This volume sets out to examine the ways in which an equality between the sexes is constructed, conceptualised, imagined or realised in early modern France, a period and a country which produced some of the earliest theorisations on equality. In so doing, it aims to contribute towards the development of the history of equality as an intellectual category within the history of political thought, and to situate "the woman question" within that history. The eleven chapters in the volume span the fields of political theory, philosophy, literature, history and history of ideas, bringing together literary scholars, historians, philosophers and scholars of political thought, and examining an extensive range of primary sources. Whilst most of the chapters focus on the conceptualisation of a moral, metaphysical or intellectual equality between the sexes, space is also given to concrete examples of a de facto gender equality in operation. The volume is aimed at scholars and graduate students of political thought, history of philosophy, women’s history and gender studies alike. It aims to throw light on the history of Western ideas of equality and difference, questions which continue to preoccupy cultural historians, philosophers, political theorists and feminist critics.

chapter |11 pages


Thinking Equality in the Early Modern Period

chapter 1|10 pages

Poulain de la Barre, a Logician of Equality

Prejudice Time and the Sex of the Mind

chapter 2|17 pages

Equality, Neutrality, Differentialism

Descartes, Malebranche and Poulain de la Barre

chapter 3|21 pages

Gender Equality in Community

Descartes, Poulain de la Barre, Fontenelle

chapter 4|14 pages

The Rhetoric of Equality

Marie de Gournay, Linguist and Philosopher

chapter 5|20 pages

Virtue as a Language of Equality

Gender, Moral Androgyny and the Representation of Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia in Seventeenth-Century France

chapter 6|19 pages

Reading, Acting and Writing Into Being

Ursulines as Jesuitesses in the French Atlantic World

chapter 7|22 pages

The Paradoxes of Early Modern Nuns and Gender Equality

The Case of Port-Royal in Early Modern France

chapter 8|17 pages

Fashioning Equality and Friendship

Saint-Evremond, Hortense Mancini and Ninon de Lenclos

chapter 10|26 pages

Equality in the Printed Book

The Case of Book Privileges in France in the Seventeenth Century