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(Un)Manly Citizens

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's and Germaine de Staël's Subversive Women

Lori Jo Marso

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In (Un)Manly Citizens, political theorist Lori Jo Marso explores an alternative vision of citizenship in the writings of French Enlightenment figures Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Germaine de Staël. This critique transgresses the boundary between political philosophy and literature in turning explicitly to fictional texts as the site of an alternative conception of the self, citizenship, and democratic politics.

Marso departs from previous feminist scholarship on Rousseau by reading Emile and La Nouvelle Héloïse from the perspective of his women characters. In this reading, Sophie and Julie emerge...

In (Un)Manly Citizens, political theorist Lori Jo Marso explores an alternative vision of citizenship in the writings of French Enlightenment figures Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Germaine de Staël. This critique transgresses the boundary between political philosophy and literature in turning explicitly to fictional texts as the site of an alternative conception of the self, citizenship, and democratic politics.

Marso departs from previous feminist scholarship on Rousseau by reading Emile and La Nouvelle Héloïse from the perspective of his women characters. In this reading, Sophie and Julie emerge as subversive of the narrow range of femininity usually understood as advocated by Rousseau. Tracing the words, gestures, and even the silence of the women characters in Rousseau's texts, Marso argues that these women display an uncanny ability to deconstruct the qualities and dictates of scholarship for which Rousseau is infamous.

Germaine de Staël builds on the perspective of Rousseau's women to uncover the radical potential of the feminine as a way to reconceptualize citizenship. Based on her experience of the French Revolution, Staël demonstrates the limits of establishing strict identities as prerequisites for citizen participation. In Staël's novels, Delphine and Corinne, Marso locates a citizenship practice premised on the recognition of individuals in terms of their concrete histories and situations. Marso's scholarship makes us aware of how early in the history of modern political thought the potential of an unmanly vision of citizenship as a radical critique of politics was already being discussed and formulated.

Reviews

Reviews

Marso's book is insightful, even fascinating in what its focus makes visible, and it will motivate many to (re)visit Rousseau and Staël. Perhaps most intriguing is the notion of conversation as critical to more inclusive politics, and most useful is her weaving into the Rousseau-Staël dialogue many contemporary feminist voices.

Marso enterprisingly finds in Staël's novels a direct political alternative to the Revolution's manly citizenship, one defying rigid hierarchy and not excluding private loyalties from its conception of the general will. Marso's is a ground-breaking, mind-altering reading of Staël as a political thinker.

A bold feminist interpretation (Un)Manly Citizens will appeal to all of those who are not content to dismiss Rousseau as a misogynist and a romantic. Marso finds a discordant feminine presence at the core of Rousseau's work—neither in a difference nor a mirror image but an alterity that 'unmans' the ideal of a community that speaks in one voice. This witty and perceptive study opens up an alternative model of citizenship.

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Lori Jo Marso

Lori Jo Marso is an assistant professor of political philosophy and feminist theory at Union College in Schenectady, New York.