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Feminism, Socialism, and French Romanticism.

By Claire Goldberg Moses and Leslie Wahl Rabine. Bloomington, Indiana, Indiana University Press, 1993. 371 pp. $39.95 U.S. (cloth) and $19.95 U.S. (paper).

The introduction to this combination of two interpretive essays on utopian socialist feminism in France and documents by French utopian socialist feminists of the 1830s promises an interdisciplinary approach based on Claire Goldberg Moses's historical research and Leslie Wahl Rabine's post-modernist literary training. In fact, the approach might better be termed multidisciplinary, since each essay is only incidentally informed by the methods of the other discipline. Instead, both "Difference in Historical Perspective: Saint-Simonian Feminism" and "Feminist Texts and Feminine Subjects" are influenced by contemporary feminist debates about marginality and difference. Accordingly, those who have read Goldberg Moses's earlier monograph on French Feminism in the Nineteenth Century will gain new insights, while historians unfamiliar with semiotics will get a crash course in French feminist literary methods.

For most historians and for students in all but upper-level undergraduate or graduate courses in women's studies, the essay by Goldberg Moses and the Saint-Simonienne texts will be most valuable. Her essay introduces a group of feminists who rejected the equality arguments of earlier (revolutionary era) feminists on grounds that they were interested in social rights such as collective households. While Goldberg Moses notes that Saint-Simonienne feminists stressed their "natural" difference from men in terms that resembled patriarchal ideologies of women as sentimental and self-sacrificing, she does not present their views as either essentialist or underdeveloped feminist consciousness. Rather, she locates their position in contemporary discourses, notably the romantics' valuation of difference over sameness and the Saint-Simonians' elevation of sexual passion and search for the "woman messiah." Moreover, she traces the emergence of a separatist and egalitarian feminism in the first newspaper founded and published by women alone, in women-only associations, and in the "free love" relationships of the "femmes nouvelles." More pointedly than in her previous book, Goldberg Moses emphasizes that the "femmes nouvelles recognized both women's unity in subjection to sex oppression and women's class differences."

At the end of her essay, Goldberg Moses draws on her historical material to make a brief but persuasive critique of present-day feminists' binary opposition between equality and difference. More intriguing but incidental to the essay, is her comparison of present-day feminists' notions of sisterhood to Saint-Simoniennes' concept of maternity, considered as a metaphor to identify unity among women.

Leslie Wahl Rabine develops the concept of a maternal principle in Saint-Simonienne texts in contrast to Lacanian psychoanalytic theories about the repression of the mother as a condition of entry into the symbolic order (and writing). Readers unfamiliar with French feminist literary criticism will find much of the essay a dense and jargon-laden argument about Saint-Simoniennes outlining an alternative symbolic system governed by a symbolic mother and generating a new form of desire and a new structure of subjectivity. More satisfying to the non-cognoscente are comparisons of Flora Tristan's Peregrinations of a Pariah and Suzanne Voilquin's Memories of a Daughter of the People to Rousseau's Confessions and Chateaubriand's Memoirs. For instance, Wahl Rabine focuses on the contrast between the two men's accounts of coming to subjectivity through largely imaginary sexual relations, and Voilquin's failure to attain subjectivity through description of (or transcending silence about) a real rape. Less well developed are other observations about the lack of a 'critical point' in Voilquin's Memories and the rupture from childhood upon her mother's death, both features of many women's autobiographies that may point to a feminine autobiographical genre deserving as much attention as deviations from the masculine autobiographical canon.

Goldberg Moses discovered many of the Saint-Simonienne texts in the archives and Leslie Wahl Rabine translated them with an engaging blend of the original romantic language (with explanatory footnotes) and modern syntax and terminology. The material from Voilqin's Memories of a Daughter of the People, the foreword to Tristan's Peregrinations of a Pariah (omitted from modern editions of the autobiography), and the letters of Saint-Simoniennes illustrate the interpretations offered in Wahl Rabine's essay. But the discerning reader will realize that these selections offer more opportunities to consider the motives for conversion to Saint-Simonianism, the desire for intimate, not just sexual relationships, and ideas about autobiography as collective (or gender) representation than is suggested in either interpretive essay. Similarly, the inclusion of a more complete English translation of Claire Demar's My Law of the Future fleshes out Goldberg Moses's analysis of the most radical Saint-Simonienne stance on sexual relationships.

Both the informed historian of feminism and history students can benefit from this mix of complementary interpretive essays and original documents that allow alternative readings. For undergraduate students, it may be necessary to skip the Wahl Rabine essay or to assign it after the relevant documents. In any case, classroom discussion of the original documents will be lively.
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Author:Stewart, Mary Lynn
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1994
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