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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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11 Filles de joie, filles sans voix: Representing the Vagabonde in French Legislation and Literature (Dúnlaith Bird)


Dúnlaith Bird

11 Filles de joie, filles sans voix: Representing the Vagabonde in French Legislation and Literature

At the end of the nineteenth century, according to Jean-François Wagniart, ‘la dégénérescence et la régression se traduisent par la prostitution chez la femme et par le vagabondage chez l’homme’ (1999: 40). For vagabondage theorists from Henri Bonne, to Alexandre Vexliard, to Wagniart, a woman who travels and talks freely must also be free with her sexual favours, an association derived in part from the conflation of vagabondes and prostitutes in French anti-vagabond legislation. The answer, for the legislators and the theorists, appears to be to control and silence this erring figure, whether through harsh punishment and lengthy prison terms, or through a systematic effacement from sociological accounts.

Vagabondage itself is a highly protean and peripatetic term, however. Unlike vagrants, alternately pitied and vilified for their extreme poverty, vagabonds were associated in the popular imagination with illicit pleasures and deliberate transgression of social norms, as depicted in Maupassant’s La Vie errante (1890). Women writers at the turn of the century including Rachilde (1860–1953), Colette (1873–1954) and Isabelle Eberhardt (1877–1904) attempt to give voice to the sensual pleasures of the vagabonde, what Eberhardt refers to as ‘la volupté profonde de la vie errante’ (1903: 126). Colette’s La Vagabonde (1910) is an open vindication of this figure of female transgression, as indicated both by the choice of title and the...

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