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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.



( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 16th, 2010 04:16 am (UTC)
Loving the book
From Linda on WWTTA:

"I was so glad to see Ellen's comments on this. I really loved the book. It was so much more than I was expecting. It seems the least we could do on this list is to read and discuss the books our group members write. In some cases, I guess, that could be tricky--but no problem in this case, because it is so good.

Yes, it is a feminist book---showing so clearly the few options open to women in earlier eras--before they won the right to an education and gainful employment. Gabrielle is somewhat aided and assisted by her great beauty in her struggle for
survival and personal freedom.. I thought of Catherine's book when our group was discussing Grace Dalyrumple Eliot. There are parallels here.

For me, the book awakened an interest in French history. I have been following up with readings and movies on the French Revolution. What an amazing phenomenon that was--it changed the course of history for Western civilization.

Aiken, in her discussions of Dinesen, does a fine job of describing patriarchal and androcentric culture. She reminds us how much is at stake for men--how they must control women and women's sexuality in order to insure a legitimate lineage
and tranfer of wealth and power to their heirs. Although I knew all that before, it was somehow an eye-opener. Although I knew between men and women it was a war, I never realized it was such a brutal war. I was persuaded it was as brutal a war as has ever been fought anywhere. I think our heroine in Mistress of the
Revolution brings home to us Aiken's point.

I hope everyone on our list will take the time to look at For the Revolution. They won't be disappointed. Catherine's second book, For the King, will be coming out in July. We are planning to discuss it here. I can't wait.

Apr. 16th, 2010 04:21 am (UTC)
From the author (1)
Thanks, Linda! You raise a very powerful point re: the French Revolution. What struck me is how much the control of the bodies of former noblewomen became a political stake. Now male commoners could "get" them, as a token of the political upheaval that had taken place in France. This is what happens to Gabrielle.

See also the ditty sung by the "sans-culotte" before the 1st anniversary of Bastille Day:

Damn you all aristocrats,
We'll f*** your women,
And you'll kiss our asses…


I found that on a contemporary engraving, and found it very telling.

The Memoirs of Lucie de la Tour du Pin were a resource from
which I didn't hesitate to draw. For one thing, Lucie was exactly my heroine's age (not something I had designed that way, because I hadn't read Lucie when I began the novel) and she discovered Versailles as a very young woman on the eve of the Revolution. Lucie was far closer to Marie-Antoinette, though, because she was a lady in waiting to the Queen.

I list my sources here:


Edited at 2010-04-16 11:44 pm (UTC)
Apr. 16th, 2010 04:22 am (UTC)
From the author (2)
The last part of the novel:

As long as Villers has power, he is charming and kind. When he begins losing power, politically and in his personal life, as Gabrielle stops being his thing and asserts a will of her own, he shows a far less attractive side of his personality. He becomes morbidly jealous, he turns into a control freak.

The issue of marriage/non-marriage, pregnancy/non-pregnancy is crucial. I wrote this novel in the death throes of my own marriage, and unwittingly foreshadowed what would happen to me and my son a few years later. People like Villers get even with the women who dare escape them by hurting their children.

For contraceptive methods available in the 18th century, I found my inspiration in Therese Philosophe and Sade. Libertine novels were the only sources, with possibly medical textbooks, to afford a candid overview. For Gabrielle, I picked what seemed the most effective by modern standards: contraceptive sponges dipped in vinegar. Those, from what I could gather, were still in use in the 20th century. Condoms were also available, but before the use of rubber became standard, I wondered about their effectiveness.

And yes, I probably projected my own political opinions onto Gabrielle. :) I imagined that, given her financial and social position under the Ancien Regime, she felt she had little to lose in the early stages of the Revolution and thus was supportive of those. This is an attitude Madame Vigee-Lebrun reports about some of her friends before she herself emigrates.

This novel is indeed very personal, and thus very complex. I drew on so many sources. My family history, my own life experience, 18th century novels, including Sade, Diderot, Jane Austen...

About the civic certificate ("carte civique"), no, it was not an anachronism at all. In fact, I was looking for a plot device that would push Gabrielle back towards Pierre-Andre in September 1792, and peering through chronologies of the Revolution, and there is was! As the months went by, it became mandatory for more and more activities of everyday life (employment, for instance.)

I hope I also stressed enough the importance of passports, even for domestic travel. The Revolutionaries were visionaries when it came to red tape...

