Take one aspect of Louis XIV’s France: provide an analysis of that dimension of 17th-century French history. You can choose topics such as social tensions, warfare, Court life, cultural change, the role of women, etc.
Note : – must use in the analysis at least one or two of the following books
– William Beik, Louis XIV and Absolutism
– Marie de Rabutin Chantal, aka Madame de Sévigné, Selected Letters
– Peter Burke, The Fabrication of Louis XIV
Comment from the teacher :
One comment about the papers on women: almost all of them have fallen into the same trap. They take the “poor oppressed women” approach, and ignore the question. Yes, of course, they lived in a patriarchal society. That society restricted women in many ways: by law; by social convention; by mores; by violence in some cases. Prescriptive literature (written by men, often members of the clergy) told women to be submissive, subordinate to men, etc. That’s all obvious and not worthy of a paper.
What is far less obvious, and what should be the focus of your paper, is how women fought back. They found ways around the laws. They used male stereotypes about women to get what they wanted. I’ll give one example. In the 1670s, the seamstresses of Paris asked Louis XIV to allow them to form their own guild. They argued to the king that young, unmarried female seamstresses were working in the shops of male tailors, supervised by men. This terrible moral situation led to all sorts of temptation and potential sinfulness. They asked the king to save the sexual virtue of these young women by allowing them to work in shops run and supervised by women (the seamstresses’ guild). Louis granted them the charter. By the late 18th century, female seamstresses had almost entirely taken the market for female and children’s clothing away from male tailors (much to the disgruntlement of the tailors).
If the prescriptive literature claimed (as it did) that women lacked fully developed reason (not that they lacked reason altogether, as is often sloppily claimed: every man, every day encountered women who obviously had some level of reason, so no one believed women lacked reason altogether), and we can assume (as I trust we all do) that women actually do have fully developed reason, then the logical inconsistency of the prescriptive literature’s position will, by definition, lead to contradictions. As John Stuart Mill said, the truth has the embarrassing and annoying characteristic of actually being true. Societies ignore it at their peril. [In our own day, think of town councils in coastal North Carolina refusing to allow anyone to claim that ocean levels are rising, and that town zoning ordinances should take such a situation into account.]
Remember that women (say, Mme de Sévigné) will often play with social conventions about women, will often outwardly conform to those prescriptive norms precisely so they can more easily get around them.
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