Tinayre, Marcelle (c. 1870–1948)

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Tinayre, Marcelle (c. 1870–1948)

French writer and journalist whose numerous novels dealt especially with the effects of love on women's freedom and development. Pronunciation: mar-SELL tee-NAIR. Born Marguerite-Suzanne-Marcelle Chasteau at Tulle (Corrèze) in 1870 (or possibly 1871 or 1872); died at Grosrouvre, near Montfort-l'Amaury (Seine-et-Oise), on August 23, 1948, and was buried at the village church; eldest child of Chasteau Fourichon (a businessman [négociant]) and Louise Fourichon (c. 1850–1926, a teacher); educated at home, baccalaureate degree, 1889; daughter-in-law of Marguerite Tinayre (1831–?); married (Jean-)Julien Tinayre (1859–1923, an engraver), in 1889 (died 1923); children: Louise (b. 1890); Suzanne (1891–1896); Noël (b. 1896); Lucile (b. 1899).

Sent a poem to Victor Hugo (1884); received the baccalaureate degree and married (1889); published Avant l'amour, her first novel under her own name (1897); received a prize for Hellé and bought a country home (c. 1900); published her most praised work, La Maison du péché (1902); was denied the Legion of Honor after making some controversial remarks about it (1909); named to the Prix Flaubert jury (1923); named to the Prix Renée Vivien jury (1935); received the Prix Barthou (1938).

Major writings (all published in Paris, most by Calmann-Lévy): Ménage d'artistes, signed "Gilbert Doré" (1893); Avant l'amour (1897); La Rançon (1898); Hellé (1899); L'Oiseau d'orage (1900); La Maison du péché (1902); La Vie amoureuse de François Barbazanges (1904); La Rebelle (1905); La Consolatrice (in L'Illustration, 1907); L'Amour qui pleure (1908); Notes d'une voyageuse en Turquie (1909); L'Ombre de l'amour (1910); Le Paysage de Port-Royal (1910); Napoléon et la reine Hortense (1910); La Douceur de vivre (1911); Madeleine au miroir: Journal d'une femme (1912); La Veillée des armes: Le Départ (1914), translation of Au Pays des Pierres by Cécile Tormay (1914); Perséphone (1920); Les Lampes voilées: Laurence-Valentin (1921); Le Bouclier d'Alexandre (1922); Priscille Séverac (1922); L'Anneau de fer (1922); "La Legende de Duccio et d'Orsette," in L'Illustration (1923); La Vie amoureuse de Madame de Pompadour (1924); Un Drame de famille (1925); translation of Scènes de la révolution communiste en Hongrie by Cécile Tormay (1925); Figures dans la nuit (1926); "Saint Jean libérateur" in L'Illustration (1926); Une Provinciale en 1830 (1927); Terres étrangères: Norvège, Suéde, Hollande, Andalousie (1928); Josephine à Malmaison (1930); Vieilles chansons et vieux poémes (1930); L'Ennemi intime (1931); La Femme et son secret (1933); Châteaux en Limousin (1934); Histoire de l'amour (1935); L'Affaire Lafarge (1935); Gérard et Delphine I: La Porte rouge (1936); Mariage (1937); "Sainte Marie du feu," in L'Illustration (1938); Gérard et Delphine II: Le Rendez-vous du soir (1938); Sainte-Marie du feu (1938); "Est-ce un miracle?" (1939); Châteaux disparus (1940); Madame du Barry (1940); Aventurine (1941); "Mémoires: Enfance et Adolescence," unpublished (1947); Une Soirée chez Renée Vivien, 4 novembre 1908 (1981).


collaborations of varying lengths; before World War I at La Vie populaire and Le Monde illustré, where she published stories signed Gilbert Doré, short newsy items (échos ) for Le Gaulois and Gil Blas, articles in La Fronde (1898–99), Le Temps, La Revue de Paris, Fémina, Madame et Monseiur; post-World War I at Le Temps, La Vie heureuse, L'Européen, Le Journal de Marseille, La Pensée française, La Revue des deux mondes, La Revue de Paris, La Mode pratique, Madame et Monsieur, and in 1933 editor of La Nouvelle Revue féminine.

Marcelle Tinayre was one of France's most praised and popular novelists during the first two decades of the 20th century. Her favor declined thereafter, and at her death she was all but forgotten. When the feminist movement blossomed late in the century, however, she was rediscovered and the character and significance of her works reexamined.

