Potrait of Madame Deshoulières (1634-1694), by Élisabeth Sophie Chéron
Potrait of Madame Deshoulières (1634-1694), by Élisabeth Sophie Chéron. Condé Museum. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

By giving new attention to early modern female freethinking in France across literary genres, Another Humanism revises a conventional humanistic historical narrative of subjectivity as founded on the challenged idea of human sovereignty. 

Our research arises from the hypothesis that the marginalized forms of subjectivities that early modern female authors gave expression to, have the potential to positively redefine the understanding of humanism after the post-anthropocentric turn.

Another Humanism was launched in 2020 and is headquartered at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics with professor Carin Franzén as project manager. The project is funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.


Another Humanism: Gendering Early Modern Libertinism and the Boundaries of Subjectivity addresses the history of subjectivity through an exploration of female libertinism and freethinking in French literature 1500–1700.

The purpose of the project is to highlight the diversity of early modern subjectivity and to give new historical insight on present critical discussions concerning the modern subject within posthumanism, ecological humanities and new materialism.

The project puts the theoretical renewal that the post-anthropocentric turn in the humanities implies to critical use in the study on early modern female writers and freethinkers from Marguerite de Navarre to Antoinette Deshoulières. These are writers that in various senses and genres – novels, maxims, drama, poetry, letters, fairy tales – transgress and undermine dominant conventions and norms determining early modern feminine subjectivity. Through this focus, the project highlights other forms of subjectivity than the ones usually related to a humanist narrative based on the idea of human sovereignty which was first articulated during the renaissance and which later on became established as the rational and autonomous modern subject. 

Our goal is to contribute to a renewal of European literary history enabling a revaluation of the humanist tradition and its relevance today.

The project is divided into four main subprojects:

Female Responses to Montaigne and Descartes

This part of the project revises the understanding of the rise of modern subjectivity by adding focus to women’s progressive part therein. To rewrite a conventional narrative of subjectivity, the subproject introduces contributions by for instance Hélisenne de Crenne, Marguerite de Navarre or queen Christina of Sweden to questions on subjectivity that are often connected exclusively to two founding figures in the period, Montaigne and Descartes. In bringing further the discussion of how early modern female writers pioneered new configurations of subjectivity, this part of the project considers how the complexities of women’s social status in the period affected the question of subjectivity and broadens the understanding of the cultural field in which gender and subjectivation were negotiated in the early modern period.

Challenging the Sovereign Subject

The focus of this subproject on women’s agency in affairs of love and in state symbolism in absolutist France enables a critique to come forth of the idea of the sovereign, rational subject. Affiliation to libertinism and freethinking of writers such as Ninon de Lenclos and Antoinette Deshoulières is evident in the importance they give to passions in their writings. Rather than seeking rational control over passions, could humans not excise them as an art of love, thus making women win agency? And could heroic ideals from a materialistic perspective not be seen as a cover for burgeoning dangers of man’s ambitions for mastery on the planet? By turning to the epistolary genre and drama, the subproject goes to the root of early forms of modern individualism and sovereignty as a concept conjoined to modern subjectivity to uncover other forms of subjectivity than those related to subjectivation of female bodies, thinking and desires.

Boundaries of Subjectivity

This part of the project turns to other parts of Antoinette Deshoulières’ literary production and to fairy tales written by the genre’s female inventors, e.g. Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, to investigate the ways in which boundaries between the human and the non-human are destabilized out of ethical concerns. What associations are formed between female authors and the natural phenomena they dignify in their literary productions? Introducing new dimensions to the gendered complexities of subjectivity, the subproject bridges them to current concerns about human exceptionalism, the animal-human relationship and a more-than-human or general ecology. This part of the project adds substantially to our objective of making the materialistic ethics shaped by early modern women inspirational for the ethics for a post-Anthropocene world.

Another Humanism

The concluding part of the project wraps up our findings under the project title, Another Humanism. In order to give formulation to a sustainable humanism, we invite scholars to collaborate with us at an international conference to discuss the future of humanism in light of past and present posthumanist interest.

Research Team

Carin Franzén and Nan Gerdes
Carin Franzén and Nan Gerdes.

Project manager Carin Franzén, PhD, is professor of comparative literature at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University. Her research explores the relations between formations of subjectivity and cultural hegemonies. She has published various articles on subjectivity in literature from both modern and early modern periods.
Contact: carin.franzen@littvet.su.se

Project participant Nan Gerdes, PhD, is a postdoc at Roskilde University, Denmark. Her background is in comparative literature, but doctoral and postdoctoral studies (University of Copenhagen) in the early modern and pre-modern era have given emphasis to French Studies in her research activities. The horizon of her research however remains geographically and temporally broad in scope. Thematically, her fields of interests are the intersections between literature, politics, and the making of selfhood (including relations to animal and machine), authority, and community. 
Contact: gerdes@ruc.dk


Another Humanism hosts a number of workshops and organizes an international workshop to take place in 2022.

Our first workshop, Female Responses in Early Modern Literature, was arranged 17 September 2020, at Stockholm University and online.

Publications and outreach


Carin Franzén

”Tänkandets och materiens rörelser. Antoinette Deshoulières idyller som ekopoesi”, Blick rörelse, röst. Festskrift till Cecilia Sjöholm, eds. Ktaz Thor & Wallrup, Södertörn högskola, Huddinge 2021

Conference presentation: She Preferred the Condition of Sheep to that of Humans – On Antoinette Deshoulières’ Naturalism, Conference: RSA French Literature Seminar: Women Writers, Women in Writing, RSA Virtual, April 20, 2021

Nan Gerdes

Conference presentation: Love as Practice in Hélsenne de Crenne’s Epistre familieres et invectives, Conference: RSA French Literature Seminar: Women Writers, Women in Writing, RSA Virtual, April 20, 2021


Carin Franzén

Conference presentation: Tidigmoderna fritänkare och posthumanism avant la lettre, Conference: EKO 2020: Litteraturvetenskap, miljö och hållbarhet, 3 december 2020

Conference presentation: Och du som talar, vem är du? Om fåglar, människor, vargar och språk i barockens litteratur, Conference: Människan och djuret i barockens värld. Interaktioner, representationer, transformationer, Barockakademiens årliga symposium, 13 November 2020

“Queen Christina’s Coolness”, Exploring Nordic Cool in Literary History, eds. Hermansson & Lohfert Jørgensen, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2020

“Ett barockt störningsmoment i franskklassicismen. En läsning av Antoinette Deshoulières idyller”, Lychnos. Årsbok för idé- och lärdomshistoria, 2020

Nan Gerdes

Conference presentation: Udfordringer af menneskets exceptionelle status i tidligt moderne eventyr, Conference: EKO 2020: Litteraturvetenskap, miljö och hållbarhet, 3 december 2020

Conference presentation: Dyr og kvindelig subjektivitet i eventyrgenren. Conference: Människan och djuret i barockens värld. Interaktioner, representationer, transformationer, Barockakademiens årliga symposium, 13 November 2020

Conference presentation: Between Identity, Pseudonymity, and Anonymity: The Resistance of Female Authorship in Angoysses Douloureuses (1538), conference: Recovering Women’s Identities between Centre and Periphery (16th-20th centuries), University of London, 5-6 March 2020