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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Isabelle de Charrière Narratives: Death of Woman’s Desire and Quest for a Voice in an "International" Society Colonized by French Language and Ideals

Zoe Petropoulou.

This paper will focus on the death of a woman’s desire for life or for a voice in the private sphere of the 18th century European "international" society. In this paper I will argue that even though the French Enlightenment initiated many voices for women’s intellectual rights for Isabelle de Charrière the Rousseaunian domestic space of Sophie (in Emile) is an illusion of the woman’s happiness and empowerment.
Isabelle de Charrière was born in Holland, was educated in French, and was wed and wrote while married in Switzerland and therefore she embodies the European enlighten citizen of the world of the 18th century. She was raised in a liberal Calvinist education and she becomes an author "engageée" and her ideas for equality of the social classes becomes equally important with the intellectual rights of women.
In response to this general mood about the woman’s role in the private sphere Isabelle de Charrière is presenting this newly acquired role as an illusion of freedom for women if not as a new way of censorship and death of her own individuality. Marriage gives at first access to financial, social status and therefore survival but also through this private space the woman is seeking a "room of her own", a space to exist, to grow, being accepted as equal, recognized and therefore happy according to the ideals of the enlighten European society.


Zoe Petropoulou  (United States)
Associate Professor
Languages and Literatures
St. John’s University

Dr. Zoe Petropoulou, is an Associate Professor of French at SJU and she is the Coordinator of the French Program. She has over fifteen years of academic experience as a specialist in Contemporary France and French Women Writers. Throughout her academic career, Dr. Petropoulou has been involved in curriculum revision and development, as well as grant writing.
Over the past years Dr. Petropoulou has been awarded two fellowships from the French Government, a Grant on "Curriculum Development" by the Institute on Western Europe for Curricula Development, the National Endowment for the Humanities summer grant to participate to an interdisciplinary summer seminar program on Women’s Place in the Eighteenth Century: France of the Enlightenment, at the University of Stony Brook, NY, and two Title VI grants for new Program Development at SJU.
In addition to various academic articles, Dr. Petropoulou has published a book, has been organizing conferences and workshops on Contemporary French Civilization and the Business French and has been instrumental in the design of the Summer abroad program in France & in procuring internships abroad for SJU students.

  • Isabelle de Charriere
  • Gender
  • French Enlightenment
Person as Subject
  • Mistress Henley M. Henley

(30 min Conference Paper, English)