Recommended as an important book about wife abuse: Mary Trouille's Wife Abuse in France. The first of four blogs.
More than 1o years in the making, it's a sobering (indeed at moments hard to read even when written in this studiously neutral style) account of what life was like for women in societies where men were not only permitted but downright encouraged to chastise their wives. AT the same time the women were to be continually pregnant if the man could manage it -- and each occasion was life-threatening.. She had no control over her property
You might think what woman would marry? IN fact, in the 19th century working class women didn't and had to be persuaded to with a norm of respectability and then it didn't work much of the time. You need to read alongside it, one I've read before but am reading again this summer: Betty Rizzo's Companions without Vows. The paid companion results directly from a society where women are given no option for security but a husband, father, brother, son. This too I would call required reading for anyone wanting to grasp what Jane Austen assumes in her books. In their light, Austen's books do come out as comfort books, avoiding harder issues and offering solace. Also we can critique modern presentations of this era in histories and films.
The larger thrust of the book is to show how what was argued in these court cases influenced people's thinking and led to the 1792 remarkably enlightened divorce law. So for example, Trouille shows how a Linguet's arguments were re-moulding norms and how Des Essarts's account is then used by in an article by Merlin de Douai on separation in an influential compendium by Guyot (p. 62). The smaller thesis is to show how the arguments in these court cases helped lead to the divorce bill of 1792. Sarah Maza's Private lives and Public Affairs has shown how central to the creation of the mindset of the revolution were the court cases that were written up as a result of these private suits.
One should remark in a society where it was so hard to get ahead and one way was marriage, where people married for money and property openly, it would be hard to get a divorce. Those marrying for such reasons would do everything to forbid divorce. In the 1792 law -- however liberal -- families had the right to confer and protest and try to influence the person not to. Their aggrandizement and connections would be threatened. The talk was "the stability of society" and "order:" the reality was this was a way of holding on to money one had married for.
This is a two part blog. This first section is on only the opening section of Trouille's book and her first three cases. See Part Two. and Part Three and Conclusion.
Part 1: Laws and socio-cultural historical contexts.First we need to outline the changes in the divorce laws that she begins her book with.
1) in 1792 a radical and astonishingly modern divorce law was passed by the French parliament. Either spouse could obtain a divorce on grounds of incompatibility; the process for doing so was made much less arduous, expensive and it was no longer to be humiliating.
2) in 1803 this law was turned back so that in 1803 the divorce law was made more restrictive again: unilateral grounds were reduced to adultery, abuse or severe injury, and criminal condemnation of a spouse. Divorce by mutual consent required the consent of family members. Women could be divorced by simple adultery; men were only subject if the husband brought the mistress into the home; then he would be fined; a wife guilty of adultery could be imprisoned for different amounts of time. No divorce on grounds of incompatibility, and it was made more expensive and difficult procedurally.
3) in 1816, it was turned back to what it had been before 1792, in effect abolished entirely: well almost, if you were rich, and again the wife could show severe beating, fear of her life, she could get a separation, also adultery as well as criminal behavior on the part of the husband could result in judicial separation.
During this time the lawyers arguing on the many cases brought to bear (huge numbers almost immediately in 1792, 3/4s of them by women), brought into the light attitudes not made explicit before. Depositions told a lot.
Before 1792, there was a practice of lawyers publishing arguments, judicial memoirs these were called, in which they set out legal bases and facts. Supposedly these were addressed to judges, but they were written so other (good) readers could read them and were ways of lawyers trying to influence a local public on this or that side. These were mined by novelists: Charlotte Smith's second published book was called The Romance of Real Life and was a series of stories she told based on judicial memoirs (I've put an image the front page on this blog). An enormously important inffuential (fluent, eloquent, intelligent) compendium was written and compiled over many years by Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne Des Essarts (1744-1810). These became known as the Causes celebres where he retold many divorce cases, printed the arguments and then himself eloquently summed up and commented. He did mean to change mores; he was a traditionalist and conservative who upheld marriage, but he wanted flexibility and compassion.
The evidence Trouille presents which argues for far more liberal divorce laws is the long history of wife-beating she describes. Wife-beating was common and ubiquitous. There are many records of this in the court cases seeking separation and/o divorce., only some of them in the judicial memoirs and years of fighting for divorce between 1792 and 1816. Obviously letters published and unpublished, and novels often based on autobiography are good too, and like Betty Rizzo, Mary Trouille avails herself of novels of this type.
