In a groundbreaking book that challenges many assumptions about gender and politics in the French Revolution, Suzanne Desan offers an insightful analysis of the ways the Revolution radically redefined the family and its internal dynamics. She shows how revolutionary politics and laws brought about a social revolution within households and created space for thousands of French women and men to reimagine their most intimate relationships. Families negotiated new social practices, including divorce, the reduction of paternal authority, egalitarian inheritance for sons and daughters alike, and the granting of civil rights to illegitimate children. Contrary to arguments that claim the Revolution bound women within a domestic sphere, The Family on Trial maintains that the new civil laws and gender politics offered many women unexpected opportunities to gain power, property, or independence.
The family became a political arena, a practical terrain for creating the Republic in day-to-day life. From 1789, citizens across France—sons and daughters, unhappily married spouses and illegitimate children, pamphleteers and moralists, deputies and judges—all disputed how the family should be reformed to remake the new France. They debated how revolutionary ideals and institutions should transform the emotional bonds, gender dynamics, legal customs, and economic arrangements that structured the family. They asked how to bring the principles of liberty, equality, and regeneration into the home. And as French citizens confronted each other in the home, in court, and in print, they gradually negotiated new domestic practices that balanced Old Regime customs with revolutionary innovations in law and culture. In a narrative that combines national-level analysis with a case study of family contestation in Normandy, Desan explores these struggles to bring politics into households and to envision and put into practice a new set of familial relationships.
The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France
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"The family is a small state, just as the State is a large family," declared the "Younger Sons of Provence" in 1789 as they denounced the inequalities and internal "privileges" that tore Old Regime families apart. These petitioners urged the new legislature to curtail the authority of despotic fathers, secure equal inheritance for all sons and daughters, and foster "mutual esteem" within the family. "The names father, mother, brother, and sister will no longer be insignificant words. . . . Moral affection, purified at its very source, will spread like a torrent in society. . . . The Provençal will become a good friend, good citizen, good subject, and the regeneration of the laws will also rebuild social morality."1 These younger sons of the Midi formed just one voice in a louder chorus urging fundamental changes in domestic relationships. The outbreak of the French Revolution created a potent space for questioning the customs, laws, emotions, power relations, and gender assumptions that informed family life.
During the 1790s the French Revolution radically redefined the family, its internal dynamics, and its relationship to the state. As part of an all-embracing attempt to liberate individuals, recreate citizens from within, and build a more egalitarian social structure, the revolutionaries challenged long-standing domestic practices and infused politics into the most intimate relationships. From 1789, citizens across France—jurists and deputies, pamphleteers and moralists, sons and daughters, illegitimate children and unhappily married spouses, lawyers and judges—all disputed how the family should be reformed to remake the new France. They debated how revolutionary ideals and institutions should transform the emotional bonds, gender dynamics, legal customs, and economic arrangements that structured the family. They asked how to bring the principles of liberty, equality, and regeneration into the home. And as French sisters and brothers, wives and husbands confronted one another in the home, in court, and in print, they gradually, wrenchingly, negotiated new domestic practices which balanced Old Regime customs with revolutionary innovations in law and culture. This book explores these struggles to envision and put into practice a new set of familial relationships. It examines the family as an arena of social and political contestation during the French Revolution and asks how citizens both reimagined and experienced family life.
The French revolutionaries were ambitious in their attempts to transform the family, for they saw how profoundly politics and the gendered matters of daily life were intertwined. In 1789, when the "Younger Sons of Provence" drew an analogy between family and state, they articulated a commonly held Old Regime concept: the internal dynamics of family and the politics of state paralleled and reinforced each other. Political theorists from Jean Bodin to Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet had justified absolutism by posing a correlation between the patriarchal rule of the monarch over his kingdom and the father's empire over his family. According to belief at the time, this hierarchy within state and household rested neither on contract nor on the choice or consent of the governed. Rather, it was ordained by nature and God. Countless discussions in "myth and sermon, science and philosophy" naturalized these notions about the superiority of male over female, parent over child, and wove these assumptions into the cultural fabric of everyday life.2
Royal policies and social practices within families lent added strength to these ways of perceiving gender and the political order. From the mid sixteenth century, as they laid the foundations of absolutism, monarchs and magistrates also pursued certain laws and policies that explicitly reinforced the authority of fathers and the stability of families, especially the lineage families of the king's elite allies. Royal decrees and jurisprudence strengthened parental control over marriage, defended the indissolubility of marriage, criminalized female adultery and infanticide, fostered the exclusion of illegitimate children from inheritance and civil status, and facilitated the imprisonment of rebellious children and adulterous wives with lettres de cachet (royal arrest warrants for summary incarceration).3 These Old Regime patriarchal practices and ideologies contained spaces for negotiation: notions of sexual difference were continually being disputed and remolded. As Julie Hardwick has argued for early modern Nantes, the "practice of patriarchy" emerged as a process rather than simply as an ideology or set of laws imposed from above. Women and adult children in many cases exercised more power over property or decision-making than the letter of the law allowed, and family patterns differed immensely from region to region.4
Nonetheless, by and large patriarchal household politics and the broader political system of absolutism were integrally interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Old Regime family critics—such as litigating wives, Enlightenment philosophes, reform-minded lawyers, and feminist novelists—did not hesitate to condemn "domestic despotism" in language at once familial and political.5 When the Revolution toppled the absolutist monarchy and attacked the hierarchical structure of society, many citizens from Lille to Languedoc believed that a new form of politics and state demanded the remaking of the family as well. "If we finally accept as an organizing principle that the strong will no longer impose laws on the weak in the great family of the State, why would we allow it in our own families?" asked two women from Rouen in 1789 in their Remonstrances by Norman Mothers and Daughters of the Third Estate.6
This book follows the lead suggested by these "Mothers and Daughters" of Normandy and by the "Younger Sons of Provence." It takes as its central question: What was the relationship between family, politics, and state during the French Revolution? In addressing this question, I analyze the continual interaction between family members and revolutionary politics and state-building. On the one hand, I argue that the Revolution transformed the most intimate relationships and challenged the patriarchal structure of Old Regime families. Revolutionary social reforms enabled—or sometimes required—various citizens to make concrete changes in their domestic situations. Women in certain positions in the family were especially able to benefit from innovations in civil law. Moreover, family members across France saw personal applications for the bold principles of revolutionary politics. As they struggled to reshape and reimagine their domestic worlds, they tapped into the social ideology of the Revolution to demand more egalitarian or affectionate relationships at home, to pressure the new state to recast domestic practices and policies, or, in some cases, to defend age-old customs from new angles.
