- La Fabrique de l’intime: Mémoires et journaux de femmes du XVIIIe siècle by Catriona Seth
The study of French women’s writing has been a burgeoning field for many years and there are no signs of its waning. On the contrary, better and more complete presentations of source texts, in the form of scholarly editions, translations, and anthologies, have been appearing regularly. Since the publication of Vicki Mistacco’s two-volume Les femmes et la tradition littéraire: Anthologie du Moyen Âge à nos jours (2006), those of us who teach the long eighteenth century have clamored for more, as the very rich revolutionary and postrevolutionary period is represented in Mistacco’s [End Page 428] second volume only by Olympe de Gouges and Germaine de Staël. This is in no way meant to be a critique of Mistacco’s fine anthology, but rather a metric for the extent to which the corpus of French women’s writing of the periods before, during, and after the revolution deserves far more attention and exposure in the form of critical editions and anthologies, so that its wide-ranging parameters may be fully explored and appreciated.
Catriona Seth’s La Fabrique de l’intime goes a long way toward fulfilling this need and, once again, whetting our appetites for more. The volume under review is a welcome anthology of a very particular genre of French women’s writing practiced during this time frame: the confessional, or journal intime, form of writing that developed with a unique set of characteristics during this tumultuous period, becoming a necessary space for personal vetting and reflection about one’s inner thoughts and feelings, as well as about women’s evolving role in society. While we are familiar with Benjamin Constant’s (1767–1830) multivolume Journal intime, written throughout his lifetime—as well as with his letters, also rich in introspection—this treasure trove of women writers who were Constant’s contemporaries shines a light on a genre that should be identified with them as much as it is with him. As is often the case when women’s writing receives its due, we find that literary history needs to be rewritten, and that is certainly true here. The journal intime should be attributed to women writers as much as it is to Constant. Indeed, it is a genre that was actually being polished and perfected by women from the time of Mme de Sévigny’s seventeenth-century letters to her daughter, when epistolary writing, a close cousin of the mémoire or journal intime, had become an outlet for women who, unlike their male counterparts, had not had the luxury of a classical education and therefore almost always wrote from the platform of their lived experience.
This volume contains texts by a series of women, many of whom are lesser-known figures to scholars of the eighteenth century. By juxtaposing their reminiscences with those of better-known writers such as Madame de Staël and Félicité de Genlis, we are made aware of the sheer number of women, from all walks of life, who resorted to a personal form of written contemplation as a way of dialoguing with themselves. Works by the following writers have been anthologized in this volume: Rosalba Carriera (1675–1757), Marguerite-Jeanne de Staal-Delaunay (1684–1750), Suzanne Necker (1737–1794), Françoise-Radegonde Le Noir (1739–1791), Isabelle de Bourbon-Parme (1741–1763), Félicité de Genlis (1746–1830), Jeanne-Marie Roland (1754–1793), Mary Robinson (1758–1800), Charlotte-Nicole Coquebert de Montbret (1760–1832), Adélaïde de Castellane (1761–1805), Germaine de Staël (1766–1817), Marie-Aimée Steck-Guichelin (1776–1821), and Marie-Victoire Monnard (1777–1869). This well-constructed volume includes an appendix of biographical notes of each of the memorialists as well as of the central figures who are mentioned in their writings. A detailed index makes it possible to locate any number of other people appearing in these texts, while the bibliography...