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The Amorous RestorationLove, Sex, and Politics in Early Nineteenth-Century France$

Andrew J. Counter

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198785996

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198785996.001.0001

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The Sexual Monster

The Sexual Monster

Celibacy and the Anticlerical Imagination

(p.174) 5 The Sexual Monster
The Amorous Restoration

Andrew J. Counter

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

In May 1822, a grisly crime was committed near Grenoble: twenty-six year-old Marie Charnalet was raped and murdered by Antoine Mingrat, a priest, who then absconded abroad. The ensuing cause célèbre became a watchword of oppositional sentiment in the years before the downfall of the regime in 1830. In the figure of Mingrat, anticlerical nightmares were made flesh: Mingrat was a real-life sexual monster, the distorted product of ‘natural’ manly appetited and perverted clerical celibacy. The chapter considers a number of pamphlets publicizing the crime, and official documents revealing the government’s determination to suppress such publicity as politically subversive. These opposing attitudes situate the Restoration as a crucial moment in the evolution of the notion of scandal: for the authorities, ‘scandal’ referred to actions which increased public knowledge of immorality, while for their liberal opponents, it already designated the expression of public outrage at the sins of the powerful.

Keywords:   Mingrat, rape, scandal, anticlericalism, Paul-Louis Courier, clerical celibacy

L’agitation est génerale, un murmure de voix se fait entendre, il ne répétait qu’un mot, et ce mot était … Mingrat !.…

Précis historique sur Mingrat (1826)

C’est un malheur, le peuple a des yeux.

Gaspard de Pons, Constant et Discrète (1819)1

On 8 May 1822, in the Isère town of Saint-Quentin, a grisly crime was committed: the rape and murder of twenty-six year old Marie Charnalet, née Gérin, by the parish priest, Antoine Mingrat. Having lured the young woman into the rectory under the pretext of hearing her confession, Mingrat throttled her to death, after sexually assaulting her. Dragging her body some distance through woodland, he then began to hack it apart, first with a hunting knife, then, when the knife proved too dull, with a meat cleaver hastily fetched from the rectory kitchen. He then scattered her remains in the river Isère. Marie’s absence was noticed almost immediately by her husband Étienne Charnalet, who began searching for her with the help of neighbours. Her handkerchief and patches of blood-stained grass were discovered hours later, at which point suspicion fell on Mingrat, whom locals had long believed to be sexually obsessed with the missing Marie. When on 16 May the severed thigh of a woman was discovered by fishermen, Mingrat’s servant finally revealed that she had heard sounds of struggle coming from the rectory on the night in question. Confronted by the townsfolk, Mingrat took flight, escaping over the border to Piedmont, then in the Kingdom of Sardinia; there he was promptly arrested and imprisoned by local authorities. Yet despite his having been convicted in absentia of rape and murder, and sentenced to death by the Cour Royale in Grenoble on 9 December 1822, Mingrat’s extradition was never offered by the Sardinian government, nor was it ever requested by the French;2 indeed, it is now clear that Foreign Ministry officials (under the direction of a certain vicomte de Chateaubriand from December of that year) later (p.175) advised Sardinian diplomats through back-channels that extradition would not be sought in this case, and that the prisoner’s maintenance costs would be met by the diocese of Grenoble for as long as he remained in detention there.3 Mingrat never returned to France.

In this chapter, as in the previous one, I shall be interested not so much in this horrific event itself, as in its considerable discursive afterlife in Restoration politics as an affaire or a scandal. I should like to consider a broader ideological dispute of which the Mingrat case was an avatar: a cultural and moral disagreement about, precisely, the meaning of the word ‘scandal’, which had previously been understood ‘conservatively,’ as a pathogenic spectacle that spreads corruption, but which was in the early nineteenth century beginning to acquire a ‘progressive’ definition, as a therapeutic revelation that brings that corruption to an end. It was precisely in avoidance of the first type of ‘scandal’ that the French government (not to mention the Church hierarchy) was so eager to see the culprit remain in Piedmont and escape his sentence. This scheme was hardly a success, however: unlike the efficiently silenced Custine affair, the Mingrat case became a notorious cause célèbre and remained a watchword of anticlerical discourse well into the later nineteenth century. The clerical and governmental conspiracy of silence following the crime was more than matched by an oppositional determination to talk about it in anticlerical and more broadly liberal circles:4 not only in the press, but more substantially in pamphlets published first by Paul-Louis Courier in 1823; then in 1824 by Marie’s own brother Jean-Baptiste Gérin (who suffered considerable police persecution as a result); and finally by her husband, Étienne Charnalet, in a pamphlet published later in 1824 and revised in 1826. I employ these texts (among others) to explore how this particular sex crime was ‘put into discourse’: I shall consider both the cultural codes within which it made sense, and the new meanings it created. Research in the history of crime, including that of Dominique Kalifa, has already shown how discourse relating to criminal cases could express underlying cultural anxieties and serve political and ideological purposes beyond the purely penological sphere.5 Michel-Louis Rouquette’s account of the 1817 affaire Fualdès (involving the murder in very mysterious circumstances of a former Imperial prosecutor), and Anne-Emmanuelle Demartini’s study of the affaire Lacenaire of 1835–6 (the sensational trial of a charismatic multiple murderer and ‘master (p.176) criminal’), have shown more specifically how public discourse on major criminal cases can disclose the various social divisions and consensuses that prevailed at a particular historical moment.6 This chapter similarly examines responses to Mingrat’s crime in light of the social tensions they reveal and the political work they accomplished. The case, as we shall see, usefully exposes a number of the political fault-lines of Restoration France, though none more clearly than the post-revolutionary haggling over the status and influence of the Catholic Church, perhaps the most divisive social question—‘the single greatest source of national discord’—in post-revolutionary France.7

Since I propose to speak of the ‘Mingrat affair’, I ought perhaps to clarify my understanding of this phrase, and how it relates to the influential theorization of the affaire devised by Élisabeth Claverie. For Claverie, an affaire is born when judicial roles are reversed, and the public sits in judgement on the faulty or dishonest legal processes that have led to an obvious miscarriage of justice.8 The posture of the Mingrat case is rather different: if anything, the rapid conviction and sentencing in absentia of the murderer by the Cour royale would seem to indicate the relative political independence of the local judiciary.9 Still, while Mingrat had been convicted, he had not been punished—thanks to the wilful inaction of the government. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Kalifa has suggested that the political and social landscape of early nineteenth-century France could not really support affaires in the strong sense (even if writers of the era used the term). While nodding to deeply contentious matters like the affaire Fualdès, Kalifa nevertheless maintains that the Restoration and July monarchies were at once too repressive and too factionalized to generate effective public engagements capable of garnering support beyond the ranks of a single party. Kalifa notes in particular an absence of what he calls the necessary ‘personalities’, individuals possessing both power and a national platform, and willing to use these to champion the underdog’s cause.10 (p.177) While these objections ought certainly to nuance any use of the word affaire in relation to Mingrat, I do not think that they preclude such use. For if, as Nicolas Offenstadt and Stéphane Van Damme claim, affaires involve an appeal to the public sphere as a witness to an injustice; if they tend towards increasing generalization, whereby an individual case is taken as symptomatic of a wider social pathology; and if they tend to reveal group interests or political strategies; then there can be little doubt that the Mingrat documents at least attempted to produce an affair—for all of these characteristics, as we shall see, may be found in the Mingrat case.11 Even assuming that Kalifa is entirely right, and that no Restoration affair could ever be a true affaire, it seems indisputable that the Mingrat case was at the least a proto-affaire, a pseudo-affaire, perhaps even an affaire manquée. Most importantly, as our writers’ own terminology itself suggests, it was what passed for an affaire under the Restoration—and is in this sense of potentially enormous importance to our understanding of public life and discourse under that regime.

Finally, the Mingrat affair offers an ideal case study in the political instrumentalization of sex or, more precisely, of the idea of sexual normality, in Restoration cultural discourse. At issue in the liberal obsession with Mingrat was not one individual’s spectacular sexual deviance, but the institution of clerical celibacy and the sexual continence of all priests. In these polemics, the priest emerges as a sort of ideological counterweight to the impotent aristocrat lampooned in anti-Romantic writing: a figure of perverse hyper-virility, bent on the ravishing of middle-class feminine virtue, and on the destruction of the bourgeois family. But beyond their discrete historical meanings, the Mingrat documents also testify to a vital transitional stage in European sexual mores. In their account of Mingrat’s monstrosity, and in their deliberate attempt to redefine the meaning of ‘scandal’, the texts seem ultimately to advocate for a sort of public accountability about sex which, I shall argue, points the way to a recognizably modern imbrication of sex, scandal, and politics.

The Monstrosity of Mingrat

The gruesome facts of Antoine Mingrat’s crime, and a concatenation of discursive and political circumstances, conspired to make the lascivious, murderous priest a central figure—in the fullest sense—of the Restoration political imagination. In a jokey gossip column entitled ‘Coups de lancette’, the Figaro of 17 October 1826 announced to its readers: ‘On va donner à Montrouge une seconde représentation du Curé Mingrat’ [At Montrouge, a second performance of The Curé Mingrat will be given].12 ‘Montrouge’, as any contemporary reader would know, was the (p.178) location of an unauthorized Jesuit seminary, and thus served as a code-word for Jesuitism in general.13 In 1826, at least, no such play as Le Curé Mingrat existed, but the theatrical metaphor used here captures not only the association of the Mingrat case with the theatrically related question of religious hypocrisy, but also its intense imaginative appeal as a story with all the sensational elements of a stage melodrama. Le Figaro’s joke would, moreover, prove prescient: a melodrama would eventually be performed by the title of Mingrat. Ferdinand Laloue and Henri Villemot’s dramatization of the crime opened at the Cirque Olympique on 26 October 1830, taking advantage of both post-July theatrical licence and the prevailing political winds of the moment to throw good taste to the devil.14 The play was a disastrous flop, though the fact that it was written and produced so soon after the July Revolution reveals the extent to which the Mingrat affair had remained ‘live’ throughout the 1820s, and suggests that the case had by 1830 become an anti-Restoration, and not only an anticlerical, topos.15 Laloue and Villemot’s characterization of the monstrous priest reflects this political purpose; their Mingrat is not simply a religious hypocrite, but an explicitly political one, too, berating his baffled parishioners for their tendency towards what they mishear as ‘libéralisse’—liberalism—and cursing the memory of the ‘Ante-Christ’ Bonaparte.16

Yet even under the Restoration itself, the story’s melodramatic power had found some realization in two pamphlets of ambiguous authorship published at the behest of the victim’s brother Gérin, in 1824, and her husband Charnalet, later in 1824 and again in 1826.17 Both pamphlets offered highly suspenseful ‘reconstructions’ of what took place in the rectory of Saint-Quentin, described somewhat self-consciously by the Charnalet pamphlet as ‘ce théâtre d’horreur’ ([theatre of horror] PH 56). Both texts adopted a flamboyantly melodramatic, indeed gothic vocabulary to describe Mingrat: he appears variously as a ‘fantôme’ ([ghost] PH 53), a ‘vampire’ (NH 98; PH 55), a ‘bourreau’ ([torturer] NH 2); he is guided by a ‘génie infernal’ ([infernal genius] PH 64), and so on. I shall consider the implications of (p.179) this vocabulary more fully in a later section, but for now I should like to retain one especially prominent term that is—in one sense at least—part of it: the word monstre, monster. The occurrences of this word and its cognates in the pamphlets are too numerous to count, but its apparent banality belies an important ambiguity in its implications. A monster, as literary critics know only too well, is a kind of sign, from the Latin monstrum meaning ‘portent’ or ‘warning’. As such, the monster demands our attention, though principally because it is so extraordinary, or—to use a word beloved of the immediately contemporaneous science of teratology—anomalous. Despite the fantastical language they used to describe Mingrat, indeed, and while the authors were probably not directly familiar with the work of Étienne and Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, the pamphlets nevertheless paralleled the prevailing materialism and determinism of the medical sciences in their concern to underscore the physical inscriptions of Mingrat’s moral monstrosity, and the fact—if indeed it was a fact—that he had been thus marked from birth. ‘Son air était sombre, son œil faux, sa taille haute, mais peu élégante […]; sa force était extraordinaire; il soulevait les poids les plus énormes; ses passions physiques étaient ardentes’ ([his demeanour was sombre, his glance deceitful, his frame tall but lacking in elegance; his strength was extraordinary, and he could lift enormous weights; his physical passions were ardent] NH 8), the Gérin pamphlet insisted; while the later Charnalet text similarly noted that his ‘caractère odieux’ [odious character] and his ‘penchans à la cruauté’ [penchant for cruelty] announced themselves in his earliest youth, and confirmed moreover that ‘il était d’une force extraordinaire […], la taille haute, massive et presque colossale, joignant à cela une force herculéenne’ ([he possessed extraordinary strength, was tall, bulky, almost a colossus, and combined all this with a herculean strength] PH 31–2, 41, 43).

