Slavery and feminism in the writings of Madame de Staël

Daquin, Françoise Marie Danielle (2020) Slavery and feminism in the writings of Madame de Staël. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Anne-Louise Germaine de Staël devoted her works to the idea of freedom, particularly for women and slaves. As an intellectual and a writer of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in France, she judged not only her community but its political regimes according to the principles of feminism and abolitionism. As a woman, she had only two possible ways to play a public role: to hold a salon like her mother, or to publish books. She did both, and through these acquired considerable influence. De Staël was a feminist whose work queries the subordination of women to men, and her strong liberal position led her to equate the condition of women with that of slaves. De Staël's liberalism was a product of the Enlightenment and early Romanticism. Although she never departed from the Enlightenment's principles, she displayed a more Romantic attitude when she promoted 'enthusiasm' and emotion, which were reflected in her art, politics and love life.


De Staël's most important struggle was her fight for the rights of women to education and freedom of thought. She was a feminist who questioned the organisation of society and the place of women in it. During the French Revolution, despite claims advocating gender equality and social justice, the status of women regressed rapidly. Like her feminist contemporaries, she advocated that women ought to be judged by the same liberal code as men while she also praised the positive aspects of female gender roles. De Staël was a moderate feminist who celebrated the feminine. She believed that if educated women retained their traditional female values, they could play an effective role in society.


The European slave trade peaked in the eighteenth century, and feminists were among those campaigning for its abolition. Probably initially influenced by her father's stand against slavery, de Staël fought against it in life and in many of her writings. She took a pragmatic and political position when she addressed the subject in her literature, when she supported the campaign of William Wilberforce, and the fight of the leader of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint Louverture.

Intersection of Feminism and Slavery in Madame de Staël's Writings

There is a strong link between abolitionism and feminism in de Staël's work, as in the works of other turn of the nineteenth-century feminists. Feminism was closely related to abolitionism as married women, especially from the upper classes, could identify with slaves because they too lacked certain civil rights and were treated as property. While de Staël fought for women to be treated fairly, she also introduced the notion of 'enslavement' to strong emotions which was as distressing as the physical and cultural restrictions enforced on women, and could be used to reinforce those restrictions. In her novels and treatises, she demonstrates that to be in the throes of passion is destructive, causing a loss of autonomy, identity and self-control, the same predicament suffered by slaves.

While numerous biographers of Madame de Staël have noted the impact her work has had on a range of political, social and historical matters, few have considered the way her feminism and abolitionism interacted and intersected in her work. This study analyses de Staël's work in the context of her times and demonstrates that not only did she advocate passionately for abolitionism and feminism, but that she saw how the repression of women and enslavement of Africans were linked in the society of eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries France.

Item ID: 63742
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: feminism, feminists, slavery, abolitionism, Madame de Staël, 18th century, 19th century, French literature, France
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2020 Françoise Marie Danielle Daquin.
Date Deposited: 10 Jul 2020 04:13
FoR Codes: 22 PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES > 2203 Philosophy > 220306 Feminist Theory @ 35%
20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2005 Literary Studies > 200511 Literature in French @ 30%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210307 European History (excl British, Classical Greek and Roman) @ 35%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950504 Understanding Europes Past @ 50%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970122 Expanding Knowledge in Philosophy and Religious Studies @ 50%
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