Now, about the last part of the book, indeed it was inspired in part by the Souvenirs of Grace Elliott. About Pierre-Andre, I wanted the story to come full circle. He is brutal and jealous, but more respectful of Gabrielle's independence than his predecessors. When he opposes her working in the theatre, for instance, it is out of concern for her safety, not possessiveness as Villers with the lady in waiting position.

And Gabrielle takes the job notwithstanding, without it causing a rift in the relationship. It's a constant with her: she tends to express submissiveness, while seizing any chance that comes her way of doing whatever she likes. I see her as always testing the limits imposed upon her.

As for the relationship between Gabrielle and her daughter, I often asked myself whether Gabrielle was a "good" mother. Certainly she is concerned about her child's welfare and ensures her survival. At the same time, I see her as too involved in her own troubles to pay Aimee enough attention. The scene between them in England when Aimee is a grown woman comes as a shock to Gabrielle. In the prologue, she writes that they never discussed the past, and suddenly she is confronted with her daughter's remembrances of the Revolution. And sure enough, Aimee didn't like Pierre-Andre at all...


Edited at 2010-04-16 01:43 pm (UTC)
Apr. 16th, 2010 11:29 am (UTC)
A gracious thanks and my reply
Thank you so much, Ellen! I am really touched by your appreciation of this first novel of mine. You go so much deeper than most reviewers, and you see things no one else notices. I wish I had more readers like you... I will come in due time, hopefully. :)

Again many thanks!



I'm grateful for your appreciation and toleration of my critical suggestions. As most readers (and there are few readers in the world) don't go deep and either don't see or don't care what is in the text particularly (want to see what the author herself meant), what I write is most of the time not appreciated.

I've discovered in reviewing (professsionally, where I am published in these academic journals) that most authors don't want any criticisms or critiques; that you bothered to read their book for real while some other reviewer in a more prestigious or widely circulating periodical clearly read skimmingly or not beyond the first and last chapters doesn't bother them. They prefer cooing. Really.

Virginia Woolf says as much in one of her letters too.

Apr. 16th, 2010 01:29 pm (UTC)
Again the author
What matters to me if that you liked and respected my work. You took the trouble to read it carefully, and, because of your (very unusual, admittedly) knowledge of 18th century literature, you were able to put it in its actual context, and appreciated the extent of its true ambition. This is extremely rare. :)

I hope you also like For the King, in spite of its different outlook. It is far more political, and draws a sort of balance sheet of the Revolution in 1800 France.

But I think what you will like most from me, apart maybe from my Eliza book-to-be, is the one I am writing: an 18th century Gothic based on a true story. I call it simply The Beast, for lack of a better title. It will focus on a female character, Helene de Montserrat, Gabrielle's sister, the nun who is horribly killed during the Revolution. She is but thirteen then, and we will discover how she became a nun.

I also like the reason why you wanted to read it before _For the King_. It is very kind of you to read first the book you think you will like best. And yet you may end up liking the second one better. :)

I am not in the least offended when you say the novel "is a parable against the French revolution" but, as you can imagine, I disagree. You may be surprised to hear that, on a Marie-Antoinette forum, I was accused of writing a pro-revolutionary pamphlet. I simply wanted to give an accurate -to the extent possible in a novel- picture of the Revolution, its causes, its madness, its violence and yes, its idealism and achievements too.


Edited at 2010-04-16 11:46 pm (UTC)
Apr. 16th, 2010 01:33 pm (UTC)
Reviewing and books to come!

I've been dismayed by the way academic peers really prefer cooing even if the review doesn't show one has read it :)

It's extremely rare to take criticism as something well meant -- to help the other person. I know that maybe you didn't "go into" the other women because perhaps in your life you have connected better to men.

Eliza-book-to-be -- if I can be of any help do not hesitate to email me. I enjoy participating. I've helped others -- and been publicly thanked (though that's not why I helped them). A book on Cowper's poetry I remember I enjoyed helping. I love the idea of going into Gabrielle's sister's background. Again it reminds me of 18th century novels: what is _Delphine_ but a book developed out of taking a continuum of women who took different options and imagining their fates interacting.

Maybe three years from now when I find the books/essays I'm trying either do not work or are finished, I'll try a novel again. But I don't think I have it in me to be outward enough when it comes to this kind of creativity.

