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Eirini Rizaki

Norms for a “female writing” in the Greek 19th century

Abstract (conference will be given in French; French abstract below):

In the course of the 19th century, women’s presence in the world of letters goes through various and significant changes. The distance covered between the first few women of letters at the beginning of the century and the rather numerous instances of feminine literary expression in its last decades is clearly great. This distance is closely related with the transformations of Greek society at a more general level, with the development and taking shape of the literary field as such, with the women’s movement, which put emphasis on women’s literary and public expression, and last but not least with the development of women’s education as a prerequisite for their participation in the world of letters. [See Eléni Varikas, La révolte des Dames. Genèse d’une conscience féministe dans la Grèce du XIXe siècle (1833-1908), Thèse de doctorat, Université Paris VII, 1986.]

We are now at the end of the 19th century. Along with the more active participation of women in the world of letters, fears, prejudices, collective obsessions concerning their relation to literature and writing seem to appear. Thus, women of letters are constituted into a special category, one different from that of their male colleagues, while at the same time they are also constituted into a special category, if not a separate species, within their own sex. [See Christine Planté, La petite sœur de Balzac. Essai sur la femme auteur, Paris, Seuil 1989.] This specific presence of women in the world of letters is accurately reflected in language too, as denoted by the then characteristic term “graphousai” (literally: “women who write”).

The passionate reactions, the antagonisms, the various issues raised by the literary world of men but also those raised by the women writers themselves regarding their relation to writing and literature, are all spelt out with clarity at the turn of the century, in the debate between Emmanu?l Roïd?s, distinguished critic and writer, and Kallirro? Parren, translator, writer, feminist leader and publisher of the Ladies’ Journal. “The women who write we do love” Roïd?s emphatically declared in the opening phrase of the article that set off the debate, “on the condition that they do not cross-dress as men, content solely with the gifts of their sex, fine manners, grace, love of the beautiful, sensitivity, or even cunningness”.

Of the Greek women writers as a whole, Roïd?s singles out Arsino? Papadopoulou, a writer of children’s literature in which he discovers unexpectedly the expression of ‘feminine’ literary virtues in her collection of short stories, Ath?naïka Anthyllia [Little Flowers of Athens] (1895).

Sticking to the protagonists of the debate, Roïd?s and Parren, what we see in abundance in their texts are comparative references to distinguished female but also male authors drawn by both from European literature. Evaluating the work of Greek women writers, Roïd?s juxtaposes the exemplary cases of European women writers and the abhorrent work of other “viragos”, which is to be avoided. On the other side, Parren claims women’s right to participate in universal literature by appealing to the examples of distinguished European women writers. She makes sure, however, to dissociate from the stereotype of the “European woman of letters” and looks for an ideological model of the woman writer with national – hence more readily acceptable - characteristics. “The true praise that could be made in favour and honour of the Greek women who write”, notes Parren in her response to Roïd?s, “is the fact that they did not abase themselves to the point of ridicule reached by their predecessors in foreign countries; on the contrary, they managed to combine the virtues of the good housewife, spouse, mother and ‘woman-of-the-world’ who loves the beautiful, with those of the woman who cultivates letters and good taste and through the latter pursues progress”. [See Angelika Psarra, «‘Few women have a history’: Callirhoe Parren and the beginings of women’s History in Greece», Gender and History 18/2 (2006), pp. 400-411; eadem, «A gift from the New World : Greek feminists between East and West (1880-1930)», in A. Frangoudaki / C. Keyder (eds), Ways to Modernity in Greece and Turkey. Encounters with Europe, 1850-1950, London / New York 2007, pp. 150-175.]


Emmanou?l Roïd?s, écrivain et critique célèbre à son époque, publie en 1896 un article qui suscite tout un débat sur la relation des femmes avec l’écriture. « Nous aimons les écrivantes », souligne-t-il, « à la condition qu’elles ne se travestissent pas en homme, se contentant des qualités de leur sexe, la finesse, la grâce, le bon goût, la sensibilité ou la ruse […]». Parmi toutes les «écrivantes» grecques, Emm. Roïd?s, en élit une seule, Arsino? Papadopoulou, dont le recueil de nouvelles, «œuvre », d’après lui, « exceptionnellement féminine puisse ressembler à une broderie de fleurs vives et colorées sur un tissu noir de deuil ». A la polémique qui suit vont s’engager Kallirro? Parren, directrice de Eph?meris t?n Kyri?n (= Journal des Dames), des « écrivantes », des écrivains et des critiques littéraires.

Les références dans les textes publiés de la querelle à des auteurs – hommes aussi bien femmes de lettres européennes – suggèrent, croyons-nous, une approche comparative pour l’étude de la question de « l’écriture féminine ». De plus, il faut se demander si ce débat grec sur la réception des œuvres de femmes constitue un exemple comparable à ce qui se passe dans d’autres littératures européennes du 19e siècle?

AsK, September 2012

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