In 1770, Antoine-Louis Séguier, the avocat général (king's advocate) of the Parlement of Paris, defended Jean-Baptiste Dubarle, a Parisian wine merchant, against charges of theft, seduction, kidnapping, and adultery initiated by a carpenter, Eustache Chefdeville. For all of the offenses, Chefdeville demanded monetary reparation.
The case, summarized in a mémoire, connects the history of family law in France under the ancien régime to the skillful use of lawyerly forensics. But it also relates to literary portrayals of social scapegraces who betray the esteemed values of friendship and gratitude: in fact, this member of Paris's menu peuple emerges from the pages of the case abstract as a dissembling traitor. Séguier's legal brief, viewed as a work of fiction, projects Chefdeville as an ungrateful betrayer who feigns comradery. In Séguier's telling, this disfigured pariah, albeit socially inferior, takes his place next to the deceptive worldlings described in many eighteenth-century novels. Like them, he violates the sacred laws of sincerity, turning himself into a moral pervert. Séguier's mémoire is rich precisely because it demonstrates how a skilled lawyer attempting to win his case adopts the form of a story characterized by all the literary qualities of the day—love, friendship, avarice, and betrayal. It illustrates a classic legal approach and also reads like a novel from beginning to end.