On the other hand, I also argue that remaking the family and gender relationships was integral to forging the revolutionary state and politics. The family became a practical terrain for wrestling with the most fundamental questions of the French Revolution: how to invent the rights-bearing, legal individual within a newly secularized state; how to refashion subjects into citizens and political participants in the nation; how to remold social bonds and practices to promote equality, liberty, and unity. The revolutionaries had high hopes and deep criticism for the family because they recognized its centrality and potential: as the legal frame for defining citizenship, as a promising site of patriotic conversion, as the elemental building block of society and the gender order, as a testing ground where the ideals of personal liberty and equality could take shape in workaday life. The revolutionaries could not accomplish their essential legal, politico-cultural, and social goals without reforming domestic relationships, but reconstructing the family was neither a top-down nor an abstract process. Family members themselves—as litigants, petitioners, activists, pamphleteers, arbiters, and judges—influenced the generation of social policies and hammered out the practical meanings of citizenship and revolutionary principles in home, courtroom, and legislature. By asking how domestic and public contestation over familial matters interacted with revolutionary politics, this work places the day-to-day practices, gender negotiations, and political activism of ordinary men and women at the heart of the revolutionary attempt to build a new social and political order.
To probe the Revolution within the family offers the opportunity to address basic questions about social change, politics, and gender during this pivotal era. I argue that many individuals experienced the tumult of the 1790s as a social revolution as well as a political one. I use this phrase not in the classic sense of class transformation, although there were distinct class differences in the experience of family reform. Rather, the 1790s witnessed profound transformations in the expectations and practices within families and in the relationships between women and men, between siblings, between parents and children. Mistrustful of prerevolutionary customs that promoted domestic hierarchy, revolutionary leaders responded to vocal, popular appeals for change and passed controversial new laws, intended to dismantle the traditional family and to guarantee liberty and civil rights to individual family members. Divorce; the redefinition of marriage as a freely chosen, civil contract; egalitarian inheritance among daughters and sons alike; the reduction of paternal authority; adoption; the lowering of the age of majority; the gradual abolition of paternity suits by unwed mothers; the incorporation of illegitimate offspring into the family; the secularization of marriage and of civil record-keeping. These ambitious reforms pleased many people and resonated with the new politics, yet they inevitably provoked opposition and conflict, for they left almost no aspect of private life untouched. They struck at the core of property relations, kinship structures, and agrarian customs. They challenged complex webs of long-standing mutual obligation, built on gendered and generational lines. Despite resistance to change, many families were wrenched away from their customary means of negotiating intimacy and distributing resources and authority within households.
Revolutionary culture, institutions, and laws created opportunities for various women and men to carve out new roles and positions within the home. The outbreak of Revolution unleashed potent reform ideologies. Individuals who chafed against the constraints and hierarchies of families appropriated concepts such as "liberty," "natural right," or "equality" and forged a vehement critique of family customs. Miserable or abused wives, stigmatized "bastards" who were denied rights and civil status, defiant adult daughters or sons seeking to marry against their parents' wishes, abandoned husbands hoping to remarry, sisters and younger brothers angered by family strategies favoring eldest sons—discontent family members such as these invoked revolutionary ideals both in their personal attempts to recast their relationships and in their appeals to the state to reform domestic laws and policies. In the process, they articulated new models of intimate relationships that favored affection over purely pragmatic arrangements, individual liberty over sacrifice for the family line, and egalitarian relationships over domestic hierarchies.
In analyzing the social revolution within the home, I make the methodological assumption that one can understand the relationship between family and Revolution, between gender and politics, only by continually exploring the interactions between social practices and cultural construction. More specifically, I draw in part on the methodological insights of historians of gender and historians of political culture who have highlighted how powerfully language and imagery influence, shape, at times limit, at times make possible the perceptions and actions of men and women.7 But rather than focusing solely on lawmakers or the most renowned culture-makers, on men such as Robespierre or Rousseau, I argue that women and men at all levels of society generated new social norms and gender ideologies. As the French struggled to create the revolutionary family, they took part in ongoing debate over the cultural meanings of femininity and masculinity and over the interpretation of politically loaded principles, such as "natural law" or "equality." This study traces these discursive controversies and strategies across multiple arenas: in households, print culture, legislatures, festivals, speeches at Jacobin clubs, petitions, and courtrooms. A wide range of sources, from judicial briefs to feminist grievance lists (cahiers), even notarized property donations, provide access to citizen opinion close to the ground and enable me to demonstrate how profoundly revolutionary politics incited the social imagination and stirred up society-wide debate over the ideal interactions and relationships between genders and generations.
But I also explore the family as a socioeconomic institution, as a network of social relationships, as a group of individuals engaged in negotiation and conflict over resources, gender roles, legal identity, and domestic authority. Every citizen was keenly aware of the family as a legal and economic institution that conferred legitimacy and status, demarcated boundaries, organized the distribution of property, delineated juridical relationships and obligations, and enabled individuals to exercise control according to their domestic position. If my work takes inspiration from cultural approaches, it also reacts against the tendency of revolutionary historians of gender and of political culture to ignore questions about social dynamics and legal and economic structures. In conjunction with a nationwide examination of how the family was imagined, I use a local case study of the family court cases in the department of the Calvados in Normandy to probe domestic disputes and ask how the Revolution facilitated the redistribution of power and goods within households. Drawing on social and legal history methods also makes it possible to analyze how various factors—such as family position, geography, occupation, or exposure to revolutionary political culture—influenced individuals' opportunities to reshape their personal lives.8 Above all, I seek to intertwine these cultural and social approaches. For just as new political concepts and gender thinking informed social interactions, contestations over meaning—the meanings, for example, of affection, fatherhood, domestic liberty, or illegitimacy—were also influenced by social and legal negotiations over resources and relationships, as well as by the twists and turns of revolutionary politics.
