Tag Archives: 18th Century Literature

‘Incest’ (Eugénie de Franval) by Marquis de Sade

This Hesperus Press edition was originally published in 2003. It is a novella-length story of 89 pages translated by Andrew Brown. The original story was published as Eugénie de Franval in what was to be the only collection of Sade’s stories to be published in his lifetime, Les Crimes de l’amour in 1800, a collection which consisted of eleven stories and one essay, in four volumes. It is believed that these stories were written between 1786 and 1788 when Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille. Different translations of Eugénie de Franval are available in English, such as David Coward’s translation in the Oxford University Press 2005 collection, The Crimes of Love, which includes seven of the original stories along with the essay on novels. The original collection, Les Crimes de l’amour, does not contain the explicit material for which Sade has become infamous, and as such was published under his own name. But the material is still quite risqué as it invariably includes libertines as main characters who are not afraid to voice their opinions and act on their desires. Last year I read Virtue, which was another story originally from Les Crimes de l’amour. I have also set up a page on Sade’s shorter works which may be of use to anyone who is trying to make sense of the English translations currently available. More recently Alma Classics published an edition of this translation with a less explicit cover.

M. de Franval is a young, handsome libertine. When the question of marriage arises and he makes it known that he wishes to have a young wife, then the fifteen year-old, beautiful, Mlle de Farneille seems a perfect match. Her mother, Mme de Farneille, who is still only thirty-two years old, has ‘intelligence and charm’. Within a year of their marriage Mme de Franval (née Mlle de Farneille) gives birth to a daughter, Eugénie.

M. de Franval, who, the minute this child saw the light of day, no doubt conceived the most detestable designs on her, straight away separated her from her mother.

And so, Franval takes Eugénie away from her mother despite the protests from his wife and mother-in-law. Eugénie only meets her mother for the first time when she is seven years old. Eugénie is fed well, has an excellent education and is allowed to play with other children as well as attend theatres, but she is ‘protected’ from the influence of religion by her father. Franval tries to inculcate in his daughter his own views on morality and religion.

By the age of fourteen Eugénie loves her father and despises her mother and it is at this age that Franval decides to act. Having groomed his daughter since birth he talks to her as a lover and Eugénie replies likewise, she wants no other man. Although the narrator ostensibly condemns this relationship, he dwells on the details and tries to make it sound like a beautiful relationship between equals. In his ‘libertine novels’ incestuous and paedophilic actions occur frequently and violently; here Sade is still trying to transgress contemporary morality but more insidiously. Unaware of the relationship between father and daughter, Eugénie’s mother announces that a M. de Colunce has asked for Eugénie’s hand in marriage. Franval puts his foot down and tells his wife to tell Colunce that his ‘daughter was born with certain defects which are obstacles to the bonds of marriage.’ Franval’s wife and mother-in-law become suspicious as they know this not to be true and they call upon the help of a priest, M. de Clervil.

Sade now has Franval and Eugénie renew their love for each other and has them speak like any other lovers in novels. Eugénie’s mother, grandmother and Clervil now try to get her to marry Colunce, whom she doesn’t love. If Eugénie was in love with anyone else we would see Clervil et al. as the ‘baddies’ trying to force her to marry someone against her will. Franval, being a libertine, is not scared of using dirty tactics and so he decides to get Valmont, a fellow libertine, to seduce Mme de Franval and blackmail her, with forged love letters, into leaving Franval alone. It is Valmont who reveals Franval’s and Eugénie’s true relationship to her.

With events running away from her Mme de Farneille, Franval’s mother-in-law, asks Clervil to talk to Franval and Eugénie. Clervil and Franval spar: when Clervil states that happiness cannot be found in crime, Franval gives the Sadean reply that all crimes are relative and so all happiness is relative.

‘No, Monsieur, no, there is nothing real in the world, nothing which merits praise or blame, nothing worthy of being rewarded or punished, nothing which, though it is unjust here, is not legitimate five hundred leagues away—no real evil, in a word, and no constant good.’

Clervil, who has been advised against referring to scripture, uses a pragmatic argument that transgressing local laws will lead to further crimes and incur punishment.

‘Furthermore, the habit of overriding ordinary constraints soon leads us to break more serious ones, and, from error to error, we end up committing crimes which are properly punished in every country in the whole world, and properly inspire dread in all reasonable creatures which inhabit the globe, under whichever pole it might be.’