Apr. 16th, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)
From Nancy: "I read the review but did not connect it with you, Catherine. Ooops. Congratulations for what sounds like an interesting book. I await the novel about Eliza. Nancy"
Apr. 17th, 2010 03:25 am (UTC)
Catherine Delors/Mistress of the Revolution
I loved this book(although I did cringe at the violence)and now I am re reading it and the pleasure of it has not diminished with this reading.

I look forward to many more from this new author.
I hope the positive reviews will continue.
Apr. 17th, 2010 01:23 pm (UTC)
A parable about the French revolution
Catherine wrote:

"I am not in the least offended when you say the novel "is a parable against the French revolution" but, as you can imagine, I disagree. You may be surprised to hear that, on a Marie-Antoinette forum, I was accused of writing a pro-revolutionary pamphlet. I simply wanted to give an accurate -to the extent possible in a novel- picture of the Revolution, its causes, its madness, its violence and yes, its idealism and achievements too."

Over on Inimitable-Boz (another Yahoo list) I suggested to someone who was saying that Dickens was strongly influenced by a group of male picaresque-type novelists, not so because of the emphatic and pervasive difference between the inner life and what's meant by 18th century texts and how they were seen to function in our society. The next day someone posted about the profound effects on European society of the French revolution. How it changed so much.

Yes, I think it's incalcuable. In a way we can't go back before all those assertions about equality were made, and the reality that the generality of people will take only so much misery. Never before had a revolution like this succeeded anything near what happened between 1789 and 1795. It taught Marx, gave hope despite the crazed bloodbath that (naturally given human nature I'm tempted to say) ensued. Act II was the Russian revolution. We now are in the midst of a successful century long repression counter-revolution, with no Act III in sight, only potshots from its potentials now and again.

Apr. 19th, 2010 11:40 am (UTC)
Further debate
Linda writes:

"I loved Ellen's blog on Mistress of the Revolution and agreed with almost everything she said. I join in with my praise of it as a strong first novel-- and particularly liked the feminist concerns.

One smalll thing I did not agree with is Ellen's interpretation in the last paragraph of her blog that Catherine's view of the Revolution was that it was "worse than useless--nothing improved, nothing obtained". I think that is some kind of misunderstanding.

I believe the French Revolution was a monumental achievement that changed the course of Western civilization, and I was sure as I read her novel that Catherine must concur. It was the overthrow of the ancien regime--the abolishment of the monarchy-- the people taking back their government. It was the model and inspiration for governments all over Europe for years to come.

Here is Wikiipedia's take:

"The modern era has unfolded in the shadow of the French Revolution. The growth of republics and liberal democracies, the spread of secularism, the development of modern ideologies, and the invention of total war all mark their birth during the Revolution."

Wars are horrible for the individuals involved, but they do effect change. The Civil War in this country abolished slavery. The American Revolution led to our birth as an independent nation.

We cannot be so blinded by our preoccupation with individual suffering that we infer that it was all for nothing and a horrible waste. Horrible it is--but war does bring about change--sometimes for the greater good.

Whether or not the change brought about in any particular case was worth the horrible suffering --is the subject of another discussion.

Apr. 19th, 2010 11:41 am (UTC)
Further debate (2)
Well, Linda, perhaps I used too strong language and thus overstated my case. I do not study nuances for hours when I write postings or blogs.

But I'll stand with my idea: Mistress of the Revolution is a book which, like many of the memoirs of aristocratic women of the era, may be read as anti-revolution. Whether it's meant altogether that way is another question: I agree, I think not, and especially from a feminist point of view, the ancien regime is shown to be just awful, terrible for women, whether of the upper or lower classes. But it may and probably is read that way by many -- as women of Marilyn Yalcom's Blood Sisters often are. There are some exceptions: one is Madame Roland, who waiting to be guillotined nonetheless writes a memoir which cannot be mistaken as it explicitly argues for the very revolution whose excesses (human nature) are engulfing our writer. If I had time (as I wrote) and I were more inclined, I would now go on to Hillary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety. I'd like to see the contrast.

Penny is talking of wife abuse. I read a superb book on this last year and wrote a blog on it: Mary Trouille's _Wife Abuse in Eighteenth Century France_; it's based on trial and other records so she tells several (terrible) case histories as well as goes over a couple of novels based on real life stories of abuse of women (Sade's Marquise de Grange and Bretonne's Ingenue Saxacour, ou La Femme Separee (it's based on the real story of Bretonne's daughter whose misery he blamed himself for since he was one of those who coerced her into a hideous marriage).

