Outrageous Flirtation, Repressed Flirtation, and the Gallic Singularity

Alexis de Tocqueville's Comparative Views on Women and Marriage in France and the United States

in French Politics, Culture & Society
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  • 1 Eastman School of Music at University of Rochester, USA jpedersen@esm.rochester.edu
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Abstract

This article offers a new way of understanding Alexis de Tocqueville's complex position as a French observer who studied the United States, an ambivalent aristocratic cultural commentator who put his hopes for the future in democratic society, and a paradoxical figure in the history of debates over the so-called “Gallic singularity” who ultimately argued that the new American sex/gender system could provide a better model for women in a democracy than the traditional French one. The introduction and first section highlight Tocqueville's changing attitudes toward what he saw as the key contrasts between European marriages and American marriages by comparing his initial letters home from the United States with his eventual work in Democracy in America. The second section compares his views of French and American women with those of his contemporaries Germaine de Staël and Gustave de Beaumont. The third section explains his changing views by establishing the connections between his comparative arguments about women and marriage and his comparative arguments about democracy itself.

Contributor Notes

Jean Elisabeth Pedersen is Associate Professor of History in the Humanities Department of the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. She is the author of Legislating the French Family: Feminism, Theater, and Republican Politics, 1870–1920 (Rutgers University Press, 2003) and the editor of War, Occupation, and Empire in France and Germany (a special issue of Historical Reflections/Réflexions historiques, Spring 2014). Her articles on French intellectual and cultural history, the history of French feminism, and the history of the human sciences have also appeared in French Historical Studies, Gender and History, The Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, and SIGNS: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Email: jpedersen@esm.rochester.edu.