French professor gives lecture on french fiction

Emily Kobzar

Courtney Sullivan, modern languages Professor at Washburn University with a specialization in French, presented “I love my past, I love my present” from noon to 1 p.m. Oct. 2 in the Bradbury Thompson Alumni Center.

Sullivan presented a lecture about courtesan novels from France in the 1800’s and how the women who wrote these memoirs were fighting against gender roles and the stereotyping of their profession.

“The courtesans who wrote memoirs and autobiographical fiction contesting the way certain male writers were deriding them in their fiction earned them respect and a place in history”, Sullivan said.

In Sullivan’s eyes much of popular culture today showcases these women as needy, money hungry and out to destroy the men who used their services. In reality, they were just trying desperately to get out of poverty and make a life for themselves.

Some even went on to help others less fortunate once they themselves had reached a certain level of wealth.

“Celeste de Chabrillan helped found an orphanage for girls whose families had perished in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870,” Sullivan said. “Liane de Pougy not only volunteered at the Saint Agnes Asylum for the severely disabled, she encouraged her wealthy friends [including Coco Chanel] to donate to the asylum.”

Misrepresentation of the profession continues in the modern movie industry, according to Sullivan. The double standard which men held courtesans to is something which has trickled on through time and is still a problem in many cultures, including our own.

“These novels are important because they didn’t just enter into this and get mansions and jewels, they had a lot of tough times and a difficult life to just make ends meet”, Sullivan said.

The women wrote these novels as a way to change their image in the world. They were upset about how men were portraying them and decided to make their voices heard.

Sullivan also has a book out called “The Evolution of the French Courtesan Novel: From de Chabrillan to Colette,” which came out last year.