Françoise Lapeyre, a linguistics scholar, is interested in the general question of female independence, as evidenced by her first two books: Femmes seules retirées loin des villes, a study based on a series of interviews with women who live alone in the countryside; and Léonie d'Aunet, the biography of a dauntless young woman who travelled to the far north of Norway in 1840, and was later imprisoned for an adulterous affair with Victor Hugo.
Lapeyre's subsequent books have focused on the analysis of one variety of women's literature: works by authors of a single book based on an exceptional experience of travel or residence in a country outside Western Europe. This is essentially a genre of the 19th Century, an era in which women of relatively modest means took up opportunities to make their own way beyond the confines of the domestic sphere, whether for business or pleasure – as tourists, colonial settlers, missionaries, artists, journalists, gold prospectors, traders, and so on. Especially before 1850, such travel was perilous and demanded a good deal of determination from these women, each of whom was a remarkable character worthy of being remembered. However, by no means can these tales of distant expeditions be viewed solely in terms of the literature of individual adventure; they are marked by the larger historical narrative and by significant cultural attitudes of their epoch. The authors were experiencing the confrontation between their own world and a different Western world (in the case of the Americas for the Europeans), or between the West and Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Whether as tourists, residents, or settlers, they were at the heart of the relationships imposed by the great political and economic powers upon the rest of the world, and some of these women were witness to one of this system's most tragic aspects : slavery.
Extending on these concerns, Françoise Lapeyre has more specifically investigated colonial women's attitudes, on the basis of some forty-odd narratives of female big game hunters in Kenya around 1930. These were wealthy safarists or female colonists, and the texts they wrote develop, in their way, a portrait of colonial society. Lapeyre is presently continuing this project with a corpus of narratives by French women who travelled as colonisers or as tourists within the "colonial empire" in Algeria, sub-Saharan Africa and Indochina.
Françoise Lapeyre is also currently completing a biography of Fanny Kemble. Grande dame of the 19th Century, Kemble was a prodigious Shakespearian actress who married a wealthy Philadelphia heir during a tour of the USA. Only after she had given birth to their first child did she realise that his income derived from a sugar plantation in Georgia. In the course of several months' residence on the plantation, which she had demanded he show her, Kemble kept a journal, in which she noted everything she saw of the everyday life of the slaves. Thenceforth, her husband, wishing at any cost to prevent her from publishing her journal, subjected her to a thousand persecutions. Eventually he deprived her of the custody of their two daughters and obliged her to return to England, where she had to take up acting again in order to survive. At the beginning of the Civil War, to sway opinion in a Great Britain still hesitating between support for the North or the South, she published her famous journal, which remains one of the most powerfully written abolitionist texts of all time.