Women's memoirs in early nineteenth century France
Although historians have acknowledged the importance of gender as a factor in the social and political life of post-revolutionary France, and bibliographical studies have revealed that vast quantities of memoirs were composed during the half century after the outbreak of the Revolution, the lives of women between the late 1790s and the 1830s, and the works in which they wrote about their lives and about the age in which they lived, have hitherto attracted relatively little attention from literary critics and historians. Previous research, moreover, has concentrated on women as writers of poetry and fiction, on the portrayal of women in novels, and on their position in society as it was defined by legislators, doctors, philosophers and the authors of manuals on female education and conduct. As a result, the diversity of women's writing and the complexity of their lives as historical subjects during this period have often been obscured. It is this diversity and complexity which are revealed by studying memoirs. This thesis examines women's memoirs from both a literary and a historical perspective, focusing on the relationship between gender, genre and historical circumstances. It argues that women wrote memoirs and wrote them in the way they did because of the political and social conditions of the age in which they lived. A short introduction outlines the reasons why the memoirs written by women in the first decades of the nineteenth century have been neglected: the preoccupation of literary scholars with memoirs of the ancien regime; the memoir's apparent lack of depth compared to 'true' or 'literary' autobiography; the weakness of most women's memoirs as sources of information on political and military affairs for the Revolution and Empire; and the narrow focus of recent women-centred histories. The rest of the thesis is an attempt to fill in some of these gaps.