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  • Salonnières, Furies, and Fairies: The Politics of Gender and Cultural Change in Absolutist France
  • Lewis C. Seifert
Anne E. Duggan , Salonnières, Furies, and Fairies: The Politics of Gender and Cultural Change in Absolutist France. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2005. $53.50.

In the archeological drive to recover the many women writers of early modern France, scholars have often made gender representation the primary (if not sole) focus of their analyses. In this engaging book, Duggan expands the scope of study to include other socio-political factors, all the while keeping gender as a crucial category. As she contends early on, "without neglecting the position a woman writer takes as a woman, it is imperative to examine her position with respect to politics (a royalist, a feudalist, a republican), cultural change (reactionary or progressive), and social mores (conformist or critical)" (20). This is an important point and one that invites scholars to open a new chapter in the work on early modern women writers. Gaining a fuller picture of these writers' intersections with the multiple contexts of their day allows us to resist unwittingly perpetuating their marginalization, Duggan argues. Salonnières, Furies, and Fairies provides a model for the type of work that is needed to understand better the contributions of so many other women writers—over and beyond their representations of gender.

Most of Salonnières, Furies, and Fairies is devoted to two seventeenth-century women writers whose critical fortunes have risen dramatically over the past decade, Madeleine de Scudéry and Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy. Consistent with the conceptual focus of her study, Duggan concentrates on Scudéry and d'Aulnoy precisely because they are two women writers with very different socio-political perspectives. "Whereas Scudéry picks up the pieces of a shattered feudal order, reconfiguring them to create a new brand of aristocracy, d'Aulnoy remains nostalgic for an idealized feudal past, taking a much more critical position […] to the changes that have occurred over the course of the century" (21). Chapters 2 and 3 are devoted to Scudéry's conception of the social realities of her day in the multi-volume romance Clélie and the Chroniques des Samedi, a recently-published manuscript record of her salon. In Clélie, Duggan argues, Scudéry reinterprets her historiographical models so as to include women and to revise prevailing seventeenth-century notions of heroism, subjectivity, and the nation. In the Chroniques, written by Scudéry and other members of her "Samedi," the salon appears as a ludic space where new identities, freed from the constraints of historical time and space, can be forged in ways that harmonize competing real-world agendas. In Chapters 5 and 6, Duggan turns to d'Aulnoy's very different perspective on the socio-political realities of seventeenth-century France. In a close reading of the historical novel Histoire d'Hypolite, Duggan argues that d'Aulnoy simultaneously critiques both Louis XIV's absolutist politics and the increasing patriarchal authority over women at the time. In a highly innovative approach to d'Aulnoy's fairy tales, for which their author is best known today, Duggan shows how mondanité (or secular sociability) is defended through a mise-en-abyme of theatrical and operatic decor that promotes feminocentric courtly power.

Between the sections of the book devoted to Scudéry and d'Aulnoy is a chapter that goes against the grain of many literary historical accounts of the antagonism between Boileau and Perrault, the two chief adversaries in the late seventeenth-century Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns. Studying Boileau's Satire X ("Contre les femmes") and Perrault's response in his Apologie des femmes, Duggan contends, contrary to many recent critics, that there is a fundamental agreement between the two antagonists. In spite of the superficial dissimilarity in their rhetorical stances, Boileau and Perrault both delegitimize mondain women and the public roles they seek to play in the cultural sphere. As subtle, convincing, and original as the argument in this chapter may be, its portrayal of Perrault nonetheless provokes questions that become even clearer in the last chapter, in which his fairy tales are contrasted with d'Aulnoy...


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pp. 107-108
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