Reading the Absence: The shaping of male characters and their crises in the void

Christie Margrave

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Absence, and particularly the absent father, has been identified as a common feature in late eighteenth – and nineteenth-century French novels. In an era in which the patriarchal order was changing and the King — the nation’s father — was removed, it is unsurprising that so many of its novels have absent fathers. In the subsequent decades, as many children were left orphans in the wake of the Terror, the lack of a father figure has been identified as a key issue in the crisis of masculinity which arose in nineteenth- century France. The absent father figure has previously been identified as a crucial element in Mme de Staël’s Corinne (1807) and in the work of George Sand. Yet, the influence on the vulnerable young male hero of the absent biological father (and his difficult relationship with a replacement father figure) remains unexplored in the work of other women writers in which it also plays a key role: most notably in Mme Cottin’s Claire d’Albe (1799) and Mme de Krüdener’s Valérie (1803).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-230
Number of pages19
JournalWomen's Writing
Issue number2
Early online date21 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Father
  • Absence
  • Romanticism
  • France
  • nineteenth century
  • French literature
  • women's writing

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