Philippe Halbert, Yale University
Barra Dissertation Fellow
“Letters of a Canadian Woman: Identity and Self-Fashioning in the Atlantic World of Madame Bégon”
“Letters of a Canadian Woman” draws first and foremost from the private correspondence of the Montreal-born Marie-Élisabeth Rocbert de La Morandière (1696-1755), better known as Madame Bégon. Between 1748 and 1753, Madame Bégon addressed nine letter-diaries or journals and over five-dozen individual letters to her widowed French son-in-law after he left Canada to assume an administrative post in Louisiana. A widow herself, she continued writing to him in New Orleans after moving with the rest of her family to the southwestern French naval base and dockyard of Rochefort, where she died on the eve of the Seven Years’ War. Madame Bégon’s sensitive, witty, and at times trenchant pen chronicles a kind of reverse diaspora whereby she evoked and negotiated memories of her colonial past and struggled with the uncertainties of a future in France. From the dressing table to the dance floor, I consider moments in her letters that foreground interconnected themes of self-fashioning and the body, creolization and empire, and the racialization of the subaltern. A cross-section of archival materials, images, literature, and objects further informs my interpretation of this epistolary exchange, as well as the myriad forces that shaped its author’s trans-Atlantic world and identity.