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Victoire de D’Onissan de La Rochejaquelein: a woman writing for posterity

Clémentine Garcenot, winner of the 2023 Patrick Nuttgens Award answers our questions about how the prize helped her PhD studies.

Q: How did you use the award?

A: To visit the Archives of Vendée located near Nantes, in the west of France.

Q: How did you organise your trip there?

A: As I am a teacher as well as a PhD student, I was sadly limited in the number of days I could spend in Nantes, but I did manage to see all the material that I wanted in the Archives. The staff was incredibly helpful!

Victoire de Donissan de La Rochejaquelein engraving from

Mémoires de Madame la marquise de La Rochejaquelein, 1889

Image credit: fr. Bibliothèque Carnegie (Reims); divers. Versements et modificationsː G.Garitan

Q: What is your research topic?

A: I have been researching Victoire d’Onissan (b.1772, d.1857) and her involvement as a young woman in the Vendean War (1793-1796). She and her first husband, the marquis de Lescure, were actively involved with the royalist army. He died in 1793 and Victoire married the marquis de la Rochejaquelein in 1802. In 1799 she began drafting her memoirs. These make for riveting reading, describing how Victoire navigated marriage, pregnancy, motherhood and daily life in a warzone. Unprepared by her noble upbringing in Versailles, nonetheless she achieved a powerful agency.

Louis-Marie de Salgues, Marquis de Lescure (1766-1793) by Robert Lefèvre

Oil on canvas, 1818

Image credit: Public Domain

Q: Why was it important that you access these Archives?

A: I had been working on the memoirs using their 6th edition, based on the original manuscript, published by the marquise’s grandson in 1889. However, because the memoirs were edited and published posthumously, I suspected they were not quite true to the marquise’s vision. So I was curious to get closer to the original source.

The Archives contain the first five editions of the memoirs, published by the marquise herself. I wanted to understand more about the history of their publication by verifying the publication dates and comparing differences in content.

Q: That sounds like painstaking detective work. Did you find many discrepancies, and would you tell us more about some of them?

A: There were many discrepancies between the different manuscripts. For instance, some sentences disappeared, or words were changed. No matter how big these changes are, they are significant as they hint at the marquise’s agency in making deliberate textual choices!

Louis, Comte de la Rochejaquelein (1777-1815) engraving from

Mémoires de Madame la Marquise de Larochjaquelein, Paris, 1817

Image credit: British Library

Q: What else did you learn?

A: In exploring these different documents, I gained an insight into the marquise’s writing process, which scholars have not spoken about.

Q: What in particular surprised you about the marquise’s writing process?

A: The marquise wrote her memoirs from memory, having neither kept a diary during the Revolution nor preserved letters or notes from that time. Yet, the events are described in very vivid terms, which can be explained by the fact that the marquise wrote her first draft in 1794, immediately after having lived through these events.

Q: What do you know about the marquise’s readership? Do you know whom the marquise was writing for, maybe her contemporaries and / or posterity?

A: The memoirs contain paratext (forewords, prefaces and dedications). Therefore, the marquise’s intentions are very clear. She had meant for the memoirs to remain in the private sphere and be read only by family and close friends. Yet, they were leaked, leading to her fearing persecution. As for their purpose, she stated that her children should know about the deeds of their ancestors.


glazed earthenware, mid-19th

Image credit: V&A Museum

Q: You mentioned that the Archives’ memoirs shed some light on the marquise’s agency as a

female writer at a time when social conventions restricted women to the domestic sphere. How did the marquise manage to defy the status quo?

A: The marquise uses the “rhetoric of reluctance”, a term coined by French scholars to refer to the strategical choices made by women writers of the time. The memoirist foregrounds her femininity and insists on the insignificance of her work, in order to convince readers that she was not to be taken seriously, thus avoiding potentially dangerous repercussions on her family’s reputation.

Q: Did you access any papers relating to Rochejaquelein, perhaps by different authors?

A: The Archives contain her mother’s memoirs. Madame d’Onissan’s memoirs are a fascinating source as they have been hitherto ignored by scholarship. Indeed, they have not even been edited. Reading them required quite a bit of palaeography work!

Sir Walter Scott unfinished proof engraving

by J.H. Robinson after Sir Thomas Lawrence, PRA, about 1830s

Image credit: V&A Museum

Q: What new avenues of research opened up to you as a result of your visit to the Archives?

A: I was curious to find out that Sir Walter Scott translated Victoire’s memoirs in 1816. The British and French geo-political context of the time make this somewhat surprising. I am very interested in finding out more about this, perhaps in a future project.

Q: During your PhD studies, how much have you been able to use online resources in comparison to libraries and archives?

A: I began my PhD in September 2020, when many if not most archives were closed due to covid-restrictions. Luckily, all the material I needed was available online, on the Bibliothèque Nationale de France’s website. My visit to the Archives de Vendee was my first archival trip!

Q: What do you enjoy most about archival research?

A: I find that the staff in the Archives are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. It is a very valuable partnership that is missing with online archives.

Finally I would like to say that I am extremely grateful to the York Georgian Society for having selected me to receive the Patrick Nuttgens main Award.

Clémentine is a fourth-year PhD at the University of York student in English and Related Literature and the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies (CECS). The full results of her studies at the Archives of Vendée will be included in her thesis, due for submission in September 2024.

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