Letters of a Canadian Woman: Identity and Self-Fashioning in the Atlantic World of Madame Bégon (1696-1755)

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


History of Art

First Advisor

Cooke, Edward


This dissertation 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 a series of collated letter-diaries or journals and over five-dozen individual letters to her widowed French son-in-law after he left Montreal to assume an administrative post in New Orleans. A widow herself, she continued writing to him after moving with the rest of her family to 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 wherein 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, “Letters of a Canadian Woman” considers moments in her writings that foreground interconnected themes of self-fashioning and the body; creolization and empire; and the enslavement and racialization of the subaltern. A cross-section of related archival materials, images, literature, and material culture informs interpretation of this revealing epistolary exchange and the myriad forces that shaped Madame Bégon’s trans-Atlantic world and identity.

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