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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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6 Women and Pleasure in the Work of Madeleine Bourdouxhe (Gabrielle Parker)


Gabrielle Parker

6 Women and Pleasure in the Work of Madeleine Bourdouxhe

Madeleine Bourdouxhe belongs to ‘the forgotten generation’ of interwar women writers elided from the French literary canon (Milligan 1997).1 Her slender opus – two published novels, a récit and a number of short stories – was praised and admired in the 1930s and 1940s, then apparently forgotten until the 1980s (Carion 2012: §5).2 In 1992, the Belgian literary journal Textyles dedicated a special issue to five women writers whose works ‘ne jouissent pas de la notoriété qu’ils méritent et ont fait l’objet de peu d’études critiques fondamentales’ (Michaux 1992: 9).3 Readers’ interest seems to have been sustained, however, by filmic adaptations, notably La Femme de Gilles (2004), and translations into several languages, leading to a resurgence in critical attention.4←91 | 92→

This study of Bourdouxhe’s fiction focuses on her portrayal of women, and the extent to which women’s pleasures and desires are bound up with transgression when they flout, or simply overcome, the socio-cultural boundaries that circumscribe their condition. The First World War had opened up women’s participation in the workforce, allowing them to assume traditional ‘male’ responsibilities, while the twenties had been a period of relative emancipation. However, the economic and political context of the 1930s saw a return to domesticity and traditional roles for women, perceived as ‘an economic and psychological imperative’ (Kershaw and Kimyongür 2007: 5). Despite progress in women’s education, changes in...

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