The Notorious Madame de Langeac
Jeffrey Wilson Merrick
Merrick, Jeffrey Wilson, « The Notorious Madame de Langeac », Francia 45 (2018), p. 339-355.
We have come a long way from nineteenth-century "petite histoire" in which noble women played a decorative role and twentieth-century Marxist history in which working women played a negligible role. Women of all classes – in markets, convents, and salons, as consumers,litigants, and protesters – and gender as a construct now figure conspicuously in research on the political culture of pre-Revolutionary France.
According to apologists of the Ancien Régime, inferiors (wives, children, servants, workers, subjects) obeyed superiors (husbands, fathers, masters, rulers and their agents), and superiors, in turn, ensured the welfare of inferiors.
This patriarchal model organized »natural« differences in sex, age, and rank into a harmonious network of reciprocal obligations that allegedly preserved order in the household and the kingdom. Unruly females from all walks of life threatened private as well as public order when they mismanaged their limited agency inside and outside the home.
Eighteenth-century nouvellistes and libellistes criticized lower-class wives who defied their husbands and upper-class wives who betrayed their spouses. They vilified Louis XV’s mistress Madame du Barry and Louis XVI’s consort Marie-Antoinette, who reportedly governed the men they were supposed to obey. We know much more about the queen, her favorites, the duchesse de Polignac and the princesse de Lamballe, and other members of her circle, most notably her »minister of fashion« Rose Bertin and her portraitist Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, than we do about many other transgressive women, such as the subject of this article.