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French Forum 26.3 (2001) 130-132
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Francophone Women Writers of Africa and the Caribbean
Renée Larrier, Francophone Women Writers of Africa and the Caribbean. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000. 157 pp.
Renée Larrier's Francophone Women Writers of Africa and the Caribbean is a welcome addition to the all-too-rare studies devoted to [End Page 130] women writers of the Francophone African diaspora, the first such comparative study to appear in English. It thus responds to both the Anglo-centric focus of much recent black Atlantic research, as well as the frequent phallocentric bias of Francophone theory devoted to subjects such as négritude and créolité. Larrier's study surveys the range of women authors writing in French who have become known since the 1960s, arguing that these authors reappropriate the resources of their vernacular cultures to construct critical responses to dominant social constructions of gender, "mov[ing] toward subjectivity by assuming authority" (120).
In her introduction Larrier surveys both the public forums in which women writers have recently been acclaimed as well as their relative absence from masculinist evocations of the storyteller in black Atlantic cultures. She then goes on in her first chapter to examine Caribbean and African women's diverse relations to orality, looking to storytelling, song, poetry, the weaving of textiles, and the collection of oral tales to demonstrate the complex relation between these diverse forms of oral culture and the range of women's voices that have been inscribed therein. She next looks at the objectification of women within literary and popular Francophone black Atlantic cultures, describing the denial of women's subjectivity enacted in popular French culture and in texts by authors such as Léopold Senghor and Claire de Duras.
The book's subsequent chapters each pair texts, moving across the geographic boundaries of the francophone African diasporic cultures in recognition of what Paul Gilroy has termed the common "structures of feeling, producing, communicating, and remembering" that unite the black Atlantic world. In her third chapter, after surveying the emergence of women's voices in francophone literature, Larrier offers a close reading of two narratives by women, "Nguessi Ngonda," from the collection Contes d'initiation féminine du pays Bassa, and Simone Schwarz-Bart's Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle. The former offers a quite literal inscription and appropriation of women's orality that Larrier then goes on to compare to Schwarz-Bart's well-known text as two initiation tales that construct a more fully empowered gendered subject. Chapter Four, "Inscribing Friendship," also argues for the inter-continental unity of two women's texts, texts in this case written in Senegal and Martinique, respectively. The author argues that Mariama Bâ's Une si longue lettre and Michèle Maillet's L'étoile noire each present female protagonists who come to express and transform their subjection to patriarchal forces [End Page 131] of racial and religious prejudice through friendship with other women and their paradoxical writing of personal diaries addressed to an other who exists beyond their experience of domination.
"Muffled Voices Break Free" stages a similar encounter between the Camerounian Calixthe Beyala's C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée and the Haitian Marie Chauvet's Amour, colère et folie as a tapestry of narratives, weaving a description of both authors' outsider status in their respective societies and their texts' foregrounding of women's sexuality as the corporal site of their oppression. Larrier devotes her sixth Chapter, "Women's Life Stories as Historical Voice," to two autobiographical texts, describing a complex interaction between biographic and historical facticity and its textual representation in Aoua Kéita's Femme d'Afrique: La vie d'Aoua Kéita racontée par elle-même and Dany Bébel-Gisler's Léonora: L'histoire enfouie de la Guadeloupe. These and other autobiographical texts Larrier surveys recover, she argues, the buried and ignored history of women's experience, producing its textual instantiation as narrative, and as such saturating historical data with the...