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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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7 ‘Le Plaisir tout particulier’: The Troubling Pleasures of Leisure and Labour in Marie NDiaye’s En famille (1990) and Ladivine (2013) (Isha Pearce)


Isha Pearce

7 ‘Le Plaisir tout particulier’: The Troubling Pleasures of Leisure and Labour in Marie NDiaye’s En famille (1990) and Ladivine (2013)

Pleasure is not something characters in NDiaye’s novels often experience.1 Conversely, reading the darkly strained lives of her characters produces a troubling pleasure, contributing to the fascination with her writing within French studies in the last decade.2 There is something intoxicating about the Kafkaesque ostracizing of Nadia and the inexplicable wound eating away at Ange in Mon coeur à l’étroit (2007); Rosie’s inability to feel a stable sense of self, plagued as she is by shame and humiliation in Rosie Carpe (2001); and Rudy’s neurotic cycles of arrogance and self-loathing in Trois femmes puissantes (2009).3 Like Baudelaire’s charogne that is fascinating and repellent in equal measures, NDiaye’s novels explore unpleasant sensations in such an intricate and beautiful way that one cannot avert one’s gaze.

Yet there are many moments in which NDiaye’s characters experience pleasure – but these are often short-lived, deriving from questionable situations. The eponymous heroine of Rosie Carpe lives an awkward, miserable existence until, after her son is taken to hospital, she appears rejuvenated and empowered, blossoming ‘somewhat vampirically’ (Jordan 2017: 86). In Ladivine, the protagonist delights in the almost repulsive←107 | 108→ pleasure of drinking mango juice from a dirtied cup bought on the streets of an unnamed hot country she visits with her family. The moment offers uncomfortable relief to the reader, placed between panicked flashbacks...

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