.  Yes the sources are said to be (variously), Lever’s or Schaeffer’s biography.  But these are huge and I’ve dipped into them and they are hagiographical.  You would as well instance Plessix-Grey. the feature claimed that Boilly’s slightly salacious depiction of a laundress ironing lies behind the presentation of the chambermaid — she does use her iron to stop the monster-man  fro raping her; it is he who finally destroys her as we listen to her screams:

Probably the source are the movies and scripts Doug Wright knows well, and books like Bataille’s Literature and Evil.  Think of Becoming Jane, Shakespeare in Love.  A not unimportant change is to chose the brilliant actor, Geoffrey Rush who is handsome and vulnerable looking and has much gravitas:

Here he is elegant

Melancholy, and now as kind of mercurial waif, neurotic, but he wouldn’t hurt a fly, a friend to the Abbe who is deluded and destroyed by Royard-Collard:

Peter pan like, he writes all over his clothes!

It had a number of conventions at the close which are found in horrors:  the man who Kate Winslett as the chambermaid burns on the face when he sexually harasses her is a hideous fat monster type (an Egor) and he wants to get back.  He takes a scissors to her mouth, her vagina.  Just about everyone is subjected to the worst cruelties in their mouths:  tongues cut out, teeth cracked and pulled out, crosses rammed down their throats.  Close-ups of this are provided. And all this is connected to the guillotine:  the movie opens with a scene of horrific humliation and cruelty as we watch a young woman slowly put on the guillotine and beheaded in slow motion so she can experience each second of it. She gets to see the heads below.  The idea is to equate these tortures with the French revolution.

There were the counter-movement images of sympathy for women:  one chambermaid is the snitcher and it’s she who actually leads to Maddy’s death (though Royard-Collard who permits the horror to go on), but we do have Simone sodomized, Pelagie walking away with dignity (played by Geoffrey Rush’s actress wife in real life) and especially Billie Whitelaw as Madame LeClerc, Maddie’s closest friend-mother-companion. She survives and when we last see the now crazed Abbe in a cell, himself deprived of quills and paper as he (under the instruction of Royard-Collard) had deprived Sade who had been his friend if he had only recognized it:

or at least as here, harmless, civilized

Now the Abbey is given quills and paper in the laundry by Madame le Clerc as Kate (the maid) once gave Geoffrey (as Sade). The final scene of the film provides a moment of comaraderie and compassionate feeling for this older woman, which reminds me of Marianne von Werekin paintings

Abbe now the pathetic tormented starved prisoner

the old woman gives him quills and paper in the laundry

This is the closing image of the film. Compare Madeleine von Werekin’s Woman with a Lantern

There’s no comparison with the mini-series, the 1975-8 BBC Poldark, probably half-despised, which makes no over pretensions to an art film and its sources in the genuinely liberal Poldark novels by Winston Graham.  In the film there we merely get sudden and marital rapes, casual executions of people lined up against walls (roped in that morning from a prison, counter-revolutionaries the killers), very sick people (typhoid, malaria) dying with terrible miseries in prison, thrown there for poaching to feed families, starvation riots on beaches (also to get back) mantraps set up by aristocrats with feet crushed, enclosures throwing people off land, death by drowning in mines and from the wretched conditions, people shot up while smuggling to fish. Usual stuff.  More my speed. 


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Dear friends and readers,

The past couple of weeks I’ve been absorbed on and off (while in the car, waiting for the doctor, in the evening), snatching Time back from Morpheus (in the early dawn hours) reading Catherine Delors’s first novel, Mistress of the Revolution.  it’s just the sort of novel I like best of all things:  central female narrator, fictional retrospective memoir with a strong emphasis on the subjective experience of the heroine, set in the later 18th century in France.  And imagine my delight when my hunches about fundamental sources for the book — mostly for character (beyond the author’s own implied self) and generic parts of the story line the memoirs of Lucie Dillon de la Tour du Pin, the memoirs of Grace Dalrymple Elliot — were confirmed as right by Catherine Delors herself. A historical novel is supposed to be a recreation of the earlier era: this book is a recreation of 18th century novels, and the Revolutionary memoirs recently called Blood Sisters.  An important novel whose characters have equivalents here is LaClos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Jean-Antoine Houdon’s  (174101828) Winter (1783, based on his wife when he first married her) would have been a superb cover image for Gabrielle (see below)

Perhaps set against a scary imprisoning landscape, a castle-prison like Dillon’s husband and she spent time in:

As I have been doing lately, I wrote about the book as I read (to WWTTA and ECW), and so here provide a record of that reading in six sets of musings.  I show that Mistress of the Revolution is an excellent historical novel, an engaging women”s fictional memoir which speaks to others; a parable about the French revolution — and wild gothic romance.

The first few days wherein we discover that a central earlier woman "behind" this book is Lucie Dillon

Lucie Dillon (1770-1848).

I’ve begun Catherine’s book and am well past 100 and want to recommend it as unusual and with real strengths from its unusualness. What is unusual is the heroine is really given a wretched rotten deal by society.  She is not allowed to get a decent education when young; taught just a few accomplishments plus how to do accounts in the convent and then removed to a cold home where she is kept at a distance from her relatives.  She is forced into marrying a brutal man who brutalizes her; when he luckily (or the novel would not be able to get on as popular) dies, she finds he has left her little money.  Only if she produced a male heir would she have had access to any. Then she is under terrific pressure to spend the rest of her life in a nunnery. Aain she escapes this by luck (again the novel devices come in) and now she is on her way to work as a lady’s companion with the luck of being able to bring her child with her.

While novel softening is going on, this is far truer and stronger to experience that most romances of this kind. Indeed the story is presented in ways that bring home this larger structural social and sexual and economic patterning so we cannot say well this is an individual instance.  The man the heroine wanted to marry we see was also domineering and when he can’t get her, he moves on with his life.

The book is in other words strongly feminist.

We also see the ruthless power of aristocrats — the family could have had the heroine’s lover broken on the wheel.

It is also not emasculated in the way of many romance novels. It is commonplace for these books (and films like them too) to have central males who are all kindness and gentle.  Jane Austen’s males are not violent even one little bit.  Their cadishness, their selfishness and the rest of their bad traits are not rooted in a display of physical life at all. The book presents the male as driving towards having genital sex as primary motivation, and rough it is. 

In this it reminds me of Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin (which I loved), only Slammerkin belongs to a subkind of romance where the heroine is made to be superlow in society.  The whore, the woman of the streets, the beggar. The type is familiar from Moll Flanders and Fanny Hills. The problem here is while this plays home to a reader’s sense of herself as vulnerable and the romance of wild life and escape,  the heroine can also be dismissed as "not me."  By contrast, Catherine’s heroine is middle class, upper really (again this is romancing too), but someone whose niche is not that far from the reader’s imagining.   She is also likened to her servants; one her husband impregnates, she is kind to, is married off to male peasant. The husband never thinks of this baby one bit, and would have left her to be ejected from the house and her life ruined.

On this Catherine replied:

"So yes, Gabrielle is a noblewoman, better off in many regards than Fanny Hill or Moll Flanders, but even a woman of her caste faced dire choices when for some reason she lost her social standing (refusal to enter a convent, as in Diderot’s The Nun, then genteel poverty because of her family’s abandonment and her failure to produce an heir.) Some noblewomen were far worse off too: look at Madame de La Tour du Pin’s mother-in-law, who had been locked up in a convent by her husband, and was only allowed to return briefly to attend her son’s marriage. So many other cases of "scandalous" women jailed at the request of their families/husbands.

