or To love and be loved
Madame Marie-Adelaide in Turkish costume, by Étienne Liotard, 1753, oil on canvas, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Image source: WGA
The book is not a mere prop. This was a princess who loved reading and collecting books for their own sake. She ended up with 5000 volumes in her library. Marie-Adelaide was the favourite daughter of Louis XV. She never married and spent fifty-seven years of her life at Versailles. Unfortunately for her she was intelligent, and ambitious, so being denied a fulfilling role at court embittered her. She survived the Revolution, and all her brothers and sisters, and her nephew Louis XVI and his queen, and died in exile in Trieste in 1800, aged 67.
The majority of female readers, whether they were intellectually curious or just wanted to be trendy, were brainwashed by the best-selling novels of Rousseau. He extolled female education in virtue, passion and instinct, in order to make women into agreeable companions, and emotional and sexual guides, to the new ideal “natural” men.
The aim was not so different from the medieval Courts of Love, where aristocratic women had civilized the warrior-class. The great salons, the women-led network of radical thought and promotion, flourished under similar harmless cover. Individual women like Louis XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, and, very occasionally, the wives of kings, like Queen Caroline in England, had long ruled nations from the royal bedroom; now more women from different social backgrounds could influence and promote ideas, ministers, even policies, in their own homes, without exchanging kisses for votes.
Dandré-Bardon Salon Scene Pen, sepia ink and wash Musée du Louvre, Paris. Image source: WGA
Rousseau was a false prophet of feminism, assuring women that “in what they have in common, they are equal” to men, and then telling them all their qualities must be put into being good wives and mothers. His philosophy inspired them to follow their innermost feelings and instincts, helped them take off all the unwieldy paraphernalia of hoops and paniers, so they could dress more naturally in simple white muslin, decorated only with fresh roses, and let down their ridiculously pouffed and unhygienic powdered hair, or cut it short, and then, in the next breath, he chained them up again, to the hearth, the cradle and the drawing room.
With varying degrees of inner struggle, some women realized they could nurture others and themselves either without or by balancing, a conflict of interests, and declared ideological war which, unbelievably, is still going on. Continue reading