Friday, 26 May 2017

New Addition: 1824 Feminist Poem & a Tidy Bibliographic Knot

Gabriel-Marie Legouvé, Le Mérite des femmes (The Merit of Women). New Edition, Augmented with Unpublished Poems. (1824). Louis Janet: Paris. Hardcover 32mo.

This book presents an intriguing little bibliographic riddle: an 1824 reprint of an 1801 feminist tract in verse by Gabriel-Marie Legouvé, it shares a title–but not text–with an 1816 feminist history by Charles Malo, who five years later would take over editorship of the Annales Romantiques anthologies, for this book's publisher. Though the confusion of titles and publishers is tightly knotted-up, the convergence does make a certain amount of sense due to the feminist leanings of everybody involved (all men). 

Legouvé's text, his most famous work, advocates greater respect for women and the reversal of many stereotypes, though it does not touch on concrete political reform. A respected member of the Académie Française, he went mad in 1810 after the death of his wife and spent his last few years in an asylum. His son Ernest carried on much of his project, and published pioneering studies of female consciousness and pedagogy and a social history of femininity.

The poem itself (here's the text in a different edition) fills 38 pages arguing against misogyny on moral, maternal, mythological, and historical grounds, followed by 73 pages of explicatory notes, followed by a collection of other poems plus a short story and an essay on love by Legouvé, all also annotated. This copy is quite thoroughly used, its binding peeling away from the boards.

While Janet was not the poem's original publisher, it made sense for him to reprint it, for his press focused at this time on a female audience. It was probably in this connection that Janet published the first edition of Malo's work of the same name in 1816, the year following the reign of Napoleon's militantly misogynist (even by the time's standards) regime. Though Legouvé's poem had inspired a slew of responses and parodies, and Malo's must intentionally echo it, the latter does not seem to be directly derivative.

The original Janet press was run by Pierre-Etienne Janet, but his son Louis began this, his own imprint in 1810, on which this was printed. Although he continued to publish some classicist writers (sometimes even in explicitly Romanticist anthologies!), his sympathies were with the incipient Romantic movement, and the year after this copy was printed, he took over publication of the important Annales Romantiques anthology, collected in this archive. In 1829, he turned over editorship to Charles Malo, tying off our bibliographic knot.

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