Here's my blog:


I picked the book up for a not so cheap $40 at an ASECS meeting; most of the time it's an overpriced $120 or more. The Voltaire Foundation which produces books overprices them badly. It was partly due to my reading this book that I volunteered to be a member of Trouille's panel on rape in 18th century literature this spring.

You can find the book in libraries and I seriously recommend it to Catherine Delors. If nothing else, she will find a rich mine of material for further novels, and sources for yet more.

I am interested in Catherine's comment that she does not like Madeleine, Gabrielle's sister, Madeleine. This is not the nun sister but the other married one, right? I wouldn't her an enabler; rather one of these implicit horrors who does not seem to be. Enablers enable people to act; insofar as Madeleine is an enabler, she backs her mother, brother and the family; but it's not she who chose the marriage. Rather she is just the kind of person who is the worst sort for women (or anyone) seeking a decent rather than wretched ilfe; she functions to uphold the status quo by counselling compromise which is no compromise given the circumstances, rather utter giving in.

But, having said that, what is the real difference between her and Gabrielle's nun-sister. She too counsels compromise; she doesn't misrepresent, she doesn't justify the cruel and vicious, but her advice would lead to Gabrielle immuring herself in a convent for life.

Stael's _Delphine_ brings this point I'm making crudely out wonderfully. She show there is little to chose between these two kinds of compromisers. _Delphine_ was attacked (as I recall) ferociously and/or ignored; Napoleon (could he have gotten himself to read it) would have loathed it.


Apr. 20th, 2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
The other women characters in the book
On wife abuse: wife abuse. I read a superb book on this last year and wrote a blog on it: Mary Trouille's _Wife Abuse in Eighteenth Century France_; it's based on trial and other records so she tells several (terrible) case histories as well as goes over a couple of novels based on real life stories of abuse of women (Sade's Marquise de Grange and Bretonne's Ingenue Saxacour, ou La Femme Separee (it's based on the real story of Bretonne's daughter whose misery he blamed himself for since he was one of those who coerced her into a hideous marriage).

Here's my blog:


I picked the book up for a not so cheap $40 at an ASECS meeting; most of the time it's an overpriced $120 or more. The Voltaire Foundation which produces books overprices them badly. It was partly due to my reading this book that I volunteered to be a member of Trouille's panel on rape in 18th century literature this spring.

You can find the book in libraries and I seriously recommend it to Catherine Delors. If nothing else, she will find a rich mine of material for further novels, and sources for yet more.

I am interested in Catherine's comment that she does not like Madeleine, Gabrielle's sister, Madeleine. This is not the nun sister but the other married one, right? I wouldn't her an enabler; rather one of these implicit horrors who does not seem to be. Enablers enable people to act; insofar as Madeleine is an enabler, she backs her mother, brother and the family; but it's not she who chose the marriage. Rather she is just the kind of person who is the worst sort for women (or anyone) seeking a decent rather than wretched ilfe; she functions to uphold the status quo by counselling compromise which is no compromise given the circumstances, rather utter giving in.

But, having said that, what is the real difference between her and Gabrielle's nun-sister. She too counsels compromise; she doesn't misrepresent, she doesn't justify the cruel and vicious, but her advice would lead to Gabrielle immuring herself in a convent for life.

Stael's _Delphine_ brings this point I'm making crudely out wonderfully. She show there is little to chose between these two kinds of compromisers. _Delphine_ was attacked (as I recall) ferociously and/or ignored; Napoleon (could he have gotten himself to read it) would have loathed it.

Apr. 20th, 2010 04:04 pm (UTC)
Gabrielle's two sisters
From Catherine:

"Dear Ellen,

Indeed I don't much like Madeleine. She gently tries to nudge Gabrielle into accepting the marriage. She realizes it is nothing more than a rape, but she supports the system of patriarchal authority that promotes it. I went back to the novel and found this first instance (signing of the marriage contract) when Madeleine literally looks away:

"I looked at Madeleine in a silent plea for help. She turned away. The Marquis pressed down on my shoulder and made me sit at the table. He took the quill from Carrier's hand to put it in mine.
"Sign," he said.
My brother was bending over me, one of his hands resting on the table and the other still on my shoulder. "Sign," he repeated between his teeth.
I looked around at the rest of the company, but all eyes were now averted, except those of the Baron."

