The Catholic Historical Review 89.3 (2003) 558-559
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Mademoiselle de Joncoux: Polémique Janséniste à la veille de la bulle Unigenitus. By F. Ellen Weaver. (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf. 2002. Pp. 359. € 25 paperback.)
This scholarly biography explores the life and work of an author whose contributions were so veiled in obscurity that she was known to her friends as "l'invisible." She formed a part of the network of friends of the monastery of Port-Royal and supporters of the Jansenist cause who kept alive the spirit of protest in the last decades of the seventeenth century when the themes of personal resistance to authority in the name of conscience would ultimately fester into the openly political anti-authoritarian Jansenism of the eighteenth century.
Extensive exploration of the notarial archives reveals the social background of Mlle de Joncoux rooted in the world of the commis to the great bureaucrats serving Louis XIV. The social historian will be particularly interested in the various efforts the family undertook to extend their financial base through investments in real estate, venal offices, and advantageous marriages. For Mlle de Joncoux, the ambitious dowry extracted by her mother's family, combined with the early death of her father, resulted in financial difficulties which precluded an appropriate dowry and condemned her to a spinsterhood which found intellectual outlet, group support, and affective identification with the group of admirers of Port-Royal des Champs.
Instead of marriage, Mlle de Joncoux took up the role of editor, translator, compiler, and anonymous author in the clandestine guerrilla war of pamphlets and fascicules which the exiles around Quesnel in Holland issued in a steady stream to contest every royal and ecclesiastical action that required obedience. The massive correspondence of the group preserved in the Rijksarchief in Utrecht (quoted at length) shows that the protest of the previous generation, namely, that Jansenism was a mere phantom, was hardly more than an intellectual [End Page 558] screen—a subtle construction that masked a determined resistance to the imposition of papal and royal authority. In this fight, the aging nuns at Port-Royal were beloved human shields, blindly faithful to the memory of their confessors and ultimately martyrs to the continued resistance advocated by Quesnel's group. Louis XIV's determination to silence this source of opposition led to the issuance of the bull Unigenitus, the enforcement of which transformed a small group of the amis de la Vérité who were the flower of French thought in the seventeenth century into the strident legalists and appellants of the eighteenth century.
This biography of Mlle de Joncoux, when combined with Ellen Weaver's earlier work—Madame de Fontepertuis: Une dévote janséniste—provides a valuable insight into how Jansenism survived and evolved between 1669 and 1715 as a small, but closely linked group of fellow travelers supporting and aiding the exiled intelligentsia and propagandists. While the generation of Mme de Fontepertuis was content to help with money and practical arrangements, the gradual politicization of the cause led Mlle de Joncoux to join the leaders in the composition of the innumerable pamphlets and protests that would eventually help to sap the foundation of the ancien régime.