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Women's Literary Networks and Romanticism"A Tribe of Authoresses"$

Andrew O. Winckles and Angela Rehbein

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786940605

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781786940605.001.0001

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Mary Shelley and Sade’s Global Network

Mary Shelley and Sade’s Global Network

(p.245) Chapter Nine Mary Shelley and Sade’s Global Network
Women's Literary Networks and Romanticism

Rebecca Nesvet

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Since the 1930s, critics have assumed that Frankenstein’s allusions to Donatien-Antoine-François Sade's controversial novel Justine are somehow accidental. This essay contends that Mary Shelley in fact had profound knowledge not necessarily of Justine, but of Sade’s tale ‘Eugénie de Franval’, which concludes his multivolume compilation Les Crimes de l’amour(1800). This tale anticipates many aspects of Mary Shelley’s two earliest novels, Frankenstein and Mathilda; too many to be ‘coincidental’. The ‘Eugénie de Franval’ character Monsieur Clervil anticipates Frankenstein’s Henry Clerval, while Mathilda can be read as a variation on ‘Eugénie de Franval’. Mary Shelley’s debt to Sade complicates the longstanding interpretation of his nineteenth-century global network of literary protégés as a gentleman’s club and reveals a great deal about her performance as a reader and self-fashioning as an author.

Keywords:   Mary Shelley, Sade, Frankenstein, Mathilda, Mario Praz, incest, French literature, network, de Beauvoir, Réage

On the evening of 7 August 1814, Mary Godwin (later Shelley), her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley and her stepsister Jane ‘Claire’ Clairmont set out from Paris to explore the French countryside. A seven-mile trudge brought them to the town of Charenton-St-Maurice. As Mary Shelley later wrote in her History of a Six Weeks’ Tour (1817), Charenton was ‘prettily situated in a valley through which the Seine flows, winding among banks variegated with trees’. Claire initially finds Charenton the best of all possible habitations. ‘Oh! this is beautiful enough; let us live here’, she begs. As ‘every new scene […] surpasse[s] the one before’, she declares herself ‘glad we did not stay at Charenton, but let us live here’.1

The sisters’ observations seem particularly naïve because the valley’s most prominent feature was neither the river nor the trees but the local mental hospital, which the Napoleonic regime had engaged to conceal certain not so beautiful aspects of French society. In 1814, the hospital housed several political provocateurs, against their will. One such patient was the naval surgeon, philosopher, and pamphleteer Victor Mariette (alias Victor Wreight). Another, the disgraced revolutionary Jacob Dupont, had attended the National Convention, where he preached atheism.2 But the most notorious of Charenton’s political detainees was Donatien-Alphonse-François, Comte de Sade. At his death in December 1814, Sade’s undesired stay at Charenton had lasted thirteen years.

(p.246) Was Mary Shelley’s Charenton day trip her closest encounter with Sade, or did she also read his fiction? Critics have long doubted that she did. Mario Praz’s seminal work of Romanticism, La carne, la morte e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica (1930), translated in 1933 as The Romantic Agony, claims that Mary Shelley named the Frankensteins’ persecuted servant girl Justine, ‘like Sade’s unhappy virtuous heroine’ only ‘by an odd coincidence’. Praz finds the Justine imagery in Mary Shelley’s Valperga equally accidental. ‘All Mrs. Shelley did’ for Sade’s literary legacy ‘was provide a passive reflection of some of the wild fantasies’ invented by Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, whom he assumes had in fact read Justine.3 In other words, Mary Shelley appropriated those men’s knowledge of Sade’s text, having none of her own.

Today, many scholars concur with Praz’s assumption. D. L. Macdonald and Katherine Scherf’s Broadview teaching edition of Frankenstein maintains that Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley certainly read Sade, but Justine Moritz is only ‘possibly named after the heroine of Justine’ (emphasis mine).4 According to Wendy Steiner, ‘we do not know whether Mary Shelley had in fact read Sade’ (or Justine) but must assume that her husband or Byron did.5 Several other critics make the same statement in substantially similar language.6

I propose that Mary Shelley in fact had profound knowledge not necessarily of Justine, but of Sade’s tale ‘Eugénie de Franval’, which concludes his multivolume compilation Les Crimes de l’amour (1800).7 A ‘tragedy of incest’ wherein an ancien régime libertine secretly seduces his own daughter, ‘Eugénie de Franval’ has been judged ‘one of [Sade’s] two or three best novella-length works’.8 I will argue that this tale anticipates many aspects of Mary Shelley’s two earliest novels, Frankenstein and Mathilda: too many to be ‘coincidental’. The ‘Eugénie de Franval’ character Monsieur Clervil anticipates Frankenstein’s Henry Clerval, while Mathilda can be read as a variation on ‘Eugénie de Franval’.

Mary Shelley’s participation in Sade’s network of literary influence deserves critical attention in part because that network has long been assumed categorically to exclude women. Mary Shelley’s reinventions of ‘Eugénie de Franval’ challenge the longstanding assumption that Sade’s nineteenth-century global network of literary protégés was exclusively a gentleman’s club. Her participation in this network deserves attention also because of its implications about her self-fashioning as an author and our understanding of her performance of gender, or, more specifically, of her performance of the role of the female reader and author among the Romantics.

Sade’s Global Network

‘I address myself only to those persons capable of hearing me’, Sade once declared.9 For much of his literary afterlife, Sade’s successors have maintained that women do not ‘hear’ Sade, or else hear him in different ways than men do. A nineteenth-century myth maintained that any woman who read Sade’s clandestinely-published works would become morally corrupt, prove herself destined to such corruption, or go mad. An indicative version of this myth appears in Frédéric Soulié’s novel Les Mémoires du Diable (1838), which in the 1840s was translated and serialized in the Illustrated Penny Novelist as a ‘penny blood’, or cheap fiction serial targeting working-class readers but read more widely.10 In Les Mémoires du Diable, protagonist François Armand, Baron de Luizzi, voyeuristically watches a young woman imprisoned without any entertainment resources excepting one book. Boredom, it seems, forces her to read the book, alarming Luizzi once he sees its title: Justine, or, in Soulié’s words, ‘l’ouvrage immonde du Marquis de Sade, ce frénétique et abominable assemblage de tous les crimes et de toutes les saletés’ (‘The unclean work of the marquis de Sade, that insane and abominable conglomeration of all crime and filth’). Luizzi is immediately concerned for the female reader: not because she is imprisoned, but because she is apparently reading Sade. ‘Cette jeune fille serait-elle un de ces êtres fatalement marqués pour l’infamie et le désordre?’ (‘That young girl, is she one of those beings fatally marked for infamy and derangement?’ (88)). She proves she is not such a being by refusing to read Sade’s text. Instead, she uses the white spaces on the printed pages to demonstrate her innocence by writing her own memoir, in her own blood. It (p.248) is telling that both she and Luizzi apparently know Justine, by reputation if not from direct reading experience. The scene suggests that any sane woman cannot have read Justine. With this subtext, Soulié promotes the superstition that even though Sade’s works are extremely difficult to access, the rare woman who obtains such access must resist reading.

Moreover, the Penny Novelist version suggests that it is the responsibility of those men (like himself) who do know Sade’s work, at least by reputation, to limit access to it. In order to keep the English reading nation pure from Sadeian contamination, the Penny Novelist’s translator censors Soulié, by omitting the title Justine and much of the description of that work quoted above. In the Penny Novelist text, Luizzi ‘read[s] the title of the work, which he was horror-struck at finding to be one —, the reading of which proved how lost the being before him must be to every feeling of delicacy or horror’.11 The knowledgeable disciple of Sade, already welcomed into his posthumous network of readers, would be able to fill in the translator’s literal blank, while the typical, naïve reader would remain in the dark. In a novel whose plot turns on the supposedly malevolent influence of Sade upon female readers, the translator strives to acknowledge his own participation in Sade’s network while keeping the uninitiated out of it. And, as we have seen, Soulie’s superstition maintains that the uninitiated must include any sane, virtuous woman or girl.

Even today, literary-biographical tradition maintains that ‘good’ women recoil from Sade’s fiction. Reportedly, Annabella, Lady Byron was ‘horrified’ to discover her husband’s clandestine possession of a volume of Sade, and this discovery caused her to declare her husband mad – without her having read the book herself. This anecdote has been resoundingly discredited, but some modern biographers and scholars continue to advance it. Joshua D. Gonsalves (2006) argues that Lady Byron’s ‘horror’ at finding Sade in Byron’s ‘secret hiding place’ was not only a historical reality, but was a manifestation of her fear of ‘conjugal sodomy’.12 The nineteenth-century proliferation of such superstition could not have encouraged either men or women to seek women in Sade’s posthumous literary network.