I wanted to bring that to the fore, and show why so many nobles were staunch supporters of the Revolution in its early phases.

I asked Catherine if Mistress of the Revolution was the book’s immediate or first title and several other questions.  It quickly seemed to me to be blah and telling nothing of the book for real; in fact misleading and the cover illustration also worse than irrelevant:  titillating. 

She answers my questions as follows:

1) did you have a title you thought up yourself?  this one just doesn’t begin to convey anything of the quality of the book or its subject or feel;

Oh yes! I wanted to call it Lessons of Darkness, from the Leçons de Ténèbres, a piece of music I love, part of the Easter lithurgy. I was shot down, of course. Too much of a downer, we want a happy heroine, etc. At first I hated Mistress of the Revolution because Gabrielle is not the mistress of her own fate, only of a few men who abuse her. Then I got used to this title…

2) did anyone give you a chance for a cover illustration that might have conveyed the quality of the book.  The Fragonard just is a image seen endless times. It should have had some iron castle or some deadly village, nunnery, Paris in the later 18th century.

Castles or landscapes don’t cut it with major publishers. The cover has to be a woman. The initial offerings were much worse: http://blog.catherinedelors.com/birth-of-a-book-cover-a-case-study/

I had to come up with something in a panic, and picked the Fragonard in a few hours to escape what Dutton wanted to use

3) did you write any of it in French?  is there a possibility  of a French translation by you?  as I read I feel the sentences were they written in French would be tighter, more forcible and effective.   No, this was written in English, and I would do a French translation if a French publisher were prepared to publish it. So far, no bites.

It seemed to me that week and now that I’ve finished the book that Lessons of Darkness is a perfect title for this book.  The problem with Mistress of the Revolution is it tells us nothing about the text. It’s just so blah; it’s not positive either.  It reminds me of so many titles; one that comes to mind is a biography of Germane de Stael — and it’s male-centered too.  Chantal Thomas and the woman who win the prix kind of prizes get to call their books the right title.  The picture is the same.  I note that Broadview Press and some of the Austen books have places, houses, and that first house the heroine is take to with her harridan of a mother and basically vicious older brother is like a cage.  Your book does just not have a package that tells the prospective reader anything about it.  They’re not even genre-directed since they are too familiar. Emma Donoghue’s books signify woman’s novel-historical novel of this particular era (later 18th century).

As I’ve told Catherine  to my ears it reads like a French novel rather strangely written in English. Repeatedly I come across sentences which I feel impulses about to say to myself well, if that were in French, how incisive and forceful it would be. How much more passionate that line if the long lingering kind of English structures (which fan out) were tightened in the French subject-pronouns-verb pattern with their more enigmatical connectives for prepositional phrases.  Apparently the real title should be "Lecons de tenebres." Qutoing Catherine now:  "a piece of music I love, part of the Easter lithurgy."

The Fragonard image on the cover also is just contentless in effect because it’s a image seen endless times. It should have had some iron castle or some deadly village, nunnery, Paris in the later 18th century.  The first house the heroine is taken to with her harridan of a mother and basically vicious older brother is like a cage and is used as one when she tries to marry for love.

That’s good because the book shows how the Catholic church worked to shore up the power of the establishment. We see how the priest uses confession to reinforce the power structure. Such a title would "signal" to me perhaps "gothic" and dark intrigues.  One could call Radcliffe’s novels and Sand’s Consuelo (which has a dark underground labyrinthe and alludes to Radcliffe’s Udolpho) dark intrigues and gothics

Religious scene from Les Liaisons Dangereuses

About a week later or the second week’s postings:

I’ve carried on reading Delors’s Mistress of the Revolution and am at the same time watching the 1997 BBC Tom Jones, listening to Fielding’s book as read aloud by David Case, and am struck by some parallels. I could probably see as many (more) between Misress of the Revolution and Charlotte Smith’s Old Manor House or a Burney novel but it happens this is the one I’m doing just now.  So I’ll use it to describe Catherine’s. I hope others have read or know the book or 1997 film adaptation.

To the books and film:  I mentioned I liked Catherine’s novel because unlike most novels of this era it really shows what political, economic and social structures do to women.  Among other things, they have no recourse to anyone but family and friends and no income of their own, especially when middle class or at least not enough to live on and it’s socially unacceptable and dangerous to live alone. Men can beat their wives.

All this leads to Gabrielle coerced into marriage with a man who beats her; when he dies, she inherits barely enough for a meagre cottage because she produced no heir; she is driven to consider a nunnery for an escape, but ends a man’s mistress as the best deal.  I should say to qualify what I did yesterday: that Villers, this man is characterized as gentle, decent, not violent, not abrasive, abusive, and lets her have her freedom (within limits).  This is a typical male hero for a woman’s romance, only Villers will not marry our heroine.

I enjoy Catherine’s imitation of an 18th century novel; the motives I know from novels literally written in the 18th century are all here. It’s enjoyable to see what I have learned is true about the period put into vivid scenes. I love description too (of the countryside, of the love-making — tasteful I’d put it), and the heroine is characterized deeply enough so I can recognize, identify. She is a kind of Elinor Dashwood more than a Madame Tourvel type; perhaps closer to Germaine de Stael’s Delphine come to think of it..

Beyond the memoirs of de la Tour Du Pin, I see imitations of Les liaisons Dangereuses. Viller’s aunt is a version of Madame de Rochemond. I’m waiting for a Merteuil to show up.  Problems are the heroine is taken in too quickly without enough motivation; some of the characters insufficiently real or characterized (it goes too fast, more time was needed).

The cast of characters for Les Liaisons Dangereuses, gathered together in the gardens in the 1989 Valmont

That it is an imitation of a 18th century novel was confirmed to me by seeing the same types in Tom Jones the movie — to a lesser extent the book. Fielding is nowadays criticized for being insufficiently feminist — he makes a joke of rape, tends to show false accusations, no chaste heroine is rape.  More:  he does make a joke of brutal men, and our attention is as much focused on Mrs Fitzgerald’s sexual infidelity (but how was she to escape) as her Irish husband’s brutality.

I am loving the film for despite the speed and distancing, the film is bringing all this out.  Enough time is spent to see Mrs Fitzgerald (like Delors’s Gabrielle) needs to escape. Alas, we see no bruises, but her terror is real.  Lindsay Duncan’s Lady Bellastan is such another as Madame de Merteuil, but Lord Fellamar reminds me of the brutal brother of Gabrielle. Carelessly insouciantly he frames Tom Jones and tries to have him pressed on Lady Bellaston’s orders. (We see how the women is the fiend in the mens’ books.)  Catherine’s woman who is Gabrielle’s mistress is simply a decent sort. Fellamar’s rape is real and Samantha Morton exhibits powerful distress calling him crazed. And we feel he is an upper class monster, taught to be that way and allowed (as is Western) in the way of the men in Stael and Mistress of the Revolution.

Very touching in the film is Mrs Honor.   When we see Sophie dragged away and Honor comes out and looks so desolate and turns around and the door is shut, how we feel for her. It’s the way she holds her hands, her hair done up in ties.

When Squire Western turns her out, she has no where to go. We see her knock on closed doors; she has her hands hanging down in a thin dress, and her hair in those tight curlers.  This kind of sympathy is not in Fielding.  So one can see how the film is a recreatino from a modern standpoint of the original book.  It "touches" hands with Mistress of the Revolution repeatedly where we see many women, stranded.

