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Courtship as Social Warfare in Antoinette de Mirecourt

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Name: Rosanna Leprohon

Birth Place: Montreal, Quebec

Date of Birth: January 12th, 1829 (five years after Beckwith's novel was published!)

Date of Death: September 20th, 1879

Gravesite: Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges (QC)


Steam level: Not even a kiss

Content notes: Anti-Catholic sentiments, death of injured horses, and death of a loved one.

Tropes: Love Triangle, Second Chance Romance


The d’Aulney’s and Antoinette’s views of true love serves as symbolism for social warfare in Antoinette de Mirecourt, or Secret Marrying and Secret Sorrowing by Rosanna Leprohon (1864). Since Monsieur d’Aulney and his wife, Lucille, had an arranged marriage, Lucille becomes focused on ensuring that her cousin, Antoinette, has a love match. At the same time, Lucille sees society as a form of political revenge, and her husband believes society will only play with Antoinette’s heart. Their contrasting views causes d’Aulney to be a minor character in the marriage plot as he allows Lucille to have societal freedom. Because he retreats from society into his library, Lucille understands early on that she will gain more attention from society then her own husband.

Indeed, d’Aulney much prefers to hide in his library while Lucille invites eligible men to her social gatherings. He goes on to say, “...I would neither have the heart nor the courage to enter on this season’s campaign.” Clearly. he’s had enough experience from his own courtship that he would not want to participate any more than what will be required for Antoinette’s. In contrast, his wife hasn’t had enough experience with love and dalliances, so she feels that she must be involved in Antoinette’s affairs while being her supposedly trusted guide on such issues as falling in love. In comparison to her husband, who would rather have nothing to do with the English officers, Lucille reveals her questionable worthiness as Antoinette’s companion as she is just as passionate about her culture and plans to break English hearts as a form of social warfare on behalf of their country’s honour.

Antoinette also seems aware of who seals possible lack of eligibility in being her companion during the social season. Clearly Lucille means well when she declares, “the only basis of marriage for a happy marriage is mutual love…,” but she appears in denial of her own marriage as she wants to use Antoinette as an example of what a successful and happy marriage can look like. For these reasons, Lucille’s strategy is described like a battlefield. In chapter four, the author compares Lucille’s charms as “artillery,” including the way she glances, her smiles, and her tone of voice to attempt to capture the attention of her guests. She soon realizes,however, that Antoinette has captured everyone’s attention and puts her focus on the girl and the men wanting to marry her.

She appears to have nothing to worry about as Sternfield seems too eager to chaperone Antoinette and keep her away from men such as Cnl. Evelyn who Sternfield declares is a “woman hater.” Ironically, he also points out that Evelyn doesn’t attend church while Sternfield makes it clear later that he does not respect Christian values as dearly as Antoinette does. He paints Evelyn in the most critical light possible, hoping to deter Antoinette’s attention away from him. The author notes the discontent of Canadians under British rule as British don’t respond French society, but Sternfield blurs these lines when he flirts with Adelaide while he reads. Adelaide learns a different form of intimate knowledge which she later self examines their interaction when she is alone.

In comparison to Monsieur d’Aulney, fiction and poems are part of courtship for Antoinette and not just an escape. Her continued interaction with Sternfield helps her believe that Mrs. A’ulney is not a good companion after all, as Mrs. A’ulney thinks her father should not stop a girl from a potential match and still considers Evelyn a semi-barbarian after an accident with the sleigh. To the young Antoinette, Sternfield’s love confession comes across as a “dangerous power” for the way she makes her feel.

Sternfield’s passionate proposal causes Antoinette to feel trapped by the charisma of her lover and the wisdom of her father. Arguably, one can see her father as old fashioned, but can Antoinette rely on someone who seems to just regard the priorities and when that has. While modern readers may not appreciate or value and when it’s concerns of how her father perceives her and when that’s relationship with her father symbolizes how their can be a generational conflict with romance and love. Even on her wedding day, Antoinette is so distressed that she is crying because she can’t decide if she should listen to her lover or the advice of her father. Interestingly, Mrs. D, A’ulnay becomes furious with Antoinette because of all the plans have been put in place for the ceremony. She would rather have a marriage for Antoinette in place, then respect her father’s wishes.

Understandably, and when it may have caused her a lot of frustration with her indecision between Louis and Sternfield. She does, however, admits that ultimately it is Antoinette’s decision and that she will not be the one to persuade her go forward with the wedding with Audley. Even after cross-examining Antoinette, she seems to have a difficult time accepting that the young girl would reject an offer of marriage. Antoinette becomes agitated by this, but pauses when she’s asked whether or not she follows her own heart. There seems to be a conflict of following one’s heart versus following traditions and expectations between the two ladies as Lucille has not had a loving marriage.

Luckily, due to the horrible weather they do not need to worry about guests coming and having to entertain them. Despite her previous years however Antoinette willingly agrees to marry Sternfield and the presence of a doctor, who has managed to come to their residence. Interestingly, Antoinette asks her witnesses that she and her fiance are only seen as friends until they are married again by the Catholic Church. After the marriage vows and when it clearly has anxiety over her decision. She makes it clear that she doesn’t want to be alone with him. Due to the storm, she has more time to ponder her decisions before her father arrives. She begs him not to make her regret her decision.

