Crossposted from French & Italian Studies.
At the end of last quarter, Assistant Professor of French Hannah Frydman won the Larry Schehr Memorial Award for the best essay at the Nineteenth-Century French Studies Colloquium by an untenured PhD within the first six years since receiving the degree for her essay, “Confidences épistolaires de la Vénus publique’: Le Figaro’s Petite Correspondance and the Business and Pleasure of Sharing Private Messages in Public.” Professor Frydman also presented her paper as part of a panel on “Women Readers” at the 47th Annual Nineteenth-Century French Studies Colloquium in New York City in November of 2022.
Frydman says the essay came “out of my interest in the history of inexpensive newspaper advertising and the way it allowed ordinary people to communicate privately in public to a variety of different ends.” In working to finish revising her book manuscript, Between the Sheets: Classified Advertising, Sexuality, and the Moral Threat to Press Freedom in France, she realized that there were some things in the pre-history of the story she was telling that she didn’t know.
Research led her to a personal ad column created in 1875 in the daily newspaper Le Figaro called the petite correspondance that was critiqued for facilitating adultery and sexual commerce because it allowed people to correspond anonymously via newspaper (for a fee), rather than having to write directly to someone they should not, but it was also incredibly popular with readers who enjoyed reading strangers’ (supposedly real) private missives. Frydman notes it’s “interesting to try to think about as a precursor to social media and its “own monetization of our making the intimate very public.”
In her essay, Frydman traces the brief but consequential life of the petites correspondances in order to argue for “its importance in the intertwined history of press and sexuality.” Frydman shows how they introduced a “form of exhibitionism and voyeurism into the press in the very years that witnessed the buildup of fears about the spread of pornography and the conception of new laws freeing the press.” In this climate she writes “moral critiques led to the closure of the column after a few years, but its monetization of a voyeuristic experience of reading the “real” sexual intrigues of anonymous others was to have a long afterlife.”
The research for this essay and for her work more broadly is threaded throughout two courses she will be teaching this year, FRENCH 223: Sex, Commerce and the Making of Modern Paris, which explores how sex and commerce together shaped ideas about Paris and the city’s topography, and FRENCH 447: Queer Histories and Fictions, on histories and fictions of non-normative sexuality, which also explores the “business and pleasure” of reading potentially real fictions. For Textual Studies, she will also be teaching core course TXTDS 403: Archives, Data and Databases: Thinking with Archives (offered jointly with FRENCH 435) in Autumn 2023.