Frequently in Sade’s afterlife, he has played the libertarian martyr to decidedly female manifestations of censorship. This narrative makes his (p.249) posthumous network’s lack of female readers a mark of his literary genius, and of the fine taste of the men who do appreciate his writing. This notion was promoted by one of the most zealous of nineteenth-century Sade aficionados, the Victorian poet Algernon Swinburne. Calling Sade ‘the Martyred Marquis’, Swinburne revered him. ‘[W]hat, indeed, do I not owe him?’ Swinburne asked, and declared himself ‘indebted’ to Sade for ‘whatever I have inadequately been able to express with regard to my sentiments toward God and Man’. Swinburne imagined a network of heroic Sade disciples oppressed by a hegemony which is explicitly characterized as female. According to Swinburne, ‘the chains of the Goddess virtue’ impede the wider reading public’s recognition of ‘the true worth of this Great Man’.13 The woman who fears Sade’s effect on her sanity or reputation had morphed into Woman-as-censor of Great Men. In this myth, women did not read Sade because they could not recognize his genius. Their revulsion proves this genius, and that of the men who dare to explore it, like Swinburne.

Even after the poet-playwright Guillaume Apollinaire’s 1909 attempt to reclaim Sade for the French literary canon, in part as a proponent of gender equality, prominent male keepers of the flame still claimed that Sade spoke primarily to male readers. They often made male-only lists of writers whom Sade influenced or who offered major evaluations of his work. Early in this tradition, Praz argued that the writers who flourished in ‘the shadow of the Divine Marquis’ were a global fraternity. He finds ‘the Romantics […] profiting by the theories of the Divine Marquis’ on the operation of evil in the world (p. 125). ‘[T]he perverse Saint-Fond in Juliette spoke just like [Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Count Francesco] Cenci’, while ‘the tortures described by Justine are of the kind which Sade’s Justine suffered’ (pp. 133–4). Praz also identifies Sadeian echoes in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Sensitive Plant (p. 134) and contends that ‘responsibility for the subject matter’ of Jules Janin’s L’Âne mort et la femme guillotine (The Dead Donkey and the Guillotined Woman) ‘must be credited to […] the Marquis de Sade’ (p. 143). In Soulié, Praz finds another reluctant disciple, as Les mémoires du diable ‘hinges upon the axiom’, promoted by Sade, of the ‘prospérités du vice and malheurs de la vertu’ or the ‘profits of vice and troubles of virtue’, after Sade’s summaries of Justine and Juliette’s respective résumés (pp. 146–7). Gustave Flaubert’s response to Sade was nothing short of ‘obsession’; Praz reads Flaubert’s Tentation as ‘from beginning to end an orgy à la Sade’, while Madame Bovary’s interest in ‘des livres extravagants ou il y avait des tableaux orgiaques avec des sitations sanglantes’ [‘outrageous books in which there are orgiastic scenes and bloody situations’] is ‘an obvious allusion to Sade’ (p. 171). While that is a convincing argument, Praz dismisses ‘the same kind’ of devil as (p.250) Soulié’s Sadeian one ‘in Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein’ (p. 147). Praz’s Sade’s shadow covers only other men.

Praz’s all-male Sadeian network-construction is hard to accept because it is possible that he never in fact read Sade. Only a year after the appearance of the English version, Geoffrey Gorer observed the ‘extraordinary’ identicality of all Praz’s quotations from Sade’s Justine and Juliette with those that appear in Georges Lafourcade’s earlier (1928) monograph Swinburne’s ‘Hyperion’ and other Poems, with an Essay on Swinburne and John Keats, and concluded that he was ‘not certain’ that Praz had actually read Sade.14 Praz apparently merely masqueraded as a member of Sade’s network of influence. It is therefore particularly galling that in The Romantic Agony Praz argues that ‘authoresses’ are capable only of ‘female imitativeness’, not original literary achievement and that he declares not only Sade’s posthumous Romantic-era network but the entire ‘literary tradition’ a ‘monopoly of man’ (pp. 112–13).

The male monopoly myth of Sade’s network of literary influence grew throughout the twenty-first century. In 1935 Paris, Pierre Bataille and Pierre Klossowski founded the anti-fascist group Contre-attaque upon the principles of ‘Sade, Fourier, and Nietzsche’.15 This platform envisions Sade within a network that includes both modern and historical male nodes, but no female ones. The writers who had belonged to Contre-attaque and their avant-garde compatriots produced a relative flood of scholarly responses to Sade, including Bataille’s La valeur d’usage de D. A. F. de Sade (The Use Value of D. A. F. de Sade, 1930), Jean Paulhan’s ‘Le Marquis de Sade et sa Complice’ (‘The Marquis de Sade and his Accomplice’, 1946), Klossowski’s Sade ma prochain (Sade my Neighbour, 1947), and Maurice Blanchot’s Lautréamont et Sade (1949). Some of these works were first printed as part of the critical apparatus of new Sade. Uniformly, the authors tend to see Sade’s global network of influence as an all-male one. Paulhan declares that Sade was the ‘favourite reading’ of Alfred de Lamartine, Charles Baudelaire, Swinburne, Barbey d’Aurevilly, the ‘Comte de Lautréamont’ (pseudonym of the Uruguayan poet Isidore Lucien Ducasse), Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Franza Kafka, and ‘on a slightly different plane’, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and Octave Mirbeau. All these writers, of course, are men. Moreover, Paulhan imagines his readers – including the next generation of Sade-inspired cultural provocateurs – as men only. ‘Not only does [Sade] invite us to slay our neighbours and our parents’, Paulhan maintains, ‘he would have us kill our own wives’.16 In 1950s France, (p.251) the only readers who might have ‘wives’ are men, so Paulhan clearly imagines the readers of his Sade essay as a gentlemen’s club – or a perverse double of the Académie, to which Paulhan belonged.

Also appearing in 1951 was Simone de Beauvoir’s monograph Faut-il brûler de Sade? (Must we burn de Sade?). In this work, de Beauvoir argues for Sade’s universality with respect to reader gender, but also fashions herself as an exception to the rule that Sade speaks only to men. ‘No one’, she claims, ‘has emphasized with more vigour the link between the imagination and what we call vice, and he gives us, from time to time, insights of surprising depth into the relation of sexuality to existence’. He also gives de Beauvoir a rhetorical scenario wherein she can contrast herself with the typical woman and especially the typical wife. ‘It was through Renée-Pelagie’, Sade’s embattled wife, that he ‘came to know all the insipidity and boredom of virtue’, de Beauvoir claims.17 Her affirmation that virtue is boring suggests that she agrees this is also a risk of 1950s female notions of female ‘virtue’.

Recycling the Swinburnian stereotype of the Divine Marquis scourged by female hypocrisy, de Beauvoir enlists Sade to work out some of her own issues about her place as a woman in her predominantly male avant-garde community. Having disparaged Sade’s wife, she also concedes that this woman was ‘not his enemy, but a choice victim, a willing accomplice’ – as was de Beauvoir herself to her lover Jean-Paul Sartre when she lost her job at a lycée for recruiting schoolgirls as his sexual conquests. The book even seems most autobiographical when it is most fixated upon the minute details of Sade’s life, for instance in de Beauvoir’s meticulous, didactic ‘Table of Women with Whom the Marquis de Sade Has Sexual Relations and Whose Names Have Been Recorded’. Many entries try to diminish his responsibility by dehumanizing these women: the data for the ‘vocation’ column includes ‘Ladies of Easy Virtue’ and ‘Beggar’ and noticeably does not include his sixteen-year-old mistress Madeleine Leclerc, whom he apparently met at Charenton, where she worked.18

Elsewhere in De Beauvoir’s monograph, her Sade seems a double of Sartre. ‘Madame de Sade fostered the intrigue between her sister and the Marquis’ she claims, ‘lent her support to the orgies at the Chateau of La Coste’, and ‘even went so far as to inculpate herself’ while he ‘never displayed the least gratitude’ (p. 20). De Beauvoir’s Sartre, like her Sade, is a ‘Martyred Marquis’: surely sadistic, but also a philosophical genius on the right side of history. Her treatment of Sade and Madame de Sade sheds light on the kinds of cognitive acrobatics that a mid-twentieth-century woman in the Parisian avant-garde community had to perform to be accepted, and to accept herself.

(p.252) Even after Faut-il brûler de Sade, critics tended to maintain the idea of an all-male Sadeian network. In 1952, the regular New Yorker contributor Edmund Wilson objected to Heine and Gorer’s whitewashing (as Wilson saw it) of Sade’s crimes, claiming that in their narrative, Sade was ‘a courteous and considerate gentleman […] persecuted by vulgar harlots’ for his original thought.19 Gorer defended this view, in a 1953 instalment of the New Yorker regular feature aptly titled ‘Department of Amplifications’.20

In the 1960s, when Sade’s works were published above ground in English translation for the first time in history, the anonymous Grove Press ‘Publisher’s Preface’ (1965) argued for Sade’s significance on the grounds that Andre Breton, Paulhan, Blanchot, Klossowski, de Beauvoir, and Maurice Nadeau considered Sade ‘a writer of the first importance, and one that must be taken very seriously’.21 Again, all the authors listed excepting de Beauvoir are men. Finally, it is notable that despite being billed as the ‘first complete English translation of representative works by the Marquis de Sade’, the Grove Press edition is not in fact complete because it omits the epigraph of La philosophie dans le boudoir: ‘La mère en prescrira la lecture à sa fille’. (‘The mother will assign this reading to her daughter’).22 Although obviously facetious, a burlesque of the conduct literature of his time, this epigraph was censored by the very editors, translators, and publisher who celebrated themselves for defying over a century of earlier censors. What in that sentence so unsettled them that they would compromise the accuracy of their work by its removal?

