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Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies

Victoria University in the University of Toronto

L’Honnête Femme: The Respectable Woman in Society and the New Collection of Letters and Responses by Contemporary Women, by Jacques Du Bosc

350 pp / Softcover / June 2014 / 978-0-7727-2160-0 / $39.95

Edited and translated by Sharon Diane Nell and Aurora Wolfgang

This edition offers a translation of two works by the seventeenth-century French Franciscan, Jacques Du Bosc: selected passages from L’Honneste femme (1632-36) and the entirety of Nouveau recueil des lettres de dames de ce temps (1635). Both of these texts articulate the theory and practice of the emerging ideal of honnêteté for women. To Du Bosc’s way of thinking, the honnête or “respectable” woman’s role in society is not only that of mother and wife; she is primarily a member of a social elite who embodies the art of pleasing through her politeness, urbanity, and conversation. Du Bosc’s work aims to justify this new role for women, even as he sets out the rules of moral conduct to guide them. In so doing, he refutes traditional misogynist attitudes while insisting that women follow a Christian moral code of conduct. Like his predecessor François de Sales, Du Bosc treats women as reasoning beings capable of guiding their own conscience. Moreover, Du Bosc promotes equality between the sexes, especially in relation to their moral behavior. In keeping with these beliefs, Du Bosc has women discuss, in the New Collection of Letters and Responses, a wide range of moral issues, rehearsing the pros and cons so that women readers may draw their own conclusions.

In the New Collection women correspondents exchange moral, ethical, and esthetic ideas: what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior, whether women should study, whether a man should marry an ugly woman. The most interesting letters are those which depict passionate friendships between women. The writers of these letters represent a close social network of women who love, respect, and support one another. In other words, while Du Bosc may be demonstrating appropriate kinds of social skills and attitudes of respectable women, he also appears to be advocating a new kind of relationship between women. In both of these texts from the first half of the seventeenth century Du Bosc made important contributions which helped shift public attitudes toward embracing women’s intellectual and moral equality.

To view an excerpt from the introduction, please click here [PDF]

The Editors & Translators:

Aurora Wolfgang is Professor of French at California State University, San Bernardino. She is author of Gender and Voice in the French Novel, 1730–1782 (Ashgate, 2004) and numerous articles on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century women writers and feminist issues.

Sharon Diane Nell is Professor of French and Dean of the School of Humanities at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas. She is the author of numerous articles on topics that range from the early modern period to Proust. Her current research focuses on the development of French rococo style from seventeenth-century ideology.


H-France Review, 16:14. pp 1-3. Reviewed by Claire Carlin.

Renaissance Quarterly, 68:3. pp. 1067-1068. Reviewed by Rebecca Wilkin.


To Order:

The Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies no longer sells or distributes books in “The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe: The Toronto Series.” Starting July 2015, volumes can be purchased by individuals and institutions from the Chicago Distribution Center. Contact CDC by email (, by fax (800-621-8476 or 773-702-7212), or by phone (800-621-2736 or 773-702-7000).

350 pp / Softcover / June 2014 / 978-0-7727-2160-0 / $39.95

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