Women and Virtue in 18th C France I.pdf

*Tel.: 020-8547-2000. E-mail address: (M. Linton). ¹ For a full-length consideration of the politics of virtue, see [1]. History of European Ideas 26 (2000) 35}49 Virtue rewarded? Women and the politics of virtue in 18th-century France. Part I Marisa Linton* Faculty of Human Sciences, Kingston University, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KTl 2EE, UK &The civil virtues, that is to say, those virtues which relate to the common good and the advantage of human soc
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  * Tel.: 020-8547-2000.  E-mail address:  m.linton @ (M. Linton).  For a full-length consideration of the politics of virtue, see [1].History of European Ideas 26 (2000) 35 } 49 Virtue rewarded? Women and the politicsof virtue in 18th-century France. Part I Marisa Linton *  Faculty of Human Sciences, Kingston Uni v ersity, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames,Surrey KTl 2EE, UK  & The civil virtues, that is to say, those virtues which relate to the common good andthe advantage of human society, are in nitely better practised by women than bymen. '  Ca $ aux,  De &     fences du beau sexe  (1753).Throughout the 18th-century a positive obsession existed with the idea of virtue[1].   It was a word with many meanings, but from its earliest manifestation it hadbeen deeply associated with ideals of manhood. It had srcinated as the Latin term & virtus ' , derived from the word for a man,  & vir ' , and had meant those qualities whichwere deemed to be most worthy of a man. Originally, these were warlike qualities,above all, courage in battle. But for the Romans it had very soon been used todesignate also the sel # ess dedication a man needed in order to be an active citizen inpublic life. In the classical republican tradition a man of virtue was one who putdevotion to the public welfare before his own self advantage or the interests of hisfamily.In 18th-century France this stern model of classical republican virtue was still verymuch a current idea. But there were also many competing ideas, or discourses, of virtue which vied for the attention of the reading public, including notions of Christian virtue, noble virtue, and monarchical virtue. Most signi cantly, from aboutthe middle of the century a new concept had come to prominence.This was the idea of innate natural virtue. This natural virtue manifested itself in social terms. It wasargued that all humanity was bound by common ties of sympathy. Such fellow-feelingmade people wish to be of active bene t to each other and to help those less fortunatethan themselves. This concept was not overtly political, in the sense of the classicalrepublican formulation. But it conveyed the broader notion that men had civil 0191-6599/01/$-see front matter    2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.PII: S0 19 1 -6 5 9 9 (0 0) 0 0 0 1 6 - 4   School education for girls was generally both much briefer in duration and much more super cial thanthat accorded to boys. The overwhelming emphasis was on religious instruction and on forming futurewivesandmothers. Neithertheclassicsnor Enlightenmentideaswere much in evidence:to learn about suchsubjects girls would probably have had to resort to private study. On school education in the Paris region,see [2]. responsibilities for fellow citizens and that their virtue legitimised their participationin public life.By the early 1750s, the outlines of the  & man of virtue '  had taken shape as an ideal of masculine, social and political conduct. As a political model its in # uence wouldincrease throughout the rest of the century and into the revolutionary period. He wasa composite of qualities derived from older ideas of classical republicanism and newerconcepts of natural virtue. There was space for considerable variation within themodel, but the main outlines were clear enough. Integrity was his most essentialquality. He was independent, open, and  & incorruptible ' , both in public and in privatelife. Hewas a citizen,devotedto his  patrie , and to hisfellow citizens.This devotionwasby no means incompatible with his loyalty to the monarchy, but it was based on theassumption that the monarch also served the best interests of the  patrie . The  & manof virtue '  was, like the hero of Mackenzie ' s novel, a  & man of feeling '  (  sensibilite &    ).His natural impulses were good though he was generally depicted as being ableto  & master '  his emotions whenever necessary. He took his familial obligationswith the utmost seriousness, and was an exemplary father, son and husband. Hisimage formed a marked contrast with that of the  & aristocratic libertine ' , or even withthe  & man of honour '  whose self-esteem derived from his social appearance andprestige.But sex, of course, made all the di !  erence. A French schoolboy of the educatedclasses could read about the courageous exploits of Marcus Brutus, or the Gracchi.These were renowned heroes a boy could aspire to model his own behaviour on *  atleast in their reveries. But his sister was most unlikely to have been allowed muchaccess to the classics, or to have been taught the Latin or Greek needed to read themin the srcinal [2].   If she did become acquainted with such texts the role models of virtuous women therein were likely to make for depressing reading, hardly heroinesone would burn to emulate. The tale of the founding of the Roman republic was basedon a woman ' s virtue, it is true. Lucretia ' s rape and subsequent suicide provided theinitial inspiration for the overthrow of tyranny and establishment of the republic.Lucretia ' s self-sacri ce was perhaps unlikely to appeal overmuch to girls reading theclassics. Women of the ancient classical world generally were of low status and weresupposed to stay in the privacy of their homes and leave public virtue to the men. Anexceptionwas the Spartan women who dedicated themselves to public virtue by beingso unnatural as to exult in the death of their sons for the fatherland and instructedtheir sons setting o !   to war.  & Come back with your shield or on it ' : that is, better deadthan a coward. It was hardly a tender portrait of motherhood. French girls were farmore likely to be familiar with the Christian tradition. There they would   nda di !  erent kind of feminine virtue, one achieved primarily through passive su !  ering. 36  M. Linton  /   History of European Ideas 26 (2000) 35 } 49   A pioneering study in this respect was of J.W. Scott [3].  