Biancamaria Fontana, Would you mind imprisoning my wife? Times Literary Supplement, May 17, 2017
Review of Arlette Farge and Michel Foucault, Disorderly Families. Infamous letters from the Bastille archives. Edited by Nancy Luxon. Translated by Thomas Scott-Railton 344pp. University of Minnesota Press. $35.
Imagine living in a country where your domestic conflicts could be solved by having persons troublesome to you swiftly and legally arrested and taken away. You would simply address your grievances to some sympathetic public official, and your obstreperous spouse, eccentric mother-in-law or delinquent son could be discreetly moved out of your life to be detained indefinitely in some suitable institution at the king’s pleasure. In the late 1970s Michel Foucault took a break from writing his History of Sexuality to work on an edition of the intriguing set of letters he had come upon while researching in the Bastille archives. The letters, dating from the first half of the eighteenth century, were addressed to the lieutenant of police (and indirectly to the king) by people who requested imprisonment for some member of their own family by means of a lettre de cachet, the special royal order that bypassed normal legal procedures.