Franval argues that Eugénie freely chose to be his lover and that he did not force her. Clervil says that Franval put the thought into her head for selfish reasons. Franval tries to use the forged letters to convince Clervil of Mme de Franval’s unfaithful behaviour but Clervil knows them to be fakes. When Clervil tries to convince Eugénie of her error she throws herself, nakedly, at him and tries to create a scandal; Clervil withdraws. This dialogue is interesting in that Clervil’s arguments against Franval (Sade) are valid and as justified as Franval’s; neither man is seen to ‘win’ the argument.

From here on the plot gets complicated and melodramatic as it involves double-crossing, kidnapping, murder and suicide. As this story was meant for a general readership, Sade has Franval and Eugénie repent for their crimes. The final scene is suitably gothic with castles, lightning, coffins, corpses and suicide.

Although not as explicit as his libertine novels, Incest is still quite shocking for the modern reader, as it must have been for the contemporary reader. It is clear that Franval intends to control and manipulate Eugénie until she is of age to become his lover. Sade disliked the influence that religion had over society and certainly disapproved of girls being brought up uneducated, unaware of sex and then married off at an early age to a man she does not love. Was Sade trying to show that Franval’s methods of bringing up Eugénie were no less controlling, no less manipulative and no less selfish than the way girls were brought up by church and state? Sade may argue that at least with Franval Eugénie had an education and was allowed to, and capable of, making a decision on whom to love and that she would have had no choice if she had been raised as her mother wished. The modern reader would surely say that Eugénie was groomed by Franval for his own sexual gratification and that she had no choice at all and that both scenarios are bad for Eugénie. It is always difficult to know if Sade is trying to make a serious point or whether he is just out to shock the reader. He always undermines any point he is trying to make by having his characters act abominably, even in these ‘mainstream’ works. Still, I believe that Incest would be a good book to read for anyone wishing to get a ‘flavour’ of Sade’s writing but who are wary of reading his more sexually violent works.

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‘Virtue’ by Marquis de Sade

Virtue was published by Hesperus Press in 2011 and consists of the novella Ernestine: A Swedish Novella and the short play Oxtiern, or The Miseries of Libertinism which is Sade’s own adaption of Ernestine for the stage. Ernestine was originally published in 1800 in the four-volume collection, The Crimes of Love (Les Crimes de l’amour, Nouvelles héroïques et tragiques) which was the only collection of Sade’s short fiction published in his lifetime. The stories were written, however, before 1788 when Sade was still imprisoned in the Bastille. These short stories lack the explicit sadistic sexual content for which Sade became infamous but they often concern contemporary morality and libertinage. In these short stories, which were intended for general publication, the libertines generally get their comeuppance which does not happen in his infamous ‘libertine’ novels such as Justine and Juliette. Virtue was translated by David Carter.

Ernestine begins with a frame story; the narrator describes his visit to Sweden, including the copper mines of Falun and Taberg. It is whilst being guided round the mines of Taberg by Falkeneim that he meets Oxtiern, who, the narrator is informed, is a Swedish nobleman who has been banished to the mines after being found guilty of ‘unprecedented crimes’. The narrator is intrigued by Oxtiern and wants to know how and why he ended up there, so Falkeneim tells Oxtiern’s tale which forms the main story.

The story begins in a small town, Norrköping, about fifty miles from Stockholm. Colonel Sanders, a widower, lives there with his beautiful daughter, Ernestine, who is sixteen years old. Ernestine is in love with Herman, who lost his parents at an early age, and who works for a local businesswoman, Widow Scholtz. But, Widow Scholtz, who is described as ‘an arrogant, imperious woman’ has a passion for Herman and things soon become complicated: Sanders approves of Ernestine’s and Herman’s betrothal but he does not want to upset Mme Scholtz, who is known to have a temper…and power; Ernestine knows of Scholtz’s interest in Herman and fears that Herman may be swayed by Scholtz’s money; Sanders begins to think it would be best for everybody if Herman married Scholtz rather than his daughter. When Herman declines Scholtz’s offer of marriage she warns him:

Herman, you do not know the woman you offend…No, you do not know of what she is capable…You will learn it perhaps too late…Leave at once…Yes, leave…

Six months go by before the arrival of Count Oxtiern. At a ball, held by Mme Scholtz, Oxtiern becomes obsessed with Ernestine and begins to charm her father, who is flattered by the attention of a count. This has, of course, been planned by Scholtz to draw Ernestine away from Herman but if she can’t have him then she is prepared to destroy him. Oxtiern and Scholtz now plot to get Ernestine and Herman as their respective lovers. Oxtiern tempts Sanders and Ernestine to Stockholm whilst Herman is left at the mercy of Scholtz. When Herman continues to resist Scholtz’s advances she decides to frame him for stealing from her and imprisons him. With Herman permanently separated from Ernestine she cruelly enjoys telling him that Ernestine is now Oxtiern’s wife and that this was achieved with Sanders’ blessing—none of which is true.

