Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France

The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France

SUZANNE DESAN
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 470
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnzmz
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France
    Book Description:

    In a groundbreaking book that challenges many assumptions about gender and politics in the French Revolution, Suzanne Desan offers an insightful analysis of the ways the Revolution radically redefined the family and its internal dynamics. She shows how revolutionary politics and laws brought about a social revolution within households and created space for thousands of French women and men to reimagine their most intimate relationships. Families negotiated new social practices, including divorce, the reduction of paternal authority, egalitarian inheritance for sons and daughters alike, and the granting of civil rights to illegitimate children. Contrary to arguments that claim the Revolution bound women within a domestic sphere,The Family on Trialmaintains that the new civil laws and gender politics offered many women unexpected opportunities to gain power, property, or independence. The family became a political arena, a practical terrain for creating the Republic in day-to-day life. From 1789, citizens across France-sons and daughters, unhappily married spouses and illegitimate children, pamphleteers and moralists, deputies and judges-all disputed how the family should be reformed to remake the new France. They debated how revolutionary ideals and institutions should transform the emotional bonds, gender dynamics, legal customs, and economic arrangements that structured the family. They asked how to bring the principles of liberty, equality, and regeneration into the home. And as French citizens confronted each other in the home, in court, and in print, they gradually negotiated new domestic practices that balanced Old Regime customs with revolutionary innovations in law and culture. In a narrative that combines national-level analysis with a case study of family contestation in Normandy, Desan explores these struggles to bring politics into households and to envision and put into practice a new set of familial relationships.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93976-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    “The family is a small state, just as the State is a large family,” declared the “Younger Sons of Provence” in 1789 as they denounced the inequalities and internal “privileges” that tore Old Regime families apart. These petitioners urged the new legislature to curtail the authority of despotic fathers, secure equal inheritance for all sons and daughters, and foster “mutual esteem” within the family. “The names father, mother, brother, and sister will no longer be insignificant words. . . . Moral affection, purified at its very source, will spread like a torrent in society. . . . The Provençal will...

  6. 1. Freedom of the Heart: Men and Women Critique Marriage
    (pp. 15-46)

    When revolution broke out in 1789, the Comte d’Antraigues had marriage on his mind. “A nation, for so long oppressed by despotism and its laws, all of a sudden becoming mistress of its own destiny, aspires for liberty. . . . Who would not tremble with horror to think that in this nation paternal authority nonetheless disposes of the hearts of young people for the sake of convenience; . . . that sentiment and love are not even heard. . . . It is not a marriage; it is a sacrifice, a sacrilege,” he fumed in 1789.¹ As the French...

  7. 2. The Political Power of Love: Marriage, Regeneration, and Citizenship
    (pp. 47-92)

    In 1791, theCourrier de l’Hymen,the “Marriage Gazette,” offered an unusual format: side-by-side with political news summaries and witty editorials critiquing marriage practices, it featured what could only be called personal ads, quite detailed paid announcements by individuals who hoped to engage in that matrimonial institution that the rest of the journal seemed bent on reforming. Among the hottest candidates were deputies, members of the National Assembly. One representative from the Antilles advertised for a fiancée in Paris: he hoped she would have “a gentle character and a pleasant face,” and concluded, “Although I am a member of the...

  8. 3. Broken Bonds: The Revolutionary Practice of Divorce
    (pp. 93-140)

    In the full flush of the new Republic, the keepers of the état civil in the town of Caen marked New Year’s Day 1793 somewhat soberly: they recorded the department’s first divorce. As they converted the 1787 séparation de corps of Pierre Hommais and Anne Delaville into a more permanent disunion, they pronounced the couple “personally free [libres de leurs personnes] as they had been before contracting marriage.” For all the liberating language, the divorce had been hard won, as the family tribunal struggled over the meaning of the new law. Reluctant to surrender his advantageous control of the couple’s...

