Introduction to Amelie Mansfield

I have placed Sophie Cottin's Amelie Mansfield on the World Wide Web because although it has long been out of print and is not commercially viable, it is a powerful and important epistolary novel. I was much moved when I first read it.1

In their introduction to their collection of fine essay, Femmes Savantes et Femmes d'Esprit: Women Intellectuals of the French Eighteenth Century, Roland Bonnel and Catherine Rubinger suggest that the leitmotif of women's writing and art in the 18th century is an assertion that women have a vision of the world authentically different from men, one just as valid. I have found this to be central to Jane Austen's art; I think it central to Sophie Cottin's too. In "Une preromantique meconnue, Madame Cottin," Colette Cazenobe writes that all Cottin's novels dramatize and explore "une feminite profond;" she likens the hero, Ernest de Woldemar, and heroine, Amelie Mansfield to Emily Bronte's Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw: in their absolute adherence to one another and their preference for death over life lived apart and controlled by worldly ambitions, "Ils s'eteignent ensemble, aspirant a un eternel face a face." I add to Cazenobe's analysis that the history of Amelia's early childhood in Madame de Woldemar's house and her and her brother's violent quarrel with Ernest recalls Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre's rebellion against John Reed and his mother; and there are close parallels between the situations, characters, and themes of Amelie Mansfield and Germaine de Stael's Delphine (1802), Corinne, ou L'Italie (1807), and Jane Austen's novels.

Like Cottin's contemporary, Stephanie-Felicite de Genlis, and recently in her Gynographs, Joan Hinde Stewart, in "Sophie et ses malheurs ou le Romantism du Pathetique,"Jean Gaulmier sees an astonishingly frank depiction of female sexuality. Stewart emphasizes the violence of Cottin's texts, Gaulmier "une extraordinaire tension, comportent des scenes violentes et que les contemporains se sont accordes a juger d'une insoutenable hardiesse." He suggests that Amelie Mansfield casts doubt on the whole of the moral-pious tradition about sexuality and marriage: love only exists where freely given and is incompatible with traditional marriage. Cottin also dramatizes how the aristocratic males in her period were brought up to be sociopaths in response to any control from others. In "Quelques aspects du roman antirevolutionnaire sous la Revolution," Henri Coulet says that as in the novels of Austen we find an absence of any reference to the violence, revolution and reaction in the era; but we are confronted with the harm that results from the aristocratic male's absolute authority (sometimes delegated to or embodied in a tyrannical woman). The critique of the ancien regime is seen in the depiction of how a particular network crushes her pathetic heroines.

Revealingly one of Cottin's earliest attempts at a novel focused on Charlotte Corday as a heroine. Cottin herself connected Amelie Mansfield to this first effort: "Oui, je veux l'ecrire l'histoire de Charlotte Corday . . . [I want to write the story of Charlotte Corday . . . ] Oui, je veux l'ecrire, a mon gout, a ma maniere; peut-etre la blamera-t-on, peut-etre sera-t-elle mauvaise, n'importe. Je ne sais ecrire que d'apres mes propres idees; s'il me faillait penser comme on me conseille, je ne saurais plus penser du tout."

The best critical book in English on the novels of Cottin in the context of other women's writing is Joan Hinde Stewart, Gynographs. The fullest most scrupulously accurate biography is in French: Leslie Sykes: Madame Cottin. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1949). Sykes includes a long appendix which contains many of her letters; a goodly number are also reprinted in Mme de Clauzade's (pseudonym Arnelle). Une oubliee: Mme Cottin, d'apres sa correspondance (Paris, 1914). Michael J. Call's literary biography in English, Infertility and the Novels of Sophie Cottin (Newark: Delaware UP, 2002), is rich in informative and perceptive analysis of all the texts, but marred by a reductive idea that the driving impulse behind all these novels is Cottin's grief at not having had any children. There has been much written about Cottin in single essays since the publication of her books, and numerous reprints of them. Raymond Trousson's introduction to Claire d'Albe in his (readily available) Romans de Femmes du XVIIIe Siecle, ed., introd., notes Raymond Trousson. 2 vols. (Paris: Laffont, 1996), 2:676-90, and Margaret Cohen's introduction to her edition of Claire d'Albe. Modern Language Assocation, 2002): vii-xx, are excellent. For further scholarly and critical essays (several of which are quoted above) and Cottin's letters, the reader is directed to the bibliography.