What I am struck by is how little power women had, how they were vulnerable to the worst kinds of behaviors, and had no recourse for the most part. They could not earn a living; their families often pushed them into staying with physically and emotionally abusive men who did make abject subjects of them. The patterns of cruelty move from the lowest to the highest. Thus most of our historical novels, movies, accounts do not begin to reflect the realities of womens' lives. I understand a novel written which really reflected that women were enslaved in effect would be highly unpleasant, but the novels that don't -- and make women tyrants -- are doing no good for women today who still are offered a rough raw deal in many ways.
She concludes the chapter by pointing to modern statistics on high violence towards women still accepted in the 20th century and how laws and customs have only gradually changed to protect women.
Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699-1779), Le Singe Peintre
To the specific cases in the study: Part 2, Chapter 2:
Tellingly, the first case concerns syphilis. This one is found in the first volume of Des Essarts' Causes Celebres. As ordinary people seem to regard homosexuality as residing primary in the acts of anal intercourse (and not be a whole culture, much less individual relationships where people prefer a person of their own sex for more reasons than physical), so I suppose the core of marriage is the sex act to many and having and taking care of children its justification. What threatens this more than this disease which came from promiscuity or so it's sometimes suggested.
It also swirls about the sex act for the key is the wife didn't want to have sex with the man once she discovered he had syphilis, to have sex with him was to re-infect herself. Since a woman was supposed never to refuse her husband and there was no recognition forcing her would be rape, she needed to separate herself from or divorce him quickly.
In tis first case, Marie-Francoise Fouquier and her husband Jean-Baptiste Ble, Madame Ble was able to obtain a divorce and get her property back because she proved (she did but often such proofs as in our own era could be ignored by a judge or jury) that her husband married her knowing he was infected with syphilis and then proceeded to infect her and the child she carried who was born very ill and died within a couple of years. As in our own time over AIDS, there was a strong tendency to want to punish people who got syphilis. The husband was beyond that abusive (very ugly behavior) and wanted her only for the money.
We see how the society really took syphilis and the production of children seriously. They were married in 1748, she sued in 1757 and within 16 days won a separation of persons and property and her husband was instructed to return her dowry. Now 13 years later he re-sued again demanding return of his wife's property. The husband was represented by Turpin and the wife by Nicolas-Henri Linguet.
Linda Merians' The Secret Malady demonstrates there was an epidemic of syphilis in the century (a real killer) where she and her writers all also talk about marriage in the 18th century. If a man married a woman knowing he had syphilis and it was incurable (ah, there's the gap, men claimed it was curable as did doctors) and she could prove he was infecting her and their children, she could sometimes get a separation or divorce. It was the children the society would pay attention to, and the spread of the disease. Syphilis was everywhere and spreading. People lied continually about it, especially doctors who said they could cure it; now some may have believed they did at first since it took time until people realized it would seem to disappear and still be there and then destroy or kill you later.
The importance of Ble case: it was the first time a French court had granted a divorce based on transmission of venereal disease. Linguet argued that "knowing transmission of syphilis to an unsuspecting spouse constituted life-threatening abuse and hence legitimate grounds fro separation." Turpin took the traditional view the wife must take the husband for better or worse. Linguet was challenging the norms of masculine behavior which presented male promiscuity as entirely acceptable (especially before the marriage) even if it risked the health of the wife. As one of a group of progressive lawyers, Linguet was helping to prepare the way for radical changes in sexual and marital mores. In 1780 he published a pro-divorce manifesto; he was ever re-shaping re-moulding the law. In 1783 his Memoires sur la Bastile following a 20-month detention in the infamous building caused an outcry and helped mobilize protests against arbitrary arrests. Bachaumont, author-editor of Memoires secrets praised Linguet's success as an advocate for progressive causes. Linguet had sucessfully defended Madame Boudin against her husband's accusations she committed adultery.
Linguet's brief includes radical statements or implications: "criticizes the impunity with which French law treated a husband's infidelity, while severely punishing adultery by wives" (p 75); divorce a far better solution than separation to failed marriages, because it allows couples to remarry and to produce children (add so "good of society" and "individual happiness"). He praises Roman Empire and early Christian church for allowing divorce; it will lead couples to treat one another with greater patience and respect (pp. 76-77).
