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[ANON POST] Women's Rights in 1810s-1820s France
orange_fell wrote in little_details
The setting is Paris during 1810s-1820s in our world.

I've tried to research, woman's rights both general and France specific, Napoleonic code, the Bourbon Restoration, divorce laws, and property laws.

I'm trying to determine information about two different female characters.

First character: Her father owned and ran a bookshop. She works there too. She has no living siblings. He has no other living family. She marries. The father dies (while Napoleon was still in power). If I understand the napoleonic code right, ownership of the bookshop would go to the husband, not her. He would have complete control of any earnings even if she was the one running the shop. He could spend the money on alcohol and mistresses. Should a mistress have a child that he legally recognizes as his, the child could inherit part or all of the shop if the wife had no children at the time of death.
1st question: Is this how the shop and it's earnings would be dealt with?

2nd question: With the husband spending most of their earnings on drink and women, is it possible for her to gain some control of their finances legally? How likely would she be able to with no spending money to pay legal fees and the laws favoring men? Assume they have no debt.

3rd question: Divorce was legal during this time. How hard would this be? Assume little money to pay fees and the husband doesn't want the divorce. If they did become divorced, what would happen to the shop? If he was also physically abusing her, how hard was it to prove abuse for a divorce?

Second female character: The time is now 1820s during the Bourbon Restoration. She is 20 years old. She has no siblings. Her parents die. They have no other living family. Assume the family had little money, no property, and no debt.
1st question: What would happen to her? Would she need a guardian? Who?

2nd question: How difficult would it be for her to get a job as a single woman with no parents?

3rd question: If she managed to earn enough money, could she open a bank account? I know before 1964 married women had to have their husband's permission to open bank accounts, but I'm not sure of the laws for single women.

What the Napoleonic Code leaves out is the legal right (and prevalence) of a marriage contract. There is no way this marriage would have taken place without one because the woman is bringing in significant property.

A marriage contract exists to protect a woman's dowry and any inherited property from the husband and ensure that it can pass down the family line. This is what you need to be investigating - what restrictions there are on a marriage contract, because that's how this shop will be protected.

If you absolutely need her to be married under communal property, you'll have to deal with why there was no contract. (In Les Miserables, I suspect Cosette has no marriage contract because Valjean would have to sign it with a forged signature, something he keeps avoiding.)

The marriage contract is what will permit this woman to have any control over finances and not have them both end up bankrupt. (well, in theory. In practice, that didn't always pan out, as it does require legal professionals to have the woman's interest in mind. Balzac's Eugenie Grandet includes a plot point where her father managed to spend the property that her mother had protected with a marriage contract and thus cannot pay Eugenie her rightful inheritance when her mother dies. But Eugenie is legally owed that property - it is a debt her father must legally pay to her or for her to forgive.) No contract, no chance for her to have any control over anything legally.

Divorce was mutual consent - if he needs continued access to income from property protected under a marriage contract, he's never going to consent, so she is screwed. If they property went unprotected and is lost, he may be willing to get out, but there's so much social opprobrium that I'm not sure divorce is really the answer. Mutual consent is going to be a problem here. And abuse doesn't matter - men are permitted to physically chastise their wives. There may be some social "he's taking it a bit too far", but I can't imagine it getting to anyone caring legally until she's dead.

Second character, what is her socio economic rank? Her education level, her work experience, etc. That's going to hugely affect what her job options are. Millions of single women worked for their living, obviously - what you're really trying to figure out is if she's painting fans, doing embroidery, working as a servant, or doing sweated labour on shirts. If she's of a bourgeois standing but fallen into no money, she'll have far more trouble than if her parents were a blacksmith and his wife simply because she'll have had less experience of a variety of hard work.

Her socioeconomic rank will also affect whether anyone cares if she has a guardian or not. A woman reaches adulthood at 22, and she will require a guardian if she is to legally marry - the guardian must approve the marriage up to that time. (Beyond that time, there's another three years in which three repeated refusals, documented, are necessary to marry without guardian permission.)

Your bank account question is anachronistic. Banking was a very small sector of the French economy at this time and the vast majority of people were unbanked even into the 20th century. Savings are kept under the mattress, pretty much, or literally buried. In times of hardship, peasants sometimes managed to produce gold coins 100 years old to pay their rent because they were a small horde passed down through generations until need became so great. If your character has no property, her family is almost certained unbanked.

