Tag Archives: sexual freedom

Free Love: Tessa Hadley

Tessa Hadley’s novel, Free Love, a tale of adultery, liberation and secrets, is set in 1960s Britain. The focus is 40 year-oldPhyllis Fischer, the mismatched wife of Roger, a devoted husband and father who has a solid career in the Foreign Office. Phyllis and Roger have two children: Colette, a lumpish unattractive teen, and 9 year-old Hugh. Phyllis has her role as wife and mother–she keeps a wonderful home, cooks for dinner parties, and has a house cleaner. She’s an excellent wife and mother, and yet it doesn’t take much to send Phyllis off the rails.

This is the 60s, and 60s sexuality runs headlong into Phyllis when a young, attractive man named Nicholas comes to visit the Fischers. His parents, Jean and Peter are long-time friends of the family, and Jean sends Nicholas to meet the Fischers since he’s new to London. Nicholas upsets the dinner by engaging with Roger over politics. Phyllis is used to flirting with the men who come her way, but a casual squeeze of Nicholas’s shoulder seems to make him recoil. Phyllis questions her “sexual self” and wonders if she repulsed Nicky.

Phyllis hadn’t known that the young had this power, to reduce the present of the middle-aged to rubble.

Nicky finds he’s attracted to Phyllis–that somehow she doesn’t quite fit the housewife role she plays:

The blurred big mouth-the pink lipstick seeping into the cracks in her lips–gave her away somehow as playful and irresponsible for all her performance as the ideal housewife. No doubt she was as bored as he was, bored to death.

After Phyllis has too much to drink, she ends up kissing Nicholas in the garden. Things should end there, but they don’t. It’s as though all these years, Phyllis has been in her role as wife and mother but that role, like a suit of ill fitting clothing, never felt right. She has secret sexual longings for passion, and her sex life with Roger has always been restrained–companionable rather than passionate. Phyllis had one lover before marriage to Roger–it was a torrid affair that “turned into something ugly, and she’d buried the memory of it, marrying Roger instead and reacting against passion, seeming to see through it and believing she could live without it.

The memory of passion–the years of self denial erupt to the surface of Phyllis’s life. Phyllis seeks out Nicholas in Boho London and an affair begins. With Nicholas in his 20s on the cusp of his career, and Phyllis almost old enough to be his mother, it’s obvious that this relationship has an expiration date. Phyllis’s quest for liberation–sexual, intellectual, comes at a terrible price.

After finishing the novel, which I enjoyed but found rather sad, I asked myself whether the word ‘free’ in the title was an adjective or a verb. Perhaps both? Did love ‘free’ Phyllis? Is love ever free or does it come with chains and encumbrances? And what of Roger, who is not neglected here–what does Free Love do to his life? Phyllis is not the only one chained to a life that is perhaps not exactly what one would have chosen. When Phyllis decides to leave her family, it’s her choice, yes, but everyone pays the price.

Review copy



Filed under Fiction, Hadley Tessa

Betrayal by the Marquis de Sade

“O sovereign Providence, why are men’s means so limited that the only way they can ever contrive to do good is by doing a little evil!”

I went through a Marquis de Sade period years ago, but when I came across Betrayal, a title I hadn’t read and published by Hesperus Press, I couldn’t resist. After all the Marquis is everyone’s favourite pervie, and Hesperus puts together some excellent little editions. Betrayal actually contains 2 stories: The Magistrate Mocked (which clocks in at 74 pages) and Emilie de Tourville or Brotherly Cruelty which is 27 pages long. Of the two I prefer the latter. If I wanted to be nasty, I’d say I prefer Emilie de Tourville because it’s shorter, but that wouldn’t be strictly true. The style is much better, but more of that later.

