Going Public: Women and Publishing in Early Modern France

By Dena Goodman; Elizabeth C. Goldsmith | Go to book overview

10
Making Sex Public:
Félicité de Choiseul-Meuse
and the Lewd Novel

KATHRYN NORBERG

"If a man had written [it] one could have reproached him the disclosure of his moral weakness, but when such scenes are painted by a woman, pity and disgust prevent further comment." 1 Thus did one contemporary critic, Eusèbe Girault de St.Fargeau, condemn Amelie de St. Far and with it its author, the countess Félicité de Choiseul-Meuse. Girault de St.Fargeau found Amelie de St. Far "disgusting" not because it was sexually explicit (though it certainly was) but because it was written by a woman, an obscure but prolific author who wrote a dozen novels between 1807 and 1822. Two of these books— Julie ou j'ai sauvé ma rose ( 1807) and Amélie de St. Far ( 1808)— are the first sexually explicit novels to be signed by a woman. 2 Not all of Choiseul-Meuse's books were equally licentious; but three were banned, one was burned, and all bore the stigma of having been produced by the author of Julie ou j'ai sauvé ma rose. The author in turn had the dishonor of being not only a woman but a woman who had chosen the most dangerous of genres with which to "go public."

As such, Choiseul-Meuse has a lot to tell us about the price paid by women who published. To see her work in print, Choiseul-Meuse had to live quietly, without fame or scandal. To make her views public, she had to

____________________
1
Quoted in Pascal Pia, Les Livres de l'Enfer: Bibliographie critique des ouvrages érotiques dans leurs différentes éditions du XVIe siècle à nos jours ( Paris: C. Coulet et A. Faure, 1978), 2:664.
2
In her excellent study " Fictions of Sexual Initiation: Reading in French Erotic Literature, 1655-1809" (Ph. D. diss., Harvard University, 1990), Anne Menke gives the honor of being the first woman author of erotic fiction to Suzanne Giroud de Morency, author of Illyrine ( 1799). Although I agree with Menke on virtually every other point, I take issue with her here. I do not think that Illyrine counts as genuine erotic fiction because it does not seek to arouse the reader erotically. It comes much closer to contemporary female confessional literature with its personal revelations.

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