The 1997 film uses the living narrator to connect and distance as I’ve said (he directs the traffic, comments, interprets ironically); it also uses voice-over and epistolary narrative and letters.  There have not been enough of these in Mistress of the Revolution.  But I’m only a third of the way through.

Third round:

I can understand again how Catherine would not like this title, as Gabrielle is anything but a powerful mistress.  Yes Villers, her supe-rrich lover, is as long as he has his way ever so peaceable and kind, but he has his way — having everything on his side in their world (money, property, the laws).  He has other mistresses, and when she tries to leave him permanently, she finds she cannot easily. She tries to rent a cottage, and voila there he is (aided and abetted by other people who want to please him).  She still has so little money — jewels don’t go far for real (in Richardson’s Clarissa the heroine is every whipping out a new ring and selling it; she’d have had to have 20 fingers each loaded with diamonds ….)

later 18th century illustration of Paul et Virginie:  Gabrielle is saved by Pierre-Andre, she clings to him

Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s Paul et Virginie has now been alluded to at least:  Gabrielle like so many heroines of 18th century novels is given a period of deep reading, this time by Villers. She’s even taught math and a governess is hire for Aimee.  (grinning)

Catherine makes the point that after all as Gabrielle grows older the last thing she wants is to marry this man; now he is willing to marry her and would like to impregnate her (nail her to him — and they understood they were doing that; Claire Tomalin discerns this in the very Rev George Austen, Jane’s father).  Marriage Gabrielle has learned is bondage, and she does not want pregnancy, that too is bondage.  (Studies have shown working class women in the 19th century did not want to marry; they had to be coerced through pressures of the new respectability.)

The novel depends here (that Gabrielle pulls this off, does not begin to get pregnant regularly) on the idea that Gabrielle can get the Duke to use coitus interruptus and has available to him some form of sheath.  Is that so?  I have read Byron imported condoms and got them at 5 pounds a piece.

The story becomes complicated as the revolution moves into its first phases and the Duke become involved in the National Assembly.  Gabrielle is characterized as wholly for the revolution; this is a tad idealistic, perhaps anachronistic, for it feels like I’m reading the thoughts of a modern liberal democrat here (just teasing).

I like some lines very much now and again. This one:  "The banks of my childhood were receding as I drifted away, lost on unknown waters" (p. 202).

To conclude in looking at Antoine’s Houdon’s sculpture of Winter (based on his young wife), it struck me this is a good image for the cover of Catherine’s book.  Gabrielle is supposed to be beautiful and modest, and she is (oh is) she vulnerable as well as virtuous for real.  Her brother accuses her of living in "sin and dissipation" it’s laughable.  I’m not suggesting a non-sexy image either, as below the waits it’s quietly salacious, or at least andogynous in implications (look at that cloth):

Full shot of image at beginning of blog

Gabrielle is ashamed and Delors meant us to see her as more than modest, but genuinely shamed.  There are moments where Gabrielle tells us about how she feels in front of other women after she becomes Villers’ mistress where this idea is made explicit. The problem is (I think) there is no scene between her and another woman to show this. This shame is one of the reasons she originally wants to marry Villers, also it helps keep her with him.  The early modern word for this is "shamefast" (held back by shame is the idea).

She is a traditional heroine — not quite vulnerable in the way of Madame de Tourvel from LaClos’s novel, more in a line like Elinor Dashwood; I’d compare her to Amelia Mansfield in Sophie Cottin’s book.  She does have some 20th century anachronistic political thoughts but it’s impossible not to.  One must write from the now.

I’d love to read Hillary Mantel’s novel of the French revolution, A Place of Greater Safety, to compare the treatment of the French revolution.  Mantel’s is dramatized through Danton and the revolutionaries. It would be a very different world.  I’ve tried to get into it, but it feels too wooden or constructed at  first. I have to try on a long drive somewhere.

Fourth set of musings:

The prostitutes in a casual moment, from 1991 BBC Clarissa
Part of the pleasure of reading this novel is its a historical novel and imitates earlier ones and genuinely engages with their issues — as well as ours.  I will add her a small critique on top of what I wrote yesterday: now that the revolution has begun there are explicit references to Gabrielle’s sense of shame — in her attitude towards Pierre-Andre and that abject letter (in character however) she sends him and the way Villers still manages to exert control on her beyond his money.  So my critique is we don’t have enough scenes between her and other women to show this corrosive kind of experience or focusing on other women the way we have focusing on men.  Think of the humiliations Austen visits on her heroines from upper class women, or her gift for passing slights; such things sting deep because it is between women. We feel betrayed.  Not enough dramatization of scenes with women.

I like the way Catherine through the story explains, justifies the hostility to Marie Antoinette. We see what a lousy politician she was :).

I’m now up to Chapter 55, and have gotten the heroine into the midst of the revolution, which includes her being at one of the street massacres and her husband’s brother/friend having had his head cut off and placed on a pike.

To the question of contraceptive:  how many upper class French women availed themselves of these contraceptive techniques?  Do we know?  it’s an important question since people just below imitated, and people just below that at least heard about and had some access to, and so on. You begin to see some women have two children and no more in upper class circles in England by mid-century (e.g., Mary Wortley Montagu).

Villers is basically a skunk; it seems to me all the men Gabrielle gets involed with until the pox-ridden ugly man, Morsan, are domineering controllers, including Pierre-Andre.  She would have been no better off with him as a husband, in fact just as bad as Villers had she married Villers.  This is in line with what Stael shows us in her novels: men educated to be tyrants will become so.  The education at the time brought out the worst in many men; this theme is reprised English style in Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Catherine has Antoinette as more than a poor politician: she genuinely adhered firmly to all the values backing her group as sancrosanct and superrich privileged, and she did not hide this.  In a way she never see her learning to hide it; what she realizes in the end is the literal power base of the state is military force.  Beliefs she had thought would secure her would not as all it takes is a group of people not believing in them seizing power, then fear and personal interest kicks in and no one or few will lift a finger to help for whom helping is against their direct interest. A hard lesson Anne Halkett in her autobiography and (amazed in a sense) description of the fall from power of Charles I, his beheading and the installation of the Cromwellian order. 

What I like about Catherine’s book is its serious interweaving of a feminist position drawn able from documents. I like her depiction of the revolution even if the partial aristocratic one of a woman not involved directly — it’s true that a Gabrielle would have to sit home and wait for news.

That was Charlotte Lennox’s problem in Female Quixote, too, Catherine: if you have a realistic heroine in a novel about public events unless she is a saloniere or demi-monde, she will be a watcher on the sides — unless as happens to Gabrielle, she gets caught up in a massacre or imprisonment. People might like to know Catherine imagined her heroine throwing herself between her brother and lover in a duel.  I don’t know if they would have permitted this for real,but it does get her involved. (I think D’Aurevilly has a scene something like this in Vieille Maistresse only the woman is simply allowed to be a bystander:  a number of men can stop a woman from hurling herself inbetween two duellists.

Still I like a heroine at the center, best, and will say publicly, I may prefer Mistress of the Revolution. I can read these romance historical novels when they have males at the center, but part of my real pleasure comes from the woman narrator and woman-centered tale. I’m not much for adventure stories, and  it’s rare I like mysteries as such.  They have to be more than that

Fifth round:   here I discover Grace Dalrymple Elliot, her memoirs, and Rohmer’s movie, Le duc et l’anglaise are "sources."