Then there is the scene when Madeleine puts Gabrielle to bed before her wedding night. She gets rid of Mom, who is spewing venom, and coaxes, or tries to coax Gabrielle into accepting what is to happen.

Helene, the nun, on the contrary, is adamant about two things: Gabrielle must not return to their brother, and she is not to take the veil without a vocation. She says: "Convents are not convenient repositories for women whom their families wish to discard or punish, but hallowed places where God calls His own. To think or act otherwise is blasphemy." This in itself is a revolutionary statement at the time, a total rejection of the attitudes behind _The Nun_ and the use of convents as penitentiary establishments.

The contrast between the two sisters is very much on my mind because I am writing the prequel. In the beginning they are very close, almost like Austenian sisters and the horror that is unfolding (reference to the Gothic here) will reveal deep differences between them.

Apr. 20th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
Gabrielle's two sisters
Dear Catherine,

Of course you remember the book much better than I do :). And it does make a difference. Quite sincerely, I look forward to this book centering on this sister-nun -- and also (anticipating years and dreams of books I share too) one on Eliza de Feuillide. You'll just knock the previous ones off the map :).

Apr. 26th, 2010 12:21 pm (UTC)
Lecons de Tenebres
Penny wrote on ECW and WWTTA:

Is it me, or does the marquis, Gabrielle's brother have an annoying habit of addressing her as Little Sister? I am not sure why, but I do find it irritating. I know there are places in
which he does address her by name but it seems most of the time, his idea of an affectionate appelation doesn't work for me, it irritates me and i do not know why. It just feels
as if he is asserting age superiority or some such thing.

Friendships, I notice we don't hear about them in the book, what was her existence like in the convent? She must have made some friends. And aside for the Duchess, we don't learn of any other
female friends."

I replied:

I'd say the brother is asserting superiority, a thing he need not do as all custom and power is on his side.

Yes as we've said the book does not give us a sense of depth of women's friendships -- partly because most of the other women characters are not seen in the depth say Villiers or Pierre Andre are. The book, Mistress of Revolution is "Lecons de Tenebres_. To connect threads, it's a book about lessons. Our heroine learns dark lessons and most of them from cruel domineering men -- the mother is an exception and she is no friend to our heroine either, oh no.

Apr. 27th, 2010 01:10 pm (UTC)
Gabrielle's brother
Dear Ellen and Penny,

Once Gabrielle is married, then widowed, her brother has lost legal control over her. Not practical control, mind you, because he is still the one who gets to decide whether or not he takes her back after her widowhood. The scene she doesn't remember after taking the laudanum on the night when she and Geraud are
waking her husband is crucial to their relationship. Here I was directly inspired by the rape in the _Marquise of O_. When Gabrielle claims -falsely- to be pregnant, she doesn't realize, at least not consciously, how much this affects him.

Then Gabrielle visits her sister Helene, the nun, and she comes back with a new outlook: Helene advises her in the strongest terms not to return to their family, and points out the Villers option as the lesser evil. Helene of course has her reasons, which Gabrielle doesn't fully grasp. But the reader will in Book 3 (Gothic).

So Gabrielle follows Helene's advice and reluctantly accepts to become Villers's mistress. Then Geraud, the brother, has lost control for good and he provokes Villers to a duel. You are right, Penny, this is macho display, but not only a display: two men fighting to the death to control one woman.

When Gabrielle throws herself between the duellists, she effectively puts an end to her brother's power over her. For one thing, he has wounded her, physically and in a way that is charged with sexual symbolism (the sword). And the fact that she is ready to die to save Villers means that her brother has lost his
emotional hold on her as well.

As she grows older, Gabrielle learns to recognize, and fight, the attempts of both men at dominating her. When she leaves Villers, and later agrees to go back to him, she has asserted herself in a way he will never forgive. From there their relationship can only spiral towards death: hers, her daughter's, his.

For female friendships, true, Gabrielle avoids them. Her "best friend," Emilie, is an airhead, someone with whom she can entertain a pleasant but totally superficial relationship. Once the Revolution takes a more radical turn, the shallowness of their connection is exposed. Gabrielle's only true connections
are with the Duchess and Helene, the nun.

