Women and nature in the works of French female novelists, 1789-1815
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On account of their supposed link to nature, women in post-revolutionary France were pigeonholed into a very restrictive sphere that centred around domesticity and submission to their male counterparts. Yet this thesis shows how a number of women writers – Cottin, Genlis, Krüdener, Souza and Staël – re-appropriate nature in order to reclaim the voice denied to them and to their sex by the society in which they lived. The five chapters of this thesis are structured to follow a number of critical junctures in the life of an adult woman: marriage, authorship, motherhood, madness and mortality. The opening sections to each chapter show why these areas of life generated particular problems for women at this time. Then, through in-depth analysis of primary texts, the chapters function in two ways. They examine how female novelists craft natural landscapes to expose and comment on the problems male-dominant society causes women to experience in France at this time. In addition, they show how female novelists employ descriptions of nature to highlight women’s responses to the pain and frustration that social issues provoke for them. Scholars have thus far overlooked the natural settings within the works of female novelists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Yet, a re-evaluation of these natural settings, as suggested by this thesis, brings a new dimension to our appreciation of the works of these women writers and of their position as critics of contemporary society. Ultimately, an escape into nature on the part of female protagonists in these novels becomes the means by which their creators confront the everyday reality faced by women in the turbulent socio-historical era which followed the Revolution.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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