Women and Writing in France, 1500-1800

150B :  Women in French Literature
Fall 2023
Class No: 31013
4104 Dwinelle Hall
Susan Maslan
11:00 AM - 12:29 PM

“Dans ses meubles, dût-elle en avoir l’ennui, / Il ne faut écritoire, encre, papier, ni plume./ Le mari doit dans les bonnes coutumes, écrire tout ce qui s’écrit chez lui.”  Molière, L’École des femmes 

This course will explore the relation between women and writing from the sixteenth through the end of the eighteenth centuries in France.  We will study women writers, but we will also explore discourses about women and writing.  We will read forms of writing traditionally associated with women—such as letter writing—that may not typically be included in the category of “writing” as well as novels, plays, and poems.  We will seek to understand what writing meant to women: how it helped them form their own identities, explore and construct the self, and to participate beyond the domestic sphere.  And we will study how the broader culture thought about women and writing: was writing transgressive or dangerous?  Was it ridiculous? Was it a mode of creating and affirming community? Why were women readers and writers sometimes depicted as either sexual predators or, equally dangerous, distinctly uninterested in men?  Recent critics have brought much early modern women’s writing back into the center of literary and scholarly discussion, but some scholars resist the notion that women made a significant contribution to the world of letters: one scholar has gone so far as to argue—ingeniously—that the great poet Louise Labé didn’t really exist.  She was, on this account, a mere “paper creature" invented by male poets!  In addition to these topics, we will explore the material life of writing: paper, ink, pens, envelopes, desks, etc.

REQUIRED TEXTS: Marguerite de Navarre, "L’Heptaméron"; Louise Labé, "Sonnets"; Lafayette, "La Princesse de Cleves"; Molière, "Les Femmes savantes"; Riccoboni, Charrière, Lettres de Mistress Henley; "Ernestine"; Laclos, "Les Liaisons dangereuses" (extrait); Stael, "De la litterature."