From Armida to Cornelia: Women and representation in prerevolutionary France



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Texas Tech University


Interpreting the French Revolution, Francois Furet's critique of the orthodox Marxist approach and his conceptualization of the Revolution as an event primarily political in nature and cultural in form, disengaged from some inexorable social process, has directed recent scholarly interest to political and cultural aspects of the revolution. Another consequence has been a shift of focus to the Revolution's origins in the Ancien Regime and to a re-creation of the pre-Revolutionary political culture.^ A number of scholars engaged in exeiminations of this pre-Revolutionary political culture have found a useful analytic framework in Jiirgen Habermas' s theory of the emergence of the bourgeois "public sphere."^ Following Marx's mention of "political and literary representatives of the bourgeoisie" in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Habermas envisioned the eighteenth-century emergence of a bourgeois public sphere as the first competitive alternative to monarchial authority cunong the literate bourgeoisie.^ This new public, which arose in the private sphere of the Ancien Regime and took form in cafes, salons and the press, became imbued with Enlightenment notions, raison, and republic an ideals. Eventually this new public subverted the old, monarchial political structure. According to Habermas, this new literate public was at first too diffuse to articulate any particular bourgeois political agenda and instead evolved a "literary public sphere" concerned with "self-Enlightenment" (Nathans 1990, 623). Western Europe witnessed the emergence, efflorescence and independent growth of formal criticism and fraternal societes de pensee, indicative, says Habermas, of the first viable secular public alternative to the traditional cultural hegemony of Church and State. Private concerns, publicly expressed and addressed as matters of public interest, became susceptible to a new "public opinion" that evolved along a "critical zone" of "continuous administrative contact" between literate public and state authorities and eventually led to the formation of public policies within this sphere. Ultimately there emerged a full-blown "authentic" public sphere, which Habermas opposed to the "inauthentic" public sphere of monarchial authority (Habermas 1989, 23).



Women, French, Art, Women in art