In France, the expansion of printing and the spread of literacy were accompanied by debates concerning French spelling. These debates have generally been understood within a narrative of progress that explains how the archaic spelling of the Renaissance was modernized to become the spelling we practice today. I tell a different story by taking account of the central role that gender played in these debates. In this story, the phonetic spelling associated with women is rejected by men of letters, whose primary concern is to establish the authority of the written over the spoken word. Under the new orthographic regime of the eighteenth century, the way women spelled was no longer seen as a model for reform, but as a source of shame. At a time when elite women and girls were expected to be able to write an elegant letter, their "poor" spelling reinforced the growing understanding of them as naturally naive, fearful, and lazy, especially in the face of tasks deemed intellectually and physically challenging. By identifying poor spelling as a source of social embarrassment, men of letters and writing masters encouraged women and girls to be self-conscious about how they wrote and to experience a new sense of shame about it.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 191-223
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2004
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