Subverting the Family Romance
Women Writers, Kinship Structures, and the Early French Novel
Social historians have taught us that what we think of the family, a private and affectionate nuclear unit, is in fact a phenomenon of quite recent invention. It is only in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that is developed in tandem with a new public sphere of commercial and intellectual exchange. As the eighteenth century progressed, women were increasingly expected to occupy the domestic role of loving wife and mother, leaving the public sphere of debate to men. Within this new order, the emerging bourgeois novel, with its very public stories of private lives, offered women writers an especially apt vehicle for social engagement. While its representations of the new private family positioned the novel from within the purview of the feminine domestic sphere, the genre's mass appeal simultaneously afforded women a public voice that could shape the sensibilities of many readers.
About the author:
Charlotte Daniels is Assistant Professor of French at Bowdoin College.