Rebel Daughters: Women and the French Revolution

By Sara E. Melzer; Leslie W. Rabine | Go to book overview

3

"Love and Patriotism": Gender and
Politics in the Life and Work
of Louvet de Couvrai

KATHRYN NORBERG

I was at Nemours near my dear Lodoiska, when the astonishing news made its way to us. They said the Bastille had fallen, but this victory had cost over 100,000 men to the patriots. At that very moment, I put on the tricolor cockade which had been won at such a bloody price. How can I paint the emotional transports with which this cockade was given me and with which I adopted it? I was at the knees of my tender friend [amie]. With my tears I drenched her hands which I then placed upon my furiously beating heart! It was a mixture of patriotism and love which is difficult to describe.

Louvet de Couvrai
Mémoires sur la révolution français1

"Love and patriotism"—the "mixture" invoked in this passage might at first seem strange. Historians of the Revolution of 1789 have long been prisoners of the distinction between private and public, a distinction largely created by the revolution itself. They have been wont to ignore the "private" (that which pertains to women and sexuality) in favor of the "public" (that which deals with factional struggle). This division obscures more than it reveals. Gender and politics, we now know, are inextricably entwined and their relationship at times of political upheaval, like the French Revolution, is particularly problematic. 2 When, to paraphrase Carole Pateman, the "social contract" is renegotiated, then inevitably the "sexual contract" will be redefined and restructured, too. 3 A few historians—among them Darline Levy, Harriet Applewhite, Mary Johnson, Sara Maza, Joan B. Landes, Dorinda Outram, Ludmilla Jordanova, and Lynn Hunt—have begun to construct a "gendered" history of political thought and action during the revolution. 4 My purpose in this paper is to participate in this collective endeavor and to outline how notions about gender and sexuality; that is, about women, formed a part of the new political arrangement that we now call the Revolution of 1789.

I hope therefore to bring together "love and patriotism," again with the help of the gentleman whose amorous and patriotic transports I just cited—

-38-

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