Of course, if Mingrat was simply a monster, then his case might be thought of little significance—for the monster, at least traditionally conceived, is almost by definition unique. And yet one of the most important aims of the science of teratology was to contest this assumption of uniqueness, to normalize, as it were, the monster. As the elder Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire put it in 1826:

L’apparition fréquente de certaines monstruosités […] sembl[e] reproduire des formes aussi arrêtées que toutes celles de la zoologie normale […]: à la place de l’organisation prédestinée, d’un arrangement conforme au type normal, c’est un autre ordre de régularités.18

[The frequent appearance of certain monstrosities appears to reproduce forms that are as predetermined as those of normal zoology; in the place of the intended organization, of an arrangement in conformity with the normal type, we see another order of regularities].

Anne-Emmanuelle Demartini has shown how press coverage of the Lacenaire affair in 1835–6 was, sure enough, divided between these two ‘models’ of monstrosity: on the one hand, a traditional model according to which the monster was (p.180) ‘incroyable, exceptionnel’ [incredible, exceptional], and, in some sense, ‘impossible’; and on the other, the newer, teratological model concerned with explaining the monster and the underlying social and political factors involved in his genesis.19 Despite the greater newness of the science in the 1820s, something akin to this teratological vision of an ‘other’ order, of a ‘regular’ monstrosity was at work in contemporaneous accounts of the Mingrat affair—a case made most radically by the first writer to treat the matter at length, the great pamphleteer Paul-Louis Courier.

In his pamphlet of 1823, Courier informs his imaginary interlocutor: ‘Je ne suis pas aussi animé que vous contre ce curé de Saint-Quentin. Je trouve dans son état de prêtre de quoi, non l’excuser, mais le plaindre’ [I am not as angry as you are with the curé of Saint-Quentin. His status as a priest allows me, if not to excuse him, then at least to pity him]. Mingrat, Courier goes on to explain, is:

sujet à l’amour, qui chez les hommes de sa robe, se tourne souvent en fureur. Un grand médecin l’a remarqué: cette maladie, sorte de rage qu’il appelle érotomanie, semble particulière aux prêtres.20

[subject to the power of love, which, in men in his walk of life, often turns to frenzy. A great doctor has observed it: this malady, a sort of madness he calls erotomania, seems peculiar to priests.]

The concept Courier alludes to here is what Tim Verhoeven has called ‘the satyriasis diagnosis’, that specious nosological category whereby the substantial anticlerical constituency within the medical profession stigmatized clerical celibacy as engendering sexual perversion and violence.21 This particular iteration of early nineteenth-century anticlericalism was, we might say, produced by the comingling of the new, vitalist medical models of sexuality, based on the cosmically ordained complementarity of the sexes, and a centuries-long anticlerical tradition of bawdy sexual imputation—encapsulated, perhaps, in the popular expression rhume ecclésiastique, or ‘clergyman’s cold’, denoting venereal disease. That tradition, like the expression rhume ecclésiastique itself, was still alive and well under the Restoration, and could take a variety of forms, from the polemical to (very occasionally) the pornographic.22 Certainly, there was nothing uniquely nineteenth-century about the liberal satirist Vincent Fournier-Verneuil’s suggestion in 1826 that ‘la sodomie est un des principaux moyens du jésuitisme’ [sodomy is one of the primary (p.181) techniques of Jesuitism], or in Pierre-Jean de Béranger’s evocation of Jesuit schoolmasters ‘qui fessons / Et qui refessons / Les jolis petits, les jolis garçons’ [who spank and spank pretty little ones, pretty little boys], in an influential chanson reprinted in the same year.23 Both adopt a traditional anticlerical approach, familiar from pre-Revolutionary libelles, in which sexual impropriety was taken as an extreme case, and therefore as a choice symbol, of priests’ devious abuse of their power and influence. The persistence of this discourse made cases such as that of Mingrat, or the aptly-named Sicilian priest Joseph Contrafatto (who twice raped a five-year-old girl in Paris in July 1827), irresistibly powerful anticlerical rallying points.24

Yet with the satyriasis diagnosis, these older polemical forms acquired a patina of scientific legitimacy: the massive sexual corruption of priests was not only credible, but logical and necessary, because of the destructive physiological effects of enforced celibacy on adult men.25 In René Rémond’s paraphrase, which borrows once again the language of teratology: ‘Une existence en tous points anormale et s’écartant de la nature pouvait-elle engendrer autre chose que de monstrueuses anomalies?’ [How could an abnormal existence, deviating in every point from nature, produce anything other than monstrous anomalies?].26 Thus for Courier, it was not so much Mingrat as the institution of clerical celibacy that appeared monstrous; more precisely, the priest’s vow of chastity and his constant contact with vulnerable women through confession formed a ‘monstrueuse combinaison’ [monstrous combination], a teratogenic situation that made cases such as Mingrat’s inevitable.27 The most radical statements of this case could even imply that clerical rapists such as Mingrat and Contrafatto were not intrinsically evil (as the Gérin and Charnalet pamphlets maintained), but precisely normal: one post-July writer went so far as to suggest—extraordinarily—that Mingrat and Contrafatto ‘eussent peut-être été bons pères de famille et dignes citoyens, sans la fatale loi du celibat’ [might perhaps have been good fathers and husbands and worthy citizens, were it not for the accursed rule of celibacy].28 And on this showing, of course, Mingrat was only the tip of the iceberg, as Courier made explicit: ‘Combien d’affaires à (p.182) étouffer, si tout ce qui se passe en secret avait des suites évidentes […]! Que d’horreurs laissent entrevoir ces faits […]!’ [How many affairs would have to be hushed up, if everything that went on in secret had visible consequences! What horrors we glimpse behind these events!].29

It was precisely these silent, invisible, and at least to some extent imaginary horrors that the oppositional discourse of the Restoration named whenever it uttered the word ‘Mingrat’. As we shall see in this chapter, however, the evocation of clerical sexuality was closely policed by the Restoration authorities. In 1822, Balzac’s Le Vicaire des Ardennes—in which the eponymous vicar violates his oath to marry the girl he once thought was his sister—was seized and destroyed for outraging good morals, though the novel had no obvious political agenda; while Béranger was the target of multiple prosecutions (and was twice imprisoned, in 1821 and 1828), in no small part for his tendency to cast aspersions on the sexual continence of the ministers of the official state religion.30 And it is in light of this that Le Figaro’s terse gag of 17 October 1826—‘On va donner à Montrouge une seconde représentation du Curé Mingrat’—is so emblematic of the function of the Mingrat case in the later years of the Restoration: it says nothing specific about Mingrat and his crime, but merely alludes to him by name. (It is, indeed, doubly allusive, conjoining as it does the loaded signifier ‘Mingrat’ with the metonym for Jesuitism ‘Montrouge’.) From 1825 onwards, then, the word ‘Mingrat’ became an immediately recognizable sign, a powerful oppositional metonymy connoting not only clerical hypocrisy and sexual misconduct, but also the government’s and the Church’s malevolent attempts to conceal evidence of that misconduct.31 The mere name ‘Mingrat’ allowed all of these ideas to be evoked immediately, with no need to elaborate further; it thus became part of the repertoire of allusions whereby the liberal press managed to ‘dire sans dire’ [say without saying] and whose meaning was then decoded, as Stendhal noted in 1825, by readers trained by the censor’s scissors to ‘saisir les allusions les plus cachées’ [seize the most hidden allusions].32 It thus provides an ideal case study of those special textual hotspots discussed in the Introduction, where the sexual and the political collided with remarkable rhetorical consequences. Like those other hotspots, references to Mingrat could be provocatively ludic—as when, immediately following the formation of the Polignac (p.183) ministry on 8 August 1829, Le Figaro announced that Mingrat’s extradition had finally been requested since he was ‘appel[é] à diriger les affaires ecclésiastiques et l’instruction primaire des deux sexes’ [called upon to take charge of ecclesiastic affairs and primary education for both sexes].33 Yet whether comic or not, they were always potentially subversive, as may readily be established by considering the fate of Marie Gérin’s brother, Jean-Baptiste, who exploited the signifier ‘Mingrat’ in ways that the Restoration authorities found particularly troublesome.

Under the Sign of Mingrat

Jean-Baptiste Gérin was a former infantryman in the Napoleonic army. Demobilized in 1815 along with vast numbers of his brothers-in-arms, he had set up shop as a jeweller, nominally based in Paris, but peddling his wares widely in northern and western France out of hired stalls in various provincial market towns.34 As Sudhir Hazareesingh has shown, both the demi-soldes (demobbed members of the Grande Armée) and travelling salesmen were regarded with mistrust by Restoration authorities as likely fomenters of (specifically Bonapartist) political unrest; and from the summer of 1824, Gérin began to conform to stereotype.35 For it was then that he began to print and sell alongside his stock-in-trade a medium-length pamphlet entitled Notice historique sur le crime commis par Mingrat. The pamphlet soon attracted the disapproval of local and then central authorities (the Police Générale was informed of its existence by the Prefect of the Isère in August),36 and from then on, Gérin became acquainted to his cost with the ‘vast and complex police powers of the prefectorial apparatus’.37 The most formal manifestation of this prefectural disfavour was a criminal prosecution in Niort in September 1826, ostensibly on the grounds that Gérin did not possess a bookseller’s licence. The underlying reasons for the prosecution may be readily traced in the official papers: despite the assurances to the contrary found in Gérin’s prefatory note, the authorities considered the pamphlet likely to provoke anticlerical and even antimonarchist resentment.38 As the Catholic newspaper L’Ami de la religion et du roi put it, reporting on the prosecution: ‘Il se trouve des gens qui colportent de ville en ville des écrits (p.184) qui ont le double inconvénient de familiariser le peuple avec l’idée du crime, et d’appeler la haine sur toute une classe de citoyens [i.e. priests]’ [Certain people are travelling from town to town peddling books which are doubly undesirable: first because they spread the knowledge of crime among the people, and secondly because they incite hatred against an entire class of citizens].39 The prosecution eventually failed, owing largely to the flimsiness of the indictment and the apparent sympathy of local judges, though Gérin’s wife was sentenced to fifteen days in prison for assaulting the gendarmes who had seized copies of the pamphlet.40 The authorities were not content, however; identical prosecutions were subsequently brought against Gérin in Nantes and in Rennes, though again without success.41

Gérin’s Notice, then, was an inflammatory document as far as the government was concerned. Intriguingly, however, the principal focus of the flurry of official correspondence relating to Gérin’s movements in 1825 and 1826 was not the lurid pamphlet with its vivid dramatization of the crime, but an altogether more succinct text. On 13 October 1825, the deputy Prefect of the Seine-Inférieure advised the Minister of the Interior that Gérin had recently arrived in his jurisdiction and was now displaying a shop sign (enseigne) which read: ‘Au frère de la victime du Curé Mingrat’ [Shop of the brother of the victim of the curé Mingrat]. The deputy continued:

Quoique cette enseigne ne produise d’autre sensation que le mépris pour un frère qui semble faire parade d’un malheur dont il devrait éloigner le souvenir, elle ne m’en paraît pas moins inconvenante.42

[While this sign produces no other reaction than contempt for a brother who parades his sorrow, rather than trying to put the memory from his mind, it nevertheless seems inconvenante to me.]

The Sexual MonsterCelibacy and the Anticlerical Imagination

Fig. 5.1. Handbill of Jean-Baptiste Gérin, jeweller (c.1825).

