LIBERTY, GENTILITY, AND DANGEROUS LIAISONS: FRANCOPHILIA IN THE EARLY REPUBLIC, 1775-1800
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This dissertation investigates the various and occasionally competing streams of French culture generated in several different arenas – print culture, polite society, marriage, and gender performance – in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. My work makes the case that Francophilia was both consequential to early American culture and a continuing source of gentry power in the post-revolution years of the United States. Analysis of American architectural spaces, decorative arts, literature, and cultural landscapes reveals that aristocratic urban Americans fashioned and displayed ideologies, from the personal to the political, by way of the pageantry of French gentility. From Boston to New York to Philadelphia, affluent Americans used the performance and spectacle of French luxury to enhance their cultural prestige and political authority at home. Despite contradictions and ambiguities in Franco-American relations, Francophilia remained a powerful way for elites, especially women, to assert aesthetic propriety and cosmopolitanism in the 1780s and 1790s. These early Americans, seeking ways to present themselves as genteel, erudite, and worldly, saw copying French culture and performing it as a way to make themselves—and sometimes their new nation—appear culturally sophisticated. My dissertation therefore challenges scholarship that judges Anglicization and Anglo culture by its capacity to create uniquely American sensibilities and identities. In particular, French-language periodicals, salons, sociability, aristocratic émigrés, and libertine philosophies in the United States highlight how Americans in the highest echelons of society reproduced, used, and consumed French gentility to express cultural refinement and perform cosmopolitan identities, recasting themselves as more than provincial former British subjects. French proclivities and Francophilia could, therefore, be mobilized by patrician Americans as another form of self-fashioning. Even as news of the increasing violence of the French Revolution reached the United States and the posture of American political allegiances shifted in relation to France, the cultural capital of French elegance did not fade in the American imagination.