The Hilda Neatby Prize English Article
Susan Dalton, “Gender and the Shifting Ground of Revolutionary Politics: The Case of Madame Roland”, Canadian Journal of History XXXVI (August 2001): 259-82.
Susan Dalton’s use of gender to reinterpret women’s political activity during the French Revolution is a polished, insightful and persuasive piece of historical scholarship. It casts new light on revolutionary politics, on gender norms and on the well-known literary and political figure Madame Marie-Jeanne Roland. Steeped in international feminist scholarship, Dalton offers a fresh view of Mme Roland’s correspondence and her political involvement from 1788 to 1793. Mme Roland used the fluidity of French revolutionary society to adapt gender codes and thus combine her intense interest and participation in politics with her own sense of proper female behaviour. In three different guises of woman patriot, each corresponding to personal circumstances and stages of the revolution, Mme Roland successively incited revolution, formulated policy and reported on events. Dalton demonstrates that the changes in Mme Roland’s ideas and actions, far from being expedient, represented an increasingly sophisticated understanding of society. None of this of course kept her from the guillotine, but her case, as interpreted by Susan Dalton, does provide us with a model of gender scholarship and perhaps even a model of political behaviour in troubled times.