The Magistrate Mocked has some of the elements of a farce, except in typical de Sade fashion, the author doesn’t understand limits, mocking (as the title suggests) ad nauseum, one of his main characters. It’s true that we don’t have much sympathy for the elderly, repugnant M. de Fontanis, “the president of the Parlement of Aix,” but de Sade’s jokes at the expense of this character become old. When the story begins an elderly Baron arranges the marriage, against her will, of his youngest daughter to the repulsive, sepulchral Fontanis:

Not many people can imagine a president of the Parlement of Aix–it is a species of beast of which people have often spoken without knowing it well: strict and unbending by profession,  and pernickety, credulous, stubborn, vain, cowardly, garrulous and stupid by character; with a beaky little face, rolling his ‘r’s like a Punchinello, commonly as thin as a rake, lanky and skinny and stinking like a corpse…It seems that all the spleen and haughtiness of all the magistrates in the kingdom has taken refuge in this temple of the Themis of Provence, to gush out as and when needed, each time that a French court has remonstrances to bring or citizens to hang. But M. de Fontanis was even worse than this rapid sketch of his compatriots would suggest. Over the gaunt, and indeed somewhat bent figure that we have just depicted, M. de Fontanis displayed a narrow occiput, not very low and rising to a distinct eminence, adorned by a yellow forehead magisterially covered by a multi-layered wig, of a kind that had never been seen in Paris; two rather bandy legs supported, with some magnificence, this walking church-tower, from whose chest–not without some inconvenience for those nearby–there issued the exhalations of a yelping voice that poured forth, with a certain pomposity, long compliments, half-French and half-Provencal, at which he never failed to smile himself, his mouth gaping so wide that it was possible to see as far as the uvula that dangled over a blackish chasm, entirely toothless.

De Sade goes on to compare the mouth of de Fontanis to a toilet. A tasty prospect indeed for the Baron’s youngest daughter who happens to be in love with the young, handsome, Count d’Elbène, and to complicate matters, Mlle de Téroze has lost her virginity to the Count. For a moment, I expected Mlle de Téroze to flee with her lover, but de Sade has some torturous misadventures in mind for de Fontanis. 

De Fontanis marries his bride and they honeymoon at the home of the bride’s sister and brother-in-law, the Marquis and the Marquise d’Olincourt. It then becomes the goal of the bride, her sister and brother-in-law, and, naturally, the lover, to ensure that the consummation of the marriage does not take place. This involves a number of horrible things happening to de Fontanis and of course, there’s the  inevitable, classic de Sade scatology with an episode of uncontrollable diarrhoea along with another episode of de Fontanis falling into a cesspool.

The second story Emilie de Tourville or Brotherly Cruelty concerns a middle-aged Count who discovers a near-dead woman in the middle of the road. He takes her home and as she slowly recovers, she tells him her story of woe: seduction, betrayal & abandonment, debauchery, and imprisonment. It’s a tragic tale along the lines of a dummied-down Clarissa, but de Sade isn’t interested in developing character and he has to push the boundaries by dragging in coincidence. This story, however, is devoid of the occasional floweriness and annoying lofty nonsense that appears in The Magistrate Mocked.

Hesperus Press elevates these stories by combining them with a marvellous introduction by translator Andrew Brown, and that’s what makes this edition so worthwhile. This introduction places the stories within the context of de Sade’s life, and Brown points out that at one point, de Sade and his handy man-servant Latour were accused of trying to poison 4 prostitutes in Marseilles. The poison was in fact sweets laced with aphrodisiac, and 2 of the prostitutes accused de Sade of sodomy and attempted poisoning. The parlement of Aix-en-Provence passed sentence of death on both Latour and de Sade. They escaped, but effigies were symbolically ‘executed’ in their place. Andrew Brown notes that these charges were later dropped. The important element here, however, is that this explains de Sade’s spleen against the legal profession, and like many writers, he executes in fiction what he could not commit in life.

The Magistrate Mocked is also valuable for the way in which de Sade, after having fictionally tortured de Fontanis with humiliation after humiliation, lays out some of his philosophy of crime and punishment through the mouths of his characters. One of de Sade’s beefs, apparently, was that prostitutes could make accusations against an aristocrat, and what’s more they could even find a sympathetic ear.


Filed under Fiction, Marquis de Sade