Wife-abuse in Eighteenth-century France

BookWife-abuse in Eighteenth-century France

Wife-abuse in Eighteenth-century France

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2009:01


February 4th, 2009

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Recent archival research has focussed on the material conditions of marriage in eighteenth-century France, providing new insight into the social and judicial contexts of marital violence. Mary Trouille builds on these findings to write the first book on spousal abuse during this period.
Through close examination of a wide range of texts, Trouille shows how lawyers and novelists adopted each other’s rhetorical strategies to present competing versions of the truth. Male voices – those of husbands, lawyers, editors, and moralists – are analysed in accounts of separation cases presented in Des Essarts’s influential Causes célèbres, in moral and legal treatises, and in legal briefs by well-known lawyers of the period. Female voices, both real and imagined, are explored through court testimony and novels based on actual events by Sade, Genlis, and Rétif de la Bretonne. By bringing the traditionally private matter of spousal abuse into the public arena, these texts had a significant impact on public opinion and served as an impetus for legal reform in the early years of the French Revolution.
Trouille’s interdisciplinary study makes a significant contribution to our understanding of attitudes towards women in eighteenth-century society, and provides a historical context for debates about domestic violence that are very much alive today.

'Mary Trouille’s Wife Abuse in Eighteenth-Century France brings a legal-literary approach to understanding domestic abuse and marital separation cases in pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary France. […] By juxtaposing legal and literary sources, Trouille succeeds in demonstrating how much social and legal historians can learn from each other.'
The Journal of Law and History Review, Volume 28/3

'Trouille makes a convincing case for the efficacy of her examples both to understand prevailing attitudes towards spousal abuse and to seek evidence for how those attitudes changed over time. […] her insightful analysis of literary material in dialogue with the legal cases makes a convincing and valuable contribution to the field of eighteenth-century French studies.'
French Studies, Volume 65, Issue 1

'Trouille’s book can serve as a model for the possibilities and proper deployment of interdisciplinary methodologies. With a keen eye to historical context and literary criticism, Trouille pays particular attention to the overlaps between the literary and legal, the public and the private, the family, and the individual in judicial and literary approaches to abusive marriages, the position of women and divorce. […] Those interested in questions of post-Enlightenment changes in the nature of gender roles in French society will find her book to be a goldmine of research and insight.'
Women’s Studies, 39

