Filles publiques or Public Women: The Actress as Citizen: Marie Madeleine Jodin (1741–90) and Mary Darby Robinson (1758–1800)

  • Felicia Gordon


Individual lives often transgress the boundaries set for them. The two eighteenth-century actresses considered here, Marie Madeleine Jodin and Mary Darby Robinson, manipulated and challenged contemporary assumptions about gender and status. Mary Robinson, after an early success on the stage (1776–1780), gained notoriety as mistress of the Prince of Wales and fame as a poet and novelist, whereas until recently Marie Madeleine Jodin has figured largely as a footnote to Diderot studies.2 Viewed in relation to historical debates today concerning the bourgeois public sphere as defined by Jurgen Habermas, we see a different conception of the public emerging from their experiences.3 Their lives, read across feminist revisionist historians’ contestations of separate spheres ideology, throw light on what was meant by the public and the private.4


Eighteenth Century Public Sphere Public Life Private Sphere French Revolution 
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  1. 1.
    Marie Madeleine Jodin, Vues législatives pour les femmes (Angers: Mame, 1790), p. 1.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Gary Kelly, Women, Writing and Revolution, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), ([0-9])–([0-9])9 and 183, argues that the discourse of domesticity could be and was appropriated by English women writers to enable them to participate in political discourse through print culture.Google Scholar
  3. 24.
    Jacqueline Labbé, ‘Selling One’s Sorrows, Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson and the Marketing of Poetry’, The Wordsworth Circle, XXV, 2 (1994) 68–71.Google Scholar
  4. 25.
    Mary Robinson, Letter to the Women of England on the Injustice of Mental Subordination, 1799 (Woodstock Books: Poole, 1998), p. 7.Google Scholar
  5. 27.
    Edward Copeland, Women Writing about Money, Women’s Fiction in England, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 185–9, cites Mme de Genlis, The Young Exiles (1799) and Fanny Burney’s The Wanderer (1814) as novels showing the heroines tempted by but resisting public performance. Robinson reflected some of her own experience in her novel of 1799, A Natural Daughter, where the heroine goes on the stage in search of independence and thereupon is despised by her husband.Google Scholar
  6. 28.
    For women and contract law see Carol Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988). Pateman explores particularly the position of prostitutes with regard to contract theory. Actresses operated within similar contradictions. See also Jo Labanyi, ‘Adultery and the Exchange Economy’ in Scarlet Letters, Fictions of Adultery from Antiquity to the 1990s, ed. Nicholas White and Naomi Segal (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1997), ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+).Google Scholar
  7. 35.
    Lenard R. Berlanstein, ‘Women and Power in Eighteenth-Century France’, in Visions and Revisions of Eighteenth-Century France, Christine Adams, Jack B. Censer and Lisa Jane Graham, eds (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), p. 156.Google Scholar

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© Felicia Gordon 2005

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  • Felicia Gordon

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