6 awesome feminist novels in French
As we delve into the realm of feminism, the groundbreaking work of Simone de Beauvoir in ‘The Second Sex’ immediately comes to mind. In this article, we’ll introduce you to six must-read feminist works that have been published since 1791. We’ll start by defining the key features of a feminist novel, and then dive into the books that have made a significant impact in shaping the feminist movement. Get ready to explore and expand your knowledge on feminism through these insightful works!
What is a feminist novel?
A feminist novel is a literary work that champions women’s rights and advocates for equal opportunities for men and women. Feminist literature is a powerful medium that addresses the unequal treatment and societal expectations imposed upon women. It serves as a platform to raise awareness about gender disparities and challenges the status quo that has been oppressing women for centuries. The following article highlights six influential feminist novels, published between 1791 and the present day, that have made significant contributions to the feminist movement.
These books are presented in chronological order:
- Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen by Olympe de Gouges
- Lélia by George Sand
- The second sex by Simone de Beauvoir
- Ainsi soit-elle by Benoite de Groult
- A frozen woman by Annie Ernaux
- In Defense of Witches by Moba Chollet
Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen – La Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne by Olympe de Gouge (1791)
Born in 1748, Olympe de Gouges was not only a woman of letters but also a politician. She is widely regarded as the forerunner of French feminism, particularly after the publication in 1791 of the Declaration of the Rights of Women and Citizens, which echoed the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Through her works, she advocated for the emancipation of women and the acknowledgement of their role in society. However, her activism came at a great cost. She was convicted by the Revolutionary Court and executed in 1793, but she refused to back down even in the face of death. In her final words, she boldly stated, “If a woman is permitted to mount the scaffold, she must have the right to mount the platform”.
The constitution is null and void if the majority of individuals composing the nation has not cooperated in its drafting.Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen, Olympe de Gouges
Lélia by George Sand (1833)
The harsh condition of married women is at the heart of George Sand’s early novels. In this work, the author boldly explores the topic of physical love, questions the purpose of marriage, and challenges societal norms. At the heart of the story is a poignant depiction of Sténio, a young poet who finds himself deeply in love with Lélia, only to be met with a lack of reciprocation.
Au lieu de commencer par la jouissance et de finir par la réflexion, j’avais ouvert le livre de la vie au chapitre de la science, je m’étais enivrée de méditations et de spiritualisme, et j’avais prononcé l’anathème des vieillards sur tout ce que je n’avais pas encore éprouvé.Lelia, George Sand
The second sex – Le deuxième sexe by Simone de Beauvoir (1949)
“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” as Simone de Beauvoir so eloquently puts it. Through her work, she explores the question that has plagued many of her contemporaries: “Why is the woman the other?” This thought-provoking document is not a manifesto designed to hold men accountable, but rather a detailed description of the gradual progression that led to the disparity between males and females. Beauvoir’s work is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the complexities of gender and the societal constructs that shape our identities.
No one is more arrogant toward women, more aggressive or scornful, than the man who is anxious about his virilityThe second sex, Simone de Beauvoir
Ainsi soit-elle by Benoite de Groult (1977)
Ainsi soit-elle is an eye-opening novel where Benoîte Groult delves into the current state of women’s place in society and the disparities in education between the sexes. Through her words, she invites readers to envision a world where justice, equality, and respect are the norm, a world where women are empowered to reach their full potential: “Feminism doesn’t just boil down to a sometimes rage-filled demand for justice, or one scandalous demonstration or another; it is also a promise, or at least the hope, of a different world that could be better.“
What’s got into them, suddenly the women? So they start writing books. So what do they have to say that is so important? asked a weekly recently which had never asked itself the question of why men had been writing for two thousand years and what they still had to say!Ainsi soit-elle, Benoite Groult
A frozen woman – La femme gelée by Annie Ernaux (1981)
A frozen woman tells the story of a young woman who comes from a humble background and excels academically. However, she grapples with the societal expectations placed on women during the 1960s. The author, Annie Ernaux, skillfully captures the internal conflict of the character, who is torn between her aspirations and the pressure to conform to traditional gender roles. The reader is introduced to a woman who is “frozen” – unable to fully express her desires and passions due to the limitations of her society. Through this character, the author explores the complexities of female identity and the struggle for self-actualization in a patriarchal society.
Organize, the beautiful verb for women, all the magazines are full of advice, save time, do this and that, my mother-in-law, if I were you to go faster, things in reality to stuff as many jobs as possible in a minimum of time without pain or depression because it would annoy others around.A frozen woman, Annie Ernaux
In Defense of Witches – Sorcières by Mona Chollet (2018)
The term ‘witch’ has been historically used to describe women who choose not to conform to traditional gender roles. These women include those who remain unmarried, forgo having children, pursue careers or engage in other activities outside the home, and are financially or socially independent. Could it be that the concept of the witch, as described by Mona Chollet, was primarily constructed by men as a tool to uphold their patriarchal power and control?
The threshold of tolerance is low: a woman sure of herself, who affirms her opinions, her desires and her refusals, passes very quickly for a harpy, a shrew, both in the eyes of her spouse and the surroundings.In defense of witches, Mona Chollet
Throughout history, women have courageously spoken out against gender disparities. By putting their thoughts onto paper, they have been able to share their perspectives and spark meaningful conversations within society. Writing has been their powerful tool to share these courageous ideas with the world – a world that includes not only other women, but men as well as society as a whole. If you’re interested in delving into the works of female authors such as Simone de Beauvoir, Benoite Groult, or George Sand, join the book club and engage in stimulating discussions.