French, Women authors, English -- 19th century, Women authors, French -- 19th century, England -- In literature, France -- In literature, England -- Social life and customs -- 19th century, France -- Social life and customs -- 19th century, National characteristics, Cross-cultural exchanges, Women, English, Trollope, Blessington, Eliot, Kavanagh, and Dronsar
The focus of this study is an investigation of cross-channel exchanges represented in travelogues, historical works, journalism, letters and journals written by English women Frances Trollope, Lady Margaret Blessington, George Eliot and Julia Kavanagh on France and by French women Flora Tristan and Marie Dronsart on England. The work is based on the view that narratives about another culture betray preconceptions and beliefs and are never innocent descriptions. Nineteenth-century English descriptions of France, for instance, are not only marked by the stereotype of the gregarious French bon vivant but also by the often tense political relationship and economical concurrence between the two countries. French descriptions of England reflect the consciousness of England's superiority in the domains of economy, industry and colonialism as well as the stereotype of the boring, monosyllabic, haughty, egoistic and often xenophobic Englishman. Given that writings on the other culture are marked by practices and belief systems as well as notions of superiority and inferiority like texts emerging from a colonial context, ideas which have been developed in this field by scholars such as Sara Mills and Reina Lewis have been used as a basis for this investigation. I argue that the women whose texts I analyse strategically employ 'discourses of difference' (to use Sara Mills' term), or alignment and 'othering' in regard to nation, class, and political opinion, in order to gain positions which allow them to challenge contemporary ideologies of femininity. They take advantage of their positions in very different ways, according to their personal, class and economic situations, their agenda, and their gendered position within society which changes significantly during the century. The English women Frances Trollope, Lady Margaret Blessington, George Eliot and Julia Kavanagh construct themselves as part of the tradition of French salonnières from the seventeenth century to the present, while the French women Flora Tristan and Marie Dronsart align themselves with English travel writers, particularly Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Through a careful construction of these foremothers, which often differed from other representations of them, they criticise gender politics in their own country and endeavour to normalise their own activities as intellectuals and writers, in the case of Tristan as a socialist and feminist activist. This strategy is complemented by 'othering' with regard to nation, class and political convictions which confers on the women an authoritative authorial voice and / or allows them to support their argument. They endorse ideologies of gender, nation and class at the same time as they reject some aspects of them. This study reveals new aspects of nineteenth-century discussions of the so-called 'woman question' through a broader approach which encompasses not only the parameters of gender, class and political orientation but also cross-cultural experience.