Selected Philosophical and Scientific Writings

University of Chicago Press
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Though most historians remember her as the mistress of Voltaire, Emilie Du Châtelet (1706–49) was an accomplished writer in her own right, who published multiple editions of her scientific writings during her lifetime, as well as a translation of Newton’s Principia Mathematica that is still the standard edition of that work in French. Had she been a man, her reputation as a member of the eighteenth-century French intellectual elite would have been assured.

In the 1970s, feminist historians of science began the slow work of recovering Du Châtelet’s writings and her contributions to history and philosophy. For this edition, Judith P. Zinsser has selected key sections from Du Châtelet’s published and unpublished works, as well as related correspondence, part of her little-known critique of the Old and New Testaments, and a treatise on happiness that is a refreshingly uncensored piece of autobiography—making all of them available for the first time in English. The resulting volume will recover Châtelet’s place in the pantheon of French letters and culture.

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About the author

Judith P. Zinsser is professor of history and an affiliate in the women’s studies program at Miami University. She is the author of Emilie Du Châtelet: Daring Genius of the Enlightenment.

Isabelle Bour is professor of eighteenth-century English studies at the Sorbonne.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Sep 15, 2009
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Pages
456
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ISBN
9780226168081
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / European / French
Science / History
Social Science / General
Social Science / Women's Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Terry Castle's recent study of masquerade follows Bakhtin's analysis of the carnivalesque to conclude that, for women, masquerade offered exciting possibilities for social and sexual freedom. Castle's interpretation conforms to the fears expressed by male writers during the period—Addison, Steele, and Fielding all insisted that masquerade allowed women to usurp the privileges of men. Female authors, however, often mistrusted these claims, perceiving that masquerade's apparent freedoms were frequently nothing more than sophisticated forms of oppression.

Catherine Craft-Fairchild's work provides a useful corrective to Castle's treatment of masquerade. She argues that, in fictions by Aphra Behn, Mary Davys, Eliza Haywood, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Frances Burney, masquerade is double-sided. It is represented in some cases as a disempowering capitulation to patriarchal strictures that posit female subordination. Often within the same text, however, masquerade is also depicted as an empowering defiance of the dominant norms for female behavior. Heroines who attempt to separate themselves from the image of womanhood they consciously construct escape victimization. In both cases, masquerade is the condition of femininity: gender in the woman's novel is constructed rather than essential.

Craft-Fairchild examines the guises in which womanhood appears, analyzing the ways in which women writers both construct and deconstruct eighteenth-century cultural conceptions of femininity. She offers a careful and engaging textual analysis of both canonical and noncanonical eighteenth-century texts, thereby setting lesser-read fictions into a critical dialogue with more widely known novels. Detailed readings are informed throughout by the ideas of current feminist theorists, including Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Mary Ann Doane, and Kaja Silverman. Instead of assuming that fictions about women were based on biological fact, Craft-Fairchild stresses the opposite: the domestic novel itself constructs the domestic woman.

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