Damned Women

Damned Women: Lesbians in French Novel

Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    Damned Women
    Book Description:

    While homosexual men are legion in the history of French literature and criticism, until now no critic writing in French or English has given the same sort of attention to lesbians. Waelti-Walters covers two hundred years of fiction, beginning with the publication of Diderot's The Nun in 1796 and ending with present-day lesbian writers Jocelyne François, Mireille Best, Hélène de Monferrand, and the authors connected to Geneviève Pastre's lesbian publishing house. While she deals with renowned authors such as Violette Leduc and Monique Wittig, including their respective literary and personal relationships with Simone de Beauvoir and Hélène Cixous, many of the writers discussed will be unknown to most readers. Their novels vary from the extraordinarily powerful to the utterly trite; by providing the first comprehensive guide to this body of work Waelti-Walters sheds light on French literary and cultural history.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6857-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A Note on Translations and Sources
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    Two hundred years ago, in 1796, Diderot’sLa Religieuse(The Nun) was published and for the first time a lesbian entered a modern French novel. Three variants on the character of the lesbian emerged by 1835 – created by Diderot, Balzac, and Gautier – and for the rest of the nineteenth century a variety of male authors exploited the existing prototypes in a variety of ways. Literary lesbians remained products of the male imagination, subject to the male gaze and presented as obstacles to male desire. They were of interest in male terms only as anomalies within a patriarchal hierarchy. Note that...

  6. PART ONE: THE MALE GAZE, 1796–1929
    • CHAPTER ONE Damned Women: The Prototypes
      (pp. 11-48)

      Written prior to the French Revolution and published after it, Denis Diderot’sLa Religieuse(The Nun) stands on the cusp between two worlds.¹ Before it came theromans à thèseof the eighteenth century, after it developed the nineteenth-century bourgeois novels of increasing social realism; before it, the struggles between churchmen and anti-clerical, atheistic philosophers over moral choice, afterwards the increasing development of psychology and the transformation of the discourse of sin into that of pathology. Before it, “Oriental” novels and convent novels had lesbian episodes incidental to the overriding heterosexual eroticism and choice of sexual partner depended on circumstance...

    • CHAPTER TWO Contrasting Attitudes: Male and Female Writers
      (pp. 49-94)

      For a variety of reasons archetypal and material, the lesbian became the focus of male sexual fear in the 1890s. These reasons concern power – power embedded in concepts of sexual difference, mental competence, gender roles, and politics, all of which underwent change throughout the nineteenth century in the Western world.

      The conditions of women in France differed from those of the Anglo–American world at least in four respects: economic, legal, social, and cultural. Women in France were economically disadvantaged, and those who did not have private fortunes could not earn enough to live alone. The legal system discriminated against...

    • CHAPTER THREE Constrained Desire
      (pp. 97-126)

      In 1929 the writing of lesbian novels shifted abruptly from male to female authors, the only exceptions being André Gide’sGeneviève(1937), a sensitive exploration of adolescent attraction of one young woman for another, and Philippe Sollers’sUne Étrange Solitude(A Strange Solitude, 1958), where the egocentric narrator begins by telling the reader that he has been abandoned by a lesbian girlfriend whose lesbianism is never of account again. These two, like the majority of male authors before them,. used lesbian characters for the most part in novels of exploration of the male ego, and the male–female–lesbian triangulation...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Contrasting Generations: Leduc and Beauvoir, Wittig and Cixous
      (pp. 127-148)

      The authors discussed in this chapter are writers of greater sophistication and skill, in purely literary terms, than any of the women presented to date, except Colette. As a result, my analysis of their novels is more developed. The comparisons that I make situate the texts within the literary history of the French novel, as well as within the history of lesbian issues in French. The two lines of development intersect a little more frequently as time goes on, but really good writers, male or female, are always rare. In fact, the generation born early in the century was remarkable,...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Exploring Lesbian Identity
      (pp. 151-186)

      With the 1970s comes a new freedom to name and discuss homosexuality and homophobia. This freedom is apparent throughout much of the Western world as a result of the social upheavals, student uprisings, and the like in and around 1968. In Quebec and in anglophone North America (to write only of the literatures with which I am familiar) lesbian writing became more and more frequently feminist. Indeed much of the radical social analysis of the contemporary period (sex and gender studies, gay rights, theory/fiction ... ) is at least partially rooted in the lesbian writing of early second-wave feminism – Bersianik,...

    • CHAPTER SIX Contrasting Perspectives: François, Best, and Monferrand
      (pp. 187-210)

      Three writers stand out currently, for their sustained attention to the depiction of lesbians in the world and for the quality of that attention. Their lesbian characters are first and always complex, interesting human beings, living out their joys and pain in a real world. Here are no stereotypes, no traditional monsters, but no revolutionary feminists and not much social analysis either. The characters are clear-sighted, and their circumstances are drawn with explicit or implicit awareness of social and cultural homophobia and its consequences. There the similarities between the novels of Jocelyne François, Mireille Best, and Hélène de Monferrand come...

  9. CHAPTER SEVEN Conclusion
    (pp. 211-216)

    Two hundred years of lesbians in French novels, yet the path that they have traced has remained almost invisible. To this day the ones who do exist in the cultural imagination are “la fille aux yeux d’or” of Balzac and Gautier’s Madelaine de Maupin, both from the mid-1830s, made memorable not by their stories, which remain unread by most people, but by Baudelaire’s 1857 categorization of lesbians as women damned. There are a number of reasons for this situation, I think, all of them woven into the fabric of French culture and society.

    As I have written above, French society...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 217-224)
  11. Appendix: French Quotations
    (pp. 225-252)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-266)
  13. Index
    (pp. 267-270)