A hasty reply of 31 October instructed the deputy to ‘faire retirer cette enseigne comme inconvenante et contraire au bon ordre’ [have the sign removed as inconvenante and contrary to public order].43 On 17 November, the Prefect wrote again to advise the Minister that Gérin, now in Rouen, had placed the sign (referred to as an écriteau, generally a portable board for hanging) ‘non pas à l’extérieur mais dans le fond de sa boutique et il prétend qu’on n’a pas le droit de le lui faire supprimer’ [not outside his shop but in the back, and claims that no one can force him to take it down].44 A year later, with Gérin now resident in Poitiers and proudly displaying the offending sign in his shop window once more, the Prefect of the Vienne addressed a similar missive to the Minister; this time, however, the sign had apparently already provoked ‘de pénibles sensations’ [unpleasant scenes], and the (p.185) Prefect had taken the initiative of forcing Gérin to remove it ‘afin de faire disparaître au yeux du public un sujet de réflexions aussi affligeantes que scandaleuses’ [in order to hide from the eyes of the public a subject of distressing and scandalous reflections].45 In the meantime, correspondence between the Ministry and the Prefecture of Police in Paris dwelled anxiously on the problem of the sign, as well as a handbill (prospectus) that Gérin was distributing to passers-by; an otherwise innocuous document that merely listed the jeweller’s wares, it too bore the legend: ‘Au frère de la victime du curé Mingrat’ (see Figure 5.1).46 Scribbled memoranda prepared within the Ministry in January 1826 reveal a fervid desire to suppress both the handbill and, especially, the scandalous sign; all imaginable authorities, one anonymous scribe noted sadly, had been ‘inutilement compulsés’ [scoured in vain] in search of some legal rationale for doing so, but alas, none had been found.47 This did not spare Gérin from serving three days in jail in Caen for committing an offence against public order, nor from being driven from town to town or refused the hire of commercial premises on trumped-up grounds—all with the Ministry’s blessing.48

Gérin’s motivations for displaying the sign were no doubt complex, though his passionate determination to find justice for his sister surely accounted for much of his doggedness in doing so. Whether he intended his sign as political communication in its own right is, of course, another question (though possibly a moot one given the official response). ‘Il manifeste des opinions révolutionnaires’, sniffed the Prefect of the Seine-Inférieure, ‘mais ses facultés intellectuelles paraissent fort bornées’ [he displays revolutionary opinions, but his intellectual faculties appear quite limited].49 It is, nevertheless, possible for a work to be more intelligent than its author; and the Gérin sign was, in its way, something of a masterpiece. Its simple text, ‘Au frère de la victime du curé Mingrat’, was as far removed as could be from the melodramatic Mingrat of 1830: where the play was over-realized, unnecessarily explicit, and obvious, the sign was sparse, radically decontextualized, and allusive. Gérin’s enseigne and the furious official response to it are, indeed, indicative of the power of allusion noted by Stendhal; as an 1827 account of the Mingrat case put it, the enseigne ‘à elle seule, […] comprenait la substance d’un volume’ [contained within itself the substance of an entire volume].50 The sign may in fact have been even more allusive than has so far been appreciated: it is worth noting that the deputy Prefect of the Seine-Inférieure, a scribe within the Ministry of the Interior, and his correspondent in the Prefecture of Police all render the text of Gérin’s enseigne as ‘Au frère de la victime du C … Mingrat’.51 It is impossible to establish whether this semi-censorship of the word curé is an accurate reproduction of the text of Gérin’s sign, or the correspondents’ own emendation (certainly, Gérin’s handbill has the word spelled out in full).52 But since the same writers who (p.186) rendered the sign as ‘C … Mingrat’ were nevertheless willing to give Mingrat his full title when they referred to him alone, and were moreover writing privately, it seems possible that this was in fact the actual text of the sign. Such a partial omission would be comparable to the short-lived use of blanks in the press: once again, ellipsis omits the dangerous word, in the certainty that all readers will supply the (p.187) missing text without difficulty. In this way, the sign mocked the censor’s urge to suppress news of what was already common knowledge.

In any case, this incarnation of the signifier ‘Mingrat’ was disruptive because of the open-ended invitation it offered to interpretation, association, and connotation; the less the sign said, the more difficult it became to anticipate and control the responses it might elicit (which could clearly include extremes of anticlericalism that it would be legally dangerous to court by more explicit means). It was, in fact, an excellent example of what Richard Terdiman calls ‘symbolic resistance’: words, images, or actions whose subversive potential was not direct, but deniable, emerging only through interpretation.53 So while the deputy Prefect of the Seine-Inférieure and the Ministry were quick to agree that the sign was inconvenante, it was oddly difficult to say why: it was, after all, neither obscene nor violent. The sign’s greatest strength, indeed, was its non-representational character, which made it almost impossible to subject to the conventions that restricted the content of representational media such as theatre or fiction. On the face of it, the sign was engaged in the most innocuous form of signification imaginable, nomination: this man is ‘the brother of the victim of the curé Mingrat’ (the figure known as periphrasis—one much beloved, incidentally, of Chateaubriand); this is his shop. In this sense, indeed, the sign did not even ‘refer’ to Mingrat at all. The very persecution Gérin suffered for displaying it was thus a kind of hollow triumph, for the sign’s ambiguity deprived the state of any legal basis for the umbrage it had taken, and obliged it instead to resort to brute force. The sign was symbolic resistance in its purest, most powerful form.

Picturing the Scene

The Sexual MonsterCelibacy and the Anticlerical Imagination

Fig. 5.2. Marie Gérin, from Précis historique sur Mingrat (1826).

The Sexual MonsterCelibacy and the Anticlerical Imagination

Fig. 5.3. Antoine Mingrat, from Précis historique sur Mingrat (1826).

The ferocious official response to Jean-Bapiste Gérin’s sign gives the measure of the taboo weighing on evocations of clerical sexuality and crime, even very allusive ones, under the Restoration. That taboo only applied more severely, of course, to direct representations of such topics. I shall consider the precise rationale for this prohibition in a later section, but want first to consider how the various Mingrat writers challenged or flouted it. After all, whatever the allusive genius of Jean-Baptiste Gérin’s sign, he appears to have been unsatisfied with allusion alone, and allegedly aspired to something more overtly representational. As the Prefect of the Seine-Inférieure warned the ministry in November 1825: ‘J’ajoute que cet individu a annoncé en secret l’intention de faire lithographier un dessin représentant l’événement relatif à sa sœur pour l’exposer dans sa boutique’ [I would add that this individual has secretly announced his intention to produce a lithograph drawing representing the incident involving his sister, to display in his shop].54 The amount of truth in this rumour is unclear. Certainly, lithographs relating to the (p.188) affair had been made some time before 1826, though they represented Mingrat and his victim separately; these images were subsequently integrated into Charnalet’s Précis historique in 1824 and 1826 (Figures 5.2 and 5.3). A correspondent by the name of Raynaud (the same surname as the alleged author of Gérin’s pamphlet, though this may be a coincidence), writing to Le Constitutionnel in July 1825, identified himself as the artist who had ‘dessiné et lithographié cet honnête Mingrat’ [drawn and lithographed the good Mingrat] and complained that these images had subsequently been confiscated (at the behest of ‘Mont-Rouge’!); since he referred to his work as ‘le portrait de ce saint homme’ [the portrait of that holy man] these probably included the portraits that appeared in the pamphlet.55 In the trial of Le Constitutionnel in November 1825 (to which I shall return in the next section), however, Raynaud was identified as the author of ‘d’effroyables lithographies dans lesquelles le peintre a eu soin de placer toujours la scène odieuse en présence du St.-Sacrement ou de la Croix’ [frightful lithographs in which the artist has taken pains always to place the cross or the Holy Sacrament in close proximity to the odious scene]56—which suggests that lithographs of the sort of graphic composition allegedly envisaged by Gérin in November 1825 had in fact already existed. That the subversive afterlife of the Mingrat case continued to have a visual as well as a textual dimension is furthermore underscored by L’Ami de la religion’s dismayed observation, in 1827, that certain individuals had enlisted ‘le secours de l’imprimerie et de la gravure’ [the assistance of the printing press and engraving] in their dismal quest to ‘faire retentir partout les noms de Mingrat et de Contréfatto [sic]’ [make the names of Mingrat and Contrafatto ring out everywhere].57

To be sure, such explicit visual representations of the crime would have corresponded much more closely than Gérin’s sign to the early nineteenth century’s idea of the inconvenant—the inappropriate, the indecent, the improper—and it would hardly be surprising had they indeed been confiscated and destroyed by the authorities. If such lithographs ever existed, however, I have found no trace of them. But the very rumour of their existence is telling: the monster, as Demartini points out, entertains a special relationship with the visual, and the possibility of an unobscured depiction of Mingrat’s crime haunts the Mingrat case as its appalling but somehow logical conclusion.58 All the Mingrat texts seem torn between that possibility and the requirements of decorum, hinting at what might be shown while ultimately shying away. Even Laloue and Villemot, revelling in the absence of censorship in the first months of the July Monarchy, stopped short of staging Marie’s death itself, choosing instead to elide it between Acts II and III—the curtain falls on Act II with Marie and Mingrat alone in the rectory, the monster looming over his prey. Importantly, however, and even in the new political context of the July Monarchy, the authors were castigated for their decision to ‘represent’ the case at all. Le Figaro (the very newspaper that had made the most of the Mingrat case in (p.189) (p.190) (p.191) the preceding years) denounced the ‘crudité’ [vulgarity] of the authors’ choice of subject, while the Journal des Débats lamented the ‘ignoble curiosité’ [ignoble curiosity] that had drawn out the few patrons present, and attributed the play’s failure to ‘la pudeur publique’ [the public’s modesty].59 Some things were simply not to be seen, the reviewers suggested—and if in this new era, censorship ceased to protect the public from such sights, the hostile public response would do the job instead: ‘aussi le public a-t-il fait les fonctions de la censure’ [the public thus carried out the censor’s functions], noted Le Figaro. If it is true, moreover, that the strictest taboos of convenance fell throughout the nineteenth century on visual (and especially theatrical) representations of sex and violence, it is equally the case that metaphors of visuality were often used in the stigmatization of other media;60 hence the various authors of the Gérin papers bemoan his determination to ‘faire parade’ of his misfortune, and speak of the need to ‘faire disparaître aux yeux du public’ his scandalous sign. Indeed, we might observe in addition that the visibility of the sign doubtless contributed significantly to the dim view the authorities took of it—its exposure to the public view made this instance of the ‘Mingrat’ signifier particularly promiscuous and therefore particularly dangerous.

It is in relation to these broad anxieties surrounding the questions of visuality and inconvenance that the 1826 Charnalet pamphlet’s peculiar preoccupation with the visual must be understood. The pamphlet opens in the iconographic mode, with lithographs depicting a beatific Marie Gérin, eyes turned heavenward, above the legend ‘A Dieu’ [with God]; and a lowering Antoine Mingrat, clutching a Bible symbolically in his left hand, and in his right the cleaver with which he dismembered Marie. It is surely reasonable to suppose that this visual presentation of the dramatis personae was placed here to allow the reader to form a more vivid mental image of the grisly scenes that followed. Yet the demands of ‘la pudeur publique’ were certainly as stringent, if not more so, in 1826 as in 1830, and had at least to be acknowledged in a text recounting a crime of this nature. In his prefatory letter, Étienne Charnalet alleged accordingly that he would have preferred to spare the public ‘l’affreux tableau de son [Marie’s] martyre’ ([the awful spectacle of her martyrdom] PH xiii); while in embarking upon her narration, ‘Mme ***’ acknowledges the horror of the representational task she has set herself, and longs rhetorically to paint a more conventional scène d’intérieur:

Il le faut … J’ai promis de servir la cause de l’époux [et?] du frère de Marie. Au moment de commencer cette tâche pénible, je sens la plume s’échapper de mes mains … Ah! que n’ai-je à peindre la douce union qui régnait entre ces deux modèles de la tendresse conjugale! (PH 28)

[I must … I have promised to serve the cause of Marie’s husband and brother. But as I set about this painful task, I feel the pen slipping from my hands. Ah! Why may I not paint instead the sweet union that existed between these two models of conjugal tenderness?]

