Women under the Napoleonic regime have been largely neglected by historians. Through recovered discourses and other primary sources, in Napoleon and the Woman Question June K. Burton uncovers the strategies that Napoleonic women employed to control their lives. She begins with an analysis of Napoleon’s personal attitudes about the nature of women. He did not view them as weak vessels, but rather as industrious and strong, with an important role: as wives and mothers.
She discusses France’s first national system of midwifery education, women’s issues in Napoleonic textbooks, the infanticide controversy, and the prevailing view of the relationship between the physical and the moral in feminine bodies and minds. In addition, she explores women’s medicine and surgery of the time with narratives from two patients, Adrienne Noailles Lafayette and Francis Burney d’Arblay.
By clarifying the tensions and ambiguities of the Napoleonic period, Burton provides a nuanced approach to late-eighteenth-century and Napoleonic studies.
The Emperor did not consider women the weaker sex. In fact, they were strong, perhaps too strong. With their tears or their allure, they could control a man. . . . They were autonomous beings who could move around the system, interject themselves into it at the right moment, and further the cause of women without being unduly noticed. For woman’s nature, what mattered was la différence. —Susan P. Conner, from the foreword