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The Woman Question in France, 1400–1870


Part of New Studies in European History

  • Date Published: March 2019
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316638422

£ 24.99

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About the Authors
  • This is a revolutionary reinterpretation of the French past from the early fifteenth century to the establishment of the Third Republic, focused on public challenges and defenses of masculine hierarchy in relations between women and men. Karen Offen surveys heated exchanges around women's 'influence'; their exclusion from 'authority'; the increasing prominence of biomedical thinking and population issues; concerns about education, intellect, and the sexual politics of knowledge; and the politics of women's work. Initially, the majority of commentators were literate and influential men. However, as more and more women attained literacy, they too began to analyze their situation in print and to contest men's claims about who women were and should be, and what they should be restrained from doing, and why. As urban print culture exploded and revolutionary ideas of 'equality' fuelled women's claims for emancipation, this question resonated throughout francophone Europe and, ultimately, across the seas.

    • Proposes an innovative, gendered, and thematic view of French history from 1400 to 1870 (up to the Third Republic), in which the 'woman question' is front and center
    • Provides and analyzes the actual debates on the 'woman question' as they took place over time, with attention to defenders of the masculine-dominated status quo as well as to the challengers who contested male hegemony, placing partisans on both sides in the context of their times
    • Written in narrative prose, without theoretical jargon or conceit; no theoretical template has been imposed
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'A monumental work of historical scholarship. In every chapter, Offen demonstrates the wide variety of women's voices, the importance of their intellectual contributions, and the persistence with which women leaders agitated for change. With admirable, lucid prose, she shows that when individuals analyzed the nature and meaning of 'woman', they were also talking about other crucial things - from power and authority to biology and religion. This book makes an exceptionally important contribution to the history of women, gender, and women's emancipation (including the obstacles to it), while reorienting our understanding of French history itself.' Edward Berenson, New York University

    'Offen offers a reinterpretation of debates over women and the proper relations of the sexes in the French past. Rather than confining her study to a traditional political chronology, the author deliberately extends her analysis through the French Revolution in order to demonstrate that no aspect of the debates on the woman question began with the Third Republic.' J. Werner, Choice

    'It is difficult to convey how impressive Offen's two books are, and this summary cannot do justice to them. There is no historian better versed in the intricacies of the women question in France and the breadth of the scholarship on display is breathtaking. Offen also writes beautifully. The prose is clear and lucid, and every chapter demonstrates the depth of her knowledge.' Christine Adams, H-France

    'Offen's insightful narration of the deep continuities in the woman question in France also provides a foundation for scholars across the early modern-modern divide to familiarize themselves with the full range of echoes of 'the woman question' across the centuries.' Jennifer M. Jones, The American Historical Review

    'One finishes reading Offen's books in deep gratitude for the monumental labor that she invested in writing them. Thanks to the author's sustained, forthright pursuit of this new narrative in French history, many more topics now deserve further study … what elements of France's specificity in the contested woman question contributed to the country's slow, troubled modernization? What role, if any, did the debate have in France's overseas territories where race and ethnicity were also at play, especially in the interwar period? Such queries naturally arise from Offen's magisterial work, its shrewd insights and compelling detail …' James Smith Allen, The Journal of Modern History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316638422
    • length: 291 pages
    • dimensions: 152 x 229 x 16 mm
    • weight: 0.52kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Confronting the woman question in French history: a general introduction
    1. Querying women's power and influence in French culture
    2. Assessing the problem of women and political authority in French history
    3. Bio-medical thinking, population concerns, and the politics of sexual knowledge
    4. Education, intellect, and the sexual politics of knowledge
    5. The politics of women's history in nineteenth-century France
    6. The politics of women's work in France before 1870
    7. Taking stock: the women question on the eve of the Third Republic
    Appendix with important dates

  • Author

    Karen Offen, Stanford University, California
    Karen Offen is a historian and a Senior Scholar with the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, California, where she received her Ph.D.

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