The combination of cultural, social, and legal history is especially necessary and promising for the 1790s because French revolutionary leaders altered legal institutions and overhauled family law as a key part of building the secular republic and forwarding the politics of regeneration. In an attempt to make justice more accessible, affordable, and democratic, the National Assembly in 1790 established new institutions to deal with family disputes: notably, it set up temporary, local arbitration courts known as "family tribunals" or "family courts" (tribunaux de famille). Family members in conflict each chose two arbiters—ideally family members or friends—to adjudicate their disagreements and make rulings on matters such as divorce, division of inheritance, parent-child altercations, and so forth. Temporary and appointed by the litigants themselves, these family courts made justice seem especially malleable, relatively affordable, and close to home.9
At the same time, a growing list of innovative laws offered new rights to divorce, marry without parental consent, or inherit unexpected legacies. Citizens entered litigation in large numbers. Four chapters of this book draw on court cases to peer into households and assess the contours of this revolution within the home. For example, Chapter 3 focuses on divorce in the Calvados: urban women of artisanal or professional classes initiated divorce more than any other group, while rural resistance to divorce ran especially high. This new practice challenged the given of male dominance and also increased male and female expectations for compatibility between spouses, even as feuding spouses, their families, and arbiters disputed the multiple meanings of companionship and reciprocity in marriage. Chapter 4 investigates legal conflicts between Norman brothers and sisters over the new egalitarian inheritance laws and illustrates that sisters in this region won unprecedented legacies, lobbied for a more affectionate and equitable model of parent-child relations, and made political claims on both family and state to increase women's stature within conjugal families. In Chapter 5, I use a case study of paternity suits, petitions, and government policy in the early 1790s to examine the changed rules of courtship, the legal struggles of unwed mothers, and the escalating rates of illegitimacy. I also show how gendered expectations about the "natural" responsibilities of mothers and the freedom of alleged fathers prompted revolutionary lawmakers to abolish women's rights to paternity suits, although they offered illegitimate children new rights and civil status. In the wake of these legal innovations, Chapter 6 looks at the redefinition of fatherhood, motherhood, and family in a series of controversial court cases over paternity and the legacies of natural children. In the late 1790s and early 1800s as the political mood shifted rightward, the courts and judicial opinion once again tightened the boundaries of legitimate families, curtailed revolutionary promises to illegitimate children, and invented a new form of fatherhood that would underpin the Civil Code.
In conjunction with exploring social transformation within the home, this book also advances several points about revolutionary politics. I highlight the remarkable power of politics to inform intimacy. I also want to demonstrate the centrality of gender, family matters, and social change to the invention of revolutionary politics, state, and citizenship. Succinctly put, family and state shaped each other mutually, and remaking family and gender played a pivotal role in constructing the new state and politics.10 The intimate habits, rights, and relationships of parent and child, husband and wife, became politically contested terrain during the Revolution precisely because the family acted as the crucial matrix—natural, moral, and legal—that linked each individual to the new nation-state. For the deputies, to create juridical citizens equal before the law seemed impossible without considering the position of individuals within the family: the legal stature of each Old Regime subject had been determined in part by his or her familial status as illegitimate daughter, married woman, younger son, widow, father, primary heir, and so on. To invent the rights-bearing citizen raised knotty questions about the contractual rights of women and the liberties of adult children. Likewise, to ignite the moral and emotional fires of citizenship, the French revolutionaries believed they could tap into the power of familial bonds. Yet, for example, when they romanticized the natural love of parents for their offspring born inside or outside of marriage, republican leaders imagined the affective attributes of mothers and fathers very differently. In short, the family defined essential aspects of law and culture—two realms that the Revolution fervently sought to reform. As they strove to found the republic on uniform law and regenerated citizens, the revolutionaries inevitably found themselves wrestling with gender-loaded questions about power differentials and practices within households. To make Revolution and Republic demanded the recreation of the family.
At every turn, this attempt to define rights and cultural ideals within homes—in effect, to invent citizenship and refashion the family in the process—took place as a dialogue, an interchange among lawmakers and citizens. In examining this dialogue, I embrace a particular model of revolutionary politics. The energetic potential of the French Revolution to enact change stemmed from the intersection of three forces: a vibrant new ideology and political culture; the legal act of forging a new state; and unprecedented popular participation in politics by citizens across France. In the 1790s French women and men became politically galvanized around family matters. Old Regime actors had certainly recognized the centrality of families to politics, but the Revolution produced dynamic new political languages, injected a new intensity and legitimacy into politics at the grassroots level, and loaded myriad everyday questions, from dress to religion to marriage, with political controversy.
Politicization around issues such as paternity, sibling rights, or illegitimacy sprang out of the routine texture of family life, as citizens interpreted their personal desires, customary obligations, and economic prerogatives through the prism of a new political culture and a new relationship to the state. Family members did not hesitate to bombard legislature, newspapers, and local officials with their opinions and demand that their personal experiences be brought to bear in the broader arena of the state. As one group of petitioners to the Convention asserted in 1795 as they defended egalitarian inheritance reform: "This sublime law does not belong to you, legislators, it is from nature; she alone has dictated it, you have only been her mouthpiece."11 At this moment of intense political ferment and heightened anxiety over social issues, lawmakers responded intently to vocal outcries from citizens and local government officials. As revolutionary leaders crafted laws and cultural programs to reform familial practices, these in turn provoked nationwide responses. Negotiation within households, discussion in print and the public arena, and formal debate in the legislature all interacted to craft the republican family and citizenship.