Trouille then goes on to summarize and evaluate Des Essarts' recounting and evaluation. He takes Linguet's view but sides with the court in using a legal technicality (it's more than 10 years) for upholding the previous judgement, this because he is more conservative than Linguet and wants to keep marriage well-supported. Madame Ble should have gotten a divorce because syphilis was life-threatening; he denounces libertinage, people pushing libertine sons to marry innocent women, mountebanks who pretend to cure the disease and women having to hide their sickness.
Des Essarts brings in a case he thinks is parallel where Linguet successfully defended the man, Marquis de Gouy, against his wife's suit for separation. Des Essarts agrees with Linguet. He regards key issues the same; there is no life-threatening abuse but what happened was the wife was very angry at her husband for having affairs with women openly after 20 years of marriage. The two lawyers thought her allegations of abuse unsubstantiated. Adultery by the husband was not grounds for divorce so the poor woman had to return to this man.
Trouille then points out modern parallels where some states have criminalized the transmission of AIDS and others have called for criminalization. Still other groups of people have said criminalization achieves nothing: many people don't know if they infected someone else; they are also victims; what is needed is an efficacious treatment.
I think her showing parallells (an Iowan wife now sick testified with the same kind of bitterness as Madame Ble) is one of the book's strengths.
An illustration from a 20th century edition of Ingenue Saxancour, a novel by Retif and Agnes de Bretonne retelling horrific abuse (see below, the subject of Trouille's last chapter).
Chapter 3: The second case. This one comes from the 35th volume of Des Essarts's Causes Celebres. Why did Trouille chose it? Mme de Rouault, widow of Marquis de Mezieres, against Collet; she as an older woman was duped by her financial advisor, a younger man into getting involved with him (he pretended love) and then slowly tricked, bullied, embarrassed, and lured into marrying him. She was a widow who was in a depression after her husband died, and he beat out a decent husband her own age. What emerges is the shocking violence she endured even in front of others.
Trouille partly chooses the case to show the violence -- for that is a central burden of her book to demonstrate how divorce must be made available. Here she wants also to show how older women were treated in the courts, how they were made to feel. She frames the case with talking of the common fabliau story of the older woman who marries a much younger man. It's made a joke of, the fortune hunter is foiled in time; he reforms and proves worth (Marivaux's Fausses Confidence). But all too often the bride falls prey to unscrupulous man. The way the commentator talked about the case of M. Germaine is to emphasize how he was marrying her solely for her money, but the text creates horror in the reader because the man is a successful hypocrite: so kind before and afterward ruthlessly horrific: he urinates all over the mattress the first night and tells her that is all she deserves; he insults her before others. In this case the man reacted so abominably not because the woman was older but because she was a cripple and said to be ugly. Luckily she left quickly and she and her parents wrested back the estate.
Trouille then says it's not just the husband's schemes that harm such women but "social prejudice." They are laughed at and unwilling to come forward. They are shamed into accepting the situation for at least a while or a long white. In the case of Madame Germaine she was not older but crippled so the ridicule not so strong. Jonson's play, Bartholomew Fair, is quoted, a text where the author is feeling for the man who must come home to an older woman. (This makes me remember the Wife of Bath's Tale where she has a rapist knight punished by marrying him to a crone; however, the crone when he accepts her is turned into a beautiful woman.)
Mme de Rouault or de Mezieres said to have been depressed. She had liked and been liked by a Chevalier de Chaumont who somhow Collet managed to outmaneuver and put into prison for his debts, hid his whereabouts and then intercepted letters -- very like Lovelace!
Madame de Mezieres marries him, Collet gets her to sign all her money and then the rest of her estate and possessions. Then proceeds to high violence and abuse; she gets a lieutenant of police to issue a lettre de cachet for her at the end of a year which permits her to flee to a convent. Otherwise she could not? She was living in terror and abjection by that time. Ironically she used a lettre de cachet to find some peace and freedom
It takes her 6 years before she gets a separation on appeal on grounds of financial mismanagement and physical abuse.
Trouille says what's interesting is how ashamed she was of marrying a younger man and how it drove her at first to endure, and then to hide and only finally to escape. The interest is to see how vulnerable were even rich women, how she never admitted why she married him, how the court at first rejected her suit. Was she not sympathized with because menopausal, i.e., old, silly, seen as useless?
For me I am dumbfounded by her abjection. Mme de Mezieres allows a ceremony that is false, a fraudulent contract: a genuinely gothic scene. I want to know about her state of mind. Is this a case of how a depressed woman could be taken advantage of?
