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Amongst Women

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

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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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Chapter 3 Patrie and père: Shaping Masculinity

Extract

The previous chapter challenged the gendering of the mal du siècle as a masculine phenomenon, primarily through association with England, and broadened its application to a larger spectrum of individuals. This perspective, however, does not diminish the very real social and personal consequences of fixed notions of gender difference in early nineteenth-century France. Studying masculinity in this present chapter shows that Staël and Duras were subtle analysts of how the representational workings of gender in society after 1789 specifically affected men and reveals its impact on their relationships with women and their families. In Staël’s and Duras’s narratives, men play pivotal roles in relating the melancholic self: Staël’s novel about feminine genius, Corinne, begins, follows and ends with the heroine’s love interest, Oswald; whilst Duras portrays two eponymous male protagonists in Édouard and Olivier. To subvert the power of gender representation, I argue that Staël and Duras highlight a central conflict within post-Revolutionary masculine ideals, between the soldier fighting for the fatherland and the father’s reproductive contribution to building the nation. In their texts, masculine identity is shown to be inherently fluid, historically changing and inextricably tied to the family unit. The conflicting models of past and present manhood and patriarchal authority are played out through individual narratives to depict multifaceted links between the self and the nation.

The Revolution marks a pivotal moment where the tripartite relationship between gender, nationhood and representation shifts. Until 1789, the king, as the unifying national father,...

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