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The literary portrait was extremely popular in France for a number of years during the mid-seventeenth century. With roots in salon society, the portrait became a genre in its own right during this period and was eventually incorporated in numerous other genres such as novels, memoirs, theater, and sermons. In this study, I will consider the close association between the initial vogue of portraiture and women, and examine the advantages and problems posed by the genre for women authors. I will trace the evolution of the literary portrait during the seventeenth century, in particular, the manner in which women were progressively dissociated from portraiture. Finally, I will consider how seventeenth-century portraiture is discussed in twentieth-century criticism, focusing specifically on the role assigned to women in the history of the genre. The scope of this article will not allow for a rehabilitation of the mid-seventeenth-century portrait on aesthetic grounds. The focus will rather be the exploration of how a significant body of work, largely composed by women, has been denigrated and eclipsed in its own time as well as in our time for reasons which often seem more related to the sex of the authors than to the merits of the texts.

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Taylor & Francis

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Women's Studies