(p.192) In this passage of preliminary self-justification, the unwelcome, even suspect depiction of monstrosity is contrasted with the always legitimate depiction of virtue, of which Marie and her husband might in happier circumstances have served as exemplars (or modèles). These apparent anxieties of representation recur, predictably enough, when the narrative reaches its crucial moment, the detailed reconstruction of Marie’s brutal demise, which the author declares impossible: ‘Ces débas odieux et révoltans brouillent mon imagination épouvantée, et me refusent la liberté de les décrire. … …’ ([This odious, revolting flailing addles my imagination and prevent me from describing them further. … …] PH 54). That the scene is unfit for human eyes is underscored, moreover, by the suggestion that God himself cannot bear to watch: ‘Dieu même semble s’être retiré de ce lieu pour ne pas voir le crime trop voisin de son sanctuaire’ ([God himself seems to have abandoned this place, so as not to see such crime so close to his sanctuary] PH 52).Yet of course, these hyperbolic shows of reluctance are largely rhetorical. Certainly, when it is not directly engaged in such repudiations, the pamphlet’s narration of the crime is anything but reticent: on the contrary, it luxuriates in the melodramatic language already described (‘fantôme’, ‘monstre’, ‘vampire’, ‘furieux’, ‘bourreau’, and so on), while the multiple long ellipses that punctuate the description of Mingrat’s sexual assault upon Marie seem less like evidence of the narrator’s difficulty in relaying the scene, than an attempt to mimic in prose the breathless violence of Mingrat’s ‘débas odieux’ and ‘vains efforts’ ([vain efforts] PH 56–8). Ellipses and repudiations alike function as suspense-building devices, interruptions in the narrative that both pique curiosity and manipulate emotion in the reader—a device that is exemplified in the hammy exclamation: ‘Je frémis d’indignation. … … Retournons à ce théâtre d’horreur’ ([I tremble with indignation. … … Let us return to this theatre of horror] PH 56).

Put differently, this section of the pamphlet is highly literary—indeed, we might compare this scene of implied rape and violence with two others that appeared in the very same year. In the summer of 1826, society poet Delphine Gay read to the habitués of her mother’s salon a long poem on the subject of Mary Magdalene, the central episode of which involves the title character’s temptation and implied attempted ravishment by Satan. The demon lasciviously contemplates his victim’s distress before she is rescued by divine intervention:

  • A l’aspect de ses pleurs et de ses vains efforts,
  • Déjà s’abandonnant à d’horribles transports,
  • Satan la poursuivait de son regard avide;
  • Tout l’Enfer souriait sur sa bouche livide.61
  • [At the sight of her tears and vain struggles,
  • Abandoning himself already to horrid ecstasy,
  • Satan pursues her with his greedy gaze;
  • All of Hell grins in his livid mouth.]

(p.193) Meanwhile in Louisiana, in Chateaubriand’s Les Natchez (published only in 1826, though composed earlier), the villainous Ondouré murders the hero René and grievously wounds his wife Céluta—but his designs are much worse:

A la lueur du flambeau expirant, il promène ses regards de l’une à l’autre victime. De temps en temps il foule aux pieds le cadavre de son rival et le perce à coups de poignard. Il dépouille en partie Céluta et l’admire. Il fait plus … Éteignant ensuite le flambeau, il court présider à d’autres assassinats.62

[By the light of the dying torch, his gaze travels from one victim to the other. From time to time he tramples his rival’s body or drives his knife into it. He partially strips Céluta and admires her. He goes further … Then, extinguishing the torch, he hurries to oversee other murders.]

These literary scenes of sexual violence are close kin indeed to the one found in the Charnalet pamphlet:

Le monstre contemple d’un œil enflammé les beautés que cette déchirante agonie n’a point flétries encore […] Le monstre voit cet objet d’un éternel regret, et ne sent que le dépit de ne pouvoir la ranimer pour la faire expirer encore. Le besoin de pourvoir à sa sûreté l’arrache à cette contemplation criminelle. Le cadavre cesse enfin d’être souillé par ses impudiques regards … (PH 56)

[The monster contemplates with flaming eye what beauty her terrible agony has not withered. The monster sees this object of eternal sorrow, and feels nothing but disappointment that he cannot bring her back to life in order to kill her once more. The need to protect himself tears him from this criminal contemplation. At last, the cadaver is no longer soiled by his immodest gaze.…]

The continuity of this passage with the Romantic literary codes of the day is obvious; certain lexical echoes (notably ‘vains efforts’), the use of the dramatic present to narrate the moment of crisis, and a general shared tone of melodrama pervade all three to varying degrees. Perhaps more significant, however, is the centrality of vision in the three scenes: poets and pamphleteer alike appear to understand the gaze not only as the primary vector of lust, but even as a form of sexual violence in its own right. And in all three cases—though perhaps more prominently in Les Natchez and the pamphlet—there is a certain disingenuousness at work in this treatment of the gaze. In each scene, the reader is presented with a beautiful female body in distress; yet the eroticism of that image is in both cases rendered deniable by the scene’s focalization, which attributes its libidinal content to the lustful gaze of some monstrous subjectivity—Ondouré’s, Satan’s, Mingrat’s. In Marie Gérin’s murder scene, as in Céluta’s, the nineteenth-century suspicion of the inconvenant is superficially indulged, yet fundamentally flouted. The reader’s inevitable interest in Marie’s body—‘ce corps, chef-d’œuvre de la nature’ [her body, nature’s masterpiece], as it is described in an unguardedly libidinal moment (PH 56)—is very obviously fed by the text and its flamboyant adoption of literary tropes and topoi. Yet the impropriety of that interest is safely displaced onto Mingrat himself: we (p.194) look at him looking, seeing what he sees only coincidentally, as it were, and—almost—always within a frame of indignation and moral censure.

The purpose of these observations is certainly not to undermine the pamphlet’s integrity, but rather to demonstrate the strategies whereby it pursued its goals, and, more specifically, its implicit awareness that political indignation might be stimulated as effectively by appeals to the (visual) imagination as to reason. The Précis historique might even be said to have solicited precisely what Le Figaro would call in 1830 the ‘ignoble curiosité’ [ignoble curiosity] of the public, in order to channel that basic public prurience about grisly crimes (and especially sex crimes) towards the resolution of an injustice. Sure enough, the pamphlet presented a number of episodes in which curiosity acted as an instrument of truth and, indeed, of forensic revelation. In both the Gérin and Charnalet pamphlets, a sceptical villager by the name of Vial claims to have witnessed—that is, spied upon—a scene of ‘lecture pieuse’ [pious reading] between Mingrat and Marie, an occupation ‘à la fois innocente et perverse’ [at once innocent and perverse] in which the priest’s seemingly spiritual words are belied by ‘des gestes bien significatifs pour une autre que Marie’ ([gestures with a clear meaning for any other than Marie] PH 49–51).63 These alleged obscene gestures, which pass the chaste Marie by, are nevertheless interpreted aright by the sharp-eyed—and sexually initiated—Vial, who sees in them Mingrat’s lustful purpose (which he then eagerly relays to the rest of the village). In an analogous later episode, the Charnalet pamphlet quotes the decisive formal testimony of Mingrat’s own servant who, alerted by strange noises within the rectory, took it upon herself to ‘grimper sur le portail afin d’essayer de voir ce qui s’y passait dedans’ ([climb up on the gate to try and see what was going on inside] PH 59). What she claimed to have seen there was, inevitably enough, ‘désordre’ [disorder]—a literal use of what would later become one of nineteenth-century France’s most capacious signifiers of social pathology (PH 59). This almost improbably convenient scene of seeing is a perfect mise-en-abyme of the pamphlets’ central objective: the creation of Mingrat as an object of irresistible curiosity, a cynosure upon which, as the pamphlet puts it repeatedly, ‘tous les yeux étaient fixés’ (PH 41, 76). The power of the Mingrat case lay, in other words, in its mesmerizing inconvenance.

Publicity and Scandal

The sense that the Mingrat case was an unsuitable subject for representation was not, of course, a mere question of taste; or rather, questions of taste themselves were in this period (and doubtless remain today) indissociable from moral questions concerning the effects of certain representations on viewers and readers. According to one influential early nineteenth-century view, the public representation of immorality only bred more immorality, by spreading knowledge of vice among a (p.195) presumptively impressionable people. Commentators on the Mingrat affair therefore necessarily had to contend with and defend against this moral logic in their attempts to publicize the crime. In November 1825, the editors of Le Constitutionnel appeared before the Cour royale de Paris, accused of a historically particular criminal offence whose very name reflected this preoccupation with texts’ influence on readers: the crime of damaging the respect due to the State religion (porter atteinte au respect dû à la religion de l’état). During the proceedings, reference was frequently made to the liberal newspaper’s treatment of the Mingrat affair. Addressing the Court for the prosecution, solicitor general Jacques-Nicolas de Broé claimed to expose the ‘véritable esprit des perpétuelles répétitions du Constitutionnel à ce triste sujet’ [true spirit of the Constitutionnel’s endless rehearsal of this sorry subject]—namely, ‘la haine acharnée de la religion’ [a tireless hatred of religion].64 Reporting on the trial in that same month, the broadly conservative Journal des Débats breathed the monster’s name for the first time, though only to denounce, following de Broé, the hypocrisy of Le Constitutionnel’s allusions to him: ‘Le Constitutionnel revient sans cesse, par la plus déplorable perfidie, à l’affaire du curé Mingrat’ [Le Constitutionnel returns endlessly, and with deplorable perfidiousness, to the Mingrat affair].65 The real motive of these repeated references was not, the Débats contended, a desire to see justice served, but rather the irresistible ‘liberal’ urge to ‘exciter les passions’ [raise passions] against the Church and its ministers.

A year later, in taking note of the Gérin prosecution, L’Ami de la religion similarly questioned the intent of those organs which reported so eagerly a matter the Ami itself had found it more tasteful to avoid—at the same time articulating perfectly the notion that representations of vice were dangerous:

Tout le monde a gémi de l’horrible affaire du malheureux Mingrat, et si nous n’en avons point entretenu nos lecteurs, ils en ont pénétré le motif. Ils savent que nous ne rendons point compte ordinairement de ces crimes dont trop de journaux recueillent les détails. Ici, les faits étoient si atroces, que l’imagination en étoit épouvantée, et cependant il semble que certaines gens éprouvent quelque plaisir à les raconter et à en répandre la connoissance parmi le peuple.66

[All were appalled by the affair of the wretched Mingrat, and if we have not discussed the matter with our readers, they have no doubt guessed the reason: they know that we do not normally give an account of these crimes, details of which may be found in all too many newspapers. The facts of this case were so atrocious as to horrify the imagination. Yet it would appear that certain people are taking some pleasure in recounting them, and widening knowledge of them among the people.]

Yet when accusations of this nature were made by de Broé before the Parisian Court, the liberal lawyer André Dupin, acting for Le Constitutionnel, cited a (p.196) countervailing duty to speak, in a rhetorical flourish that apparently stimulated a ‘mouvement dans l’auditoire’ [stir in the public gallery]:

N’est-ce pas surtout en présence du scandale de l’impunité, et tant qu’elle dure, qu’il importe de redire le crime […]? Oui, Messieurs, il est permis, il est du devoir des écrivains de dire toujours et de répéter sans cesse: Mingrat! Mingrat!67

[Isn’t it especially important, when faced with the scandal of his ongoing impunity, to talk about the crime again and again? Yes, gentlemen, it is permissible—it is the very duty of writers—to tell of the crime, and to repeat endlessly: Mingrat! Mingrat!]

These opposing positions deserve further scrutiny. To be sure, one remarkable fact of Restoration politics is the eagerness with which all political factions attributed bad faith to their adversaries; another is that they were invariably right to do so. It is almost certainly true that Le Constitutionnel’s dogged pursuit of the Mingrat story was due, at least in part, to its desire to damage the Church’s reputation, and by extension that of the government; and it is doubtless equally true that the conservative press’s reticence on the subject stemmed as much from a concern to avoid such damage as from a genuine desire to preserve the public in a state of spiritual innocence. Political hypocrisy alone, however, seems an inadequate explanation for these opposing points of view; more importantly, even if we accept that both positions were to some extent disingenuous, the very terms in which that disingenuousness found refuge nevertheless point to a significant conceptual and historical shift. From the modern point of view, René-Henri de Réalmont is no doubt right to deplore, in his analysis of the Mingrat affair, the fact that eminent prelates and influential aristocrats should have persuaded the government that ‘ce qui est grave n’est pas le crime mais le scandale’ [scandal is a more serious problem than crime].68 Yet this formulation, in treating its key term—‘scandal’—ahistorically, fails to appreciate that the proposition ‘scandal is worse than crime’ was at the very least rationally articulable in early nineteenth-century France. Indeed, the Mingrat affair makes visible a historical fault-line in the very notion of scandal, one that may be clearly traced in the Académie dictionary of 1835. There, scandale is defined as:

Ce qui est occasion de tomber dans l’erreur, dans le péché. […]

SCANDALE, signifie plus ordinairement, Occasion de chute que l’on donne par quelque mauvaise action, par quelque discours corrupteur. […]

Il se dit aussi de l’indignation qu’on a des actions et des discours de mauvais exemple.