What happened when women tried to insinuate themselves into Sade’s posthumous network of disciplines? An answer to this question was provided by the journalist and novelist Anne Desclos, Paulhan’s lover, who under the pseudonym Pauline Réage, wrote the erotic novel L’ histoire d’O. (1954). The rhetorical exigency to which Desclos responded in creating L’ histoire d’O. was Paulhan’s insistence that no woman could write an erotic novel like those of the Marquis. She proved him wrong, and made it clear that her triumph was a reinvention of Sade’s Justine and Juliette. Repeatedly avowing Sade’s influence, l’Histoire ‘knowingly combines the viewpoints of the hapless victim Justine and her vice-embracing sister Juliette’ and is ‘in any case, highly Sadeian’. Further linking L’ histoire d’O. with Sade, it was first published by Jean Pauvert, Sade’s modern publisher and biographer. As (p.253) Pauvert’s publication of Sade was the subject of a sensational 1956 censorship trial, he was thereafter strongly associated with Sade’s writing.23 Nevertheless, the Sade canon-building sources mentioned above, from Fowler to Seaver and Wainhouse to Paulhan himself, failed to include Réage in any of their lists of Sade protégés.

One reason why Réage had to be scrubbed from the network by the very men who invited her into it is suggested by Paulhan’s comrade Blanchot. Claiming that Rousseau’s critique of Justine (itself a knowing burlesque of Rousseau’s own Julie, ou la Nouvelle Hélôïse) included the assertion that ‘[a]ny girl who reads a single page of this book will be lost’, Blanchot declared that Rousseau was paying Sade a great, if unintentional, compliment, and that ‘[s]uch respect is indeed a great treasure for a literature and [French] civilization’.24 When the cultural worth of a work of literature can be judged by its power to do mental and social violence to women, how can women be allowed to read, appropriate, reinvent, or critique it in the light of day?

The terms of Sade’s late twentieth-century achievement of high-cultural status excluded him from regions of the emergent academic feminist community. The Sade scholar Jane Gallop has revealed that in 1977, when she was a graduate student on the job market, a ‘feminist professor’ asked Gallop during a campus interview ‘how a feminist could work on Sade’. Gallop ‘was able to give no coherent answer’, but one answer might be that, like de Beauvoir, Gallop needed to join the Sadeian global network in order to join the gentleman’s club of mid-century academia.25 She thought of her early publication on Roland Barthes and Sade as ‘BS’, after ‘the clever sort of disinterested intellectual play which I thought I needed to get published’ – a prerequisite for club membership (p. 12).

Gallop also formulated her major argument about Sade in terms that will seem very familiar: she relates him to several male literary inheritors, analyzing them as a network, in her monograph Intersections: A Reading of Sade with Bataille, Blanchot, and Klossowski (1981), published in the year that Andrea Dworkin declared Sade ‘the world’s foremost pornographer’.26 (p.254) Gallop concentrates on the triumvirate of Bataille, Blanchot, and Klossowski because they have been ‘influential in shaping a contemporary reading of Sade’ (p. 1). Overall, Gallop explicitly credits only men with responsibility for Sade’s literary rediscovery. ‘[I]n our century’, she insists, ‘Sade has returned to circulation in society, thanks to the efforts of men such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Maurice Heine, and Gilbert Lély’ (6, emphasis mine). However, by 1981, Sade was ‘returned to circulation’ in part by women including de Beauvoir, Must we Burn de Sade’s translator Annette Michelson, the prolific translator Margaret Crosland, and Carter.27 None of these women, nor Réage, appears in Gallop’s index, and where female thinkers are mentioned, their names are omitted. Instead, a personified, monstrous, ‘France’ has rather maternally ‘produced’ a ‘deconstructive’ feminism, ‘daughter of antihumanism’ (p. 2).

To some extent, Gallop’s exclusion of women’s names from Sade’s network serves a part of the thesis of Intersections, which is that Sade’s posthumous network models the ‘fraternit[ies]’ of ‘friends’ that populate his stories. ‘Such is the Sadian libertine fraternity: underground […], underhanded, and sneaky’, while ‘such is the textual network Bataille-Blanchot-Klossowski’ (p. 115). Gallop claims that Intersections is ‘intertextual’ because it ‘does not respect textual frontiers’ (p. 1), but in this early, critical stage of her career, she knew that she had to respect the boundaries of gender when writing about Sade and his posthumous network.

This principle was reinforced two years later in Richard Gilman’s New York Times review of Carter’s groundbreaking 1978 monograph-manifesto The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History, which argued that Sade’s writing can serve feminist ends, an idea initially advanced by Apollinaire.28 Gilman starts with a massive generalization about the difficulty of writing well about ‘pornography’, which is the genre – the only genre – in which he locates Sade’s works. ‘It’s extremely difficult’, Gilman opines, ‘to maintain a disinterested, reflective attitude toward imaginative work whose chief, indeed only, purpose is to cause sexual excitation’. Very few scholars of Sade would find this the only purpose of his work – or even an effective rhetorical goal in his work. However, according to Gilman, ‘Miss Carter’s […] radical positions tend to injure both scholarship and clarity of thought’, so that she ‘misunderstands (p.255) the nature of [Sade’s] enterprise’. Specifically, ‘[l]ike so many other writers on the subject, she clearly hasn’t read enough pornography to know that within its obviously circumscribed intention it’s as various as any other form of expression’.29 How much pornography Carter had read is not clarified in any of her works, so Gilman’s hypothesis is purely hypothetical. Certainly, she read a great deal of Sade, and she wrote fiction that has been considered pornographic, or at least very sexually explicit, with sex as its major theme, in her short story collection The Bloody Chamber (also 1979). The implication of the New York Times review is that ‘Miss’ Carter can’t be the sort of connoisseur of pornography that Sade’s previous, primarily male scholars and disciples have been.

While some modern writers do admit that women can and wish to read Sade, this belief does not necessarily imply that women can join his network as original writers in their own right. A case in point is Doug Wright’s powerful stage play Quills (1995), which is most widely known from its 2000 film adaptation directed by Phillip Kaufman and starring Geoffrey Rush (as Sade), Joaquin Phoenix, and Kate Winslet. In the play Quills – a modern grand-guignol parable with no pretensions whatsoever to historical accuracy, or even historical romance – Madeleine Leclerc (Winslet, playing her considerably older than sixteen) and her elderly mother voraciously read Sade’s (Rush’s) fiction as he scribbles away in his Charenton cell. To Wright’s credit, he argues that these two women have the capacity to read Sade without going mad or bad. However, they only receive and transmit Sade’s works verbatim: they never adapt, respond, or reinvent. Madeleine makes this clear when she characterizes herself and her mother’s role in relation to literature as audience alone. ‘Mother and I, we’re weak with boredom’, Madeleine complains to Sade. ‘For awhile, I smuggled home old newspapers from the scullery and read their accounts of the Terror. She found those too barbaric and pined for your stories instead’.30 Madeleine and her mother earn limited membership in Sade’s network, as they do not participate as creative writers or critics.

Because of this limitation, Madeleine and her mother play a more marginal role in Sade’s network of literary influence than the play’s male characters: the censors who provoke particular literary responses from him, the progressive cleric whose interaction with Sade ultimately causes him to write stories himself, and a telephone-tree chain of male patients, including a pyromaniac and a rapist-murderer. This network of male prisoners manages to twist one of Sade’s stories into a new form, via misprision and conscious revision. Specifically, their misprisions of his story, which he dictates to them so they will pass (p.256) it on to Madeleine, alter the plot until it seems to the final, deranged inmate, the order to commit murder for which he has long been waiting. In contrast, neither Madeleine nor any other female audience member makes any original contribution to Sade’s literary tradition.

Such exclusion of women from the imagined network of Sadeian literary influence also persists in twenty-first-century scholarly writing. While the contributions of twentieth-century literary critics, bibliographers, translators, and biographers of Sade are undeniable, some critics still imagine Sade’s network of creative protégés as entirely male. As late as 2006, Joshua D. Gonsalves analyzes a mini-network made of Sade, Lautréamont, and Foucault, which he terms the ‘canon of evil’. Gonsalves speaks of one Sadeian literary inheritor as a ‘son of Sade’ – which linguistically recalls the 1970s serial killer David Berkowitz, the self-styled ‘Son of Sam’, who murdered mainly women and was indignant at being labeled what he called a ‘women [sic] hater’.31 Gonsalves calls for further examination of Sade’s wider ‘underground network’ of literary influence, but does not discuss any women as possible nodes (par. 2).

