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Amongst Women

Literary Representations of Female Homosociality in Belle Epoque France, 1880–1914


Giada Alessandroni

Second fiddle to love, fleeting and inauthentic, a disguise for sexual rivalry, a practice to be policed or, at most, a social mechanism aptly reinforcing traditional gender norms, female friendship did not always have a good reputation in canonical and didactic literature from nineteenth-century France. But how did French women imagine and represent their relationships in fiction, and to what ends?

Situated at the intersection of feminist cultural history and Belle Epoque literary studies, this book explores fictional representations of female homosociality in novels by Daniel Lesueur, Gabrielle Réval, Marcelle Tynaire, and Yver Prost, among others, including women’s writing of the Belle Epoque within the narratives of the literary and cultural history of friendship in the long nineteenth century.

Playing with the tension between traditional and modern womanhood and intersecting with topics as diverse as the female body, work, education, marriage, heterosexual love, and the moral regeneration of the French nation, the representation of female homosociality constitutes, in these texts, one of the literary devices through which the figure of the femme moderne comes into being on paper and reflects the authors’ engagement with a form of female modernism that problematizes the dichotomy between «high» and «popular» literature, helping to give shape to women’s experience of modernity.

This book was the joint winner of the 2019 Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition in Nineteenth-Century French Studies.

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This book and the doctoral thesis on which it is based were written on trains travelling between Oxford and Bristol (and on the station platform at Didcot Parkway en route), on planes bookending weekends away, and buses commuting to London during a stint of teaching. Parts of the book have been presented in Gettysburg and Coventry, Paris and Sheffield, Berlin and Bristol. Much like the two women upon which it centres, it is a piece of work that has travelled. Much like the ideas of these two women, it has been developed and enriched in conversation with others.

Completing a monograph without institutional support poses certain challenges, and I am especially grateful to the friends and mentors who read through my proposal, commented on sections, and gave me advice. In particular, I would like to thank my PhD supervisor Bradley Stephens who supported the project from the beginning. Stimulating conversations with and friendly support from Clare Siviter, Christie Margrave, Jennifer Rushworth, and Kate Astbury have been of immense value. I’m also very appreciative that Tom Harding and Katja Wiech allowed me to work flexibly whilst I completed the manuscript. Finally, I must mention the unwavering companionship and encouragement of Johnny McFadyen, who patiently read through, corrected, and offered feedback on this material in its various guises over the years.

S.A. Rheinsberg, November 2018

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