misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Mary Trouille's Wife Abuse in 18th century France (Conclusion)

Dear friends and readers,

The conclusion. See Part One (laws and social context; three cases), Part Two (five cases) and Part Three (fictions based on real life events). 

We have yet two more real life cases, 1866  (Laure de'Orgeval) and 1769 (Mme Antoine); novels that reflect (Rousseau's Julie, ou La Nouvelle Heloise, to which I added Richardson's Clarissa). 

Then series of women novelists with their novels that reflect their real life disastrous experiences: Mary Wollstonecraft (The Wrongs of Woman; or Maria), Francois de Graffigny (Lettres d'une Peruvienne), Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni (Lettres d'Adelaide de Dammartin, comtesse de Sancerre), Louise d'Epinay (Histoire de Madame Montbrillant). Enough for another book :)

Print from Greuze:  "He even sold their bed!"

Final thoughts on Parts One through Three: One value of book is to make us read "virtue in distress" novels in totally different terms.  (Virtuous heroine in distress, tyrannical husband, evil inlaws, devoted mothers, faithful servants -- are stories of victimization of women by allowed unscrupulous abusive men, p 316). These are novels exemplifying and displaying in 18th century terms what only recently modern feminist and sociological studies have show are the causes of female misery and suffering. The heroine of Clarissa is an example of Elizabeth Waites's paper (how women are given strongly restricted choices which robs them of the lives they want to live); Fanny Price in Mansfield Park exemplifies Leonore Walker's paper (a process that goes on in our day, inculcalated or learned helplessness which takes the form of what is called or appears to be masochism)

For non-fiction what Trouille is doing is showing us what mores really counted, who were the lawyers and more on function of causes celebres (Maza's Private Lives and Public Affairs began that). Another to bring home quite starkly what were the lives of these 18th century women, what a risk and subordination marriage was. (We are lulled by novels.)

I probably read this book for the cases/novels (stories). Each one so valuable.  I wished there were more bringing in the children.  They are limited by what it is in people's advantage to say in the briefs. Novels are less limited in that sense.

Many of the conditions of 18th century women's lives lasted until the 1970s when the divorce laws were first truly liberalized. But attitudes towards towards women which more than tolerate violence inflicted on them linger and are operative still in many places around the globe.

For Trollopians it fascinated me how a number of his novels broach or present softened versions of what we see in these court case or novels; alas, though, much of the time he also stigmatizes the woman in some way (it's her fault somehow) and justfiies the man.  These novels include Eustace Diamonds (after all Emilius is a killer and wants the control and use of most of Lizzie Eustace's money), He Knew He Was Right, The Prime Minister (Emily is made into an abject thing by Lopez), Kept in the Dark (savage punishment inflicted for the slightest of reasons).

Trouille's conclusion: literary techniques used in court case memoirs made them popular and collections like Des Essarts disseminated them so enabled a growing awareness of wife-abuse and public need to change attitudes, laws and practices (p. 309).  Causes celebres popular because they tell of lives of people like readers (topicality and identification); they teach about human "heart;" founded in truth (nothing pleases long but ... ), and novels chosen by Trouille firmly grounded in reality and immediately of real experience.  Des Essarts sought also to teach: moral lessons (against marrying outside age and class); legal analysis, show eloquence (pp. 311-14). Similar uses of art in memoirs and novels, which are nonetheless aimed at different readerships.  Trial scenes found in novels.  1790s one finds increasingly first person narratives in the memoirs (Rousseau's influence in France.).

By substituting story for argument you teach about what laws mean (p. 315).
This is a good general point. Trouille points to a reform in 1771 which required lawyers to present cases gave individuals with gifts for oratory a terrific advantage (Linguet, Chantereyne, Bellart who regularly met with together with others to act out French classical plays). Becomes another theater of bourgeois drama.

Lawyers "at pains to explain why these women stayed so long in abusive, life-threatening relationships" (p. 314). People who are not in the situation have trouble with empathetic imagination for real.  Graham says in "there is no transference."

We do see how the lawyers influence what are the versions of the truth we have. Pro-divorce Lingeut, anti-divorce Bellart. The presence of lawyers by the middle of the 18th century found "insidiously in the content itself' (p. 317). Problem worse when we have just one side, as the people deposing are not necessarily telling the truth and are telling it to win a case. When you have both sides you are in a better position to judge the lawyer's brief (p. 318). 

Trouille does feel she got to the "core problems" in these "troubled marriages.'  As a reader of her book I'm not sure I did just from the book. 

Judges' decisions are also revealing (sometimes are unexpected) because on the spot they know so much more than the documents can contain. We see judges' reluctance to establish a legal precedent and yet more progressive interpretations of the law did gradually, very gradually, emerge (until 1792 when sudden huge switch). People read the commentaries and thought about the cases. Public reaction could also influence a final judgment -- outcry in Ganges' case made judges impose harsher punishments in subsequent cases.