This notion of an all-male global Sadeian network, underground or otherwise, is seriously complicated by the literary history of the Romantic era. One of Sade’s earliest major interpreters, far predating Lautréamont and Swinburne, was a female novelist, Charlotte Dacre, alias ‘Rosa Matilda’. As Adriana Craciun’s research persuasively argues, Dacre appropriates content from Sade’s La Nouvelle Justine (Justine and Juliette) in her novels Zofloya (1806) and The Passions (1811). Dacre does this, Craciun explains, ‘to configure a more complex relationship between women writers and “masculine” discourses’. Consequently, Craciun insists, we must ‘read’ Dacre as part of the ‘ostensibly male […] tradition of pornographic and sensationalist literature’, to understand ‘her fatal women figures and her focus on corporeal pleasure and destruction’.32 Dacre not only joined Sade’s global network of influence, she wanted her readers to know it.

(p.247) (p.257) Mary Shelley

So, too, I will argue, did Dacre’s near-contemporary Mary Shelley. The persistent representation of Sade’s global network of influence as all male makes it vital to examine whether Mary Shelley’s Sadeian allusions, like Dacre’s, are based upon direct knowledge of his work. I will first determine whether the Shelleys could have obtained and read any of Sade’s works, a question that previous scholarship has not entirely resolved. Sade’s Justine was not published in English until Cannon’s translated edition of 1830, and ‘Eugénie de Franval’ was not translated in Mary Shelley’s lifetime. Like my predecessors, I have found no positive evidence of the Shelleys’ ownership or borrowing of Sade. However, Mary Shelley had the necessary French-language knowledge and together, the couple belonged to relevant publishing networks; their members had access to Sade’s works and similarly controlled literature, and the opportunity or motive to share them with the Shelleys. Mary Shelley’s reading lists, recorded in her diaries of 1814–17, prove her able and willing to read French prose in the original. This documented reading included Voltaire’s Mémoires and Candide, the Countess de Genlis’s Adèle et Théodore; ou lettres sur l’education, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions and Rêveries du promeneur solitaire, Germaine de Staël’s Corinne, ou l’Italie, and several novels by ‘Madame de Souza’ (Adélaïde-Marie-Emilie Botelho, Countess de Sousa), including Sénage, ou lettres de Lord Sydenham, and Eugénie et Mathilde, ou les mémoires de la famille du Comte de Revel. This last title’s presence in Mary Shelley’s reading list is notable because while nothing of Eugénie et Mathilde’s content reappears in Mathilda, the title might have led Mary Shelley to free-associate the name ‘Eugénie’ to Sade’s heroine and then back to ‘Mathilde’ (‘Mathilda’). In any case, Mary Shelley’s copious francophone reading indicates she could have comprehended Sade’s jargon-free prose had she been able and willing to access it.

I believe she was able and willing. She admitted that she read controversial and sometimes obscene French literature. Her catalogued reading includes the memoirs of the National Convention Président and Directory member Lazare-Nicolas-Marguerite, Comte de Carnot, and also Girondin and libertine Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Courvay’s two major works: a memoir of his persecution by the Jacobin faction, and the fictional Aventures du chevalier de Faublas. Mary Shelley’s father William Godwin also read Louvet’s memoir, in 1795, 1796, and 1832.33 Byron evidently had a copy of the Aventures and incorporated aspects of it in Don Juan, and it was popular enough in Britain (p.258) for the first English translation to appear in 1822.34 In fact, in England, Faublas made Louvet’s name as synonymous with obscenity as Sade’s. The poet Anna Laetitia Barbauld implies as much in her treatise ‘On the Origin and Progress of Novel-Writing’. In this essay, Barbauld insists that no English female should ‘have her mind contaminated with such scenes and ideas as Crébillon, Louvet, and others of that class have published in France’.35 Barbauld does not mention Sade, but she does not need to, as Louvet and Claude-Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon both notoriously published sexually explicit prose with radical political messages.

In France, this genre was called the livre philosophique; it began with Thérèse Philosophe (1748), but in nineteenth-century England had begun to be classed as what we would now call pornography. Clairmont alludes to the livre philosophique genre by calling herself and the Shelleys ‘Otaheitian philosophers’: that is, dogmatically promiscuous people. The same reading might apply to her Victorian recollection that during the Shelleys’ private rendezvous in St Pancras Churchyard in 1814, they got rid of her on the grounds that they wished to speak ‘on philosophical subjects’ that she would not understand. These references combine with Mary Shelley’s reading of Louvet’s Faublas to imply that her coterie was familiar with ‘that class of literature’ that by 1814 Sade exemplified.36

Unlike most Regency women, Mary Shelley belonged to a literary network in which precisely that class of literature circulated. As Ian McCalman, Lynn Hunt, and Robert Darnton have demonstrated, a multigenerational network of French authors and their French and British publishers, translators, editors, and pirates produced politically subversive and sexually explicit writing, often of French origin, and often with the sexual imagery underscoring philosophical innovation or political critique.37 In January 1815, the Shelleys received – together – a visitor from one of this network’s most prominent publishers, (p.259) George Cannon, who published Justine in 1820s London. Percy Shelley had read Cannon’s publications since 1813, and Cannon printed Shelley’s ‘Queen Mab’ and ‘A Refutation of Deism’ in his vehemently atheist magazine the Theological Inquirer. Mary Shelley may have had her own ties to him, as her father received visits from him earlier in the same month. In fact, Percy Shelley’s most recent biographer, James Bieri, speculates that Godwin may have introduced him to Cannon. In any case, during Cannon’s call on the Shelleys, they accepted ‘papers’ from him. What those ‘papers’ contained has not been ascertained, but the incident demonstrates Cannon’s trust in the Shelleys and his collaboration with Percy Shelley. Later, in the 1820s, Cannon demonstrated access to Sade. He quit printing financially ruinous political prose and concentrated on what we would now call pornography – including Sade’s Juliette. According to the critic Ian McCalmain, Cannon ‘managed to get literary contributions from [both] the Shelleys’. At some point, he also obtained Sade’s work, and in 1815, the Shelleys had access to him, so he might have been able to provide them with copies of Sade.38

She had reasons not to admit this, however. As a teenager, Percy Shelley had composed sexually explicit horror fiction – Zastrozzi (1809) and St Irvyne, or the Rosicrucian (1811), apparently for the entertainment of his eldest sister and his intended wife Harriet Grove – and later dismissed it as a juvenile mistake.39 In an 1812 letter to Godwin, he repudiates Zastrozzi as a ‘distempered tho’ unoriginal vision’ and attributes both compositions to a ‘state of mind’ he has since outgrown. He also repudiated would-be publishers of his own work when they printed the wrong sort of livres philosophiques by others. He calls Cannon a ‘vile beast’ whom it is ‘disgusting to see […] talk of philosophy’ (quoted in McCalman, p. 80). Richard Carlile, trained in printing by Thomas Paine and the Baron d’Holbach’s London publisher Daniel Eaton, also published sexually explicit fiction. In 1819, Carlile asked Percy Shelley to allow him to reprint Queen Mab. The poet refused Carlile the rights, and Carlile printed Mab anyhow. In this domestic context, Mary Shelley would have had ample reason to abstain from citing the prime example of ‘that class of literature’ – Sade.

Of Sade’s works, the Crimes de l’amour, the collection containing ‘Eugenie de Franval’, might have seemed the least repugnant to her household and society. The only work of prose fiction that Sade published under his own (p.260) name, it contains no stereotypically Sadeian obscenities: no detailed violence nor gymnastic sexual mise-en-scènes, no catalogues of supernumerary victims, no digressions into atheist rhetoric or anti-authoritarian political philosophy, and no erotic engravings. Its preface ‘L’Idée sur le romans’ (‘The Idea of the Novel’) is ‘a prescriptive blueprint for the perfection of the [novel] genre’ – specifically, as the livre philosophique. It ‘boldly lays out a theoretical defense of Sade’s characteristic inversion of Pierre-Daniel Huet’s standard of instruction for the novel to depict “la vertu couronné et le vice puni”,’ or ‘virtue celebrated and vice punished’.40 The ‘Idée’, argues Katherine M. Astbury, is ‘a classic eighteenth-century “homme de lettres” exercise allowing the would-be man of letters to show how the novel is an enlightened form’; his predecessors in this genre include Marmontel and de Staël, and Sade emulates de Staël’s 1800 essay De la littérature.41

The interior tales of Crimes were also somewhat easily mainstreamed. Sade himself adapted one story, ‘Ernestine’, as a stage tragedy, playing the sometime-imprisoned libertine antihero Count Oxtiern himself, and in 1789, the Drury Lane composer-librettist duo Stephen Storace and James Cobb adapted their operetta The Haunted Tower from Sade’s 1788 play La tour enchantée, which shares its premise with one of the Crimes tales, ‘La Tour de Rodrigue’. With its Sadeian inspiration unmentioned, The Haunted Tower became ‘the most successful full-length opera that Drury Lane staged in the entire [eighteenth] century’ and was transcribed in London as late at 1810.42 This anthology constituted the least ‘disgusting’ generic follow-up to Louvet that Mary Shelley could have read.

