Photograph of Dr. Rachel Mesch

Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor of French

Research & Teaching

Rachel Mesch is Professor of French in the Department of Romance Studies. A scholar of nineteenth-century French literature, history, and culture, her research interests include queer and trans histories, women writers and feminisms, photography and material culture, and media history. She focuses particularly on the years between 1870-1910, covering the fin de siècle and the Belle Epoque.

Professor Mesch is the author of three books relating to the history of gender in nineteenth-century France. The first, The Hysteric’s Revenge: French Women Writers at the Fin de Siècle (Vanderbilt UP 2006), examines the influence of a burgeoning medical field on nineteenth-century literary culture. By placing a group of lesser-known women writers into dialogue with the most prominent male writers of the period, the book explores the extent to which French women could participate in literary movements that were obsessively focused on female sexuality. Her second book, Having It All in the Belle Epoque: How French Women’s Magazines Invented the Modern Woman (Stanford UP 2013), demonstrates how the first two photographic women’s magazines, Femina and La Vie Heureuse, constructed a new female role model who could balance femininity with feminism.The book offers a means of understanding a crucial and often misunderstood moment in French history, during which women were on the cusp of reaching new equalities but were ultimately thwarted by a society not fully able to imagine them doing so. A photo essay about these findings can be found on 

Her third book, Before Trans: Three Gender Stories from Nineteenth Century France (Stanford UP 2020) presents linked biographies of three gender diverse writers, Jane Dieulafoy, Rachilde, and Marc de Montifaud. Through the notion of the “gender story,” Before Trans demonstrates that identities can be constructed through ideas about the self that evolve over time, and that an unexplored history of gender can be accessed through attention to the stories individuals told about themselves through literature, photography, and other creative acts. Before Trans was supported by a Public Scholar fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The book was shortlisted for the American Library in Paris annual book prize and awarded a silver medal by the Independent Publishers Association for best LGBTQ non fiction. 

Prof. Mesch has appeared on numerous podcasts and recorded Zooms discussing her research, including Pandemonium U, A Bit Lit, New Books in French Studies, and the Tel Aviv Review. A former associate editor of Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Mesch co-founded and runs the Nineteenth-Century French Studies Zoom book series, NCFS Unbound. She also serves as a member of the Advisory Council for the Lever Press Re-Editions series, which publishes lost or forgotten texts by marginalized voices in classroom-ready scholarly editions. Her articles have appeared in Nineteenth-Century French Studies, PMLA, Romanic Review, The Journal of the History of Sexuality, Dix-Neuf, and Yale French Studies

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