Gender, Authenticity, and the Missive Letter in Eighteenth-Century France

Mary McAlpin

Marie-Anne de La Tour, Rousseau's Real-Life Julie

250 pages
ISBN 1611481938
LC 2006002570

In 1761, Marie-Anne de La Tour wrote to Jean-Jacques Rousseau claiming to be the real-life embodiment of his fictional heroine, Julie of La Nouvelle Heloise. The two went on to exchange 175 letters over some fifteen years. Since its first publication in 1803, this correspondence has been cited as evidence of widely varying conclusions: the neurotic meanness of Rousseau's character, the abuse to which Rousseau himself was subjected by the French reading public, even the psychosis eighteenth-century women readers risked by cultivating loss of self through novel reading. De La Tour has been diagnosed as the very type of the hysterical woman reader, quite incapable of separating the author from the man.

This study demonstrates that de La Tour was to the contrary a woman writer eager for fame who pursued her goal of becoming an "author" through the vehicle of a private correspondence with a celebrity. In the eighteenth century, with the vogue for publishing the private in full force, missive letters were accorded great aesthetic and publication value. Suspicion of intent to publish by writers of private letters was common, but this awareness has now been lost, just as the letter hast lost its publication potential. De La Tour's project of creating a publishable "private" correspondence with a famous author raises theoretical issues of authorial intention relevant not only to eighteenth-century studies but also to epistolary studies, reader-response theory, and gender theory.

About the author:

Mary McAlpin received a PhD in French from Columbia University, and is currently Associate Professor of French and Chair of the French program at the University of Tennessee. She has published articles on gender theory, Montesquieu, Diderot, Rousseau, Marie-Jeanne Roland, among other subjects.


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