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 The sixth case (L’Ormes) a woman had instituted divorce proceedings in 1802 only to find in 1803 these were no longer valid; Bellarts, the very lawyer who argues against Mme Mandonnet now argues for the wife on grounds of incompatibility, shown to be centrally important in marriage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.
Read Full Post »