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Pre-Revolutionary French Women Writers Are Focus Of U.Va. Conference

Sept. 17, 1999 -- Politics. Love. Murder. Women at the palace - pre-revolutionary France saw it all. Hemmed in by the strictures of the "ancien régime," French women of the 16th through 18th centuries had few outlets for their talents and ambitions. Many died voiceless.

But some -- those fortunate enough to be lettered in a predominently illiterate age -- picked up pens and put their thoughts, desires and keen observations of contemporary life to paper. And it is the lives of these women that the upcoming conference, "Femmes Ecrivains Sous L'Ancien Régime, IV: Les Femmes et la Culture en Transition," celebrates.

The University of Virginia's Department of French is sponsoring this conference on women and cultural change, as seen through the eyes of French women living in pre-revolutionary France. The conference will be held at the Omni Charlottesville Hotel, Sept. 23-25.

Leading scholars will present papers in English and French on a broad array of topics. The topics include: marriage and divorce, the question of ordaining women as priests, women's behind the scenes political influence, cultural change, women writers, royal women, love and sex.

One panel will focus on royal women: "Discours Royaux: des Valois aux Bourbon" (Royal Discourse: From the Valois to the Bourbons). Scholars will explore the implications of the Salic Law, which prevented French women from ascending the throne as did their sisters across the English Channel. They will look at the role played by Marguerite de Navarre who intervened to prevent the powerful Catholic Sorbonne from burning Protestants at the stake as heretics. They will examine the life of Catherine de Medici, wife of Henri II and mother of three French kings, who was perhaps unjustly denounced as an Italian poisoner. And they'll share a revised historic treatment of Marguerite de Valois, the daughter of Catherine de Medici and Henri II, who was denounced as a whore in her lifetime by Protestant pamphleteers.

Often the pen was the only defense for these women. Amazingly enough, some of their writings are only now being brought to the attention of the public. (Indeed, Elaine Viennot, a conference participant from the University of Saint Etienne, recently published the never-before-published correspondence of Marguerite de Valois (1569-1614).

The conference will open Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m. with a keynote address from the eminent medievalist Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet from the University of Paris. She will speak about women writers in the Middle Ages: "Mettre la Main à la Plume: Image de la Femme Ecrivain au Moyen Age." A reception, which is open to the public, will follow.

For more information, call the French Department at (804) 924-4656. A complete program is available on the conference web site at: http//www/virginia.edu/~french/women.

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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