No disagreement exists as regards her birthplace, the town of Tulle (Corrèze), in central southwestern France around 100 miles east of Bordeaux. As for her birth date, the most reliable current account of her personal life (by Patricia Ferlin ) gives 1870, whereas her obituary says she was 76 in 1948. (Reference works and catalogs often give 1877, which is clearly erroneous.) Marcelle's father Chasteau Fourichon was a businessman of sorts (négociant) who found work as he could while his wife, a teacher, moved from post to post. Although her mother Louise Fourichon was the dominant figure in her youth, Marcelle described her father as "deeply artistic" and said she got her imagination, intellectual curiosity, and strong work ethic from him. Her mother, she said, was "remarkably intelligent," a powerful personality, and a born teacher. When not yet 30, Louise was appointed director of the women's teacher training school at Troyes. In 1880, she was named director of studies at the women's teacher training school at Fontenay-aux-Roses (Seine). She soon fell into disagreement with the inspector-general of education, however, and in May 1881 resigned from state service. The family—which also included Marcelle's younger sister, Lucienne (Pelletan) , future wife of a prominent publisher, Édouard Pelletan—then moved to Paris, where Louise taught in private schools and wrote for education reviews.

Marcelle was taught by her mother and, later on, tutors. She was petite, very fair-skinned, with dark hair and eyes, a remarkably bright child, perky and agreeable but also living an intense, concealed inner life fed by a fertile imagination. Her mother and maternal grandmother, who could recite reams of Hugo and Lamartine, read to her assiduously. She later said that the Bible and the Odyssey were important poetic influences on her; critics noted that her prose was marked by poetic traits. She began composing poems at about age nine, and in adolescence wrote a long poem about Christian missionaries in ancient Greece and a four-act play about François Villon. In 1884, at the urging of Eugène Hollande, a tutor, she sent a poem to Victor Hugo, who wrote an encouraging reply; Marcelle suspected he did so to everyone. "The idea of writing never occurred to me," she remarked in old age. "It just happened, that's all."

Recognizing her talent, her mother encouraged her to obtain the baccalaureate degree, which very few girls yet attempted. Her tutors were excellent, and the regime allowed her to take lessons for three hours a day and spend the rest "working for myself." She learned Latin from Hollande, a brother of a friend of her mother's. He was a fine scholar, befriended her, and later would see to the publication of her first novel, Avant l'amour (1897). Around 1885, during her studies, she discovered Blaise Pascal and contracted "a true religious fever" from the Pensées. It was then that the seeds of her novel La Maison du péché (The House of Sin, 1902), often considered her best, began germinating. Her sexual awakening accompanied, for a time, her religious "fever." She started going to parties and balls at 17 and enjoyed these diversions. When she took the baccalaureate examination at the Sorbonne in 1889, she was one of but three girls to attempt the written part and the only one to brave the oral part, winning the notation "Bien."

A few weeks later, aged 19 (or 17), she married a handsome, simple, shy, 30-year-old engraver, Julien Tinayre, son of an acquaintance of her mother's, Marguerite Tinayre , a formidable woman who had been exiled for serving as an inspector of girls' schools during the Paris Commune revolt (1871). Marcelle's mother had feared that, given the social climate of the times, she soon would become hurt and disillusioned if she tried to carve out an independent career. Marcelle gave in to Louise's urgings to marry the son of a woman they both admired.

Julien was a good man, but Marcelle regretted the marriage from the start and rebelled against her mother's counsels of renunciation and submission. Matters worsened when she became pregnant almost immediately: "I became a mother too young and without having wished it." She never liked babies, although she did love children when they grew older. Forty years later she wrote in an unpublished memoir, "One must enter the reality of marriage by the golden door of illusion, without which no girl would commit the folly of enchaining herself." She soon ceased writing this memoir of her personal life, perhaps because it was redundant, for her novels had returned time and again to the theme of conflicts between women's full development and the constraints put upon them by marriage and motherhood.

Marcelle Tinayre had four children in short order: Louise (1890), Suzanne (1891–1896), Noël (1896), and Lucile (1899). Despite her maternal duties—or because of them—she began to write. She longed to "live life" but felt trapped. Besides, the household needed money, for photography was killing work for engravers. She got some short stories published as Ménage d'artistes (1893) in La Vie populaire and Le Monde illustré under the name "Gilbert Doré" and wrote short newsy pieces (échos) for Le Gaulois and Gil Blas for 5 francs each—a day's expense. And in 1898 she joined the staff of

Marguerite Durand 's La Fronde (a daily newspaper written and printed entirely by women) as editor of the drama column for a time.

