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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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Although Constance de Salm was sixty years old in 1827, she does not write Mes soixante ans, ou mes souvenirs politiques et littéraires until 1833. She is fol- lowing what seems to have been a convention among writers to entitle a poem written relatively late in their careers Mes soixante ans. For example, a certain M. Le Texier of Lisle Street, Leicester Fields, London, receveur général des fermes de Lyon, according to Grimm, an actor and reader admired for the flexibility of his voice by Rousseau and also by Mme du Deffand in a letter to Voltaire, published one such work with this identical title in 1797.1His account was a tribute to the faithfulness of his wife, who had supported him when he had become ‘victime de la calomnie et des poisons de l’odieuse envie,’ and included the following lines as testimony to his companionate marriage: Tu partageois toujours avec constance Mes soins, ma peine et la douleur. By contrast, Constance de Salm’s poem, as the full title indicates, is an attempt to recall the political and literary milestones in her life that had made the great- est impact on her, and to assess the importance of these experiences for devel- oping her sense of self and for the future. She states in the avant-propos to the Oeuvres Complètes that her description of ‘ce grand tableau des événements’ · 9 · TAKING STOCK Reminiscences and Predictions: Mes Soixante Ans Hine 7 thru end_T3.qxd 11/28/2011 1:...

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