'Femmes a part': unsociable sociability, women, lifewriting
When Christine de Pizan, in her 1410 Lamentation on the Evils of Civil War, described herself as 'seulette a part' (de Pizan, 1984: 84) she expressed a divided sense of identity that has echoed throughout women's lifewriting right up to the present day. Calling desperately for an end to the warfare that was dividing France, she marshalled all the rhetorical pathos she could to attain her end, portraying herself simultaneously as a loyal member of, and an outsider to, French society. The striking ambiguity of the phrase 'a part' captures the uncertain standing she experienced as a widow and a female commentator, alluding to the social marginality her position brought with it, but also, vitally, to the valuable reflective distance it allowed her as a lone woman calling for peace in her fractured society. In this short, three-word self-description, which informs the title of this chapter, Christine captures succinctly the complex, uneasy relationship between the female autobiographical self that is 'a part' of communities and institutions, and the self that stands 'apart' from them. It is this complex and frequently agonized sense of self - seeking to belong yet yearning for solitude and privacy, or indeed for distinction from the group - that is at the heart of this volume's exploration of women's lifewriting. This mode of self-representation, in the many guises in which It is taken up in the chapters that follow, is at the heart of what we are (,lIlling the unsociable sociability of women's lifewriting.
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