Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Speaking from the Margins: Gender and Race in Novels by Madame de Bénouville and Madame Roumier Robert

Antoinette Marie Sol.

Both Montesquieu and Graffigny lament the state of French women who are likened to foreigners in their own country. In so doing, these two authors established the convention of gender difference figured as racial or national alterity. Mme de Bénouville and Mme Robert, pick up where their predecessors left off by continuing the examination of cultural bias and gender politics in two very different novels.
Mme Bénouville's Pensés Errantes (1758) is a strangely constructed work in which the preface containing her direct philosophical commentary as well as a critique of social, legal, and publishing politics makes up two thirds of the whole. The remaining third is a fictional epistolary exchange between an Indian and an African man exploring the effects of colonialism. This exchange, using race as a metaphor for gender, serves as a testing ground for Bénouville's philosophical ideas. La Voix de la nature (1763) by Mme Robert is a novel that stages the equivalency of race and gender in a very different manner. Here the question of race and gender is posed in strictly feminine terms in parallel stories. It is the tale of the cultural assimilation of an African princess, Mirza, as well as the figuration of the African as the spokesperson for enlightened European thought embedded in a sentimental novel.
I will look at how these novelists manipulate race and gender to both mask and voice their criticism of European society's treatment of minorities and study how these two authors envision not only the role of literacy and religious conversion in the subjugation process but their presentation of the strategies of resistance to cultural and political assimilation.


Antoinette Marie Sol  (United States)
Associate Professor of French
Department of Modern Languages
University of Texas at Arlington

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Eighteenth-Century novel
  • Colonialism
Person as Subject
  • Bénouville, Madame de. Robert, Marie Anne de Roumier.

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)