Rethinking Enlightenment: Forgotten Women Writers of Eighteenth Century France


Fri - Sat, Jan 5 to Apr 28, 9:00am - 5:00pm


Houghton Library, Amy Lowell Room, Harvard Yard

Rethinking Enlightenment: Forgotten Women Writers of Eighteenth Century France“Rethinking Enlightenment” showcases Houghton Library’s remarkable holdings of texts by eighteenth-century French women. Beyond describing how these writers critiqued their society, the exhibition demonstrates their active participation in the philosophical and artistic development of modern France. For scholars of the Enlightenment to anyone interested in women’s history, it is a timely reminder of the forgotten figures in intellectual history.

Presented by: Houghton Library
Admission: Free and open to the public – no Harvard ID necessary to view the exhibitions. 
Exhibition Runs: January 16 through April, 14, 2018
Hours: Monday, Friday, Saturday: 9 AM-5 PM; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: 9 AM-7 PM

The French Enlightenment is famous for its intellectual innovations, but it is remembered largely as a male endeavor. However, recent scholars have shown that French women were active in all genres, from novels to physics. Despite systemic sexism, these writers produced literary and academic works that were neglected in their own times as in ours.

Caleb Shelburne, Class of 2018, guest curated this exhibition while working as a research assistant for Christie McDonald, Smith Research Professor of French Language and Literature and Research Professor of Comparative Literature, whose 150-page essay on 18th century French women writers will be published in the forthcoming two-volume Femme, Littérature. Une histoire culturelle (Paris: Gallimard, 2019). This important new scholarly work will chart the contribution of women to French literature from the Middle Ages through the 21st century.