Meanwhile, she began to write novels—Avant l'amour (Before Love), La Rançon (The Ransom), and L'Oiseau d'orage (The Storm Bird)—which she put away in a drawer. Getting a first novel published at that time was exceedingly difficult, and she obviously had few hopes. But Eugène Hollande turned up and insisted on taking Avant l'amour (written under a male pseudonym) to Juliette Adam , director of La Nouvelle Revue. Adam sent the manuscript to Jules Case and then Alphonse Daudet, a literary lion. Daudet replied that "the story displays inexperience, but you must publish it, for the young man [sic] will be someone." The Nouvelle Revue complied, and the Mercure de France followed with a hardback edition (1897). The book won enough notice to persuade Tinayre, who was astonished and delighted, to send La Rançon to Le Temps; the Mercure again issued it in hardback (1898). The uproar over the Dreyfus Affair might have drowned it out, but the editor of the Revue de Paris, Ganderax, was impressed. He opened the doors of the Revue and published Hellé (1899). The Académie Française awarded it a splendid prize of 5,000 francs. Tinayre was now fully launched, hailed by critics as one of the "new princesses" of literature.

Success brought affluence. With receipts from the prize, L'Oiseau d'orage (1900), La Maison du péché (1902), La Vie amoureuse de François Babazanges (1904), and La Rebelle (1905), she bought a dilapidated mansion at Grosrouvre (Seine-et-Oise) near Montfort l'A-maury, around 25 miles west of central Paris, and proceeded to renovate and enlarge it. She kept a Paris apartment but favored the country home, where she entertained visitors—notably Anatole France, Alphonse and Léon Daudet, René Doumic, Marcel Schwob, Fernand Gregh, Joseph Mardus and Lucie Delarue-Mardrus , and Abbé Arthur Mugnier. She kept a remarkably steady pace of about a novel per year until near the end of her life. She liked to travel, visiting England frequently, Italy, and in 1909 Turkey, under contract with the Revue des deux mondes, where she witnessed the climax of the revolt by the Young Turks, several of whom she had befriended in Paris.

Before and after the First World War she also lectured around France and Switzerland on literature and women, e.g., George Sand (with whom some enthusiasts compared her). She wrote occasionally for periodicals, among them Le Temps, La Vie heureuse, Madame et Monsieur, La Mode pratique, L'Européen, Le Journal de Marseille, and La Pensée française, and often had her works published by the Revue des deux mondes or the Revue de Paris before they appeared in paperback. In 1933, she became the editor of La Nouvelle Revue féminine. She attracted an impressive list of contributors, including Gabrielle Reval , Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, Maurice Lavedan, Fernand Gregh, and François Mauriac, but it published only three issues.

In 1909, Tinayre provoked an uproar which occupied the press for some weeks. She had been nominated for the Legion of Honor, but when she wrote a letter to Le Temps joking clumsily about it—saying she wouldn't wear the ribbon because her 13-year-old son would think she had been an army canteen hostess (cantinière) back in the Franco-Prussian War—charges flew that she had insulted the Legion. When the final list appeared, her name was absent. Léon Blum, a supporter of women's rights (and a future premier), wrote tellingly in her defense that if a man had written the letter, it would have been laughed off. The brouhaha upset her, and she went off on the trip to Turkey. In the end, however, she dismissed the snub with humor.

During the First World War, her husband was drafted for the duration despite his age, and in 1916 her son, Noël, volunteered and served at the front as a liaison agent to the end of the war. After the war, she continued writing novels but also some nonfiction potboilers—about Pompadour and Du Barry and extinct Parisian castles, a history of love, and so forth. She was falling out of fashion and becoming dated. None of her works dealt with, for example, independent, unmarried, "unsexed" career women, the "new" women. Love and marriage and their attendant problems remained the center of her universe. She produced some worthy pieces—e.g., Perséphone (1920), Les Lampes voilées (1922), Le Bouclier d'Alexandre (1922), Un Drame de famille (1925), L'Ennemi intime (1931), and Gérard et Delphine (2 vols., 1936–38)—but they have never drawn the attention of literary and social scholars largely because, unlike the case with her early works and the women's movement around 1900, they were not on the cutting edge. In 1923, nevertheless, she was named to the jury for the Prix Flaubert and in 1935 to the jury for the new prize for women poets named for the poet Renée Vivien (née Pauline Tarn, 1877–1909), whom she had strongly encouraged. In 1938, she received the Prix Barthou from the Académie Française.

