WOMEN ON LOVE: Eight Centuries of Feminine Writing by Evelyne Sullerot

WOMEN ON LOVE: Eight Centuries of Feminine Writing

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Appalling--an ill-conceived, carelessly executed, and perfunctorily translated anthology of a myriad snippets. Sullerot is a sociologist, which might explain her ineptness in handling this highly literary topic, but not her basic errors of judgment. There are, first of all, too many voices in her chorus: 158 women authors, all French, from the celebrated (Madame de La Fayette) to the utterly obscure (Marie de Sains, a nun tried for witchcraft); and there is no way the reader can keep them straight, not even with the thumbnail biographies Sullerot provides. Aside from being quite short (a few lines or, at most, a few paragraphs each), the excerpts (from letters, journals, poems, etc.) tend to be stylized, conventional, and vague--exactly what one would expect, given the nature of ""love in the Western world,"" but all this vitiates Sullerot's effort to show us the (unspoken/distorted/suppressed) other side of eros. A woman (Marie de France) may have written, ""Love is a wound within the body/That has no outward sign,"" but this and other selections tell us little about ""feminine psychology."" Sullerot has a lavish hand with speculative analysis, but she's stingy with historical facts--and some of those she gets wrong. She says that marriage in the Middle Ages was not yet one of the sacraments, but Christian couples have been married in church (or at the church door) since the 9th century. She maintains, on the grounds that courtly love originated in Muslim Spain (a much disputed claim), that ""the Arabs taught us respect for the woman."" And so on, in this irresponsible vein. This is a personal commonplace book of no public value.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1979
Publisher: Doubleday