Scholtz has given up on Herman, who is now moved to Stockholm where he is due to be executed. Ernestine is meanwhile tricked into meeting Oxtiern on the pretext that she is to meet Herman, whom she hasn’t seen for months. In a quintessentially Sadeian scene Oxtiern attempts to seduce Ernestine, but with cruelty rather than flattery. He tells her that Herman has been condemned for robbing Scholtz and that Ernestine may be implicated in the crime as well. But if she willingly submits to Oxtiern then he will get Herman released and she can marry him (Herman). If she doesn’t submit then Herman will die and he will rape her anyway. Ernestine still refuses and reasons thus:

It is never permissible to commit one crime to prevent another. I know my lover sufficiently well to be certain that he would not want to enjoy a life that had cost me my honour, and what is more he would not marry me after my reputation had been blackened. I would have thus made myself guilty, without his becoming happier as a result. I would have become so without saving him, since he would certainly not survive such excessive horror and slander. So let me leave, sir. Do not make yourself more of a criminal than I suspect you of being already. I shall go to die near my lover. I shall share his dreadful fate. At least I shall perish worthy of Herman, and I would rather die virtuous than live in ignominy.

With this Oxtiern goes into a rage and Mme Scholtz cruelly draws back the curtain to show Herman, at that moment, climbing the scaffold. Oxtiern rapes the unconscious Ernestine at the moment Herman is being executed.

Against Mme Scholtz’s advice Oxtiern lets Ernestine free. The story does not end there but involves a duel where Sanders tries to get his revenge for the crimes committed against his daughter but Oxtiern is not to be outwitted so easily. This part of Ernestine also forms the bulk of the short play, Oxtiern, which is included in this edition. It’s interesting to see how Sade altered much from the story to make it work as a play.

Unlike his ‘libertine’ novels, in Ernestine Sade has the libertines punished for their crimes—Mme Scholtz is executed whilst Oxtiern is banished; but he is ultimately freed by Sanders and vows to perform virtuous acts from thereon. Knowing Sade’s other works I can only imagine him smirking to himself with this ‘virtuous’ ending, after having Ernestine raped by Oxtiern and then killed by her own father and having Herman executed for a crime he didn’t commit only to have Oxtiern surviving by showing some Christian repentance. Sade wanted to be taken seriously as a writer and with the ‘sanitised’ stories in The Crimes of Love he had hoped to be recognised as such. However, he was soon after arrested for being the author of the obscene works, Justine and Juliette, which he denied publicly. Even though his fame is due to these obscene works I feel that some of his more accessible works are worth reading even if they may still be too much for some readers.

You have no idea, my friend, of the effect of a young woman’s tears on all these weak and timid souls.

