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Reviewed by:
  • Les femmes et l'histoire familiale (XVIe-XVIIe siècle)
  • Anne R. Larsen
Susan M. Broomhall and Colette H. Winn, eds. Les femmes et l'histoire familiale (XVIe-XVIIe siècle). Textes de la Renaissance 130. Paris: Honoré Champion Éditeur, 2008. index. illus. gloss. bibl. €43. ISBN: 978-2-7453-1567-0.

This edition of the memoirs of René e Burlamacchi (1568-1644), Descrittione della Vita et Morte del Sigr Michele Burlamachi (1623), and Jeanne du Laurens (b. 1563), Genealogie de Messieurs du Laurens (1631), is a wonderful contribution to the fields of family history and early modern women. Burlamacchi focuses her account on the life of her father Michele (1532-90) and his family, and Laurens, on her immediate kin. Both women state that they were motivated by their religious faith and love of family; both were active in the advancement of their family's fortunes; both married twice: Burlamacchi's second husband was the Reformed warrior and poet Agrippa d' Aubign é . The differences between them are also noteworthy: Burlamacchi's Reformed family fled Lucca, Italy, for France on account of religious persecution; once there, her family had to move from city to city to avoid the constant perils of the religious wars. Laurens, for her part, never left her native Arles. Burlamacchi was raised in a family of merchants and bankers, Laurens, in a medical milieu; the former's mother died relatively young, after the [End Page 1270] birth of her eighth child, while the latter's mother lived to the age of seventy-one and had a close, lifelong mentoring relationship with her daughter.

As writers of historical narrative, these middle-class women were not unique. Broomhall and Winn state that women from all social strata, even those not directly involved in the politics of their day, wrote in increasing numbers toward the end of the sixteenth century because they were personally affected by the events around them. Some wrote about the changes in their daily lives due to the destruction and violence of the religious wars. Renée Burlamacchi, whose family barely escaped the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in Paris, provides an eyewitness account of this and other events that forced her family to flee repeatedly from danger. Jeanne du Laurens, on the other hand, did not have to confront such life-threatening moments; her reason to write was to leave for future generations a testimonial of the legacy of faith that her Catholic parents transmitted to their offspring.

Women's historical writing is not unusual but the genre used by these two writers is: the livre de raison (family memoir) was predominantly a male-defined genre, produced by the father and handed down to the eldest son. The few women who wrote familial history legitimized their writing as a filial act to demonstrate their allegiance to the domestic economy. They generally avoid speaking directly about themselves to focus on the religious and moral values, as well as the advancement, of their family. Both Burlamacchi and Laurens anchor their text in their strong belief in providence and God's sovereignty. Burlamacchi interprets her family's very survival in the face of countless obstacles, and, later, financial and social success once safely established in Geneva, as evidence of God's grace. Laurens attributes her family's professional success in the medical field not only to her parents'strong moral values and the upbringing they provided to her brothers but to divine blessing. Her emphasis on faith and good works reflects the catholic tenor of her narrative, while Burlamacchi's stress on predestination indicates her Reformed convictions. Finally, exemplarity plays an important role in these writings. Both women select examples of good women from their own milieu, most often the mother and her variant: Burlamacchi's aunt raised her and her sisters when her mother died; Laurens's talented and supremely confident mother led the family upon the death of her husband.

This fascinating edition contains the original Italian and the oldest of three manuscript French translations of Burlamacchi's text—the latter is an eighteenth-century version owned by the Bibliothèque publique et universitaire of Geneva; several autograph letters...


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pp. 1270-1271
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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