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Family Way Glossary of key terms and ideas

This page is intended as resource for the whole group, and it will only grow if you make contributions to it! As you come across terms or ideas which are new to you, please list them here by clicking on the relevant letter and creating an entry.

What forms could my entry take?

Here are a few suggestions for ways in which you could record information:

  • a definition of a term which is new to you ('vraisemblance', for instance)
  • a summary of an idea or concept (you may, for instance, wish to create a number of entries on the idea of 'childhood' in the seventeenth century)
  • identification of material that can enhance understanding of a particular idea or concept (under 'Salic Law' for instance, you could add a reference to an article or a link to a web site that explains this concept)

Take a look at the entry I've created below to give you an idea.

K (no definitions)
N (no definitions) U (no definitions) X (no definitions) Y (no definitions) Z (no definitions)


Aarne-Thompson Classification System

is a system for classifying folk-tales. First developed by Antti Aarne and published in 1910, it was translated and enlarged by Stith Thompson. As a treatment of morphology (language structures and patterns), it uses motifs rather than actions to group the tales.


A form of monarchical power that is unrestrained by all other institutions, such as churches, legislatures, or social elites. Absolutism is characterized by the ending of feudal partitioning, consolidation of power with the monarch, rise of state power, unification of the state laws, and a decrease in the influence of the Church and the nobility.

-Absolute monarchy: a form of government in which the monarch exercises ultimate governing authority as head of state and head of government, his or her power not being limited by a constitution or by the law. An absolute monarch wields unrestricted political power over the sovereign state and its subject people.

Académie française

Officially established by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635, a group dedicated to regulating the French language (vocabulary, grammar etc.). "La principale fonction de l'Académie sera de travailler, avec tout le soin et toute la diligence possibles, à donner des règles certaines à notre langue et à la rendre pure, éloquente et capable de traiter les arts et les sciences."

Ancien Régime

A period of absolutism before the 1789 Revolution and the Enlightenment. Civil war and regency created instability during this period. This was a patriarchal society in which women held little respect, responsibility or power.


1. Based on chance or random choice rather than being planned or based on reason. E.g. arbitrary decision making.

2. (Of a power or ruling body) Unrestrained, having unlimited power, and autocratic (domineering) in the use of authority.


Afterbirth - when the placenta and fetal membranes come out of the birth canal after childbirth. A term used since the 16th century. The period in between the birth of the child and the 'placental expulsion' is known as the third stage of labour.




1) Any of numerous local deities among the ancient Semitic peoples, typifying the productive forces of nature and worshiped with much sensuality.

2) Male diety of the Phoenician and Cannanitish nations

3) Any false god


Propriety and decorum. Behaviour required in a public space.


A term of endearment used by Madame de Sévigné to address her daughter. It translates as 'maid', which is interesting, since Madame de Grignan (her daughter) is married with children, and thus is not a maid. Perhaps MdS has difficulty in accepting her daughter no longer 'belongs' to her, or perhaps she merely wants to remember her innocence.




A purifying or figurative cleansing of the emotions, especially pity and fear, described by Aristotle as an effect of tragic drama on its audience.

Civil War

A civil war is a war between organised groups within the same nation or republic. The French Civil War was manifested in the French Wars of Religion 1562-1598.


According to Cholakian class was not simply geographical or racial, but related to 'blood'. Class/social status was genetically predetermined and could not necessarily be altered depending on educational or financal gain.

See: Women and the Politics of Self Representation in 17th C. France, Cholakian


Pain of the lower bowels caused by inflammation, distention etc of the gastrointestinal tract


The use of the word for 'plucking' is prominent in Bourgeois' texts, usually reffering to the art of delivering a baby or the maturation of a young woman. This use of an agricultural term in the art of reproduction speaks alot about views on birth in the period.




The oldest son of the King of France- the heir- used between 1349 and 1830


Humble submission and respect - a characteristic expected of noble women in the 17th century.


A sequence of hereditary rulers.



