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Lieselotte Steinbrügge and Hendrik Schlieper

Topoi in literary historiography: 17th-century women writers and the genesis of the canon in 19th-century France


Our project focuses French 17th-century women writers: Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette and Madame de Villedieu among many others - see the 112 women writers mentioned in the database, who lived in 1661, when Louis XIV commenced his personal reign. Their reception by the "founding fathers" of French literary historiography in the 19th century (Sainte-Beuve, Gustave Lanson and others) will be in particular studied.

These literary historians have recourse to a specific repertoire of "topoi" – adjectives, attributives and epithets – describing women writers and their texts. We would like to demonstrate, firstly, how a general – and often negative – image of women’s writing is sketched by these topoi and how, secondly, these topoi can be related to the (de)canonization of certain authors. Thirdly, we will contrast topoi used by male literary historians to those used by women writers themselves in (autograph) peritexts: aiming at justifying their writing activity and at pre-shaping the reception of their texts, these peritexts draw images that often differ completely from those sketched and repeated ad nauseam by traditional literary criticism.

AsK, September 2012

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