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
Copyright Page5
List of illustrations10
List of abbreviations14
Introduction. Scorned, battered and bruised: marriage and wife-abuse in eighteenth-century French fiction and society16
I. Socio-historical and legal contexts28
1. Moderate correction, rule of thumb: the norms of spousal abuse in eighteenth-century France30
i. The norms of marital behaviour and legal bases for moderate correction30
ii. The incidence of physical abuse41
iii. Religious laws and doctrines concerning marital authority and spousal abuse42
iv. The social realities of spousal abuse45
v. Wife-beating in French proverbs and folklore46
vi. Community sanctions against spousal abuse: charivaris49
vii. The causes and forms of spousal abuse52
viii. Class differences56
ix. Intervention by outsiders in domestic violence61
x. Evolution in attitudes, laws and practices concerning spousal abuse and divorce66
xi. The effects of nineteenth-century marital law70
II. Wife-abuse in the courts: separation cases from Des Essarts’s Causes célèbres and Bellart’s Mémoires72
2. For better or worse? Venereal disease as grounds for maritalseparation in the case of Mme Blé (Reims, 1757 and Paris, 1771)74
i. Summary and significance of the Blé case75
ii. Conflicting portrayals of husband and wife78
iii. Turpin’s arguments on behalf of M. Blé81
iv. Linguet’s response to Turpin’s arguments84
v. Linguet’s rhetorical strategies and style of argumentation92
vi. Linguet’s social criticism95
vii. The court’s decision and legal commentaries on the Blé case97
viii. Des Essarts’s account of the Blé case99
ix. Des Essarts’s social criticism102
x. Des Essarts’s view of marriage and marital separations103
xi. Venereal disease, HIV and the law106
3. A victim of her own naivety? The separation suit of the marquise de Mézières (Paris, 1775)110
i. A bizarre chain of events112
ii. Delacroix’s view of marriage and marital law114
iii. Des Essarts’s framing of the case115
iv. Scenes from a marriage117
v. Legal proceedings and the court’s decision122
vi. Des Essarts’s portrayal of husband and wife125
vii. Parallels with the Gouy case: eighteenth-century views of menopause133
viii. Significance of the Mézières case137
4. Battered wife or clever opportunist? The separation case of Mme Rouches (Toulouse, 1782)140
i. Summary and significance of the Rouches case141
ii. Des Essarts’s biased framing of the case143
iii. Bastoulh’s presentation of the facts146
iv. Bastoulh’s legal arguments149
v. Desazars’s account of the facts153
vi. Rouches’s grievances against his wife154
vii. Desazars’s legal arguments156
viii. Desazars’s closing statement162
ix. The court’s decision165
5. Challenging male violence and the double standard in the courts: the separation case of Mme Aubailly de La Berge (Paris, 1788)168
i. Des Essarts’s framing of the case171
ii. Chantereyne’s introduction172
iii. Chantereyne’s presentation of the facts of the case174
iv. De La Berge’s increasingly abusive behaviour177
v. Aggravating circumstances surrounding de La Berge’s adulteries183
vi. De La Berge’s emotional abuse of his wife and her decision to leave him186
vii. De La Berge’s slanderous accusations and verbal abuse of his wife189
viii. Chantereyne’s concluding remarks and dual legal strategy191
6. Bellart’s critique of the 1792 divorce law in his defence of Mme de L’Orme (Paris, 1803) and M. Mandonnet (Troyes,1805)196
i. Summary and significance of the Mandonnet case198
ii. Bellart’s views on marriage and marital separation201
iii. Sources of tension in the marriage205
iv. Mme Mandonnet’s allegations and her husband’s response207
v. Bellart’s legal arguments212
vi. The de L’Orme case217
vii. An approximation of the truth224
III. Wife-abuse in eighteenth-century French fiction226
7. ‘Until death do us part’: fact and fiction in Sade’s Marquise de Gange228
i. Conflicting portrayals of the marquis de Ganges229
ii. The villainous abbé: an Iago-like figure231
iii. Sade’s portrayal of the marquise233
iv. Plots to seize the marquise’s fortune237
v. The poisoning241
vi. The marquis’ mistreatment of his wife and complicityin her murder242
vii. Public reaction to the Ganges affair246
viii. The denouement of Sade’s novel and discontinuities in style and tone247
ix. Fact and fiction, history and legend in accounts of the Ganges affair252
x. The legacy of the Ganges affair255
8. Buried alive: Genlis’s Gothic tale of marital violence in ‘Histoire de la duchesse de C***’258
i. The true story behind Genlis’s Gothic tale259
ii. Parent–child relations and the lessons of Genlis’s story260
iii. The Gothic aspects of Genlis’s tale265
iv. Live burial and imprisonment270
v. Genlis’s portrayal of the duke273
vi. Genlis’s portrayal of the duchess275
vii. Rejection of the marriage plot281
viii. A veiled protest283
9. Truth stranger than fiction: wife-abuse in Rétif de La Bretonne’s Ingénue Saxancour288
i. Sources of the novel290
ii. A tragic chain of events292
iii. Rétif’s realism298
iv. Motives for writing and publishing the novel307
v. Reader response310
vi. A close collaboration?312
vii. Fact or fiction?317
viii. Rétif’s reformist impulses: a pioneer against spousalabuse?320
Conclusion: Intersections of literature, law and life experiencein accounts of wife-abuse324
i. The readership and popularity of judicial memoirs and causes célèbres325
ii. Fact and fiction, history and imagination in accounts of wife-abuse327
iii. Stylistic similarities between judicial memoirs and fictional works328
iv. Competing versions of the ‘truth’331
v. Evolution in attitudes, practices and laws and the impact of causes célèbres333
vi. Social critique in novels depicting spousal abuse and parallels with judicial memoirs336
vii. Public and private, la loi and les moeurs: public responseto accounts of spousal abuse343