French Divorce Fiction from the Revolution to the First World War

Nicholas White

Legenda (General Series)


23 February 2013  •  205pp

ISBN: 978-1-907975-47-9 (hardback)  •  RRP £80, $110, €95

ISBN: 978-1-351192-19-4 (Taylor & Francis ebook)


One of the primary social changes ushered in by the French Revolution was the legalization of divorce in 1792. Diluted by the Civil Code and suppressed by the Restoration, divorce was only fully established in France by the Loi Naquet of 1884. French Divorce Fiction from the Revolution to the First World War tracks the part played by novels in this conflict between the secular rights of individual citizens and the sanctity of the traditional family. Inspired by the sociologists Zygmunt Bauman and Anthony Giddens, White’s account culminates in the first sustained analysis of the role of divorce in the refashioning of life narratives during the early Third Republic. As such, it finds new contexts for canonical writers on divorce such as Maupassant and Bourget, and on serial relationships such as Colette, in close readings of rediscovered women novelists like André Léo, Claire Vautier, Marie-Anne de Bovet and Camille Pert, and of long-overlooked patriarchs such as Anatole France, Alphonse Daudet and Édouard Rod.

Nicholas White teaches French in the University of Cambridge where he is a Fellow of Emmanuel College.


  • ‘Impeccably researched and well-written... Developing White's earlier survey of the family novel (1999), grounded in historical knowledge, guided by sociological readings, and underpinned by a massive amount of reading from the past two centuries, this ambitious study concludes with a meditation on contemporary images of relationships, in ways that hint at a welcome third volume of the triptych.’ — Rosemary Lloyd, Times Literary Supplement 27 September 2013
  • ‘Fortunately for nineteenth-century French readers, the advent of divorce did not signal an untimely end to the marriage of familial and plot structures... And just as fortunately for contemporary readers, Nicholas White has provided the first study of these distinctively modern tales, deftly weaving long-forgotten divorce novels, many of them quite popular in their time, into a complex and insightful broader sociocultural but also deeply literary and historical narrative.’ — Rachel Mesch, Romanic Review 2014, 104.1-2, 172-74
  • ‘A persuasive study of a society, and its literature, exploring the implications of new ideas of personal freedom.’ — unsigned notice, Forum for Modern Language Studies 50.2, April 2014, 232
  • ‘The originality of this important study is clear: it is the first book in English or French to focus on the divorce fiction that surrounds the Loi Naquet. The monograph’s ambitious breadth is reflected in the range of authors discussed: in addition to references to canonical figures such as Maupassant and Bourget, renewed consideration is afforded to the ‘Great Unread’, or what is termed ‘“minor” women writers and unfashionable patriarchs’ (p. 145), including André Léo, Claire Vautier, Marie-Anne de Bovet, and Camille Pert, and Anatole France, Alphonse Daudet, and Edouard Rod.’ — Steven Wilson, French Studies 68.2, April 2014, 257
  • ‘Nicholas White has considered a series of important questions about nineteenth- and twentieth-century French novels... His work opens the way for interested readers in fields as various as history, literature, sociology and gender studies to ask and answer new questions of their own about these novels now.’ — Jean Elisabeth Pedersen, French History 28.2, June 2014, 277-78
  • ‘An important contribution to the study of nineteenth-century French literature and the family. The authors covered are an exciting selection of, as White puts it, ‘unknown women and forgotten men’. He displays tremendous knowledge of the corpus and authors, but also of the eras and literary movements discussed. His inspired choice to conclude with American novelist Diane Johnson’s 1997 Le Divorce brings his story to the present, but also contributes to his broader argument about the literary value of texts beyond the canon.’ — Phoebe Maltz Bovy, Modern Language Review 109.4, October 2014, 1086-87 (full text online)
  • ‘Témoignant d’une profonde érudition, apportant une grande attention aux contextes idéologiques et biographiques, cet essai sans équivalent, aux analyses perspicaces, aux enjeux précis, à l’écriture claire et non départie d’humour, offre une lecture aussi enrichissante qu’agréable.’ — Claudie Bernard, French Review 89.1, 2015, 288

Bibliography entry:

White, Nicholas, French Divorce Fiction from the Revolution to the First World War (Legenda, 2013)

First footnote reference: 35 Nicholas White, French Divorce Fiction from the Revolution to the First World War (Legenda, 2013), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 White, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

White, Nicholas. 2013. French Divorce Fiction from the Revolution to the First World War (Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (White 2013: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 White 2013: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

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