Damned Women charts the previously unexplored literary territory of the place of lesbians in the French novel. Beginning with the early depictions of lesbians as "decadent monsters" by nineteenth-century male authors such as Diderot, Balzac, and Gautier, Jennifer Waelti-Walters shows how later, little-known female writers struggled to free lesbian characters from imposed stereotypes. While homosexual men are legion in the history of French literature and criticism, until now no critic writing in French or English has given the same sort of attention to lesbians. Waelti-Walters covers two hundred years of fiction, beginning with the publication of Diderot's The Nun in 1796 and ending with present-day lesbian writers Jocelyne Francois, Mireille Best, Helene de Monferrand, and the authors connected to Genevieve Pastre's lesbian publishing house. While she deals with renowned authors such as Violette Leduc and Monique Wittig, including their respective literary and personal relationships with Simone de Beauvoir and Helene Cixous, many of the writers discussed will be unknown to most readers. Their novels vary from the extraordinarily powerful to the utterly trite; by providing the first comprehensive guide to this body of work Waelti-Walters sheds light on French literary and cultural history. Waelti-Walters shows how the lesbian authors of this literature had little or no contact with each other, let alone with lesbians outside France. She describes their world and its effects on their work, showing how their situation differs from that of British and North American lesbians. Damned Women tells a story of alienation, persecution, and isolation within a culture. It is a cultural and literary commentary full of new information, forgotten or little known authors, poignant surprises, and unexpected interrelationships. Jennifer Waelti-Walters is retired from the Department of Women's Studies, University of Victoria.
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