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Textual Mothers/Maternal Texts

Motherhood in Contemporary Women’s Literatures

ElizabethPodnieks, AndreaO’Reilly

Publication Year: 2010

Textual Mothers/Maternal Texts focuses on mothers as subjects and as writers who produce auto/biography, fiction, and poetry about maternity. International contributors examine the mother without child, with child, and in her multiple identities as grandmother, mother, and daughter.

The collection examines how authors use textual spaces to accept, negotiate, resist, or challenge traditional conceptions of mothering and maternal roles, and how these texts offer alternative practices and visions for mothers. Further, it illuminates how textual representations both reflect and help to define or (re)shape the realities of women and families by examining how mothering and being a mother are political, personal, and creative narratives unfolding within both the pages of a book and the spaces of a life. The range of chapters maps a shift from the daughter-centric stories that have dominated the maternal tradition to the matrilineal and matrifocal perspectives that have emerged over the last few decades as the mother’s voice moved from silence to speech.

Contributors make aesthetic, cultural, and political claims and critiques about mothering and motherhood, illuminating in new and diverse ways how authors and the protagonists of the texts “read” their own maternal identities as well as the maternal scripts of their families, cultures, and nations in their quest for self-knowledge, agency, and artistic expression.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

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pp. ix-xii

Textual Mothers/Maternal Texts is the product of many people whose efforts supporting and producing the collection we wish to acknowledge here. To the more than one hundred scholars who submitted proposals...

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Introduction: Maternal Literatures in Text and Tradition: Daughter-Centric, Matrilineal, and Matrifocal Perspectives

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pp. 1-28

In her introduction to The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism (1989), Marianne Hirsch queries why, in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, the voice of Jocasta, Oedipus’s mother, is missing, and she connects this narrative silence to a larger literary lacunae...

Part 1: Maternal Absence

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1. Aberrant, Absent, Alienated: Reading the Maternal in Jane Urquhart’s First Two Novels, The Whirlpool and Changing Heaven

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pp. 31-46

Reading Jane Urquhart’s early novels for their maternal representations reveals their critical commentary about the continuing impact of patriarchally determined views of motherhood and mothering on women’s lives. Western society’s concept of motherhood is still too much...

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2. Motherless Daughters: The Absent Mothers in Margaret Atwood

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pp. 47-62

Margaret Atwood’s writing concerns itself with the female identity and how that identity is subjected to social expectations. These may confuse, restrain, and anger many of the protagonists in her novels. Again and again, she deals with the pain of becoming...

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3. Writing about Abusive Mothers: Ethics and Auto/biography

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pp. 63-78

In the prologue to her autobiography of childhood, Ugly: The True Story of a Loveless Childhood, Constance Briscoe describes a visit she made to Social Services when she was 11 years old. She asks the woman at the reception desk if she can book herself into a children’s home...

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4. “Red Mother”: The Missing Mother Plot as Double Mystery in Louise Erdrich’s Fiction

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pp. 79-94

Louise Erdrich’s first novel, Love Medicine (1984), opens with the death of June Kashpaw, a motherless American Indian woman who abandons her own child and later returns to haunt him and others throughout this book and the later novel...

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5. “This was her punishment”: Jew, Whore, Mother in the Fiction of Adele Wiseman and Lilian Nattel

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pp. 95-108

Miriam Waddington’s 1942 poem “The Bond” characterizes a “Jewish whore” as “twice outcast” (9), “twice isolate” (10). As “Jewess” (10) and as whore, the woman who forms the locus of Waddington’s poem is positioned at the margins of Canadian society. Ostracized for being a Jew-she experiences anti-Semitism on Toronto’s Jarvis Street, where she works...

Part 2: Maternal Ambivalence

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6. Eden Robinson’s “Dogs in Winter”: Parodic Extremes of Mothering

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pp. 112-124

Even in the midst of the cacophony otherwise known as the “mommy wars,” a romanticized vision of perfectible motherhood continues to be a normative aspect of mainstream North American culture. In spite of, and as Judith Warner argues, precisely because of the political and economic gains made by women, we continue to construct motherhood...

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7. Subverting the Saintly Mother: The Novels of Gabrielle Poulin

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pp. 125-140

Novelist, poet, and critic Gabrielle Poulin describes her initial impulse to write partly as a response to a frustrated maternal desire: “I felt the stirring of a nostalgia and regret that I had believed long gone: I had no child, I would never have one, except in my dreams...

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8. “Opaque with confusion and shame”: Maternal Ambivalence in Rita Dove’s Poetry

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pp. 141-156

When Rita Dove received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1987 for Thomas and Beulah, it established her as a significant American poet. Thomas and Beulah proved to be the first volume in a trilogy of poetry about motherhood; companion volumes...

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9. Maternal Blitz: Harriet Lovatt as Postpartum Sufferer in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child

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pp. 157-168

This chapter deals with postpartum depression and how the illness manifests itself in the character of Harriet Lovatt, the overwhelmed mother of five in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child (1988). The story, which takes place in suburban England from the 1960s to the 1980s, focuses on Ben, the titular fifth child, and his negative impact on his parents...

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10. We Need to Talk about Gender: Mothering and Masculinity in Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin

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pp. 169-184

Feminist debates about maternity have proliferated wildly over the past few decades. Underlying many such discussions is the conviction that mothering is widely dismissed and undermined. Naomi Wolf, for example, contends that modern American motherhood is “undersupported, sentimentalized, and even manipulated at women’s expense...

