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Title: Amongst women : literary representations of female homosociality in Belle Epoque France, 1880-1914
Author: Alessandroni, G.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7654 6405
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis explores fictional representations of female homosociality in a group of female-authored, middlebrow novels published in France between 1880 and 1914 in order to include women's writing of the Belle Epoque within the narratives of the literary and cultural history of friendship and further our understanding of gender identities in the long nineteenth-century. Novelistic portrayals of female homosociality are compared to the models of female bonding described in didactic or orthodox literature of the time so as to highlight the various innovations made, in relation to this theme, by the texts under consideration. Using the novel as a forum in which ideas about women's identities and their relationships could be reflected upon and negotiated, some Belle Epoque female authors engage with the limitations and possibilities of female relationships in fiction as a way to participate in contemporary debates about modern and traditional womanhood. In particular, the representation of female homosociality constitutes 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, giving shape to women's experience of modernity. The Introduction briefly traces the history of female friendship in France, before considering the ambiguous notion of romantic friendship and discussing predominant models of female interaction as outlined in nineteenth-century didactic literature. It explains why the Belle Epoque constitutes an interesting time from the point of view of female homosociality, establishes relevant scholarship, and details the methodological premises upon which this research is based. Chapter One considers the different roles played by physical intimacy between fictional female friends in two romans de mœurs by Daniel Lesueur, and situates these roles within the context of the medical and social discourses on the female body that dominate the turn of the century, and that determine the types of female identity available to women at that time. Chapter Two examines three female Bildungsromans by Gabrielle Réval, Colette Yver, and Marcelle Tinayre in order to identify different models of female mentorship through which the tensions between biological and spiritual motherhood, love and friendship, marriage and career, conventional and progressive femininity are played out. Chapter Three focuses on the portrayal of female communities in schoolgirl fiction by Yvette Prost and Gabrielle Réval, highlighting how the characters' experience of intellectual rivalry and intellectual friendship within the fictionalized world of the Third Republican school subverts dominant notions about presumed female nature and sociability. Chapter Four investigates female-based love triangles in three novels by Yvette Prost, Daniel Lesueur, and Colette Yver. By redefining the figure of the Other Woman and by establishing a feminine economy of generosity based on sacrifice and on the exchange of men, these texts posit women as the guarantors of the family and the moral health of the nation in the context of French degeneration, simultaneously upsetting negative stereotypes about female jealousy and sexual rivalry. The Conclusion offers an overview of the findings of this thesis, before pointing toward further avenues for research.
Supervisor: Scott, M. ; Cox, F. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Homosociality ; Friendship ; Belle Epoque ; Female Literature ; French Literature