Going Public: Women and Publishing in Early Modern France

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

14
Laws of Nature / Rights of Genius:
The Drame of Constance de Salm

ELIZABETH COLWILL

The woman born into the provincial nobility in 1767 as Constance-Marie de Théis, who lived through the Revolution as Constance Pipelet, and who died in 1845 the princesse de Salm, crafted herself in every incarnation for the public. By the end of her life her corpus of published work included patriotic songs, elegies, epigrams, pensées, plays, and poetry. In striking contrast to many of her female peers, Constance de Salm shunned both anonymity and "feminine" genres such as domestic fiction, claimed the title of femme philosophe, and destined her work for public gloire. As she neared the dose of her life, she might well have believed her ambitions fulfilled. Applauded at the revolutionary lycées, appointed to provincial scholarly societies, lauded as salonnière, extensively published, she had earned a renown matched by only a handful of her female contemporaries. In an explicit bid for immortality, she painstakingly prepared her voluminous correspondence for publication and selected from her vast corpus those works to be published in her Oeuvres complètes. 1

Her forceful claims to a public voice open a new perspective on what Joan Landes has called the fall of "public" woman in the age of revolution. 2

____________________
1
For background, see Geneviève Fraisse, Muse de la Raison: La Democratie exclusive et la différence des sexes ( Aix-en-Provence: Alinéa, 1989); Christine Planté, " Constance Pipelet: La Muse de la Raison et les Despotes du Parnasse," in Les Femmes et la Révolution française, vol. 1, ed. Marie-France Brive ( Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 1989), pp. 285-94; Constance de Salm, Oeuvres complètes ( Paris: Firmin Didot, 1842), hereafter cited as OC. All letters cited in this essay were consulted in the Musée de Vieux Toulon; all are copies, with the exception of those from Sophie de Salis. Translations and dates in brackets are my own. The archive contains several thousand letters, largely uncatalogued, and a chronological table for the 2,500 letters in the Correspondance générale written between 1804 and 1840. Letters originally intended for publication are identified by their numbers in the table.
2
Joan B. Landes, Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution ( Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988).

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