- Eugénie et Mathilde, ou, Mémoires de la famille du comte de Revel by Madame de Souza
Kirsty Carpenter’s knowledge of the French émigrés is pertinently put to contribution in this reassessment of a forgotten 1811 novel by Mme de Souza. The Introduction attempts ‘to reveal just how close the links are between this novel and its French Revolution History’ and to suggest ‘the contribution of […] Madame de Souza to the legal and voting rights that came for French women’ (p. 21). Firstly, the historical significance of Souza’s novel is reassessed. Carpenter examines the plot in light of the political evolutions the author had witnessed, which leads her to interpret Souza’s plea for tolerance as a reaction to Napoleon’s regime. She systematically draws parallels between the characters and the political regimes witnessed by Souza: at times, these can be farfetched, for example when she compares the family of five with the five members of the Directory. Carpenter refuses to associate the 1811 novel with other émigré novels, which she situates around 1792–1800. Though justified, this refusal means that the opportunity to draw historical and literary parallels between Eugénie et Mathilde and the other émigré novels is missed. Likewise, Carpenter notes ‘the emotional and psychological toll of emigration’ (p. 5) on Souza but does not develop this point far enough to fully support her argument about the émigré novelist’s originality. Carpenter nonetheless singles out Souza’s work since its depiction of the ‘wandering’ is more authentic than Mme de Staël’s Corinne. She examines the author’s feminism, which leads her to display Souza’s subtle criticism of heroines being set free from social obligations and yet remaining perpetually threatened by patriarchy. Carpenter concludes that the novelist’s message is ‘more than riskily revolutionary’ (p. 11). She then insists on how modern a novel Eugénie et Mathilde was, at times repeating the previous idea of political metaphor. She rehabilitates Souza as one of the ‘cosmopolitan luminaries’, like Mmes de Staël, de Charrière, or de Genlis, and justifies her importance in the literary landscape via her ‘soft’ political line, one that is constructed by metaphors and what she calls ‘fake-imaginary fabric of her émigré story’ (p. 21). This point undermines the significance for writing fiction of her having been an émigré. The rich historical and political interpretation given by Carpenter, and her focus on the interplay between history and fiction, drives her to conclude that Eugénie et Mathilde is the least ‘romanesque’ of Souza’s novels (p. 21). It is not completely clear what she means by this, nor how she measures it. A greater attentiveness to the tension between fiction and the autobiographical could have provided a firmer platform from which to dispute the novel as anti-‘romanesque’. Carpenter’s Bibliography serves as a census of everything that has been done on the French émigré question. Her abundant and extremely detailed footnotes vary from archival and secondary works, to Revolutionary laws and cultural, social, and political facts about France at [End Page 394] the crossroads of the two centuries. Both are useful and well informed, providing valuable reference points to the novice reader.