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Constance de Salm, Her Influence and Her Circle in the Aftermath of the French Revolution

«A Mind of No Common Order»


Ellen McNiven Hine

Largely forgotten during the second half of the nineteenth century and throughout most of the twentieth century, Constance de Salm (Constance-Marie de Théis, Mme Pipelet de Leury, later Princess de Salm-Reifferscheid-Dyck,) finally attracted the attention of such scholars as Elizabeth Colwill, Geneviève Fraisse, Huguette Krief, and Christine Planté in the early twenty-first century. However, there has to date been no comprehensive study of her published works, her vast correspondence, and the importance of her cultural exchanges. In this book, Ellen McNiven Hine contributes to the recent upsurge of interest in the literature of this particularly turbulent period in French history. This book considers not only her literary aspirations and claim to fame but also such topics as her contribution to the scientific culture of the period, the extent of the political involvement of a «non-activist» woman, her challenge to what she saw as inequitable provisions in the Civil Code, her championing of women’s progress in literature and the arts, and the role that networking and patronage played in her personal and professional life. Moreover, the study highlights the similarities and differences between her life, writing, and influence and those of other postrevolutionary women such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Germaine de Staël, Margaret Somerville, and Louise Colet.
Constance de Salm uses a variety of genres to address issues of particular importance to women, such as equal access to educational opportunities, the cost to women’s health of reproduction, and lack of economic resources for single and widowed women. She displays a surprising modernity in her awareness of the difficulty of resolving relationship, career, and motherhood problems that continue to plague women in the twenty-first century and points to a future in which women will have access to educational and employment opportunities.


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3. THEEARLYYEARS: Championing the Women’s Cause 47


Huguette Krief begins her introduction to Vivre libre et écrire, an anthology of novelists of the revolutionary period, with the following comment on the moral, political and aesthetic significance of women’s writing at the time that Constance Pipelet was composing Sapho, Epître aux femmes, Epître sur les dis- sensions des gens de lettres and other poems of the 1790s: Par delà la complexité d’une production romanesque considérée naguère comme sans intérêt ni profondeur, se révèlent des lignes de force, des continuités et des ruptures dans la création littéraire. La Révolution française est un moment où les questions se font plus pressantes, où la littérature féminine est porteuse d’une signification morale, politique et esthétique. La diversité des thèmes et des choix des formes ne saurait faire oublier que ces oeuvres participent à une subtile remise en cause de l’espace réservé à l’expression des femmes.1 While her championship of women’s causes is a constant theme underlying all her work, the key text that everyone mentions in any discussion of Constance de Salm is Epître aux femmes, the importance of which she herself recognized as crucial to the on-going debate regarding women’s writing that was raging par- ticularly fiercely at the time.2 · 3 · THE EARLY YEARS Championing the Women’s Cause Hine Intro thru 6_T3.qxd 11/28/2011 1:16 PM Page 47 While she derived satisfaction from her first major foray into public author- ship in...

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