When Thomas Jefferson arrived in Paris in 1784, he placed his daughter Martha in the boarding school of the prestigious abbey of Panthemont, where she became friends with a young Frenchwoman called Marie-Hyacinthe de Botidoux. Following the Jeffersons’ return to the United States in 1789, Marie began writing to Martha. Her letters provide an extraordinary chronicle of the unfolding revolution, for, amidst her lively accounts of dinners and dancing, and love and marriage, Marie was keen to keep Martha up-to-date with the political news of the day. Although Martha would prove a poor correspondent, Marie kept writing to her ‘chère Jeff’ until 1810. Her letters provide new insights into the French Revolution and its aftermath, and into the exchange of ideas, information, and sentiment between two friends of two cultures with a shared stake in revolution.
Gemma Betros is Lecturer in European History at The Australian National University. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Queensland and her postgraduate studies at Cambridge University, has held visiting fellowships at Chawton House Library and the Harvard Divinity School, and in 2016 was awarded The Australian National University’s Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Education. Her work explores religion, politics, and gender in revolutionary and Napoleonic France, and she is currently working on a book about the closure of convents during the French Revolution called, Sacred Liberty: the nuns of Paris, the French Revolution, and Napoleon.
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