Oeuvres de Mirabeau (French Edition)
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Gouges, Olympe de | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
She was among the first to demand the emancipation of slaves, the rights of women including divorce and unwed motherhood , and the protection of orphans, the poor, the unemployed, the aged and the illegitimate. She had a talent for emulating those she admired, including especially Rousseau but also Condorcet, Voltaire, and the playwright Beaumarchais.
Details are limited. Born Marie Gouze in Montauban, France in to petite-bourgeois parents Anne Olympe Moisset Gouze, a maidservant, and her second husband, Pierre Gouze, a butcher, Marie grew up speaking Occitan the dialect of the region. She was possibly the illegitimate daughter of Jean-Jacques Le Franc de Caix the Marquis de Pompignan , himself a man of letters and a playwright among whose claims to fame includes an accusation of plagiarism by Voltaire.
These letters stop short of unequivocal denial of his paternity. The year of her first published work is , and it marks the end of her first decade in Paris. She had begun to write in earnest around Charlotte Jeanne Be'raud de la Haye de Riou, Marchioness of Montesson , wife of the Duke of Orleans, a playwright herself and a woman of much influence and wealth, was among a list of other friends who came to her aid.
With little formal education and as a woman boldly unconventional, once she began her life of letters, her detractors were eager to find fault. She was often accused of being illiterate, yet her familiarity with Moliere, Paine, Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire, and many others, the breadth of her interests, and the speed with which she replied to published criticism, all attest to the unlikelihood of the accusation.
As French was not her native tongue and since her circumstances permitted, she maintained secretaries for most of her literary career. Her literary pursuits began with playwriting. Gouges wrote as many as 40 plays, as inventoried at her arrest. Twelve of those plays survived, and four found the requisite influential, wealthy, mostly male backing needed for their staging. Ten were published.
Gouges broke with this tradition—publishing under her own name and pushing the boundaries of what was deemed appropriate subject matter for women playwrights—and withstood the consequences. Reviews of her early productions were mixed—some fairly favorable, others patronizing and condescending or skeptical of her authorship.
The play also shines a light on the injustice of imprisonment for debt. Winning praise from abolitionist groups, it was the first French play to focus on the inhumanity of slavery; it is, not surprisingly, also the first to feature the first person perspective of the slave. It saw three performances before it was shut down by sabotaging actors and protests organized by enraged French colonists who, deeply reliant on the slave trade, hired hecklers to wreak havoc on the production.
Gouges fought back through the press, her social and literary connections and through the National Assembly. Sympathy for his inexperienced wife and, later, an innocent baby, gives him insights he uses for moral reflection, a theme found in David Hume , Josiah Royce , and much modern feminist ethics. And, she had a unique voice on many matters. Playwriting for Gouges was a political activity. In addition to slavery, she highlighted divorce, the marriageability of priests and nuns, girls forcibly sent to convents, the scandal of imprisonment for debt, and the sexual double-standard, as social issues, some repeatedly.
Such activism was not unheard-of on the stage, but Gouges carried it to new heights. By , her writings had become more explicitly political. The Convent was her second play to see the light of day, and her greatest success.
Oeuvres de Mirabeau, Vol. 1: Notice; Oeuvres Oratoires (Classic Reprint)
In the year of its publication it saw approximately 80 performances. Most notable, perhaps, is the appearance of the three women as worthy of a place of honor and a voice, platforms they use to assert, among other things, that the success of the Revolution pivots on the inclusion of women. This is also the year Gouges wrote The Rights of Woman , discussed separately below. The former, confiscated at her arrest, was used as proof of sedition at her trial because of its sympathetic depiction of Marie-Antoinette, even as Gouges used it to demonstrate support for her own case.
The publication of Memoir of Madame de Valmont ironically begins, rather than summarizes, her political career. This fictionalized self-examination grappled with idealized father figures and fragmented selves, and served to package and compartmentalize her pre-Parisian life and move her forward wholly into a literary existence. Rejection of the symbolic paternal voice of the culture has political power, and the Memoir presents an 18 th century illustration of making the personal political—a vivid theme in 20 th century feminism.
