- Women and Work in Eighteenth-Century France ed. by Daryl M. Hafter and Nina Kushner
This collection of ten essays illustrates five major themes of women’s work as identified by the editors: economic success, economic activities beyond traditional female occupations, work identities, family economy, and legal capacity as a constraint on women’s actions. Seven chapters of case studies enrich our understanding of how individual women negotiated the margins of legal boundaries and social tensions in order to succeed in the family economy and the workplace outside the home, thus lending nuance and detail to the book’s broader unified depiction of the ubiquitous involvement of women in the working world. Since 2007, four of the authors whose work is included in this book have also published monographs on women and work in France: Daryl M. Hafter, Nina Kushner, Nancy Locklin, and Jane McLeod. [End Page 978]
In the first essay, Rafe Blaufarb challenges the current consensus on formal female legal incapacity in regard to property rights through a study of the comtesse de Sade’s family seigneurie in Provence in the 1760s. In a study on work identity, Nancy Locklin follows the career path of Louise Le Mace, a single woman who was a mistress tailor and guild member in Quimper from the 1730s to 1770s. Nina Kushner shows how women participated in illicit economies as kept women, known as dames entretenues or femmes galantes in the demimonde of Paris, from the mid-eighteenth century to the Revolution. Jacob D. Melish describes the power of wives in managing money and men in family businesses in late Old Regime Paris. Cynthia M. Truant examines some issues that the well-known artist Vigée-Lebrun’s career raises about other women artists in terms of their exceptional guild status, identity, and socio-legal rights.
Jane McLeod focuses on how printer widows from the 1720s to 1780s negotiated conflicting priorities of local guilds and royal officials who wanted to control printing. Jennifer L. Palmer’s case study of the work of Madame Regnaud de Beaumont from the 1740s to the late 1780s describes how women involved in transatlantic commerce often acquired limited legal authority for the management of family and business while their husbands were in the colonies, and how that contracted authority could be contested. The last three chapters focus on broader economic trends and women’s roles: James B. Collins on women and the birth of modern consumer capitalism; Daryl M. Hafter on French industrial growth in women’s hands; and Judith A. DeGroat on women in Paris manufacturing trades in the 1830s and 1840s. The reader could benefit from reading Bonnie G. Smith’s Afterword as a complementary introduction.
Technology is not a central integrating factor except in Daryl Hafter’s chapter on industrialization but historians of technology can still gain much insight into how women’s experiences of legal and informal constraints, and their successes, related to technological change. Indeed, case studies such as these suggest avenues for future research, especially in those areas where technological factors intersected with social and economic distinctions in women’s work. For example, Judith DeGroat’s remark that “women’s wages were generally half those of men” in Paris except in a few industries such as making upholstery (p. 209) should pique interest in the structure and technologies of that industry and questions about the social context of other technologies. Jane McLeod’s chapter on printer widows should be of interest to historians of technology familiar with other women printers such as Marie-Rosalie Huzard (1767–1849), whose firm published works such as the Bulletin de la société d’encouragement pour l’industrie nationale and Mémoires de la société d’agriculture d’économie rurale et domestique, as well as works by the minister Jean-Antoine Chaptal, who played a key role in French industrialization. The important contributions and unified approach of this book overshadow some redundancy in certain [End Page 979] chapters, and both scholars and...