This book is organized thematically around the issues of marriage and divorce, inheritance, and paternity and illegitimacy. At the same time, it traces the chronology of the Revolution and shows how each major turning point of the Revolution generated different gender models to underpin each new vision of the state and political order.12 Chapter 1 examines how marriage came under political criticism from male and female revolutionaries, while Chapter 2 argues that the reform of marriage and gender relations played an integral role in defining citizenship and forging the new nation-state. After the outbreak of Revolution, as citizens unleashed vehement calls for family reform and as lawmakers first struggled to extract state and civil law from the hands of the Church, the Constituent and Legislative Assemblies repeatedly deliberated the nature of marriage and the secularization of civil record-keeping (the état civil) in 1790-92. But the overthrow of the monarchy and founding of the Republic in August and September 1792 made it urgent to refashion social relationships that would match and sustain a secular and antipatriarchal political order. Within the space of a few weeks, the representatives moved swiftly to curtail arranged marriages, reduce parental authority, laicize civil records, and legalize divorce. Meanwhile, journalists, festival-planners, club members, petitioners, and local officials all intently debated what particular feminine and masculine behaviors would best cultivate morality and patriotism in the new Republic. Like the creation of the Republic, the Thermidorian reaction and the crafting of the Napoleonic regime marked salient moments for rethinking gender and family-state relations. As Chapter 7 shows, the Thermidorian and Directorial backlash against innovations in family law emerged from the joint concerns of angry family members and legislators anxious to secure social stability in a property-based republic. But only during the patriarchal politics of Napoleon's Consulate would this reaction against republican family laws reach its fullest extent in the Civil Code, just at the moment when the new state most distanced itself from popular political input and abandoned the goals of political regeneration and individual liberty. Chapter 8 explores the genesis of the Code.
By analyzing family and politics, my work also challenges prevalent assumptions about the impact of the Revolution on gender and on women in particular. The dominant hypothesis, most forcefully articulated by Joan Landes, holds that the Revolution laid the foundations for domesticity by excluding women from politics and mandating a "private" role for them. Proponents of this interpretation emphasize that Jacobin imagery, festivals, speeches, literature, press, and political theory constructed a powerful discourse urging women toward republican motherhood and familial duties. Furthermore, male revolutionary leaders gradually took steps to circumscribe women's public role: for example, the Convention closed down women's political clubs in October 1793 and later foreclosed female activism in the streets of Paris and the galleries of the Convention.13 As it emerged, this emphasis on female political exclusion during the Revolution coincided powerfully with other work in feminist scholarship. Lynn Hunt argued that male revolutionaries supported female domesticity because they feared social disorder and sexual dedifferentiation after the patriarchal model of politics and family had been overthrown. While literary specialists focused on eighteenth-century representations of domesticity, other prominent scholars theorized the links between liberalism and patriarchy more generally: influentially, Carole Pateman contended that liberalism rested on a sexual contract subordinating women, and Joan Scott analyzed the exclusions built into liberal universalism.14
One should not exaggerate the unity of viewpoints nor of method, but it seems clear that an interpretive conjuncture occurred by the early 1990s. Work coming out of diverse fields—including political theory, literary criticism, philosophy, intellectual and social history—coalesced to support a set of shared assumptions about the centrality of the Revolution in defining public politics as a male domain and domesticity as a female one. This interpretation is so dominant that historians who dissect nineteenth-century gender dynamics with great nuance often take as a given the domesticating and exclusionary legacy of 1789. In addition, this set of ideas about French republicanism holds all the more power because historians working on other regions, such as England, the United States, Central Europe, and Latin America, have also argued that republican or liberal politics, depending on the geography, reinforced the domestic subordination of women.15 Although historians have questioned the public-private dichotomy and investigated the diverse nature of women's political engagement during the French Revolution, the thesis that republicanism played an integral role in channeling women toward the home still frames current understandings of the gendered impact of the Revolution.16
My research proposes a new interpretation. First, analyzing social practices and cultural attitudes within households in the 1790s does not reveal a new domesticity. On the contrary, it shows how frequently women in certain positions in the family made use of republican ideology, new laws, and new access to the state to challenge their former positions of domestic inferiority. Notably, the laws on divorce, egalitarian inheritance, and parental authority not only allowed individual women to ameliorate their familial standing, but they also called into question ambient assumptions about the subordination of wives and daughters in general. I do not want, however, to argue that the Revolution was "good" rather than "bad" for women as an undifferentiated whole.17 Rather than painting a uniform portrait of the gender impact of the Revolution, I ask how diverse elements, such as urban-rural differences, regional cultures and customs, social class, and family position, all affected women's experiences within the household differently.18 To give but one important example, the example of class, by and large women of middle or lower middle class, those with at least a small amount of property, were most able to take advantage of changes in family law. The harshest domestic policy of the 1790s—the abolition of paternity suits—landed hardest on a group of women who were often poor: unwed mothers.
Second, I also want to illustrate how revolutionary ideas and debates led to diverse claims about gender ideals within households. The argument that the Revolution fostered domesticity rests primarily on the discursive analysis of various texts that called upon women to embrace their household duties and to nourish patriotism as republican mothers. Without a doubt, a strong strand within revolutionary discourse encouraged a Rousseauian vision of gender roles: in this model, women should strive to please men and inculcate republican morality in their children while husbands displayed their patriotism as soldiers and public citizens. But at the same time, the Revolution kicked up alternate and intersecting gender models of femininity and masculinity. I analyze the construction of masculine and feminine ideals in tandem.19 Everyone imagined distinct and complementary roles for men and women within the republic and, as I argue in Chapter 2, male and female revolutionaries alike believed that marriage, heterosexual love, and gender complementarity held the political power to underpin patriotism.