Scholars are mixed on whether she maintained her monarchist stance throughout her life. Her literary output and her pamphleteering often suggest some version of a monarchy as her default position. The male characters still hesitate to share the reins with women. While not prepared to offer up a fully formed theory of oppression, Gouges is readying the space where that work can be done.
In all of her writings, both literary and political, one finds an unflinching self-confidence and a desire for justice. Familial obligations dominate and are responses to the inadequacies of the state. The plight of the illegitimate child, the unmarried mother, the poor, the commoner at least by , the orphan, the unemployed, the slave, even the King when he is most vulnerable, are all brought to light, with family connection and sympathy for the most disadvantaged as the pivotal plot points.
Women characters regularly displace men at center stage. It is women, unified with each other and winning the recognition of men, that most characterizes what Gouges conveys in her work. She is the first to bring several taboo issues to the stage, divorce and slavery among them. As with so much that came to prominence with modern feminism, indignation at injustice must have started for Gouges with her own marginalization as a woman, but it shifted to the external world with a recognition of the inhumanity of slavery.
While she was not an immediatist like some in the next generation of abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison in the U. In fact, female political participation of all kinds was formally banned by the French National Assembly in , after one of several uprisings led by women. Her path from social nonconformist, to political activist and reformer, to martyr was one untrodden by women.
Many of the most influential eighteenth century intellectuals—with a few exceptions—were convinced women did not have the intellectual capacity for politics. Gouges challenged that perception, while also problematizing it by writing hastily, sometimes dictating straight to the printer.
While her uneven education opened her to ridicule, it gave her a critical affinity for Rousseauean ideas, as will be discussed below. Both playwriting and her productivity as a pamphleteer gained her celebrity which she used as a podium for her advocacy of the marginalized, and for drawing attention to the importance of the preservation of the state.
She petitioned the National Assembly on a number of occasions on these and other matters. Whether or not related to her efforts, the National Assembly did pass laws in giving illegitimate children some of the civil rights for which she fought and granting women the right to divorce, even while women remained legal nonentities overall.
While the historical record is more complicated than that, in historian John R. Her call for women to identify as women and band together in support of each other can also be considered a contribution to the revolutionary and to the concept of citizenship, and remains today an important focus for modern feminism. The latter two petitioned the National Assembly unsuccessfully in to ensure legal rights for women. Her awareness of these themes spring from her experience as a woman, solidified by her unhappy early marriage, her unapologetic and ostensibly scandalous first years in Paris, through to her sometimes-thwarted, oft-derided, attempts at participation in cultural, literary and political realms.
She experienced firsthand how the rights of the citizen were denied women. Her early history, her frustration at being denied, or dismissed as, a voice in the public sphere, and the ridicule she withstood, aimed at her gender, gave shape to insights emblematic of much later feminist theory and concretized for her an understanding of the link between the public and private realms. Her decision to continue to publish works deemed seditious even as the danger of arrest grew shows courage and commitment to her advocacy of the less fortunate and exemplifies her self-definition as a political activist.
She was the only woman executed for sedition during the Reign of Terror Is it for women to make motions? Is it for women to put themselves at the head of our armies? In May or June of her poster The Three Urns [or Ballot Boxes ] appeared, calling for a referendum to let the people decide the form the new government should take. Proposing three forms of government: republic, federalist or constitutional monarchy, the essay was interpreted as a defense of the monarchy and used as justification for her arrest in September.
Her continuing preference for a constitutional monarchy was likely propelled in part by her disappointment with the Revolution, but more specifically by her opposition to the death penalty and her general humanitarian inclinations. She appears to have had no elemental dispute with monarchy per se , problematizing any philosophical understanding of her commitment to human rights. The Rights of Woman , for instance, is dedicated to the Queen— as a woman, but presumably because she is the Queen.
