A 17th-Century Champion for Women’s Autonomy Inspires Student Learning


Professor Sophie Marinez and her students at BMCC


“Students love her story,” BMCC French Professor Sophie Maríñez says of Anne-Marie-Louise Duchesse de Montpensier (1627-1693), the subject of her book, Mademoiselle de Montpensier, Writings, Châteaux, and Female Self-Construction in Early Modern France just released from Brill, a leading academic publisher in Europe. “Mademoiselle de Montpensier authored a memoir, novels and letters in which she expressed her views against marriage and in support of the autonomy of women. When I teach her in my course on early modern French women writers, students are fascinated by these women who resisted the norms thatconstrained their lives.”

Maríñez’s work on Mademoiselle de Montpensier is the culmination of her doctoral dissertation, which she completed in 2010 at The Graduate Center, CUNY, under the direction of Distinguished Professor Domna C. Stanton, and for which she received the Carolyn B. Heilbrun DissertationPrize awarded by the Women’s Studies Certificate Program.

This book, she says, has been made possible by a series of grants and fellowships she received while completing her dissertation, an NEH Summer Stipend award she received when she was a visiting faculty member at Vassar College, before she joined BMCC, and two PSC-CUNY grants she received as a CUNY faculty.

Maríñez also received a BMCC Faculty Publication Cost Grant from the Office of Provost Karrin E. Wilks, “which helped defray the cost of image reproduction fees,” she says. “Although it is based on my research, the book is also an art book in the sense that it discusses and shows the chateaux Montpensier and other women commissioned in early modern France.”

Applying research and enriching student learning

Professor Maríñez teaches all levels of French language and literature at BMCC, including a class on French women writers. “In addition to Montpensier’s writings,” she says, “I teach the works of Christine de Pizan, a medieval writerconsidered by some to be the first pro-women advocate, who lived in France and wrote The Book of the City of Ladies (1405). In class, we analyze the literature as well as gender issues, and students apply those concepts to discuss the treatment of women today.”

The range of perspectives her students bring deepens these discussions. “We have such an incredibly diverse student population at BMCC: Muslim and Christian students, recent immigrants, people who grew up in New York, and students from many different socio-economic backgrounds,” she says. “This makes our talks about the women we are studying really rich and alive, despite the distance in time.”

To Professor Maríñez, bringing her research into the classroom is vital: “It makes my class more alive when I can bring the passion that I have for my scholarly projects into the classroom,” she says. “Students like to hear when I am going to a conference or working on the book. They get a glimpse into the process of being a writer and researcher, and see that speaking another language is a valuable skill in the professional world.”

A role model for majors in Modern Languages

Now that the Modern Languages Department at BMCC offers Associate of Art degrees in French, Italianand Spanish, students are exploring career options for dual-language speakers.

Maríñez herself worked as a translator when she first arrived to New York. Today, she says, opportunities for Modern Language majors are growing beyond the academic career path that she chose herself.

“In New York and other cities, we are seeing the growth of French-speaking African immigrants who are from Senegal, Mali, Morocco, Algeria, and other countries,” she says. “These recent immigrants need human, social, paralegal, and other services in French, andpublic schools are developing more bilingual programs in French to accommodate them.”