Yet, the Rousseauian emphasis on docile republican mothers and wives competed with arguments advocating equality between spouses and greater independence, power, and control over property by women. Moreover, Rousseau's idealization of domestic submission held no sway over women like Marie-Françoise Godefroy, who demanded a divorce before a family court in rural Normandy in 1795 and declared that she could no longer "sacrifice her liberty" and remain "in slavery" to her adulterous husband.20 The Revolution produced competing discourses that both advocated and undercut domesticity. It was not republican ideology, but rather the Civil Code of 1804—whose family laws were primarily written in reaction to the social revolution within the home—that most encouraged the nineteenth-century trend toward domesticity.
Furthermore, this work resists framing women's relationship to politics primarily in dichotomous terms, such as inclusion/exclusion or public/private. Revolutionary definitions and practices of citizenship did exclude women from essential aspects of political participation, including the right to vote, to hold political club meetings after October 1793, and to serve as officials, such as arbiters on family tribunals or deputies in Paris. Without in any way denying the fundamental importance of these exclusions, I nonetheless want to reframe the question by defining politics broadly, examining the political intertwining of personal and public matters, and illustrating how extensively women took part in a diverse array of political activities. Many of these actions, such as publishing or petitioning the state, had been expanded or opened up by revolutionary changes in law, commerce, or political structures.21
If historians in general have been working to rethink the relationship between women and politics, this reconceptualization seems doubly necessary for the French Revolution.22 Undoubtedly, the revolutionaries recast democratic politics by producing new public institutions and formal modes of representation. But the political innovation and transformative energy of the Revolution also lay in generating new forms of power, injecting politics into every aspect of daily life, and rooting citizenship in the deeply intimate regeneration of each man and woman. As Lynn Hunt has argued, "by politicizing the everyday, the Revolution enormously increased the points from which power could be exercised."23 I ask how women participated in inventing these new forms of power and how the new politics transformed gender relations.
To analyze these issues, this study draws on nationwide sources, but certain sections focus on the department of Calvados in Normandy. Given the immense diversity and regional particularity of Old Regime France, no one region can stand for all, let alone encompass the geographical variations of the Revolution within households. But only by in-depth study of specific areas can we uncover changes in domestic relations and attitudes and gradually build a portrait of the whole. Local analysis is integral to my argument: provincial activism influenced lawmakers, and local practices built the republican family on the ground, in constant negotiation with policies and political culture that spanned the nation.
I chose to examine Normandy because it presents promising comparative and analytical problems, especially regarding gender, inheritance, marriage, and the civil rights of women. This area had a tradition of dynamic participation by women as litigants in court and as businesswomen in the crafts and small commerce.24 At the same time, the prerevolutionary custom of Normandy had a very explicit gender bias against women: by customary law and practice, families favored sons over daughters. Parents had no obligation to dower their daughters. "A father can dower his daughter with a hat of roses," ran one local proverb. In fact, if sons were present, all the daughters combined could inherit no more than one-third of their parents' patrimony. These factors make the Calvados a particularly important and accessible place to analyze the gendered impact of the inheritance law and to explore female litigation and political activism in general. Moreover, Normandy combines various family features from both the Midi and the North. As in the South, Norman families placed great emphasis on furthering the lineage and often chose to sacrifice the rights and opportunities of younger siblings. Once married, spouses did not merge their goods into community property, and they remained in many ways tied to their families of origin. But, as in other regions of the North, Normans more often formed nuclear rather than stem families, especially in cities. This household structure reinforced the strength and independence of the conjugal couple and encouraged them to forge social and economic bonds with neighbors, rather than relying primarily on kin.25 In interesting ways, Normandy encompassed elements of the conjugal model that the revolutionary reformers advocated and the lineage mentality they sought to eradicate.
In addition, the Calvados has a relatively good run of sources, including état civil, district court, and family tribunal records. The department is not dominated by a huge city, as is, for example, the neighboring Seine-Inférieure by Rouen. Rather, the Calvados provides a good urban- rural balance, with several notable small cities, including the textile towns of Bayeux and Lisieux, and the larger city of Caen, a growing commercial and administrative center of 35,000 people. Politically, the area spanned the gamut of views from ardent republicanism to federalism to counterrevolutionary chouannerie. Although the department more often voted to the right, relatively high literacy rates, political clubs in fifty communes, and exposure to press and revolutionary leaders from Rouen, Paris, and Caen all brought access to revolutionary laws and ideas.26 I intend inquiry into the Calvados to lend depth to this study, but I frame this examination as much as possible within a comparative national context. By weaving together local and national sources, I hope to offer a new history of the revolutionary family that both demonstrates the impact of politics on domestic practices and integrates the history of family and gender into the making of the revolutionary state, politics, and citizenship.
1. Archives nationales (hereafter AN) AD XVIIIc 164, Adresse des Cadets du tiers état de Provence et d'autres pays de droit écrit au roi (n.p., 1789), 8, 21-22.
2. Jean Bodin, Six livres de la république (Paris, 1576); Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, Politique tirée des propres paroles de l'Ecriture sainte (Paris, 1709); Natalie Zemon Davis and Arlette Farge, eds., A History of Women, vol. 3, Renaissance and Enlightenment Paradoxes (Cambridge, Mass., 1993), 1; Jean-Louis Flandrin, Families in Former Times: Kinship, Household, and Sexuality, trans. Richard Southern (Cambridge, 1979).
3. Sarah Hanley, "Engendering the State: Family Formation and State Building in Early Modern France," French Historical Studies 16 (1989): 4-27; Jeffrey Merrick, "Fathers and Kings: Patriarchalism and Absolutism in Eighteenth-Century French Politics," Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 308 (1993): 281-303; Jeffrey Merrick, "Sexual Politics and Public Order in Late Eighteenth-Century France: The Mémoires secrets and the Correspondance secrète," Journal of the History of Sexuality 1 (1990): 68-84; Arlette Farge and Michel Foucault, eds., Le désordre des familles: Lettres de cachet des Archives de la Bastille au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1982). On other European areas, see Julia Adams, "The Familial State: Elite Family Practices and State-Making in Early Modern Netherlands," Theory and Society 23 (1994): 505-539; Susan Amussen, An Ordered Society: Class and Gender in Early Modern England (London, 1988).
