Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Details

D''Arcens, L. & Collett, A. A. 2010, ''''Femmes a part'': unsociable sociability, women, lifewriting'', in A. A. Collett & L. D''Arcens (eds), The Unsociable Sociability of Women''s Lifewriting, 1 edn, Palgrave Macmillan, UK. pp. 1-17.


When Christine de Pizan, in her 1410 Lamentation on the Evils of CivilWar, described herself as 'seulette a part' (de Pizan, 1984: 84) she expresseda divided sense of identity that has echoed throughout women's lifewritingright up to the present day. Calling desperately for an end to thewarfare that was dividing France, she marshalled all the rhetorical pathosshe could to attain her end, portraying herself simultaneously as a loyalmember of, and an outsider to, French society. The striking ambiguityof the phrase 'a part' captures the uncertain standing she experienced asa widow and a female commentator, alluding to the social marginalityher position brought with it, but also, vitally, to the valuable reflectivedistance it allowed her as a lone woman calling for peace in her fracturedsociety. In this short, three-word self-description, which informs the titleof this chapter, Christine captures succinctly the complex, uneasy relationshipbetween the female autobiographical self that is 'a part' of communitiesand institutions, and the self that stands 'apart' from them. Itis this complex and frequently agonized sense of self - seeking to belongyet yearning for solitude and privacy, or indeed for distinction from thegroup - that is at the heart of this volume's exploration of women's lifewriting.This mode of self-representation, in the many guises in whichIt is taken up in the chapters that follow, is at the heart of what we are(,lIlling the unsociable sociability of women's lifewriting.