The Works of Sophie Cottin: Regenerating the Nation Through the Feminine and the "Other"

Christie Margrave

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract

Despite her position atop the list of best-selling authors in early 19th-century France, Sophie Cottin is consistently forgotten by modern critics. This article sheds light on the socio-political comments which come through in her fiction. It argues that the novel Élisabeth ou les exilés de Sibérie (1806) and prose poem La prise de Jéricho, ou la pécheresse convertie (1803) function as moral tales. Published at a time of socio-political turmoil in France, of exiles and émigrés, and in the wake of the Revolution’s failings, both can be read as a call for French society’s moral regeneration. They also present patriarchal figures’ reliance upon women for their ends to be achieved. Élisabeth and Rahab derive power from piety, filial devotion, and moral virtue, and use it to assist male leaders to successfully reclaim a lost homeland. Cottin thus recognises women’s vital role in the regeneration of a society which denied them rights. Furthermore, the women to be emulated here are also Eastern. ‘Self’ meets ‘Other’ as East meets West not only in Élisabeth and La Pécheresse convertie but also in Cottin’s Mathilde (1805). Ultimately, Cottin calls for the regeneration of the French nation not only through writing moral and religious instruction, but also through creating powerful female models, and through presenting the West to itself by means of the Other. In the early days of the Napoleonic regime, whose figurehead was a notorious misogynist and instigator of Orientalist discourse, Cottin shows powerful women with Eastern connections coming to aid of a degenerate West.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLe roman français 1800-1820
PublisherPresses Universitaires de Bruxelles
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 21 Jan 2020

Keywords

  • women's writing
  • Sophie Cottin
  • orientalism
  • French Revolution
  • French literature
  • gender

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