One of the most notorious accounts was that attributed to Pidansat de Mairobert,  Anecdotes sur  Madame la Comtesse Dubarri  (Amsterdam, 1776). This work enjoyed immense popularity: Darnton states itwas the equivalent of an eighteenth-century  & best-seller ' , see [4]. Its inspiration was the anguish of Madonna, the loving but submissive wife andmother; her sorrows would only be assuaged in heaven.The nature of women ' s relationship to virtue presents us with an important, thoughcomplex, set of problems. The politics of virtue dealt mainly with the public world andtherefore, by de nition, was concerned mostly with the public life of men. But thepublic realm of political virtue also had its reverse side: exclusion, private life andfemininity. Important new work has begun to map out political practice and politicaltheory in terms of distinctions based on gender roles [3].   Few subjects in 18th-century studies have been as contentious as the relationship between political theoryand gender. This debate has been srcinal and illuminating, and the present work ismuch indebted to new works in this   eld. But some aspects of the debate have beencouched in somewhat anachronistic terms and address present-day concerns whichwould have held little meaning for people in the 18th century. Whilst not at allattemptingto denytheinterestofsuch a theoreticalapproach,the presentarticle takesa slightly di !  erent stance. It will seek to examine ideas about women ' s virtue throughthe voices of people of the time *  both women and men who were concerned with thesocial and moral position of women. It will seek to explain their ideas in ways whichwould have had some meaning for people of the time, in their own terms. It is that18th-century understanding of the nature *  and social and political potential *  of women ' s virtue that we shall seek to uncover here.Thepublicface of masculinevirtuewasbased on certainassumptionsaboutthe roleof women and the complementary qualities which they brought to society. Underabsolute monarchy women were almost entirely excluded from political power. Therewere a very few *  but notable *  exceptions: one or two royal wives, and certain royalmistresses who had won the trust of the king and whose in # uence extended beyondthe bedroom into court politics and royal patronage. Noblewomen might sometimesbe players in the patronage system if circumstances (usually widowhood) had giventhem control over land and property. For the most part, though, women wereconspicuous by their absence both from political practice and political theory. Norwere there any calls before the Revolution for the political enfranchisementof women.In a society where all men but the king were excluded from political rights there wasno sense that women needed *  or were entitled to *  political representation. Thosewomen close to the throne who did exert indirect power were often resented for whatwas perceived to be a corruption of royal authority. Often the most vitriolic of theirattackerswere courtiers who felt that they had unjustly been excluded from patronageand honours due to the interference of over-powerful women [4].   This attitude wasvery much in line with classical republicantraditions of thought whereby womenwereseen as the antithesis of republican virtue, prone to ignorance and love of luxury andusing their seductive wiles to wield excessive in # uence over men.  M. Linton  /   History of European Ideas 26 (2000) 35 } 49  37   On the language of the Mazarinades, see [5].  On the virtues of kingship, see [6].  See Stanislas ' s  A v is du Roi a %    la Reine sa Fille lors de son Marriage ' ,in the work published under his nameStanislas Leczinski [7].  A characteristic treatment of the  & humble virtues '  of the long-su !  ering wife of Louis XV was given in herfuneral oration by Boismont [8]. Hostility towards women in public life is most apparent in the treatment of the onlywomen who occupied an o $ cial place close to the source of legitimate politicalauthority in the  ancien re &     gime *  the queens of France. Salic law meant no womancould rule in her own right. Queens suchas Anne of Austria and, before her, Catherinede Medici who had exercised political power during the minority of their sons, hadbeen bitterly resented for it [5].   Antagonism towards queens combined two popularprejudices: distrust of women engaged in politics, and suspicion aroused by thepresence of a foreign interest at the heart of the French government. The virtues of queens were di !  erent in character to those of kings, and the actions of queens hadalways been more circumscribed and held to be more publicly accountable [6].  Stanislas, the exiled king of Poland and father-in-law of Louis XV o !  ered conven-tional advise to his daughter, Marie Leczinska on how to comport herself as queen of France. He stated that the French public, being an  & enlightened people '  was therightful judgeof the queen ' s actions,and could demand of her  & the virtues which it hadtheright to claim ' . Aqueen ' s virtuesshould includeher resignationof any ties with herown people. The conduct of politics was also outside her sphere: she should notattempt  & to penetrate the veils which cover the secrets of the state '  [7].   MarieLeczinska attracted public sympathy for the way in which she was seen to conform tothis self-e !  acing model. She was repeatedly said to be a model of queenly or  & humble ' virtues. She was devout; she patiently bore with her husband ' s neglect and repeatedin delity; her chastity was beyond question; she produced royal sons to whom shemight impart her own virtues; and   nally she went quietly and uncomplainingly intoher grave [8].   In fact, however, she probably had little choice: her potential to havea high-political pro le at court was severely limited by the fact that her father was, toall intents and purposes, reduced to being little more than Louis XV ' s pensioner.During Louis XV ' s reign, the opprobrium lavished on  & political '  women wasdirected, not against the queen, but against his mistresses; above all, Madame dePompadour and Madame du Barry. In the anti-monarchical propaganda of the time,whilst Marie Leczinska epitomised queenly virtue: they stood for vice. Indeed, itappears that Marie Leczinska herself actively helped to encourage this identi cation.Together with her son, Dauphin, she was a leader of the  de &    v ot   faction at court. Assuch, despite the strictures against queens  & meddling '  in politics, she was not abovesome discrete political manipulation herself. The  de &    v ot   faction worked to promote theview that Madame de Pompadour in particular was corrupting the political order byexerting an undue in # uence over the king. These rumours circulated widely, goingbeyond court circles into the clandestine press, and shaping popular opinion on thematter. Ironically (for this was hardly the intention of the  de &    v ots ) such rumours tendedto undermine respect for the monarch himself [9]. 38  M. Linton  /   History of European Ideas 26 (2000) 35 } 49
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