Encyclopędia Britannica's Guide to Women's History
Print Article

Hélène Cixous

born June 5, 1937, Oran, Algeria

French feminist critic and theorist, novelist, and playwright.

Cixous's first language was German. She was reared in Algeria, which was then a French colony, a circumstance that, by her own account, gave her the undying desire to fight the violations of the human spirit wrought by power. In France during the 1960s, she taught at the University of Bordeaux and at the Sorbonne. In 1968 she helped establish the innovative University of Paris VIII–Vincennes and assumed the professorship of English literature there. In 1969, the year her first novel, Dedans (Inside), was published, she helped found the literary review Poetique. From 1970 to 1972 she issued her fiction trilogy Le Troisième Corps (1970; The Third Body), Les Commencements (1970; “Beginnings”), and Neutre (1972; “Neuter”). In 1974 she helped found the Centre for Research on Women's Studies, which she also directed.

In her essay collection Prénoms de personne (1974; “Nobody's Name”) and in La Jeune née (coauthored by Catherine Clément; 1975; The Newly Born Woman), Cixous wrote about issues of sexual difference and about female experience in writing. In books such as Le Livre de Promethea (1983; The Book of Promethea), she reinterpreted myths and the mythic past and analyzed the representations of women in Western culture. Her other collections of essays include La Venue à l'écriture(coauthored by Madeleine Gagnon and Annie Leclerc; 1977; “Coming to Writing” and Other Essays) and Stigmata: Escaping Texts (1998), a collection in English. She also wrote Manne: aux Mandelstams aux Mandelas (1988; Manna: For the Mandelstams and for the Mandelas) and Jours de l'an (1990; First Days of the Year), on emergent literatures. Portrait de Dora (1976; Portrait of Dora) was the first of several of her plays to be produced. Her later works include the play L'Indiade; ou, l'Inde de leurs rêves (1987; “The Indiade; or, India of Their Dreams”) and the novels L'Heure de Clarice Lispector (1989; Reading with Clarice Lispector) and L'Ange au secret (1991).

Photos