A 100-page Gothic tale embedded in Genlis's 1782 novel 'Adèle et Théodore', the 'Histoire de la duchesse de C***' tells the story of an Italian duchess secretly imprisoned by her husband for nine years in a dungeon under his palace after he drugs her, simulates her death, and buries a waxen figure in her place.
In a footnote to the 1804 edition of the novel, Genlis explains that the story is based on the experiences of the Italian Duchess of Cerifalco, whom Genlis met in Rome in 1776. The duchess's tale quickly became so popular that Genlis published it in a separate edition in 1783; as Genlis's fame as a writer and educator spread, both the novella and the novel from which it was drawn were reprinted numerous times and published in translation in England where they enjoyed considerable success as well.
The 'Histoire de la Duchesse de C***' is a masterful blend of the sentimental and the Gothic genres and, as such, provides students with an excellent introduction to both literary traditions. Genlis's subtle analysis of the power relations between husband and wife shows keen psychological insight and constitutes the most compelling aspect of the duchess's story.
This critical edition is accompanied by an introduction to the text and author, a selected bibliography, and an original modern English translation of the text.
Mary S. Trouille is Professor of French at Illinois State University.