France and Women, 1789-1914: Gender, Society and Politics

France and Women, 1789-1914: Gender, Society and Politics

France and Women, 1789-1914: Gender, Society and Politics

France and Women, 1789-1914: Gender, Society and Politics


France and Women, 1789-1914 is the first book to offer an authoritative account of women's history throughout the nineteenth century. James McMillan, author of the seminal work Housewife or Harlot , offers a major reinterpretation of the French past in relation to gender throughout these tumultuous decades of revolution and war.This book provides a challenging discussion of the factors which made French political culture so profoundly sexist and in particular, it shows that many of the myths about progress and emancipation associated with modernisation and the coming of mass politics do not stand up to close scrutiny. It also reveals the conservative nature of the republican left and of the ingrained belief throughout french society that women should remain within the domestic sphere. James McMillan considers the role played by French men and women in the politics, culture and society of their country throughout the 1800s.


Writing books as a lone scholar is a solitary activity, but it is one in which authors are likely to incur many obligations. I have certainly been no exception to this rule and I am happy to acknowledge my debts here.

I am grateful to successive History editors at UCL Press and Routledge who have shown great patience at repeated delays to their publishing schedules. The initial approach from UCL Press invited me to produce a revised version of my out-of-print Housewife or Harlot: The Place of Women in French Society 1870-1940 (1981). That was a tempting offer since, in a field which has expanded enormously over the past twenty years, newcomers sometimes appear to need reminding of work which was carried out in more pioneering days. On reflection, however, I decided that, because of the increasingly sophisticated conceptual and methodological approaches to the subject as well as the sheer volume of recent work, I needed to take on the challenge of writing an entirely new book. Perhaps a fifth of Housewife or Harlot survives in these pages in some shape or form, but France and Women is decidedly a book of the 1990s rather than of the 1970s.

Nevertheless, I would still like to pay tribute primarily to the work carried out by my own generation of researchers, and in particular to a cohort of American scholars whose research, begun in the early 1970s, helped to create a new historical discipline. The monographs of such as Chips Sowerwine, Steve Hause, Patrick Bidelman and Claire Moses, along with the articles and invaluable documentary collections of Karen Offen, have been indispensable to the realisation of the present project. Similarly, the work of the likes of Joan Scott, Michelle Perrot and Alain Corbin has been inspirational. The full range of my intellectual debts, is, I hope, acknowledged in the notes—though of course none of the people named either here or there shares any responsibility for what I have ultimately written.

Another debt of gratitude is to the staff of the many archives and libraries where I have worked over the years, above all in Paris. In particular, I should mention the Archives Nationales, the Bibliothèque Nationale, the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, the Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand, the Musée Social and the Arsenal.

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