?

Log in

Letter 5: a jealous Marquise - The Epistolary Novel

> Recent Entries
> Archive
> Friends
> Profile

August 7th, 2005


Previous Entry Share Next Entry
elettaria
11:54 pm - Letter 5: a jealous Marquise
It seems that there are two sorts of people in this society. Those who think that there's a point to marital fidelity, and those who think that it's a disgrace. Notice the way the Marquise attacks Mme de Tourvel because of her modesty in dress, which she immediately equates with frumpery.

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:movingfinger
Date:August 8th, 2005 02:44 am (UTC)
(Link)
Those who think that there's a point to marital fidelity, and those who think that it's a disgrace.

Probably depends on how crappy one's arranged marriage turned out to be.

I'm going to join in on this one, but I (1) need to get caught up a bit on a few other things and (2) need to buy a copy! And I would be happy to read advice on best/worst translations. If there were a facing-page translation that would be interesting too...
[User Picture]
From:elettaria
Date:August 8th, 2005 01:53 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Anyone know how common arranged marriages were for the aristocracy at this point, and how common love-matches were?

I imagine the reputable publishers should all do decent translations. Mine seems to be fine. Someone had one that sounded a bit dicey, what with the pompoms in the first letter, but it was a publisher I'd never heard of, so I doubt you're that likely to come across it. I know elfbystarlight just went to Amazon marketplace and snagged a cheap second-hand copy of the Penguin.
[User Picture]
From:movingfinger
Date:August 8th, 2005 04:45 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Anyone know how common arranged marriages were for the aristocracy at this point, and how common love-matches were?

My impression is that arranged marriages were the rule for French aristocracy before the Revolution, and also for the upper echelons of the merchant class (which, by the upper echelons, looks more like aristocracy). It was about managing assets and strategic estate planning. The partners were not expected to experience romantic love, but ideally to respect and honor one another. Naturally there were exceptions and failures, and as the exceptions are much more interesting than years of quiet domesticity, one reads more about the libertines than the others. I cannot give you a reference for this; it's just an assumption based on years of reading history, letters, and biography.
[User Picture]
From:elettaria
Date:August 9th, 2005 03:16 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Did the partners get any choice? Would a few prospective partners be paraded, or was it a case of, "Morning, dear, you're getting married to a complete stranger today"?

There does seem to be a point of principle behind the Marquise and Valmont's contempt for marital fidelity, as if marriage is something it is their duty to subvert.
[User Picture]
From:movingfinger
Date:August 10th, 2005 06:46 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Did the partners get any choice? Would a few prospective partners be paraded, or was it a case of, "Morning, dear, you're getting married to a complete stranger today"?


Not quite that bad; most parents would inform a daughter that a marriage with so-and-so's son was being negotiated; there would be pre-nup social introductions. In some cases, if the groom was utterly unacceptable to the bride, the bride's family might not push it. But generally speaking women, particularly the subset "marriageable young girls", were not considered to be able to know what was best for them, and there are also power issues to consider; a daughter refusing a marriage was a challenge to the authority of the head of the household (male) and therefore rebellion was to be quashed. Women were believed to be slaves to their unchecked lusts and incapable of sustained rational thought (vide the Catholic Church).

After the marriage, a woman's status could vary from Slave to Relatively Independent, depending on the terms of the money transferred in the marriage. She would not control anything substantial, but, for example, money for her clothing, carriages, and "basic maintenance" (in other words, the dowry), could be reserved for her use in a varyingly iron-clad way.

A protected naif like Cecile is at a disadvantage in such negotiations, as she does not understand the stakes and consequences.

The groom might have slightly more bargaining power with his family; he certainly had more latitude to seek consolation outside the marriage afterward. As the purpose of marriage was to ensure legitimate offspring (securing the transmission of assets in the husband's bloodline), an unchaste wife undermined the social and economic principles on which society was based. This is why women were in far greater danger than men; the ambiguity of paternity can create all kinds of problems.

You can find a very good portrait of this kind of thing in Mary Wortley Montague's early letters, FWIW. She eloped for romantic love. It probably was the wrong choice.

Some husbands turned a blind eye. Horace Walpole, for example, was probably not Robert Walpole's son, but Robert Walpole treated him as his son and made no (public) fuss about his parentage.

There does seem to be a point of principle behind the Marquise and Valmont's contempt for marital fidelity, as if marriage is something it is their duty to subvert.

Um, this is one of the fundaments of libertinism, yes, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses is considered to be one of the essential descriptive texts of libertinism. (The next-on-the-list Clarissa is another. Is there a trend here?)

> Go to Top
LiveJournal.com