Having It All in the Belle Epoque: How French Women's Magazines Invented the Modern Woman

Rachel Mesch. Stanford Univ., $39.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8047-8424-5
Between 1901 and 1911, two French magazines, Femina and La Vie Heureuse, filled their pages with stories of outstanding, accomplished women who embodied the femme moderne. In this entertaining academic history of these rival magazines, Mesches, a French professor at Yeshiva University, explores the emergence of the working woman in France. The magazines catered to a well-educated reader who had "other facets to her identity," yet also fulfilled traditional roles. Plugging into the literary scene and an intellectual image, the magazine editors set up literary prizes, cultivated women writers, and featured photo spreads of celebrity novelists at their writing tables, including Colette. World events interfered, and the publisher Hachette acquired and merged the magazines in 1916. The hybrid failed its mission, the femme moderne movement lost momentum, and suffrage was delayed until 1944. The first half of the book concentrates on the glamorized image of the working woman as conceived by both magazines, while the second half measures the scope of their influence including the legacy of the ongoing Prix Femina. In the search for work-life balance, readers will marvel at suggestions that date back 100 years. Illus. (July)
Reviewed on: 09/09/2013
Release date: 07/01/2013
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