- Accursed Politics: Some French Women Writers and Political Life, 1715–1850
Claire d'Orbe's letter to Julie de Wolmar in Rousseau's Julie; ou, la Nouvelle Héloïse, and the character's reflections on 'cette maudite politique', provide Renee Winegarten with a way in to her consideration of women writers: 'Claire's evasiveness in claiming that she will not talk about the subject of politics while actually talking about it […] is a strategy that women, and notably women writers, will often employ with varying degrees of subtlety' (pp. 4–5). A fascinating opening discussion examines the role of women in the period, asserting that as far as the field of literature and journalism was concerned 'there was no avoiding the creatures' (p.16). However, the Prologue concludes by telling us that we will find in the remainder of the work 'no preoccupation with the vexed question of whether women exerted too much or too little influence, and no preconceived agenda of political feminism, political ideology, or literary theory' (p. 23). What follows, then, is essentially six mini-biographies of prominent women writers and thinkers of the age. Chapter One examines the life of Alexandrine de Tencin, concentrating on her role as a salonnière. The second chapter, 'The Making of a Revolutionary', introduces the reader to Manon Roland, 'more than a secretary' (p. 92) to her Girondin husband. Claire de Duras is the subject of the third chapter, 'Dilemmas of a Liberal Royalist', a woman with 'the imagination and daring to challenge in her writings the boundaries of her day within which she felt herself to be confined' (p.117). The focus then turns to Félicité de Genlis, described as a political intriguer and turncoat. Germaine de Staël is 'Against the Wind', and the fifth chapter focuses on her infamous clashes with Napoleon. The portraits conclude with a chapter on George Sand, which sees her life and writing career as intrinsically linked with her struggle with class. With the exception of the latter chapter, all the biographical studies had previously appeared as essays in The New Criterion. The chapter on Madame de Genlis in particular, adapted from the first of these essays, published in 1996, is a welcome addition to Genlisian studies, and will be of particular value to those English-speaking scholars who have hereto relied on Violet Wyndham's 1958 biography. We may regret, however, the lack of textual analysis of the writings of the six women. For example, Winegarten discusses details from Genlis's De l'influence des femmes sur la litterature française, notably Genlis's defence of the right of women to write for publication. It would have been fascinating to read a more detailed account of this little known publication, especially since Winegarten's own work is similar to Genlis's both in origin of composition and form. None the less, Accursed Politics will provide a useful [End Page 273] and stylishly written introduction to these women writers for undergraduate students and those with a general interest in the period.