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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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Introduction The Romantic Novel in France

The Nineteenth-Century Novel: Reading Gender and Genre



The Romantic Novel in France

In Mémoires d’outre-tombe (1849), François-René de Chateaubriand, the grandfather of French Romanticism, described his chère sœur and devoted friend Claire de Duras as ‘[une] personne si généreuse, d’une âme si noble, d’un esprit qui réunissait quelque chose de la force de la pensée de madame de Staël à la grâce du talent de madame de La Fayette’ [such a generous person with a noble soul and a spirit that united something of the intellectual magnitude of Madame de Staël with the elegant talent of Madame de Lafayette].1 By comparing Duras to French Romanticism’s other founding thinker, Germaine de Staël, and the author of one of the first European novels, Marie-Madeline de Lafayette, Chateaubriand inscribes the author into two traditions that underpin nineteenth-century literary history in France, two traditions that tend to be dominated by male writers within existing scholarship. Despite the recent ‘Ourika mania’ of teaching Duras’s 1823 text as part of university syllabi in the United States and beyond, the author’s critical reputation does not extend to the heights of Chateaubriand’s appraisal.2 Similarly, whilst Duras’s contemporary and friend Staël is, of course, recognized as a key proponent of European Romanticism, her work does not receive the same level of scholarly attention ←1 | 2→within the French tradition as later (male) canonical writers, particularly among dix-neuvièmistes.

Taking Staël’s and Duras’s hitherto unexplored intertextual...

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