Among its tales, the final one, ‘Eugénie de Franval’, caters exceptionally well to the Shelleys’ shared thematic concerns. ‘Believed to be the best’ of the Crimes, in part because it ‘demonstrates [Sade]’s utmost audacity without greatly antagonizing the conventional norms of morality’, ‘Eugénie de Franval’ presents incest as its major theme. In it, Sade ‘upgrade[s]’ incest ‘from a leitmotif’, as in other Crimes de l’amour components and the Justine cycle, ‘to the very raison d’ être of a story’ (Seminet, pp. 163–7). From 1815 to 1819, the Shelleys both wrote about incest, which Percy Shelley found a ‘poetical circumstance’. He idealized fraternal incest in works including Laon and Cythna, or the Revolution of the Golden City (completed 1816) and ‘Love’s (p.261) Philosophy’ (1820). He encouraged Mary Shelley to dramatize the legend of the sixteenth-century Roman aristocrat Beatrice Cenci, who was allegedly raped by her father and later murdered him. Mary Shelley transcribed and translated documentary evidence of Beatrice’s story, then left it to her husband, who adapted it as The Cenci: A Domestic Tragedy (1819). And in Mathilda (1819), she wrote her own tragedy of father-daughter incest. She would not then have shied away from Sade’s representation of this aberration. She might also have appreciated his feminism, which predates even her mother’s. ‘The femme [wife, but also, literally, “woman”] who belongs to us’, Franval preaches, ‘is a sort of individual whom custom has given us in bondage’. In Franval’s estimation, wives must be ‘utterly faithful and obedient’ only because ‘a man does not enjoy seeing another usurp his rights’ (CJ, p. 378). Franval’s mistreatment of his wife and his ‘woman’ (his daughter) constitute physical, intellectual, and psychological bondage. As such, the tale employs the trope of incest to expose the tyrannical patriarchal marriage and fatherhood, just as does Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Cenci and Mary Shelley’s Mathilda.43

These works incorporate numerous echoes of ‘Eugénie de Franval’, the most conspicuous of which is the name of Victor Frankenstein’s friend Henry Clerval. Harold Bloom (2009) explains Clerval’s name as a reference to Mary Shelley’s aforementioned stepsister Clairmont. Claiming that Frankenstein’s attraction to Clerval is ‘homosexual’, Bloom asserts that ‘further evidence’ of Clerval’s ‘femininity’ includes ‘the likelihood that his name derives from that of Claire Clairmont’. In Bloom’s estimation, ‘Mary [Shelley] has simply exchanged the French words ‘val’ and ‘mont’. The more feminine valley replaces the masculine mountain’.44 Perhaps, but Clerval more obviously recalls Eugénie’s grandmother’s confessor priest Monsieur Clervil. To begin with, Clervil and Clerval are homonyms. This is no coincidence. Manuscript evidence demonstrates that Mary Shelley chose the name Clerval after trying out and rejecting a different name. In the earliest surviving draft of Frankenstein, she at first supplies the name ‘Carignan’ for Frankenstein’s doomed confidant. This moniker seems appropriate for the character, because it invokes the spectre of Marie-Louise-Thérèse de Carignan, Princesse de Lamballe, the gruesomely murdered confidante of Marie Antoinette. Mary Shelley inscribed the name ‘Henry Carignan’ twice in the early pages of the Frankenstein draft, then crossed out ‘Carignan’ and replaced it with ‘Clerval’, indicating a deliberate revision.45 The rest of that manuscript and all other (p.262) surviving ones maintain ‘Clerval’ as the character’s name, indicating that it was changed deliberately – and by Mary Shelley, not her husband. The Frankenstein manuscripts contain thirty-three instances of ‘Clerval’ (and one of the misspelling ‘Clairval’). Of these, two ‘Clervals’ in the final (‘C2’) notebook are in Percy Shelley’s handwriting.46 Mary Shelley wrote all the others, including the initial two ‘Henry Carignan Clerval’ references.47 She preferred Frankenstein’s friend’s name to suggest the Sadeian character, even at the loss of the ominous foreshadowing that ‘Carignan’ creates.

For the knowing reader, Clerval’s name foreshadows his development as a double of Sade’s Clervil. The two characters have much in common besides their names. Both serve as models of sensibility and, more specifically, ineffectual ‘good counselors’ to the deeply flawed, overreaching hero. ‘One of the most virtuous men of all France’, Sade’s Clervil is ‘honest, benevolent’ and ‘a paragon of candour and wisdom’. He lacks the usual ‘vices of men of the cloth’, and exhibits only ‘gentle and useful qualities’. He helps the poor, befriends the rich, ‘console[s] the wretched and downtrodden’ (CJ, p. 390). So does Shelley’s Clerval: ‘[p]erfectly humane’ and ‘thoughtful in his generosity’, he ‘occupie[s] himself […] with the moral relations of things’. For example, he tells Victor Frankenstein a cautionary tale about the ghosts of a ‘priest and his mistress’ who were fatally ‘overwhelmed by an avalanche’. Moreover, his ‘dream was to become one among those whose names are recorded in story as the gallant and adventurous benefactors of our species’ (NSW 1, p. 24). This is how Sade records Clervil’s name in ‘Eugénie de Franval’.

While Clerval shares Clervil’s virtues, he also displays the same major flaw: underestimation of man’s capacity for evil. At first, Clervil decides that it is unlikely that Franval has seduced Eugénie, even after Madame Franval tells him this is true. He responds that in any case, incest is a crime best not discussed. Although Franval’s incest ‘existed all too concretely’, Clervil finds Madame Franval’s suspicion of it ‘outrageously insulting’, and ‘indignantly refuse[s] even to consider the possibility’. This is not merely because he finds it ‘highly unlikely’, but because the good cleric can ‘only with extreme repugnance […] make up [his] mind to ascribe such wrongs to someone’ because ‘our suspicions are often the handiwork of our pride and vanity’. Clervil esteems it ‘better to leave a secret sin forever hidden than to dream up imaginary ones’ (CJ, p. 390). This policy enables Franval’s tyranny over Eugénie. Unchecked by his counselor, Franval kills a rival for her sexual favors and convinces her to murder her mother, which causes her to die of guilt and grief and her father (p.263) to commit suicide. Clervil lives to bear complicity in these deaths. Similarly, Clerval’s refusal to investigate Frankenstein’s evasion and self-alienation results in the deaths of Justine and William.

Unlike Clervil, Clerval dies prematurely, as a result of the antihero Frankenstein’s outrage against Nature. But that fate makes Frankenstein paradoxically more faithful to Sade’s suppressed livres philosophes than to Crimes de l’amour. Clerval’s death demonstrates, to quote Justine’s title, ‘les malheurs de la vertue’. And for the virtuous, altruistic Clervil, outliving the unrepentant Franval is its own kind of hell. The well-intentioned young priest’s awareness of his own sin of omission’s role in the heroine’s destruction perhaps subjects him to a sort of moral death of which Clerval’s physical death at the Creature’s hands is only a pale shadow. Overall, Clerval’s shadowing of Clervil makes Mary Shelley’s appropriation of the Sadeian name appear likely deliberate. This deliberate, detailed use of Sade’s imagery strongly suggests that Mary Shelley read ‘Eugénie de Franval’.

No Sadeian namesakes populate Mathilda, but this long-unpublished 1819 novella’s plot has many parallels with ‘Eugénie de Franval’. To begin with, both texts are concerned with father-daughter incest as their major theme. A richly allusive ‘serious contribution to Romantic literature’, Mathilda engages intertextually with canonical incest myths, particularly the legend of Myrrha and Cinyras as dramatized by Vittorio Alfieri.48 However, Mathilda resembles ‘Eugénie de Franval’ more closely than Myrrha or any of Shelley’s other currently acknowledged sources. In Sade’s tale, the incestuous pair are neither culturally abstract prehistoric royalty nor classical gods, but culturally situated modern human beings. Whereas Alfieri’s Myrrha desires her father at first unrequitedly, both Franval and Mathilda’s father desire their daughters and convince them of their complicity in this exploitation, as critics have pointed out.49 In another parallel with Sade’s tale, while the aristocratic Franval is extravagantly but unwisely educated by his aristocratic father, Mathilda’s father is also a ‘man of rank […] educated […] with all the indulgence’ his mother (p.264) considered ‘due to a nobleman of wealth’.50 This young man, ‘nurtured in prosperity’, receives ‘all its advantages’. Accustomed to ‘everyone’ trying to ‘gratify’ him, he recalls the entitled Franval. Also like Franval, Mathilda’s future father becomes a textbook libertine. Capable of ‘careless extravagance’, he indulges all ‘passing whims […] which from their apparent energy he dignified with the name of passions’ while ‘his own desires were gratified to their fullest extent’ (p. 6). So does Franval: his philosophy of libertinism informs his seduction of Eugenie and his treatment of that seduction as a revolt against human, natural, and divine law.

