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A Formula for Disobedience: Jansenism, Gender, and the Feminist Paradox*

Although the formula crisis ended in 1669, the Port Royal nuns’ relation to
royal authority remained troubled. In 1705 a similar crisis arose when the Port
Royal nuns were ordered to sign a new formula accepting another anti-Jan-
senist bull issued by Pope Clement XI.138 Once again, the nuns refused to sign,
but this time they did not enjoy the support among bishops that had helped to
save them in 1669. In the fall of 1709, Louis XIV ordered the destruction of
Port Royal and sent armed guards to escort the nuns to other convents in
France, where they spent the remainder of their lives in exile. Although Port
Royal was gone forever, friends and supporters kept the memory of the convent
alive in print. When the Jansenist controversy rekindled in the following de-
cade, the majority of the nuns’ writings, including the three interrogation re-
ports, were published and circulated throughout France.139 The flood of works
commemorating Port Royal that were published during the eighteenth century
has secured these nuns a lasting place in the annals of French history.
In spite of the Port Royal nuns’ fame for standing up to Louis XIV, these
women are typically excluded from any discussion of early modern feminism.
This is surprising, considering that feminist scholars have established seven-
teenth-century France as a crucial period for the development of feminist
thought.140 The reason for the nuns’ exclusion from feminist narratives has
been their failure to measure up to the ideological criteria set by modern schol-
ars for the definition of feminism. The nuns fail to meet these criteria because
they never explicitly condemned male dominance or consciously asserted
women’s spiritual and rational equality in the course of their struggles. Political
theorists have taught us, however, that explicit use of language is not always
138 Vineam Domini (1705). For the origins of this bull and its implications for Port
Royal, see Albert Le Roy, La France et Rome de 1700 a` 1715 (Geneva, 1976).
139 The catalyst for the renewed controversy was the publication of the bull Unige-
nitus in 1713 against Pasquier Quesnel’s Reflexions morales. On the printing of Port
Royal’s documents as part of this controversy, see B. Robert Kreiser, Miracles, Con-
vulsions, and Ecclesiastical Politics in Early Eighteenth-Century Paris (Princeton, N.J.,
1978), p. 12; Catherine Maire, De la cause de Dieu a` la cause de la nation: Le jan-
se ́nisme au XVIIIe sie`cle (Paris, 1998), pp. 47–48, 477–84.
140 Elizabeth C. Goldsmith and Dena Goodman, Going Public: Women and Publish-
ing in Early Modern France (Ithaca, N.Y., 1995), p. 5;   [;jsessionid=8F190BD6C5F385ABF247A6E9691105C0?sequence=1]


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