In this original study, Siobhán McIlvanney examines the beginnings of the women’s press in France. Figurations of the Feminine is the first work in English to assess the most significant publications which make up this diverse, yet critically neglected, medium. It traces the evolving representations of womanhood that appear over the first ninety years of women’s journals in France. McIlvanney’s insightful readings demonstrate that these journals are often characterised by a remarkable degree of ‘feminist’ content. This refutes the general conception of the women’s press as an idealised, hyper-feminised space inhabited by the intellectually idle – whether in the form of readers or writers – disseminating and legitimating a limited range of patriarchal stereotypes and idées reçues. Through textual analyses of different ‘generic’ subsections, whether the literary journal, the fashion magazine, the domestic press or more explicitly politicised outputs, Figurations of the Feminine challenges the critical commonplaces which have been applied to the women’s press since its genesis, both in France and elsewhere. It demonstrates the political richness of this medium and the privileged perspectives it gives us on female self-expression and on the everyday lives of French women from across the class spectrum during this key historical period.
‘A theoretically sophisticated history of the early female press in France, Figurations of the Feminine fills an important gap in French literary studies and gender history. This book offers the first comprehensive history of the women’s press in France in the politically turbulent years from 1758 to 1848. Siobhán McIlvanney’s deeply researched study will engage scholars across a range of fields and will inspire them to think in fresh ways about the complexity of gender construction in the popular press, and the potential for women’s agency and consciousness through the liberating act of reading.’
Jennifer M. Jones, Department of History, Rutgers University
‘Early French women’s journals were about so much more than fashion. Not only do they provide today’s reader with valuable insights into the cultural backgrounds of their writers and readers, but they were also a key means of promoting women’s emancipation at the time. And this is what Siobhán McIlvanney’s excellent book is all about.’
Dr Annemarie Kleinert, Author of Le Journal des dames et des modes ou la conquête de l’Europe féminine (1797-1839)
'An engaging and valuable contribution to the field of early French women’s history.'
Professor Joyce Dixon-Fyle, DePauw University
‘The book splendidly debunks assumptions about early women’s press…For anyone interested in media, communication, representation politics, and feminism, this constitutes a captivating account of an overlooked literary genre, also providing a model for studies in other places or times.’
Hélène B. Ducros, Europe Now
'This thoroughly researched monograph, deeply grounded in historical documentation, sheds light on a little-studied literary genre that could be considered ‘as more pivotal to the proliferation of Enlightenment ideas…than more “heavyweight” literary and philosophical texts’. It will appeal to scholars and students of French history, French education, early modern women and gender studies.'
Anne R. Larsen, French History
‘[McIlvanney] bridges a significant gap in scholarship by synthesizing a rich array of previous work on specific authors, periodicals, and historical contexts in a finely crafted comparative study subtended by strong theoretical readings of the ways in which the women’s press, consisting for the most part of women journalists, gave voice to the concerns of their gender.’
Mary Rice-DeFosse, Modern Language Review
'A rich contribution to the history of French women and their press, this book will undoubtedly generate dialogue among scholars interested in the history and role of women in French print culture.'
Cheryl Morgan, French Studies
‘Figurations of the Feminine is a detailed, solidly useful contribution to women’s history as well as cultural studies, spanning the end of the Ancien Regime through the rise of the Second Republic. Highly recommended.’
Kate M. Bonin, French Review
'Figurations of the Feminine is a beautifully written, rigorously researched study, an absolute must-read for anyone interested in the history of journalism, feminism, and women's writing in general.'Hope Christiansen, Dalhousie French Studies
Shortlisted for the Society for French Studies' R. Gapper book prize 2020
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