Nor do the similarities between Sade’s tale and Mary Shelley’s end in the antiheroes’ youths. While Alfieri called his Cinyras ‘a perfect father, and a most perfect king’, Sade and Mary Shelley accuse their heroines’ fathers of fatally narcissistic parenting.51 In Sade’s tale, the young nobleman M. de Colunce pursues Eugénie, but her father drives him away. In Mathilda, father and daughter similarly entertain ‘among our most assiduous visitors […] a young man of rank, well informed, and agreeable in his person’. Soon, ‘his attentions towards me became marked and his visits more frequent’. Mathilda’s father becomes:

restless and uneasy whenever this person visited us, and when we talked together watched us with the greatest apparent anxiety although he himself maintained a profound silence [until] these obnoxious visits suddenly ceased altogether. (p. 19)

Mathilda’s father deters him, just as Franval does Colunce. By contrast, in Alfieri’s Myrrha, the father promotes the suitor, but his daughter will not have him.

Myrrha is uneducated, but Eugénie and Mathilda, children of the Enlightenment, receive similar educations, which alienate them from everyone except their fathers and thereby groom them for incestuous seduction. This is one of Sade’s story’s major themes. ‘[T]he best education, wealth, talent, and the gifts of Nature are likely to lead one astray unless they are buttressed and brought to the fore by self-restraint, good conduct, wisdom, and modesty’, Sade claims at the beginning of ‘Eugénie de Franval’ (p. 375, emphasis mine). Proving this point, Franval gives his child ‘a very lovely apartment adjacent to that of her father’, where she is educated by ‘a highly intelligent governess, an assistant governess, a chambermaid, and two girl companions her own (p.265) age, solely intended for Eugénie’s amusement’. She studies with ‘teachers of writing, drawing, poetry, natural history, elocution, geography, astronomy, Greek, English, German, Italian, fencing, dancing, riding and music’. In one day, she studies with ‘no less than five tutors’, plus her father, who schools her in ‘the little tricks and games that society indulges in’. In these lessons, he teaches her to disrespect societal norms. He also physically isolates her. She attends the theatre, but only in a ‘grilled box’. She spends time ‘alone in her father’s apartment’, while he ‘inculcate[s] her in what he termed his conferences’ on ‘his maxims on morality and religion’ (pp. 381–2). Gallop reads all this rather naïvely, arguing that ‘incest in Sade is not the loosing of a polymorphous perversity that is heedless to society’s categories, but the unveiling of a violent passion that is inextricably linked to feelings of familiar tenderness’ (Gallop, p. 33). Perhaps this is the case in some of Sade’s works, but it is not in ‘Eugénie de Franval’. In that story, the father-daughter relationship is one of absolute, if initially idyllic, tyranny.

So is Mathilda’s education. She remembers her father’s presence ‘during all my studies’ – during which, like her Sadeian prototype, she learns libertinage. ‘[W]e lived more in one week than many do in the course of several months’, she confesses, ‘and the variety and novelty of our pleasures gave zest to each’ (p. 18). Anne K. Mellor finds this an example of ‘sexual education’, or pedagogy that teaches women conventionally gendered domestic roles (p. 184). Julie A. Carlson reads this curriculum as incestuous grooming dressed up as education, which Mathilda is able to understand through the ‘traumatized text[ual]’ representation of incest in literature she has read.52 In Kerry McKeever’s reading, Mathilda’s father pursues her unilaterally, and the novel ‘condemn[s] fathers who fail to act like fathers’.53 Mathilda’s education places her father in that category.

Sade’s premise does seem to differ from Mathilda’s in a significant respect: while Sade states that Franval seduces his daughter, Mathilda insists that her incestuous relationship is never physical. However, the language in which Mathilda accuses her father implies rape. He undergoes ‘a change that to remember made’ her ‘shudder and then filled [her] with the deepest grief’. That process – terror, followed by grief – sounds like the rape survivor’s cognitive process. So does the book’s next line: ‘There were no degrees which could break my fall from happiness to misery; it was as the stroke of lightning – sudden and entire’ (p. 19). The term ‘fall’ connotes sexual transgression and conjures the image of the fallen woman, often a rape survivor.

(p.266) So does the image of lightning, which Mathilda associates with her father. Sade’s Justine dies from a lightning strike that penetrates her genitalia, replicating the many rapes she has already endured. Mathilda claims that her father’s eyes throw ‘lightning’ at her and blames her for his incestuous desire (‘you are the sole, organising cause of all I suffer’), inducing her to tell him to speak his hidden ‘dreadful word’ (his desire for her) ‘though it be as a flash of lightning to destroy me’ (27). After his suicide, a rainstorm suddenly stops, and ‘there [i]s no more thunder and lightning’, which makes the lightning storm, with its threat to ‘destroy’ her, personify him (pp. 38–9).

Another hint that Mathilda’s father rapes her is her professed refusal to tell her complete story. She signals to her interlocutor Woodville that her narration leaves out something unmentionable. ‘There are many incidents that I might relate which shewed the diseased yet incomprehensible state of his [her father’s] mind’, Mathilda informs Woodville, ‘but I will mention one that occurred while we were in company with several other persons’ (p. 20). What happened outside the observation of ‘other persons’, she cannot say. Its unspeakability recalls incestuous rape’s euphemistic depiction in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Cenci. ‘Of all words, / That minister to mortal intercourse’, the incestuous rape survivor Beatrice Cenci chides her perhaps willfully oblivious stepmother:

  • Which wouldst thou hear? For there are none to tell
  • My misery; if another knew
  • Aught like to it, she died as I will die
  • And left it, as I must, without a name.54

Mathilda employs the same cryptic imagery in her narration to her sympathetic friend Woodville. She cannot tell him that she is a rape survivor, but she can imply it. In every important respect, Mathilda constitutes an English adaptation of ‘Eugénie de Franval’.

Consequently, Mathilda can be read as an Anglophone variation on that tale. Mary Shelley wrote Mathilda intending for it to be published, and sent it to her father so that he could help her to secure its publication. Instead, he suppressed it in horror at its depiction of at least emotional incest between a father and daughter, and it remained unpublished until it was discovered in the 1940s by the critic Elizabeth Nitchie. Were it published during the Regency as Mary Shelley had intended, it would have made the essence of ‘Eugénie de Franval’ accessible for the first time to an above-ground English audience.55

(p.267) However, Mathilda is no mere pastiche of Sade. While his tale focuses on M. Franval, privileging his viewpoint and proceeding teleologically to his heartbreak and suicide, critics have observed that Mathilda relates its incest narrative from the daughter’s perspective.56 Mathilda outlives her father and explains her experience in writing. In her letter to Woodville, she recounts ‘the misfortunes to which I am the victim’ (p. 6). She is able to reveal her traumatic experience because she survives him by a creative act which is itself a revision of ‘Eugénie de Franval’. Sade’s heroine actually commits suicide out of grief for her murder of her mother, to which her father had put her up, giving him literally the last word in their story, but Mathilda only pretends to take her own life. By this act of fiction-making or theatrical performance, Mathilda survives long enough to challenge her indoctrination and exploitation. This departure from ‘Eugénie de Franval’ contributes to Mathilda’s legibility as a faithful yet innovative variation upon Sade.

We have seen that some of Sade’s most illuminating and influential twentieth-century critics have been women. It is time to concede Mary Shelley’s contribution to the important work of recovering, clarifying, translating, popularizing, and reinventing the genial spirit of Charenton, in part because of the revelations about our preconceived ideas about Mary Shelley that such an admission must provoke. Mostly, those preconceived ideas jar with the traditional image of the Sade literary protégé. Dacre, Lautréamont, Swinburne, the writers of the Contre-attaque coterie and de Beauvoir turned to Sade to shore up their own self-images as provocateurs and rebels. Mary Shelley has long been held to have done nearly the opposite. Her personal life and remarkable writings, it must be admitted, were radical, but she was also, by her own admission, long reluctant to admit her divergences from the morality of her time with respect to gender roles, sexuality, and self-expression. ‘[I] roll myself in cotton at the bottom of my cage, & never peep out’, she once wrote in a letter, explaining her husband’s nickname for her, ‘the dormouse’.57 She admitted that she was not the outward radical that her parents were. ‘I am not for violent extremes, which only bring on an injurious reaction’. This seems the inevitable lesson of the aftermath of the French Revolution, which occurred in and just before her childhood, but Poovey argues that it was also ‘a defense of her character’ which combined ‘stereotypical feminine reticence’ with ‘unconventional self-assertion’ aimed to (p.268) neutralize her ambivalence about gender, sexual, and domestic convention.58 According to Mellor, Mary Shelley’s early social conventionalism, as it were, was also a form of political conservatism, as her preference for gradual social change over revolutionary schism made her a kind of Burkean conservative (p. 86). This is neither socially nor politically the portrait of a Sadeian protégé as established by Swinburne and his inheritors.

