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Finding the Woman Who Didn't Exist

The Curious Life of Gisèle d'Estoc

Melanie C. Hawthorne

Publication Year: 2013

Gisèle d’Estoc was the pseudonym of a nineteenth-century French woman writer and, it turns out, artist who, among other things, was accused of being a bomb-planting anarchist, the cross-dressing lover of writer Guy de Maupassant, and the fighter of at least one duel with another woman, inspiring Bayard’s famous painting on the subject. The true identity of this enigmatic woman remained unknown and was even considered fictional until recently, when Melanie C. Hawthorne resurrected d’Estoc’s discarded story from the annals of forgotten history.

Finding the Woman Who Didn’t Exist begins with the claim by expert literary historians of France on the eve of World War II that the woman then known only as Gisèle d’Estoc was merely a hoax. More than fifty years later, Hawthorne not only proves that she did exist but also uncovers details about her fascinating life and career, along the way adding to our understanding of nineteenth-century France, literary culture, and gender identity. Hawthorne explores the intriguing life of the real d’Estoc, explaining why others came to doubt the “experts” and following the threads of evidence that the latter overlooked. In focusing on how narratives are shaped for particular audiences at particular times, Hawthorne also tells “the story of the story,” which reveals how the habits of thought fostered by the humanities continue to matter beyond the halls of academe.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-8

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-9

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pp. ix-13

This book was a long time in the making, and along the way I have accumulated many debts. There are many people to thank, and some are acknowledged in notes to the text, but special mention must be made of Christian Laucou, who was one of the first people to set me thinking about the enigma that...

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pp. 1-14

This is a book about Gisèle d’Estoc. If you have never heard of her, you are not alone, and you may be wondering (to paraphrase the Victorian “nonsense” poet Edward Lear) who, or why, or which, or what is Gisèle d’Estoc?1 This book offers some answers to these questions. The short version is this. First of all, the answer to the question “What is Gisèle d’Estoc?”...

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1. To Hell and Back (the Present)

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pp. 15-34

To hear Margaret Atwood tell it, in order to have a story, you have to go to the underworld. Most people don’t think of academic pursuits as entailing much risk, let alone as involving the life-or-death kinds of adventures associated with such journeys, and they are right for the most part. But academics...

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2. Gisèle d’Estoc and World War II (the 1930s)

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pp. 35-52

It is hard to imagine why anyone would pay much attention to a literary spat in the Paris of June 1939, either then or today. In Paris, as elsewhere in France at the time, everyone was far more likely to be preoccupied by what they realized was an inevitable war with Germany. No one yet knew...

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3. A Storm in a Teacup and a Bomb in aFlowerpot (the 1890s)

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pp. 53-78

The fact that the literary critics of the 1930s could not establish once and for all that Gisèle d’Estoc was indisputably the author of the “Love Diary” seems understandable. Questions on that score still linger today. To begin with, the manuscript mysteriously disappeared after it left Pierre Borel’s possession...

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4. An Interlude (No Time in Particular)

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pp. 79-104

This interlude interrupts the otherwise backward narrative account of d’Estoc’s life in order to pause and consider what we know about what she looked like and the larger cultural connections between identity and appearance. An interlude typically comes between two parts of a game or play...

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5. Gisèle d’Estoc When She Was Real (the 1870s)

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pp. 105-130

Of course, in some ways, Gisèle d’Estoc is not a real person. The name is — and was always understood to be — a pseudonym. The critics of the 1930s were right in a sense after all: “Gisèle d’Estoc” did not exist; it was just a name, a mask. But of course they also thought that the name could not...

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6. Gisèle d’Estoc and Who She Wasn’t (the 1960s)

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pp. 131-158

Despite the protests of the willfully ignorant critics who insisted that d’Estoc was no more than a hoax, that such a person simply didn’t exist, this book has demonstrated that someone known as Gisèle d’Estoc not only can be shown to have existed, but that quite a great deal can be discovered about her, even...

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pp. 159-166

Once upon a time there was a woman who pretended to be Gisèle d’Estoc. For a while, some people doubted that this woman really existed, and then for a while after that, people thought that Gisèle d’Estoc was Marie Elise Courbe, born in 1863. But she wasn’t, and now we know that, too. Gisèle d’Estoc...


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pp. 167-172


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pp. 173-194

Works Cited

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pp. 195-203

E-ISBN-13: 9780803245686
E-ISBN-10: 0803245688
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803240346

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 14 illustrations, 1 chronology
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 859687398
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Finding the Woman Who Didn't Exist

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Subject Headings

  • Estoc, Gisèle d', 1863-ca. 1906.
  • Women authors, French -- 19th century -- Biography.
  • Women sculptors -- France -- 19th century -- Biography.
  • Bisexual women -- France -- Biography.
  • Male impersonators -- Biography.
  • Women anarchists -- France -- 19th century -- Biography.
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