Julien Tinayre faded to little more than a shadowy presence. He continued to live with her and had a workshop in the country home. In 1923, he died suddenly at age 63. In later life, she still divided her time between the retreat at Grosrouvre and an apartment on the rue de Lille. Frédéric Lefèvre visited her in 1931 and found her radiating a simple, elegant charm. Her surroundings exhibited a refined taste. She said she read a great deal of foreign and ancient literature. As for current authors, she preferred those different from her and highly praised Georges Bernanos, whom she regarded as "dominating" present literature. As the years advanced, she grew more contemplative and again interested in religion. Following the Second World War, she died on August 23, 1948, at her country home. She was given a private funeral and was buried at the village church.

Of Marcelle Tinayre's private life, little is known. In 1892 or 1893, while tending children and beginning to write seriously, she penned a long letter to her mother in which she said she needed the passion she no longer experienced in her marriage, and hinted that she would seek fulfillment elsewhere. Her mother replied, advising against infidelity as dangerous and rife with pain and sorrow. Their alienation dated from about this time. Her mother found her views too feminist, smacking of "anarchism," and refused to attend her lectures. Over the years Marcelle sought reconciliation at times, but without full success. When her mother died in 1926—Marcelle cared for her toward the end—she was left with painful regrets, for she sincerely admired her.

It seems all but certain she engaged in extramarital affairs, although when and with whom may become known only when her correspondence is opened in 2048. Her son, when interviewed after her death, said her books clearly reflected it. In her unpublished memoir, she spoke of a "double life," but without elaborating. To Frédéric Lefèvre she spoke of "duality," framing it as a personality trait. She said she loved youth and gaiety and good living, but that she had a "contained and ardent interior life" out of which came books with tragic themes. Her "double life," in short, appears composed of two elements: 1) a conventional marriage behind which she concealed infidelity, and 2) a personality showing to the world features quite different from what she experienced within her. A fairly obvious conclusion can be drawn, namely, that it was the effect of these contradictions working on a fervid imagination that made her so prolific a writer.

Tinayre was a daring feminist by the standards of the time, which in France were modest. She did not seriously challenge institutions and ideologies, although personally she favored socialism. Her audience being mainly women whose husbands might be looking over their shoulders, she had to be careful not to shock unduly lest she damage sales. (She sold well; in 1917 La Rebelle was in its 73rd edition.) The core and goal of her novels is the examination of love. She accepted the prevailing belief in her society regarding the nature of women, namely, that their aim in life is to love deeply and be loved well in return. She considered this simply stated proposition from many perspectives, however, dissecting its complexities, its ambiguities and pitfalls. Central to her writing is the tension between instinct and social convention, nature and nurture, an exploration of which reveals how complex are the choices forced upon women.

On the other hand, the theses (so to speak) that she advanced are fairly uncomplicated. She sought an end to the double standard in sexual matters. Women have a right to passion, just as do men. Here she violated a long-prevailing taboo in women's writing, i.e., the legitimizing and description (although not in her case graphically) of feminine sexual desires. Her heroines are legitimized because they believe that they have found true love. Error in love carries no shame. The ending of the double standard, however, is itself a product of the equalization of rights between men and women. Equalization is of paramount importance. There can be no true, honest existence for women unless they too, like men, may be educated and achieve autonomy, a full selfhood. Women will be emancipated only when love and autonomy are reconciled—no simple undertaking, as she demonstrated time and again. She wanted an end to suffering and renunciation as special female virtues: "The religion of human suffering is a snare." At the same time, she was quite conventional in holding that equality did not mean that men and women are identical. They have particular natures and proclivities and duties. What is needed is full, honest, mutual respect. Without it, women are doomed to continue to be treated as inferior creatures—a situation that is unfulfilling to both sexes.

The novelist is a haunted house.

—Marcelle Tinayre

Tinayre's style has been much praised. Like most female novelists of the time, she wrote to earn a living, not to dazzle, explore special techniques, or win prizes and election to the Académie. Consequently, her prose is direct and unpretentious. It carries one along, is seldom boring or unduly digressive. It is bold, virile, and combative but not violent. She also exhibits grace, lightness, ease of expression, a sense of proportion, and writes cadenced sentences appealing to the mind and ear. Plots are not complicated, although they tend to meander. The interest is in the characters, their psychology and reactions to situations. She was gifted with an eye for nature and life; some of her best work is set in the countryside of her native Corrèze.

