The chapters in this book were first presented at the Women in French Biennial Conference held in Leeds in May 2004. The twelve essays explore the multifaceted commodification of the female body and provide insights into the mutations of French society and culture. British and French scholars examine the paradoxes and contradictions embodied in various images and discourses related to health and illness from different perspectives, ranging from sociological studies to analyses of working diaries, children’s medical encyclopaedias and literary texts.
The ‘resilient female body’ as epitomised by the First World War nurse tends by the end of the twentieth century to be construed as the ‘sanitised female body’, subjected to mind/body dualities largely controlled by the medical professions. Thus, maternity and related issues such as birth and contraceptive technologies figure as major themes with contributors revealing unresolved ambivalences. Other chapters focus on how women’s economic activity can affect their individual health and, potentially, that of others. A further prominent theme shows how, for contemporary women writers, serious illnesses such as cancer and madness in women can be seen as rich metaphors for the ills of a male-dominated society. Duras’s alcoholism and Aragon’s portrayals of prostitution are also discussed.