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Faculty Spring 2018: Tracy Rutler

Family Remains: Sexuality, Language, and Power in Eighteenth-Century French Literature

French and Francophone Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Family Remains: Sexuality, Language, and Power in Eighteenth-Century French Literature

The last decade of the 18th century in France is often cited as the country’s entry into modernity. The French Revolution marked the end of centuries of patriarchy as the King’s rule was thrown out in favor of liberty, equality, and fraternity. However, as critics have pointed out, the transition to democracy was neither swift nor easy, and the resulting system of governance was, in some ways, worse than the monarchy. But what if it didn’t have to turn out that way? Family Remains: Sexuality, Power, and Language in Eighteenth-Century French Literature argues that many authors of the 1730’s and 40’s were already imagining radically different ways of organizing the masses. By focusing on orphans, bastards, spinsters, and slaves, these authors tell the stories of those who exist outside the boundaries of traditional kinship, depicting the utopian forms of community that emerge in its place. In other words, these books demonstrate the possibility and potential of queer forms of kinship in both their content and their form.  In this book, I explain that the family is inherently messy, and examine this messiness by attending to the misfits that appear on the page and on the stage. Through fresh readings of a constellation of works by canonical authors such as Françoise de Graffigny and Crébillon fils, I argue that these texts are best read not as a failure of the patriarchal family, but rather as introducing revolutionary forms of intimate communities.