Caricatures of Violence

Gender in 19th-Century France

The 19th century was a time of turbulence for gender relations in France. The Bourbon Restoration (1814-1830) was particularly oppressive towards women. Women were required to obey their husbands, who were legally permitted to murder adulterous wives (Magraw). These laws represented a rejection of the progress made during the French Revolution, including the legalization of divorce (Chastain). Under the July Monarchy, several bills were introduced which would legalize divorce, which was banned entirely under the July Monarchy, however none of them were passed.  James Chastain writes that the failure of these bills “was as much a rejection of the revolutionary heritage as of divorce's social effects." Indeed, women did play important roles in the French Revolution as well as a number of labor strikes during this time. Magraw writes that “[i]n the July Monarchy, 35 per cent of those convicted for obstructing the passage of grain were women” (332). These revolutionary women were not represented in caricature of the time – at least not in a kind light. Satire journals of the time were decidedly antifeminist, perhaps best exemplified in Les Bas Bleus, a series of caricatures of intelligent women published by Daumier, a colleague of Philipon (Gertz). In La Caricature, Philipon expresses his views on gender and women’s role in society.

Plates 17 and 18 comment on ‘proper’ femininity in 19th century French society. The women described as affreux (awful) are violent and poor while the women who are “the most beautiful thing in the world” are refined and well-dressed. A woman’s value, in the eyes of the caricaturist, relate to her class and her nonviolent comportement.

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