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I am knocked out by these letters. They are written, I believe then, by a real Portuguese nun, Mariana Alfocarado, seduced and abandoned by a real, if anonymous, Frenchman and obsessing about it. I identify completely, even though I’m of course not Portuguese (not to mention a nun). I have only begun to meet Frenchmen myself, and I can tell already that I’m out of my depth. A. with the Middlebury Program in Paris and taking a yearlong seminar on Laclos. Antoine Adam, an authority on the early history of the novel in France, standing in front of the lectern in a huge amphitheater of the Sorbonne, produces a weekly lecture on Les Liaisons dangereuses.

I have spent Christmas in Italy with an American boyfriend on a motorcycle; Easter vacation with my roommate at her home in Tunisia where I have discovered, among other things, the art of leg waxing with lemon and sugar. We sit in the living room and talk about Les Liaisons dangereuses; we talk, that is to say, about sex. I am inwardly panicked because I cannot come up with an essay topic, so I try to appear worldly and unconcerned, and with studied casualness hold forth on sex and love, and men and women.

Feminism had to do with our lives. And yet despite pockets of local activity—the annual Barnard “Scholar and Feminist” conference, the occasional undergraduate offering—the academic institution was impervious to the dramatic changes occurring in social relations wrought by ’ and by feminism. Affirmative action began officially in , but its immediate effects were almost invisible. There was literary theory (what the good people did), and there was feminism (Kate Millett, English departments).

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