Grace Dalrymple Elliot by Gainsborough — the height of her beauty

I’ve gotten up to Chapter 73 of 87, so near to the end.  I did like the depiction of Gabrielle’s experience of the revolution:  it’s very like Grace Elliot’s in perspective (Rohmer’s movie has made her well-known, Le Duc et l’Anglaise), except Gabrielle was not involved with such powerful men and her experience more continually wretched and harrowing. I’m not sure the need for that certificate is not presented somewhat anachronistically:  it’s we or memories of those we have known that have made this dread of not having "your papers" in order so important.  But it does work for drama.

Now I’m going to make a complaint of sorts which is simply romance reading:  I don’t like that she goes back to Pierre-Andre. It bothers me how abject she is, and that she could love this guy. I’m not sure I believe it. 

For those not reading the novel, Gabrielle originally loved Pierre-Andrew; was forcefully parted from him and forced to marry a brutal husband.  Gabrielle’s family threatened to have Pierre-Andre broken on the wheel.  He is bourgeois, a lawyer and now at the revolution has risen to be a respected judge who sends a lot of people to their death.  He is as domineering, controlling and jealous a man as Gabrielle’s lover, Villers (now dead in a massacre) and her husband too.  After he humiliates, castigates and threatens her, he does provide her with needed papers (dangerous for him) but he also becomes her lover and — here’s my quarrel — we are to see her as loving him and happy.

Well yuk. Nah. Nyet. "My" heroine shouldn’t do that — she could (I agree) go to bed with him, but she should have a hard time keeping to herself how much she hates this guy now.   I don’t mind that Gabrielles with Pierre-Andre at this point, or even if she marries him, only that we are told she loves him.   As I say, in a way it fits her character and certainly the era (men were brought up to be tyrants, to feel they had every right to control a woman) but humanely speaking whatever the mores, I sort of feel there are feelings people have which transcend one level of manners and actions and go deeper.  And when someone treats you so humilatingly and harshly, people (I’ve a hunch) never forget and deeply resent it.

Catherine will tell me I’m anachronistic here :). Go ahead :). It’s all right.  But I can’t see this loving this guy.  It makes for nice love-making scenes I suppose and some might say it’s possible or probable, but if so, more time should have been spent on Gabrielle’s inner life to make this tendency to abjection (which we’ve seen before in her letters) acceptable, understandable.  She does (like other heroines in these 18th century book) forgive or try to help the lousy brother.  (I would not forgive though I might be driven to try to help.)

I like how she keeps close to her sister.  More needed to be done in characterizing the child.  *A lost opportunity to show that child’s trauma* — and possible sequel into the 1830s :). Instead of these males the girl child tossed to and fro, dead father, a brute, now these cold lovers who only take her on as they take her mother to bed.

I don’t know if she will end up with Pierre-Andre, only that she doesn’t die. Very like Moll Flanders and all retrospective novels since we know this much from the start: our narrator-heroine has survived.  Many thanks to Catherine who tells me there is a scene to come where Aimee will speak out at last.

I don’t judge Gabriella for what she does or doesn’t do for her daughter.  She’s having a hard enough time surviving, and the times were such she would see all about her not insisting women make the center of their lives their children. I’m with Elisabeth Badinter on that by the way.

I prefer sad endings as well as endings where there is no resolution in the events, as that seems to me lifelike and true.  The shaping of the patterns of the book provide the aesthetic close even if what is said is qualified, ambiguous, left open-ended.

Sixth and last week:

A death scene from Les Liaisons Dangereuses — very tame in comparison to the deaths here

I finished the book.

The problem with posting about a book before you’ve come to the end, is it can surprise you or you can change your mind as the whole experience comes home to you.  So, now I’ve done I’ve decided that after all Gabrielle’s relationship with Pierre-Andre rings home to me as not only possible, and within the terms of the fiction true or believable, but rising to something better than that.

In Janet Radway’s famous survey, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Culture, she asserts (and attempts to prove) that women read romances to work out, rework the troubles and compromises they endure in life.  The happy ending is to uplift and comfort, and it’s important it be believable enough, for before that the romance which matters and is reread in many forms, presents to the woman reader aspects of her own life.  For some this is therapeutic, especially if the heroine wins out in some way after all.  For some it’s simply the validation of recognition.  Well as I read Gabrielle’s acceptance of her situation with Pierre-Andre, yes, I recognize myself and my acceptance of my situation.  What else is she to do?  Where turn? She is given no other livable option but him, and without going further or becoming personal, while my situation is not concretely parallel it’s analagous and I can see it.

Thus the fiction works for me; it does its job.

Radway tries to present her insight as coming from what the women told her. The great problem with her book is she takes as true or on surface value what the women say. Of course they are not on oath, and it’s very like a sex survey: they pose and say what they want her to think is their identity.  Most of her insights really come from herself and this is one of them.

Where this ending falls down for me, is it’s not inward enough, not enough inward life presented so as I understand or feel on my pulses the lived experience which led to Gabrielle’s "love" for this man.  Similarly no where near enough about her and her daughter and her and other women.  For the most part (Gabrielle’s mother is an exception), the relationships with other women in the novel are idealised: they are plaster-thin helpers. For me this is a real weakness in the book too.

I compare its function and genre here to Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin, the last novel of this 18th century historical type I can remember reading just now.  There the inward life was paid more attention to; less happened in the plot-design, much less history. 

Some supreme versions of these books are those by Margaret Forster.  Fran mentioned Lady’s Maid’s Bell:  I sat up for a few nights, I would look forward to the night when I could return to it.  Most recently her book circling round Gwen Johns held me in the same way. I don’t dispute that women can have positive relationships; they do in part but these must be there and part of the world presented as they are of enormous importance in women’s lives, even if not all of us like to see it, as it’s often painful (especially mother-daughter, sister and other relative relationships) with much betrayal as life’s decisions force themselves on women.

I liked the ending with Pierre-Andre — very gruesome and grotesque the way she follows his body, caresses the bloody  severed head, an attempt to show the utter madness of the time, what crazed killing can bring out.  I’ve been told stories of crazed behavior by people who either did or did not (then I was told by others) survive the concentration/slave labor/extermination camps of WW2.

I liked its sober feel, and especially the brother refusing to take Gabrielle in.  Early on in the book we see Pierre-Andre’s brothers refuse him.  It reminded me of another romance-novel I read recently:  Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, and before that his South.  We see just how hard and cool and intensely egoistic every one is and how they operate.  (I may have not have mentioned that my daughter, Isabel, has finally had a win: she’s been accepted to do an MA at Queens College, CUNY.  One problem will be cost of living: I asked my mother a few months on if she would allow Isabel to live with her for 9 months in one year and another 6 on the off chance Isabel made Queens as my mother lives a bus ride away; we’d pay board; several years ago Laura and her then husband needed a place to stay while looking for a place to live in NYC. Both times my mother produced lies — she hasn’t got Gabrielle’s brother’s guts — but the answer was really no, I can’t be bothered, and this last time a subliminal sneer.  One reason Laura’s marriage broke up was the strain of where they ended up living.)

I probably have not expressed my criticism of the presentation of women in this novel clearly or well enough. I don’t mind that a few of the women do not support her. In fact quite a number do.  The Countess or Duchess who takes Gabrielle in is essential in allowing her to escape the nunnery; the poor servants who help her are essential in enabling her to escape prisons, guillotines, starvation; her nun sister who dies.  It’s also not that the women are not also awful, for her mother was a horror, and her other sister; my critique is I don’t find any of them believable enough. They are not sufficiently there presences. There needed to be more scenes with them, and they needed to be presented more complexly. Ditto Aimee. I liked at the end how she turned on the mother, but it was (I felt) somewhat theoretical; it was the right gesture in the novel at that point but not felt sufficiently complexly somehow. There needed to be more dramatized scenes with women that are believable; more giving them an inward genuine life. 

