Eloge de la méchante femme, Dédié à Mademoiselle Honesta. Louis COQUELET.
Eloge de la méchante femme, Dédié à Mademoiselle Honesta.
Eloge de la méchante femme, Dédié à Mademoiselle Honesta.
Eloge de la méchante femme, Dédié à Mademoiselle Honesta.
Eloge de la méchante femme, Dédié à Mademoiselle Honesta.

Eloge de la méchante femme, Dédié à Mademoiselle Honesta. Paris: Antoine de Heuqueville, 1731.

12mo (156 x 87 mm). [8], 49, [1] pp., 1 blank leaf. Woodcut title vignette, headpieces and initials. Offsetting of a title-page from a different work on verso of final blank leaf (see below). A few leaves browned. Early 19th-century French speckled calf, gilt Greek key border roll, spine gold-tooled, edges red-sprinkled (joints and extremities scuffed). ***

First Edition (or first edition thus) of a very funny semi-feminist encomium of mean b***hes. In his dedication to “Madame Honesta,” a paradigm of nasty womanhood, the author explains that he had looked high and low throughout the streets and salons of Paris (thronging with “sheeplike souls,” sweet mild-mannered ladies) for a truly méchante femme, before finally finding her. Her ill-temper, intolerance of bores and of contradiction, and readiness to scratch the eyes out of anyone who displeases her (and who doesn’t displease her?) are the hallmarks of her Nastiness.

The author expresses an occasionally ambivalent attitude toward women (typical of the average husband perhaps) that echoes in places earlier misogynist parodies, but his expressions of respect for strong women and disdain for male self-delusion seem unfeigned. He introduces his subject with an extended mockery of superstition, in which category he classes men’s fears of méchantes femmes, which had been drilled into them at a young age, just like their fears of the number thirteen, etc. These irrational prejudices against outspoken strong-willed women are fortified by the world’s male authors: brief citations and paraphrases of French and classical literature are provided, with full citations in the second half of the text, a less interesting florilegium of misogynistic poems and aphorisms, with the author’s commentary.

The heart of the spoof is a list of ways that nasty women make the best wives. Essentially, intolerant shrews force men to better themselves: husbands learn humility faced with the daily barrages of criticism, most of which they can not honestly disagree with; they stay sober and faithful, the alternative being scenes; their nasty wives keep them generous, avarice being out of the question faced with those outstretched hands and menacing stares; they stay thin: dinnertime being the right time for scolding, there is little temptation to linger at table. Nasty women teach the choleric man to restrain himself, as rage only makes things worse. (The author repeatedly decries wife-beating and violence against women, both for moral and practical reasons.) Above all, a shrewish wife teaches men patience, that “heroic virtue,” so necessary in the world no matter who one is. Much is made of Socrates, who acknowledged his debt to shrieking, table-overturning Xantippe for making him a philosopher. The author concludes that, far from an evil to be avoided, a nasty wife is the greatest treasure a man can hope for.

Louis Coquelet was a prolific wit and author of facetious texts (several of which were “Eloges de ... i.e., “in praise of”: nothing; something; gout; peasants; lies, and so on). He published a work with a similar title, La Méchante Femme, possibly an earlier, shorter version of the text, in 1728.

The preface is signed C., and the Approbation, dated 30 December 1730, also refers to a S[eigneur] C. (it cites a different form of the title, “Les Amusements du S. C. ou Paradoxes nouveaux contenans les Eloges de la mechante Femme”). Barbier implies that instead of the final blank leaf there are copies with a publisher’s list, listing “les Oeuvres de M. C**”. This copy bears further evidence for Coquelet’s authorship: on the verso of the final blank leaf is a faintly offset reverse image, from a damp sheet, of the title-page of a different work, Eloge des Paysans, aux Paysans. A woodcut vignette is visible but no imprint. That work, published under one of Coquelet’s pseudonyms, appeared in 1731 in Paris, with imprints Paris: chez P. Morisset, or the Hague. Antoine de Heuqueville, who published the present edition, was a printer-bookseller; Pierre Morisset was only a bookseller, so one may deduce that Heuqueville must have printed the Eloge des Paysans.

OCLC locates 4 copies, of which one in the US (Houghton). Barbier II:81; Gay-Lemonnyer II:88; Cioranescu, 18e siècle 21126. Item #2726

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