The Individual in the French Revolution

It is interesting how during the French Revolution divorce was first legalized in France. Additionally, in his article “The Social Revolution in French Revolutionary Families”, Suzanne Desan reminds us that the French Revolution made families into a more political role, and family relationships became more public, rather than intimate. Therefore, during the revolution Desan points out the two transformations which occurred within the family. The first transformation is the decline of “paternal authority” and the second transformation is the rights for “natural children” and divorce rights. What Desan describes in her article is interesting to me, because I begin to see a breakdown of the family in that no longer are people considering the family unit, but rather they are individually considering their own benefit. An example given in the text is of Marie Godfrey who declared that “she could not longer convince herself to sacrifice her liberty and put herself into slavery.” Here we have the obvious divide between the self and the family unit. For it is her personal liberty which is pitted against her role in the family unit as a wife and mother. Such individualism also applied to the inheritance laws. For the laws primogeniture, where the first son was rewarded with a large inheritance were replace with egalitarian inheritance laws, where illegitimate children were given the right to inherit. Such ideas of individual liberty are discussed further by Lynn Hunt in The Family Romance of the French Revolution, where she writes “the rights of every family member and of family relationships were now to be regulated in the interests of liberty and happiness”.

 

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