The lawyer who argued the case on behalf of the Marquise was Jacques-Vincent Delacroix (1743-1832): like Linguet, a short but distinguished career as lawyer represented high profile cases (Morangies-Veron, "Rosiere de Salency," and Gouy case. He wrote and edited Le Spectateur Francais, with insightful commentaries; a strong commitment to legal and social reform; his article "Mari" [husband] in the Encyclopedie, a "bold denunciation sof the injustices of French law and custom towards married women (p. 100).
Trouile summarizes and quotes at length from Des Essarts's redaction which is written as a powerful novel. Trouille protests against Des Essarts opening assertion most women's allegations of abuse were "exaggerated"; and that they entered "freely" into their marriage.
Then his text shows us a man driven to violence against his wife so strong he seems to be unable to stop himself; that's how much he loathes her; again some of the scenes like a gothic novel; others though utterly prosaic and more frightening for that.
With Des Essarts portraying the man as a villain (based on Delacroix), it's hard to explain why Mme de Mezieres was at first denied -- Trouille rightly says there were so many justifiable grounds here (squandering her fortune another). Trouille also cannot believe the woman was a victim of her own naivete.
So Trouille feels there is something to be explained and at the end of her chapter quotes Des Essarts saying there was much prejudice against the woman as someone who married a younger man and someone below her. That Delacroix had been able to turn her age (menopausal symptom) to her account: she was secured when she was irrational and unable to assert herself. Trouille thinks this is not quite convincing and it was Mezieres' shame at her age, being duped that held her back..
Trouille also talks at length of attitudes towards menopausal women as genuinely ill or suffering and can be taken advantage of. In the Gouy case the lawyers held the wife's menopausal age against her.
It's also a case of mismatched social backgrounds -- or class conflicts. How ruthless he was once he got his hands on her mother. That she has to use lettres de cachet and the convent to escape him. Why did she win on the second round: because he was much lower class and presented himself falsely (this was thought horrifically reprehensible, a kind of last straw). He did manage to get off with a lot of her property.
For myself I'm inclined to take the story of her depression seriously, and see her as someone susceptible to violence; not (as Trouille half inclines) someone who stayed partly because of masochism and someone who was violent back. So Trouille feels that the pathologies are on both sides. Even if that's so, Trouille is careful to say who was victim and punished most.
However compelling this idea of being "balanced" in the Trouille is demonstrating here, I think we see that being balanced is not a good norm to seek. I think the evidence shows a deeply abject depressed passive woman.
But in any case the repeated idea of the book is demonstrated: how vulnerable women are from the power that French law and custom gave men over women. There are victims; not everyone has in herself the strength to leave -- and consider how unacceptable it was. I've read Ingenue Saxanacour which has a scene where the wife is on the stairway brutally beaten and neighbors tell her it's her duty to return to her husband.
Louis-Leopold Boilly, Le Vieillard Jaloux, 1791 (we see a lover hiding behind the louvers; in fact this would not be a funny situation and when an older woman married a younger man she was treated with yet more blindness and indifference). The cases were more that young women sold to older men who then domineered over them.
Chapter 4: The third case which is headed "a woman who is a battered wife or clever opportunist?" This is a title which prejudges in a way that makes me uncomfortable, but it does show how people think. The case is in Volume 105 of Des Essarts.
Trouille opens with showing that Memoires Secrets (Bachaumont) and Correspondence Secret (Metra) claimed the number of suits for separation were going up in the decades just before French revolution; she shows using figures this is not so at all. In any case separation was not a good instrument for protection for the woman.
Jeanne Fouragnan, Madame Rouches is someone who filed for separation. At 20 (1772) she was married Pierre Rouches, a man of 49 who had 5 children; eight years later she leaves him, filing for separation and a pension; he accuses her of theft and improprieties (including adultery. He promises to treat her well, she refuses, he sends bailiffs to take all the property she took from the house (probably furniture and her things); two opposing decisions, husband though cleared of charges, she ordered to return; one on her side encourages her; she appeals and Parlement of Toulouse grants 4 year separation plus modest pension.
