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literature

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

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French Literature: Twentieth Century  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  

The lesbian circle of Natalie Barney has been depicted by one of its French members, Lucie Delarue-Mardrus (1874-1945), whose brief affair with Barney was recorded in Nos secrètes amours (1951). In Delarue-Mardrus's L'ange et les pervers (1930), Barney is represented as Laurette Wells, the center of a Parisian group of lesbians.

Many of the expatriate women who moved in Barney's circle wrote only in English, but some, including Barney herself and Vivien, wrote in French, and thus exercised an influence on the course of French literature.

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Anglophones were not the only ones to seek refuge in France, however. Christa Winsloe (1888-1944), the author of the play that served as the basis for the classic German lesbian film Mädchen in Uniform (1931), for which Colette wrote the French subtitles, also sought exile in France during World War II and died there in 1944 in mysterious circumstances that have never been fully explained.

Recovered Gay and Lesbian Writing

The tradition of gay and lesbian writing is in the process of both being rediscovered in the past and being created in the present.

One recently rediscovered writer is Jeanne Galzy (1885-1980), whose works were well received in the 1920s and 1930s. They include Jeunes filles en serre chaude (1934), a semiautobiographical novel about the female students of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Sèvres and the love affair between one student, Isabelle, and an English teacher Gladys Benz.

Later, Galzy also published a series of four books under the title La surprise de vivre (La surprise de vivre [1969], Les sources vives [1971], La cavalière [1974], and Le rossignol aveugle [1976]). The series traces the life of a Protestant banking family, the Deshandrès, of the Languedoc from the turn of the century, focusing on the sentimental life of Eva who falls in love with an English teacher (here named Hilda).

Galzy's case is interesting not only for the merit of her work and the portrait it offers of lesbian life outside the capital, but because it suggests that a lesbian writer could be accepted during her lifetime by mainstream society.

Galzy's novels were published by mainstream publishers such as Gallimard, and her work was widely appreciated. She received the Prix Fémina in 1923 and went on to serve on the jury that awarded this prize until her death. As testimony to her popularity, one of her novels, L'initiatrice aux mains vides (1929) was promptly translated into English as Burnt Offering (1930).

A similar phenomenon occurs in the case of Eveline Mahyère (1925-1957), author of Je jure de m'éblouir ([1958]; trans. as I Will Not Serve, 1959). In this autobiographical novel, the heroine Sylvie Ceyvenole struggles with her idealized feelings for her convent teacher Julienne Blessner, a struggle that ends in suicide, just as Mahyère committed suicide in 1957.

The novel was published posthumously and received wide critical attention. For example, it was reviewed by Claude Mauriac in Le figaro and had a full-page review in Le figaro littéraire.

Although reviewers tended to dismiss the lesbian aspects of the relationship, preferring to see the plot as a theological allegory, that the novel received such attention at all suggests that gay and lesbian literature could find an audience and was not entirely ignored by the mainstream establishment in the 1950s.

Another figure who has won popular success for her lesbian writings is Jocelyne François (b. 1933). She is the author of a number of works, including Les bonheurs (1970; rpt. 1982), Les amantes (1978), and Joue-nous "Espana" (1980), which won the Prix Fémina.

All three novels are autobiographical and focus on the relationship between two women: Joue-nous "Espana" recounts the narrator's childhood and love for her schoolfriend Marie-Claire. Les Bonheurs describes a seven-year hiatus in their relationship, during which time "Anne" marries and has children and is separated from Sarah (Marie-Claire). In Les Amantes, they are reunited and live together in Provence.

The novels, whose main themes are love, nature, motherhood, and children, have been compared to prose poems because of Francois's highly poetic writing style.

A contemporary lesbian writer who has received critical acclaim is Hélène de Monferrand (b. 1947), a hospital administrator in Paris. Her first novel Les amies d'Héloise (1990) received the Prix Goncourt for best first novel. She followed up with Journal de Suzanne in 1991.

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