The discourse of women writers in the French Revolution: Olympe de Gouges and Constance de Salm

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De Mattos, Rudy Frédéric, 1974-

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Twentieth-century scholars have extensively studied how Rousseau's domestic discourse impacted the patriarchal ideology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and contributed to women's exclusion from the public sphere. Joan Landes, Lynn Hunt, and many others, argued that the French Revolution excluded women from the public sphere and confined them to the domestic realm. Joan Landes also argued that the patriarchal discourse was a mere reflection of social reality. In The Other Enlightenment, Carla Hesse argues for the women's presence in the public sphere. One of the goals of this dissertation is to contribute to the debate by analyzing the content of the counter-discourse of selected women authors during the revolutionary era and examine how they challenged and subverted the patriarchal discourse. In the second chapter, I reconstruct the patriarchal discourse. I first examine the official (or legal) discourse in crucial works which remain absent from major modern sources: Jean Domat's Loix civiles dans leur order naturel and Louis de Héricourt's Loix eccleésiastiques de France dans leur order naturel. Then I look at how scientists like Monroe, Roussel, Lignac, Venel, and Robert used discoveries regarding woman's physiology to create a medical discourse that justifies woman's inferiority so as to confine them into the domestic/private sphere. I examine how intellectuals such as Rousseau, Diderot, Montesquieu, Coyer and Laclos, reinforced women's domesticity. In chapter 3, I examine women's participation in the early stage of the Revolution and the overt attempt by some women to claim their place in the public sphere and to challenge and subvert the oppressive patriarchal discourse through their writings. Chapter 4 focuses on Olympe de Gouges's theater and a specific example of subversion of the patriarchal discourse: I compare the father figure in Diderot's La Religieuse and de Gouges's play Le Couvent, ou les Voeux forcés. Finally chapter 5 examines women's involvement in the French Revolution after 1794 and Constance de Salm's attack on patriarchy.