This is the Jane Eyre type novel where the central figure is the subjective woman, but you must somehow bring alive all the other characters. This was done for the men in Gabrielle’s life but not the other women.

I also did not care for the very ending which married her off to an Earl. It was too good to be true; she is continually having this kind of sudden good luck — as when the Duchess took her in.  To take a parallel:  in Farewell my queen the narrator now has a minimal kind of job that enables her to survive with respectability. I realize there’s a long tradition of these sudden upturns, from Austen to Burney on. I realize that women are said to prefer the happy ending — Gabrielle is more than a survivor, Linda.  She ends up an English aristocrat!  not me. I read a novel last month where I was paid to review it: the ending was a qualified survival for real.  Brooklyn and South did not destroy the heroine, but we see a hard lesson in life given both.

I don’t like unearned fairy godmother or godfather bounties.  They can irritate me very much. This one did not because of the sober letter from the brother, and it only came at the end, and so much else was devastation and truth.

If I were to characterize this novel the way Linda did — the parable I see it as part of — it’s a strong condemnation of the way women were treated in the ancien regime, with real vibes that they are treated this way still to some extent; like many women’s novels (Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall came to mind, also Louise D’epinay’s Montbrillant, Stael’s Delphine, Edgeworth’s Leonora) we see how men are educated to be awful; educated to be macho, to be egoists, to think they have the right to control a woman and to accuse her of sexual looseness if she wants to live as freely as they do and to use the power they are given.

But finally it is a parable against the French revolution — I hope this does not offend Catherine.  I think it shows the madness of what happened in the way I suggested above. Catherine does show how it was a real and understandable reaction to a vicious world and order, but she also presents it as worse than useless, nothing improved, nothing obtained. So I’d put Catherine’s book in with the other contemporary memoirs of the era, the kind of thing Yalcom writes about in her Blood Sisters.  Lessons of Darkness. Lecons de Tenebres.

Claude Lorraine, a castle

Let me say this might be true.  Very little in the world has been improved by horrible wars, sometimes I think there’s been hardly any progress for real in social relationships, only progress through technological breakthroughs and science.   I wanted to read Hilary Mantel’s to see a book which, Madame Roland like (to to speak) took the other tack.

So, it’s a real achievement this book, very strong first novel. Catherine should be very proud and I’m sure she is. I admire it.  She doesn’t need me to tell her what an achievement this fiction is. It’s not pastiche; it’s not a sequel; it’s a genuinely researched historical novel which stands up to some scrutiny — not altogether because it is also romance, romancing. Like Radcliffe’s heroines, our heroine ends up a Top Female in the social order once again. Not likely at all.  (I couldn’t do this.  I once began a novel and discovered how inward I am; how little I care about the outward world  and I’m too raw; one I tried an autobiography and boy was it grim so I stopped for who would read this?)

A fine intelligent thoroughly worked-up book which speaks to women.


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Dear Readers,

Recommended as an important book about wife abuse: Mary Trouille’s Wife Abuse in France.   The first of four blogs.

More than 1o years in the making, it’s a sobering (indeed at moments hard to read even when written in this studiously neutral style) account of what life was like for women in societies where men were not only permitted but downright encouraged to chastise their wives. AT the same time the women were to be continually pregnant if the man could manage it — and each occasion was life-threatening..  She had no control over her property

You might think what woman would marry?  IN fact, in the 19th century working class women didn’t and had to be persuaded to with a norm of respectability and then it didn’t work much of the time.  You need to read alongside it, one I’ve read before but am reading again this summer: Betty Rizzo’s Companions without Vows. The paid companion results directly from a society where women are given no option for security but a husband, father, brother, son.  This too I would call required reading for anyone wanting to grasp what Jane Austen assumes in her books. In their light, Austen’s books do come out as comfort books, avoiding harder issues and offering solace. Also we can critique modern presentations of this era in histories and films.

The larger thrust of the book is to show how what was argued in these court cases influenced people’s thinking and led to the 1792 remarkably enlightened divorce law.  So for example, Trouille shows how a Linguet’s arguments were re-moulding norms and how Des Essarts’s account is then used by in an article by Merlin de Douai on separation in an influential compendium by Guyot (p. 62).  The smaller thesis is to show how the arguments in these court cases helped lead to the divorce bill of 1792.  Sarah Maza’s Private lives and Public Affairs has shown how central to the creation of the mindset of the revolution were the court cases that were written up as a result of these private suits.

One should remark in a society where it was so hard to get ahead and one way was marriage, where people married for money and property openly, it would be hard to get a divorce.  Those marrying for such reasons would do everything to forbid divorce.  In the 1792 law — however liberal — families had the right to confer and protest and try to influence the person not to.  Their aggrandizement and connections would be threatened. The talk was "the stability of society" and "order:" the reality was this was a way of holding on to money one had married for.

This is a two part blog.  This first section is on only the opening section of Trouille’s book and her first three cases.  See Part Two. and Part Three and Conclusion.


Part 1: Laws and socio-cultural historical contexts.

First we need to outline the changes in the divorce laws that she begins her book with.

1) in 1792 a radical and astonishingly modern divorce law was passed by the French parliament. Either spouse could obtain a divorce on grounds of incompatibility; the process for doing so was made much less arduous, expensive and it was no longer to be humiliating.

2) in 1803 this law was turned back so that in 1803 the divorce law was made more restrictive again:  unilateral grounds were reduced to adultery, abuse or severe injury, and criminal condemnation of a spouse. Divorce by mutual consent required the consent of family members.  Women could be divorced by simple adultery; men were only subject if the husband brought the mistress into the home; then he would be fined; a wife guilty of adultery could be imprisoned for different amounts of time.  No divorce on grounds of incompatibility, and it was made more expensive and difficult procedurally.

3) in 1816, it was turned back to what it had been before 1792, in effect abolished entirely:  well almost, if you were rich, and again the wife could show severe beating, fear of her life, she could get a separation, also adultery as well as criminal behavior on the part of the husband could result in judicial separation.

During this time the lawyers arguing on the many cases brought to bear (huge numbers almost immediately in 1792, 3/4s of them by women), brought into the light attitudes not made explicit before.  Depositions told a lot.
Before 1792, there was a practice of lawyers publishing arguments, judicial memoirs these were called, in which they set out legal bases and facts. Supposedly these were addressed to judges, but they were written so other (good) readers could read them and were ways of lawyers trying to influence a local public on this or that side.  These were mined by novelists:  Charlotte Smith’s second published book was called The Romance of Real Life and was a series of stories she told based on judicial memoirs (I’ve put an image the front page on this blog).    An enormously important inffuential (fluent, eloquent, intelligent) compendium was written and compiled over many years by Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne Des Essarts (1744-1810).  These became known as the Causes celebres where he retold many divorce cases, printed the arguments and then himself eloquently summed up and commented. He did mean to change mores; he was a traditionalist and conservative who upheld marriage, but he wanted flexibility and compassion.