Education for women

Education for women: the phonetic spelling associated with women is rejected by men of letters, whose primary concern is to establish the authority of the written over the spoken word. Under the new orthographic regime, the way women spelled was no longer seen as a model for reform, but as a source of shame. At a time when elite women and girls were expected to be able to write an elegant letter, their "poor" spelling reinforced the growing understanding of them as naturally naive, fearful, and lazy, especially in the face of tasks deemed intellectually and physically challenging. By identifying poor spelling as a source of social embarrassment, men of letters and writing masters encouraged women and girls to be self-conscious about how they wrote and to experience a new sense of shame about it.

(L'ortografe des dames: Gender and Language in the Old Regime )


1) To bring into existence

2) To procreate, to propagate.


Contained in, or carried by letters. Pertaining to letters.




A comic, often anonymous, tale written by jongleurs (jester) written in Northeast France between 1150-1400. They are charactersised by scatalogical and sexual obscenity. Sometimes viewed by 17th Century women writers as misogynistic.


Biological definition of someone with xx chromosomes producing oestrogen and progesterone.


The characteristics of an individual. A male can be feminine through cross dressing or other transsexual behaviours.


A system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour. Feudalism flourished in medieval Europe and absolutism is said to have emerged during the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe.

Filial duty

The duty of a child to its parents.


The deliberate act of a parent killing their own child. Comes from latin: filius meaning 'son' or filia meaning 'daughter' and -cide meaning to kill, murder or cause death.


Michel Foucault (1926-84)- French philosopher, historial, social theorist who explored the influences of power over people's behaviour. One of his major works includes a book called 'The History of Sexuality' which explores the effects and influences of power over sexuality and how this leads to 'repression' either of desire or 'non-conformist' desires (bi/homosexuality etc) and how society deals with such issues or tries to eradicate them.

Fraternal Relationship

The brotherly relationship between the twins Séleucus and Antiochus in Corneille's Rodogune.


A civil war in France, (the word "fronde" means a sling which was used as a weapon). The Fronde of the Nobles, the second set of uprisings, took place during 1650-1653. It was led by discontented nobles who wanted to regain power and patronage that had been taken from them. Many women took an active part in the Fronde. One notable leader was Mademoiselle de Montpensier who ordered the cannons of the Bastille to fire on the king's army. She was inspired to write her memoirs during the Fronde.

fuseau (masc.)

in Perrault's La belle au bois dormant: a spindle




Selfless courage - a typical trait exhibited by Corneille's heros in his plays.


A commune in Rhone-Alpes region of South-East France: the area in which Madame de Sévigné's daughter (Madame de Grignan) lived




An aristocratic ideal associated with refinement. Behaviour which conformed to the rules and moral codes of society. The honnête homme should be noble, have good judgement and taste, should know his own true character, be modest, well-educated and witty.


Same anatomical meaning as in English but also an antiquated literary term for marriage and the nuptial ceremony. Originates from Hymen the Ancient Greek god of marriage ceremonies.




The act of killing an infant within a year of their birth. In the case of Athalie, she has her grandchildren murdered because their bloodline represents a threat to her position of power.


Instruction: interesting as it is the first word in 'Instruction a ma fille' and sets the tone for the entire piece

1. a direction; order

2. the process or act of imparting knowledge; teaching; education

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003




a Christian theological movement, primarily in France, that emphasised original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination (all events have been willed by God). Racine was a pupil at a number of Port-Royale schools which were jansenist educational institutions.

Jean Duret

Personal physician to Marie de Médicis from 1610. He was taught by his father, Louis Duret, who was physician to both Charles IX and Henri III. Parallels can thus be drawn between this relationship and that of Louise Bourgeois and her daughter.




Jacques Marie Émile Lacan (1901-81)- French psychoanalyst and psychologist who explored the use of language with regard to forming a person's identity and how a person represents themselves. His research extends into the analysis of language itself and the arbitrary nature of semantics and how this affects the meanings our words convey.

