"Je Suis Auteur": Mme Galien and the Status of Women's Authorship in Early Eighteenth-Century France

Article excerpt

In Madame Galien's preface to her Apologie des dames appuyee sur l'histoire, (1) the author describes the path she has traveled in coming to think of herself as an author. She speculates on what exactly constitutes a writer with the status and public approbation of an "Auteur," as opposed to someone who merely likes to write for herself and her own private circle of acquaintances. She seems astonished by her own change in station, declaring to her interlocutor, an anonymous Monsieur, with delight and amazement, "tout est change de face; & pour tout dire enfin, je suis Auteur" (iv). How Mme Galien came to this startling realization, along with its ramifications both for her personally and for our understanding of attitudes toward women authors in early eighteenth-century France, will be the subject of this essay.

The Apologie has never received full scholarly treatment, and this unfortunate fact may be due to the scant information available on the identity of Mme Galien herself. While she merits a mention in Fortunee Briquet's Dictionnaire historique, biographique et litteraire des Francaises et etrangeres naturalisees en France, (2) Letillois de Mezieres's Biographie generale des Champenois celebres, morts et vivants, (3) and Alexandre Cioranescu's Bibliographie de la litterature francaise du dix-huitieme siecle, (4) the entirety of the information offered by these compendiums is her married name--Mme Galien, with no information on her husband or her given name--that she hailed from Chateau-Thierry (a town in Picardy about fifty miles northeast of Paris), that she died in 1756 (but no date of birth), and, quite simply, that she was the author of the Apologie. The Apologie itself does not receive treatment in any of the myriad works dedicated to women authors of the French eighteenth century,5 although it is listed in Marc Angenot's Champions des femmes: Examen du discours sur la superiorite des femmes, 1400-1800 as belonging to the long tradition of polemical texts arguing in favor of women's equality and even superiority to men. Angenot states succinctly:

Madame Galien avait compose a Chateau-Thierry une Apologie des dames [...] pour prouver que les femmes ont sur les hommes 'beaucoup d'avantages.' Elle rassemble d'innombrables preuves tirees de la bible, du martyrologe, de l'histoire ecclesiastique. [...] L'ouvrage formule assez confusement certaines revendications feministes au sens strict. (78, citing p. 18 of the 1737 edition of the Apologie)

In this way, the Apologie seems to take its place firmly within the Querelle des femmes, a centuries-long pan-European philosophical and theological debate over women's moral and intellectual equality, access to education, marriage and motherhood, and rightful spheres of influence. (6) Indeed, in many regards Mme Galien seems to be taking up the charge of Christine de Pizan, one of the first contributors to this debate, who argued against the misogyny she discerned in Guillaume de Lorris's and Jean de Meun's thirteenth-century Roman de la Rose (see Huit). One of Christine's most celebrated texts is her Liure de la cite des dames (1405), which, like Mme Galien's Apologie, is an enumeration of exemplary women drawn from the Bible, history, and mythology; another similarity between the two works is their express purpose of refuting or counteracting the negative opinions of men on women's virtue, intellectual capacity, and suitability for leadership roles. Indeed, Christine herself figures among the "preuves" of women's numerous qualifications that Mme Galien offers up to her internal and external audiences (229, referring to her as Christine de Paris).

So how is it that Mme Galien comes to compose this volume--or, at least, how is it that this story is recounted in the prefatory letter to the work itself, the letter in which she confidently asserts her status as a fully fledged Auteur? Indeed, I am separating those two questions--the reality and the representation of the work's composition--as entirely distinct. …