Going Public: Women and Publishing in Early Modern France

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

3
Parisian Guildswomen and the (Sexual)
Politics of Privilege: Defending
Their Patrimonies in Print

CYNTHIA MARIA TRUANT

At a moment when all the Communities of men are perturbed, rushing about, talking about how to avert their destruction, doubtless one only demands that a Community of women, threatened with the same catastrophe, remain silent.

Merchant-Mistress Linen Drapers, Réflexions, 1776

In 1776 representatives of nearly all the major trade corporations in Paris rushed into print with a torrent of mémoires, réflexions, observations, and représentations opposing the abolition of the guilds. Since about the thirteenth century the guild system had formed the social, legal-political, and economic framework for the organization of labor and production in most trades in Old Regime France. Although this system was far from being as moribund as its critics would argue, it gave Enlightenment writers a tangible example of the negative aspects of particularism and privilege in the Old Regime. 1 When Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot became Louis XVI's chief finance minister in 1774, he wasted little time putting his physiocratic principles into practice, first abolishing price supports on grain ( 1775) and then issuing the Six Edicts ( February 1776), a sweeping set of reforms which included the replacement of the corvée (forced labor) by a money payment and the abolition of the guilds. The antiabolition protests that followed usually took the moral high ground and defended corporate values in opposition to the "socially destructive" principles of free trade, individualism, and competition. Steven Kaplan's

____________________
For their valuable comments I especially thank Dena Goodman, Pamela Radcliff, Stephanie McCurry, Judy Coffin, Faith Beasley, and John Marino.
1
See, for example, Gail Bossenga, " Protecting Merchants: Guilds and Commercial Capitalism in Eighteenth-Century France," and Liana Vardi, " The Abolition of the Guilds during the French Revolution," both in French Historical Studies 15, no. 4 ( Fall 1988): 693-703 and 704-17; and Steven L. Kaplan, " Les Corporations, les 'Faux ouvriers' et le faubourg Saint Antoine," in Corps et communautés d'Ancien Regime: Annales E.S.C. 43, no. 2 ( March—April 1988): 453-78.

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