By far her most well-known and distinctly feminist work, The Rights of Woman was written as a response to The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen , written in but officially the preamble to the French Constitution as of September Political passivity was itself seen as a feminine responsibility. It most often appears at least in English translation without the fourth part Cole, Forceful and sarcastic in tone and militant in spirit, its third section takes up each of the seventeen Articles of the Preamble to the French Constitution in turn and highlights the glaring omission of the female citizen within each article.
Meant to be a document ensuring universal rights, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen is exposed thereby as anything but. The immediacy of the implications of the Revolution finally fully awakened Gouges to the ramifications of being denied equal rights, but her entire oeuvre was aiming in this direction. Gouges wrote a document that highlights her personal contradictions her own monarchist leanings as they hinder full autonomy most obviously , while bringing piercing illumination to contradictions in the French Constitution.
To harmonize this document with her devotion to the monarchy for most of her political career takes significant effort.
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For Gouges, the most important expression of liberty was the right to free speech; she had been exercising that right for almost a decade. Article XI, for example, demands the right of women to name the father of their children. The peculiarity of the need for this right on the part of women stands out because of its specificity and demonstrates the contradictions created by blindness to gender. The rights such equality implies need to be recognized as having a more far-reaching application; if rights are natural and if these rights are somehow inherent in bodies, then all bodies are deserving of such rights, regardless of any particularities, like gender or color.
Marriage, as the center for political exploitation, is thoroughly lambasted in the postamble, Part 5, to The Rights of Woman. Gouges, much like Wollstonecraft, attempts to combat societal deficiencies: the vicious circle which neglects the education of its females and then offers their narrower interests as the reason for the refusal of full citizenship.
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The state is a reconceived marriage writ large, for Gouges. What ails government are fixed social hierarchies impossible to maintain. What heals a government is an equal balance of powers and a shared virtue consistent with her continuing approval of a constitutional monarchy. Marriages are to be voluntary unions by equal rights-bearing partners who hold property and children mutually and dispense of same by agreement. Having been a monarchist almost to the end, her authorship of this document and her lack of formal education suggests Gouges possessed less than full comprehension of what we now view as the discourse on universal human rights.
That said, the production of this document has influenced exactly that conversation, and thus her presence in the list of historical figures who matter philosophically has to be acknowledged. Even Wollstonecraft, in her Vindication of , does not call for the complete reinvention of women as political selves, as does Gouges in She held that the human mind has no sex, an idea traceable in the modern era as far back as Poulain de la Barre ; men and women are equally human, therefore capable of the same thoughts. While her lack of education precluded the use of any systematic methodology, the consistency of her advocacy for the powerless, of pacifism, and eventually for the universal application of moral and legal rights is of great merit, and remains, if not based in rigorous philosophical analysis, yet philosophically astute.
Her writings, both literary and political, point in directions contemporary feminist philosophy traversed for much of the twentieth century and beyond. Focusing on women as human and thus equal, but with pregnancy and motherhood as special differences, Gouges seemed comfortable with the resulting conceptual dissonance. On the heels of The Rights of Woman , she published The Philosopher Prince , a novel where ideas in the realm of political philosophy perhaps influenced by the historical events of the previous three years are most on display.
With the marriage contract from The Rights of Woman as a template, she unpacks reasons for the lack of solidarity between the sexes; she depicts women living in a mythical society where education becomes a requirement for civic virtue; access to reason is necessary so that women grow up equal to men and engaged in public life.
Azoulay gives the most scholarly attention to date to this novel, arguing that it provides evidence that Gouges was a monarchist only insofar as monarchy was the best means to preserve the nation. Gouges imagines a society where women were granted an education and encouraged in the development of their agency. While agreeing with Rousseau that civilization corrupts, she parts ways with him on the education of females.
Harth, , This pamphlet also contains her call for a national theatre for women. We find fragments of a larger philosophical perspective wherever we look.