Poignant Relations: Three Modern French Women
"To what extent are autobiography, memoir, diary, travelogue, correspondence, prose fiction, literary criticism, journalistic polemic, and scientific research expressions of a female self? How does the more or less explicit narrative in each one of these genres define women's personal identity, conscious agency, and discursive resistance?" -- from the Introduction
To trace the origins of feminist consciousness in France, James Smith Allen explores the lives and words of three nineteenth-century women: Marie-Sophie Leroyer, Genevive Brton-Vaudoyer, and Cline Renooz-Muro. Though not identifying themselves with any specific group of feminists--indeed, even rejecting the label "feminist"--these women wrote extensively about important feminist issues: marriage, sexuality, education, religion, and politics. Theirs was a discreet, relational feminism that they expressed by considering their relationships to themselves and to others. Because they were less political (and thus less well known) than other feminists, these three women have been neglected by historians and literary theorists. But they are thus more representative of a generation of women who often wrote about, but did not necessarily act on, their independent ideas. For them, writing was transgression enough.
Allen has chosen three fascinating subjects to examine. Marie-Sophie Leroyer, a novelist and literary critic, actively corresponded with George Sand and Gustave Flaubert. The descendant of an aristocratic family, she inherited enough property to allow herself to devote her life to writing: in her novels and letters we encounter narratives of personal sacrifice, and learn of a life filled with emotional and spiritualpain. Genevive Brton-Vaudoyer, most well known as the mother and mentor of author Jean-Louis Vaudoyer, wrote extensive and revealing diaries that helped her cope with personal tragedies--the death of loved ones in war, her relationship with a difficult husband. Her writing was an emotional necessity, a kind of "prison," as she often called it. And Cline Renooz-Muro, a scientist, historian, and journalist, published over a dozen books and founded the Socit Nosophique. By examining the writings of these three figures, including many unpublished diaries, letters, and memorabilia, Allen documents the deliberate efforts of modern French women to construct a stable, reliable, discursive self. A bold experiment in empathetic biography, Poignant Relations: Three Modern French Women will appeal to readers interested in history, literary theory, and women's studies.
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