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Eighteenth-Century Studies 39.1 (2005) 137-139
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Gendered Style and Problems of Emulation
Kristi L. Krumnow
Due to its sentimentality and letter form, Lettres portugaises was originally believed to have been penned by a woman. When it was discovered to have been written by a man, it revealed to a shocked public that a man can indeed write very convincingly as a woman. A reconsideration of style, genre, and gender on the part of seventeenth and eighteenth-century contemporaries thus led to the conclusion that male writers, emulating the voice of women writers, could gain equal acclaim. Male writers consequently imitated women's successful letter collections, epistolary novels, and other first-person narratives, emphasizing emotion and sentiment rather than reason and linear narration. The full extent of this interchangeability can be witnessed in Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux's La vie de Marianne (1731–41), a first-person novel written in a feminine style, which was completed in 1750 by Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni, who was ironically imitating the voice of a man imitating the voice of a woman. Success of Marivaux's novel, alongside the sensational popularity of Lettres portugaises, demonstrated that replication of women's writing was not only possible but immensely profitable.
Textual Promiscuities by Antoinette Marie Sol and Gender and Voice in the French Novel by Aurora Wolfgang both examine the phenomenon of the imitation of "feminine" writing, which occurred throughout the eighteenth century. Women's writing flourished as a consequence of the fashion of feminine sensibility, [End Page 137] witness the prominence of Graffigny's Lettres d'une Péruvienne, Riccoboni's Lettres de Fanni Butlerd, Lettres de Mylady Juliette Catesby, and Charrière's Lettres de Mistress Henley. Sol and Wolfgang examine these and other authors and develop discussions initiated in past decades by such scholars as Joan DeJean, Dena Goodman, Nancy Miller, and Joan Hinde Stewart.
Antoinette Marie Sol acknowledges the importance novels had in Enlightenment dialogues, especially between genders and nations. Her critical study of female influences on Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons dangereuses examines the themes and impact of French author Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni and British writer Frances Burney. In attempting to differentiate her work from Harold Bloom's concepts of influence, Sol diverges in semantics—with terms like "discursive community," "textual relationship," and "dialogical relationship" (22)—but not in concepts. Sol's compelling argument complements previous studies on salon-style arenas; yet, she suggests that authors like Laclos, who could not participate in salons, used instead the public forum as their "social laboratory" (18). It is, however, a disappointment that Sol does not clarify why some authors used publication instead of salons as a means of testing ideas. Nonetheless, for Sol the "triangulation of these authors" imparts a better understanding of Laclos as a "critical reader" (22), culling ideas and concepts from both women's novels, thereby pitting both libertine and sentimental modes against each other. Sol suggests that Laclos's work draws on the humor of Burney as well as the sensibility of Riccoboni, the coquetry of Burney's characters as well as the libertinism decried in Riccoboni's novels. Further influenced by his female counterparts, Laclos approaches themes concerning social critique, sexuality, class, and patriarchy. Sol not only outlines possible parallels and similarities, she also considers larger structures created through character-types, style, and the depiction of society, thereby substantiating her claim for the influence of women's literary tradition. Yet, Sol argues, even critics aware of Laclos's debt have revealed their own "anxiety" regarding feminine influence on masculine works; they "seem either to ignore the fact that [these novels] were written by women or apologize for the temporary lack of taste and lapse of judgment on the part of a normally skillful writer and critic" (37). To remedy this disregard Sol focuses...