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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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While Constance de Salm was accustomed throughout the forty years of her second marriage to spend a good part of the year at her husband’s château at Dyck, near Neuss, the fact that her daughter’s death occurred there was one more reason for her visits to become less and less frequent. Although she appreciated the imposing structure and the magnificent view, she felt much less at home in Dyck than in Paris, and much less emotional connection to Germany than to France. Over time her complaints about life in the country became more and more vociferous, and the tragedy of her daughter’s death was the final straw. Dyck represented isolation from her usual society, loneliness, and homesickness. Indeed, she not only felt like a foreigner, she was a foreigner, ever since 1815, when the Rhineland became part of Prussia. There is no question that at a time when French culture was imbued with Rousseauist conviction about the artificiality of urban society, the superiority of the countryside and the ‘natural’ attractions of the simple life, Constance was unequivocal in her preference for the city and all that it represented.1 She makes this clear in the Pensées where she describes the kind of life one is com- pelled to live in the country as consisting of letters, visits, memories, and the witnessing of daily insignificant events, as a way to ward off boredom, conclud- ing with the observation that only a simpleton, an eccentric, or a pig-headed · 6 · RUSTICATION Banishment...

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