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Reviewed by:
  • Fictions modernistes du masculin-féminin: 1900-1940 dir. by Andrea Oberhuber, Alexandra Arvisais et Marie-Claude Dugas
  • Melanie Hawthorne
Fictions modernistes du masculin-féminin: 1900-1940. Sous la direction de Andrea Oberhuber, Alexandra Arvisais et Marie-Claude Dugas. (Interférences.) Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2016. 314 pp., ill.

Opening this edited volume is like opening a box of chocolates: so many delicious choices. What to choose? Where to start? One can dive in anywhere and find something tempting. This is not to say that there is no coherent, guiding principle to this edited collection of essays. As the editors explain in their Introduction, France has lagged behind in seeing modernism as a unifying literary movement when it comes to French authors; but approaching the years 1900-40 as a whole (a period often fragmented into the Belle Époque, the First World War, and the interwar years) allows a different perspective. What emerges is not fragmentation, but multiple variations on a theme, and that theme, the editors argue, revolves around gender issues. The editors note the continued difficulty of talking about gender in French because of a certain ongoing resistance to recognizing that genre can mean gender, not just species or sort in the aesthetic sense. Also, the emphasis on 'des identités genrées' (p. 25) in this project may not find favour in mainland France, where many feminist scholars reject what is perceived to be a misplaced North American challenge to universalist French values. Nevertheless, for those working on women writers in the first half of the twentieth century, those are familiar caveats and not impediments, as the essays illustrate. The volume grew out of a conference held at the Université de Montréal in 2013, and indeed some contributions still have the flavour of a brief intervention which one does not have time to develop beyond the allotted twenty minutes or so. But a bouchée can be a delicious temptation, and anyone who has wondered about some of the names of women writers offered up here will find something to chew on. Some authors are canonical (Colette), some becoming more so (Rachilde, Marcelle Tinayre), some have been known about for a long time on the fringes (Renée Vivien, Natalie Barney), and some are, for various reasons, newly emerging (Claude Cahun, Mireille Havet), but all are fascinating in their own right. The contributions are organized into four sections: 'Modernismes littéraire et artistique', 'Reconfigurations du personnage féminin', 'Confusions identitaires', and 'Expérimentations modernistes'. Not all the essays are about individuals, not all the individuals are French (one is pleased to see Maya Deren getting some attention), nor writers (Deren again), nor even women (Georges Bernanos, Pierre Loti), but gender is always front and centre as a topic. Of course, chocolates do not make a meal, wonderful as they may be, and one longs for the more nutritional, filling, and sustaining content that a fuller treatment of these issues and authors would provide; but this is a rich beginning and a sampler to whet the appetite. [End Page 462]

Melanie Hawthorne
Texas A&M University


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