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France: Women in the Revolution

Juliette Récamier

François Gérard, artist. Portrait de Juliette Récamier, née Bernard (1777-1849). Entre 1802 et 1805. Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris. External

Juliette Récamier was born in Lyon on December 3, 1777 and died on May 11, 1849. The dates of her life alone suggest that she bore witness to some of the most tumultuous times in French history, and her high profile and charm left a significant imprint on French society. Récamier was not inherently drawn to politics and she was not invested in Revolutionary politics. She simply existed against this unpredictable backdrop. Her beauty, social standing and pleasing manner put her more naturally in the role of socialite and salonnière, and the personalities she attracted put her at the center of Parisian literary and political life. She shared a deep and life-long friendship with the well-known Madame de Staël and managed to put off the attentions of many men who found her irresistible, including Napoleon's brother (and perhaps Napoleon himself by some accounts). There is strong evidence that she was in fact married to her own natural father. Her mother, a shrewd and flirtatious woman, likely had an affair with Jacques-Rose Récamier. He was a regular visitor to her home and his affection was widely acknowledged. Some 15 years later he was engaged to be married to the daughter of his former "friend" which to some seemed a bit unorthodox. By all accounts the marriage was chaste, and he himself described his feelings for his new bride as paternal. It is largely suspected that he knew she was his daughter and due to the uncertain times and the likelihood of his death (as an enemy of the Republic) he sought to find the easiest way to keep his considerable wealth in the family-even if it was in a somewhat atypical arrangement. They were married at the height of The Terror which does support the plausibility of this theory. One can only hope that the relationship remained chaste. Récamier had a reputation for modesty and chastity which endured despite her occupation as a socialite. All accounts describe her as kind and good-natured. Although not political, her sincere friendship with Madame de Staël influenced her in a liberal direction and put her at odds with Napoleon (who disliked both de Staël and Récamier for their political meddling and banished them both from Paris and later France). She was courted by numerous men, including Prince Augustus of Prussia who proposed to her, but ultimately she refused to get divorced. She had an impact on many significant historical and literary figures, François-René de Chateaubriand was a regular at her salon and they shared a strong emotional bond. In her recent book, Liberty Equality Fashion: The Women who Styled the French Revolution External, art historian Anne Higonnet makes a strong argument that Juliette Récamier (as well as her contemporaries, Joséphine Bonaparte and Térézia Tallien) and her fashion choices are nothing short of revolutionary. She is buried in Monmartre in the Cimetière de Montmartre.

For an overview of French women in history and the evolution of the French feminist movement, please see the research guide Feminism & French Women in History.

You can identify additional material by searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog using the following headings:

Récamier, Jeanne Francoise Julie Adélaïde Bernard, 1777-1849. (Name Heading; returns works by Juliette Récamier)

Récamier, Jeanne Francoise Julie Adélaïde Bernard, 1777-1849. (Subject Heading; returns works about Juliette Récamier)

Selected Resources

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.