  9. 4. “War between Brothers and Sisters”: Egalitarian Inheritance and Gender Politics
    (pp. 141-177)

    In the spring of 1795 the citoyenne LeFranc of Caen penned an angry warning to the National Convention: “You have only passed one law beneficial to women, the law of 17 nivôse [which guarantees equal partitions of inheritance.] If you destroy this law of equality that has converted to the Republic an infinity of women and girls led astray by the fanaticism of priests, they will say with good reason that you are unjust and that you have taken advantage of the fact that we are not represented at the Convention. . . . They will say to you that...

  10. 5. Natural Children, Abandoned Mothers, and Emancipated Fathers: Illegitimacy and Unwed Motherhood
    (pp. 178-219)

    In the summer of 1793 in the bocage country of Normandy, an illegitimate, eight-year-old girl lost her father. When a distant cousin of the father came to demand his familial goods, the girl’s mother, the citoyenne Eveu, planned for battle in court and fired off a heartfelt plea to the National Convention on behalf of her natural daughter. Painting an image of a natural family bound by love rather than law, Eveu defended her own “free union” with the child’s father and, above all, upheld the rights of their illegitimate child. “She is about to be without bread,” wrote Eveu,...

  11. 6. What Makes a Father? Illegitimacy and Paternity from the Year II to the Civil Code
    (pp. 220-248)

    “Let the name ‘illegitimate child’ disappear,” asserted the deputy Berlier in the summer of 1793. As he proclaimed the rights of enfants naturels, his imagery echoed Cambacérès’ memorable statement from two months earlier: “Nature . . . has not made it a crime to be born.” When the legislators set out to destigmatize illegitimacy and endow natural children with civil rights, they spoke with bold strokes. They passed the controversial law of 12 brumaire an II (2 November 1793), which granted illegitimate children, if recognized by their parents, full inheritance rights equivalent to those of legitimate children. At the same...

  12. 7. Reconstituting the Social after the Terror: The Backlash against Family Innovations
    (pp. 249-282)

    In the aftermath of the Terror, hundreds of French citizens deluged the legislature with petitions bemoaning the “social disorder” of their country. Marriages torn by divorce; elderly parents deserted by their children; brothers and sisters at each other’s throats over family fortunes; illegitimate, grasping offspring who suddenly appeared to demand their share in the name of equality. “Listen to the sorrowful voices of an infinite number of desolate families,” lamented one petitioner as he recounted his typical tale of woe. According to these petitioners, behind all this anarchy and heartbreak lay the Terror of 1793–94 and its attempt to...

  13. 8. The Genesis of the Civil Code
    (pp. 283-310)

    In exile on Saint Helena, Napoleon commented, “My glory is not to have won forty battles, for Waterloo’s defeat will destroy the memory of as many victories. But what nothing will destroy, what will live eternally, is my Civil Code.” Promulgated in March 1804, this Code civil des Français consisted of 2,281 articles of civil law, unified into three books governing Persons, Property, and the Means of Acquiring Property. In much modified form, the Civil Code continues to operate in France today. Given its lasting character and fundamental importance, the prominent legal scholar Jean Carbonnier has dubbed the Code “the...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 311-318)

    “Yes, I was carried away. Who wasn’t during the Revolution? . . . Yes, passion burns within my breast; I am intoxicated with the idea of liberty.” As he reflected on the radicalism of the Terror, this sansculotte captured the raw energy of the Revolution. In its attempts to remake the family, the French Revolution burned with transformative power, injected fierce demands for change into the most intimate relationships, and insisted that citizens rethink the ordinary. In the spaces created by new political and legal practices, thousands of women and men rushed to reimagine their domestic lives. As lawmakers battled...

  15. APPENDIX I: Communes in the Calvados Studied for Cases of Divorce
    (pp. 319-324)
  16. APPENDIX II: Chronology of Revolutionary Family Laws and Decrees
    (pp. 325-332)
  17. Note on Archival Sources
    (pp. 333-334)
  18. Abbreviations
    (pp. 335-336)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 337-436)
  20. Index
    (pp. 437-456)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 457-460)