misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Mary Trouille's Wife Abuse in 18th century France (2 of 4)

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Scene of debauchery, Hogarth

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

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

Judge also had less discretionary power after 1803.

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

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

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

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

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


See Part One  and Part Three
Tags: gothic, women's memoirs

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