This study argues that French feminism lacks the rancour and resentment of its counterparts in England and America and explains why this placid, even timid, brand of feminism is uniquely French. Ozouf uses the woman's portrait, traditionally a male genre, to portray ten French women of letters whose lives span the period from the eve of the French Revolution to the resurgence of the feminist movement in the late 20th century. She studies the letters and memoirs of Mme du Deffand, Mme de Charriere, Mme Roland, Mme de Stael, Mme de Remusat, George Sand, Hubertine Auclert, Colette, Simone Weil and Simone de Beauvoir. Rejecting the male constructions of femininity typical of this genre, Ozouf restores these women's voices in order to study their own often-conflicting attitudes toward education, marriage, motherhood, sex, and work, as well as the dilemma of writing in a literary world that did not support women's work. The author claims that a uniquely-French feminism informed these women's lives, one that stems from the great egalitarian spirit of the French Revolution and is more tolerant of difference than its American counterparts.
She argues that as a result, modern French culture has not isolated women from men in the same way that American and British cultures have done.
Jane Marie Toddhas translated some seventy books, including "Writing, Law, and Kingship in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia", also published by the University of Chicago Press.
Translator's Note Introduction: Ten Women's Voices Madame du Deffand: Marie, or Fixity Madame de Charriere: Isabelle, or Movement Madame Roland: Manon, or Valor Madame de Stael: Germaine, or Anxiety Madame de Remusat: Claire, or Fidelity George Sand: Aurore, or Generosity Hubertine Auclert: Hubertine, or Stubbornness Colette: Gabrielle, or Gluttony Simone Weil: Simone, or Asceticism Simone de Beauvoir: Simone, or Greed Essay on French Singularity Notes Index