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The Gendered Lyric: Subjectivity and Difference in Nineteenth-Century French Poetry

Gretchen Schultz

The Gendered Lyric argues that poetic conventions and movements cannot be fully understood without an appreciation of the role played by gender. It illustrates that both canonical and marginal poets of the major poetic movements of nineteenth-century France relied on sexual difference to define their poetic values.

Gretchen Schultz analyzes works by the male leaders of the Romantic, Parnassian, and Symbolist Colleges to show that their implicit conceptions of gender were central to the formulation of their aesthetics. Romantic poets such as Victor Hugo and Alphonse de Lamartine sought to appropriate feminine cultural values in their construction of an empathic male poet, while the Parnassians of the following generation, including Charles de Leconte de Lisle and Théophile Gautier, repudiated Romantic doctrine for a more "muscular" and masculinist poetic practice.

Women poets writing in the shadows of these great men devised varying strategies, ranging from assimilation to satire, with which to gain access to poetic subjectivity. Schultz devotes chapters to the Romantic Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, as well as to several lesser-known Parnassian women, and through close readings explores their accommodations of and revolts to the dominant movements.

Symbolist poets began to readmit feminine values and allowed for a broader, more fluid understanding of lyric subjectivity. Schultz shows that the notoriously misogynist Charles Baudelaire nonetheless permitted the oblique representation of otherness in his more abstract verse. She then analyzes the gay male poetry of Paul Verlaine and the innovative free verse of Marie Krysinska, which in different ways fought with poetic convention and in so doing fulfilled the promises of Symbolism's open poetic stance.

The Gendered Lyric is recommended for scholars and students of nineteenth-century French studies, poetry and poetics, and women's studies.

"This is a well-written, cogently argued, and very engaging study. It deals with a wide array of material, some of it familiar, some far less so, and it makes a convincing case for its general thesis, which is that gender, an officially disregarded category, cannot be ignored in evaluating poetry. It will give added impetus to the growing movement to reexamine assumptions about the nineteenth-century canon in terms of its undeniable gender bias." Rosemary Lloyd, Indiana University

"Gretchen Schultz, in The Gendered Lyric, begins to fill this 'rather astonishing gap in existing criticism' (1) with her stimulating book on gender and modern French poetry....Her ambitious and original study, which juxtaposes male- and female-authored poetry, aims to 'demonstrate that while masculinity dominates lyric production, femininity is always present as a foil , an appropriation, or a threat' (2)....The Gendered Lyric, which provocatively exposes the work of gender in nineteenth-century French poetry, will become a valuable resource for future study of gender difference in poetry--and the difference that poetry makes in gender studies." Adrianna M. Paliyenko, Nineteenth-Century French Studies

For the complete review, see Nineteenth-Century French Studies 29.1&2 (Fall-Winter 2000-01): 186-89.

"L'ouvrage est complété par une riche bibliographie et un index très utile. Les poèmes reproduits dans l'appendice sont de première importance pour les spécialistes de poésie française écrite par des femmes. La plupart de ces textes n'étant plus édités depuis très longtemps sont aujourd'hui d'accès très difficile. Nous ne pouvons qu'applaudir l'initiative de les reproduire ici 'in the spirit of disseminating difficult-to-find texts' (251).... Pour conclure, Gretchen Schultz aura non seulement prouvé avec succès que la question du genre est essentielle au renouvellement de la poésie dans le courant du XIXème siècle mais elle aura aussi redonné une voix aux nombreuses femmes qui ont écrit de la poésie et participé à l'établissement du paysage poétique française 'dans l'ombre et sans [se] nommer' (Desbordes-Valmore [, Schultz] 248). En outre, The Gendered Lyric servira les lecteurs cherchant une vue lucide sur la poésie du XIXème siècle dans son ensemble." Sandrine Harismendy-Lony, French Forum

For the complete review, see French Forum 26.1 (Winter 2001): 109-11.

For more reviews, see
Book News 14 (Aug. 1999): 56.

Gretchen Schultz, Brown University, focuses on nineteenth-century French poetry and gender studies. She is the author of articles on Desbordes-Valmore, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Villard, and Valéry.

1999. PSRL 17. xiv, 334 pp. Cloth $29.95 PRICE REDUCED