La Rochefoucauld

François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Prince de Marcillac (15 September 1613 – 17 March 1680) was a noted French author of maxims and memoirs. The view of human conduct his writings describe has been summed up by the words "everything is reducible to the motive of self-interest," though the term "gently cynical" has also been applied. Born in Paris in the Rue des Petits Champs, at a time when the royal court was oscillating between aiding the nobility and threatening it, he was considered an exemplar of the accomplished 17th-century nobleman. Until 1650, he bore the title of Prince de Marcillac. Played an important role withing the Salon community and was a close friend of Mme Sevigne.

Le Mot juste

Le mot juste – translated literally it means “the right word”. This term was developed by Flaubert and expresses the idea of finding the exact words to convey the precise meaning of what you want to say. This idea was highly valued by les précieuses of the Salons who took delight in witty, polished conversation and fine speaking.


Lucine: (Lucina) was the Roman goddess of light and childbirth. She looked after the lives of women in labour. Louise Bourgeois suggests she is the disciple of Lucine, as if she is guided by the Gods in her craft



Mésailler (reflexive)

To marry beneath oneself


Godmother - (Religious) A woman who sponsors a child in baptism, promising to assist in the upbringing of the child, to help and guide them.

 Fairy Godmother - A magical character in children's stories who helps someone in trouble.

- Someone who arrives unexpectedly to solve your problems and make good things happen to you.



Of or relating to a mother, relating to or characteristic of a mother or motherhood.


meaning womb or uterus (feminine noun)


The act of killing one's own mother.

Morganatic Marriage

Marriage between a person of high rank and a person of low rank, on the presumption that neither the spouse, nor any children born of the marriage will have any claim to the titles or property of the high-ranking partner

mother-daughter bond

Can be approached psycho-analytically




Medical speciality dealing with pregnancy; women's reproduction system, the child during pregnancy, childbirth and any postnatal issues.




1. the act of killing one's father, mother or other close relative

2. one who commits such an act


Latin term, pater meaning father and familias meaning family, literally translated as the Father of the family or owner of the Estate. This term dates back to Roman Law, where the paterfamilias would have authority over his wife and children and was expected to be a good Roman citizen.

Patriarchal Society

Society controlled by men. In the Seventeenth Century aristocratic women in particular had no real influence on their own lives. They would have been controlled by their father, husband, or nearest male relative and had no legal rights. One law in fact banned women from the court unless they were accompanied by their husband or in cases of domestic abuse.

Phaenerete (Phanerote)

A midwife, mother of the philosopher Socrates.


Witty and educated women who frequented the salon of Catherine de Vivonne, Marquise de Rambouillet. Associated with the style préciosité characterised by longwinded romantic novels.


The condition of carrying offspring in the uterus.

1. In Madame de Sévigné's text, there are some interesting attitudes towards pregnancy: it is a duty for a wife to produce children to carry on a name/blood line. It is particularly important that she produces a male heir. In MdS's letter 17, she tells her daughter to sleep in a separate room with a servant to prevent any further pregnancies since she has fulfilled her duty. She doesn't see pregnancy as a particularly positive state.

2. Pregnancy is also a time of great uncertainty and anxiety, since many complications can occur, including miscarriage, still birth, incorrect 'diagnosis' of pregnancy, even the disappointment of having a girl rather than a boy, etc... This is perhaps partly the reason that she is so concerned that her daughter does not conceive again.


The belief that the first born son is the rightful heir.

Problematization of the self

Postmodern thinkers believe the 'self' is an illusion and that it has been produced by society since the Enlightenment and the concept of individualism. Cholakian believes that women in the seventeenth-century took a step in the direction towards the discourse of 'selfhood', however, through writings of their personal experiences.


A woman who believed in and followed modern feminist ideals and concepts but lived in a time when the word 'feminist' was unknown. These women laid the groundwork for today's feminists.


In Seventeenth-Century France, it was believed that when men reached puberty, they gained the right to partake in war and politics and when women reached puberty, it was their duty to pro-create.