There is also the problem of Mary Shelley, mythical censor of obscene, revolutionary male genius. Mary Shelley’s stereotypical reticence found its most problematic manifestation in her reinvention – some have said bowdlerization – of her husband’s life and work. For instance, their friend Edward John Trelawney made her out as a convention-bound counterpoint to her husband, forever trying to force him to become or at least to appear more conventional.59 ‘A long succession’ of commentators have ‘arraigned Mary Shelley’ for being ‘a conventional slave’, a social butterfly, and for ‘hypocritical piety’, observes her 1991 biographer Emily Sunstein. In reality, Mary Shelley’s bowdlerization of his posthumous works was, as Michael O’Neill explains, ‘tactical’, ‘consciously and reluctantly deployed’ to ‘serve [her] long-term strategy’ of ‘foster[ing] the taste by which his writing might be enjoyed’.60 In other words, she did not build an ineffectual Bonfire of the Vanities, but a successful time capsule. However, the idea of Mary Shelley as her husband’s prim Xantippe (or Rénée Pélagie) persists today. It shapes Miranda Seymour’s recent biography Mary Shelley (2000), which assumes that Mary Godwin (as she was in 1814) refused a chance to go skinny-dipping in a chilly Northern European stream because it offended her morals, and which glosses over all the novels that follow Frankenstein on the grounds that only her husband’s inspiration allowed her own writing to become radical and noteworthy.61

Additional iterations of this idea of Mary Shelley include the many dramatizations of her life that posit her as a modest double of her vivacious stepsister Clara Jane ‘Claire’ Clairmont. These include Howard Brenton’s play Bloody Poetry (1985), in which the men come up with the premise of Frankenstein while ‘Mary’ nags Shelley to abandon radicalism and Claire for her, their children, and conventional domesticity, Ken Russell’s film Gothic (1986), which traps the fair, straight-haired ‘Mary’ (Natasha Richardson) and darker, Medusa-tressed ‘Claire’ (Myriam Cyr) in a virgin/whore binary paradigm, (p.269) Veronica Bennett’s young adult novel AngelMonster: The Haunting Story of Mary Shelley (2006), in which ‘Mary’, once a teenage reader of Jane Austen who wonders whom she will marry, is virtually demonically possessed (hence the title), raped (in St. Pancras Churchyard), and driven mad by a literally diabolical Percy Shelley, and only writes Frankenstein after his death. Most recently, there is Helen Edmundson’s play Mary Shelley, premiered by the UK’s Triangle Theatre. According to the Telegraph reviewer Jane Shilling, while Edmundson’s naïve ‘Mary’ discovers ‘Romanticism’ via Percy Shelley, the ‘minxy nymphet, Jane [Claire] writhes like a kitten in heat’.62 Affirming this paradigm in nonfiction prose, Todd states in her group biography Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle (2007), that in 1816 Mary Godwin was anxious for Byron ‘not [to] judge her by her stepsister’ and objectively declares that although ‘Mary had a scandalous reputation’, ‘she was a proper lady in manner’ (p. 174). A Mary Shelley who reads and independently, originally responds to Sade’s writings does not fit the paradigm.

Nevertheless, we need to recognize Mary Shelley’s avowal of Sade in Frankenstein and Mathilda in order to ask important questions about her journey as a writer and a nineteenth-century woman. Mathilda’s positioning at a major turning-point in Mellor’s narrative of Mary Shelley’s increasing disillusion with her bourgeois idyll should make us question the role of Sade’s critique of the patriarchal family and patriarchal pedagogy in this process. Secondly, like Dacre, de Beauvoir, and perhaps Gallop, did Mary Shelley avow Sade’s influence partly to appear to the Sade-readers in her own literary coterie as a legitimate contributor to male-dominated literary culture? As Tilar Mazzeo has shown, Romantic writers often honored each other with intertextual ‘avowals’ of literary content that would today be considered plagiarism. If the ‘well-versed reader’, to use Mazzeo’s term, could be expected to recognize appropriated content in a generally original work, this was considered homage.63 If we read Mary Shelley’s name-dropping of Sade’s characters and detail-oriented reinvention of ‘Eugénie de Franval’ as a Romantic avowal of Sade, her self-fashioning as a member of his posthumous network of influence becomes explicable as part of her quest for literary legitimacy and communion with the male provocateurs of her circle.

The addition of Mary Shelley to the long-obscured pantheon of female imaginative writers who were Sade protégés must change our popular culture’s notions concerning women’s roles in relation to provocative art. Doug Wright’s (p.270) heroine Madeleine Leclerc, reader of Sade with nothing original to contribute to his ‘underground network’, is a fictional character. Shelley, Dacre, Réage, and Carter were real. This distinction matters.


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(1) Nora Crook, gen. ed., Mary Shelley: Novels and Selected Works, 8 vols. (London: Pickering, 1996), vol. 8, pp. 19–20. This edition of Mary Shelley’s works henceforth abbreviated NSW.

(2) Laure Murat, The Man who Thought he was Napoleon: Toward a Political History of Madness, trans. Deke Dusinberre (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), pp. 85–6; Joseph Berchoux, Le Philosophe de Charenton (Paris: Giguet and Michaud, 1803), p. 37.

(3) Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, trans. Angus Davidson (London: Collins, 1962), p. 132.

(4) D. L. MacDonald and Kathleen Scherf, eds., Frankenstein (Peterloo: Broadview, 2002), p. 92.

(5) Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile: The Rejection of Beauty in Twentieth-Century Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), p. 16.

(6) Julia V. Douthwaite, The Wild Girl, Natural Man, and the Monster: Dangerous Experiments in the Age of Enlightenment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), p. 202; Anne Williams, ‘Mummy, possest: Sadism and Sensibility in Shelley’s Frankenstein’, in Frankenstein’s Dream’, Romantic Circles: Praxis Series (July 2003), paragraphs 6 and 12; and Samuel Lyndon Gladden, Shelley’s Textual Seductions: Plotting Utopia in the Erotic and Political Works (New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 39; Gladden cites MacDonald and Scherf (p. 92).

(7) D. A. F. Sade, Les Crimes de l’amour, 4 vols. (Paris, 1800).

(8) Richard Seaver and Austryn Wainhouse, ‘Foreword’, The Marquis de Sade: The Complete Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and other writings, trans. Richard Seaver and Austryn Wainhouse (NY: Grove 1965), p. xvi. Henceforth abbreviated CJ.

(9) Donatien-Antoine-François de Sade, quoted in Anon., ‘Publisher’s Preface’, CJ, p. xxi. I use the name ‘Sade’ rather than ‘de Sade’ by Sade’s own preference, as expressed at the time of the French Revolution, when he declared himself a citizen.

(10) Frédéric Soulié, Les mémoires du diable [1838], 3 vols. (Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1888).

(11) Memoirs of the Devil, by Frederick Soulie, Translated Expressly for the Penny Novelist, Chapter Six. The Penny Novelist and Library of Romance, n.s. 3, no. 16 (1842), 245–8, p. 247.

(12) Joshua D. Gonsalves, ‘Byron – In-Between Sade, Lautréamont, and Foucault: Situating the Canon of “Evil” in the Nineteenth Century’, Romanticism on the Net 43 (2006), par. 10. See also Piya Pal-Lapinski, ‘Byron avec Sade: Material and Spectral Violence in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto IV’, Byron’s Ghosts: The Spectral, the Spiritual, and the Supernatural (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013), pp. 131–46. Both these readings derive the anecdote from Benita Eisler, Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame (New York: Knopf, 1999), pp. 39–40.

(13) Quoted in Richard Seaver, ‘Foreword’, in CJ, p. xviii.

(14) Geoffrey Gorer, The Revolutionary Ideas of the Marquis de Sade (London: Wishart, 1934), p. 101.

(15) Romana Bynes, Aesthetic Sexuality: A Literary History of Sadomasochism (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), pp. 91–2.

(16) Jean Paulhan, ‘The Marquis de Sade and his Accomplice’, CJ, pp. 3–36, (pp. 3–4 and 6).

(17) Simone de Beauvoir, Must we burn de Sade? trans. Annette Michelson (London: Peter Nevill, 1953), pp. 11–19, 55.

(18) Ronald Hayman, Marquis de Sade: The Genius of Passion (London: Tauris, 2003), p. 223.

(19) Geoffrey Gorer, The Marquis de Sade: A Short Account of his Life and Work (London: Liveright, 1934); Edmund Wilson, ‘The Vogue of the Marquis de Sade’ (1952), The Bit Between My Teeth: A Literary Chronicle of 19501965 (New York: Macmillan, 1965), p. 161.

