Date of Award

Fall 2014

Degree Type


First Advisor

Allen G. Wood

Committee Member 1

Paula E. Leverage

Committee Member 2

Whitney A. Walton


L'écriture est un témoin qui est difficilement corrompu-Montesquieu, L'esprit des lois. Mémoires and lettres de prisons take us to places we haven't been: prisons in bloody revolutionary Paris and the deadly Place de la Concorde. Women with different social backgrounds fought for their rights denied officially by the revolutionary authorities. They fought back was through plays, mémoires or letters. According to Philippe Lejeune, since the 18th century autobiography has become a phenomenon of civilization. I argue that the lettres de prison present not only a form of epistolary communication, but also as many personal testimonies, recollections of events and emotions as any autobiographic literary genre. The letters entered a public sphere of political opinion and involvement against the new political regime. They were a real exclamation for liberty and equal rights dreamed of by all women. They turned out to be the best means of the women's defense. The main objective of this study is to investigate the relationship between law and obedience in the lettres de prison (epistolary mémoires) of women who faced the death penalty during the French Revolution. I explore how they evaluated, observed the law and displayed obedience during various phases of their trials. I investigate how women considered and obeyed the revolutionary law. I explore how their situation influenced the public opinion. I conclude that despite the death penalty and injustice that they faced, in recognition of the collective interest, revolutionary women would decide to obey the law.