Going Public: Women and Publishing in Early Modern France

By Dena Goodman; Elizabeth C. Goldsmith | Go to book overview
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Introduction

ELIZABETH C. GOLDSMITH
AND DENA GOODMAN

Almost from the moment the French Revolution began, those who experienced it knew that something big was happening. That is why they called it a revolution. Not all momentous historical events proclaim themselves loudly to contemporaries, however. What Jürgen Habermas has identified as the "structural transformation of the public sphere" occurred over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries without fanfare, but with vast consequences. Indeed, in some historical accounts it has displaced the French Revolution as the event that created modern society. By 1789 a new public sphere had already been constituted in which public opinion and not the king was sovereign, where "private people come together as a public" engaged in a political confrontation with state authorities through the public use of their own reason. 1

Who was this new public? They were not "the people"—the illiterate masses traditionally represented by the crowd that stormed the Bastille in

____________________
1
Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger, with the assistance of Frederick Lawrence ( Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989), p. 27. American scholarship has experienced a flurry of interest in Habermas's theory of the public sphere since the appearance of this translation of his work, originally published in German in 1962 and then in French in 1978. Virtually all of our contributors have studied this growing literature, and the present volume should be considered a contribution to it. See the essays in Craig Calhoun, ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere ( Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992); especially relevant because it raises questions of gender is Keith Michael Baker, " Defining the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century France," pp. 181-211. For further discussion of Habermas, the public sphere, and questions of gender, see Joan B. Landes, Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution ( Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988); Dena Goodman, " Public Sphere and Private Life: Toward a Synthesis of Current Historiographical Approaches to the Old Regime," History and Theory 31 ( 1992): 1-20; and the forum in French Historical Studies 17 (Fall 1992), with interventions by Daniel Gordon, David Bell, and Sarah Maza.

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