Adultery in the XIXe century

Adultery in the XIX<sup>e</sup> century

  • Le petit Parisien publishes Viviane.

  • The willful dog or the convenient husband.

  • Danger of arriving trip unexpectedly.

  • Parisian fantasies. Adultery.

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Title: Le petit Parisien publishes Viviane.

Author :

Creation date : 1884

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 130 - Width 0

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Picture reference: 05-513783 / 61.18.77

Le petit Parisien publishes Viviane.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

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Title: The willful horn or the convenient husband.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 31.5 - Width 40

Technique and other indications: Wood wire, stencil, laid. Printing Diot Lucien-Côme (c.1802-c.1829)

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Magesite web

Picture reference: 05-526312 / 65.75.20C

The willful dog or the convenient husband.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Mage

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Title: Danger of arriving trip unexpectedly.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Porcelain plate. Manufacture of Creil.

Storage location: National Museum of Car and Tourism website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Picture reference: 96-018001 / CMV1136 (1)

Danger of arriving trip unexpectedly.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

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Title: Parisian fantasies. Adultery.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 8.3 - Width 17.5

Technique and other indications: Stereoscopic view. Circa 1875.

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojeda

Picture reference: 97-012875 / Pho1997-2-66

Parisian fantasies. Adultery.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Publication date: March 2011

Historical context

History of adultery

In the XIXe century, the question of adultery and its punishment is the subject of many debates, as evidenced by novels like Madame Bovary by Flaubert (1857) and Therese Raquin by Zola (1867). It also gives rise to abundant iconography in which the role of the culprit almost always falls to the woman.

This situation finds its origin in the law of September 27, 1792 by which the Constituent Assembly had instituted divorce and, decriminalizing adultery, had made it a legitimate reason for breaking up for each of the spouses. If the Civil Code of 1804 maintains adultery of women among the legal causes of divorce, it reaffirms the authority of paterfamilias on his wife and reinstates a heavier criminal sanction for women than for men. When Catholicism becomes the state religion again, it is then divorce that is abolished by the law of May 8, 1816; only legal separation, admitted by the Church, remains authorized.

In fact, until the end of the XIXe century, this asymmetrical appreciation of adultery remains more relevant than ever: the woman, eternal minor, is placed under the authority of her husband and, when she is guilty of adultery, must not wait for indulgence. neither justice nor society, unlike the husband whose adultery goes unnoticed.

Image Analysis

" By God, my husband ! "Adultery in literature and art

The novel by Pierre Sales, Viviane de Montmoran, serialized in The Little Parisian in 1884, was addressed to a large audience fond of the secrets of alcoves, a taste reflected in the title of the series in which the novel would subsequently appear in bookstores, "The Battles of Love", and the poster of the Little Parisian in garish colors, where, during a trial, a man commits suicide in front of his helpless wife in front of the gendarmes and the magistrates.

The passionate news item inspires popular art just as much: from engraving to porcelain and photography, a whole production is devoted to this subject in fashion, where women generally play the wrong role. The voluntary Cornard or the convenient Mari, a wire woodcut printed on laid paper, depicts a man seated at a table with a letter and a purse full of money. In front of him stand his wife and his lover. As the satirical song that accompanies the illustration says, the cuckold husband is happy with his lot: "If my horns are seen first / Anyway, I get gold. "

This porcelain plate produced by the Creil factory presents a central scene whose legend, Danger of arriving unexpectedly, makes the meaning very clear: when he returns home when he is not expected, the husband surprises his wife there on a date with her lover. Her raised arms reflect the indignation that her fate inspires in her, considered here as inevitable (because of the inherently fickle nature of women?).

Extracted from an 1875 photographic series devoted to "Parisian Fantasies", this photo shows an adulterous couple in bed in the privacy of a bedroom. The man pulls aside the heavy curtain that protects their lovemaking, as if a noise had alerted him. This fear of being surprised indicates to what extent adultery represented a grave fault and fraught with consequences in the XIXe century, when bourgeois morality dictated the conduct of individuals and prohibited all infidelity, in particular on the part of the woman whose role was to obey her husband and devote herself to his children, and not to follow his passions. On the other hand, this proliferation of an increasingly vaudevillesque literature and iconography reflects the distance that society begins to take from the phenomenon of adultery at the end of the 19th century.e century.


The decriminalization of adultery

The publication of Pierre Sales's novel coincides with the famous Naquet law of July 27, 1884, which, having re-established divorce, makes adultery on one or the other of the spouses the first of its three possible causes. The promulgation of this law is part of a broad current of republican thought which rejects the principle of the indissolubility of the bonds of marriage in the name of the freedom of individuals and in a context a little more favorable to the condition of women. With regard to the adulterous woman, the law marks an important turning point, since, for the first time in the history of French law, the husband and the wife are equal before her, and the fault of both. the other becomes a valid ground for divorce; in contrast, adultery remains subject to criminal penalties. Subsequently, this divorce law will be gradually relaxed to adapt to mores. The law of December 15, 1904 in particular lifts the ban on marriage, once the divorce has been pronounced, between the adulterous person and his or her accomplice. However, it was not until the reform of July 11, 1975 that adultery ceased to be considered a crime and that the rights of children born of an adulterous relationship were identical to those of legitimate children.

  • wedding
  • Creil factory
  • literature
  • novel


Jean-Claude BOLOGNE, History of marriage in the West, Paris, Lattès, 1995. Jean GAUDEMET, Le Mariage en Occident, Paris, Éd. Du Cerf, 1987.Sabine MELCHIOR-BONNET and Aude DE TOCQUEVILLE, History of adultery, Paris , La Martinière, 1999.Francis RONSIN, Le Contrat sentimental: debates on marriage, love, divorce, from the Ancien Régime to the Restoration, Paris, Aubier, 1990.Agnès WALCH, History of adultery, XVIth -19th century, Paris, Perrin, 2009.

To cite this article

Charlotte DENOËL, "Adultery in the XIXe century "

Video: Overcoming The Pain of Adultery