- Francophone Women Writers: Feminisms, Postcolonialisms, Cross-Cultures ed. by Eric Touya de Marenne
For English-language readers, Eric Touya de Marenne’s rich anthology of texts by women writers opens a window onto poems, short stories, theatre and novels (in excerpts) written in the twentieth century by women from a variety of French-speaking regions. Arranged thematically, Fran-cophone Women Writers offers theoretical considerations on feminism, postcolonialism and francophonie in a general introduction as well as in the introductions to the five chapters. For each of the twenty-four writers presented, Touya de Marenne provides a biography and a bibliography that references books and articles in English and French. The book closes with an index and four pages of general bibliography of secondary sources in French and English pertaining to francophone women writers.
In her brief preface to the book, the Guadeloupan (French) writer Maryse Condé suggests that the concept of “female literature” (écriture féminine) is an elusive one. At the same time, she makes it clear that giving women’s texts wide distribution is important work. Gilbert and Gubar’s Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English was a pathbreaking work first published in 1985. Several anthologies of francophone women’s writing appeared in the United States in years after that. Contre-Courants: Les Femmes s’écrivent à travers les siècles, by Caws, Miller, Houlding and Morgan (1994) is a popular textbook for university courses and an excellent antidote to, for example, the textbook we used when I was in college in the late 1980s, Poèmes, Pièces, Prose: Introduction à l’analyse de textes littéraires français (1973). There is not a single woman writer to be found in this formidable 752-page tome. The seminal French-language anthology edited by Caws, Green, Hirsch and Scharfman, Écritures de femmes: Nouvelles cartographies (1996) focuses, like Touya de Mayenne’s volume, on twentieth-century writing of various genres. Makward and Miller’s Plays by French and Francophone Women: A Critical Anthology (1995) and D’Almeida’s A Rain of Words: A Bilingual Anthology of Women’s Poetry in Francophone Africa (2009) are examples of material accessible to an Anglophone audience. Francophone Women Writers is a worthy heir of this tradition and noteworthy in its editorship by a man.
One of the stated objectives of the anthology is “to bring to light the dialogue among women authors from different countries and cultural traditions” (6). In each chapter, four or five writers are presented without [End Page 162] regard to chronology or geography, but according to themes. The anthology includes an early generation of writers such as Mariama Bâ, Anne Hébert, Andrée Chédid, Joyce Mansour and Isabelle Eberhardt who could now be considered to belong to a francophone ‘canon.’ It also features high-profile stars of today such as Maryse Condé and Assia Djebar who are in their 70s, as well as younger writers who have received literary prizes and media attention such as Ananda Devi from Mauritius, Calyxthe Beyala from Cameroon, Ying Chen from China, Amélie Nothomb from Belgium, and Nina Bouraoui and Marie NDiaye from France. Several lesser-known writers are given space too, for example Mayotte Capécia from Martinique, Corinna Bille from Switzerland, Marie Chauvet from Haiti and Déwé Gorodé from New Caledonia. Some of the writers are extremely prolific and their works have been translated into many languages; others are known principally for one work, for example Kim Lefèvre from Vietnam and her novel Métisse blanche, which does not exist in English translation. The majority of the anthologized texts are taken from existing publications in English; however, several are translated by Touya de Marenne himself. The texts are compelling reads and the diversity of styles and tones is one of the pleasures of the anthology genre.
In the first chapter, “Feminisms: Resistance and Heteroglossia,” the texts focus on overtly “rejecting masculine privilege and authority” through “different rhetorical discourse” (p. 12). Chapter 2, “Post-colonialisms: Politics and Power,” looks...