L’ortografe des dames: Gender and Language in the Old Regime
What greater pleasure for a researcher than to have in her hands and before her eyes the very manuscripts written by a woman of the past she seeks to understand? What greater frustration than struggling to decipher not just the handwriting, but the spelling! More than two hundred years after the death of the noted salonnière Marie-Thérèse Geoffrin, her manuscripts are my only contact with the corporeal woman. But due to her poor spelling, reading her letters makes the same sensory impact on me that I imagine smelling her unwashed body might. Moreover, it is painfully obvious that the men of letters with whom Geoffrin consorted and to whose success she contributed so materially had no such hidden shame: their manuscript letters may reveal the occasional slip, but they are basically sound in the mechanics of spelling and grammar. The letter as body is gendered, and the shameful body is female.
KeywordsEighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Shameful Body French Language
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