Going Public: Women and Publishing in Early Modern France

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

4
Victorious Victims:
Women and Publicity
in Mémoires Judiciaires

NADINE BÉRENGUIER

The more I need the approval of the Public, the more I must fear its prejudices. I fear the hasty judgment to which a woman who has the misfortune of becoming a spectacle is always exposed.

"Memoire pour la Dame Rapalli, Appelante.
Contre le Sieur Rapalli, Intimé
", 1736

Sarah Maza and Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink have demonstrated the centrality of published legal briefs in the formation of the French political culture of the prerevolution. 1 They have shown how lawyers used private affairs to make larger critiques of society and the state, thus shaping the discourse of a developing public sphere. One of Maza's points has been that such critiques were enhanced by the publicity surrounding the printed brief, and that lawyers used the act of going public as a badge of their clients' innocence, contrasting it with the corruption implied by adversarial plots fomented behind the scenes. In litigations pitting women against male relatives, however, publicity was always a strategy that carried special risks. In such cases women were breaking the mold of ideal womanhood shaped by much of the moral and pedagogical literature of the period, which prescribed modesty, acceptance of a life led in obscurity, obedience, submission, and self-control as the most acceptable forms

____________________
1
Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink, " L'Affaire Cléreaux ( Rouen, 1786): Affrontement idéologique et tensions institutionnelles autour de la scène judiciaire au XVIIIe siècle," Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 191 ( 1980): 894-900; idem, " Mémoire pour la fille Cléreaux," ibid. 208 ( 1982): 323-72; Sarah Maza, " Le Tribunal de la nation: Les Mémoires judidaires et l'opinion publique à la fin de l'Ancien Régime," Annales E.S.C. 42, no. 1 ( 1987): 73-90. Although I draw mostly from this article on the subject, Maza has since published Private Lives and Public Affairs: The Causes Célèbres of Prerevolutionary France ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). Many mémoires judiciaires (called factums before the eighteenth century) are catalogued in Augustin Corda, "Le Catalogue des Factums et d'autres documents judiciaires antérieurs à 1790" ( Paris: Plon, 1890- 1936), found at the Bibliothèque Nationale.

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