Faithful fictions: Translating friendship in works by Marguerite de Navarre, Madeleine de Scudéry and Françoise de Graffigny
In the foundational texts of the Western literary and philosophical tradition, 'perfect friendship' is an exclusively male relationship. Women, always objects of love, are rarely—if ever—considered loving subjects. Women's exclusion from the bonds of friendship is mirrored in the centuries-old attempts to exclude them from citizenship in the political and cultural worlds of knowledge production. In early modern France, however, a remarkable rupture in this long trajectory occurs, as women become central players in communities of knowledge production. In this period of unprecedented female activity in the world of French letters, I demonstrate that Marguerite de Navarre, Madeleine de Scudéry, and Françoise de Graffigny each manage to conceive and communicate radically different alternatives to dominant past and contemporary theories of friendship.
I argue that these French women writers translate a fundamentally foreign language, literature, and experience of friendship into a new idiom in order to escape the paradoxes and exploit the possibilities of an affective bond traditionally figured as an exclusively masculine association of loving subjects, and to re-imagine alternative social and literary ties between men and women. Building on the political history of literature and on scholarship whose aim is to uncover women's roles in the formation of literary practices, I also pay particular attention to the material conditions of textual production of the early modern period, which had major effects on the circulation, reception, and interpretation of texts. These combined methodologies allow me to show that these women's works evince a deep and complex understanding of the processes of exclusion and objectification at work in literary and social processes of knowledge production. My work reveals that Navarre, Scudéry and Graffigny, instead of simply echoing the authoritative narratives of 'perfect friendship,' negotiate, re-invent, and transform the gendered boundaries of literary and social practices, translating traditional models of friendship into a language meant for new kinds of loving, speaking, reading and writing subjects.
0453: Womens studies