4. For a sampling of approaches to cultural contestation over gender in early modern Europe, see Davis and Farge, eds., History of Women, vol. 3. Historians looking at local legal practices frequently emphasize the fluidity of the law and complexity of familial dynamics, noting, for example, that married women exercised more control over property than expected and that eighteenth-century policies regarding inheritance by illegitimate children were not as exclusionary as anticipated. See Barbara Diefendorf, "Women and Property in Ancien Régime France: Theory and Practice in Dauphiné and Paris," in Early Modern Conceptions of Property, ed. John Brewer and Susan Staves (London, 1994), 170-93; Julie Hardwick, The Practice of Patriarchy: Gender and the Politics of Household Authority in Early Modern France (University Park, Penn., 1998); Matthew Gerber, "The End of Bastardy: Illegitimacy in France from the Reformation through the Revolution" (Ph.D. diss., University of California at Berkeley, 2003). For analysis highlighting women's economic and legal power, see Clare Haru Crowston, Fabricating Women: The Seamstresses of Old Regime France, 1675-1791 (Durham, N.C., 2001). On the intersection between law and practice, see Bernard Dérouet, "Les pratiques familiales, le droit et la construction des différences (15e-19e siècles)," Annales: Histoire. Sciences sociales (1997): 369-91; James Farr, Authority and Sexuality in Early Modern Burgundy (1550-1730) (New York, 1995); Jean Hilaire, La vie du droit (Paris, 1994).
5. Lynn Hunt, The Family Romance of the French Revolution (Berkeley, 1992); Sarah Maza, Private Lives and Public Affairs: The Causes Célèbres of Prerevolutionary France (Berkeley, 1993); Jeffrey Merrick, "Domestic Politics: Divorce and Despotism in Late Eigtheenth-Century France," in The Past as Prologue: Essays to Celebrate the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of ASECS, ed. Carla H. Hay and Syndy Conger (New York, 1994); Nancy Miller, French Dressing: Women, Men, and Ancien Regime Fiction (New York, 1991); James F. Traer, Marriage and the Family in Eighteenth-Century France (Ithaca, N.Y., 1980).
6. Remonstrances des mères et filles normandes de l'ordre du tiers (Rouen, 1789).
7. Among the many works on gender construction, see esp. "Gender: A Useful Category of Analysis," in Joan Wallach Scott, Gender and the Politics of History (New York, 1988). Cf. Kathleen Canning, "Feminist History after the Linguistic Turn: Historicizing Discourse and Experience," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 19 (1993): 368-404; Mary Louise Roberts, Civilization without Sexes: Reconstructing Gender in Postwar France, 1917-1927 (Chicago, 1994). Works on the history of political culture include: Keith Michael Baker, Inventing the French Revolution: Essays on French Political Culture in the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1990); François Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution, trans. Elborg Forster (Cambridge, Eng., 1981); Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution (Berkeley, 1984) and Family Romance.
8. My approach to legal history has been influenced by diverse methodologies. E.g., Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Palo Alto, 1990); André Burguière, "Les fondements d'une culture familiale," in Histoire de la France: Les formes de la culture, ed. André Burguière (Paris, 1993), 25-118; Robert Gordon, "Critical Legal Histories," Stanford Law Review 36 (1983-84): 57-125. Nancy Cott drew my attention to Gordon's work. See her "Giving Character to Our Whole Civic Polity: Marriage and the Public Order in the Late Nineteenth Century," in U.S. History as Women's History: New Feminist Essays, ed. Linda Kerber, Alice Kessler-Harris, and Kathryn Kish Sklar (Chapel Hill, 1995), 107-121; Hendrik Hartog, Man and Wife in America (Cambridge, Mass., 2000); Sherry Ortner, Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture (Boston, 1996), chap. 1. In legal anthropology, see John Comaroff and Simon Roberts, Rules and Processes: The Cultural Logic of Dispute in an African Context (Chicago, 1981); Olivia Harris, ed., Inside and Outside the Law: Anthropological Studies of Authority and Ambiguity (London, 1996); Francis G. Snyder, "Anthropology, Dispute Processes and Law: A Critical Introduction," British Journal of Law and Society 8 (1981): 141-80; Sally Falk Moore, Law as Process: An Anthropological Approach (London, 1978); Thomas Kuehn, Law, Family, and Women: Toward a Legal Anthropology of Renaissance Italy (Chicago, 1991). On the narrative power of plaintiffs, see Peter Brooks and Paul Gewirtz, eds., Law's Stories: Narrative and Rhetoric in the Law (New Haven, 1996); Natalie Zemon Davis, Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford, Calif., 1987); Maza, Private Lives and Public Affairs. On the making of French revolutionary family law, see esp. L'enfant, la famille et la Révolution française, ed. Marie-Françoise Lévy (Paris, 1990) (hereafter Enfant); La famille, la loi, l'Etat de la Révolution au Code Civil (hereafter FLE), ed. Irène Théry and Christian Biet (Paris, 1989); La Révolution et l'ordre juridique privé: Rationalité ou scandale. Actes du colloque d'Orléans, 11-13 septembre 1986, ed. Jean Bart et al., 2 vols. (Orléans, 1988) (hereafter RévJur); Jean-Louis Halpérin, L'impossible Code civil (Paris, 1994). On family practice during the 1790s, see Dominique Dessertine, Divorcer à Lyon sous la Révolution et l'Empire (Lyon, 1981); Roderick Phillips, Family Breakdown in Late Eighteenth-Century France (Ithaca, N.Y., 1980); Margaret Darrow, Revolution in the House: Family, Class, and Inheritance in Southern France, 1775-1825 (Princeton, 1989).
