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The Politics of Happy Matrimony: Cerfvol's La Gamologie ou l'Education des Filles Destinées au Manage NADINE BERENGUIER During the early modem period, reading was understood by the Church and many educators as a problematic endeavor for women, especially the young and unmarried. Countless were the warnings against books as sources of possible disruption in the course of a woman's life.1 As a perceptive critic of his time, Molière debated the issue in some of his comedies , and in L'Ecole des Femmes, in particular, he caricatured the most reactionary positions on the dangers of reading for women, mocking Arnolphe's conviction that Agnès's absolute ignorance would guarantee the peace of their marriage. Conversely, in Les Femmes Savantes, he emphasized the privileged position that books and learning held on the "feminist " agenda, poking fun at three learned ladies, Philaminte, Bélise and Armande. In this querelle des femmes reignited by Molière, books and learning clearly played a central role. As print culture expanded, and despite all the suspicion surrounding women readers, the entertainment and instruction of women came to depend more and more on books. During the sixteenth century (with Erasmus, Vives, and Luther) women's education became an object of interest; in the seventeenth century, the adolescent girl who read made her debut in Grenaille's L'honnête fille (1639-40).2 In the eighteenth century, following the impulse given by François de Fénelon's Traité de l'Education des Filles (1687), many educators, from clerics to philosophes, fully recog173 174 / BÉRENGUIER nized the necessity of a better education for girls. Not that they were immediately granted full access to all academic subjects. Abstract sciences like physics and mathematics were not encouraged; natural sciences were deemed just acceptable, and only the study of writing and history was unanimously recommended for girls.3 This new awareness justified the publication of a larger body of literature specifically designed for adolescent girls, chiefly instructional manuals on a variety of topics.4 The second half of the eighteenth century witnessed the significant expansion of conduct literature that provided young girls of marriageable age with social commentary and moral guidance.5 In Un Monde à l'Usage des Demoiselles, Paule Constant links the emergence of the social category called jeune fille with the rising awareness of educational needs.6 Caught between childhood (connected with animality) and womanhood (tainted by relations with a man), the female adolescent also stands on the threshold between the space of education (home or convent ) and the space of the world (salon, theater, ball) from which she will access married life. The concrete and direct protections of the old space (convent walls or governess) must be replaced with more elusive and mediated defense mechanisms. As print culture prospered, female adolescence acquired a new escort in this passage from the old space to the new, an envoy from the space of the world, in the form of conduct books, agents of "Ie passage d'une civilisation orale, avec tout ce que cela comporte de traditions et de savoir-faire dont les femmes tiennent le dernier bastion, à une civilisation de l'écrit proprement masculine" (Un Monde, 16) [the transition from an oral culture with everything that includes in the way of traditions and skills which are still the province of women, to a print culture more properly male]. The ambiguous nature of the public for whom these books were intended generated inconsistencies worth investigating more closely. Because of the ambiguous status of their audience, for whom innocence was synonymous with ignorance, the authors of conduct books grappled with the difficult task of teaching candidates for marriage about the dangers of the world without threatening their modesty or reputation. As a result, these books somewhat uneasily walked a fine line between ignorance and awareness , between innocence and worldliness. In addition, if they wanted their handbook to reach its primary audience, these writers needed to secure the approval of the more experienced readers who would decide on the appropriateness of reading material. It is these difficulties, the need to preserve modesty while imparting worldly information and the need to target a variety of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1938-6133
Print ISSN
0360-2370
Pages
pp. 173-200
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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