Il se dit encore de l’éclat que fait une action honteuse.69

[What occasions someone to fall into error or sin.

Scandal more usually means, occasion to fall [into sin] that one gives by some wicked deed or corrupting discourse.

(p.197) It is also said of the indignation caused by deeds and words that set a bad example.

It is also said of the outcry that greets a shameful deed.]

Of these four senses, only the last two resemble our modern definition of the word. The other two express a now largely defunct notion, at least partly biblical in derivation, of scandal as a mimetic danger, a model of sin offered for imitation by the people.70 Indeed, the danger of representations of vice, and the demoralizing effects of those representations upon an impressionable populace, is what early nineteenth-century moralists understood by the word scandale. This understanding, which we might call the ‘pathogenic model’ of scandal, was evidently widely accredited in Restoration France, and emerges very clearly both in the conservative press, and in official documents relating to the Mingrat case. Gérin’s sign was suppressed ‘afin de faire disparaître au yeux du public un sujet de réflexions aussi affligeantes que scandaleuses’ [in order to hide from the eyes of the public a subject of distressing and scandalous reflections], while on 30 August 1824, the Prefect of the Isère informed the head of the Police Générale in Paris that Mingrat remained in Piedmont ‘au grand déplaisir de nos jacobins, qui se trouvent privés du scandale qu’aurait procuré cet épouvantable procès’ [to the great dismay of our local Jacobins, who are thus deprived of the scandal that such a horrid trial would have caused].71 While we may find the Prefect’s attitude frankly malevolent, it ought more properly perhaps to be considered simply alien; for this Restoration conservative, the hypothetical trial of the priest Mingrat may indeed have seemed no less ‘épouvantable’ than the ‘épouvantable événement’ [horrid event]—the rape and murder of Marie Gérin—to which he unselfconsciously referred in the very same paragraph.

The fact that this pathogenic definition of scandal was generally understood, if no longer universally accepted, under the Restoration is evidenced once again in both the Gérin and Charnalet pamphlets’ self-justifying prefatory remarks. There, the authors seek to make clear that if they have chosen to exploit a strategy they call, in the abstract and apparently pejoratively, ‘publicity’, they do so only reluctantly, and as a last resort. The supposed author of the 1824 Notice historique notes that, the authorities having failed to extradite Mingrat, ‘il ne restait plus qu’un moyen au malheureux frère pour satisfaire une aussi légitime vengeance: la publicité’ ([there remained only one means available to the poor brother to obtain his just vengeance: publicity] NH 3); while Gérin himself qualifies this notion in his own preface:

Cependant le moyen que vous voulez bien m’aider à employer aujourd’hui répugnait à mon cœur: c’était le dernier que j’eusse voulu prendre. Il sied mieux à un cœur ulcéré de cacher dans l’ombre ses douleurs que de les produire en public. Mais le choix ne m’était pas donné … il me fallait parler pour dévoiler ses forfaits et les flétrir. (NH 67)

[Yet the medium that you are helping me to employ today revolted me at first; it is the last I should have liked to have used. It is more fitting for a wounded heart to hide its (p.198) sorrows in the shadows, than to display them in public. But I had no choice … I had to speak out, to reveal and revile his misdeeds.]

Charnalet, in a similar introductory letter, expresses an identical sentiment: ‘Ce moyen de publicité n’est employé ici qu’après avoir épuisé tous ceux que les lois et le trône promettent à tous les hommes’ ([the medium of publicity is used here only after all others promised by the law and the throne have been exhausted] PH xiv).

Yet once again, these strategic statements of reluctance were belied by the more belligerent tone of the rest of the piece. As Charnalet’s ghostwriter ‘Mme ***’ made clear: ‘j’ai fait vœu de […] dire la vérité, toute la vérité, rien que la vérité’ ([I have sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth] PH viii). Among her specific aims is the desire to ‘dénoncer à l’indignation publique’ [hold up to public indignation] those churchmen who have protected Mingrat or argued for his innocence—to provoke, that is, a ‘scandal’ in the Académie’s third sense.72 Scandal as a destructive force, on the other hand, appears in the pamphlets as a characteristic of the monstrous priest and his behaviour, and is therefore not the responsibility of those who denounce him. In his former parish, the Gérin pamphlet observes, he was known to have had all manner of ‘aventures scandaleuses’ ([scandalous adventures] NH 8); ‘son presbytère devint un lieu de scandale’ [his rectory became a place of scandal], the Charnalet author notes, while in Saint-Quentin, his conduct was equally ‘scandaleuse’ ([scandalous] PH 41, 44). Most explicit on this matter, however, is the treatment of the case found in Causes criminelles célèbres du XIXe siècle, a sensational four-volume canard of liberal and anticlerical sensibility published between 1827–8. The ‘société d’avocats’ [society of lawyers] to whom the work is attributed deplore not only Mingrat’s ‘vie scandaleuse’ [scandalous life] but also the ‘prônes scandaleux’ [scandalous sermons] of those clerics who had attempted to exonerate him, and the ‘débats scandaleux’ [scandalous struggles] of the various prosecutions brought against Jean-Baptiste Gérin.73 In vindicating the Gérin and Charnalet pamphlets against conservative disapproval, moreover, the authors insist that Marie’s loved ones have merely ‘tradui[t] devant l’opinion publique le misérable’ [brought the wretch before the court of public opinion], before asserting boldly: ‘Enfin […], si des récits d’un fait véritable il résulte du scandale, il vaut mieux laisser naître le scandale que de renoncer à la vérité’ [if in the end the recounting of a real event provokes a scandal, it is better to have scandal than to give up on the truth].74

In this sense, the discourse surrounding the Mingrat case illustrates the culmination of the process traced by Robert Darnton, whereby the ludic, carnivalesque libelles of the Ancien Régime, which had revealed the vice of the powerful yet ‘reduced power struggles to the play of personalities’, yielded to the humourless, overtly moralizing denunciations of the sins of those in power which characterized (p.199) the Revolutionary period.75 This was also the process whereby, in Sarah Maza’s apt phrase, ‘the metaphor used to describe the public sphere shifted from that of the theater to that of the courtroom’.76 In the 1820s, we might say, this form of ‘correctional’ publicity had begun to co-opt the very term—scandale—that had previously been the name of an influential and entirely opposite moral concept. A defensive moment from Founier-Verneuil’s 1826 satire on Parisian mores illustrates this shift very neatly. Having discussed at length the prevalence of sodomitical vice within the capital, especially amongst the clergy and aristocracy, Fournier offers the following justification for his evocation of unpleasant topics:

Me reprochera-t-on de mettre trop à nu des vices aussi honteux? Je répondrai que, lorsqu’il s’agit de rendre hommage à la vérité, il faut compter pour rien le scandale qui peut en naître. Dire la vérité est un devoir. Il est rare que celui qui le remplit soit assez heureux pour pouvoir le faire sans choquer personne. Le vrai scandale est pour ceux qui font le mal.77

[Perhaps I will be rebuked for having revealed so many shameful vices? I will reply that, when it comes to paying tribute to the truth, the scandal that might arise should count for nothing. To speak the truth is a duty. One rarely has the good fortune to fulfil this duty without shocking anybody. The true scandal lies with those who do evil.]

‘The true scandal lies with those who do evil’: this daring rhetorical move rejects centuries of moral wisdom about the public discussion of sexual vice. The discourse of the Mingrat pamphlets reflects this newer, ‘liberal’ model of scandal, one that we can recognize, for better or worse, as that of our own society: scandal as therapeutic. As a pseudo-judicial ‘tribunal of public opinion’—a metaphor used in Causes criminelles and taken by Offenstadt and Van Damme as constitutive of the true political affaire78—scandal and publicity were now moral forces allowing for the extirpation of disorder from the social body.

Privacy and Secrecy

The punitive exposure in the public sphere sought by the pamphleteers must then be understood both in opposition to official Church morality in general, and more specifically as the antithesis of the moral strategy of secrecy found in the Catholic confessional—a secrecy that the anticlerical writers of the time regarded not simply as ineffective, but even as inherently immoral, the site of an ideological violation (p.200) which Mingrat’s crime merely literalized. ‘Combien d’affaires à étouffer, si tout ce qui se passe en secret avait des suites évidentes […]!’ cried Courier. The confessional, as we have seen, captured the great pamphleteer’s imagination in particular as a space of worrying secrecy; this ‘espèce d’armoire, de guérite’ [sort of cabinet or closet] in which priests encounter their female parishioners and insinuate themselves ‘dans la confiance, l’intimité, le secret de leurs actions cachées’ [in the confidence, the intimacy, the secrecy of their most hidden actions] was, Courier implied, presumptively immoral.79 To the anticlerical mind, the Mingrat case, in which confession in an obscure ‘arrière-cabinet’ ([back room] PH 54) became the opportunity for rape and murder, thus spoke the truth of the confessional in general. The Charnalet pamphlet’s scenes of seeing, in which Vial spots the obscene gestures concealed beneath Mingrat’s moral language, and Mingrat’s servant spies ‘désordre’ in his rectory, were thus equally mises-en-abyme of this other ideological objective: to render the spaces of confessional and clerical secrecy—the ‘espèce d’armoire’, the ‘arrière-cabinet’—penetrable to the anticlerical gaze of ‘des yeux justes et pénétrans’ ([just and penetrating eyes] PH 76), and to make publicly visible the sexual disorder that lay at their heart.

There is little doubt, of course, that this desire to see all was a political one. In her account of ‘liberal romanticism’ under the Restoration, Corinne Pelta notes that the pursuit of ‘transparency’ was both an aesthetic and political objective of the oppositional thought of the age; the Restoration liberal longed to ‘s’introduire dans les lieux les plus intimes de la société’ [enter the most intimate spaces of society] as a political project.80 That project was a direct continuation of Revolutionary pamphlet culture, which, in Darnton’s words, ‘challenged an earlier form of princely sovereignty based on arcana imperii, or secrets of state’.81 It was not, then, merely the authorities’ hostile response, characterized by an explicit suspicion of ‘jacobins’ and ‘révolutionnaires’, that lent the Mingrat pamphlets political significance.82 Their attack upon secrecy, in the form of the confessional and the suppression of public discussion of the case, was clearly an attack upon secrecy as the modus operandi of the publicity-averse Restoration authorities. The Fenestrelle Fortress (where Mingrat was eventually held, as the French say, au secret) was as repugnant to this worldview as the confessional—merely another secret space that frustrated the public desire to see justice done and smacked of Old Regime extrajudicial punishment. Indeed, despite frequently protesting its apolitical humility and innocuousness, the Gérin pamphlet ended with something that sounded very much like a direct threat to these outmoded governmental practices, which could not, the pamphlet alleged, survive in a modern—meaning post-Revolutionary—world:

Aujourd’hui tout finit par avoir de la publicité. Toute autorité, fondée sur le respect, sur des bases mystérieuses, s’écroule. Le meilleur artifice du gouvernement est la (p.201) justice, et l’égalité, qui n’est autre chose que la justice. Cette égalité des citoyens devant la loi est le premier, le plus important des articles de la Charte. (NH 71–2)

[Today, everything receives publicity in the end. All authority founded on mere respect or on mysterious bases is crumbling. The government’s best strategy is justice, and equality, which is justice by another name. The equality of citizens before the law is the first and most important article of the Charter.]

