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Having It All in the Belle Epoque: How French Women's Magazines Invented the Modern Womanby Rachel Mesch
Synopses & Reviews
At once deeply historical and surprisingly timely, Having it All in the Belle Epoque shows how the debates that continue to captivate high-achieving women in America and Europe can be traced back to the early 1900s in France. The first two photographic magazines aimed at women, Femina and La Vie Heureuse created a female role model who could balance age-old convention with new equalities. Often referred to simply as the "modern woman," this captivating figure embodied the hopes and dreams as well as the most pressing internal conflicts of large numbers of French women during what was a period of profound change. Full of never-before-studied images of the modern French woman in action, Having it All shows how these early magazines exploited new photographic technologies, artistic currents, and literary trends to create a powerful model of French femininity, one that has exerted a lasting influence on French expression.
This book introduces and explores the concept of Belle Epoque literary feminism, a product of the elite milieu from which the magazines emerged. Defined by its refusal of political engagement, this feminism was nevertheless preoccupied with expanding women's roles, as it worked to construct a collective fantasy of female achievement. Through an astute blend of historical research, literary criticism, and visual analysis, Mesch's study of women's magazines and the popular writers associated with them offers an original window onto a bygone era that can serve as a framework for ongoing debates about feminism, femininity, and work-life tensions.
"Between 1901 and 1911, two French magazines, Femina and La Vie Heureuse, filled their pages with stories of outstanding, accomplished women who embodied the femme moderne. In this entertaining academic history of these rival magazines, Mesches, a French professor at Yeshiva University, explores the emergence of the working woman in France. The magazines catered to a well-educated reader who had 'other facets to her identity,' yet also fulfilled traditional roles. Plugging into the literary scene and an intellectual image, the magazine editors set up literary prizes, cultivated women writers, and featured photo spreads of celebrity novelists at their writing tables, including Colette. World events interfered, and the publisher Hachette acquired and merged the magazines in 1916. The hybrid failed its mission, the femme moderne movement lost momentum, and suffrage was delayed until 1944. The first half of the book concentrates on the glamorized image of the working woman as conceived by both magazines, while the second half measures the scope of their influence including the legacy of the ongoing Prix Femina. In the search for work-life balance, readers will marvel at suggestions that date back 100 years. Illus. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
This book explores the fascinating ways in which two French photographic women's magazines of the early 1900s created a visually compelling female role model who could perfectly balance feminism, femininity, and that tricky combination of work and life that is still the subject of debates today.
About the Author
Rachel Mesch is Associate Professor of French at Yeshiva University. She is the author of The Hysteric's Revenge: French Women Writers at the Fin de Siècle (2006).
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History and Social Science » Economics » General