, Volume 92, Issue 4, pp 601–615 | Cite as

Selling Gender: An Alternative View of ‘Prostitution’ in Three French Novels of the entre-deux-guerres

  • Martina StembergerEmail author


‘Prostitution’, in literary texts, is often (re)presented as a domain of particularly extreme—and at the same time, particularly transparent—mises en scène of sexuality, but also of gender identities: the literary approach to prostitution constitutes a privileged object for the analysis of gender ‹masquerades’. ‘Prostitution’—usually equated with female prostitution, the traditional discourse on prostitution not providing any conceptual frames for phenomena of male prostitution—is often seen as a consolidation of the female status of an object of male desire and/or/as male violence. But prostitution—at least, in some rather privileged forms—and its literary (re)presentations may also display a considerable potential of gender subversion, radically de-naturalizing the ‘professional’ gender identity of the prostitute, finally involving also gender identities that are ‹not for sale’, dragging them into a symbolic economy of exchangeability. This paper discusses these questions on the example of three French novels of the Interwar period: Colette’s Chéri (1920), La Fin de Chéri (1926), and Irène Némirovsky’s David Golder (1929). Prostitution, in these texts, does not lead to the consolidation of traditionally gendered power structures; it rather seems to encourage their dissolution, de-essentializing gender identities, breaking up binary oppositions as ‹femininity’ and ‹masculinity’, ‹homosexuality’ and ‹heterosexuality’.


Colette Némirovsky Gender Prostitution 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Romance languages and literaturesUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

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