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Critical Discussion DUCTION, OR THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF RAPE by Steven Rendall One of the first questions feminist scholars asked when they began to inquire into women's writing was whether it had specific traits that distinguished it from men's writing. As Patricia Francis Cholakian notes, the answers given to this question have been for the most part unsatisfying. It has proven difficult to isolate gender-specific stylistic traits—just as it proved difficult to define formal characteristics differentiating literary language from other kinds of language. Similarly, efforts to define women's writing by reference to theme and subject matter seem doomed to remain little more than loose generalizations. And yet we nevertheless feel there must be something that makes women 's writing at least potentially different from men's. Cholakian's work approaches this issue in a more promising way. Like some other recent studies (I am thinking in particular of Ann Rosalind Jones's excellent book, TL· Currency of Love: Women's Love Lyric, 1400— 1600), Cholakian's focuses on the way women authors "have written Rape and Writing in the Heptaméron of Marguerite de Navarre, by Patricia Francis Cholakian; xiv & 301 pp. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991, $34.95. Ravishing Maidens: Writing Rape in Medieval French Literature and Law, by Kathryn Gravdal; ? & 192 pp. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991, $29.95 cloth, $13.95 paper. Philosophy and Literature, © 1993, 17: 119-128 120Philosophy and Literature over" extant male narratives and topoi, producing a kind of palimpsest that constructs an alternative, feminine perspective at the same time that it deconstructs the underlying male fictions concerning gender relations. In doing so Cholakian recognizes that a different kind of writing can come into existence only in some sort of dialogue with previously existing modes of writing. For a variety of reasons, Marguerite de Navarre's Heptameron offers an ideal test of this way of studying women's writing. Marguerite's fourth novella provides the foundation for Cholakian's reading. Writing in the late sixteenth century, Brantôme reported that his grandmother, who was Marguerite's lady-in-waiting, had told him that this novella, which recounts a "Flemish princess's" defense of her honor against a would-be rapist, was based on Marguerite's own experience . According to Brantôme, Marguerite herselfhad been attacked by the Admiral of Bonnivet, but had not publicly denounced her assailant . Cholakian cites a letter of Marguerite's that also seems to allude to this traumatic event. To maintain that these are slender grounds on which to base an argument would be only to perpetuate the conditions that make evidence of rape difficult to find in the first place. As the "wise old woman" in Marguerite's story points out, a woman who tells about rape is likely to be dishonored whether or not she is believed. Cholakian shows that a surprising number of Marguerite's novellas are in fact about rape, and she proposes to read them as differing versions of a basic rape scenario, as seen by both men and women. While she does not argue that all the stories are about rape, she does claim that the rape experience was the original impetus that caused Marguerite to begin assembling a collection of stories, and that the stories that are about rape thus constitute a privileged part of the text. Moreover, as one might imagine, these stories show with particular clarity the different ways in which men and women construct or construe such narratives: what some of the men see as seduction, the women see as sexual violence—that is, as rape—even ifthe coercion takes subtler forms than brute force. The structure of Marguerite's text, in which different intradiegetic narrators or "devisants" tell their stories within a general frame story told by an extradiegetic narrator (whom we tend to associate with Marguerite ), produces complex dialogic relations among the various voices that compose it. The male narrators play a particularly important role, since through them Marguerite is able to display the presuppositions on which men rely in their representation of women. These include Steven Rendall121 the notions—most of them still familiar today, of course—that female desire is both insatiable...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 119-128
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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