The broad, explicitly political language used here identifies the pamphlet itself as an example of oppositional political discourse (rather than merely a single-issue petition), and established from the outset the usefulness of the Mingrat affair to the subsequent critique of Restoration government, as its open secret par excellence. Let us call this form of secrecy, adopting once more that favourite Revolutionary watchword, secrecy as privilege: meaning on the one hand, the withholding of supposedly sensitive and thus privileged information from the public, and on the other, arbitrary, secretive government action according to an unwritten ‘private law’ repellent, as the passage above made clear, to the 1814 Charter’s guarantee of legal equality.83

Yet importantly, this liberal contestation of secrecy in public life was often accomplished by the contestation—at least, the symbolic contestation—of privacy and private life. It is worth noting that the celebration of private life as the middle-class value par excellence, though well under way by the 1820s, effectively substituted the phrase vie privée for reproductive bourgeois marriage. No other form of private behaviour enjoyed any special symbolic status in the nineteenth century, and the peculiar historical and political circumstances of the Restoration even gave rise to an oppositional suspicion of non-marital privacy as, more often than not, just another form of secrecy—a conspiracy of the few against the many. This, we might say, is the equal and opposite form of the sexual paranoia at work in the Olivier novels: while the protagonists there felt constantly under scrutiny from a malevolent society, this oppositional idée fixe sees counter-revolutionary plotting in every intimate exchange. It may perhaps be best apprehended in its most extreme example, namely, the requirement of absolute publicity in sexual relations prescribed by Charles Fourier in his unpublished manuscript Le Nouveau Monde amoureux (begun in around 1817). In Harmony, his future utopia, lovers are strongly discouraged from isolating themselves from the rest of the group, and none may love another secretly: ‘toute accointance étant connue […] rien ne peut être caché’ [since all liaisons are publicly known, nothing can be concealed].84 These rules were for Fourier as much political as erotic in character, as Jonathan Beecher explains:

Fourier’s vision of a new amorous world thus incorporates and in a sense caricatures Rousseau’s dream of a society in which people might be ‘transparent’ to each other, in (p.202) which relations between individuals might be direct, spontaneous, and uncomplicated by guile and imposture. […] This insistence on openness and transparency was accompanied […] by a questioning of the worth of privacy and of the exclusive ties that might be formed between individuals.85

Now Fourier had precious little in common with the self-interested politicians—future men of the July Monarchy—who represented liberalism under the Restoration; nor did they have any use for his dizzying brand of sexual science. Yet despite their phenotypic differences, this wild dream of transparency was informed by the Rousseauian inheritance of the revolutionary era and shaped by the opacity of the Restoration, and thus shared a political genotype with the broader oppositional culture of the time. To be sure, few Restoration thinkers possessed the imaginative genius to fantasize about mounting giant mirrors in the sky, the better to observe illicit lovers besporting themselves in the woods.86 Yet Fournier-Verneuil’s scandal-provoking account of aristocratic sodomy, or the Olivier novels’ gleeful pseudo-revelations about the marquis de Custine’s sexual tastes reveal something of the same anti-intimate spirit; as does a chapter of Cuisin’s La Vie de garçon, where the peeping-tom hero drills a spyhole in the wall of the ‘Grand dortoir des Ultra’ [Great Dormitory of the Ultras] to reveal the wicked political plotting afoot within.87 Though there is more—and conceivably better—sex to be had in Fourier’s Harmony than in the France envisaged by the likes of Fournier-Verneuil and Cuisin, all appear to agree on the pressing civic importance of knowing what people get up to in the dark.

The same conviction underpins the Mingrat texts. The Charnalet pamphlet, for instance, recounts that following the discovery of Marie’s body, suspicion fell immediately on the curé, with the lack of physical evidence only spurring the villagers’ determination to get their man: ‘On se promet tout bas de pénétrer bientôt le secret mal gardé de l’infâme pasteur’ ([they whisper a promise that they will soon uncover the ill-kept secret of the vile pastor] PH 76). This phrase, rendered in the present tense, presents an important double meaning: the resolution expressed here is not only the villagers’ to reveal the historical Mingrat’s private secret (his lust for Marie Gérin), but also the author’s to reveal the public secret of ‘Mingrat’ as an affaire. And if the author of the pamphlet, in promising to proceed ‘le flambeau de la vérité à la main’ [with the torch of truth in hand] and to shine a ‘vive lumière’ [bright light] on Mingrat’s crime, was undoubtedly aware of the ‘revolutionary’ (or, more precisely, counter-counter-revolutionary) implications of such language, what she claimed to illuminate was nevertheless as much the most intimate aspects of the monster Mingrat as some public injustice:

Les replis de ce cœur où tous les genres de crimes semblent s’être réfugiés, n’auront plus rien de secret, le flambeau de la vérité à la main, je suivrai le coupable. Le manteau (p.203) sacré dont il était revêtu, tombera. C’est l’homme seul que je veux peindre. Je répandrai une vive lumière sur ses moindres actions; faible, mais courageuse, je déchirerai le voile dont on a voulu couvrir son horrible attentat. (PH ix–x)

[The inner reaches of a heart in which all sorts of crimes have made their home will have no secrets for me; the torch of truth in hand, I shall pursue the culprit. The sacred robe in which he clothed himself will fall. I shall paint the man alone. I shall cast a bright light on his smallest deeds; weak yet courageous, I shall tear down the veil with which his horrible crime has been covered.]

In this statement of purpose, indeed, which associates the intimate with the secret and the criminal, the author situates both Mingrat’s private person and his crime as hitherto hidden objects ripe for unveiling; while Courier pointedly turned his attention away from the Mingrat affair as public secret, towards the private sexual desire of priests: ‘je sais là-dessus leur secret’ [I know their secret], he hissed, intimating that the sexual desire of an entire class of people might be a matter of legitimate public concern.88 Put differently, Courier suggested that a frank discussion of certain aspects of sexuality—the most indicatively secret of topics in the early nineteenth century—would be required if this social ill was to be satisfactorily addressed. More importantly, however, it was not only their adversaries’ private business that the Gérin and Charnalet pamphlets exposed to public scrutiny—but also their own. As we have seen, the sponsors of both pamphlets recorded a certain reluctance to publicize a trauma that it would be better to ‘cacher dans l’ombre’ ([hide in the shadows] NH 6), or a loss that ought to be ‘pleuré en secret’ ([wept over in secret] PH xiii). As the official correspondence relating to Jean-Baptiste Gérin made clear, however, it would have suited the authorities only too well for Gérin to have respected the usual limits of privacy and mourned ‘en secret’ what he chose instead to display in his shop window—and they were determined to impose such decorum upon him by whatever means were necessary. The pamphlets’ shows of reluctance only underscored the power of the notion of privacy to stifle certain forms of public speech, and thus to protect vested interests and the status quo as much as—indeed more than—the individual.

To these early nineteenth-century oppositional writers, then, ‘liberty’ meant not the celebrated ‘right to be let alone’ of the twentieth century, but rather, and much as it did for their immediately pre-Revolutionary forebears, the right to reveal one’s grievances publicly, and to know of the private sins of others—though the ramifications of this liberal urge to publicity can only be gestured towards here. While Sarah Horowitz has shown how the prefectural apparatus of the Restoration intruded with uncommon alacrity upon the private life of the King’s subjects, the Mingrat pamphlets reveal a different response to such espionage than the flight into intimacy and secrecy adopted by Horowitz’s political elites.89 Instead, they stage a sort of counter-intrusion, forcing the domain of privacy even further open, to public as opposed to merely state scrutiny. Of course, the circumstances of the (p.204) Mingrat affair were so signally appalling, the injustice of the case so real as to make such an intrusion eminently justified. Nevertheless, the Mingrat episode already displayed the hallmarks, and even exploited the structures, of an all-too familiar modern arrangement: one in which curiosity and scandal function as the self-righteous instruments of moral enforcement.


In Le Vicaire des Ardennes, the eponymous cleric Joseph records in a memoir an episode from his childhood alongside Mélanie (whom he believes to be his sister), on his father’s plantation in the French Antilles. Joseph recounts how he had become suspicious of one of his father’s black slaves, who was in the habit of staring at the lovely Mélanie with an ‘infernal regard’. One day, while the presumed siblings were out taking a walk, the slave pounced:

Le nègre fondit sur Mélanie, et, la prenant dans ses bras, il s’élança vers les montagnes avec la rapidité de l’éclair. Je le suivis en courant de toutes mes forces, et en faisant retentir la forêt de mes cris de détresse. En poursuivant le nègre, je le forçais à la retraite; et, tant qu’il courait, j’étais tranquille sur le sort de Mélanie, dont les pleurs et les sanglots me déchiraient le cœur. Elle se débattait avec son ravisseur et retardait sa fuite, mais ce dernier atteignit un endroit écarté, et là, déposant à terre Mélanie, il la couvrit de baisers.90

[The Negro descended upon Mélanie and, taking her in his arms, sprang towards the mountains like a flash. I followed, running as fast as my strength allowed, all the while making the forest ring out with my cries of distress. My pursuit forced him to retreat, and as long as he was running, there was hope for Mélanie, whose tears and sobs tore at my heart. She struggled with her ravisher, slowing his flight. But he eventually reached an isolated place, and there, laying Mélanie on the ground, he began to cover her with kisses.]

Joseph soon catches up with the slave, as do two slaves loyal to their master, who promptly kill the first, while Joseph rescues Mélanie:

Mélanie ne fut pas témoin de ce meurtre, je l’avais prise dans mes bras, et, rapide comme une flèche, je l’emportais […]. Ma sœur pleurait à chaudes larmes, obéissant à un vague sentiment de pudeur, de coquetterie que je ne pourrais définir; et moi, pendant ce temps, je l’inondais de baisers enflammés, cherchant ainsi à la purifier et à effacer la souillure imprimée par ceux du nègre effronté. […] Ce moment m’éclaira: je vis quelle était la nature de l’amour que je portais à ma sœur!…

[Mélanie did not see him murdered: I had taken her in my arms, and, like an arrow, was carrying her off. My sister wept hot tears, in obedience to some hard to define sense of modesty or coquettishness. I, meanwhile, flooded her with burning kisses, in an attempt to purify what had been soiled by the kisses of that presumptuous Negro. This moment enlightened me. I finally understood the nature of my love for my sister.…]

(p.205) Even beyond its disagreeable racial vision, this is an odd, uncomfortable scene, one that reveals much about early nineteenth-century French conceptions of male sexuality. There can be no doubt, surely, that the slave’s ultimate intention is to rape Mélanie; and in any case, he has in very fact ‘ravished’ her, in the sense of, carried her off for sexual purposes, the crime known in French as rapt. Of course, the episode is supposed to be sensational, even shocking. Yet what is most striking about the passage is not the slave’s wicked behaviour, bur the symmetry between that behaviour and Joseph’s response: each man in turn seizes the girl violently, runs off with her to a place of relative isolation, then, barely rational, showers her with a frenzy of kisses. Joseph’s epiphany—‘je vis quelle était la nature de l’amour que je portais à ma sœur! … ’—is predicated on that very pattern; he finally understands his own desire in the mirror afforded by the slave’s, and in the ‘aveugle fureur’ [blind fury] provoked in him by the appearance of a rival. The racism of Balzac’s depiction of the slave, meanwhile, lies not so much in the suggestion that he is somehow subhuman, but rather in the assumption that the uncultured Negro is closer to the universal truth of human nature—meaning male human nature—and can therefore serve to ‘enlighten’ the less impulsive white narrator about desire.

The episode suggests, in other words, that violence and force are constitutive of male sexuality—an idea which, as we saw in Chapter 1, enjoyed a certain cachet among the Romantics of the period. The hero of Nodier’s Thérèse Aubert, we recall, longed to seize his beloved ‘du droit de la force et de l’amour’ [by the right of strength and love] and carry her off, ‘palpitante de terreur et de joie’ [palpitating with terror and joy] to some shady valley.91 Terms such as rapt, ‘ravishment’, and even ‘rape’ did not, as we know, originally stigmatize non-consensual sex per se, but rather, sex with a woman belonging to another—as their derivation from the Latin rapere, ‘to steal’, makes clear. The tendency to imagine masculine desire as characterized by an urge for conquest, domination, and the exertion of force moreover helps explain a certain cultural presumption whereby any successful rapt was also assumed to have included rape, and whereby a woman who had spent any time alone with a man not her husband was thought necessarily to have been ‘dishonoured’.92 That presumption figures, indeed, in Le Vicaire des Ardennes; when the adult Mélanie is again kidnapped and imprisoned, this time by the love-struck pirate Argow, he explains to her that the only course available to her now is to marry him: ‘Comment pourrez-vous reparaître dans le monde après avoir passé quinze jours chez moi?’ [how can you show your face in society after spending a fortnight in my house?], he asks.93 The mere opportunity for sex was on this showing synonymous with its occurrence, for how could male nature fail to take its course, given the chance?94

(p.206) I cite these examples to underscore one of the central paradoxes of the Mingrat case: the treatment of Mingrat’s crime as at once monstrous and natural, as shockingly excessive and logically necessary. Tellingly, the various pamphlets give no sense of what evidence led investigators to accuse Mingrat of rape as well as murder—certainly, Marie Gérin’s direct testimony was not available. But Restoration readers needed no such explanations: they were, so to speak, culturally preconditioned to see male violence as an expression of male sexuality, and—at least in many cases—politically predisposed to regard priests as being less able than most men to control their ‘natural’ urges. As we have seen, indeed, Courier’s pamphlet was at pains to insist on the normality of the man Mingrat and the lust he harboured towards his parishioner—a normality which, of course, only made the rape more certain. Given the ‘true’ nature of masculine desire, the intensification of that desire by a life of celibacy, and the opportunity afforded by the seclusion of confession, rape in this case was as much an ideological certainty as a legally discoverable fact.

