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Reviewed by:
  • Husbands, Wives, and Lovers: Marriage and Its Discontents in Nineteenth-Century France
  • Nicholas White
Mainardi, Patricia. Husbands, Wives, and Lovers: Marriage and Its Discontents in Nineteenth-Century France. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. Pp 256. ISBN0-300-10104-X

This interdisciplinary tour de force explores how the culture of Restoration society responded to the new legal context which fashioned views on marriage and the family in post-Revolutionary France. Of particular importance was the abolition of primogeniture under the Civil Code. Henceforth marital infidelity (particularly of the wifely variety), which might have followed the birth of the eldest child, would appear less of a matter for comedy (as the Ancien Régime would have it) and more as the focus of bourgeois angst. The effect of the new law was that all children (even the adulterine) could hope to inherit equal shares of the estate. Such adulterine children were deemed by law to belong to the husband, and could thus dilute the haemic coherence of the family: legitimized bastards would reduce the husband's gift to his biological progeny. Little discussed by scholars (it is worth noting as we pass) is the way in which this logic would impose a man's own illegitimate children on another man's estate and what kind of "family romance" this might imply. Mainardi's account finesses the way in which affiliations of gender were undercut by generational conflict. One of the major tensions in Mainardi's corpus turns on the satire against the unreasonable persistence of the mariage de raison in the face of the mariage d'inclination, much favoured by what we might call the filial culture of Romanticism. In the words of Raymond Jonas, "adultery could be an act in which young men instrumentalized their lovers in an intergenerational gesture of revenge," and this was represented in visual and literary culture. Chapter 3 examines an impressively reproduced range of lithographic images of young men stealing old men's wives. Chapter 4 explores the tensions on stage between the ambiguous Delavigne, the conservative Scribe and the liberal Ducange, which explode in the bataille d'Hernani where Hugo confronts the "euphoric gerontocracy" of the Restoration. Chapter 5, perhaps the least robust in this panoply, surveys some of the fiction of the comtesse de Genlis, Balzac, Stendhal and Sand. Chapter 6 decrypts painterly versions by Géricault, Delacroix, Vernet and Boulanger of Byron's poem about Mazeppa, a member of the Ukranian gentry in the service of Poland in the 17th century, who was caught in an affair with the wife of a Polish official. For his punishment, he was stripped and tied backwards (spine to spine) to a horse. In spite of the sub-title's reference to Freud (in translation) and the invoking of Lynn Hunt's work on the Revolution, Mainardi resists the Oedipal language of history as psychodrama, with theoretical positions left implicit in this study.

All in all, this will prove to be a vital book for those scholars interested in debates on and representations of marriage and the family in Restoration France. Although the [End Page 166] churlish might complain that the book's title claims more than it delivers, the range of cultural objects highlighted in its six core chapters is impressive. In spite of the historical scope of its title, Mainardi's study is generous enough not to leave the intimidated reader feeling that 'tout est dit.' Instead, her local study of the Restoration will inspire researchers in the wider field to explore the terra incognita that remains. The title might also invite the reader to expect a "straight" (or at least social) history of marriage in 19th century France. Instead, what we find is a cultural history of the high and low representations which turn on the question of marriage in the wake of the Revolution and Napoleon. This has displeased the reviewer of the TLS, Graham Robb. The most influential modern-day English-language biographer of 19th century France has complained that "the book turns out to be a study of adultery (the idea rather than the practice) in Restoration France as it was reflected in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1536-0172
Print ISSN
0146-7891
Pages
pp. 166-168
Launched on MUSE
2005-11-14
Open Access
No
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