9. Although the creators of the family court envisioned the arbiters as relatives or friends, litigants increasingly chose men with legal training to represent them and decide their cases. See Chapter 4. Also, James F Traer, "The French Family Court," History 59 (1974): 211-28; Jean-Louis Halpérin, "La composition des tribunaux de famille sous la Révolution, ou les juristes, comment s'en débarrasser?" in FLE, 292-304.
10. On popular practices shaping the state, see Florencia Mallon, Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru (Berkeley, 1995); Gilbert Joseph and Daniel Nugent, eds., Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and Negotiations of Rule in Modern Mexico (Durham, N.C., 1994); Timothy Mitchell, "The Limits of the State: Beyond Statist Approaches and Their Critics," American Political Science Review 85 (1991): 77-96; Isser Woloch, The New Regime: Transformations of the French Civic Order, 1789-1820s (New York, 1994).
11. AN DIII 338, Pétition des héritiers rappellés par la loi [du 17 nivôse an II], au Comité de législation, n.d., c. winter-spring 1795, from Lot-et-Garonne with c. 100 signers. Some of the female signers added, "tant pour moi que pour mes frères xx et xx à l'armée."
12. Lynn Hunt's The Family Romance of the French Revolution also explores the interconnections between revolutionary politics and family models. She asks how gender models interacted with the political imagination. I argue that it is also necessary to ask how social practices within families, popular activism, and state-building played an integral role in generating gender models to underpin the political order.
13. Joan B. Landes, Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution (Ithaca, N.Y., 1988); Madelyn Gutwirth, The Twilight of the Goddesses: Women and Representation in the French Revolutionary Era (New Brunswick, N.J., 1992); Dorinda Outram, The Body and the French Revolution (New Haven, 1989), and "[hrs]'Le langage mâle de la vertu': Women and the Discourse of the French Revolution," in The Social History of Language, ed. Peter Burke and Roy Porter (Cambridge, Eng., 1987), 120-135. The French legal historian Michèle Bordeaux argues that the Revolution curtailed women's opportunities, not by dividing public and private, but by including women as legal subordinates within "a new social liberal project." See "L'universalisme juridique et l'impasse de l'égalité," in Les femmes et la Révolution française: Actes du colloque international, 1989, Université de Toulouse, ed. Marie-France Brive, 3 vols. (Toulouse, 1989), 1:427-40. Cf. Vida Azimi, "[hrs]'L'exhédération politique' de la femme par la Révolution," Revue historique de droit français et étranger 69 (1991): 177-216.
14. Hunt, Family Romance; Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Stanford, Calif., 1988); Joan Wallach Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man (Cambridge, Mass., 1996), chaps. 1-2; Geneviève Fraisse, Muse de la Raison: La démocratie exclusive et la différence des sexes (Aix-en-Provence, 1989); Christine Fauré, La démocratie sans les femmes: Essai sur le libéralisme en France (Paris, 1985); Jean Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman (Princeton, N.J., 1981); Maza, Private Lives and Public Affairs; Sara E. Melzer and Leslie W. Rabine, eds., Rebel Daughters: Women and the French Revolution (New York, 1992). I also used the public/private dichotomy in my chapter "[hrs]'Constitutional Amazons': Jacobin Women's Clubs in the French Revolution," in Re-Creating Authority in Revolutionary France, ed. Bryant T. Ragan and Elizabeth Williams (New Brunswick, N.J., 1992), 11-35. My own inability to better understand and conceptualize the "private" spurred the initial research for this book. For a discusssion of Pateman's role in French revolutionary historiography, see Rachel Weil, Political Passions: Gender, the Family and Political Argument in England, 1680-1714 (Manchester, Eng., 1999), 7-11. As Weil points out, there are multiple versions of "the anti-liberal feminist narrative." On prerevolutionary origins of domesticity, work on Rousseau is especially prominent: Mary Trouille, Sexual Politics in the Enlightenment: Women Writers Read Rousseau (Albany, N.Y., 1997); Nicole Fermon, Domesticating Passions: Rousseau, Woman, and Nation (Hanover, N.H., 1997).
15. Hilda L. Smith, All Men and Both Sexes: Gender, Politics, and the False Universal in England, 1640- 1832 (University Park, Penn., 2002). For Smith, the exclusionary "false universal" emerges generally from seventeenth-century liberalism and from a definition of modern individualism rooted in "male maturation." Linda Kerber, No Constitutional Right to be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (New York, 1998); Isabell Hull, Sexuality, State, and Civil Society in Germany, 1700-1815 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1996); Christine Hunefeldt, Liberalism in the Bedroom: Quarreling Spouses in Nineteenth-Century Lima (University Park, Pa., 2000). Historians, such as Kerber and Hunefeldt, who emphasize the gender constrictions of republicanism and liberalism also stress women's agency in working these systems. For a critique of Kerber's notion of republican motherhood, see Jeanne Boydston, "Making Gender in the Early Republic: Judith Sargent Murray and the Revolution of 1800," in The Revolution of 1800: Democracy, Race, and the New Republic, ed. James Horn, Jan Lewis, and Peter Onuf (Charlottesville, Va., 2002), 240-66.
