Constant, Paule 1944-

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CONSTANT, Paule 1944-

PERSONAL: Born January 25, 1944, in Gan, Pyrénées-atlantiques, France; daughter of Yves and Jeanne (Tauzin) Constant; married Auguste Bourgeade, 1968; children: one son, one daughter. Education: Attended University of Bordeaux; University of Paris-IV (Sorbonne), Ph.D.

ADDRESSES: Home—29 rue Cardinale 13100, Aixen-Provence, France. Office—Institut d'Etudes Françaises pour Etudiants Etrangers, 23, rue Gaston de Saporta, 13265, Aix-en-Provence, France.

CAREER: University of Abidjan, Abdijan, Ivory Coast, assistant lecturer in French literature, 1968–75; University of Aix-Marseille III, Marseille, France, instructor in French, 1975–90, professor, 1995–. Centre des écrivains du Sud-Jean Giono, Aix-en-Provence, France, founder.

AWARDS, HONORS: Prix Valé Larbaud, 1981, for Ouregano; Grand Prix de l'essaie, Acadéemie Française, 1987, for Un monde à l'usage des demoi-selles; Prix François Mauriac, Prix Lutèce, Prix du Sud-Jean Baumel, and Grand Prix du roman, Acadéemie Française, all 1989, all for White Spirit; Prix Gabrielle d'Estres, 1993, for Le grand Ghâpal; Prix France Télévision for novel, and Prix Goncourt, both 1998, both for Trading Secrets; Prix Amnesty des Droits de l'Homme, Amnesty International, 2003, for Sucre et secret; named chevalier, French Legion of Honor; named to Ordre de L'Educateur National de Côte d'Ivoire.

WRITINGS:

Ouregano (novel), Éditions Gallimard (Paris, France), 1980.

Propriété privée (novel; title means "Private Property"), Éditions Gallimard (Paris, France), 1981.

Balta (novel), Éditions Gallimard (Paris, France), 1983.

Un monde à l'usage des demoiselles (dissertation), Éditions Gallimard (Paris, France), 1987.

White Spirit (novel), Éditions Gallimard (Paris, France), 1989.

Le grand Ghâpal (novel; title means "Big Ghapal"), Éditions Gallimard (Paris, France), 1991.

La fille du gobernator (novel), Éditions Gallimard (Paris, France), 1994, translated by Betsy Wing as The Governor's Daughter, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1998.

Confidence pour confidence (novel), Éditions Gallimard (Paris, France), 1998, translated by Betsy Wing as Trading Secrets, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2001.

Sucre et secret (novel; title means "Sugar and Secret"), Éditions Gallimard (Paris, France), 2003.

Contributor to television documentaries, including L'éducation des jeunes filles de la légion d'honneur, Arte, 1992; La princesse de Clàves, La 5, 1996; L'amazone, France 2, 1997; and Paule Constant sur les traces de Jean Giono, Galilée, La 5, 2001. Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Papers on 17th-Century Literature, Revue des Deux Mondes, and Livre.

Constant's works have been translated into English, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Italian, Polish, Dutch, Russian, Serbian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, and Greek.

SIDELIGHTS: French professor and novelist Paule Constant has won most of the major French awards for fiction, including the prestigious Prix Goncourt, whose English equivalent is the Pulitzer Prize. Having lived most of her life outside of France in such locales as Guyana, Cambodia, Laos, and Brazil, it is not surprising that many of her novels take place outside her homeland. Outlining the reasons for Constant's enviable reputation, World Literature Today contributor Danielle Chavy Cooper called the author's work "impeccable in structure and style." In a career that has spanned over two decades, Constant has demonstrated versatility in the style of her prose and in the settings of her novels; yet she often portrays girls who are at the mercy of uncaring parents and harsh environments. Her fiction consistently promotes liberty and justice for all people, regardless of gender or race.

The title of Constant's first novel, Ouregano, refers to a fictitious city in colonial Africa of the 1950s, where the action takes place. Readers see life through the eyes of seven-year-old Tiffany, the daughter of neglectful French bureaucrats. While an Economist reviewer found Constant's writing "uneven," the critic felt her critique of colonialism and racism is "implacable." Also commenting on the author's "keen insight into human nature" was Victor Carrabino, who noted in World Literature Today the universality of the novel: "Ouregano is the microcosm of our decadent world." Constant takes up the thread of this story again in Propriété privée, in which Tiffany is sent to boarding school in France after the death of her parents.

