Finding the Woman Who Didn't Exist


Finding the Woman Who Didn't Exist

The Curious Life of Gisèle d'Estoc

Melanie C. Hawthorne

216 pages
9 photographs, 4 illustrations, 1 genealogy, 1 chronology


March 2013


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eBook (EPUB)
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March 2020


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eBook (PDF)
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March 2013


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About the Book

Gisèle d’Estoc was the pseudonym of a nineteenth-century French woman writer and, it turns out, artist who, among other things, was accused of being a bomb-planting anarchist, the cross-dressing lover of writer Guy de Maupassant, and the fighter of at least one duel with another woman, inspiring Bayard’s famous painting on the subject. The true identity of this enigmatic woman remained unknown and was even considered fictional until recently, when Melanie C. Hawthorne resurrected d’Estoc’s discarded story from the annals of forgotten history.

Finding the Woman Who Didn’t Exist begins with the claim by expert literary historians of France on the eve of World War II that the woman then known only as Gisèle d’Estoc was merely a hoax. More than fifty years later, Hawthorne not only proves that she did exist but also uncovers details about her fascinating life and career, along the way adding to our understanding of nineteenth-century France, literary culture, and gender identity. Hawthorne explores the intriguing life of the real d’Estoc, explaining why others came to doubt the “experts” and following the threads of evidence that the latter overlooked. In focusing on how narratives are shaped for particular audiences at particular times, Hawthorne also tells “the story of the story,” which reveals how the habits of thought fostered by the humanities continue to matter beyond the halls of academe.

Author Bio

Melanie C. Hawthorne is a professor of French at Texas A&M University, College Station. She has authored, edited, and translated numerous works, including Rachilde and French Women’s Authorship: From Decadence to Modernism (Nebraska, 2001), winner of the Modern Language Association’s Scaglione Prize.


“Learned, funny, enlightening, and provocative in terms of what [this book] reveals not only about the past but about how we think in the present about the past and how we think about knowledge in general.”—Janet Beizer, professor of Romance languages and literatures at Harvard University and author of Thinking through the Mothers: Reimagining Women’s Biographies

“A research odyssey that addresses nothing less than the importance of the humanities to education and to life.”—Carol Mossman, professor of French at the University of Maryland and author of Writing with a Vengeance: The Countess de Chabrillan’s Rise from Prostitution

"A truly exquisite volume. . . . Conversational, erudite, and inspired: this book is exceptional."—Choice

"Finding the Woman Who Didn’t Exist is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. It can appeal, on the one hand, to those interested in biographies that are also good stories. On the other, its observations of scholarship can be useful both for those who are established in the field and can even serve as a primer for those in the beginning phases of scholarship, especially when it concerns primary sources."—Richard Shryock, Contemporary French Civilization

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



1. To Hell and Back (the Present)

2. Gisèle d'Estoc and World War II (the 1930s)

3. A Storm in a Teacup and a Bomb in a Flowerpot (the 1890s)

4. An Interlude (No Time in Particular)

5. Gisèle d'Estoc When She Was Real (the 1870s)

6. Gisèle d'Estoc and Who She Wasn't (the 1960s)




Works Cited

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