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French & Francophone Studies
Master of Arts (M.A.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
motherhood, performance, epistolarity, identity, subjectivity, speech acts
This paper conducts a critical comparison of the correspondence of Madame de Sévigné, Empress Marie-Thérèse of Austria and Joséphine Bonaparte. These women instruct their daughters through a writerly exchange that implements a remarkably similar use of language that indicates a “performance” of her maternal role, meant to implement a personal or political agenda that requires the daughter’s acknowledgement and reciprocation. This project explores theories of speech acts and subjectivity to conduct a literary analysis of the construction of the maternal figure in a historical context, its representation in the letters of each woman with their daughters, the motivations for a “performance” of the maternal role, and the subsequent characterization, reaction, and liberation of the daughter’s voice.