“The Fate of Madame Cabanel”

This week’s rather peculiar and obscure selection of weird fiction.

Review: “The Fate of Madame Cabanel”, Eliza Lynn Linton, 1873.

This story has nothing weird or supernatural in it though it has a lot of talk about them. However, it is not a tale where the supernatural element is rationalized.

This may be the first the first story I’ve read whose original publication was in The New York Times.

Our story takes place in the French village of Pievrot in Brittany.

The town’s leading citizen, 50 year old Monsieur Jules Cabanel, has gone to Paris and come back with a wife, the attractive, blonde English ex-governess, Fanny Campbell. She is “very young and very poor” and an orphan so she gratefully accepts Cabanel’s offer of marriage.

Campbell is regarded with increasing suspicion and resentment upon the couple’s return to the village. Cabanel’s housekeeper, Adèle, doesn’t like her. Through the course of the story, it becomes clear that she has been Cabanel’s mistress and that Adèle’s “nephew”, Adolphe, is really the couple’s son. The villagers are suspicious of Campbell because she’s of her looks, because she’s foreign, doesn’t know all the missals in Church, and likes to walk about including to the cemetery.

One villager is the gravedigger Martin. “Wise” Old Martin is kind of a catch all of local superstition and folklore. He talks about White Ladies dancing under the moonlight, imps in the woods, buried treasure, and the werewolf over in the next village.

Adèle is naturally resentful of her usurpation in the household and thinks Adolphe’s illness is due to Fanny. Martin decides Fanny is a vampire and the cause of the current illness of so many of the villagers.

Throughout all of this, good-natured Fanny is just pleasant and implacable and really doesn’t realize what’s happening. Cabanel eventually falls ill and Adele insinuates to him that it is Fanny the vampire doing it. His doctor insinuates it’s Fanny the poisoner doing it. Neither comes right out and accuses Fanny.

A freak accident one day puts blood on Adolphe’s face and Fanny’s mouth, and he dies then. This is all the proof the locals need that Fanny is a vampire.

A mob takes Fanny away to kill her and throw her in a pit. It’s not murder to them. Fanny isn’t human, and this is self-defense. Fanny dies on the way to the pit which is about a mile outside the village.

But the six villagers carrying her continue on their way. Then Cabanel and his doctor return from being gone.

Most of the mob flees except Martin and Adèle. She is rebuked and told she’ll answer to the law so she throws herself to the bottom of the pit. Martin claims they can’t put him in prison.  He saved the town from a vampire and who will dig the village’s graves?

“To prison is martyrs and the public benefactors . . . So the world rewards its best!” he retorts and to his dying breath holds that. He is not punished.

The story ends with the rest of the villagers growing to disbelieve Martin “and his wisdom” and come to think they should have just let the law take care of things.

Is this an attack on superstitious rural Frenchmen of the 19th century? Maybe. Doing some reading up on Linton, an author whose name I had never heard, I learned she was an atheist.

I suspect the women Adèle and Campbell are the reason Linton wrote the story. Linton was the first woman in England to support herself through journalism. Her third novel, Realities, from 1851 concerned itself with the inferior place of women in Britain.

However, starting in the 1870s, Linton became an anti-feminist and an anti-suffragette. I don’t know the details of what she saw in female psychology that made her take that view.

I suspect that Fanny is from the first strains of her thought, a woman who accepts a situation that kills her because she has few options. Adèle may represent some monstrous manifestation of the feminine that Linton saw as rendering women unfit for political participation.

 

 

Reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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