Case presented in unusually cogent way opposing views of marriage: wife's lawyer: Jean Raymond Bastoulh, leading barrister in Toulouse, after revolution left bar to teach law: he argues ideal marriage is of people of comparable age in companionate relationship with shared values, expectations. Desazards, husband's lawyer, argues wife subordinate to husband, since she is of undistinguished rank too she can only separate if life endangered. The couple themeselves: show class antagonisms, mismatched social backgrounds, different aspirations. Des Essarts in this case strongly endorsed the husband's lawyer's case. Ironically, Balthoulh was the conservative, a barrister of higher rank, who retreated from revolution and it's he who defends the wife; Desazards is a more modest lawyer who benefited from revolution but kept distance from Jacobins; Trouille thinks he identified as someone threatened by attempts of lower order people to dress and act as if they were of a higher rank. (Clearly there's misogyny here too.)
Des Essarts creates a frame which prejudges the case against the wife by going on for 22 pages against the "luxury" that women seek instead of tending domestic and family pursuits (he forgets men sought this too). He claims there have been tremendous growth of such suits, and it's just women rebelling against husbands, wanting to waste their hard-earned income on frivolity; great danger that women who are in danger will be overlooked: not true there was this increase; not true huge numbers of women have influence and connections to get their case heard. He is irritated at these women's "brazen" use of "political language" (bondage, freedom, revolt) and false accusations of injuries. One sees here he is siding with husbands in an imagined struggle of women seeking "unhealthy" "independence."
Bastoulh her lawyer blamed her parents for marrying her off for money; he blamed Rouche for seeking a much younger wife who would not be able to cope with the difficult situation. What we have here are intense angers of stepchildren against new step-parents, a common source of tension in second marriages (probably today too). Jeanne's stepson beat her and tore her clothes. His son loathed her (he would kick her and hit her during pregnancies to bring on miscarriage) because she could get pregnant. The father encouraged the young man to beat her out of a perverse distrust of her. She said she was willing not to go to social gathering, and as for her cited over-dress, she was dressing as was her step-daughter according to their rank. Father (her husband) was abusing her too. She said she was filing now (and not before) because the stepson had become old enough to be a real danger to her. Bastoulh had to explain why she waited 8 years -- there is ever this presumption put into law that if you don't leave right away you accept it.
[I think this presumption is Great Cruelty based on an inadequate understanding of human nature and contempt for weak people]
Questions: what are valid grounds for asking for separation? Bastoulh came out openly (what temerity!) that it was not necessary her life be threatened; it was enough the wounds be grave, rendre life insupportable, shameful, terribly sorrow making. The authority he quotes does say that between common people this extension to wounds that don't threaten life is inappropriate because they are used to it or women don't care! These class distinctions were however accepted widely.
What rank was Rouches?. Bastoulh says he was a rich merchant, tax collector and someone of high quality and rank (not he same thing) who was seeking to make himself seem poorer. Only wives of men of distinguished rank could obtain a separation on grounds that are less than life-threatening.
Then Balstoulh presents witnesses to the physical hard beating, no bitter reproaches of neighbors could affect the father or son. The son tried to introduce someone into his stepmother's bed to accuse her of adultery so they could confine her for life in a convent and deprive her of property. But the acquaintance refused and testified for Mme Rouches For Balhoulh this behavior was further grounds for separation (not in a traditionalist view? then the women is indeed a sex slave).
How much alimony: the man is a miser and had raised his wife's rank so she should receive alimony commensurate with her new rank. Bastoulh stressed despite her modest origins her family was"honnete" and why should she sacrifice the income she married to get (or her parents did).
Husband's lawyer: Desazars and husband's grievances:
Trouille begins with question of rank; Desazars stresses Rouches's modest origins, painful pinpointing of status: Rouches a "petit marchand" not a "negociant". So Rouches is a son of peasants; Jeanne the daughter of innkeeper, granddaughter of grave digger, had worked as servant and barmaid. He mocked her social pretensions and said Rouches proud of his frugality and hard work. His first wife a modest, exemplary wife and mother; Jeanne was extravagant, wanted independence; she provoked her stepson to attack her; Rouches denied mistreating wife and said he was not there when she and son fought. Does not go into details because he would not humiliate her. He only wants her back to do her wifely duties. (I'll bet. He wants to rape her more.) Rouches' rough behavior to her apparel understandable; his behavior that of his class -- tears her clothes, crude language. She cannot pretend to be insulted. Downplays husband's old age and says he sought an appropriate wife among lower class to be a helpmate. Her parents had not yet paid the dowry. He had had 5 children by him -- and his lawyer tried to use this against her -- so see how contented she had been. This (as today) counted against her
Rather than seeing the rise in separations and divorce as a mark of progress, Desazars sees this as tragic, breakdown of moral standards. He argues only exceptional circumstances justify divorce or separation: ill-treatment must be regular; there must be proof of severe mistreatment, inflicted by Husband (son won't do) and no hope of reconciliation. he refers to the case of Mr Rapally where it was showed the wife was not truly severely abused; since she also stayed with him, her suit was rightly rejected. Only upper class people should be allowed divorce/separation in more nuanced cases: only they have souls to wound?); in effect he excuses husbands by saying they don't see anything wrong in cruelty is not brutal to near death, it was a laudable frankness, does not threaten the marriage; apparently troubled are the happiest.