In the initial version of the book, Mame Laborde, the wet nurse, was also an important character, a true mother figure, but the book was "too long" and that disappeared from the published version.

In the initial version there were also more scenes between Gabrielle and Geraud. He was more clearly abusive. To me he is a crucial character, and my feelings towards him are complex. He is evil, but I feel sorry for him. Fortunately I get to revisit him in Book 3. Since it is going to be openly a Gothic, I am not
going to let myself be constrained by the limits of mainstream historical fiction.


Apr. 27th, 2010 01:17 pm (UTC)
Brothers and Gabrielle's
Dear Catherine,

Very interesting. I see the Marquise of O parallel now -- and it's a trope throughout the period. To exonerate absolutely (get this you must exonerate them) women who are raped from being thought to have somehow complied, drugging them unconscious is the typical scene, and then we are asked to suppose them pregnant from the first encounter. (That latter is not gone yet as in the 2008 Tess we are asked to believe Tess never went near Alec again and became pregnant on the first encounter).

Brothers in the 18th and 19th century in Europe were powerful figures in the family, over all the women including mothers and grandmothers; you see this still in traditional cultrues (Nafisi has examples of cruelty of brothers to sisters in Iran).

Myself I didn't like the brother and now you mention it, felt you did sympathize with him and at first was dismayed to see this. Later he is so clearly shown to have acted out of the lousiest of motives, utterly selfish, wanting to control his sister's body (a dog in the manger) that I felt in the book the sympathy vanish and was glad. I feel no sympathy whatsoever for him nor his point of view (about hierarchy, his pride, his rank or any of the things he wanted to inculcate in his sisters).

Apr. 29th, 2010 01:17 pm (UTC)
Gabrielle's brother
Catherine writes:

Dear Ellen, Penny and Linda,

As the story proceeds, Gabrielle's brother appears less and less likable, or more and more hatable, whatever :) because the book is told from her POV. As she detaches herself from him, emotionally and otherwise, she becomes more aware of his true nature.

What motivates him towards Gabrielle, and in particular fuels his determination to force her to marry a man she loathes, is not so much a quest for money/position/alliance for the family but the desire to ensure that she will be married to someone with whom she can have no emotional connection. Sexual jealousy is the core motive here.

If one reads the novel _very_ carefully, he is very tepid in the beginning when the Baron first approaches him with the idea of the marriage. He sees nothing to be gained for himself in this match, in spite of the wealth and position of the suitor, so he is not interested. Gabrielle (and thus the reader) learns of this
when her husband tells her after her marriage.

But when Gabrielle's secret engagement to Pierre-Andre comes to his notice, he realizes the danger: she could actually marry someone she loves! The fact that this new suitor is a commoner is of course an aggravating circumstance, and it provides a convenient pretext to hide his true motives, but it is not the
determining factor.

Only then does the brother become adamant in forcing the marriage with the Baron. Again this was far more explicit in the original version of the novel, but it was "too long" and this was eliminated from the published version.

Apr. 29th, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC)
Gabrielle's brother
Just to say, yes, absolutely, Catherine. The motivation for Gabrielle's brother's conduct is his sexual desire for her. Since he won't let himself become her sexual partner (after an early near temptation), he doesn't want any one else to. He can't stand it.

It's one of the things that make him so deadly. Such a dead hand on her. Speaking frankly here I know in my heart that this motive impelled my father: why he encouraged me to stay in my first marriage and why he didn't like my present husband. He resented him, and would say needling niggling satirical remarks out of my husband's presence. The sexual thing goes beyond that: for like my husband's mother (Jim's mother), my father didn't discouraged me from going to college. Yes. Like Jim's mother, he saw it would remove me from his control/influence.

I bring in Jim's mother to show women do this too. And she was not keen on me.

It's not that common for this kind of motive (real and not infrequent) to be brought out so clearly and candidly.

Brava Catherine!

Apr. 30th, 2010 01:45 pm (UTC)
How these novels function
From Catherine:

Thanks, Ellen! I am sorry this brings up such a personal trauma, but I am happy I was able to convey this, with an revised manuscript too (50 or so pages missing from the beginning).

As for whether he lets himself become her sexual partner, this will change with the laudanum incident, after her widowhood.


