Books: Writing Women

The picture must have given many a page-flipper pause. Spread across two pages of the Paris weekly Elle were the faces of 70 women. At first glance they might have been graduates of the Cordon Bleu cookery school, characters in a police line-èup, culture seekers at the Sorbonne, or simply guests at an unaccountably manless cocktail party. The truth was much more improbable. They were working novelists.

Once the role of women in French literature was limited to giving male writers something to write about. Madame de La Fayette (who in 1678 wrote the...

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