Rebel Voices

They were exiled, publicly attacked and persecuted, their work was torn to shreds — even physically burned — and yet female writers have consistently pushed French literature in new directions by rebelling against the literary and cultural norms of their day. In Rebel Voices, literary critic and journalist Margot Dijkgraaf sketches ten portraits of women from the 17th to the 21st century who have not only left their definitive mark on the French world of letters, but also inspired readers and writers for generations.

Original title
Zij namen het woord
Margot Dijkgraaf

Be it Colette or Françoise Sagan, George Sand or Simone de Beauvoir, Maryse Condé or Annie Ernaux, their determined quests for authenticity in a male-dominated world have helped initiate literary revolutions in subject, imagination and style. But who were these extraordinary women prepared to risk significant danger? Dijkgraaf builds on over thirty years of expertise in French literature to bring each writer colourfully to life. Drawing on letters, journals, and interviews and visiting now-historic sites, she delves into each writer’s inspirations and writerly aspirations, and paints the social worlds of which each was as much a record and a product, as well as a refusal.

Striking is each writer’s insatiable hunger for all that life has to offer. Though their groundbreaking oeuvres were often also the product of humiliation, alienation or frustration, these women pursued experience and knowledge with an impassioned investigative spirit. They fought for their personal freedom, not without moments of disappointment and rage. In doing so, they defy easy labels and often eschew the word ‘feminist’ despite helping pave feminism’s way in France and beyond. These are resolute women of action, and through their eyes we witness the French revolution, butt heads with Napoleon, travel extensively, shatter sexual taboos, lash out at economic and gender inequalities, grapple with identity, race and colonialism. We converse with the leading intellectuals of their age, engage in political debate and consider the art of writing.

Written in an engaging and accessible style, this an informative history of French culture and letters to inspire a new generation of readers. And while we may often be inclined to reach for the English-language cultural world, Dijkgraaf presents convincing proof that the endlessly fascinating world of French literature has just as much to offer.

Entertaining, enlightening and inspiring, she describes heroines such as George Sand, Simone de Beauvoir, Madame de Staël, Colette and Annie Ernaux, together a cross-section of four centuries of literature.


Dijkgraaf beautifully demonstrates how those “feminine writers” (there are undoubtedly also masculine female writers, who obediently conformed to the prevailing rules) had to fight during their lives for autonomy and authenticity.

de Volkskrant
Margot Dijkgraaf
Margot Dijkgraaf (b. 1960) is a literary critic, journalist and author. She was the director of the Centre Français du Livre at the Maison Descartes as well as the Academic-Cultural Center Spui25 in Amsterdam. She currently works for the Dutch embassy in Paris.
Part ofNon-Fiction
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