The Merveilleuses and their Impact on the French Social Imaginary, 1795-1799 and Beyond


ACLS Fellowship Program




The Merveilleuses ("Marvelous Ones"), a group of approximately 100 young and stylish Parisian women, came to define the era of the Directory (1794–1799). Following the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, these chic young women set the tone in French society until Napoleon's coup in 1799. The Merveilleuses helped define the Directory as a moment of decadence and turmoil. However, they were also political players whose consumption of luxury goods and looser social mores represented an effort to construct a new order after the Terror. While fearing their influence, contemporary newspapers suggested that their spending habits and fashion leadership were helping revive France’s economy and international influence in the wake of war and revolution. This project considers the Merveilleuses as a cultural phenomenon as well as their function in the historical imaginary and illuminates how the fixation on their beauty, style, and sexuality has obscured their political and cultural significance.