The evidence Trouille presents which argues for far more liberal divorce laws is the long history of wife-beating she describes.  Wife-beating was common and ubiquitous.  There are many records of this in the court cases seeking separation and/o divorce., only some of them in the judicial memoirs and years of fighting for divorce between 1792 and 1816.  Obviously letters published and unpublished, and novels often based on autobiography are good too, and like Betty Rizzo, Mary Trouille avails herself of novels of this type.

What I am struck by is how little power women had, how they were vulnerable to the worst kinds of behaviors, and had no recourse for the most part. They could not earn a living; their families often pushed them into staying with physically and emotionally abusive men who did make abject subjects of them.  The patterns of cruelty move from the lowest to the highest.  Thus most of our historical novels, movies, accounts do not begin to reflect the realities of womens’ lives. I understand a novel written which really reflected that women were enslaved in effect would be highly unpleasant, but the novels that don’t — and make women tyrants — are doing no good for women today who still are offered a rough raw deal in many ways.

She concludes the chapter by pointing to modern statistics on high violence towards women still accepted in the 20th century and how laws and customs have only gradually changed to protect women.


Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699-1779), Le Singe Peintre

To the specific cases in the study:  Part 2, Chapter 2:

Tellingly, the first case concerns syphilis.  This one is found in the first volume of Des Essarts’ Causes Celebres. As ordinary people seem to regard homosexuality as residing primary in the acts of anal intercourse (and not be a whole culture, much less individual relationships where people prefer a person of their own sex for more reasons than physical), so I suppose the core of marriage is the sex act to many and having and taking care of children its justification.  What threatens this more than this disease which came from promiscuity or so it’s sometimes suggested.

It also swirls about the sex act for the key is the wife didn’t want to have sex with the man once she discovered he had syphilis, to have sex with him was to re-infect herself.  Since a woman was supposed never to refuse her husband and there was no recognition forcing her would be rape, she needed to separate herself from or divorce him quickly.

In tis first case, Marie-Francoise Fouquier and her husband Jean-Baptiste Ble, Madame Ble was able to obtain a divorce and get her property back because she proved (she did but often such proofs as in our own era could be ignored by a judge or jury) that her husband married her knowing he was infected with syphilis and then proceeded to infect her and the child she carried who was born very ill and died within a couple of years. As in our own time over AIDS, there was a strong tendency to want to punish people who got syphilis. The husband was beyond that abusive (very ugly behavior) and wanted her only for the money. 

We see how the society really took syphilis and the production of children seriously.  They were married in 1748, she sued in 1757 and within 16 days won a separation of persons and property and her husband was instructed to return her dowry.  Now 13 years later he re-sued again demanding return of his wife’s property.  The husband was represented by Turpin and the wife by Nicolas-Henri Linguet.

Linda Merians’ The Secret Malady demonstrates there was an epidemic of syphilis in the century (a real killer) where she and her writers all also talk about marriage in the 18th century.  If a man married a woman knowing he had syphilis and it was incurable (ah, there’s the gap, men claimed it was curable as did doctors) and she could prove he was infecting her and their children, she could sometimes get a separation or divorce.  It was the children the society would pay attention to, and the spread of the disease.  Syphilis was everywhere and spreading. People lied continually about it, especially doctors who said they could cure it; now some may have believed they did at first since it took time until people realized it would seem to disappear and still be there and then destroy or kill you later.

The importance of Ble case:  it was the first time a French court had granted a divorce based on transmission of venereal disease.  Linguet argued that "knowing transmission of syphilis to an unsuspecting spouse constituted life-threatening abuse and hence legitimate grounds fro separation." Turpin took the traditional view the wife must take the husband for better or worse.  Linguet was challenging the norms of masculine behavior which presented male promiscuity as entirely acceptable (especially before the marriage) even if it risked the health of the wife.  As one of a group of progressive lawyers, Linguet was helping to prepare the way for radical changes in sexual and marital mores. In 1780 he published a pro-divorce manifesto; he was ever re-shaping re-moulding the law. In 1783 his Memoires sur la Bastile following a 20-month detention in the infamous building caused an outcry and helped mobilize protests against arbitrary arrests.  Bachaumont, author-editor of Memoires secrets praised Linguet’s success as an advocate for progressive causes.  Linguet had sucessfully defended Madame Boudin against her husband’s accusations she committed adultery.

Linguet’s brief includes radical statements or implications: "criticizes the impunity with which French law treated a husband’s infidelity, while severely punishing adultery by wives" (p 75); divorce a far better solution than separation to failed marriages, because it allows couples to remarry and to produce children (add so "good of society" and "individual happiness").  He praises Roman Empire and early Christian church for allowing divorce; it will lead couples to treat one another with greater patience and respect (pp. 76-77).

Trouille then goes on to summarize and evaluate Des Essarts’ recounting and evaluation.  He takes Linguet’s view but sides with the court in using a legal technicality (it’s more than 10 years) for upholding the previous judgement, this because he is more conservative than Linguet and wants to keep marriage well-supported. Madame Ble should have gotten a divorce because syphilis was life-threatening; he denounces libertinage, people pushing libertine sons to marry innocent women, mountebanks who pretend to cure the disease and women having to hide their sickness. 

Des Essarts brings in a case he thinks is parallel where Linguet successfully defended the man, Marquis de Gouy, against his wife’s suit for separation. Des Essarts agrees with Linguet. He regards key issues the same; there is no life-threatening abuse but what happened was the wife was very angry at her husband for having affairs with women openly after 20 years of marriage.  The two lawyers thought her allegations of abuse unsubstantiated. Adultery by the husband was not grounds for divorce so the poor woman had to return to this man.

Trouille then points out modern parallels where some states have criminalized the transmission of AIDS and others have called for criminalization.  Still other groups of people have said criminalization achieves nothing: many people don’t know if they infected someone else; they are also victims; what is needed is an efficacious treatment. 

I think her showing parallells (an Iowan wife now sick testified with the same kind of bitterness as Madame Ble) is one of the book’s strengths.   


An illustration from a 20th century edition of Ingenue Saxancour, a novel by Retif and Agnes de Bretonne retelling horrific abuse (see below, the subject of Trouille’s last chapter).

Chapter 3:  The second case.  This one comes from the 35th volume of Des Essarts’s Causes Celebres.  Why did Trouille chose it?   Mme de Rouault, widow of Marquis de Mezieres, against Collet; she as an older woman was duped by her financial advisor, a younger man into getting involved with him (he pretended love) and then slowly tricked, bullied, embarrassed, and lured into marrying him. She was a widow who was in a depression after her husband died, and he beat out a decent husband her own age. What emerges is the shocking violence she endured even in front of others.

Trouille partly chooses the case to show the violence — for that is a central burden of her book to demonstrate how divorce must be made available.  Here she wants also to show how older women were treated in the courts, how they were made to feel.  She frames the case with talking of the common fabliau story of the older woman who marries a much younger man. It’s made a joke of, the fortune hunter is foiled in time; he reforms and proves worth (Marivaux’s Fausses Confidence).  But all too often the bride falls prey to unscrupulous man. The way the commentator talked about the case of M. Germaine is to emphasize how he was marrying her solely for her money, but the text creates horror in the reader because the man is a successful hypocrite: so kind before and afterward ruthlessly horrific: he urinates all over the mattress the first night and tells her that is all she deserves; he insults her before others. In this case the man reacted so abominably not because the woman was older but because she was a cripple and said to be ugly.  Luckily she left quickly and she and her parents wrested back the estate.