When the feminist movement took wing in the latter 20th century, Tinayre's work drew renewed interest. In this context, probably the most commented-upon novel has been La Rebelle (1905), a depiction of self-realization. The heroine is an independent thinker who by sincerity and integrity raises herself and her lover to a higher plane of happiness when they achieve equality in their relationship. Feminism and social problems are dealt with in theses which are bold for their time albeit conventional by modern standards. In the public sphere, the heroine wins equality and autonomy, but within the home she freely accepts her husband's preeminence: "She has not the courage of her liberty…. Her one de sire and her one regret is love." Jennifer Waelti-Walters notes that modern readers would find that she "relinquishes too much of her autonomy in the bedroom, but at least Josanne is allowed to be whole"—which was Tinayre's message to women of all degrees in the society of her day.

La Maison du péché (1902) secured Tinayre's reputation. The eminent critic Émile Faguet called it "almost incomparable." It is a tragic tale turning upon, as she put it, "rights of the flesh versus rights of the soul"—love versus religious duty, a time-honored theme in French literature. The heroine is a free-spirited, unreligious young widow, the hero a young man raised in the puritanical tradition of Jansenist Roman Catholicism. In the end he cannot over-come the conflict and commits suicide. When the French translation of James Joyce's Critical Writings appeared in 1966, Le Figaro littéraire was astonished to find that it was the only novel to which Joyce devoted a long review, and moreover, it was by far the most laudatory. As the editors point out, two elements drew Joyce's attention: 1) the plot resembles one he was developing for Stephen Hero and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; and 2) the style conforms to what he believed it should be, namely, an expression of the subject, not the author. Figaro asked if it were not time for a reassessment of Tinayre. It proved to be a long time coming.

At her death, Le Monde called her "a classic writer," "a great novelist." Reflecting on her life in her unpublished memoir, she spoke in terms most writers of fiction can echo: "The novelist is a haunted house. The beings born of me and which no longer were of me, who were realized possibilities, transposed realities—[they] began to inhabit me. I freed myself from these phantoms. And that is all I did for my whole life."


Duclaus, Mary. Twentieth-Century French Writers (Reviews and Reminiscences). NY: Scribner, 1920.

Ferlin, Patricia. Femmes d'encrier. [Etrepilly]: Christian de Bartillat, 1995, pp. 145–185.

Holmes, Diana. French Women's Writing, 1848–1994. London: Althone, 1996.

Joyce, James. The Critical Writings of James Joyce. Ellsworth Mason and Richard Ellmann, eds. NY: Viking, 1959.

Lefèvre, Frédéric. Une heure avec … 6th ser. Paris: Ernest Flammarion, 1933.

"La Maison du péché," in Dictionnaire des oeuvres de tous les temps et de tous les pays. Laffont-Bompiane, ed. Paris: Société d'édition de dictionnaires et encyclopédias, 1953.

Martin-Mamy, Eugène. Marcelle Tinayre. "Les Célébrités d'aujourd'hui," vol. 6, pt. 1. Paris: E. Sansot, 1909.

"Mort de Marcelle Tinayre," in Le Monde. August 26, 1948.

Niderst, A. "Tinayre, Marcelle, née Chasteau," in Dictionnaire des littératures de langue française. J.P. Beaumarchais, Daniel Couty, and Alain B. Rey, eds. Paris: Bordas, 1984.

Rogers, Juliette M. "Tinayre, Marcelle (1877–1948)," in Eva Martin Sartori, ed., The Feminist Encyclopedia of French Literature. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Stephens, Winifred [Whale]. French Novelists of Today. 2nd ser. NY: John Lane, 1915.

Waelti-Walters, Jennifer. Feminist Novelists of the Belle Epoque: Love as a Lifestyle. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990.

——. "Forgotten Women of France, 1900–1914," in Atlantis (Canada) Vol. 11, no. 1, 1985, pp. 1–6.

Woodbridge, Benjamin Matthew. "The Novels and the Ideas of Madame Marcelle Tinayre," in Bulletin of the University of Texas. January 25, 1915, pp. 3–24.

suggested reading:

Flat, Paul. Nos femmes de lettres. Paris: Perrin, 1909.

Tissot, Ernest. Nouvelles Princesses de lettres. Vol. 2. Paris: Fontemoing, 1911.


Paris: Dossier "Marcelle Tinayre," Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand.

Tulle (Corrèze): Fonds "Marcelle Tinayre," Archives départementales de la Corrèze.

David S. Newhall , Pottinger Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus, Centre College, and author of Clemenceau: A Life at War (1991)