New French books at the UL to celebrate Women’s History Month

At the UL, we continually research and select newly published foreign language books to build and develop the Library’s excellent study resources. Since March is Women’s History Month, it presents the perfect opportunity to highlight some interesting recent acquisitions to the French-language history and history of art collections.

Journal des voyages avec les enfants d’Orléans (1788-1790)

Felicité de Genlis, edited by François Bessire (Presses Universitaires de Rouen, 2020)

Madame Stéphanie Félicité, Comtesse de Genlis (1746-1830), was a significant and influential figure in pre- and post-Revolutionary France. As ‘gouverneur’ to the children of Philippe, Duke of Orléans, she achieved distinction as the first French woman to be entrusted with the education of princes, including the future King Louis Philippe. Alongside this role she penned numerous educational publications, both challenging the established male writers of the day and personally advocating her preferred educational methods. Her treatise Adèle et Théodore, ou Lettres sur l’éducation (Paris, 1782), for example, critiqued the educational theories put forward by Rousseau in his work, Émile, ou de l’éducation (1762)[1], and promoted the educational use of morality plays such as her own composition for young ladies, Théatre à l’usage des jeunes personnes (1779).[2] Madame de Genlis’ educational writings were popular in England, and Cambridge University Library’s Rare Books Department holds not only 18th-century original French editions of her work printed in Dublin and London, but also English translations of her play The child of nature (1788 and 1789). A prolific writer, even while exiled from France following the 1789 Revolution, De Genlis additionally produced many non-education genre plays, novels and essays. Modern editions of some of her work, including Adèle et Théodore and her memoirs, are already available in the UL’s French collections.

Madame de Genlis, by Adelaide Labille-Guiard, 1790. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In interesting contrast, the new publication just acquired by the Library focuses on an example of Madame de Genlis’ writing which was not originally composed for public distribution. The book is the first printed edition of one of her personal journals (1788-90), detailing her travels around Paris and north-western France with the Duke of Orléans’ children. The account describes visits to churches, castles and gardens, as well as the ‘cabinets of curiosities’ belonging to the cream of Parisian society. The editor of this newly published journal, François Bessire, is also co-editor of the key reference text Madame de Genlis: littérature et éducation (Publications de l’université de Rouen, 2008) which is already available in the UL. His new book provides not only a fascinating insight into the lives of late 18th century French aristocracy but also enables unique observation of Madame de Genlis as both educator and individual.

Laure Moulin: Résistante et soeur de héros

Thomas Rabino (Perrin, 2021)

The University Library holds a substantial corpus of material relating to Jean Moulin (1899-1943), ‘héros’ of the French Resistance in World War Two, including copies of a biography penned by his sister, Laure (1892-1974). Despite little public recognition or record, Laure was, herself, a significant figure of the Resistance, and this new acquisition seeks to bring her own story into the spotlight. Working officially as an English teacher in Montpellier, she also operated secretly alongside her brother to decipher coded messages and conceal important documents for him. Subsequently, after Jean’s death, Laure moulded his enduring legacy by personally composing his biography – perhaps indirectly the most clear confirmation of her own Resistance knowledge and involvement. Author, Thomas Rabino, is a specialist in Resistance studies, whose previous works, including L’autre Jean Moulin (Perrin, 2013), are already represented in the Library collections. His latest publication offers not only a valuable expanded record of covert French wartime operations from the perspective of a more ‘secondary’ operative, but also an account of Laure’s activities after her brother’s premature death at the hands of the Gestapo in 1943.  

La conquête d’un droit: le suffrage féminin en Suisse (1848-1971)

Brigitte Studer (Livreo-Alphil, 2020)

The year 2021 marks fifty years since Switzerland gave women the right to vote at national level. Despite having a history of public voting dating back to 1291, Switzerland was one of the last countries in Europe to grant women the vote. The Swiss process of national decision-making by referendum rather than parliamentary vote may partly explain the delay. Prior to 1971, the majority of the (entirely male) legal electorate had voted against the process. However, a shift began in 1959 when three French-speaking cantons granted women the vote at local level; by 1970, this had expanded to nine cantons. Finally, in 1971, two thirds of the electorate voted in favour of women’s suffrage at a national level. The Swiss case study is interesting, not least for its evolution very much in living memory: the final canton only granted women the right to vote at local level in 1990, following a federal order. Author, Brigitte Studer, follows the fight for women’s suffrage in Switzerland from the mid-19th century until 1971 and examines the broader role that these debates play in the definition of democracy.

Studer discusses her research and book in more detail in a radio interview here (in French).

Une histoire mondiale des femmes photographes

Edited by Luce Lebart and Marie Robert (Textuel, 2020)

This new reference work focusing on women’s photography explores the evolution of the art through a female perspective, from its earliest beginnings to the present day and on an international scale. The book claims that women photographers have typically been ignored, historically, “disparaissant du récit de la création au profit des « grands maîtres”. Thus, it aims to bring together the work of 300 female photographers, past and present, utilising both photographic images and accompanying commentaries from 160 female authors. The co-editors, between them, represent a wealth of relevant experience: Lebart is a photography historian, curator and author, and Robert is the chief curator of the Musée d’Orsay photography collection.

All four books highlighted in this blog will shortly be available in the University Library.

Isobel Goodman


[1] Wahba, Magdi. “Madame de Genlis in England”, Comparative Literature, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Summer 1961), pp. 223-4.

[2] Ibid. P. 224.

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