(Laura Cappelle’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/28; via Pam Green. Photo: From left, Marie Langlet, Julie Ménard and Marine Ségalen in a production of Madame de Villedieu’s “Le Favori” [“The Male Favorite”] directed by Aurore Evain. The play was written in 1665 and was first performed at Versailles.Credit…Pierre Majek.)
A growing movement within French theater is reclaiming the work of forgotten female artists, and reviving a lost concept: le matrimoine.
PARIS — How many women had professional careers as playwrights in prerevolutionary France, between the 16th and 18th centuries? Go on, hazard a guess.
The answer, according to recent scholarship, is around 150. Yet if you guessed the number was close to zero, you’re not alone. For decades, the default assumption has been that deep-seated inequality prevented women from writing professionally until the 20th century.
Now a growing movement within French theater is reclaiming the work of forgotten female artists, and reviving a lost concept along the way: le matrimoine. Matrimoine is the feminine equivalent of patrimoine — translated as patrimony, or what is inherited from male ancestors. In French, however, patrimoine is also the catchall term to describe cultural heritage. By way of matrimoine, artists and academics are pushing for the belated recognition of women’s contribution to art history, and the return of their plays to the stage.
Matrimoine is no neologism. “The word was used in the Middle Ages but has been erased,” said the scholar and stage director Aurore Evain. “Patrimoine and matrimoine once coexisted, yet at the end of the day all we were left with was matrimonial agencies.”
When Dr. Evain started researching prerevolutionary female authors, around 2000, she quickly realized that French academics were behind their American peers. In the early 1990s, Perry Gethner, a professor of French at Oklahoma State University, had already translated plays by Françoise Pascal, Catherine Bernard and other 17th- and 18th-century women into English, and published them.