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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 5 On England: Between Nationhood and Cosmopolitanism

Extract

The concepts of nationhood and cosmopolitanism are often considered as antonyms: the study of individual nations supposes the diametrically opposite aim of drawing an interconnected, global history. Attempts to reconcile these seemingly opposing ideas form a constitutive tension within the Romantic movement in France: between addressing the nation as a concept and the human universality of being; between the development of national specificity and the attachments that bind people to a nation, and the cosmopolitan insight that this period’s particularly mobile writers gained through travel or exile; between the sorrows caused by a loss of a national père and an imposition of patrie, and the advantages of self-determination and freedom of thought. This chapter takes England as its object of study to assess how Staël and Duras engage with the concept of the nation, the limitations it imposes, the differences it supposes, and its relationship to the individual. Unlike many continental European countries, England’s marine limits created an indisputable external border and the country had achieved a sense of internal cohesion, or a nationess, by the nineteenth century.1 Nevertheless, Staël and Duras write the nation, write England, in a way that reveals its continual negotiation of the imperfections of nationhood and its inherent cosmopolitanism. Indeed, their employment of the term Angleterre to refer to the whole of Britain and its constituent parts suggests an internal plurality.

England, as the examples of English poetry and marriages have shown, was a malleable site onto which Staël...

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