Item of the Day: Notes on a Journey through France (1815)

Full Title: Notes on a Journey through France, from Deippe through Paris and Lyons, to the Pyrennees, and Back through Toulouse, in July, August and September, 1814, Describing the Habits of the People, and the Agriculture of the Country. By Morris Birkbeck. Second Edition, with an appendix. London: Printed and sold by William Phillips, George Yard Lombard Street; sold also by J. & A. Arch, Cornhill, and by J. Harding, 36, St. James’s Street, 1815.

Aug. 14 (St. Urban).  —In every part of France women employ themselves in offices which are deemed with us unsuitable to the sex. Here there is no sexual distinction of employment: the women undertake any task they are able to perform, without much notion of fitness or unfitness. This applies to all classes. The lady of one of the principal clothiers at Louviers, conducted us over the works; gave us patterns of the best cloths; ordered the machinery to be set in motion for our gratification, and was evidently in the habit of attending to the whole detail of the business. Just so, near Rouen, the wife of the largest farmer in that quarter, conducted me to the barns and stables; shewed me the various implements, and explained their use: took me into the fields, and described the mode of husbandry, which she perfectly understood; expatiated on the excellence of their fallows; pointed out the best sheep in the flock, and gave me a detail of management in buying their wether lambs and fattening their wethers. This was on a farm of about 400 acres. In every shop and warehouse you see similar activity in the females. At the royal porcelain manufactory at Sevres, a woman was called to receive payment for the articles we purchased. In the Halle de Bled, at Paris, women, in their little counting-houses, are performing the office of factors, in the sale of grain and flour. In every department they occupy an important station, from one extremity of the country to the other.

In many cases, where women are employed in the more laborious occupations, the real cause is directly opposite to the apparent. You see them in the south, threshing, with the men, under a burning sun; –it is a family party threshing out the crop of theeir own freehold: a woman is holding plough; –the plough, the horse, the land is her’s; or, (as we have it) her husband’s; who is probably sowing the wheat which she is turning in. You are shocked on seeing a fine  young woman loading a dung cart; –it belongs to her father, who is manuring his own field, for their common support. In these instances the toil of the woman denotes wealth rather than want; though the latter is the motive to which a superficial observer would refer it.

Who can estimate the importance, in a moral and political view, of this state of things? Where the women, in the complete exercise of their mental and bodily faculties, are performing their full share of the duties of life. It is the natural, healthy condition of Society. Its influence on the female character in France is a proof of it. There is freedom of action, and reliance on their own powers, in the French women, generally, which, occasionally, we observe with admiration in women, of superior talents in England. . . .

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Filed under 1810's, Culture, France, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Travel Literature, Women

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