An old fashioned spinning-wheel, used for creating textiles and threads, especially linen, hemp cloth and wool.




To lurk/skulk


Family as a unified entity organized around cohesiveness of political action and continuity from one generation to the next

On the difference between the modern and 17th c. definitions of the word 'race.'

'In the twentieth century, race is associated with color and geographical origin, but in the seventeenth century it denoted "blood." The social dominance of the great families was supported by the belief that merit was not acquired by conditioning or education but transmitted at birth, via the family bloodline.'

Cholakian, P. (2000) Introduction: The Woman in the Mirror. In: Cholakian, P. Women and the politics of self-representation in seventeenth-century France. Newark; London: University of Delaware Press, Associated University Presses, p.24


A period of rule where, due to an heir being a minor or absent, the responsibility of head of state falls on a selected member. This was not popular as more often than not the Queen was chosen to represent the head of state. Men lacked confidence in a female figure governing.


The women who were part of the salon culture of the seventeenth century often gathered in the lady's bedroom (as it was treated as more private); ruelle, literally meaning "narrow street" or "lane" was the space between the bed and the wall and was a term commenly used to designate the gatherings of the précieuses.



sage femme

Midwife, a medical professional responsible for the safe delivery of babies.

Salic Law

Under Salic Law, women were prohibited from inheriting not all property, but ancestral "Salic Land". For more information, see

Meeting place for conversation and discussion. The hosts of the French seventeenth-century salon were frequently women. The largest and most successful of these (such as the one run by Mme de Rambouillet) were important centres for the circulation of ideas and for social networking. The salons demanded less codified and rigid behaviour than the French court at Versailles, and women in particular were said to have more freedom for self-expression in this environment. For more information on this, see Lougee, Carolyn C. Le Paradis des femmes : women, salons, and social stratification in  seventeenth-century France (Princeton ; Guildford : Princeton University Press, 1976).
salon culture

salon culture is a largely feminine social space where philosophical and political discussion took place. Women also presented work to other women, demonstrating the creation of a contemporary female audience in French life.


Science, as mentioned in Louise Bourgeois' preface, in this period tends to relate to a wider sense of 'knowledge'. Her use of the word ScienceIin referring to what makes her as an individual unique is significant in hinting at the educational level of most women of the era.

' voulans du tout referer à la longeur du temps la connoissance de toute science.'




Temptation/enticement- a word used by Madame de Sévigné regarding the continuing of her daughter's sexual relationship with her husband after she has provided three children- one of them a son. Interestingly, she does not see their sexual relationship as something to which they have a right or as a positive part of their marriage, it is more linked to the duty of having children. Calling it a temptation therefore suggests that it is something 'sinful' or something to be avoided.


The process of getting ready (usually a term used by middle and upper classes who could afford to dress reasonably well). Usually, this involved a servant's help in getting dressed, arranging hair/wigs and applying make-up.


A popular genre of the 17th century - Rodogune marked Corneille's return back to tragedy after writing 2 comedic plays.




French for pox. In Instruction, Louise Bourgeois tells the story of a midwife who spreads the pox unknowingly to several of her patients and thus raises the issue of a midwife's resposibility to ensure their patients' wellbeing.


A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population. When medical texts were translated from their original latin into the vernacular, they became more accessbile for other practionners outside the male medical elite.


The believablity of a plot, which was in keeping with the societal normes of the time.



Wet Nurse

A woman who breast feeds and cares for another's child. In the 17th century some practionners believed a child could be corrupted by a wet nurse's breast milk as this could transfer immoral values, even if the child was born to noble parents.


Simply a women whose husband has died. This had economic and social repercussions as the woman was then in control of financial affairs within the family and influence over family inter relations such as marriage.


This refers to the alleged use of supernatural and magical powers. Louise Bourgeois warns her daughter to distance herself away from these suspicions. In particular by reminding her not to keep or sell any amniotic fluid which was allegedly used in spells.