Part 3: Maternal Agency

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11. Narrating Maternal Subjectivity: Memoirs from Motherhood

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pp. 187-202

In a paper presented in 1997, at the first conference of the Association for Research on Mothering, I posed a question: “What does it mean to write as a mother?” And I began by reframing the question in terms that were familiar to most feminist literary critics of the time...

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12. The Motherhood Memoir and the “New Momism”: Biting the Hand That Feeds You

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pp. 203-214

After reading and rereading a dozen or more motherhood memoirs and many more articles on the subject, I, in a frustrating moment of writer’s block, decided to Google the topic to see if someone else’s insight would facilitate my own. While “motherhood memoir” yielded 545 hits, and “momoir” another 8900, the phrase “mommy lit” resulted...

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13. “I had to make a future, willful, voluble, lascivious”: Minnie Bruce Pratt’s Disruptive Lesbian Maternal Narratives

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pp. 215-226

In an era when lesbian motherhood has become normalized to the point of being framed in terms of heteroreproductive assimilation, it is easy to forget the rich and challenging legacies of lesbian mothering lives and lifewritings. While legislative and cultural shifts in attitudes have rendered lesbian mothering visible and recognizable within...

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14. Lesbian Mothering in Contemporary French Literature

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pp. 227-240

In France, as elsewhere in the West, since the latter part of the twentieth century the contemporary family has been undergoing a process of accelerated change, with an increase in the number of lone parents, post-divorce “blended” families, and same-sex family groups, and a concomitant decline in the conventional nuclear model of the family...

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15. But She’s a Mom! Sex, Motherhood, and the Poetry of Sharon Olds

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pp. 241-252

When critics and reviewers describe the poetry of Sharon Olds, they tend to place her within one of two categories: a sexually explicit poet or a poet who is a daughter or a mother.1 Although I will not be working with Olds’s poems on being a daughter, I will explore some poems in which the mother considers her position as mother in terms of her daughter...

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16. (Grand)mothering “Children of the Apocalypse”: A Post-postmodern Ecopoetic Reading of Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners

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pp. 253-270

What does the prospect of imminent cultural collapse in an ecologically stressed environment have to do with mothers and mothering? Well, everything, according to Margaret Laurence’s brilliant 1974 novel, The Diviners, arguably the most important, most unusual, most prescient Canadian novel of the twentieth century...

Part 4: Maternal Communication

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17. Colonialism’s Impact on Mothering: Jamaica Kincaid’s Rendering of the Mother–Daughter Split in Annie John

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pp. 273-286

Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John speaks directly to the problems facing women, particularly Third World women of colour in their relationship to the state or the colonizer, and how that relationship affects their roles as mothers and daughters...

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18. Mother to Daughter: Muted Maternal Feminism in the Fiction of Sandra Cisneros

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pp. 287-302

The biographical note in some Vintage editions of Sandra Cisneros’s work rejects for the author two traditional social signifiers for women when it unequivocally proclaims her to be “nobody’s mother, nobody’s wife.”1 The roles of mother and wife for female identity are perhaps especially true for the Latino community, with its simultaneous privileging...

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19. Cracking (Mother) India

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pp. 303-316

In her 1991 novel Cracking India Bapsi Sidhwa narrates the terror of Indian Partition from the point of view of eight-year-old Lenny.1 Many critics have paid special attention to Sidhwa’s (and Lenny’s) privileged position as a Parsi, a member of a minority community...

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20. Asian American Mothering in the Absence of Talk Story: Obasan and Chorus of Mushrooms

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pp. 317-332

Feminist debates surrounding mothering have been particularly interested in how the construction and maintenance of the institution of motherhood might be complicit with the oppressive strategies of patriarchal societies. Despite their various takes on the subject, however, these debates...

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21. Baby, Boo-Boo, and Bobs: The Matrilineal Auto/biographies of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, and Eleanor Lanahan

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pp. 333-350

The life of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald is, according to biographer Sally Cline, “the stuff of myth.” During Zelda’s lifetime, from 1900 to 1948, “mythmakers invented and reinvented Zelda Fitzgerald as American Dream Girl, Romantic Cultural Icon, Golden Girl of the Roaring Twenties and most often as a Southern Belle, relabelled the First American...

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22. Revelations and Representations: Birth Stories and Motherhood on the Internet

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pp. 351-366

As the Internet becomes host to websites devoted to parenting and childbirth, sites that invite readers to share their birth stories, thousands of women are posting their stories about childbirth, their initiation into motherhood. Some, like Gabriela, offer sweeping pronouncements and political statements...

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Coda: “Stories to Live By”: Maternal Literatures and Motherhood Studies

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pp. 367-374

We opened the introduction to this collection with Ruddick’s oft-cited quotation referencing the absence of language in which to articulate the “ordinary and extraordinary pleasures and pains of maternal work.” “Maternal voices,” as Ruddick explains further, “have been drowned by professional theory, ideologies of motherhood, sexist arrogance...

Notes on the Contributors

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pp. 375-378


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pp. 379-387

E-ISBN-13: 9781554582921
E-ISBN-10: 155458292X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781554581801
Print-ISBN-10: 155458180X

Page Count: 402
Publication Year: 2010