Trouille then says it’s not just the husband’s schemes that harm such women but "social prejudice." They are laughed at and unwilling to come forward. They are shamed into accepting the situation for at least a while or a long white.  In the case of Madame Germaine she was not older but crippled so the ridicule not so strong. Jonson’s play, Bartholomew Fair, is quoted, a text where the author is feeling for the man who must come home to an older woman. (This makes me remember the Wife of Bath’s Tale where she has a rapist knight punished by marrying him to a crone; however, the crone when he accepts her is turned into a beautiful woman.)

Mme de Rouault or de Mezieres said to have been depressed. She had liked and been liked by a Chevalier de Chaumont who somhow Collet managed to outmaneuver and put into prison for his debts, hid his whereabouts and then intercepted letters — very like Lovelace!

Madame de Mezieres marries him, Collet gets her to sign all her money and then the rest of her estate and possessions. Then proceeds to high violence and abuse; she gets a lieutenant of police to issue a lettre de cachet for her at the end of a year which permits her to flee to a convent. Otherwise she could not?  She was living in terror and abjection by that time. Ironically she used a lettre de cachet to find some peace and freedom

It takes her 6 years before she gets a separation on appeal on grounds of financial mismanagement and physical abuse. 

Trouille says what’s interesting is how ashamed she was of marrying a younger man and how it drove her at first to endure, and then to hide and only finally to escape. The interest is to see how vulnerable were even rich women, how she never admitted why she married him, how the court at first rejected her suit. Was she not sympathized with because menopausal, i.e., old, silly, seen as useless?

For me I am dumbfounded by her abjection.  Mme de Mezieres allows a ceremony that is false, a fraudulent contract: a genuinely gothic scene.  I want to know about her state of mind. Is this a case of how a depressed woman could be taken advantage of?

The lawyer who argued the case on behalf of the Marquise was Jacques-Vincent Delacroix (1743-1832): like Linguet, a short but distinguished career as lawyer represented high profile cases (Morangies-Veron, "Rosiere de Salency," and Gouy case. He wrote and edited Le Spectateur Francais, with insightful commentaries; a strong commitment to legal and social reform; his article "Mari" [husband] in the Encyclopedie, a "bold denunciation sof the injustices of French law and custom towards married women (p. 100).

Trouile summarizes and quotes at length from Des Essarts’s redaction which is written as a powerful novel.  Trouille protests against Des Essarts opening assertion most women’s allegations of abuse were "exaggerated"; and that they entered "freely" into their marriage.

Then his text shows us a man driven to violence against his wife so strong he seems to be unable to stop himself; that’s how much he loathes her; again some of the scenes like a gothic novel; others though utterly prosaic and more frightening for that.

With Des Essarts portraying the man as a villain (based on Delacroix), it’s hard to explain why Mme de Mezieres was at first denied — Trouille rightly says there were so many justifiable grounds here (squandering her fortune another). Trouille also cannot believe the woman was a victim of her own naivete.

So Trouille feels there is something to be explained and at the end of her chapter quotes Des Essarts saying there was much prejudice against the woman as someone who married a younger man and someone below her.  That Delacroix had been able to turn her age (menopausal symptom) to her account: she was secured when she was irrational and unable to assert herself. Trouille thinks this is not quite convincing and it was Mezieres’ shame at her age, being duped that held her back..

Trouille also talks at length of attitudes towards menopausal women as genuinely ill or suffering and can be taken advantage of.  In the Gouy case the lawyers held the wife’s menopausal age against her.

It’s also a case of mismatched social backgrounds — or class conflicts.   How ruthless he was once he got his hands on her mother. That she has to use lettres de cachet and the convent to escape him. Why did she win on the second round: because he was much lower class and presented himself falsely (this was thought horrifically reprehensible, a kind of last straw).  He did manage to get off with a lot of her property.

For myself I’m inclined to take the story of her depression seriously, and see her as someone susceptible to violence; not (as Trouille half inclines) someone who stayed partly because of masochism and someone who was violent back. So Trouille feels that the pathologies are on both sides.  Even if that’s so, Trouille is careful to say who was victim and punished most.

However compelling this idea of being "balanced" in the Trouille is demonstrating here, I think we see that being balanced is not a good norm to seek.  I think the evidence shows a deeply abject depressed passive woman.

But in any case the repeated idea of the book is demonstrated:  how vulnerable women are from the power that French law and custom gave men over women.  There are victims; not everyone has in herself the strength to leave — and consider how unacceptable it was.  I’ve read Ingenue Saxanacour which has a scene where the wife is on the stairway brutally beaten and neighbors tell her it’s her duty to return to her husband.


Louis-Leopold Boilly, Le Vieillard Jaloux, 1791 (we see a lover hiding behind the louvers; in fact this would not be a funny situation and when an older woman married a younger man she was treated with yet more blindness and indifference). The cases were more that young women sold to older men who then domineered over them.

Chapter 4:  The third case which is headed "a woman who is a battered wife or clever opportunist?"  This is a title which prejudges in a way that makes me uncomfortable, but it does show how people think.  The case is in Volume 105 of Des Essarts.

Trouille opens with showing that Memoires Secrets (Bachaumont) and Correspondence Secret (Metra) claimed the number of suits for separation were going up in the decades just before French revolution; she shows using figures this is not so at all. In any case separation was not a good instrument for protection for the woman.

Jeanne Fouragnan, Madame Rouches is someone who filed for separation.  At 20 (1772) she was married Pierre Rouches, a man of 49 who had 5 children; eight years later she leaves him, filing for separation and a pension; he accuses her of theft and improprieties (including adultery. He promises to treat her well, she refuses, he sends bailiffs to take all the property she took from the house (probably furniture and her things); two opposing decisions, husband though cleared of charges, she ordered to return; one on her side encourages her; she appeals and Parlement of Toulouse grants 4 year separation plus modest pension.

Case presented in unusually cogent way opposing views of marriage: wife’s lawyer: Jean Raymond Bastoulh, leading barrister in Toulouse, after revolution left bar to teach law: he argues ideal marriage is of people of comparable age in companionate relationship with shared values, expectations.  Desazards, husband’s lawyer, argues wife subordinate to husband, since she is of undistinguished rank too she can only separate if life endangered. The couple themeselves: show class antagonisms, mismatched social backgrounds, different aspirations.  Des Essarts in this case strongly endorsed the husband’s lawyer’s case.  Ironically, Balthoulh was the conservative, a barrister of higher rank, who retreated from revolution and it’s he who defends the wife; Desazards is a more modest lawyer who benefited from revolution but kept distance from Jacobins; Trouille thinks he identified as someone threatened by attempts of lower order people to dress and act as if they were of a higher rank.  (Clearly there’s misogyny here too.)

Des Essarts creates a frame which prejudges the case against the wife by going on for 22 pages against the "luxury" that women seek instead of tending domestic and family pursuits (he forgets men sought this too). He claims there have been tremendous growth of such suits, and it’s just women rebelling against husbands, wanting to waste their hard-earned income on frivolity; great danger that women who are in danger will be overlooked: not true there was this increase; not true huge numbers of women have influence and connections to get their case heard. He is irritated at these women’s "brazen" use of "political language" (bondage, freedom, revolt) and false accusations of injuries. One sees here he is siding with husbands in an imagined struggle of women seeking "unhealthy" "independence."

