Work of the Fellows: Monographs;

The Enlightenment of Age: Women, Letters and Growing Old in Eighteenth-Century France

Stewart, Joan Hinde (Fellow, 1982-83)

Oxford, UK: Voltaire Foundation, 2022

From the publisher's description:

‘Women seem to be destined solely for our pleasure. When they no longer have that attraction, they have lost everything’ (letter from Diderot to Sophie Volland, 1762). How typical was this view of the ‘older woman’ in the eighteenth century? What was it like for women of intelligence and sensibility to grow old in such a culture? By studying the correspondences of four prominent women (Françoise de Graffigny, Marie Du Deffand, Marie Riccoboni and Isabelle de Charrière) during their middle and late years, Stewart explores the relation of female aging to respectability, sexuality and power. The author’s focus lies in the physical, emotional and professional well-being of middle-aged and elderly women during a time when all the available dignity of age seemed to belong to men. The ‘repulsiveness’ of growing old was patently a female issue.


Subjects: History; Literary Criticism; Gender and Sexuality;; Aging; Elites; French History; Correspondence; Eighteenth-Century; Women's History;