16. Landes' work has particularly faced criticism. See Dena Goodman, "Public Sphere and Private Life: Toward a Synthesis of Current Historiographical Approaches to the Old Regime," History and Theory (1992): 1-20; Keith Baker, "Defining the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century France," in Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), 181-211; Daniel Gordon, "Philosophy, Sociology, and Gender in the Enlightenment Conception of Public Opinion," French Historical Studies 17 (1992): 882-911. For criticism of the public-private dichotomy more generally, see Nancy Fraser, "Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy," in Habermas and the Public Sphere, 109-42, and "What's Critical about Critical Theory? The Case of Habermas and Gender," in her Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse, and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory (Minneapolis, 1989), 113-143; Linda Kerber, "Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Women's Place: The Rhetoric of Women's History," Journal of American History 75 (1988): 9-39; Carole Pateman, "Feminist Critiques of the Public- Private Dichotomy," in her The Disorder of Women: Democracy, Feminism, and Political Theory (Oxford, 1989), 118-40; Amanda Vickery, "Golden Age to Separate Spheres? A Review of the Categories and Chronology of English Women's History," Historical Journal 36 (1993): 383-414; Jeff Weintraub, "The Theory and Politics of the Public/Private Distinction," in Public and Private in Thought and Practice: Perspectives on a Grand Dichotomy, ed. Jeff Weintraub and Krishan Kumar (Chicago, 1997), 1-42. For a discussion of recent approaches to women's political engagement in the Revolution, see Suzanne Desan, "What's after Political Culture? Recent French Revolutionary Historiography," French Historical Studies 23 (2000): 163-96. Diverse approaches to women's political engagement include Brive, ed., Les femmes et la Révolution française; Dominique Godineau, The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution, trans. Katherine Streip (Berkeley, 1998); Carla Hesse, The Other Enlightenment: How French Women Became Modern (Princeton, 2001); Jennifer Heuer, "Foreigners, Families, and Citizens: Contradictions of National Citizenship in France, 1789-1830" (Ph.D. diss. University of Chicago, 1998); Darline Gay Levy and Harriet B. Applewhite, "A Political Revolution for Women? The Case of Paris," in Becoming Visible: Women in European History, ed. Renate Bridenthal, Susan Mosher Stuard, and Merry E. Wiesner (Boston, 1998), 265-92; Mona Ozouf, Women's Words: Essay on French Singularity, trans. Jane Marie Todd (Chicago, 1997), 229-83. Lynn Hunt—whose Family Romance of the French Revolution highlighted the centrality of female domesticity—has more recently questioned the pervasiveness of republican motherhood and portrayed the Revolution as a source of women's rights, rather than restraints. See "Male Virtue and Republican Motherhood," in The French Revolution and the Creation of Modern Political Culture, vol. 4, The Terror, ed. Keith Baker (Oxford, 1994), 195-208; Lynn Hunt, "Forgetting and Remembering: The French Revolution Now and Then," American Historical Review 100 (1995): 1119-1135, esp. 1130-1132.
17. On the problematic tendency to see the Revolution as having an overall "good or bad" impact for women, see Karen Offen, "The New Sexual Politics of French Revolutionary Historiography," French Historical Studies 16 (1990): 909-922.
18. On the need to bring together family history and gender history, see Megan Doolittle, "Close Relations? Bringing Together Gender and Family in English History," Gender and History 11 (1999): 542-54; Louise A. Tilly, "Women's History and Family History: Fruitful Collaboration or Missed Connection?" Journal of Family History 12 (1987): 303-315.
19. On the need to study masculinity with regard to gender hierarchies and in domestic settings, see Doolittle, "Close Relations?" 544; Lynn Hunt, "The Challenge of Gender: Deconstruction of Categories and Reconstruction of Narratives in Gender History," in Geschlechtergeschichte und Allgemeine Geschichte: Herausforderungen und Perspektiven, ed. Hans Medick and Anne-Charlotte Trepp (Göttingen, 1998), 59-97. For works looking at various aspects of domesticity and masculinity, see Anna Clark, Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the English Working Class (Berkeley, 1995); Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850 (Chicago, 1987); Susan Lee Johnson, Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush (New York, 2000), chap. 2; Stephanie McCurry, Masters of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations, and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country (New York, 1995); William Reddy, The Invisible Code: Honor and Sentiment in Postrevolutionary France, 1814-1848 (Berkeley, 1997), chap. 3; Steve J. Stern, The Secret History of Gender: Women, Men, and Power in Late Colonial Mexico (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1995).
20. Archives départementales du Calvados (hereafter ADC), 3L 616, Sentences arbitrales du district de Caen (hereafter SA Caen), 8 prairial an III (27 May 1795).
21. On female publishing during the Revolution, see Hesse, Other Enlightenment.
22. E.g., Elsa Barkley Brown, "Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom," in Jumpin' Jim Crow: Southern Politics from Civil War to Civil Rights, ed. Jane Dailey, Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, and Bryant Simon (Princeton, 2000), 28-66; Nan Enstad, "Fashioning Political Identities: Cultural Studies and the Historical Construction of Political Subjects," American Quarterly 50 (1998): 745-82; Laura McEnaney, Civil Defense Begins at Home: Militarization Meets Everyday Life in the Fifties (Princeton, N.J., 2000); Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton, N.J., 1990).
23. Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class, 56.
24. Zoe A. Schneider, "Women before the Bench: Female Litigants in Early Modern Normandy," French Historical Studies 23 (2000): 1-32; Clare Crowston, "Engendering the Guilds: Seamstresses, Tailors, and the Clash of Corporate Identities in Old Regime France," French Historical Studies 23 (2000): 339-71, and Fabricating Women; Daryl Hafter, "Female Masters in the Ribbonmaking Guild of Eighteenth-Century Rouen," French Historical Studies 20 (1997): 1-14; Olwen Hufton, Bayeux in the Late Eighteenth-Century: A Social Study (Oxford, 1967), 83-85.
25. Burguière, "Fondements d'une culture familiale," 37-47.
26. Paul Hanson, Provincial Politics in the French Revolution: Caen and Limoges, 1789-1794 (Baton Rouge, La., 1989); Jean Lethuillier, Le Calvados dans la Révolution: L'esprit public d'un département (Condé-sur-Noireau, 1990); Christine Peyrard, Les Jacobins de l'Ouest: Sociabilité révolutionnaire et formes de politisation dans le Maine et la Basse-Normandie (1789-1799) (Paris, 1996); Serge Bonin and Claude Langlois, eds., Atlas de la Révolution française, vol. 6, Les sociétés politiques, ed. Jean Boutier et al. (Paris, 1992), 80; Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class, 131.