Giada Alessandroni

Department: French
Discipline: Modern Languages

Project Summary

The Belle époque (1880-1914) was the theatre of significant changes in French women’s history.  The  rise  of  first-wave  feminism  and  the growing  public recognition  of  women’s claims  and  achievements, as well  as  the  slow  opening  up  of  new educational  and professional opportunities for women, figure among the main factors influencing women’s shifting perception of their possibilities and a new  sense of female identity, even if they did not  bring  about  any  radical  change in  their  social  and  political  conditions.  The femme moderne  is   often   the   protagonist   of   female-authored  novels  in   which ideas about womanhood  were  discussed,  reinforced,  or  challenged. While  the representation  of heterosexual  and  even  lesbian relationships  has  already  received  much  attention  in French scholarship,  my  thesis  focuses  on  the  way  female  homosocial interactions  were portrayed by rarely studied Belle  époque novelists such as Louise-Marie Compain, Daniel Lesueur,  Gabrielle  Reval,  or Colette  Yver.  The  discourse  on  normative  female  friendship conveyed  by  nineteenth-century  French  essays  and  conduct manuals  for  girls  suggests that female friendship, when its existence was not entirely denied, was supposed to play a secondary  role  in  a woman's  life  and  often  represented  a  source  of  concern. Novelistic representations  of  female  homosociality  (i.e.  friendship, solidarity,  and  rivalry  between women),  although  often  subordinated to  the  heterosexual  plot, offer  interesting  insights into  the  reality  of Belle  époque  women,  and  variously  support  or  question conventional ideals  of  femininity.  In particular,  they intersect  with the  popular and  scientific  discourses on the female body which, in this period, were central to the definition of womanhood, but also with issues concerning female education, professional career, and heterosexual love. My thesis offers a close reading of these novels and investigates the links between social and  literary  reality  in  order  to provide  a  better  understanding  of  female  experiences  and subjectivities in the Belle époque and, more generally, in French women's history.

Supervisory Team

Lead Supervisor: Dr Maria Scott

Second Supervisor: Dr Fiona Cox