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Patriarchal Ideology and French Fictions of Adultery 1830–57

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Abstract

In the early decades of the nineteenth century the institution of marriage underwent a significant transformation: the profoundly misogynistic Civil Code, drawn up by Napoleon’s lawyers, established a new legal framework for marriage in an attempt to strengthen the authority of the husband, proved profoundly inimical to new expectations relating to marriage, and ran directly counter to the principles of liberty and equality which were part of the broad cultural legacy of the French Revolution. From 1830 marriage became the focus of considerable debate and gave rise to attempts to codify its underlying logic and a wide range of literary representations. The state of marriage was a question which was urgently addressed in many quarters, a sensitive subject of virtually universal concern. Literature clearly had a vital and, in some respects ambivalent, role in this collective preoccupation with marriage: the novel, in particular, both diagnosed and contributed to the difficulties of marriage. What is of particular interest, however, is the extent to which the novel reflected or was able, in some way, to maintain a critical distance from the conventional view of marriage. This question can be posed most acutely in relation to attitudes to adultery of the wife, which remained a central concern for much of the first half of the century, providing something of a test-case for theories about the relationship between ideology and literature.

Keywords

Literary Work Literary Text Ideological Centrality Marital Relation Patriarchal System 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    T. Eagleton, Ideology. An Introduction (London, Verso, 1991), pp. 1–31.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See K. Marx and F. Engels, The German Ideology, quoted in R. Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford, OUP, 1977), p. 59.Google Scholar
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    This pattern has been discussed by N. Segal in The Adulteress’s Child: Authorship and Desire in the Nineteenth-Century Novel (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1992), pp. 62–114.Google Scholar
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    See in particular T. Tanner, Adultery in the Novel (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1979).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1997

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