Bastoulh her lawyer blamed her parents for marrying her off for money; he blamed Rouche for seeking a much younger wife who would not be able to cope with the difficult situation. What we have here are intense angers of stepchildren against new step-parents, a common source of tension in second marriages (probably today too). Jeanne’s stepson beat her and tore her clothes.  His son loathed her (he would kick her and hit her during pregnancies to bring on miscarriage) because she could get pregnant.  The father encouraged the young man to beat her out of a perverse distrust of her.  She said she was willing not to go to social gathering, and as for her cited over-dress, she was dressing as was her step-daughter according to their rank.  Father (her husband) was abusing her too.  She said she was filing now (and not before) because the stepson had become old enough to be a real danger to her. Bastoulh had to explain why she waited 8 years — there is ever this presumption put into law that if you don’t leave right away you accept it.

[I think this presumption is Great Cruelty based on an inadequate understanding of human nature and contempt for weak people]

Questions: what are valid grounds for asking for separation?  Bastoulh came out openly (what temerity!) that it was not necessary her life be threatened; it was enough the wounds be grave, rendre life insupportable, shameful, terribly sorrow making. The authority he quotes does say that between common people this extension to wounds that don’t threaten life is inappropriate because they are used to it or women don’t care!  These class distinctions were however accepted widely.

What rank was Rouches?. Bastoulh says he was a rich merchant, tax collector and someone of high quality and rank (not he same thing) who was seeking to make himself seem poorer. Only wives of men of distinguished rank could obtain a separation on grounds that are less than life-threatening.

Then Balstoulh presents witnesses to the physical hard beating, no bitter reproaches of neighbors could affect the father or son. The son tried to introduce someone into his stepmother’s bed to accuse her of adultery so they could confine her for life in a convent and deprive her of property. But the acquaintance refused and testified for Mme Rouches For Balhoulh this behavior was further grounds for separation (not in a traditionalist view? then the women is indeed a sex slave).

How much alimony: the man is a miser and had raised his wife’s rank so she should receive alimony commensurate with her new rank.  Bastoulh stressed despite her modest origins her family was"honnete" and why should she sacrifice the income she married to get (or her parents did).

Husband’s lawyer: Desazars and husband’s grievances:

Trouille begins with question of rank; Desazars stresses Rouches’s modest origins, painful pinpointing of status: Rouches a "petit marchand" not a "negociant".  So Rouches is a son of peasants; Jeanne the daughter of innkeeper, granddaughter of grave digger, had worked as servant and barmaid. He mocked her social pretensions and said Rouches proud of his frugality and hard work. His first wife a modest, exemplary wife and mother; Jeanne was extravagant, wanted independence; she provoked her stepson to attack her; Rouches denied mistreating wife and said he was not there when she and son fought. Does not go into details because he would not humiliate her. He only wants her back to do her wifely duties. (I’ll bet. He wants to rape her more.) Rouches’ rough behavior to her apparel understandable; his behavior that of his class — tears her clothes, crude language. She cannot pretend to be insulted. Downplays husband’s old age and says he sought an appropriate wife among lower class to be a helpmate.  Her parents had not yet paid the dowry.  He had had 5 children by him — and his lawyer tried to use this against her — so see how contented she had been.  This (as today) counted against her

Rather than seeing the rise in separations and divorce as a mark of progress, Desazars sees this as tragic, breakdown of moral standards.  He argues only exceptional circumstances justify divorce or separation: ill-treatment must be regular; there must be proof of severe mistreatment, inflicted by Husband (son won’t do) and no hope of reconciliation. he refers to the case of Mr Rapally where it was showed the wife was not truly severely abused; since she also stayed with him, her suit was rightly rejected.  Only upper class people should be allowed divorce/separation in more nuanced cases: only they have souls to wound?); in effect he excuses husbands by saying they don’t see anything wrong in cruelty is not brutal to near death, it was a laudable frankness, does not threaten the marriage; apparently troubled are the happiest.

[This is hideous — Trouille quotes Francis Power Cobbe who said such stereotypes made magistrates oblivious to the sufferings of working class wives facing this cycle of abuse and reconciliation Desazars describes "so glibly." (p. 143).  (I wonder how many women killed themselves or died of misery under such treatment.)]

Apparently Desazars had not been permitted to confront the wife’s witnesses and challenge their testimony.  This was done before the trials, sort of like a modern deposition.

[Since reading Winston Graham’s Poldark novels, I can see this possibly a case of marital rape; the husband allowing the son to beat her because she put up a resistance to his unwanted sexual demands. We can find texts where the writer shows the husband implicitly forcing her or abusive, but does anyone before Galsworthy call it rape? Neither side could confront this reality]

The lawyer for the husband and son also managed to turn Madame Rouches’s accusations of her stepson’s atttempt to push her into adultery with another man against her.  He sneered at the lower class and female witnesses; said the young man was too young and this was a plot concocted by the wife (as all the beatings were provoked and staged by her). He says, see the nonsense we have to go into (motifs of the young man) when we go behind the veil that we should leave marriage behind; we don’t know the whole stories ever and should not presume to judge and wants to be faithful to decorous reserve — in this way he insinuates that perhaps she is adulterous but her husband would not want to expose her.  It would stain the husband Delacroix said in his article "Mari" — husbands must cover up wives’ errors because to expose is potentially disastrous to the family. The daughter’s chances in marriage are hurt. 

We see here how essential for women it was to begin to judge each person as an individual not as part of a family unit which is sacred. And the whole thing is utterly misogynous and distrustful.  Then Desazars imagines how people criticize wrongly the husband who imprisons his wife and probably maltreats her while there — the example itself shows imprisonment not uncommon.

He ends on a peroration: to allow this separation is "to take from man his rights, from the citizen his prerogatives, from a husband his wife. Soon you will have scores of these women knocking at this door, crowds come to see.  He says three of her friends had filed for separation too.  A conflagration! A spark which will set fire to the palace — imagery of the coming revolution.

Some modern points:  money, sex, class issues . Rouches had married her for the money and not gotten any; for the sex and wasn’t getting satisfaction.  The parents had basically sold her.  The husband uses prejudice within bourgeois ideals against stereotypic aristocratic behavior against her. She was accused of having luxurious tastes and wasting the husband’s money and he presented as a man of simple virtues and tastes. As a member of recently ennobled family, Desazars wanted to keep the lower bourgeois and peasants in their place and appealed to the judges to feel the same way.  (Class stereotypes: not all nobles led extravagant lives and some bourgeoisie did.)  lt would benefit to deprive Mme Rouches — even her. And he then subscribes to the Rousseau fatuous idyll

This was a case though where the court quickly granted her relief — unlike the others she didn’t lose at first and have to fight again.  The husband was required to pay court costs.  (By contrast poor Mme Mezieres was at first refused.)  She got a much smaller sum (600 instead of 1500 livres per year), only a 4 not a 9 year or permanent separation; she cannot go live with her family and son, but to a convent and child remain with its father.

She says "we" are surprised even though our mores are modern because Des Essarts arranged the arguments, chose the details to make Desazars’s argument the last and eloquent. 

I’m not surprised because Desazars’s argument persuaded me, but rather I expected injustice. Trouille seems to buy into the sceptical view of Jeanne when she asks "who is abusing who" here. She goes into depth in the case because it articulates conflicting views so lucidly.

Perhaps the wife’s lawyer’s liberal attitudes in arguing in her behalf helped her. And if it was true she wanted to rid herself of this old man, had aspirations to live more luxuriously and wanted to dress herself prettily and with the insignia of higher rank, to live comfortably, not endlessly pregnant, not serving him, well then why not?  I would not use the term "clever opportunist" but a woman trying to enjoy her life a little. That’s my gut response.

See Part Two and Part Three


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