“Marriage is the tomb of trust and love”: Marriage and Divorce in Olympe de Gouges’ Plays

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Among female authors and activists of the French Revolution, Olympe de Gouges stands out as one of the most prolific writers who advocated for the extension of full rights to women. De Gouges is most famous for her Déclaration des Droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne (1791), modeled on the original Déclaration, in which she expounds on her project for women’s rights and equality of the sexes. Even though her Déclaration is the most relevant and most studied of her texts in the context of the French Revolution, De Gouges’ other texts, notably her plays, are often left out of the historical narrative of the Revolution, due to the more subtle ways in which they express De Gouges’ feminist ideas. If her plays have been disregarded from a literary standpoint, they are very valuable as historical sources. They allowed De Gouges to portray different non-traditional cases of marriages and relationships, and through them to denounce the systemic abuses of women by giving her female characters agency, and to propose her own solutions. Indeed, in her plays, De Gouges expresses her vision for marriage, as it relates to her ideas in the Déclaration, while at the same time referencing her own life experiences. De Gouges’ ideas about marriage are best expressed in the following plays: L’esclavage des noirs (written 1784, published 1788, performed 1789), Le Mariage inattendu de Chérubin (written 1784, published 1786), La Nécessité du divorce (written 1790), Le Philosophe Corrigé (written 1787, published 1788), Molière chez Ninon (written 1787, published 1788), and Les Voeux Forcés (written 1790).

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Graduate Research Prize (History)