Félicité de Genlis: Motherhood in the Margins

Félicité de Genlis: Motherhood in the Margins

Félicité de Genlis: Motherhood in the Margins

Félicité de Genlis: Motherhood in the Margins

Synopsis

This study of French writer/educator Felicite de Genlis examines both the way in which she theorized the maternal role in her works and the manner in which she lived out her own maternity. Genlis constructed a politics of motherhood that stretched and modulated the parameters of its socially defined role.

Excerpt

Born in 1746 in burgundy to an aristocratic family on the brink of ruin, Stéphanie-Félicité du Crest made her way from that periphery to the inner circles of Parisian power and privilege, acquiring prominence due to the knowledge and talent she carefully cultivated as well as to the brilliance of her marriage into high aristocracy and her position as lady-in-waiting, then governess, in the royal household of the duke and duchess of Chartres. in a long career that thrived in ancien régime France, weathered the Revolution, and reached well into the century that followed, Félicité de Genlis was a dedicated mother, an innovative educator, a gifted society actress, an accomplished musician, a prolific author, a religious pillar, an indefatigable anti-philosophe. Her many roles were reflected in and mediated by her writing; the maternal role was, however, primary, informing or at least inflecting all the others.

Genlis’s interest in motherhood was rather remarkable, given the careless maternal mores that generally prevailed among privileged women in the eighteenth century. As Elisabeth Badinter has pointed out in her study Mother Love, ‘‘when a [seventeenth- or eighteenth-century] woman had ambitions (whether for social standing, intellectual achievement, or professional careers, as today) and the means to satisfy them, she was infinitely less tempted than other women to invest her time and energy in the raising of children.’’ Genlis constituted a notable exception as she succeeded in constructing an ambitious motherhood that, in fact, brought social standing, fostered intellectual achievement, and launched a professional career. Moreover, while representing motherhood as necessarily consonant with morality and accomplishment, she also succeeded, I will suggest, in stretching and modulating the maternal role, subversively transgressing the boundaries of tradition and social convention.

Genlis was, of course, not alone in her examination of the mother’s role, but whereas she sought to broaden the definition of motherhood and thereby expand its potential, many of her contemporaries were coming to define it in less flexible terms. in the latter part of the eighteenth century, the discussion of motherhood increasingly preoccupied . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.