Cottin began writing Amelie Mansfield during the first months of 1799. Maradan, the French publisher who had published her first novel, Claire d'Albe, bought the manuscript of Amelie Mansfield in 1802; Amelie Mansfield appeared in "late December 1802 or January 1803" without her name. It was announced as by the author of Claire d'Able and Malvina (Call 100). Maradan paid Cottin for Amelie Mansfield "4000 francs, over three times what he had paid" for her second published novel, Malvina. "By June 1801, five months after Malvina first appeared, the first edition of 1,500 copies [had been] sold out, and Maradan had issued a second printing of exactly the same text" of Malvina (Call 81). Cottin later changed publishers, switching to Joseph Michaud who bought the rights to Claire d'Albe; she had apparently agreed to revise Malvina for Michaud. In the case of Malvina the first chapter of the first edition entitled "Une Preface" was omitted, and details of the scene in which the heroine, Kitty seduces Sir Edmond were cut. In the case of Amelie Mansfield, in the first edition (1803), Amelie, believing herself betrayed by Ernest, throws herself into the Danube in order to kill herself; but in the second edition (1805) and all subsequent reprints (including the one in 1809 retyped here), this attempt at suicide is suppressed and replaced by Amelie at the last moment not daring to drown herself, "non par la crainte de la mort, mais par celle de la colere divine." Under pressure from Michaud (who paid Cottin 7,000 francs in April 1805 for the rights to Claire d'Albe, Malvina and Amelie Mansfield), and perhaps as a response to the vitiolic condemnations by conservative moralizing critics like Genlis, Cottin censored key moments in Malvina and Amelie Mansfield (Call 69-70, 87, 161; Sykes 412-13). By 1806 when Cottin's fourth published novel, Elisabeth ou les Exiles de Siberie was on its way to becoming an astonishing commercial success, Michaud with Giguet paid Cottin 12,000 francs for the first edition, and 16,000 for the rights to it (Call 161). Cottin's novels have been translated into English, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Polish, Rumanian, and Croatian (Cohen xx). Trousson counts 14 editions of Oeuvres Compl├Ętes between 1817 and 1856 (2:680).

Sykes lists an English translation of Amelie Mansfield, which he says appeared in London in 1803 (Amelia Mansfield. 4 Vols. [London: Gameau, 1803]); Raven, Forster and Bending offer fuller information:

1803:23 C[OTTIN], Sophie Ristaud].

AMELIA MANSFIELD. TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH OF MADAME C***. AUTHOR OF MALVINA 7 CLAIRE D'ALBE.

.
London: Printed by Cox, Son, and Baylis, Great Queen Street, for Gameau and Co., No. 51, Albemarle-Street. And sold by Boosey, Broad-Street, Royal Exchange, and Booth, Corner of Duke-Street, Portland Place, 1803.
1 vi, 2172p; II 239p; III 299p; IV 360p, 12 mo. 14s (CR)
CR 35d ser. 2: 114-15 (May 1804).
BL 12611.a.21; NSTC C3811.
Notes: Trans of Amelie Mansfield (Paris, 1802). Vol 2 lacks t.p. ECB 138 lists Colburn en, Dec 1809, 16s 6d. QR 1:304-15 (May 1809) gives full review of French lanaguge versoin, publshed by Colburn (London 1809).
Further edn: 1809 (NSTC)

Raven, James, Antonia Forster, and Stephen Bending, edd. The English Novel, 1770- 1729: A Bibliographical Survey of Prose Fiction Published in the British Isles. Oxford: At the University Press, 2000, 2:157. For further editions of Amelie Mansfield, see Sykes and the bibliography.

I have reproduced the 1809 edition of Amelie Mansfield which was published in London by Colburn because this is the earliest text available to me. The scholarly reader will want to consult the first 1803 edition, as well as the first reprint of the second edition of 1805 (see bibliography), especially for Letter C: Blanche a Albert, Vienne, 4 Octobre, six heures du soir (3:131-159). It is in this letter in the 1803 edition Amelie attempted to commit suicide; the present text is the revised account; see Letter C [Continuation III] (pp. 135 - 142): ["Il parcourt d'abord les rues adjacentes . . . "].

As with Isabelle de Montolieu's Caroline de Lichtfield, I have tried to make this etext as readable and searchable as I can. I have made the text on the screen easy on the reader's eyes by setting it into tables. I have divided the text into letters just as it is found in the 1809 edition published in London; I have further subdivided the letters for the convenience of a reader who might want small enough amounts of text to search. All the headings I have used on the table of contents page are the first lines of the text in question or represent dates, times and places Cottin herself provided as subdivisions for the original letters. I put all first lines in brackets so as to differentiate these from Cottin's headers.

I have attempted to type this etext edition as closely to the original as cyberspace allows. When I have come across obvious errors in the original (e.g., occasional misspellings of words and wrong accents), I have in most cases corrected the text silently. I decided not to use a "[sic]" in all cases when the error was in my judgement the result of English printers and compositors not knowing French sufficiently well. Within each volume, each section or document is linked to the next so that when the reader finishes (pp. 1 - 7) [Lettre I: Amelie Mansfield, a Albert de Lunebourg, son frere, Dresde, 2 Mai.], he or she need only click on the last word of the text of the section to get to the next (pp. 18 - 49) [ Lettre II: Albert de Lunebourg, a Amelie Mansfield, sa soeur, Dresde, 3 Mai.].


1 Since first putting the novel up (August 2004), I have had to change my software and can no longer produce accents on the web easily. Thus this Introductory note which I have revised since then lacks accents. The text of the novel has them.
Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson (1767-1824), Death of Atala 1808

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