Out of the libertine literary tradition of eighteenth-century France emerged a dozen memoir novels unlike any others. The fictional narrators of these stories are female libertines who eagerly take up sex work as a means of escape from the patriarchal control of fathers and husbands to pursue pleasure, wealth, and personal independence outside the private, domestic sphere. In these anonymously published and mostly forgotten novels, the heroines proudly declare themselves prostitutes, or putains, and use the desire they arouse, the professional skills they develop, and the network of female friends they create to exploit, humiliate, and financially ruin wealthy and powerful men. Their amusing tales of sexual escapades are more than titillating amusement, however. In pursuing their desires, the putains challenge contemporary notions of womanhood and expose the injustices of ancien-régime France, where aging aristocratic men enjoy undeserved privileges. Until the French Revolution and the Marquis de Sade’s Juliette spelled the end of the genre, these novels proposed not only an appealing libertine utopia in which libertine women enjoyed the same benefits as their male counterparts, but also entirely new ways of looking at systems of power, gender, and sexuality.
About the Author
Alistaire Tallent lives in Colorado Springs, CO, where she is Associate Professor of French at Colorado College. She has published numerous book chapters and articles in such journals as Romance Review, French Forum, and Theatrum historiae.