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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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12 Renée Vivien, frondeuse: A Woman Taking Pleasure in Behaving Badly (Melanie Hawthorne)


Melanie Hawthorne

12 Renée Vivien, frondeuse: A Woman Taking Pleasure in Behaving Badly

The Belle Epoque Anglo-French writer Renée Vivien (born Pauline Tarn) behaved badly quite often, quite memorably and in quite a few different ways. One of her many bad habits was that she drank too much. A secret drinker, she would slip out of the room on the pretext that she had to tell her maid something, but in fact to have another swig of whatever concoction it was in the glass the maid hid under her skirt as she sat mending or sewing in the next room. This is how Colette tells it, at least, and she adds that Vivien was famous for her cocktails, mixed drinks that the Burgundian Colette, a serious wine drinker, found ‘pas buvable’ (1991: 600). And the cocktails were indeed part poison, since alcoholism was one of the causes that contributed to Vivien’s early death in 1909 at age thirty-two, a morbid tendency compounded by anorexia, since she lived on pretty much a liquid diet.

This chapter will first address the role of Vivien’s addiction to alcohol in the context of late nineteenth-and early twentieth-century France, its role in her artistic production and her transgressive lifestyle. Focusing on her poetic creativity, in particular the evolution and personal implications of her poem L’Aurore triste, it will then chart her relationship with the turn-of-the-century feminist newspaper, La Fronde. Finally it will address La Fronde’s influence on...

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