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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Aristocracy Redeemed: Narratives of Redemption and Regeneration in Noblewomen's Memoirs of the French Revolution and Emigration
by Petersen, Britt Christina, Ph.D., Northwestern University, 2011, 231; 3456593
Abstract (Summary)

This project looks at how private and public narratives of the French Revolution intersected in nineteenth-century France. It examines a corpus of texts traditionally neglected by historians—aristocratic women's memoirs of the Revolution and Emigration—and shows how these accounts may have offered readers another, more personal way of accessing 1789 as part of France's historical narrative. Focusing specifically on the subsection of these memoirs that proved most popular with readers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—that is, those written by noblewomen who emigrated at some point during the Revolution—the following chapters demonstrate how the authors' identity as both women and nobles led them to reconstruct the story of revolution and exile not as a political drama, but as an epic upheaval in aristocratic private and social life.

Drawing from the closely related sentimental novel and spiritual autobiography traditions in these artful reconstructions of 1789, the authors' narratives suggest that the Revolution had some positive effect in that it served to remind a morally bankrupt Old Regime court nobility of their fallibility as an elite caste and set them down the path to regeneration. In the end, it was the hardships of extended exile, as noblewomen recounted them, that would bring about the true "conversion" of the high nobility, as once-debauched aristocrats were forced to forget their profligate ways and live simple, moral lives surrounded by family and friends in exile. The authors personalized this process of aristocratic renewal, as they remembered it, by focusing their accounts on their own and their families' experience of moral redemption and regeneration, demonstrating for their readers how these struggles transformed them into a truly worthy, moral elite. While this story might be read as part of the former Second Order's efforts to recover the power and privilege they lost after 1789, the broader historical significance of this socially-embedded, feminized recasting of the Revolutionary upheaval was how it helped to make the 'regenerative revolution' model of 1789 personal and, therefore, accessible to readers in ways that public narratives of 1789 could not.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Maza, Sarah
Commitee: Alder, Kenneth, Liu, Tessie
School: Northwestern University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 72/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Biographies, Romance literature, European history
Keywords: Emigration, French Revolution, Memoirs, Noblewomen
Publication Number: 3456593
ISBN: 978-1-124-66161-2
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