Défenses du beau séxe [sic] ou Mémoires historiques, philosophiques et critiques, pour servir d'apologie aux femmes. Philippe Joseph CAFFIAUX.

Défenses du beau séxe [sic] ou Mémoires historiques, philosophiques et critiques, pour servir d'apologie aux femmes. “Amsterdam: aux dépens de la compagnie" [i.e., Paris: Charles ou Charles-Guillaume Le Clerc], 1753.

Four volumes in two, 12mo (165 x 95 mm). [2], xvi, 242; [2], xii, 268; [2], ix, [1 blank], 225, [1 blank]; [2], viii, 194 pp. Late 18th- or early 19th-century German half roan, sides covered in comb-marbled paper, red morocco gilt lettering-pieces on spine, edges stained red. Occasional light foxing, binding worn. Provenance: Dr. H. I. Rosenbaum, red inkstamps on versos of first title in each volume.***

Only Edition of a rare Enlightenment feminist treatise. Authorship is attributed to Dom. Caffiaux, a Benedictine monk of St.-Germain-des-Près, and the encyclopedic scope of the work is characteristic of that order's scholarly endeavors. In the first volume, borrowing liberally from Poullain de la Barre's L'egalité des deux sexes (1673), the author demonstrates that women are the equals of men. In this context he discusses women’s education, historical examples of poweful women, and the desirability of female involvement in affairs of state. Caffiaux agrees with Poullain's premise that the source of injustice toward women lies in the false assumption of their natural inferiority, and Poullain's systematic Cartesian arguments are woven throughout Caffiaux’s exhaustive treatise, which partakes both of the traditional apologetic mode, containing long lists of women of distinction, and the new rationalist approach to the "querelle des femmes." Chapter V in Vol. II, for example, contains 200 pages on women's achievements in the arts and sciences, covering Antiquity to the present day. But rather than standing alone, this list is placed in context by a discussion of the definition of "science" (the pursuit of learning or intellectual achievement), its moral benefits, why men "do not want women to be learned," and "how men took over science."

The second volume surveys female heroism and virtue, and women’s achievements (as stated above), examining one by one various fields in which women have excelled, including poetry, languages, mathematics, medicine, and the arts. In the spirit of the time, women's learned achievements are given even greater weight than demonstrations of unusual virtue. Volumes III and IV are devoted to weaknesses and vices conventionally associated with the female sex – exclusive interest in love, flirtation, chatter, gossip, indiscretion, etc., all faults either refuted or shown to be shared by both sexes. Throughout the work Caffiaux's examples and arguments are buttressed by extensive citations from the classics, modern literary works, legal treatises, the Bible, and contemporary philosophers.

That Caffiaux's book was published anonymously and under a false imprint may have less to do with its subversive content than with the byzantine pre-Revolutionary system of privilèges and permissions. Its rarity is not surprising considering its small press-run: the Bibliothèque nationale catalogue identifies the printer from the "permission tacite" granted to Le Clerc, for a print run of a mere 200 copies. OCLC locates 3 copies in American libraries (Stanford, UC Irvine and UCLA / Clark Library).

Barbier I, 868; Gay I, 837; Albistur & Armogathe, Histoire du féminisme français, pp. 167, 185-186; Graesse II, 349; L. Steinbrügge, Das moralische Geschlecht: Theorie und literarische Entwürfe über die Natur der Frau in der franzözische Aufklärung (1987), pp. 25-26 (English edition: The moral sex : woman’s nature in the French Enlightenment, Oxford 1995, pp. 16-17). Item #2148

Price: $4,000.00

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