Allart, Hortense (1801–1879)

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Allart, Hortense (1801–1879)

French feminist, novelist, and essayist. Name variations: Allart de Meritens. Born in 1801; died in 1879.

Selected works:

Lettres sur les Ouvrages de Mme de Staël (Letters on the Work of Madame de Staël, 1826); Settimie (1826); Gertrude (1827); L'Indienne (The Indian Girl, 1832); La Vie Rose (1833); La Femme et la Démocratie de Notre Temps (Women and Democracy Today, 1836); Histoire de la République de Florence (History of the Florentine Republic, 1837); Novum Organum, ou Saintete Philosophique (1857); Essai sur l'Histoire Politique depuis l'Invasion des Barbares jusqu'en 1848 (Essay on the Political History from the Barbarian Invasion to 1848, 1857); Les Enchantements de Prudence (The Delights of Prudence, 1872).

With her aristocratic background, Hortense Allart was wary of the socialism of many of her contemporaries, but she was very involved in the women's movement of 19th-century France. An established novelist and essayist, she was an integral part of the Gazette des Femmes—a "Journal of Legislation, Jurisprudence, Literature, Theater, Art, Commerce, Law, Music, and Fashion" for women—especially aimed at analyzing French law as it pertained to the rights of women. Allart attended the weekly editorial meetings held to keep the journal in touch with the women's movement of the time. The journal became particularly devoted to encouraging individual women to set up petitions, which they held on file for other women to sign; subjects of petition included reestablishing a divorce law and abolishing capital punishment. Allart also attempted to set up an association for the improvement of the status of women, which was approved by an editorial meeting of the Gazette, but which failed to materialize.

Allart's La Femme et la Démocratie de Notre Temps (Women and Democracy Today), published in 1836, is particularly noted for its argument for free love and for improving the social status of women. Indeed, Allart is notorious for her many love affairs, including one with the writer Chateaubriand. Her last work, a novel, Les Enchantements de Prudence (The Delights of Prudence), is largely autobiographical, detailing the life of a woman who flouts the sexual and social conventions of the time.

Her writing was not limited to feminist topics, however. As well as several essays on history, Allart is noted for Novum Organum, ou Saintete Philosophique, a 300-page philosophical work published in 1857. She argued for a common foundation for religion and science: "an attempt to understand natural religion as an object of science. The understanding of God and holiness, knowing God as we know life, and being pious as we are mortal." Allart believed that religion should help solve philosophical problems, such as the nature of knowledge in metaphysics. She argued that there is an almost universal belief in a higher being and that we get closer to understanding the mind of God, initially understood through scriptures, through the progression of scientific knowledge.

Allart apologized for the inadequacies of previous philosophies in their failure to prove the existence of God and the importance of religious morality, and she attacked Francis Bacon for his fear of sensory illusions. Although she agreed with him that human experience should be examined in terms of spirit, rather than matter, she held that, like the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus, we can only ascertain natural laws by examining how we act within nature.

Catherine Hundleby , M.A. Philosophy, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

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Allart, Hortense (1801–1879)

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