The life story of Marie-Madeleine Jodin opens an exciting new perspective on the world of 18th-century women, European court theatres, and, most strikingly, entails the remarkable discovery of a previously unknown French feminist. In 1790, Jodin, a protegee of Denis Diderot and a former actress, published a treatise entitled Vues legislatives pour les femmes (Legislative Views for Women), which can lay claim to being the first signed, female-authored feminist manifesto of the French Revolutionary period, and which reveals Jodin's wide reading in women's history and feminist writing since ancient times. This new critical and contextual biography traces the turbulent life of an extraordinary woman, focusing particularly on her transformation from artisan's daughter, to tragic actress, to Enlightenment intellectual and feminist. The authors analyze the confrontations and scandals that beset her career, and read her feminist treatise-here reproduced, for the first time in English, in its entirety-as the summation of a chaotic but passionate existence. Also presented for the first time in English, fully set in their biographical and historical context, are the twenty-one letters that constitute Diderot's correspondence with Jodin. The varied and fascinating documentation concerning Jodin, which has only recently been discovered, provides a window on the world of 18th-century women. While memoirs and biographies of aristocratic women and upwardly mobile salonieres such as Mme.
Geoffrin and Mme. Roland are legion, chronicles of the lives of individual women lower down the social ladder are far fewer in number. A contemporary of Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges, Jodin argued for the social reform of working-class women, particularly prostitutes, to render them worthy to exercise the rights of citizenship.