One question remains: who was Marie Gérin? The most silent figure in this horrific story reaches us as little more than a cipher: twenty-six years old, a wife, a sister; and, as all the texts insist, a model of all the womanly virtues—‘la plus belle, la plus vertueuse, la meilleure des femmes’ ([the most beautiful, the most virtuous, the best of women] PH xii). In their treatment of Marie, the Mingrat pamphlets reflect an earlier and, to be sure, more extreme version of a sexist system of values that still persists today, a system of values that requires rape victims to be ‘innocent’—meaning, invariably, sexually innocent—if they are to be deemed worthy of public sympathy, or even regarded as victims at all. From the opening plate, where Marie, eyes turned heavenward, is commended ‘à Dieu’, and which resembles in every stereotyped particular the image of Mélanie that opened Balzac’s Le Vicaire des Ardennes, the Charnalet pamphlet insists on her saintly demeanour, her unblemished character, her piety, her sense of conjugal duty, and so on. The only ‘défaut’ [flaw] the texts acknowledge in Marie Gérin is one that lends itself perfectly to their ideological purpose: Marie was allegedly wont to ‘quitter trop souvent les soins de son ménage pour assister […] aux missions, aux premières communions, et autres dévotions extraordinaires’ [abandon the care of her household to attend sermons, first communions, and other extraordinary devotions].95 Her flaw, that is, is the one attributed to womankind in general by generations of free-thinking but sexist Frenchmen before and since: an excess of piety, one that led her away from the protection of her menfolk and into the hands of a lascivious priest. In every other particular, we are assured, she was perfection itself.

First among her virtues, the pamphlets everywhere imply, was chastity. No doubt, in that opening portrait, Marie’s flowing locks more closely recall the iconography of the Magdalene than that of the Mother of God. Yet we need only consider Delphine Gay’s poem, to which I have already alluded, to understand how even the traditional figure of the fallen woman might be pressed into conformity with early nineteenth-century norms of gender. While Gay’s poem is entitled (p.207) ‘La Tentation de la Madeleine’, the temptation it depicts is, as we have seen, more obviously that of a lustful Satan confronted by the young woman’s beauty, devouring her with his ‘regard avide’ [greedy gaze], than that of Mary herself. The Magdalene, thus shorn of her own desire, becomes instead a figure of desirability, tempting rather than tempted.96 The same fate befalls her namesake Marie Gérin in the Mingrat pamphlets: while her lavish femininity in the opening lithograph establishes her as an object of male desire and therefore sympathy, the texts equally seem to hint, without ever stating explicitly, that Marie died a virgin. Their insistence, for instance, that the lewd gestures glimpsed by the witness Vial had no meaning whatsoever for Marie, credits her with a degree of obliviousness about sexual matters more consistent with contemporaneous depictions of unwed girls, than with those of married women. We are no doubt meant to understand the Vial episode as demonstrating that the virginal Marie is so unsullied by desire that she—unlike Balzac’s Joseph—cannot even recognize it in another. The scene, which seems at the very least heavily embroidered, tells us nothing about the real-life Marie—what she knew, what she desired, what kind of intimacy she might have shared with her husband, or anyone else for that matter. The virginity implied here is not literal, but figural: the scene secures her status as an ideal image of feminine innocence, and thus her especial value as a martyr in the greater cultural struggle with which her death became embroiled. Marie’s physical body, having so horribly served Mingrat’s sexual needs, was translated into a symbolic one, and immediately called upon to serve the differently distorting representational needs of the culture war. No doubt Jean-Baptiste Gérin and Étienne Charnalet were absolutely sincere in their desire to obtain justice for the woman they knew. But the texts they have left us do not allow us to know her in turn. For us, Marie Gérin will never be anything other than a perfect victim.


(1) Précis historique sur Mingrat, ex-curé de Saint-Quentin (Isère) (Paris: chez Gérin 1826), p. 86 [The excitement spreads, a murmuring of voices is heard, repeating a single word; and that word was … Mingrat!]; Gaspard de Pons, Constant et Discrète, poème en 4 chants (Paris: Renard and Boucher, 1819), p. 24 [What a shame: the people have eyes].

(2) The indictment and judgement are reproduced in Causes criminelles célèbres du XIXe siècle, 4 vols (Paris: H. Langlois, 1827–8), II, 354–8.

(3) See the correspondence of Sardinian diplomat Alfieri de Sostegaligno, cited in René-Henri de Réalmont, Un crime dans le presbytère d’une paroisse du Dauphiné (dans la nuit du 8 au 9 mai 1822)… (Grenoble: Alzieu, 2002), pp. 84–8.

(4) When I speak of ‘anticlerical and liberal circles’, I do not mean to imply that the two were absolutely synonymous; the case of François-Dominique de Reynaud, comte de Montlosier, author of the incendiary Mémoire à consulter sur un système religieux et politique, tendant à renverser la religion, la société et le trône [Memorandum on a religious and political system tending towards the overthrow of religion, society and the throne] (1826), demonstrates that it was at least possible to be staunchly monarchist and ferociously anti-Jesuit. The fact remains, however, that there was a widely perceived association between liberalism and anticlericalism; while, as Serge Desplanches has shown, by July 1830, anticlericalism was the fundamental unifying language of the liberal, republican, and Bonapartist lefts. See Serge Desplanches, ‘Autour des ordonnances du 16 juin 1828: les mutations du débat politique à travers les brochures’, Revue de la Société d’Histoire de la Restauration, 1 (1988), 69–75 (p. 74).

(5) See for instance Dominique Kalifa, Crime et culture au XIXe siècle (Paris: Perrin, 2005).

(6) See Michel-Louis Rouquette, La Rumeur et le meurtre: l’affaire Fualdès (Paris: PUF, 1992);

and Anne-Emmanuelle Demartini, L’Affaire Lacenaire (Paris: Aubier, 2001).

(7) James F. McMillan, ‘Catholic Christianity in France from the Restoration to the Separation of Church and State, 1815–1905’, in The Cambridge History of Christianity: World Christianities c.1815–c.1914, ed. by Sheridan Gilley and Brian Stanley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 217–32 (p. 217). On the anticlericalism of the Restoration, whose dominant strain was always anti-Jesuit, see Geoffrey Cubitt, The Jesuit Myth: Conspiracy Theory and Politics in Nineteenth-Century France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 5–104; and René Rémond, L’Anticléricalisme en France de 1815 à nos jours (Paris: Fayard, 1976), pp. 70–80.

(8) See for instance Élisabeth Claverie, ‘La Naissance d’une forme politique: l’affaire du chevalier de La Barre’, in Critiques et affaires de blasphème à l’époque des Lumières, ed. by Philippe Roussin (Paris: Champion, 1998), pp. 185–260.

(9) J.-P. Royer, R. Martinage, and P. Lecocq make clear just how vexed the question of judicial independence from political pressure was in this period. They acknowledge, however, that the life-tenure of judges (confirmed by Louis XVIII in 1815) did create a sense of independence among those on the bench. See Juges et notables au XIXe siècle (Paris: PUF, 1982), pp. 294–306.

(10) Dominique Kalifa, ‘Qu’est-ce qu’une affaire au XIXe siècle?’, in Affaires, scandales et grandes causes, de Socrate à Pinochet, ed. by Luc Boltanski, Élisabeth Claverie, Nicolas Offenstadt, and Stéphane Van Damme (Paris: Stock, 2007), pp. 197–211 (pp. 201, 204). This deficiency can, in fact, be witnessed very precisely in the Mingrat case. In May 1825, the Gérin family transmitted a petition in support of Mingrat’s extradition to Casimir Perier, liberal deputy for Paris and a son of Grenoble, and thus in theory an ideal candidate to start an affaire. Yet Perier, evidently queasy at the prospect of involvement in this unpleasant case, passed the petition on for treatment by the Chambre des Pairs—whose deliberations were, conveniently, secret. See Précis historique, xvii–xviii; and Réalmont, Un crime, p. 92.

(11) Nicolas Offenstadt and Stéphane Van Damme, ‘Introduction: une longue histoire’, in Affaires, scandales et grandes causes, pp. 7–18 (pp. 10–11).

(12) Le Figaro, 17 October 1826, p. 4.

(13) See Cubitt, The Jesuit Myth, p. 85 (n. 115). Mingrat’s name was frequently cited alongside denunciations of the Jesuits, especially as anti-Jesuit feeling intensified from 1826 onwards, though the man himself had no association with the Society of Jesus. See especially J.-P. Pagès, De la censure, lettre à M. Lourdoueix (Paris: imprimerie David, 1827), pp. 7, 10–11; Joannès Desmalis, Le Cri d’alarme, ou la France aux prises avec l’hydre jesuitique (Paris: chez les marchands de nouveautés, 1828), pp. 3, 10; and Épître à Montlosier, par un séminariste (Paris: chez les marchands de nouveautés, 1829), p. 47.

(14) Ferdinand Laloue [‘M. Paul’] and Henri Villemot, Mingrat, mélodrame en quatre actes (Paris: P.-J. Hardy, 1831).

(15) The play, which had sporadic additional performances, received uniformly horrible notices in the Journal des Artistes of 31 October 1830, the Journal des Comédiens of 1 November 1830, Le Figaro of 27 October 1830, the Journal des Débats of 4 April 1831, and the Revue de Paris, 20 (1830), p. 63. All the reviews note poor attendance as well as an unimpressed, even hostile audience.

(16) Laloue and Villemot, Mingrat, p. 4 (I.i), p. 13 (I.viii).

(17) The first pamphlet, Notice historique sur le crime commis par Mingrat, ex-curé de Saint-Quentin … publié par le frère de la victime (Paris: n. pub., 1824), is attributed on its title page to ‘Me Pauline Raynaud’, but was sold by Marie Gérin’s brother, Jean-Baptiste Gérin, from his travelling jewellery stall. The later Précis historique is attributed to ‘Madame ***’ but ‘publié par Étienne Dory Charnalet’; I cite this in the revised edition of 1826, which also contained a portrait of Antoine Mingrat. Subsequent references to both pamphlets are given parenthetically in the text with the abbreviation NH or PH. To these two can be added the similarly dramatic account, at least partly adapted from Charnalet’s pamphlet, to be found in Causes criminelles célèbres, II, 291–358.

(18) Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Considérations sur les monstres, comprenant une théorie de la monstruosité (Paris: J. Tastu, 1826), p. 14.

(19) Demartini, L’Affaire Lacenaire, pp. 71–4 (p. 72).

(20) Paul-Louis Courier, ‘Réponse aux anonymes qui ont écrit des lettres à Paul-Louis Courier, vigneron, no 2,’ in Une écriture du défi: tous les pamphlets, ed. by Michel Crouzet (Paris: Kimé, 2007), pp. 384–93 (p. 385). For a reading of this pamphlet, see Rémond, L’Anticléricalisme, pp. 73–6.

(21) Tim Verhoeven, ‘The Satyriasis Diagnosis: Anti-Clerical Doctors and Celibate Priests in Nineteenth-Century France’, French History, 26 (2012), 504–23. Verhoeven cites relatively few Restoration examples, but Nicolas Adelon’s Dictionnaire des sciences médicales, 60 vols (Paris: Panckoucke, 1812–22), already presented all the lieux communs of this argument. On satyriasis and erotomania, see also Alain Corbin, L’Harmonie des plaisirs: les manières de jouir du siècle des Lumières jusqu’à l’avènement de la sexologie (Paris: Perrin, 2010), pp. 149–50.

(22) Priests and monks continued to feature in the trickle of Restoration pornography, both in word and image, as they had at the end of the Ancien Régime. See for instance Hic et hec, ou l’art de varier les plaisirs de l’amour et de la volupté, enseigné par les R. P. Jésuites et leurs élèves, 2 vols (London: n.pub., 1815).