Constant also uses Africa as a setting for several of her more recent novels, including Balta, which is about the life of a village, and White Spirit, which involves an urban prostitute named Lola who wants to lighten her skin. In the latter novel, Constant not only uses multiple meanings for the title, she also juxtaposes symbols and symbolic characters, in the process harshly criticizing mankind and its vices. In the opinion of Cooper, writing again in World Literature Today, with this novel, which "shines with creativity, verve, and intensity of feeling," Constant demonstrates "a touch of class."

When Constant published her doctoral dissertation, Un monde à l'usage des demoiselles, a study of the education received by young women of the French aristocracy from the Middle Ages through the nineteenth century, she won her country's highest honor for an essay, the Grand Prix de l'essaie, from the Académie Française. "An abundance of carefully analyzed details, impeccably well written and often tinged with humor, awaits readers," asserted Ginette Adamson in the Rocky Mountain Review of Language & Literature, adding that "this essay should be part of any reading list on women's issues, especially those concerning European women."

Constant also puts her historical and sociological knowledge to use in such novels as Propriété privée, which is set at a French boarding school, and Le grand Ghâpal, which takes place in eighteenth-century France. The title of the latter novel, which refers to a mysterious insignia worn by the abbess of a convent, is told from the point of view of an aristocratic seven-year-old girl, who is writing her "memoirs." Citing Constant's use of formal, satirical French prose, World Literature Today critic Cooper described Le grand Ghâpal as in "many ways a pastiche of eighteenth-century French novels." Cooper predicted that because the tale is "so outrageous," readers "will have fun reading" the novel. "Expect the unexpected," the critic warned.

Yet another novel told from the perspective of a young girl is La fille du gobernator, which was translated as The Governor's Daughter. This story takes place at the French penal colony of Cayenne during the 1920s. There Chrétienne's father directs the prison, while her mother cares for lepers on a nearby island. In their zeal to help others, however, they neglect their daughter, leaving her in the care of and under the tutelage of several employees and inmates. Yet Chrétienne proves to be a survivor, outlasting her parents. Among the work's enthusiasts was Cooper, who praised Constant in World Literature Today for the novel's many positive attributes—"solid craftsmanship in format, characters, images, and style." Choice reviewer R. Merker called the work "an enthralling account," and in the French Review Yolande Helm pplauded Constant's language, describing it as a "unique blend of humor, lyricism, and cruelty." The Governor's Daughter "is indeed an extraordinary, many-faceted novel, superbly structured and written," Cooper concluded.

Confidence pour confidence, published in English as Trading Secrets, takes place in what is for Constant another exotic locale—Kansas. There, feminist colloquium director Gloria and her three house guests share revelations, making for a "clever comic novel," according to one Kirkus Reviews contributor. Each character functions as an Everywoman, noted Booklist critic Bonnie Johnston, adding that through the characters' manipulative interactions Constant "illuminates the dark side of feminism." According to French Review contributor Claudine Guégan Fisher, several French critics were astonished that a woman writer would so harshly criticize feminism and noted that such criticism would have been unacceptable had it come from a man. Summing up the novel for Library Journal, Lawrence Olszewski called Trading Secrets a "somber but engaging work that provides keen insight into the feminist psyche."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, October 15, 2001, Bonnie Johnston, review of Trading Secrets, p. 381.

Choice, November, 1998, R. Merker, review of The Governor's Daughter, p. 527.

Economist, March 21, 1981, "Unhappy Families," review of Ouregano, p. 107.

French Review, December, 1990, Ginette Adamson, review of White Spirit, pp. 281-282; October, 1995, Yolande Helm, review of The Governor's Daughter, pp. 186-187; March, 2000, Claudine Guégan Fisher, review of Confidence pour confidence, pp. 759-780.

French Studies, July, 2000, Gill Rye, "The (Im)Possible Ethics of Reading: Identity, Difference, Violence, and Responsibility in Paule Constant's White Spirit," pp. 327-337.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2001, review of Trading Secrets, p. 1454.

Library Journal, March 15, 1998, Jim Dwyer, review of The Governor's Daughter, p. 92; December, 2001, Lawrence Olszewski, review of Trading Secrets, p. 170.

Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, Volume 43, numbers 1-2, Ginette Adamson, review of Un monde à l'usage des demoiselles, pp. 87-89.

Spectator, January 2, 1999, Anita Brookner, review of Trading Secrets, p. 35.

Translation Review Supplement, July, 1998, review of The Governor's Daughter, p. 14.

World Literature Today, summer, 1981, Victor Carrabino, review of Ouregano, pp. 424-425; summer, 1990, Danielle Chavy Cooper, review of White Spirit, pp. 437-438; winter, 1993, Danielle Chavy Cooper, review of Le grand Ghâpal, pp. 145-146; spring, 1995, Danielle Chavy Cooper, review of The Governor's Daughter, p. 317.

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