‘All history is first chronology’, Henri-Jean Martin, the cultural historian, asserts in the opening lines of his Histoire et pouvoirs de l'écrit. A History of Women's Writing in France is true to this definition of history, since it is, first and foremost, a chronological survey, with contributions ranging from the Middle Ages to the present day. As this organization suggests, traditional categories have been retained within this chronology, despite the fact that feminist historiography has called into question the very notion of ‘periodization’, implying as it does a common history for both sexes. Such categories, one could argue, can and should be retained in a volume devoted exclusively to women's writing, not least because, both implicitly and explicitly, this History is relational and seeks to reinstate women's distinctive contribution to those periods, even as it excludes the men who history records as shaping them.
Histories such as this one are necessarily selective and exclusive. First, and most obviously, there is the exclusion of male writers, important figures canonized by other sorts of literary history and criticism. This particular exclusion needs no excuses, but it does make this account of writing in France a partial one, in both senses of the word. Only when women's part in the shaping of literary history is fully restored, only when their activities and works are fully re-integrated in the chronology of both history and writing, will it be possible to address this first kind of exclusivism.