Going Public: Women and Publishing in Early Modern France

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

13
Suzanne Necker's Mélanges:
Gender, Writing, and Publicity

DENA GOODMAN

If mama had written, I am persuaded that she would have acquired a very great reputation for intelligence; but my father could not stand a femme auteur and, since he has seen me writing his portrait just over the past four days, he has already been taken up with worry, and would call me jokingly: "Monsieur de Saint-Ecritoire." He wants to put me on my guard against the weakness of amour‐ propre. Mama had a strong taste for composition, she sacrificed it for him.

— Germaine Necker [de Staël], 1785

In 1798, four years after Suzanne Necker's death, her husband published three volumes of Melanges culled from her papers; three years later he published two volumes of Nouveaux melanges. Virtually all of these papers had previously been unpublished. 1 One might suppose that Jacques Necker's publication of his wife's work would have established her reputation as a writer. Instead, it canonized her as a virtuous wife whose crowning virtue was the feminine modesty that kept her writing private and held her back from becoming a femme auteur. Rather than transforming the woman into a writer, the published text was presented as evidence of the private female virtue that was incompatible with the publicity of being a writer.

During her lifetime, however, Suzanne Necker had been a public figure. In 1766, two years after she arrived in Paris from Lausanne and a

____________________
I am grateful to Lawrence Klein for his insightful comments on an earlier draft of this essay and to the participants in the James Allen Vann seminar in early modern European History at Emory University, whose lively discussion raised significant issues. Research was supported by a grant from the Center for French and Francophone Studies at Louisiana State University.
1
Mélanges extraits des manuscrits de Mme. Necker, 3 vols., ed. Jacques Necker ( Paris: C. Pougens, 1798), and Nouveaux melanges extraits des manuscrits de Mme. Necker, 2 vols., ed. Jacques Necker ( Paris: C. Pougens, 1801). Subsequent references to these volumes are dted in the text as M and NM, respectively. The manuscripts from which they are drawn form part of the private Archives de Coppet and are inaccessible to scholars. In a private communication Simone Balayé has informed me that the papers are unbound and in no apparent order.

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