She chose out wife abuse among the various kinds of social conflicts in Des Essarts. Evolution of attitudes: particularly critical of widespread tolerance of wife abuse, social ostracism, legal penalties facing women; of unscrupulous husbands marrying solely for money who then dissipate fortune and punish women harshly.  To get at this you had to challenge traditional inequalities and attitudes.

Tremendous improvement in women's lives for 13 years:  they could escape violent abusive husbands with equitable distribution of property and ability to remarry. That dominance could be reimposed showed some central fundamental attitudes not changed.  

First case for this part:  Judicial memoir in 1866 by Laure d'Orgeval shows persistence of wife abuse. Hostile stepmother, negligent father, she is married at 15 to 47 year old Barrois de Lemmery. He usurps her fortune; fraudulent financial dealings; rape (forced intercourse it's called) to make her pregnant constantly, adultery with governesses, imprisons her in bedroom, poison in food, separated from children, slanders her when she flees (p. 320).  First person narrative; story presented as a tale which shows the real consequences of the state of inferiority and inequality to which women are reduced.  Complicity of many including officials let this happen.  Case shows treatment of women had improved little since 18th century, including upper classes.

A limited divorce law passed in 1884 provided some relief, not until 1975 and no-fault divorce and women's movement did women in France begin to see significant improvement in rights and treatment in marriage.

Novels of the era reflect and critique social realities (p. 321).  Rousseau's Julie, ou La Nouvelle Heloise brings before public eye a forced marriage of convenience. Passionate denunciation by Julie of her father selling her to pay his debt to his friend; he gives her life away.  Novel moves away from this but it is not forgotten.

Second case reminds me of Clarissa:  Mme Antoine forced into marriage by her father and is deeply unhappy:  Des Essarts describes forced marriage where no attention is paid to taste, penchant, character of the adult child and says it's just like slavery.  Genlis's Duchess of C********** exemplifies this marriage of "convenience."  Women victimized by fathers and husbands (p. 323).

Powerful indictments of wife abuse in novels by women who themselves experienced abuse as wives or saw it as daughters (p. 323). 

Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women about principles; The wrongs of women; or Maria (1798) story of a dissolute gambler who imprisons wife in a madhouse.  Wollstonecraft talks about how "wrongs" "degrade the mind."  We are reminded of Mary's life as a daughter, her father beating her mother, alcoholism &c

Francoise de Graffigny's Lettres d'une Peruvienne (1747) in 1752 Preface  on women mistreated and scorned; can do horrific things without fear of punishment. Now her words make me remember Trollope's He Knew He Was Right and Kept in the dark:  "il est autorise a punir rigouresuement l'apparence d'une legere infidelite en se livrant sans honte a toutes celles que le libertinage lui suggere" (p. 323). She asks how can someone confronted with the indifference of her master-husband for life know how to subtract herself from a condition of "nothing" that he and society puts her in. Trouille retells Graffigny's life.Graffigny was married at age 16 to a fellow officer of her father who subjected her to 5 years of near killing violent abuse, and 3 dead children before she was permitted to take refuge in her parents' home. First two extant writings frantic letters to father; later abandoned by long-time lover, like the Duchess of C******* she never remarried.  Zilia ends up offering long term friendship to Deterville, the hero.

Jeanne Riccoboni deeply marked by a disastrous marriage. Riccoboni married a fellow actor to escape mother embittered at having been abandoned by bigamous husband; the husband violent, without any self-control, she supported him for 25 years, finally left but returned to nurse him in final illness. In Lettres d'Adelaide de Dammartin, comtesse de Sancerre:
the husband's uncle says he'll be disinherited if he mistreats wife so the result is not that he treats her well but that she remains silent; she is victim of her generosity and code of silence. when she invokes this ideal it's to question it.
Secondary heroine cannot get herself to remarry after experience of being subject to a man. Riccoboni's heroine remains childfree and independently wealthy; Ingenue Saxancour by contrast pregnant, has a child she must leave, no money, shamed, nowhere to go (no moral support; complexities of law beyond her&c) But Trouille uses Madame Sancerre to say how admirable that she braved public opinion and strength of character to leave. Trouille can't resist blaming Agnes de la Bretonne.  Still Boldest most powerful book is Retif's Ingenue Saxancour.

Louise D'Epinay, autobiographical novel, Histoire de Madame Montbrilliant.  D'Epinay brought up to live according to Rousseau ideal of domesticity, Christian fidelity; husband one of the financiers who want to live like flagrant adulterous aristocrats, utter incompatibility, he dissipates their fortune; she finally separates after he knowingly infects her with venereal disease. With father-in-law gets a legal separation to protect small dowry and children's inheritance.

For all these women decision to become a writer a courageous act of self-affirmation in era when women writers mocked and scorned.  Pervasiveness of marital problems found in the era's novels where women outnumber men as novelists and readers of novels.

Did novels or memoirs have any effect?  The influence indirect and gradual.  They brought out into discussably open hte pervaseness of wife abuse and defenceless women. 

Changes in political and social structures did matter: less marital discord and abuse from 1792 to 1803.


Tags: french writers, literary biography, women's memoirs

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