Aaron Freundschuh, Jonah D. Levy, Patricia Lorcin, Alexis Spire, Steven Zdatny, Caroline Ford, Minayo Nasiali, George Ross, William Poulin-Deltour, and Kathryn Kleppinger
Colette and the French Singularity
This article argues that French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette occupies a central position in the canon of French women's writing, and that from this position her reception was deeply influential in the development of the myth of French singularity. After World War I, a style of femininity associated with Colette (natural, instinctive, antirational) became more largely synonymous with good French women's writing, and writers who did not correspond to the “genre Colette” were excluded from narratives of the history of French women's writing. Characteristics associated with Colette's writing did not shift drastically before and after the war, but, in the wake of the Great War, these characteristics were nationalized and became French.
This article examines Arvède Barine's extensive and popular published output from the 1880s to 1908, along with an extraordinary cache of letters addressed to Barine and held in the Manuscript Department of the National Library of France. It asserts that in the process of criticizing contemporary feminist activists and celebrating the achievements of women, especially French women, in history, she constructed the historical and cultural distinctiveness of French women as an ideal blend of femininity, accomplishment, and independence. This notion of the French singularity, indeed the superiority of French women, resolved the contradiction between her condemnation of feminism as a transformation of gender relations and her support for causes and reforms that enabled women to lead intellectually and emotionally fulfilling lives. Barine's work offers another example of the varied ways that women in Third Republic France engaged with public debates about women and gender.
The Medieval and Early Modern Origins
The popular narrative that the French relationship between the sexes is more emotionally rewarding than its American counterpart has entered into scholarly discourse over the past decades. Promoted by several well-known French feminist scholars, the narrative locates the particularity of the French relationship in its paradoxical structure: women are both equal and not equal to men. Sexual difference lies in the particular, which is subordinate to the universal value of equality. The narrative was most recently revived in the anti-#MeToo manifesto published in Le Monde in January 2018. This article surveys the narrative's history, beginning with French feudal law and tracing it through some of its later iterations to highlight how it has long offered French women a way of performing femininity while exercising power. The emotional investment in this narrative explains why it continues to be accepted among at least some French intellectuals, whereas it is generally rejected by American feminists.
The relationship of the French king and royal mistress, complementary but unequal, embodied the Gallic singularity; the royal mistress exercised a civilizing manner and the soft power of women on the king's behalf. However, both her contemporaries and nineteenth- and early twentieth-century historians were uncomfortable with the mistress's political power. Furthermore, paradoxical attitudes about French womanhood have led to analyses of her role that are often contradictory. Royal mistresses have simultaneously been celebrated for their civilizing effect in the realm of culture, chided for their frivolous expenditures on clothing and jewelry, and excoriated for their dangerous meddling in politics. Their increasing visibility in the political realm by the eighteenth century led many to blame Louis XV's mistresses—along with Queen Marie-Antoinette, who exercised a similar influence over her husband, Louis XVI—for the degradation and eventual fall of the monarchy. This article reexamines the historiography of the royal mistress.
Alexis de Tocqueville's Comparative Views on Women and Marriage in France and the United States
Jean Elisabeth Pedersen
This article offers a new way of understanding Alexis de Tocqueville's complex position as a French observer who studied the United States, an ambivalent aristocratic cultural commentator who put his hopes for the future in democratic society, and a paradoxical figure in the history of debates over the so-called “Gallic singularity” who ultimately argued that the new American sex/gender system could provide a better model for women in a democracy than the traditional French one. The introduction and first section highlight Tocqueville's changing attitudes toward what he saw as the key contrasts between European marriages and American marriages by comparing his initial letters home from the United States with his eventual work in Democracy in America. The second section compares his views of French and American women with those of his contemporaries Germaine de Staël and Gustave de Beaumont. The third section explains his changing views by establishing the connections between his comparative arguments about women and marriage and his comparative arguments about democracy itself.
Historicizing the Gallic Singularity
Jean Elisabeth Pedersen
This article, the introduction to the special issue “Representations of Women in the French Imaginary: Historicizing the Gallic Singularity,” frames the work of contributors Tracy Adams, Christine Adams, Jean Elisabeth Pedersen, Whitney Walton, and Kathleen Antonioli by analyzing two especially important contemporary debates about French sexual politics, one popular and one academic: (1) the international controversy over Catherine Deneuve's decision to sign a French manifesto against the American #MeToo movement in Le Monde; and (2) the mixed French and American response to the work of Mona Ozouf in Les mots des femmes: Essai sur la singularité française. The five articles in the special issue itself bring new breadth and depth to the study of these and related debates by exploring a range of different French representations of women in a series of key texts, topics, and historical episodes from the rise of the Middle Ages to the aftermath of World War I.
Cultural anthropology in France continues to bear the influence of a colonial-era distinction between “modern” societies with a high degree of social differentiation (and marked by rapid social change) and ostensibly socially homogeneous and change-resistant “traditional” ones. The history of key institutions (museums and research institutes) bears witness to this, as does recent scholarship centered on “the contemporary” that reworks earlier models and concepts and applies them to a world increasingly marked by transnational circulation and globalization. Anthropology at the Crossroads describes the evolution of a national tradition of scholarship, changes to its institutional status, and the models, concepts, and critical perspectives of anthropologists currently revisiting and reworking the foundations of the discipline in France.
Naomi J. Andrews, Simon Jackson, Jessica Wardhaugh, Shannon Fogg, Jessica Lynne Pearson, Elizabeth Campbell, Laura Levine Frader, Joshua Cole, Elizabeth A. Foster, and Owen White
Silyane Larcher, L'Autre Citoyen: L'idéal républicain et les Antilles après l'esclavage (Paris: Armand Colin, 2014).
Elizabeth Heath, Wine, Sugar, and the Making of Modern France: Global Economic Crisis and the Racialization of French Citizenship, 1870–1910 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
Rebecca Scales, Radio and the Politics of Sound in Interwar France, 1921–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).
Claire Zalc, Dénaturalisés: Les retraits de nationalité sous Vichy (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2016).
Bertram M. Gordon, War Tourism: Second World War France from Defeat and Occupation to the Creation of Heritage (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2018).
Shannon L. Fogg, Stealing Home: Looting, Restitution, and Reconstructing Jewish Lives in France, 1942–1947 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
Sarah Fishman, From Vichy to the Sexual Revolution: Gender and Family Life in Postwar France (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).
Frederick Cooper, Citizenship between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa, 1945–1960 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).
Jessica Lynne Pearson, The Colonial Politics of Global Health: France and the United Nations in Postwar Africa (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018).
Darcie Fontaine, Decolonizing Christianity: Religion and the End of Empire in France and Algeria (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016).
Remembering the PCF and the CGT
Philippe Herzog and Jean-Louis Moynot were members of the top leaderships of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) and the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), respectively. Each participated in and lived through the dramatic years from the 1960s through the 1980s when both organizations first supported Union de la Gauche and then turned away from it, eventually precipitating both into decline in ways that would transform eventually the French political and trade union left. The strategic shifts underlying these deep and significant changes were traumatic for those who lived through them. Herzog and Moynot have recently published memoirs detailing their experiences of this period and their political lives thereafter. Both books, in different ways, give us new and important understandings of what happened during a critical moment of change in French politics.