PS: you mentioned once my republishing the initial manuscript. No idea whether this is practicable, but I would love to.

In truth, Catherine, what I wrote is not such a trauma with me; it's just par for the course. What I was doing was reading the novel in the way Janice Radway suggests many women read romance and historical novels/memoirs: as ways of conversing, dialoging and coming to terms with their lives. Whether the characters are dressed in historical or contemporary garb, these books centrally function to let us see ourselves.

I had not seen the brother as directly physically threatening his sister. He is a hypocrite before himself, and only half-admits his motives. He likes to think well of himself.

May. 6th, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)
Gabrielle does have a few mother figures, Her sister, the duchess and the housekeeper who unfortunately also betrays her. But at least the housekeeper took the time to explain the birds and the bees too bad her dating advice left much to be desired. I also wish the deleted scene on Catherine's blog with the housekeeper
had been kept in. It was of the housekeeper telling Gabrielle her fortune and if I remember correctly, it does give us a clue to her future.

The duchess tries to help her but I wonder why she pushes
for Villers, but then I suspect they knew each other a long time and I doubt she would or could have known of the great violence
he is capable of. Even Coffinhal has that hard side that made me wonder what softened him to her.

I am 2/3rds of the way through so they have had only one meeting and he is not very nice to her because she had hurt him
even though it was inadvertent.

I liked the fact that her sister is not judgmental even if it means that Gabrielle is forced into being a kept woman by a man, or
at least I don't think she had a choice.

It does not surprise me that she does find men. She is described as beautiful and she starts out young. I have seen women go through different men at different times of life. And she is still quite young at the end of the book when she has found a husband willing to raise her children. We don't know much about him, but I am willing to bed that he was charmed by her and that he needed an heir and but might not have loved her.

After all there is a difference between sex and love. I tend to think that men think with their little heads. Gabrielle for her
part was looking for a roof over her head and for the children.

Penny Klein
May. 11th, 2010 12:19 pm (UTC)
Gabrielle's sex education
Catherine wrote in response to Penny on ECW:

"Dear Penny,

When Josephine, the cook, takes the trouble of explaining the birds and the bees, it is not out of kindness but to make sure Gabrielle is not tricked into surrendering her virginity and is warned of the consequences (see discussion at Janeites about Marianne in S&S.)

Josephine does it in a rather cruel and horrifying way, with an analogy with horses. Anyone familiar with these animals will know what I mean. So Gabrielle has this monstrous image of the half-man/half-horse planted in her mind.

Josephine's loyalties are entirely with the family, not Gabrielle herself. She is amused by the girl, but she will not hesitate one moment before betraying her when the time comes.


PS: Here's the bit of dialog for those who haven't read the book:

She sighed. "All right. You've seen what happens when mares are brought here to be covered by My Lord's stallion, haven't you?"

Puzzled, I nodded at her. Indeed those proceedings took place in a paddock behind the chateau, under my bedroom window. My brother attended while grooms held the horses' reins. The stallion, upon smelling the mare, threw his head backwards and curled his lips. He raised himself to his full height, his front legs whipping the air, and let out a chilling cry, almost a roar, before beginning his approaches. It was an impressive sight.

"Good," said Joséphine. "Then you must've observed the state of things under the stallion's stomach. The private parts of a man look the same, only less large of course, when he wants to have his way with a girl. Beware of any scoundrel who'll talk tender to you. When you least expect it, he'll unbutton his breeches, and then he'll raise your skirts and he'll do to you what you've seen
done to the mares."

My eyes shut tight, I was trying to banish from my mind the horrific visions evoked by Josephine's words. I had never considered the fact that men might behave or look like my brother's horse.

"If you let that happen," Joséphine continued, "chances are you'll bear a little bastard nine months later. And even if you weren't with child, you'd still be disgraced. You see, when a girl lets a man meddle with her, it tears something in her nether parts. That's called her maidenhead. It hurts when it rips, and it bleeds quite a bit. But that's not what matters. What matters is that afterwards a girl never looks the same down there."

Joséphine, a dire look on her face, wagged her finger at me. "So even if you managed to hide your shame until your marriage, you wouldn't be able to fool your husband on your wedding night. He'd be awfully angry and he'd lock you in a convent for the rest of your life. Think of it. All because of one lapse." She paused. "Now you've been warned."

