“The aristocracy of genius”:Mary Robinson
and Marie Antoinette
Yet with an unconquerable enthusiasm, I shall ever pay homage to the FIRST of all distinctions, –the ARISTOCRACY OF GENIUS!
Mary Robinson, Sight, the Cavern of Woe, and Solitude (1793)
Much as Charlotte Corday had been made an example of unacceptable female political violence by the Jacobins who executed her in 1793, Marie Antoinette was made an example of the ancien régime's corrupt “empire of women. ” Feminist historians have demonstrated that the public vilification of Marie Antoinette in political pornography, contemporary accounts, and in her treason trial was part of a larger campaign by the Jacobins to excise and demonize all feminine elements in the new republic. 1 This violent purge of women from the public sphere was presaged in August 1793 by the replacement of Marianne, the figure of female Liberty, by Hercules, a symbolic shift which Lynn Hunt has shown indicated that “[i] n the eyes of the Jacobin leadership, women were threatening to take Marianne as a metaphor for their own active participation; in this situation, no female figure, however fierce and radical, could possibly appeal to them. ” 2 Corday's assassination of Marat in July 1793 was precisely the kind of identification with Marianne that the male Jacobins began to repress in publicly active women. In turn, Robinson's identification with Corday as a “Female Patriot” in her threatening letter to Dundas represented one of the British government's greatest worries, of a British revolutionary fervor allied with publicly active feminism and French republicanism. A few months after Corday's death, Marie Antoinette's execution in October 1793 signaled the official exclusion of all women from the French public sphere, formalized two weeks later by the outlawing of all women's political clubs. Two of the best-known