Nicolas Edme Rétif de la Bretonne's Ingénue Saxancour

Edited by Mary S. Trouille

Critical Texts 33

Modern Humanities Research Association

1 May 2014  •  274pp

ISBN: 978-1-907322-47-1 (paperback)  •  RRP £14.99, $19.99, €17.99

Sample: Google Books


Set in Paris in the 1780s, Rétif de la Bretonne's Ingénue Saxancour is a thinly veiled account of his daughter's disastrous marriage to an abusive husband. From the time of her marriage in January, 1780, until she left her husband in July, 1785, Agnès Rétif suffered continually from severe physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Published in 1789, Rétif's novel scandalized the public with its graphic descriptions of his son-in-law's sexual perversity and brutal violence.

Rétif's novel remains shocking more than two centuries later and continues to raise disturbing questions about power relations within abusive relationships. Perhaps most disturbing of all are the accusations leveled against Rétif himself concerning his motives for writing and publishing this account: Was he, as some charged, a shameless exhibitionist willing to reveal his family's darkest secrets merely to attract attention and broaden his readership? Was he an unscrupulous opportunist willing to capitalize on his daughter's misfortunes and risk her reputation simply to pay his debts? Or was he, as he himself claimed, trying to warn young women about the dangers of marrying men of dubious backgrounds against their parents' wishes?

Rétif was all this and more: a reform-minded pioneer far in advance of his time with his graphic portrayal of spousal abuse, his call for greater public awareness of this perennial problem, and his crusade for liberal divorce laws that would allow women to escape from abusive relationships and to remarry. This, in fact, is what Agnès Rétif was able to do after passage of the divorce law passed by France's revolutionary government in 1792.


  • ‘Mary S. Trouille’s critical edition ... represents an invaluable tool to discover and understand Rétif de la Bretonne. It is the first edition of this novel since Pierre Testud’s and Daniel Baruch’s own editions of the text (now out of print). This new MHRA volume therefore fills in a lacuna, and it does so authoritatively. This beautiful edition of Ingénue Saxancour is adorned by 27 figures: portraits of Rétif and his relatives or friends, illustrations from his works, and engravings of eighteenth-century Paris. The volume is indeed not only an introduction to a novel but also an invitation to Rétif's universe."’ — unsigned notice, Forum for Modern Language Studies 51, 2015, 87
  • ‘Trouille presents a novel that remains as unsettling for the modern reader as it was when it was first published. It offers a valuable entry point for scholars and students alike into the dark Restivian world.’ — Gemma Tidman, Modern Language Review 112.1, January 2017, 252-53 (full text online)

Bibliography entry:

Trouille, Mary S. (ed.), Nicolas Edme Rétif de la Bretonne's Ingénue Saxancour, Critical Texts, 33 (Cambridge: MHRA, 2014)

First footnote reference: 35 Nicolas Edme Rétif de la Bretonne's Ingénue Saxancour, ed. by Mary S. Trouille, Critical Texts, 33 (Cambridge: MHRA, 2014), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Trouille, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Trouille, Mary S. (ed.). 2014. Nicolas Edme Rétif de la Bretonne's Ingénue Saxancour, Critical Texts, 33 (Cambridge: MHRA)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Trouille 2014: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Trouille 2014: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

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