which revisionists fabricate innovativeninterpretations. Both volumes do,nhowever, open a window upon thenbanahties of existence in times andnplaces—Virginia of the 1850’s andnFrance of the 1890’s—whose study isnoften preoccupied with the unfoldingnof BIG EVENTS: say, for example,nthe Dreyfus Affair in Erance, or thensecession crisis in Virginia. They, too,nserve who grapple only with the demandsnof insignificant lives.nObsessive feminists will hitch thesenbooks to their ideological wagon:nAgnes Lee, in this transmogrification,nemerges as the pedestaled belle of OldnVirginia, and Marthe de Montbourgnas the victim of repressive morality.nSuch reductionism ill serves bothnwomen. If she was, in fact, oppressednby patriarchy, Agnes seems ignorant ofnher plight, confiding to her journal thennormal joys, sorrows, aspirahons, andnapprehensions of a young Virginiannwoman of her class and era. Like hernfather, who would soon be transformednfrom an obscure colonel intonthe hero of the Confederacy, she facesntribulation with a stoic sense of honornand duty; a Virginian of her class—nwhether male or female — did notnwhine, wallow in self-pity, or curse thengods for meting out justice imperfectly.nHad she not died in 1873 at the agenof 32, she would have forged in hernperson that combination of lace, lavender,nand steel that has made thenSouthern woman a figure not to benpitied but to be approached with anmixture of respect, trepidation, andnawe.nFrederick Brown, the eminent elucidatornof French literature, remarks innthe foreword to Marthe that “what wensee of Marthe are mostly images projectednby the people in whose handsnher fate lies: her mother, guardian,nuncle, and later, husband.” Such andescription will hardly suffice for anyoung woman who dominates an entirenfamily’s attention for a decade andnwho, in pursuit of sexual gratification,nsets off an uproar akin to that creatednby a loose cannon careening about thendeck of a ship awash in a moiling sea.nIf this Marthe is repressed, it is frighteningnto imagine what an unrepressednMarthe would have accomplished.nSexually active from the age of 14, shenbecomes pregnant by a peasant fivenyears later and bears an illegitimatenTHE MUSEnby Monk GibbonnPity my muse. I remember her when she was young.nShe had the gravity of youth, its gaiety too;nBright eyes, brown hair, a softly-speaking tonguenThat gave the lie to any griefs she knew.nShe was aware of God, as one is awarenOf some rich relative in a far-off landnWhom one has never met, yet year by yearnIs sent off grateful messages in a copperplate hand.nWhat happened to her? You’d hardly know her now;nDulled eyes; grey hair; not actually bedraggled.nYet lacking the lustre of an unfurrowed brow.nShe married Philosophic Doubt, and poor.nShe daily scrubs the metaphysical floor.nMonk Gibbon was named a Fellow of the Royal Society ofnLiterature in 1950 and has served as vice president of The IrishnAcademy of Letters. His volumes of poetry include Wise SmallnBirds, For Daws to Peck At, Now We’ll Forget the Windy Hill, andnThis Insubstantial Pageant. He is also author of The Masterpiecenand the Man: Yeats As I Knew Him (Macmillan).nchild. The family correspondencen(mainly between Marthe’s mothernEmilie, and Emilie’s brother Gharlesnde Cerilley) begins in 1892 with thenfrantic search for a husband fornMarthe.^After repeated disappointments,nEmilie settles upon RobertnCaron d’Aillot, a feckless and impecuniousnmember of the petite noblesse,nwho is willing to undertake the reformationnof the wayward fille “into annice wife able to take her place in ansalon”; the tainted past of a handsomelyndowered wife takes second place tonthe prospects of financial solvency.nMarthe’s marriage, however, plungesnher family into what her uncle callsn”an ocean of muck” and “a sea ofnshame”: Robert abuses Marthe; Emilienthreatens Robert, who in turn vows tonexpose Marthe’s “lascivious past”;nRobert and Marthe engage in feverishnand frequent coupling; and Marthenrefuses to leave Robert because, as M.nde Cerilley puts it, she has “to have itnat any price.” After seducing a farmhand,nMarthe flees to her mother;nnewly liberated, she beds her farmhandnagain, rejects him in favor of annnvalet, and before her death in 1902nmakes her final conquest in the personnof her solicitous cousin, Henri. Feministsnmay view this as a tragic tale ofnfemale subjection; more properly, it isna farcical comedy compounded out ofnTom Jones, Moll Flanders, Therese Raquin,nand Lady Chatterley’s Lover.nWhat distresses the de Montbourgsnand de Cerilleys is not so much Marthe’snrampaging wantonness, butnrather her proletarian tastes in bednpartners. Emflie in particular exhibitsnthat last gambit of a decadent aristocracy,nsnobbery; she bemoans the “meannrepublican spirit” of fin de sieclenFrance and decries the “egalitariannvulgarity” of the age. Marthe parades ancast of repellent aristocrats; greedy,ngrasping, and small-minded, theynthink only of money, the horrors ofnscandal, and the iniquities of a societynthat threatens their status. Agnes Lee,nby contrast, feels no menace from thenlower orders; with the best of Virginia’snprewar landed gentry, she assuages thenrigors of slavery with the decency demandednby noblesse oblige. The Leesnare secure in their social posihon, andnJUNE 1986/27n