(20) Geoffrey Gorer, ‘Department of Amplifications’, The New Yorker (10 January 1953), pp. 76–9.

(21) ‘Publisher’s Preface’, CJ, p. xix.

(22) Donatien-Antoine-Francois Sade, La Philosophie dans Le Boudoir, Ouvrage posthume de l’Auteur de Justine. ‘London’ (N.P., 1795), title page, Gallica. Accessed 1 August 2016.

(23) Elisabeth Ladenson, ‘Literature and Sex’, in The Cambridge Companion to French Literature, ed. John Lyons (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 222–40, (p. 238). For an extended discussion of Pauvert’s presentation of Sade and the obscenity trial, see Matthew Bridge’s Ph.D. dissertation A Monster for our Times: Reading Sade Across the Centuries (Columbia University 2011).

(24) Maurice Blanchot, ‘Sade’, CJ, pp. 37–72, (p. 38). The trial is the major focal point of the dissertation.

(25) Jane Gallop, Thinking Through the Body (Columbia University Press, 1988), p. 2.

(26) Jane Gallop, Intersections: A Reading of Sade with Bataille, Blanchot, and Klossowski (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981); Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (London: The Women’s Press, 1981), p. 70.

(27) Crosland’s translation and editing work on Sade published prior to 1981 includes The de Sade Quartet: Four Stories from the Contes et Fabliaux (London: Peter Owen, 1963 and Panther, 1967) (with Gilbert Lély) Selected Letters (New York: October House, 1965, 1966), Selected Writings (London: Owen, 1964), ‘Eugenie de Franval’ and Other Stories (London: Neville Spearman, 1965 and Panther, 1968), and The Mystified Magistrate (London: Owen, 1963).

(28) Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History (London: Virago, 1979); reprinted in the United States in the same year as The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography.

(29) Richard Gilman, ‘Position Paper’, The New York Times, 29 July 1979, nytimes.com/books/98/12/27/specials/carter-sadian.html, retrieved 28 July 2016.

(30) Doug Wright, Quills and Other Plays (New York: Faber, 2005), p. 211.

(31) Orit Kamir, Every Breath You Take: Stalking Narratives and the Law (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001), p. 144.

(32) Adriana Craciun, Fatal Women of Romanticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 130, 111–14.

(33) William Godwin’s Diary, godwindiary.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/index2.html. Accessed January 2015.

(34) William St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 677.

(35) Anna Laetitia Barbauld, ‘On the Origin and Progress of Novel-Writing’, in Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft (Peterloo: Broadview, 2002), pp. 377–416, (p. 414).

(36) Claire Clairmont to Lord Byron, 6 May 1816, quoted and discussed in William St. Clair, The Godwins and the Shelleys: the Biography of a Family, 1989 (New York: Norton, 1991), p. 404 and, more extensively, in Deirdre Coleman, ‘Claire Clairmont and Mary Shelley: Identification and Rivalry within the “tribe of the Otaheite philosopher’s” [sic]’, Women’s Writing 6:3 (1999), pp. 309–28. Janet Todd discusses the ‘talk’ in Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), pp. 129–30.

(37) Robert Darnton, The Forbidden Best-sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (New York: Norton, 1996), p. 87. See also Lynn A. Hunt, The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500–1800 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), p. 117.

(38) Iain McCalman, Radical Underground: Prophets, Revolutionaries, and Pornographers in London, 1795–1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 80–1, 215; James Bieri, Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth’s Unextinguished Fire, 1792–1816 (Cranbury, NJ: Rosemont, 2006), p. 347.

(39) Percy Bysshe Shelley to William Godwin, 10 January 1812, quoted in Teddi Chichester Bonca, Shelley’s Mirrors of Love: Narcissism, Sacrifice, and Sorority (Albany: SUNY Press, 1999), p. 24.

(40) Philippe Seminet, Sade in his Own Name: An Analysis of Les Crimes de l’amour (Bern: Lang, 2003), p. 5.

(41) Katherine M. Astbury, ‘The Respectable M. De Sade, literary critic’, A Different Sade: Food for Thought Thursday, 7 June 2007: A British Academy discussion evening, edited by Marian Hobson (London: British Academy, 2007), britac.ac.uk/events/2007/sade/papers.cfm, pars. 2–3. Accessed 14 October 2014.

(42) Frederick Burwick, Romantic Drama: Acting and Reacting (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 178, 186.

(43) For this reading of Mathilda, see Anne K. Mellor, Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction Her Monsters (London: Methuen, 1988), p. 200.

(44) Harold Bloom, Bloom’s Major Literary Characters: Frankenstein (New York: Chelsea House, 2009), p. 38.

(45) Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Frankenstein Draft A, Bodleian MS Abinger c.56, fol. 4r, ibid, fol. 4v. Shelley-Godwin Archive, shelleygodwinarchive.org. Accessed 11 November 2014. All Frankenstein manuscript evidence is cited from this edition, accessed on this date.

(46) Frankenstein Draft C2, Bodleian MS Abinger c.58, fol. 26r; ibid., 26v.

(47) Frankenstein Draft B, Bodleian MS Abinger c.57, fol. 39v.

(48) Audra Dibert Himes, ‘“Knew shame, and knew desire”: Ambivalence as Structure in Mary Shelley’s Mathilda, in Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley After Frankenstein, ed. Syndy M. Conger, Frederick S. Frank, and Gregory O’Dea (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses 1997), pp. 115–29, (pp. 116–17).

(49) Diana Edelman-Young, ‘“Kingdom of Shadows”: Intimations of Desire in Mary Shelley’s MathildaKeats–Shelley Journal 51 (2002), 116–44, demonstrates that Mathilda desires her father ‘despite the victimization inherent in incestuous relationships’ (p. 135). For Mathilda’s father as desirer and/or pursuer of his daughter, see Margaret Davenport Garrett, ‘Writing and Re-Writing Incest in Mary Shelley’s Mathilda’ Keats–Shelley Journal 45 (1996), pp. 44–60; Robert Ready, ‘Dominion of Demeter: Mary Shelley’s Mathilda’, Keats–Shelley Journal 52 (2003), pp. 94–110, (p. 95), finds Mathilda ‘taken to hell by her father’ and paralleled with the incestuous rape victim Persephone.

(50) Mary Shelley, ‘Mathilda’, in NSW 2: p. 6. All quotes from Mathilda are cited from this volume.

(51) Vittorio Alfieri, quoted in The Tragedies of Vittorio Alfieri, ed. Edgar Alfred Bowring, 2 vols. (London: Bell, 1876), 2: p. 314.

(52) ‘Julie A. Carlson, ‘Attached to Reading: Mary Shelley’s Psychical Reality’, in Romantic Psyche and Psychoanalysis, ed. Joel Faflak, Romantic Circles, 2008, par. 11.

(53) Kerry McKeever, ‘Naming the Daughter’s Suffering: Melanchola in Mary Shelley’s Mathilda’, Essays in Literature 23:2 (1996), pp. 190–205, (p. 191).

(54) Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Cenci Act 3, scene 1, line 116, in Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald Reiman, Neil Fraistat, and Sharon Powers (New York: Norton, 2002), p. 166.

(55) Elizabeth Nitchie, ‘Mary Shelley’s Mathilda: An Unpublished Story and its Biographical Significance’ Studies in Philology 40:3 (1943), pp. 447–62.

(56) Katherine Hill-Miller, ‘My Hideous Progeny’: Mary Shelley, William Godwin, and the Father-Daughter Relationship (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1995), p. 114, quoted in Edelman-Young, p. 132; Garrett, p. 52, contends that Mathilda ‘focuses on the guilt-feelings of the daughter’, and considers this ‘re-writing of incest’ to be ‘a major structural change in the story’ from prototypes such as Alfieri’s.

(57) The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, ed. Betty T. Bennett (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980–88), p. 202.

(58) Quoted in Mary Poovey, The Proper Lady and the Woman Author (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 114–15.

(59) Emily Sunstein, Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), p. 397.

(60) Michael O’Neill, ‘“Trying to Make it as Good as I Can”: Mary Shelley’s Editing of P. B. Shelley’s Poetry and Prose’, in Mary Shelley in her Times, ed. Betty T. Bennett and Stuart Curran (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), pp. 185–97 (p. 194).

(61) Miranda Seymour, Mary Shelley (London: John Murray, 2000).

(62) Howard Brenton, Bloody Poetry (New York: Methuen, 1985); Ken Russell, dir. Gothic (Virgin Vision, 1986); Veronica Bennett, AngelMonster: The Haunting Story of Mary Shelley (London: Candlewick, 2007); Jane Shilling, ‘Mary Shelley’, The Telegraph (15 June 2012). Accessed 2 August 2016.

(63) Tilar J. Mazzeo, Plagiarism and Literary Property in the Romantic Period (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2007), pp. 2–3, 173.