Jean Déjeux’s posthumous La littérature féminine de langue française au Maghreb offers the reader a broad panorama of Maghrebian women writers of French expression ranging from the colonial era to the present. While acknowledging the literary contribution of women from the French and Jewish communities, Déjeux’s analysis is for the most part restricted to the works of women from the Arabo-Islamic and Berber communities. Although this book constitutes an attempt to depart from previous ethnosociological readings; in fact it offers little more than a chronological and thematic listing of literary works.
In his introduction, Déjeux recalls that the emergence of the feminine voice within the Maghrebian social and historical space is not a new phenomenon. From legendary figures such as the Kahina or Tin Hinan to the women who fought during the Algerian war of liberation, women have left their mark on Maghrebian culture and history. But as Déjeux’s reading implies, those writers at the core of this study are in the vanguard of a radical transformation of Maghrebian society: it is through the emergence of their self, through the unveiling of their innermost feelings, that these women are rewriting Maghrebian history and society.
After presenting a brief chronological review of some of the works from women of the French or Jewish communities, Déjeux then dismisses them as nonrepresentative of the reality of Maghrebian women. While his rejection of colonial Western representations of Maghrebian women on the grounds of their paternalism and their exoticism is understandable, Déjeux fails to present any convincing argument to support his exclusion of works by women of the Jewish community, which—unlike the French and other European communities—was indigenous to North Africa.
The work is composed of four major parts. The first, “Panorama historique” (Historical panorama), provides an historical and chronological survey of the feminine literary productions of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, with a strong emphasis, as in all four parts, on Algerian literary production, due to the predominance of such works. Part 2, “Affirmation de soi: ‘je’” (Asserting oneself: ‘I’), underlines the issues raised by the emergence of a feminine voice within a society in which the feminine was by tradition excluded from a male-dominated public space. Part 3, “Espaces” (Spaces), focuses on the links between the emergence of a Maghrebian women’s voice and autobiography as a genre. Finally, part 4, “Pour qui, pourquoi écrire” (For whom and why write?), studies the problematic of the aesthetics of a text. [End Page 222]
Part 2 presents a chronological listing of works from the three countries, ranging from novels to poetry collections, short stories, and plays. Individual authors are introduced by a short biography and a thematic overview of their works. In his chapter on Algeria, he notes that the year 1947 marks the birth of its feminine francophone literature with the publication of the novel Jacinthe noire by Marie-Louise Taos Amrouche. In this chapter, Déjeux’s presentation links all writers of Algerian origin regardless of their social background or esthetic differences in their works. He does not distinguish between a writer of the colonial period such as Marie-Louise Taos Amrouche—born in Tunis in 1913 of a Berber and Christian family, a naturalized French woman whose works depict her estrangement as she is caught within conflicting worlds—and a representative of the “Beur” generation such as Farida Belghoul—born in Paris in 1957 and whose novel Georgette (1986) illustrates the reality of the Algerian community in France and the discovery of racism as seen through the eyes of a little girl.
The chapters devoted to Moroccan and Tunisian literature do not differ in their structure from the first chapter on Algerian feminine literature. After introducing the first Moroccan novel, Aïcha la rebelle (1982) by Halima Ben Haddou, Déjeux goes on to present a chronological and thematic overview of Moroccan feminine literature that includes a complete listing of novels and poetry collections as well as Fatima Mernissi’s sociological...