Recent decades in French studies have witnessed a flourishing interest in women writers. Whether exploring the significance of contemporary women writers or seeking to rediscover women of centuries past who have been cast outside of mainstream literary canon, scholars now turn their attention to these unjustly overlooked artists. In comparison to these rediscoveries of women writers in many genres, the study of women and the theater has in many respects lagged behind in terms of literary scholarship. Why is it that those who produce works for the most public of all the literary arts remain most invisible to contemporary scholarship? The daring nature of staging one’s work for immediate consumption and criticism renders writing for the stage a daunting prospect for writers of any gender. Yet throughout the centuries and spanning multiple continents women boldly have penned works for public display, showcasing their uniquely feminine points of view on issues ranging from politics, sexuality, trauma and oppression to domestic bliss and motherhood. Whether their works were critical and popular successes or failures, these women insisted their voices be heard and their experiences be staged regardless of critical backlash.
Inspiration for this volume came from the Fourth International Women in French conference held at Wagner College in May 2010. Two special sessions highlighting women and theater organized by Cecilia Beach ignited interest, but also bewilderment that to date no single analytical publication exists dedicated to the diversity and richness of women’s contributions to Francophone theater. In spite of the fact that keynote speakers for the past three Women in French conferences (Louise Dupré 2006, Perry Gethner 2008, and Judith Miller 2010)1 illuminated the significance, uniqueness and innovation of women dramatists from France and Quebec, there is much critical work left to be done to do justice to these artists and their theatrical productions.
Particularly regarding plays by French women prior to the twentieth century, out-of-print texts and precious little critical investigation render research in this domain challenging. There does, nonetheless, appear to be a growing interest in this area. Jane Moss’s “Women’s Theater in France” brought to light the richness and social significance of women dramatists’ productions during the 1980s. Judith Miller and Christiane Makward’s Plays by French and Francophone Women: A Critical Anthology, did much to underscore the intricacy and innovation of modern theater by Francophone women writers and to introduce these exceptional plays by women to a new audience. Likewise, Perry Gethner’s editions of plays by French women up to 1750 and Louise [End Page 15] Forsythe’s editions of theater from Quebec broaden readership of these works. Cecilia Beach’s two-volume checklist of works by French women playwrights published by Greenwood Press documents the rich corpus of plays published and performed in France alone over the last five centuries and serves as an essential tool for those conducting research in this area. Recent critical works such as Carole Edwards’s Les Dramaturges antillaise: cruauté, créolité, conscience féminine and Strategies of Resistance in the Dramatic Texts of North African Women: A Body of Words by Laura Chakravarty Box explore the powerful and innovative theater of women in other regions of the Francophone world and represent crucial steps forward in literary criticism of women and theater. However, a lack of any single volume of critical essays devoted to the work of French and Francophone women dramatists demonstrates a theoretical gap. As Alison Finch suggests, many women dramatists remain invisible, unnoticed and unrecognized by their contemporaries as well as by modern criticism (Finch 62). Clearly, there is much work to be undertaken in regards to the study of Francophone women playwrights and it is worth exploring the interconnections of themes explored by women who have written for the stage throughout the ages.
Our volume seeks to begin filling this critical void in rediscovering unjustly forgotten women dramatists and contextualizing them with more recent women dramatists who have become bold innovators of theatrical production throughout the French-speaking world. Whether their performances break with traditional molds, revisit traumatic experiences, forge new theatrical techniques or comment upon gender inequities, all the playwrights in this study in one...