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Sophie Cottin's Rape

Here is a romantic period fan.  It has bone and ivory sticks, a metal rivet and its double printed leaf is made of painted and golden paper.  Let us have at first a look at the reverse (verso). It is a "scène galante",  very usual on fans, sometimes after François Boucher.  Under the glances of a young boy, who is an accomplice, a  Peeping Tom or a rival, a couple seems to prepare to enjoy some liberties.

 Promenons nous !

Looking at it more closely, ones may think that far from the supposed conventions of 19th century,   - not still truly victorian, indeed - , it is the maid who leads her partner. But towards what ?  Note that our friend Tom DeLeo, a great American fan scholar, thinks that, rather than enticing the man, the woman is trying to escape his advances.  She too? Very possible, indeed!

les regards indiscrets u

But to this point, there is here nothing surprising : this fan belongs to those charming leaves the Parisian engravers (especially) widespread  with profusion during the 1820's… At this time the fan, without having totally disappeared,  had been done more discrete than in the 18th-Century or than it will be again in the 2nd half of the 19th-Century. But we would not consider it worthy to appear in your presence if it had not something characteristic, if it did not ask any question. Please look at the obverse.

Enlevée par un turc...

Such  coloured background were typical and sought after at the end of the 1820's (this taste culminating with the so called “Rainbow " or “ombrés” fans. In front of two palm trees, a cross and walls (perhaps a besieged city?) a turbanned rider is galloping  carrying  a woman whose light chatain  hair  floats in the wind.  But let us look at it more closely. 

Morte ou vive ?

Dead or alive? Is this young woman only unconscious?  What is the meaning, if any, of the kind of salute the rider makes with his hand? 
  We intended to beg your assistance to answer these questions… And the main one :  what is represented in this scene?  As we thought we had already seen such a fan, or at least such an engraving (but where ???), we were fancying it was a contemporary testimony of the famous Delacroix painting “the Massacres of Scio”.
Lord Byron, par Odevaere
©[] - photo Erich Lessing

We already evoked Byron dying in Missolonghi , or  Victor Victor Hugo in his Orientales poetry book…
 “Ô  horror!  horror!  horror! ”,  W. Shakespeare,  Macbeth
The Turks have passed there. All is ruin and mourning. Chio, the island of the wines, is nothing any more but one dark shelf, Chio, which the hedges shadowed  Chio which in the floods reflected its large woods, Its slopes, its palaces, and sometimes in the evening  A dancing chorus of girls.

 … But we were totally mistaken!… In fact  we are seeing Malek-Adhel  raping Mathilde.
This was a fashionable subject (in particular for the “grocers clocks” will say some grumbling critics) after “Mathilde”, a novel by Mrs. Sophie Cottin published in 1805 and often republished and translated thereafter.
(Mathilde ou Mémoires tirés de l’histoire des croisades, Paris, Giguet et Michaud, 1805, 6 vol., in-12).

 The scene of our fan is fairly well described there : the heroin, a Christian princess in Palestine at the time of the 3rd crusade is about to be victim of an attack of Bedouins. A warrior emerges who furiously tackles the Bedouins and kills them. He seizes the girl and bring her outside  In the ruins, the Christians succumbed under the number; and the surviving brigands, “out of mind from terror”, flee,  howling the name of their attacker: “Malek-Adhel”:

[...he sees only Mathilde, he thinks only of its dangers ; he poses her on a superb horse and rides behind  her. W
ith a hand he presses her against him, with the other he seizes  the horse support, and followed by a few Moslem soldiers, moves away  at full gallop from this scene of carnage.”  
lMalzek Adhel enlève Mthilde epinal
© Biblioteca Nacional Digital                         [678181]  mage d'Epinal  DEMBOUR Adrien (graveur, imprimeur, libraire, éditeur)
                                                                                                                 Paris   musée national des Arts et Traditions Populaires  
      © iconothèque MNATP
Through the British Museum website we discovered (quite late) the certain source of the image on our fan. It is an 1815-1820 engraving by Charles François Gabriel Levachez (Fl. 1780-1820), printed by Roland and according to the museum notice, after a painting by Horace Vernet (1789-1863). This print is known, and is part of a series. Another drawing of the series, "Malek Adhel saves Mathilde from the Bedouin Arabs fury", went on sale November 22, 2002 (Mes Calmels Cohen, Paris).

Morte ou vive ?     British Museum

Other prints of this scene are identified. And the Bibliographie de France notes :
     June 11, 1842, no. 892 Smuggler scenes: designs for fans. - (...) - Some Chinese scenes, drawings for fans. - Death of
Malek Adhel: Malek-Adhel expiring in the arms of Matilda. - Malek-Adhel raping Mathilde: this faithless man taking on his galloping horse the young Christian in a religious costume. - Malek-Adhel seizes Mathilde and Berengaria: Malek-Adhel taking them into a boat. In Paris, at {}.

Other prints will be available later, reflecting the success of this story, which probably accompanied the French expansion in North Africa. All prints mentioned above are not clearly for fans... Some indications lead us to believe that Boulard, a prolific editor of fan leaves, contributed to the making of our fan, and maybe Nargeot, who engraved a lot of etched and stipple-engraved fan leaves.

Sophie Cottin was a recognized and popular novelist, appreciated by the elite (even Madame de Stael incensed her, and also Madame de Genlis, with a hint of jealousy), but also by very ordinary people. In his Ph.D. thesis
Sophie Cottin, une romancière oubliée à l'orée du Romantisme -Une vie, une oeuvre, contribution à l'étude de la réception*, David Paul Bianciardi wrote:
Testimonies exist of persons entering modest house where on the walls are pinned two engravings: Atala dying in the arms of Choctaw and Malek-Adhel expiring in the arms of Matilda. In other words, Ms. Cottin was the equal of the great Chateaubriand and both works, Atala and Matilda, were undoubtedly the two highest achievements of French literature of the imperial period.
This story, in some way,  is reminiscent of that of Angelica and Medoro that we evoke in another page.
But this is another story. Meanwhile,
dear visitors, amateurs of fans or simple idlers, if you want to give an opinion (or, better still, photographs of other fans illustrating this same novel, or others of the same author!) thank you for sharing. Please go to the Home Page and email.
* soutenue le 27 octobre 1995 à la Faculté des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines de Metz -mention très honorable avec félicitations du  jury (MM. Jacques Hennequin / Roger Marchal / Eric Fauquet, rapport de M. Jean Gaulmier).
...Do  not forget the other questions

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