Illyrine ou l’Ecueil de l’inexpérience

Suzanne Giroust
Suzanne Giroust

Illyrine ou l’Ecueil de l’inexpérience (Illyrine or the Pitfall of inexperience) is an autobiographical erotical novel written by the courtesan Suzanne Giroust and published in 1799. The first volume narrates the youth of Illyrine/Suzanne in French countryside and her encounter with her future husband, Mr Q. She is fifteen and he is thirty, they fell madly in love at first sight. Wealthy, Illyrine’s family is opposed to that wedding. Their constancy defeats the opposition of the maiden’s parents and they married. They have two to three years of happiness (despite her husband wrong managing of money -he might have been a gambler) and then an old lover of his come back to their life. They start an odd and scandalous threesome which ends around one year after when the two women are pregnant. After that, the relationship between the spouses are never the same: Mr Q. starts another liaison with the maid when Illyrine is seduced by M. Qtte, a lawyer. The second and the third volumes are written as letters that Illyrine sends to her dearest friend Lise, narrating her history and adding her new adventures. In short, her love story with M. Qtte does not last long and she flutters from a lover to another, following her heart but her financial needs as well. Rejected by her family, Illyrine becomes a courtesan in the revolutionary Paris, collecting highly politically involved lovers (such as Hérault de Séchelles), prestigious militaries (such as the Général Dumourier) and riche unknown from all nationalities:

If she could meet a German for breakfast, an Englishman for lunch, and a French for dinner, it would be called successfully and comfortably pull out of life.

Published in 1799, in between the French Revolution and the Empire, Illyrine ou l’Ecueil de l’inexpérience offers a feminine character completely opposed to the bourgeois conservative model of the time. Illyrine chooses to abandon her husband and her daughter to be free to love, and when it does not work our, she tries again and again. The text offers narrative parts and epistolary parts, the two main novel styles of the eighteenth-century. The licentious attitude of Illyrine and her unequivocal liaisons all over the three tomes of the novel assured the author celebrity and many critics from her contemporaries.

As far as I know unstranslated and, even in French, difficult to find (there was no full publication since de nineteenth-century), Illyrine ou l’Ecueil de l’inexpérience is a unique novel, definitively not shocking anymore (not after Fifty Shades of Grey) but immensely interesting considering the original path of its author and for love as a woman’s life ideal.

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