Literary Representations of Female Homosociality in Belle Epoque France, 1880–1914
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.
Chapter 2 The English Malady: Towards a Transnational mal du siècle
The mal du siècle has a paradoxical quality: the condition’s symptoms of individual alienation and melancholia conflict with its roots in a century-long collective experience of loss. Whilst the coining of the phrase is attributed to Musset’s La Confession d’un enfant du siècle (1836), it is often applied by modern critics to ‘indicate the misery and anguish of several generations – at the least, those of Chateaubriand, of Musset, of Baudelaire’.1 The French Revolution set in motion an ever-compounding series of losses on an individual and a national scale as France hurtled towards modernity throughout the tumultuous nineteenth century. The deeply personal losses of family members, ancestral lands and social status combined with frequent and disorientating regime changes following the beheading of the king. This severing of the self from fixity, certainty and belonging incited a Romantic struggle to understand one’s place in the world, to comprehend the perplexing interplay between past and present, self and other, individuality and collectivity. Despite the far-reaching and multi-faceted nature of loss in this period, the mal du siècle has almost invariably been gendered as masculine; with its Revolutionary roots, it is usually understood through a singularly French prism. This chapter renders the condition as inclusive of women by highlighting its historic connections to England and presenting its emergence as part of the transnational psychological experience of modernity.
Whilst many narratives concerning the nineteenth century emphasize civil and technological advancements, there exists an equally significant ←57 | 58→undercurrent of individual...
You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.
This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.
Do you have any questions? Contact us.Or login to access all content.