Foreign Languages & Literatures ETDs

Publication Date



This dissertation examines the exotic woman's character in four French novels, Lettres d'une Péruvienne (1747) by Françoise de Graffigny, Ourika (1823) by Claire de Duras, La jongleuse (1900) by Rachilde and Poisson d'or (1997) by J-M.G. Le Clézio. Its principal argument is to show how these novels have been able to escape the interpretative constraint which sees in the figure of the exotic woman a space of Western colonization and domination, a figure subjugated by the double yoke of race and sex, subjected to the despotism of imitation. The reading of these novels suggests interpreting the use of this exotic figure and the recourse to an imaginary space of 'primitive' civilization as a codified strategy of contestation and resistance, and a possible reeducation of feminine desire. By using Michel Foucault analysis of biopower, discursive powers and practices of freedom in order to challenge the idea that women's desire is limited to biological determination of nature, these novels avoid the trap of both a return to the sources of a so-called natural desire or a pure and total emancipation. Our analysis looks at the answers each novel offers in terms of possibilities and limits of these contestations of disciplinary regimes. The acceptation of the symbolic act of marriage plunging woman in a private space of patriarchal domination is challenged through the recourse to recurrent strategies to stage the care of the self through the deconstruction of the institutional family by the imagination of fantasy incest, platonic love and adoption of a family which will allow the heroin to build herself through fictive communities. Also will be treated case by case the corollary questions of what is the price to pay for the exotic woman in order to escape male domination if she refuses the social role assigned to her by society and what is the gain to being isolated from society.


Le Clezio, Claire de Duras, Rachilde, Francoise de Graffigny, Foucault, Gayle Ruben, Exotic women in literature

Document Type




Degree Name

French Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

First Committee Member (Chair)

Bishop, Stephen

Second Committee Member

Ferguson, Eliza

Third Committee Member

Vallury, Rajeshwari