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«Plaisirs de femmes»

Women, Pleasure and Transgression in French Literature and Culture


Edited By Maggie Allison, Elliot Evans and Carrie Tarr

Feminist approaches to questions of women, pleasure and transgression have generally been premised on the assumption that women’s pleasures are typically constrained – if not ignored, marginalized or forbidden – in patriarchal cultures. The naming, foregrounding and pursuit of women’s pleasures can therefore be deemed potentially transgressive and linked to women’s emancipation in other realms. The essays in this volume draw on a range of materials, from travel writing and the novel to film and stand-up comedy, addressing the specificity of French and Francophone approaches to women, pleasure and transgression across a range of historical contexts.

The volume is divided into three sections: intellectual and creative pleasures; normative pleasures, that is, pleasures conforming to women’s conventionally expected roles and status as well as to accepted views regarding race, national identity and sexuality; and perverse pleasures, that is, pleasures transgressive in their tendency to reject authority and norms, and often controversial in their «excessive» appetite for violence, sex, alcohol or food. In each case, questions are raised about how we approach such pleasures as feminist researchers, motivated in part by a desire to counter the notion of feminism and feminist research as something «dour» or joyless.

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5 Joséphine Bowes (1825–1874), Shopaholic or Patroness of the Arts? (James Illingworth)


James Illingworth

5 Joséphine Bowes (1825–1874), Shopaholic or Patroness of the Arts?

In his reading of the archive through a Freudian psychoanalytic lens, Jacques Derrida argues that the archive is pervaded by a ‘puissance archiviolithique’, a modulation of Freud’s death drive that indicates an unconscious auto-destructive tendency underpinning the human impulse to document.1 ‘L’archive’, Derrida writes, ‘est hypomnésique’ (1995: 26). In other words, it is a form of memory that is defective, that omits details. Like the death drive, it is connected at once to creation (and therefore pleasure) and destruction, presenting a narrative of the past that is incomplete. Joséphine Bowes is a victim of this hypomnesia. Born in Paris in 1825, by 1847 she was an actress at the Théâtre des Variétés, performing under the stage name Mademoiselle Delorme. In 1852 she married the theatre’s English owner, John Bowes, a wealthy businessman and the illegitimate son of the tenth Earl of Strathmore. Together they amassed a large collection of objets d’art that would eventually require a museum to house it, founding the Bowes Museum in County Durham, close to John’s ancestral home at Streatlam. This chapter proposes a reassessment of this creative enterprise, its motivations and the context in which it occurred, foregrounding Joséphine’s role as a woman able to take pleasure in a philanthropic, intellectual exercise, and arguing that the hypomnesia that has occulted Joséphine’s significant contribution was a reaction to such pleasure, marking...

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