[This is hideous -- Trouille quotes Francis Power Cobbe who said such stereotypes made magistrates oblivious to the sufferings of working class wives facing this cycle of abuse and reconciliation Desazars describes "so glibly." (p. 143). (I wonder how many women killed themselves or died of misery under such treatment.)]
Apparently Desazars had not been permitted to confront the wife's witnesses and challenge their testimony. This was done before the trials, sort of like a modern deposition.
[Since reading Winston Graham's Poldark novels, I can see this possibly a case of marital rape; the husband allowing the son to beat her because she put up a resistance to his unwanted sexual demands. We can find texts where the writer shows the husband implicitly forcing her or abusive, but does anyone before Galsworthy call it rape? Neither side could confront this reality]
The lawyer for the husband and son also managed to turn Madame Rouches's accusations of her stepson's atttempt to push her into adultery with another man against her. He sneered at the lower class and female witnesses; said the young man was too young and this was a plot concocted by the wife (as all the beatings were provoked and staged by her). He says, see the nonsense we have to go into (motifs of the young man) when we go behind the veil that we should leave marriage behind; we don't know the whole stories ever and should not presume to judge and wants to be faithful to decorous reserve -- in this way he insinuates that perhaps she is adulterous but her husband would not want to expose her. It would stain the husband Delacroix said in his article "Mari" -- husbands must cover up wives' errors because to expose is potentially disastrous to the family. The daughter's chances in marriage are hurt.
We see here how essential for women it was to begin to judge each person as an individual not as part of a family unit which is sacred. And the whole thing is utterly misogynous and distrustful. Then Desazars imagines how people criticize wrongly the husband who imprisons his wife and probably maltreats her while there -- the example itself shows imprisonment not uncommon.
He ends on a peroration: to allow this separation is "to take from man his rights, from the citizen his prerogatives, from a husband his wife. Soon you will have scores of these women knocking at this door, crowds come to see. He says three of her friends had filed for separation too. A conflagration! A spark which will set fire to the palace -- imagery of the coming revolution.
Some modern points: money, sex, class issues . Rouches had married her for the money and not gotten any; for the sex and wasn't getting satisfaction. The parents had basically sold her. The husband uses prejudice within bourgeois ideals against stereotypic aristocratic behavior against her. She was accused of having luxurious tastes and wasting the husband's money and he presented as a man of simple virtues and tastes. As a member of recently ennobled family, Desazars wanted to keep the lower bourgeois and peasants in their place and appealed to the judges to feel the same way. (Class stereotypes: not all nobles led extravagant lives and some bourgeoisie did.) lt would benefit to deprive Mme Rouches -- even her. And he then subscribes to the Rousseau fatuous idyll
This was a case though where the court quickly granted her relief -- unlike the others she didn't lose at first and have to fight again. The husband was required to pay court costs. (By contrast poor Mme Mezieres was at first refused.) She got a much smaller sum (600 instead of 1500 livres per year), only a 4 not a 9 year or permanent separation; she cannot go live with her family and son, but to a convent and child remain with its father.
She says "we" are surprised even though our mores are modern because Des Essarts arranged the arguments, chose the details to make Desazars's argument the last and eloquent.
I'm not surprised because Desazars's argument persuaded me, but rather I expected injustice. Trouille seems to buy into the sceptical view of Jeanne when she asks "who is abusing who" here. She goes into depth in the case because it articulates conflicting views so lucidly.
Perhaps the wife's lawyer's liberal attitudes in arguing in her behalf helped her. And if it was true she wanted to rid herself of this old man, had aspirations to live more luxuriously and wanted to dress herself prettily and with the insignia of higher rank, to live comfortably, not endlessly pregnant, not serving him, well then why not? I would not use the term "clever opportunist" but a woman trying to enjoy her life a little. That's my gut response.
See Part Two and Part Three