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Maid and Mistress

Feminine Solidarity and Class Difference in Five Nineteenth-Century French Texts


Susan Yates

This interdisciplinary study, which combines the sociohistorical approach with insights from feminist literary criticism, sheds new light on male bourgeois mythologies in nineteenth-century French society. Drawing on texts by Balzac, Flaubert, Maupassant, Zola, and the Goncourt brothers, the author examines contemporary constructions of women as reflected in the portrayal of the humble «bonne à tout faire», from Père Grandet's «pearl» of a servant, Grande Nanon, to the «sluts» of Zola's Pot-Bouille. The book concludes with an analysis of relations between maid and mistress, shown as governed sometimes by the laws of class difference, but also, in several of these texts, by a profoundly felt feminine complicity.