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Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis: La Femme auteur

In La Femme auteur (1825 ?), a mixture of moral tale and sentimental plot, Madame de Genlis discusses the problematic identity of the woman writer. She underscores with what catastrophic consequences a woman who writes takes the step to publish and thus becomes an author. As it denounces the merciless war waged on the woman author by men, the tale also is an indictment of her difficult condition. I will argue that while this text must be read as a warning to women who consider a literary career, we should not look only at its explicit moral message. Rather, we should also analyse the literary strategies Genlis deploys in the tale, and ask to what extent her mixing of autobiography and fiction, her use of the motif of the double, and the possible intertextual relations with Madame de La Fayette’s Princesse de Clèves (to be discussed) help her negotiate the contradictory status of the woman writer to construct her own authorship.

To help situate Genlis’ authorship, I will raise the question of how she negotiates the changing status of the woman author after the Revolution. I will also point out that other fictions have been written before and after Genlis on the figure of the “femme auteur”; while locating these texts would be necessary to a full analysis of what she achieves in her tale, I will provisionally underscore how her version of the “femme auteur” both prefigures and resists the 19th century type of the woman author described by Christine Planté in La petite soeur de Balzac.

Agnese Fidecaro, November 2007

  • The writing side > “What is a female author?” > Genlis

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