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The Trial of Madame Caillaux Paperback – December 15, 1993

ISBN-13: 978-0520084285 ISBN-10: 0520084284 Edition: 1ST

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1ST edition (December 15, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520084284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520084285
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.9 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #240,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Berenson, professor of history at UCLA, writes a gender micro-history of the Belle Epoque in France (1890-1914) by examining the trial and acquittal of Madame Henriette Caillaux. On March 14, 1914 she fatally shot Gaston Calmette, editor of Le Figaro , motivated by the press campaign he was conducting against her husband, Joseph Caillaux, an influential left-wing cabinet minister. Utilizing courtroom transcripts and press coverage of the proceedings which riveted the attention of the nation, the author presents a carefully researched analysis that yields insights into the years when early feminism was beginning to affect social mores. Through the behavior and statements of the trial's participants, a societal portrait of the complex power relationship between men and women of the period emerges in this fine academic history. Illustrated.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A skillful take on France's belle ‚poque, using the celebrated 1914 trial of Henriette Caillaux for the murder of Le Figaro editor Gaston Calmette as a springboard to examine a wide range of contemporary topics. Dubbing his method ``microhistory''--whereby the past is approached ``through one exemplary event or person''- -Berenson (History/UCLA) looks at French attitudes toward divorce, the place of women in society, masculine ``honor'' and dueling, the growing power of the popular press, and the lingering psychological damage of the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. On March 16, 1914, Henriette Caillaux, wife of the head of the left-leaning Radical Party, entered the office of Gaston Calmette, whose influential journal was engaged in a campaign of vilification against Mme. Caillaux's husband, Joseph. ``You know why I have come?'' the elegantly dressed matron asked. ``Not at all, Madame,'' Calmette replied. Without another word, Mme. Caillaux drew a pistol from her muff and pumped six bullets into Calmette. Four months later, the editor's assailant stood trial for murder. Addressing the events of the week-long trial day-by-day, Berenson discusses how Mme. Caillaux's defense depended on convincing the jury that hers was an uncontrollable ``crime of passion'' rather than a premeditated political act. The author offers interesting insights into how this defense reflected the widely held conviction that ``real'' women were in thrall to their emotions and not responsible for their actions in such crimes. The ploy was successful: Henriette was found not guilty. Here, Berenson is especially sensitive in conveying the frustrations felt by many women of the time and the ironies inherent in their position. Speaking of male attitudes toward marital sex, for example, he writes, ``One's wife was not to be an object of sexual desire, since to desire her was to degrade her.'' Freshly researched, elegantly written, always engrossing. (Twelve b&w illustrations.) -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By lisakaz@eden.rutgers.edu on October 24, 1997
Format: Paperback
If you think the O.J. trial was "The Trial of the Century" and said a lot about 1990s America, you should read Edward Berenson's study of 1914 France. I have used this book for class assigned readings and students, beyond the O.J. comparison, have, like myself, found this book to be a compelling, fascinating account of why, on the eve of WWI, the French found more to be at stake in this case. That a society woman defends herself in charges of murder by using mainstream assumptions of gender, that she was too feminine to have intended to kill, will cause many to question the use and significance of gender constructions. Does Madame Caillaux deserve her fate? Berenson lets you be the judge. It's defintely a thought-provoking, enjoyable read. A well-crafted work of microhistory, where the proceedings of the trial form the external structure, but a longer history of the Belle Epoque informs our understanding of each day's events and our assessment of the "star" of the day. This book can be savored by a wide audience, which is why I have had community college students read it.
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12 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 24, 1998
Format: Hardcover
A fascinating and socially important case, but yikes, this is a dry and wordy book! Amazingly, the author never tells us what happened to the "heroine" after the trial--did she die? When? How? Is she still alive, and some 160 years old? Get it out of the library and skim it if you're interested in French political history, but this is not a book you can buy to read over and over.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By margot on November 28, 2009
Format: Paperback
One of the reasons France and Britain were both blindsided by the coming of war in 1914 is that their lively and sensationalistic press were busy with matters close to home. In Great Britain, the major governmental concern was the Home Rule Act for Ireland (passed, but never implemented). In France the big news story was the trial of Madame Henriette Caillaux. Mme Caillaux shot and killed the editor of Le Figaro in retaliation for what was widely regarded as scurrilous and vindictive persecution of her husband Joseph, the Finance Minister. The shooting happened in March 1914, the trial took place in late July, at the very eve of the Great War.

This tale of romance and murder among middle-aged bourgeois is easily a juicy tale, something for a Chabrol movie. Certainly it was spicy paydirt for the Paris dailies. But Edward Berenson has no interest in dramatizing the tale or encouraging our prurient tastes. No, this is a dry analysis of the personalities of the case and the prejudices of the time. Caillaux himself is judged a manic-depressive womanizer who had a compulsion to annoy his fellow politicians. Mme Caillaux is a mysterious cipher of no particular personality. To the popular press she was a Rohrschach blot into which the journalists and audience read the prejudices of their time. The shooting looked like a crime of passion, and Mme Caillaux was a sort of popular heroine. Few were surprised when she was acquitted.

Berenson sees her acquittal as an marker of the anti-feminist sentiment of the day. Women were regarded as less rational and more passionate than men (the analysis goes), hence they were less likely to be taken seriously as murderers. Oh please, let's not be tiresome. Surely the press and public were cheering Mme Caillaux because they liked the idea of a wronged woman stepping into a newspaper editor's office and giving him what-for.
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