I've done a write-up of some of the family law issues here - - and some inheritance issues here -

Rereading, I think I sound a little harsh in response to your Second Character, 3rd Question. My apologies - it is one of those things that is not terribly obvious to a modern middle-class reader/writer. Fernand Braudel has a good explanation of the lack of banking in France in The Identity of France volume 3. It's not available on Google Books, unfortunately, or I'd link it.

Other usual resources for you may include Work and Revolution in France by William Sewell, A History of Private Life vol. 4 ed. Perrot, Ariès, Duby, Husbands, Wives, and Lovers: Marriage and its Discontents in Nineteenth Century France by Patricia Mainardi (this one should be very useful for Character 1), Childhood in Nineteenth Century France by Colin Heywood if Character 2 is indeed working class, and not French but useful, The Employments of Women by Virginia Penny. This last is actually American from the 1860s, but it's tremendously useful for a modern reader/writer in determining the many different kinds of work that were actually available in an only partly mechanized economy. Possibly also try Gender and Poverty in Nineteenth Century France by Rachel Fuchs, but I think the good bits are no longer in the preview.

Useful fiction, because Balzac is all about people being terrible for money: Eugenie Grandet, The Marriage Contract, possibly some bits of Pere Goriot that talk directly about the daughters. These are all frequently available in English and will be enlightening on marriage contract issues. (Eugenie Grandet takes place in the 1820s but her parents were obviously married under the previous regime - the marriage contract and inheritance stuff are valid, and The Marriage Contract is a detailed look at how a woman's property would be protected by a marriage contract.)

Please feel free to contact me personally - a good bit of this is well within what I do in fandom, and I'd be glad to talk through options, follow up questions, sources, etc.

Edited at 2014-02-15 08:20 pm (UTC)

The links look very useful. Thanks. On the second character, I haven't fully decided on her backstory. I've been leaning towards her being from a bourgeois family who had fallen on hard times. She can read and write, but has no work experience. I asked about her opening a bank account because I'm toying with the idea of her becoming a published author, likely using a male pen name, a few years after her parents die. When I accidentally came across the 1964 law about married women, I started to wonder what the laws were for single women.

I'll add From the Salon to the Schoolroom: Educating Bourgeois Girls in Nineteenth Century France by Rebecca Rogers and Women Art Critics in Nineteenth Century France: Vanishing Acts by Wendelin Guentner.

Her parents can, in a will, put her under whoever's guardianship they choose. If they do not elect anyone, guardianship will pass to the nearest living relative on the father's side. This will be pretty much required socially as well as legally (if she were working class, it would be less pressing).

Keep in mind that most writers have never become rich in any era, so I still find it unlikely she'll accumulate enough in earnings to be worried about banking it rather than stashing it away. She'll obviously be paid in cash (banknotes were still kind of weird and not fully trusted by a lot of people at this period - another tidbit from Braudel - which is why they were only issued in amounts useful for high level wholesale trading and banking, the equivalent of having the lowest denomination be $10,000 today).

Women writers of this period include George Sand (obviously), Marceline Valmore, Sophie Gay and her daughter Delphine, Elise Voiart and her daughter Mme Tastu, Victorine Collin, Sophie Pannier, Eugénie Foa - all involved in fiction, poetry, and periodical publications, which is probably the realm you're looking for. Once we get into the 1840s and Saint Simonians, there's Fanny Richehomme, Anais Segalas, and a significant increase in working class writings (French feminism kicks up through the Saint Simonians and the 1848 revolution - Flora Tristan probably most famously). Everyone I've mentioned here has at least some biographical information available in English with a quick search on Google Books.

Thank you for all your help and suggestions.

Don't know any of the legalities, or what kind of hoops one would have had to jump through to get a divorce in France in those days, but I do know that, legal or not, there was still a MAJOR social stigma to getting a divorce. If there were children involved, they would become pariahs as well. I knew that was the case here in America, but I was quite surprised when my great-grandmother, who lived in Marseilles in the 1880s, told me that it was every bit as bad there. It started to loosen up somewhat in the 1920s, while it remained stigmatized in the States until the late 1960s - except in Hollywood, of course. The movie industry and its people have always been a law unto themselves.

Thanks. I'm just trying to determine given a bad situation what her options are and how likely each option is to succeed. I'm not surprised about feelings about divorce given the time period and the fact that it becomes illegal in the next regime (1816) It will remain illegal until 1884. It hadn't occured to me that any children would also become pariahs.