Presenter Information

Nicole AraujoFollow

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Start Date

April 2021

Document Type

Oral Presentation

Department

Women and Gender Studies

Faculty Mentor

Jessica Ouellette, PhD

Keywords

sex work, prostitution, literature, feminist, fin de siècle, femme sexuality, queer, Paris, courtesan

Abstract

Arguably no other society in history has had a more prolific presence of sex work than 19th century Paris; to be a courtesan allowed many women to have a sense of autonomy in a society in which they otherwise had none. This courtesan sub-culture was a common topic in French fin de siècle literature, with various modes of discourse. In the late 19th century, many movements in Europe were in place to oppress women back to their private home sphere and limit the autonomy they had been gaining through progressive feminist movements. In my presentation, I analyze the background of this regression of female and queer rights, the demonization of feminine sexuality that ensued, and how this showed up in French fin de siècle literature. I critique naturalist writer Emile Zola’s 1880 canonical novel, Nana, as a misogynistic novel which reflects the 19th century French male’s fears of the power that femme sexuality could hold and thus disrupt the patriarchal hierarchy, and the resulting attempt to conquer and dismantle that power. I then analyze two courtesan novels which reflect the feminist counter-discourse to works like Nana. Rachilde’s Monsier Venus and Liane de Pougey’s Idylle Sapphique, both written shortly after the first publication of Nana, depict prostitution and other forms of sex work from a more humanistic and dynamic perspective. Finally, I explain how, despite huge progress in female and queer empowerment in the centuries that followed the fin de siècle courtesan discourse, this harmful demonization of femme sexuality is still very much present today.

TM2021_Araujo-N_transcript.txt (12 kB)
A Comparison of Patriarchal vs. Feminist Courtesan Novels in Late 19th Century French Literature - transcript

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Apr 30th, 12:00 AM

A Comparison of Patriarchal vs. Feminist Courtesan Novels in Late 19th Century French Literature

Arguably no other society in history has had a more prolific presence of sex work than 19th century Paris; to be a courtesan allowed many women to have a sense of autonomy in a society in which they otherwise had none. This courtesan sub-culture was a common topic in French fin de siècle literature, with various modes of discourse. In the late 19th century, many movements in Europe were in place to oppress women back to their private home sphere and limit the autonomy they had been gaining through progressive feminist movements. In my presentation, I analyze the background of this regression of female and queer rights, the demonization of feminine sexuality that ensued, and how this showed up in French fin de siècle literature. I critique naturalist writer Emile Zola’s 1880 canonical novel, Nana, as a misogynistic novel which reflects the 19th century French male’s fears of the power that femme sexuality could hold and thus disrupt the patriarchal hierarchy, and the resulting attempt to conquer and dismantle that power. I then analyze two courtesan novels which reflect the feminist counter-discourse to works like Nana. Rachilde’s Monsier Venus and Liane de Pougey’s Idylle Sapphique, both written shortly after the first publication of Nana, depict prostitution and other forms of sex work from a more humanistic and dynamic perspective. Finally, I explain how, despite huge progress in female and queer empowerment in the centuries that followed the fin de siècle courtesan discourse, this harmful demonization of femme sexuality is still very much present today.

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