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Semur-en-Auxois (Gabrielle Suchon)

Gabrielle
Suchon

Gabrielle Suchon (1631–1703) was a French philosopher.

Born in Semur-en-Auxois (Burgundy) to a family of local notables (her father was the king’s prosecutor), it remains unclear how Suchon was educated. Judging from the authorities she quotes in her works, however, it is likely that she had access to the Scriptures, some modern authors —such as Poulain de la Barre—and some classical works of literature and philosophy. At some point in her life, she was pressured by her family to become a cloistered Dominican nun. According to the abbot Philibert Papillon, who wrote an encyclopedia on authors from Burgundy, Suchon succeeded in securing the revocation of her religious vows from the Pope himself by travelling alone through France to Italy. Suchon, Papillon tells us, was not welcomed back by her family. In fact, they appealed to the government of Dijon to force her to return to the cloister, but she never complied with their wishes. Instead, she remained unmarried outside the cloister for the rest of her life, reading, teaching and helping children. This account of Suchon’s entrance into, and rejection of, the religious life has circulated widely. Nonetheless, according to Sonia Bertolini (2000), no primary source or official document has emerged to confirm this story. Instead, according to Bertolini, the few official documents that have been found only reveal that Suchon was transferred from her cloister in Semur-en-Auxois to another one in Langres. It is therefore far from certain that she did succeed in securing a life free from the institutionalized Church.

Suchon is the author of two works. In 1693, she published the Traité de la morale et de la politique divisé en trois parties, savoir, la liberté, la science et l’autorité, où l’on voit que les personnes du sexe, pour en être privées, ne laissent pas d’avoir une capacité naturelle, qui les en peut rendre participantes avec un Petit traité de la faiblesse, de la légèreté et de l’inconstance qu’on attribue aux femmes mal à propos, a title usually shortened to Traité de la morale et de la politique divisé en trois parties, savoir, la liberté, la science et l’authorité [Treatise on Ethics and Politics, Divided Into Three Parts: Freedom, Knowledge, and Authority]. She also wrote Du célibat volontaire, ou La vie sans engagement [On the Celibate Life Freely Chosen, or Life Without Commitments] (1700). Both works focus on the contemporary situation of women, denouncing the unjust restrictions that men imposed on women as a means to maintain their superiority and proposing an alternative to marriage and the cloister: voluntary celibacy.

Suchon’s work did not go entirely unnoticed in her time. Indeed, Bertolini remarks that her Traité de la Morale et de la Politique was probably re-edited, while her work Célibat Volontaire, ou La vie sans engagement was mentioned in at least two academic magazines, Le Journal des Savants and Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres.

Suchon died in 1703, in Dijon.

 

Sources

Bertolini, Sonia. “Gabrielle Suchon: Une Vie Sans Engagement?” Australian Journal of French Studies. 37.3 (2000): 289-308. Print.

Le doeuff, Michele. “Suchon, Gabrielle (1631–1703)”. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy 1998: Accessed (July 08, 2016). < https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/suchon-gabrielle-1631-1703/v-1/. doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DA080-1 >

Papillon, Philibert. “Gabrielle Suchon.” Bibliothèque des Auteurs de Bourgogne. Vol.2. Dijon: François Desventes, 1745. Print.