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Entre constat et prescription


Nobody would dispute Isabelle de Charrière’s legitimate place among those associated with the promotion of women’s education in the eighteenth century. When scholars consider her relationship to education, however, they do not fail to note that her keen interest in the issue never led her to write and publish either a treatise on the subject or a more pragmatic conduct manual. From that perspective she differed greatly from some of her contemporaries: Mesdames de Lambert, Leprince de Beaumont, d’Epinay, and de Genlis, authors, respectively, of the Avis d’une mère à sa fille (1728), the Magasins (des enfants [1758], des adolescentes [1760] and des jeunes dames [1764]), the Conversations d’Emilie (1774 ; 1782) and Adèle et Théodore, ou lettres sur l’éducation (1782).
This communication suggests possible reasons behind such a refusal by shedding light on the genre she rejected and by relating it to her role as the mentor of Henriette L’Hardy and Isabelle de Gélieu as well as to the mother-daughter relationship in the novel Lettres écrites de Lausanne (1785). Both as a mentor and as a novelist, Charrière paid close attention to the problems raised by educating adolescent girls but she clearly left both her activities separate. As long as she remained in the private realm of relationships with individual adolescents, Charrière felt entitled to prescribe the behaviors she deemed appropriate to their situations. Yet, as soon as she went public with some reflections about girls’ education, as was the case in her novel, she fell short of prescribing rules and chose to emphasize the complexity (or impossibility) of this mission.

SvD, July 2008

  • Publications > Volumes WomenWriters > Isabelle de Charrière > Nadine Bérenguier

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