Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Julius R. Ruff
John Patrick Donnelly
This study is an examination of laboring class women of Paris during the early eighteenth century. These women did not leave written records of their lives, so information about them comes from legal and judicial records, specifically the papers of the commissaires de police and the records of criminal cases that went before the Châtelet, one of the royal courts of Paris. By examining the challenges and conflicts that individual women faced, we can better understand how laboring-class women of eighteenth-century Paris successfully navigated the legal and customary restrictions that were part of the patriarchal system under which they lived.
The first two chapters set the stage for the drama of eighteenth-century Parisian life that is described the later chapters. The first chapter provides a description of the city of Paris as a whole as well as a detailed look at the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the focal area for this study. Chapter Two examines the place of women within French society in terms of the early modern views about women and the laws that governed their lives. While eighteenth-century women understood the subordinate position was assigned to them by the law and custom of France, they also demonstrated a willingness to circumvent the controls on their lives when necessary, thus further complicating our understanding of their lives. Chapter Three explores how women made use of language and actions that drew on eighteenth-century understandings of women to either avoid consequences of misbehavior or as part of an effort maintain their position within the neighborhood. Honor and reputation were of vital importance to women's survival in eighteenth-century France, and threats to one's standing were taken very seriously. In Chapter Four, we look at how the strategies explored in Chapter Three were used to confront the conflicts that were part of life in the domestic sphere, especially those that threatened a woman's economic or even physical survival by forcing them to respond to a variety of primary associates. In Chapter Five, we continue this examination of honor and place for eighteenth-century women by looking at how these conflicts played out within the wider community.