Reading and writing women : representing the femme de lettres in Stendhal, Balzac, Girardin and Sand
This dissertation explores the numerous literary representations of the femme de lettres during the first half of the nineteenth century in order to illustrate the complexities of women’s entrance into the male-dominated domain of literature and also to suggest the impact these fictional characters might have had on the reception of actual women writers as well as their omission from the century’s literary canon. The works that will be included in this analysis include: Mme de Staël’s Corinne, ou l’Italie, Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le noir, Honoré de Balzac’s Béatrix, La Muse du département and Illusions perdues, Delphine de Girardin’s La Canne de M. de Balzac, Napoline and La joie fait peur and George Sand’s Histoire de ma vie, Lettres d’un voyageur and Un Hiver à Majorque. In compiling such diverse works of literature, it becomes clear that both male and female authors from the early nineteenth century were unable to envision a publicly embraced female genius. Although almost all of the fictional femmes de lettres in this study faced a destiny of professional silence, the reasons given for their failures are split between the male and female authors. For the male authors, the woman as a successful intellectual, artist or author was ultimately impossible because of her inability to combine her female body and psyche with the “masculine” pursuit of knowledge. Conversely, the female authors wrote characters whose inability to fully embrace a public literary or artistic career stemmed from society’s unwillingness to tolerate her exceptionality rather than from an inherent disconnect between genius and the female sex.