When she attempts to pray before going to bed, she appears to have difficulty finding comfort in the previous way that she lived. Clearly, Sternfield doesn’t see this as an issue and in comparison to Antoinette who has a headache the next morning, he eagerly comes to call on her the next day. She manages to recover in time for dinner during which her father finally arrives. Right away Monsieur de Mirecourt asks her why she hasn’t accepted Louis’s proposal, who he was hoping that she would accept. She admits that she does not love him enough to marry him. Notably her father recognizes Lucille’s influence on her and that she is the reason for Antoinette’s decision to not marry his choice. They clearly have differing opinions on what love is and how much one requires it to marry an individual. Her father's argument is that she has known Louis for a long time and that they are amicable towards each other. He calls Antoinette out on her behavior which he has heard has involved flirting.

When the others inform them that there is an obstacle to his plan, he reminds them that he does not want her to marry anyone who he does not approve of. His concerns evoke those of other French Canadians who worry that the English will overtake their language and culture. Even though Antoinette was trying to keep her marriage a secret, therefore to review it due to her father’s concern on the matter. When he learns this, her father refuses to let her have any form of intimacy with her husband. These harsh words cause Antoinette to ask him to take back his words, but due to her deception her father is unwilling to.

Honorably, Louis who is her father’s first choice, comes in and assures her father that he does not want an unwilling bride. In fact, he makes a point to say that he wants Antoinette to be happy even if it means not marrying her. He informs Antoinette that if she won’t accept him as her husband, he would still gladly be her friend. Interestingly, her father admits to Lucille that he has read novels that have informed him that it can be “ almost difficult to force a young girl to love a suitor against [her] own will.” In fact, he notes that if they were to try and separate them that would only make Antoinette love Sternfield even more.

Even though Antoinette refuses to break her vows with Sternfield, she makes it clear that she will not be any more familiar with him as she was when they first met. Sternfield protests that he should not need to have to agree with such a barrier, and should be able to intimately engage with his wife. Surprisingly, Lucille remains loyal with Antoinette on this topic and asks him to agree to Antoinette‘s boundaries as she wishes to keep. Lucille appears concerned that gossip will spread, and seems to realize too late that their might be social consequences for their hasty marriage. Eventually, they manage to appease Sternfield into waiting for a more public wedding. Since Sternfield knows that Antoinette still values her traditions, he asks her to kiss her mother’s crucifix necklace that she always wears to seal their agreement. This comes across as somewhat manipulative of Sternfield, but at least Antoinette feels more at peace with this arrangement as he treats her the same way as he did before their disagreement.

Notably, this exchange reveals how differently Evelyn and Sternfield view Antoinette. In Sternfield’s eyes, Antoinette is still a child looking for her father’s approval. He wants her to break away from the traditions she is accustomed to and wants embrace his passion for life. In comparison, Evelyn is seen as a barbarian for still participating in the French Catholic lifestyle. When Evelyn and Antoinette primarily spend time together in the book it is during the sleigh ride that has been previously mentioned. Unfortunately, there is an accident involving the courses and this lay is turned over causing Evelyn to have to rescue Antoinette from being hurt. He instantly commends Antoinette for her ability to be strong in the precarious situation. Evelyn notes his relief that he is not with the other woman like Lucille, who would have made the situation even more distressing with their dramatic personalities. Unlike Sternfield, Evelyn actually views Antoinette as a woman for her strength of character. What Sternfield Scenes as a weakness, Evelyn sees as an attractive strength.

While Antoinette eventually manages to get out of this difficult situation with Sternfield after he duels Louis, her final moments with Sternfield cause a lasting impression on other characters who witness her distress over Sternfield dying. A captain notes, “ … I for one do not think the less of the true-hearted girl who has had the courage enough to brave the smiles and sneers, in order that she might bid a last farewell to the man she loved.” Others around him disagree that Antoinette truly loves Sternfield, because she hasn’t shown any outward affection before. Despite this the captain believes that Antoinette’s disregard for societal disapproval outweighs her previous actions in the past.

Antoinette’s behaviour towards Sternfield agitates him as he reminds Antoinette how she did not want to publicly recognize their marriage. She reminds him that she was willing to under the right circumstances, and it was the secret way they had gone about it that she had disagreed with. Ultimately, unlike the Captain’s observation, Sternfield states she does not come out of love. Bravely, Antoinette stays by his side to nurse him despite concerns of what others will think of her. She also promises him to not to marry Louis “with heart and soul,” and kisses the same crucifix that she did after their wedding vows. Questionably ugly makes it clear that he cares little for the customs and religion that is so clearly close to and when that, eating on his Deathbed. He mocks her desire to pray for him and to ensure his salvation, which reminds readers for how they differed in their approaches toward even their marriage vows.

About two months later, Lucille informs Antoinette that Cnl.Evelyn has come to see her. She instantly relaxes in his company and willingly puts her hands on his hips. He declares his concern over her, but takes the moment to finally clear by if there is that she rejected his suit was due to her marriage to Sternfield. In a very contrasting manner, to her previous relationship, their true confessions of their love for each other as much more relaxed and passionate. He knows that he no longer cares “for the world’s opinions or its judgements, and I will certainly never suffer it to influence me where the happiness of my life is at stake.” Unlike her previous engagement, she expresses extreme joy and Cnl. Evelyn, his hope before he asks Antoinette's father for her hand. The story concludes with Lucille declaring that the ending is just like a fairytale along with the author reflecting on the horrors of secret marriages.

Resources

Leprohon, Rosanna. Antoinette de Mirecourt, or, Secret Marrying and Secret Sorrowing: A Canadian Tale. Edited by John C. Stockdale, Carleton University Press, 1995.





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