Space, Sex and Status: Scotland in the Works of French Female Sentimental Novelists

Christie Margrave

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Several French Pre-Romantic novels published c.1800 are set in Scotland. The majority, penned by female writers, revolve around an antithetical depiction of melancholy wilderness and ordered stability. In analysing Cottin’s Malvina, Charrière’s Les Ruines de Yedburg, and Staël’s Corinne, this paper will explore the multiple meanings produced by descriptions of Scotland. It will consequently prove the promulgation that spatial setting and description are effaced in Pre-Romantic novels (Cohen, 1999) to be erroneous.

This paper will argue how a Scottish setting plays a vital role in these writers’ discussions of woman’s position in society. Just as the view of Scotland is two-fold, so is the depiction of a woman’s role. She either appears as the domesticated wife, confined to social order, or she struggles to establish an identity as a free spirit in a society that viewed nonconformity with suspicion. Like Scotland, she is either wild or ordered. And, like Scotland, her situation is melancholy.

This paper will prove that, ultimately, the reader is both unable to balance the multi-faceted views of Scotland, and to conclude what woman’s rightful position in society should be. Two methods are used to prevent clear conclusions being drawn. The first is an increasingly uncertain point of view. As the narrator guides the reader’s gaze through different focalisers, the value judgements we are encouraged to make regarding both the landscape and the rightful place of women within it, change. As the viewpoint over the landscape becomes increasingly dependent on the gender of the focaliser, the gender debate becomes inextricably tied with the country chosen for the setting. Space itself becomes gendered. The second is intertextuality. What does the inclusion of references to the Scottish Ossianic poems demand of the reader? And why is Ossian employed with changing results? Groups of readers are constructed, maintained or destroyed by the writers’ use of intertexts, and we are invited into, or excluded from, discovering certain meanings within the space of the novel.

In delivering novel combinations of contemporary views of Scotland, Cottin and Staël succeed in enriching the reader’s own experience of the socio-political gender debate, in lieu of dictating an answer.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - Mar 2011


  • women's writing
  • Scotland
  • landscape
  • nineteenth century
  • French literature

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