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A Conversation With Myself

I: You haven’t posted anything for a while. Have you given up?
ME: …er…no, I don’t think so.
I: Well, have you? Or haven’t you?
ME: No. I haven’t made the conscious decision to stop blogging; it just hasn’t happened.
I: What happened?
ME: Nothing really…work maybe…I always try to blame work. But I just sort of lost enthusiasm for posting anything. Strangely it was at a time when I was thinking of blogging about more than ‘just’ books, which had been my original intention when starting up this blog, that it all just crashed…I lost the enthusiasm.
I: Did you stop reading as well?
ME: No, in fact I was enjoying my reading as much as before, if not more.
I: What have you been reading?
ME: Well, I finished reading L.P. Hartley’s Eustace and Hilda trilogy, which was excellent, and carried on with more by him.
I: Such as?
ME: The Go-Between which I thought I should read as it’s his most famous work. I also read The Hireling; I had already watched the film version earlier in the year but really wanted to read the book.
I: Were they good? I mean book and film.
ME: Yes, certainly. The film of The Hireling was quite different than the book but both worked well.
I: What do you like about Hartley’s writing?
ME: He has great psychological insight into his characters, especially children.
I: Have you read any more by him?
ME: No, but I do have a biography of him that I intend to read soon.
I: Who’s the author?
ME: Adrian Wright.
I: No relation?
ME: Of course not. You should know that as well as me.
I: Ok. Keep your hair on. So, what else have you been reading?
ME: A real mish-mash really but I finally got round to reading Joseph Heller’s Good as Gold, which I’d been meaning to read for years.
I: Was it as good as Catch-22?
ME: No, but it was ok…funny in places…especially the family scenes…it got a bit strange at the end though. I felt that he could’ve done with a better editor, assuming he had one at all.
I: I suppose none of his other books can compare with Catch-22.
ME: Probably not. But when I read his second novel, Something Happened, I actually preferred it to Catch-22.
I: Did you watch the recent adaption of it?
ME: Of Catch-22? Yes. I liked it. It was better than the film.
I: So what else have you been reading?
ME: I don’t want to list everything…that would be dull…but the usual I suppose…fiction, some non-fiction…..I read Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, which I really enjoyed, and had hoped to blog about.
I: But you didn’t.
ME: No. And I’ve been reading some 18th Century works as well.
I: Such as?
ME: Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau, Laclos, Sade.
I: All French I see. What is this thing you have with French writers?
ME: …er…I don’t know…it just sort of happens that way…I do intend to read some British writers as well.
I: Such as?
ME: Fielding, Defoe, Richardson, Austen…
I: Mostly male writers I see. And Austen is 19th Century isn’t she?
ME: Yes. But I’m thinking of a ‘long’ 18th Century. I just haven’t read much Austen and I want to read more by her. I hope to include Byron as well.
I: What prompted this interest in 18th Century literature?
ME: Well, I’m interested in the 18th Century…some of the historical characters….some of the events such as the French & American revolutions. I keep meaning to read Casanova’s memoirs but haven’t got round to it yet. But I had also intended to read some Sade…
I: Woah! Really! The Marquis de Sade! Are you some kind of sicko?
ME: …er…I hope not…but he’s a…
I: …pervert….
ME: …fascinating…
I: …sicko….
ME…character…
I: Are you sure? I mean have you read any of his work? It’s pretty strong stuff.
ME: Yes, I’m well aware of his works. I read most of Juliette when I was in my late teens/early twenties until I abandoned it…I felt emotionally numb at that point…But I read some biographies at the time and found him fascinating as a person. I didn’t know what to make of him, and still don’t.
I: So you thought you’d read more by him?
ME: Well, yes. But I intend to concentrate on some of his more ‘conventional’ works initially.
I: So none of his pervy stuff?
ME: Not at first, but I do intend to read 120 Days of Sodom.
I: That will be jolly. Why?
ME: I don’t want to be defeated by a book. I don’t want to be the sort of reader who doesn’t read something because the characters are ‘not nice’ or because they say or do nasty things.
I: So it’s a macho thing?
ME: Possibly…I hope not…but it may well be…
I: So have you read many so far?
ME: A few. Sade was a better writer than is generally credited. I wonder what sort of reputation he would have today if he’d restricted himself to his more ‘acceptable’ works.
I: He’d probably be unknown.
ME: Quite possibly. The shock value of his ‘libertine’ novels is why we remember him, and with good reason, but his other works are still quite revolutionary.
I: So, is there much available?
ME: Well, considering that Sade spent a large portion of his adult life in prison it’s amazing how much is available. A lot is now lost. His ‘libertine’ novels are generally available in various editions and his shorter works are now available in the OUP collections, as well as other versions, such as the small Hesperus editions. I have created a page here with as much information as I could find on his shorter works.
I: And this ‘Sade project’ has now expanded into an ’18th Century Literature Project’?
ME: I guess. It was when I realised that I really needed to read Les Liaisons Dangereuses before reading more Sade, and possibly Richardson as well, that I thought about reading more 18th Century works.
I: So you must be storming away?
ME: Not really. It’s going slowly. I’ve read Les Liaisons Dangereuses and a few others. As with 19th Century literature, I find it difficult reading one after another. I have to keep returning to the 20th & 21st Centuries.
I: So are you going to post anything about your reading? Sade or otherwise?
ME: I had intended to. And I still do. I just don’t know when.
I: But you may?
ME: I may. But I may not.
I: But you want to?
ME: I do.

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