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May 24, 2016
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v2.1 Reference

The Woman Priest

A Translation of Sylvain Maréchal's Novella, La femme abbé

"My God! Pardon me if I have dared to make sacred things serve a profane love; but it is you who have put passion into our hearts; they are not crimes—I feel this in the purity of my intentions." —Agatha, writing to Zoé

In pre-revolutionary Paris, a young woman falls for a handsome young priest. To be near him, she dresses as a man, enters his seminary, and is invited to become a fully ordained Catholic priest—a career forbidden to women then as now. Sylvain Maréchal's epistolary novella offers a biting rebuke to religious institutions and a hypocritical society; its views on love, marriage, class, and virtue remain relevant today. The book ends in La Nouvelle France, which became part of British-run Canada during Maréchal's lifetime. With thorough notes and introduction by Sheila Delany, this first translation of Maréchal's novella, La femme abbé, brings a little-known but revelatory text to the attention of readers interested in French history and literature, history of the novel, women's studies, and religious studies.

About the Authors

Sheila Delany is Professor Emerita at Simon Fraser University. A medievalist and lifelong political activist, she has already brought one forgotten author, Osbern Bokenham, into the scholarly mainstream. Delany lives in Vancouver. Sylvain Maréchal (1750–1803) was a French essayist, poet, activist, political theorist, and editor of the journal Révolutions de Paris.


"Until recently almost none of Sylvain Maréchal's works have been available in English, except on the Marxists Internet Archive, nor have any of the major studies of his life and works been translated. Happily, this is now being corrected by Sheila Delany, who has just published the second in a projected series of three of Maréchal's books. Having already published a translation of the biting Anti-Saints, and with his brilliant For and Against the Bible in process, [University of Alberta Press now has published Delany's] wonderfully presented and translated The Woman Priest."—Mitchell Abidor, Science & Society

"...a valuable addition to the quickly expanding body of literature on the role of religion in the French Enlightenment that productively showcases the writings of an author who has long been recognized in French scholarship as exceptional for his atheistic positioning in the religious and political field of his day." [Full review at]—Alicia Montoya, Reading Religion

"While the contents of The Woman Priest make for a good story (drag, drama, and death—what more can you ask for?), the astonishing complexity of the novella seems to lie not necessarily in the general plot line, but rather in the context in which the author wrote the book—as brilliantly explained in Delany's introduction to her translation.... Delany provides the reader with a rich introduction, which proves essential to understanding the subtleties and intertextual references sown into this novella. But above all, the twenty-four-page introduction to this translation displays the work of a translator and researcher who deeply knows the author's work and has extensive knowledge of the context in which he lived and wrote.... It is perhaps through this introduction that the translation of La femme abbé finds its real value and the reader can begin to grasp both the intention and the impact of Maréchal." Canadian Literature 232 (Spring 2017). [Full review at]—Liza Bolen

9781772121230 : the-woman-priest-marechal-delany
Paperback / softback
104 Pages
$21.99 USD

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