(23) Vincent Fournier-Verneuil, Paris, tableau moral et philosophique (Paris: n. pub., 1826), p. 282; Pierre-Jean de Béranger, ‘Les Révérends Pères’ (dated December 1819), in Chansons de P.-J. de Béranger, 4 vols (Paris: Baudouin Frères, 1826), II, 41–4 (p. 41).

(24) On the Contrafatto case, see Affaire du prêtre sicilien Contrafatto (Paris: Warée fils, 1827). Contrafatto was tried (in camera) and sentenced to forced labour for life on 2 February 1828; his name frequently appears alongside Mingrat’s in anticlerical pamphlets, though Mingrat was by far the more common reference point.

(25) Note that these pseudo-medical ideas were by no means confined to the writing of medical professionals, but were commonly debated in the numerous pamphlets attacking or defending the institution of clerical celibacy that appeared in the early nineteenth century. See for instance Henri Grégoire, Histoire du mariage des prêtres en France, particulièrement depuis 1789 (Paris: Baudoin, 1826); J. Bonicel, Considérations sur le célibat des prêtres (Geneva: Bonicel, 1826); Joseph Jauffret, Du célibat des prêtres (Paris: Delaunay, 1828); M. G***, Dissertation sur le célibat attaché aux ordres sacrés (Le Mans: Monnoyer, 1829); and Amours et intrigues des prêtres français, depuis le XIIIe siècle jusqu’à nos jours, ou les désordres, malheurs et crimes, qui sont le fruit du célibat des prêtres (Paris: chez les marchands de nouveautés, 1830), which has a section devoted to Mingrat (pp. 185–92).

(26) Rémond, L’Anticléricalisme, p. 73.

(27) Courier, ‘Réponse aux anonymes’, p. 391.

(28) G. P. Legret, Épître à Rome sur le célibat des prêtres (Paris: chez les marchands de nouveautés, 1830), p. 6.

(29) Courier, ‘Réponse aux anonymes’, p. 393.

(30) See Procès fait aux Chansons de P.-J. de Béranger (Paris: n. pub., 1821); and Procès faits aux Chansons de P.-J. de Béranger (Paris: Baudouin Frères, 1828).

(31) See, for instance, in Le Constitutionnel: 12 July 1824, pp. 3–4; 17 July 1824, p. 1; 19 June 1825, p. 1; 2 July 1825, p. 4; 20 July 1825, p. 1; 30 September 1826, pp. 3–4; in L’Écho du Soir: 19 August 1826, p. 4; in Le Figaro: 5 June 1827, p. 552; 2 January 1828, p. 2; 6 January 1828, p. 2; 7 January 1828, p. 2; 23 January 1828, p. 3; 9 August 1828, p. 2; 9 August 1829, p. 2; 20 August 1829, p. 2; 29 January 1830, p. 3; 22 June 1830, p. 2; in La Semaine: 25 January 1829, p. 3; 10 September, 1829, p. 1; and in Le Grondeur: 17–18 June 1829, p. 1. And in pamphlets: Pagès, De la censure, pp. 7, 10–11; Jacques Arago, Le Fond du sac, ou les rognures de la censure (Bordeaux: imprimerie de Laguillotière, 1827), p. iv; Desmalis, Le Cri d’alarme, pp. 3, 10; and Épître à Montlosier, p. 47.

(32) Jacques Dürrenmatt, ‘Allusion et obscurité: violence et langage dans les chroniques stendhaliennes’, in Stendhal, journaliste anglais, ed. by Philippe Berthier and Pierre Louis Rey (Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2001), pp. 213–26 (p. 214); Stendhal, Chroniques 1825–1829, ed. by Henri Martineau, 2 vols (Paris: Le Sycomore, 1983), I, 224.

(33) Le Figaro, 9 August 1829, p. 2.

(34) See AN F7/9416 (12009 A); dossier under the name ‘Gérin, Jean-Baptiste’.

(35) See Sudhir Hazareesingh, The Legend of Napoleon (London: Granta, 2004), pp. 51–3.

(36) AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 11.

(37) Alan B. Spitzer, ‘The Bureaucrat as Proconsul: The Restoration Prefect and the police générale’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 7 (1965), 371–92 (p. 373).

(38) ‘La majeure partie du clergé français désire autant que ses concitoyens la punition de l’assassin’ [the majority of the French clergy wish to see the killer punished as much as their fellow citizens], affirmed the author of the Notice historique (p. 3). Yet the Prefect of the Isère warned the Minister of the Interior on 29 May 1824 that the Mingrat case ‘a diminué sensiblement l’influence qu’y exerçaient les curés, et le respect qu’on avait pour la religion’ [significantly diminished the influence of priests in the region, and the public respect for religion], and described on 30 August the galvanizing effect the Gérin ‘brochure’ had already had on the local ‘révolutionnaires’ (AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 8, 11). This panicked response is partly explained by the fact that Grenoble and the Dauphiné, having overwhelmingly supported Napoleon during the Hundred Days, remained politically suspect localities to Restoration authorities.

(39) L’Ami de la religion et du roi, 15 November 1826 (vol. 50, no 1280), p. 7.

(40) See Le Constitutionnel, 30 September 1826, p. 4.

(41) See Causes criminelles célèbres, II, 386–7. The reluctance of local magistrates (in various regions) to collude in the persecution of Gérin no doubt reflects a longstanding tension between the Restoration judiciary and over-bearing Prefects; see Royer, Martinage, and Lecocq, Juges et notables, pp. 294–6.

(42) AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 14. In this chapter, I have chosen to leave the adjective inconvenant untranslated; its range of connotations runs from ‘inappropriate’ or ‘misplaced’ to ‘indecent’ or ‘obscene’.

(43) AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 15.

(44) AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 16.

(45) AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 31; letter of 28 October 1826.

(46) AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 18–22; letters of 26 November 1825, 20 December 1825, and 4 January 1826.

(47) AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 23, 24.

(48) See Causes criminelles célèbres, II, 387.

(49) AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 16.

(50) Causes criminelles célèbres, II, 387.

(51) AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 14, 20, 22.

(52) AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 19.

(53) See Richard Terdiman, Discourse/Counter-Discourse: The Theory and Practice of Symbolic Resistance in Nineteenth-Century France (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985).

(54) AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 16.

(55) Le Constitutionnel, 2 July 1825, p. 4.

(56) ‘Plaidoyer de M. de Broé’, in Procès du ‘Constitutionnel’ et du ‘Courrier,’ accusés de tendance à porter atteinte au respect dû à la religion de l’état (Paris: Warée fils, 1826), p. 53.

(57) L’Ami de la religion et du roi, 24 October 1827 (vol. 53, no 1358), p. 336.

(58) Demartini, L’Affaire Lacenaire, pp. 73–4.

(59) Le Figaro, 27 October 1830, p. 3; Journal des Débats, 4 April 1831, pp. 2–3.

(60) For an authoritative account of these broad aesthetico-moral questions, see Jonas A. Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), esp. ch. 10.

(61) Delphine de Girardin (née Gay), ‘Magdeleine’, in Poésies complètes (Paris: Librairie Nouvelle, 1856), pp. 3–59 (p. 42); this section of the poem is dated June 1826. In his memoirs, the comte d’Haussonville notes that Mme Gay’s guests were somewhat shocked by the tone of this passage, with certain protective mothers wondering whether they should permit their daughters to listen. See comte d’Haussonville, Ma jeunesse, 1814–1830 (Paris: Calmannn Lévy, 1885), pp. 282–3.

(62) François-René de Chateaubriand, Œuvres romanesques et voyages, ed. by Maurice Regard, 2 vols (Paris: Gallimard, 1969), I, 563.

(63) See also Notice historique, p. 12. In Laloue and Villemot’s play, the hypocrisy became more pointed: the ‘pieuse lecture’ is a reading from none other than Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse.

(64) ‘Réponse de M. de Broé’, in Procès du ‘Constitutionnel’ et du ‘Courrier, p. 26. Two of the articles specifically targeted in the indictment made reference to Mingrat (19 June and 20 July 1825), though the oral arguments drew attention to other articles concerning him and his name occurred frequently in the course of the trial.

(65) Journal des Débats, 20 November 1825, p. 4.

(66) L’Ami de la religion et du roi, 15 November 1826 (vol. 50, no 1280), p. 7.

(67) ‘Plaidoyer de M. Dupin aîné dans l’affaire du Constitutionnel’, in Procès du ‘Constitutionnel’, pp. 103–4.

(68) Réalmont, Un crime, p. 69.

(69) Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, 2 vols (Paris, 1835), s.v. ‘Scandale’ (II, 711). The word ‘occasion’ here should be understood in a technical sense as meaning something like ‘potential cause’ (cf. OED: ‘A person who causes or brings about something; esp. one who does so incidentally’).

(70) Cf. Luke, 17. 1, generally translated in French as ‘Malheur à celui par qui le scandale arrive’.

(71) AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 31, 11.

(72) ‘Mme ***’ alludes here to Claude-Marie Bochard, Superior of the seminary in Grenoble, who had visited Mingrat in jail and preached a sermon casting suspicion on Gérin himself. See Notice historique, pp. 98–9; Réalmont, Un crime, pp. 67–9; and Courier, ‘Réponse aux anonymes’, p. 388.

(73) Causes criminelles célèbres, II, 300, 302 (n. 1), 386.

(74) Causes criminelles célèbres, II, 292, 361.

(75) Robert Darnton, The Devil in the Holy Water, or the Art of Slander from Louis XIV to Napoleon (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), p. 5; on this shift, see in particular ch. 29.

(76) Sarah Maza, Private Lives and Public Affairs: The Causes Célèbres of Prerevolutionary France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 17.

(77) Fournier-Verneuil, Paris, pp. 337–8.

(78) See Offenstadt and Van Damme, ‘Introduction’, pp. 12–16, on the ‘tribunal de l’opinion publique’ [tribunal of public opinion]; cf. Causes criminelles célèbres, II, 292, where the authors state their aim to ‘traduire devant l’opinion publique le misérable’ [summon the wretch before the court of public opinion].

(79) Courier, ‘Réponse aux anonymes’, pp. 393, 390, 391.

(80) Corinne Pelta, Le Romantisme libéral en France, 1815–1830: la représentation souveraine (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2001), p. 108.

(81) Darnton, The Devil, p. 99.

(82) AN F7/9416 (12009 A), 11 (letter of 30 August 1824).

(83) Equality before the law was indeed guaranteed in article 1 of the Charte constitutionnelle of 1814. See Les Constitutions de la France depuis 1789, ed. by Jacques Godechot (Paris: Flammarion, 2006), p. 219.

(84) Charles Fourier, Le Nouveau Monde amoureux [c.1817–], in Œuvres complètes, ed. by Simone Debout Oleszkiewicz, 12 vols (Paris: Anthropos, 1966–8), VI, 268.

(85) Jonathan Beecher, Charles Fourier: The Visionary and His World (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1986), p. 316.

(86) See Beecher, Fourier, p. 316.

(87) J.-P.-R. Cuisin, La Vie de garçon dans les hôtels garnis de la capitale, ou l’Amour à la minute (Paris: au Palais Royal, 1820), pp. 75–87.

(88) Courier, ‘Réponse aux anonymes’, p. 391.

(89) See Sarah Horowitz, ‘Policing and the Problem of Privacy in Restoration Era France, 1815–1830’, French History, 27 (2013), 45–68, pp. 58–65.

(90) Honoré de Balzac, Le Vicaire des Ardennes [1822], in Premiers romans, 1822–1825, ed. by André Lorant (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1999), pp. 144–417 (p. 226).

(91) Charles Nodier, Œuvre romanesque (Paris: Paleo, 2007), p. 197.

(92) See Andrew J. Counter, ‘Tough Love, Hard Bargains: Rape and Coercion in Balzac’, Nineteenth-Century French Studies, 36 (2007/2008), 61–71 (pp. 61–2).

(93) Balzac, Le Vicaire des Ardennes, p. 358.

(94) Note that this cultural presumption, which was founded on an older, patriarchal discourse of honour, coexisted alongside a newer, legal understanding of rape—that of the Code Pénal of 1810—that was distinctly modern, and in which viol was defined as a crime against the raped individual (adult or child, and of either sex).

(95) Causes criminelles célèbres, II, 347.

(96) Gay’s poem is, on the other hand, an excellent example of the failure of sexual ideology: composed and read aloud in public by an unmarried twenty-year-old woman who was, evidently, as capable of understanding Satan’s appetites as Mary’s innocence, the poem’s very existence undermines the ideological fiction it promotes.