Should Women Write? The Mysterious Case of Sophie Cottin’s Vanishing Chapter

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Abstract

This paper explores a mystery. In 1801, Maradan published Sophie Cottin’s second novel, Malvina. The novel proved so popular with the French public that the entire print-run sold out and a second edition was commissioned. In 1805, two years before Cottin’s death, the second edition appeared. However, it had one noticeable difference: one chapter had been removed entirely.

This becomes even more intriguing considering the subject of the chapter in question. It consists of a discussion between the eponymous Malvina and her authoress friend about whether women should write.

Cottin’s chapter (dis)appears in an era which demanded that women confine themselves to the domestic sphere. Yet this was also a time when several women struggled to escape such confinement, and when the country’s most popular novelists were women. Why did Cottin remove a contemporarily relevant chapter from her text? Had she changed her mind about her arguments? Did she suffer pressure from her publisher? From family or friends? From other women writers?

The magnifying glass of the academic-detective discerns several clues in the rest of Malvina and in Cottin’s other novels as to why the chapter may have vanished. These clues include recurring motifs of madness, infertility, myth, and landscape, all of which are employed to draw attention to a female desire to conform to and/or escape society’s constraints. In analysing these motifs and looking at the progression of Cottin’s works, alongside her private correspondence, this paper investigates Cottin’s complicated views on women and writing in an attempt to discover why, towards the end of her life, she removed such an interesting chapter from Malvina. Whatever Cottin’s motives were, they may not be quite what the modern critic expects…
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012

Keywords

  • women's writing
  • nineteenth century
  • eighteenth century
  • French literature

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