Edited at 2010-05-11 12:20 pm (UTC)
May. 11th, 2010 12:45 pm (UTC)
Gabrielle's sex education
Going back and rereading the passage Catherine quoted, Penny's and Bob's and Catherins's remarks, I'll suggest that women experience sex differently from men, especially genital sex. There are two levels to this: one (referred to by Catherine in her allusion to S&S) is that socially speaking women may be punished and severely for consenting to have full genital sex with a man; in Tom Jones, Mr Allworthy says the punishments are such, it's not unreasonable for a girl to regard a man who attempts to seduce her (much less forcibly coerce) as her enemy.

This influences the scene in Mistress of the Revolution, for Gabrielle has experienced her brother's social power and her own powerlessness for a number of years by this time. It influences women today too: many communities in the world still punish women for consenting to sex with a man outside marriage.

The other level is the physical. Simone de Beauvoir puts this concisely in a famous passsge from her The Second SEx, and Catherine has caught it in her horse imagery: the man penetrates the woman and he breaks something, hurts her, plus she may well get pregnant and that in nature could kill her - we have science to intervene nowadays, but the experience of labor is terrifying for girls in anticipation the first time and for many afterwards hard memories.

The importance of this angle helps account for the argument that for women on some level all sex is rape, especially the first time -- here given what it's surrounded by morally and culturally, what's at stake.

I don't know much about horses even if over a lifetime I've been taken to races and point-to-point meetings and even once had horseback riding lessons. (I didn't keep them up, stopped quickly.)
But I have when young been in the first sex education classes -- I am talking the early to mid-1960s. First in my high school in NYC and then briefly in Queens college. In both cases sex education as far as I could tell (and I was an aware person by that time, to put it bluntly, no virgin by a few years already) was not doing the good proposed at all. The teachers were functioning out of their own preconceptions, and the boys in the class consistently reacted as a group differently than the girls.

One instance: we were in both places shown a film of a woman giving birth. The photography was graphic or close and realistic. In particular in one case we saw a long sharp metal instrument taken to the woman; it was cutting her somehow. I still have no idea quite what was happening since decorum kept a sheet in the way of seeing the woman's genitals. The girls gasped in feaer; they were put off,
frightened. Some of the boys laughed, it may be said nervously, but others watched with indifference.

There it was. Then the teacher was supposed to talk about this; in both cases she and he was wholly inadequate. The girls left that room more unnerved than ever -- and I want to make the point quite rightly. They had not been helped at all. But then what help can you give unless you tell the full truth about what women endure and our culture won't allow this lest it put women off.

Years later I had two daughters who were pushed (by school mandate) to participate in these sex-and-drug education classes (at the time driving education was included too). Much was a set script which prevented any real communication. Students were (according to my older daughter) basically silent or sprouted cant; they were pushed into playing (pretending) to be being marital partners, doing prudential things (like laundry or doing bills) and the results here were silly. And depending on the teacher, myths promulgated. Gay students suffer in such classes.

Josephine, the cook, does not come out badly against what I've seen and been told about.

Experience teaches me that Catherine is probably not in danger of getting too much praise for her book, but here we see one of those places where she hits on a profound area of life and dramatizes accurately the young girl's response.


P.S. I should say I am totally against abstinence programs too. They are worse than useless.
May. 22nd, 2010 12:33 pm (UTC)
Gabrielle's brother and mother
I am on the return of Gabrielle's first love. This time I am not so
forgiving. He may have decided not to make her so humiliated but she is still under his thumb, just because he tells her to think of them as married does not mean that he feels any less rage toward her. She is under his thumb, he just wants to have a mistress in better circumstances an ego thing. I sometimes think for men, it is all about the sex and I think the better living conditions are probably more comfortable for his needs of her. I think men also like something pretty on their arms. If they had speedos back then he would have made her wear them at least to bed. Even in his youth wasn't he the randy type? For him it was also about control and power. I doubt he spent much time being
nice to Aimee any more than he had to. I don't remember but I will pay attention this time.

If she were not pretty I don't think she would have escaped the bloody death waiting for aristocrats. But I think pretty women back then probably did have an easy time finding a man maybe not always a good kind man but certainly a man, like I said,, it is all about the sex.

I think that Gabrielle was a good mother. She did what she could to save her daughter. I found myself fond of both. even though we don't know Aimee something about her attracts me and I start feeling protective As I feel for Gabrielle.

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